ESCAPE
Modernity

Mary Ellen Bute
4 min
USA 1938

Mary Ellen Bute trained as a painter in the 1920s before working with the inventors of new organs designed to produce sound and coloured light. Through working with these machines she became interested in the mathematical principles that could be used to coordinate music and painting and in the 1930s she began to ‘paint’ in film. Bute marketed her films for commercial theatrical bookings, opening for Hollywood features in Radio City Music Hall, New York and cinemas across the country. Soundtrack: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Mary Ellen Bute
(1906–83) USA

Mary Ellen Bute was a pioneer American animator and one of the first female experimental filmmakers. Her work focused on the relationship of image and music. While in New York between 1934 and 1953, she made fourteen short, abstract musical films. Many of these were seen in cinemas usually preceding a prestigious feature film. She has collaborated with Norman Maclaren, and with Ted Nemethm whom she married in 1940. Her final film Passages from Finnegans Wake (1965-67) was a ambitious attempt adapt James Joyce to a live action feature and took almost 3 years to make.

Escape, Mary Ellen Bute, USA 1938

(1) Photo of Mary Ellen Bute © courtesy of Anthology Film Archives

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