Since the early 1970s Suzan Pitt (1943–2019) defined a unique mode of dream-like and intensely handcrafted animation that forged a vital link between American experimental and underground cinema. Pitt first found fame when her now classic animated film Asparagus (1979) was selected to accompany David Lynch’s Eraserhead on its extended, ultimately almost two-year, run of midnight screenings. Nocturnal and elliptical, Asparagus introduced audiences to the strange, surrealist-inflected and psycho-sexually charged oneircism that would remain a constant throughout her work, while showcasing Pitt’s consummate artistry and skill with variegated animation techniques—from multi-layered cell painting to claymation, a bold technical experimentation that also distinguishes later films such as Joy Street (1995) and El Doctor (2006). The lush and texturally rich imagery at the heart of Asparagus also points back to Pitt’s background as a painter while anticipating her steadfast dedication to the gestural qualities and movement unique to the work of the human hand, even as today’s moving image is increasingly computer-born.
A long-time and beloved member of the legendary CalArts faculty, Pitt was renowned as a teacher and mentor. Before moving to California Pitt also taught within Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department (now Art, Film, and Visual Studies). It was, in fact, in the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts that she realized one of her most ambitious films, Joy Street, working with then Harvard student Helen Hill as one of her assistants. – Haden Guest
Suzan Pitt’s films and artwork are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Los Angeles and the Walker Art Center. Her films have screened at hundreds of venues around the world, including the Cinémathèque Française, the Tate Modern Museum, the Sundance Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the London Film Festival, the Ottawa International Animated Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the Image Forum Film Festival in Tokyo. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship and three grants from the National Endowment of the Arts.
About the Collection
The Suzan Pitt collection was donated by the artist to the Harvard Film Archive in 2012-2013 and consists of video material, 16mm and 35mm projection prints, work-prints, outtakes, original camera negatives and magnetic and optical tracks of her film work from the 1970s to the 1990s, including material for her films, Asparagus, Bowl Theater Garden Marble Game, Crocus, and Joy Street. In 2014 the HFA's 35mm original camera negative and corresponding optical track of Joy Street were made available for the Academy Film Archive's extensive preservation of Pitt's films. In addition to audiovisual materials, nine boxes of paper and manuscript material contain promotional materials for screenings of Pitt's work, proposals related to a feature length animated film, Black Snow, and documents related to Pitt's time spent teaching at Harvard.
A number of Pitt’s films were recently preserved by the Academy Film Archive including: Bowl, Garden, Theatre, Marble Game (1970), Crocus (1971), Joy Street (1995), Whitney Commercial (1973), and Asparagus (1979). The preserved films are available for loan through the Academy Film Archive.
For more information about Suzan Pitt and for obtaining permission to screen her work, please visit her website.
For more information about borrowing recently preserved films by Suzan Pitt, visit the Academy Film Archive website.
For information about viewing Suzan Pitt’s films online, visit the Criterion Channel.
To obtain the documentary, Screening Room: Suzan Pitt, visit Documentary Educational Resources.