Sonbert, Warren, 1947-1995. Warren Sonbert Collection, 1966-1997 : An Inventory

Harvard Film Archive, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: hfa00027
Repository: Harvard Film Archive, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Sonbert, Warren
Title: Warren Sonbert Collection,
Date(s): 1966-1997.
Quantity: 1 collection (11.5 cubic feet, 52 reels of 16mm film, 19 videotapes, 6 audio tapes, filmmaking equipment)
Language of materials: Material is in English.
Abstract: This collection contains the completed films, work reels, filmmaking equipment, and papers of experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert (1947-1995), a key figure of American avant-garde cinema. In addition to preservation masters of all of Sonbert's completed 16mm films, the collection features 26 of his original work reels. The collection's paper holdings include Sonbert's personal correspondence; materials relating to the exhibition of Sonbert's work; Sonbert's own writings as a critic and theorist; published writing about Sonbert's films; production materials; travel itineraries; and Sonbert's screenplay materials for Capriccio, his unrealized film adaptation of the Richard Strauss opera.

Processing Information:

Processed and encoded by: Max Goldberg, 2013

Access Restrictions:

Access by appointment only. Applications to consult this material should be directed to the staff of the Harvard Film Archive.
Paper materials are made accessible by appointment only and in close consultation with Fine Arts Library Staff.
Film prints are made accessible by appointment only and in close consultation with HFA staff. Although films do not circulate for individual use, students, filmmakers, artists, and researchers are encouraged to use the collections on-site. If their condition allows, prints from the HFA collection may be viewed on a flatbed viewer at the HFA's Conservation Center.

Use Restrictions:

Reproduction and/or publication of materials subject to copyright requires written permission from a) the copyright owner, his/her heirs or assigns and from b) the Fine Arts Library, owner of the original material.

Preferred Citation:

Sonbert, Warren, 1947-1995. Warren Sonbert Collection, 1966-1997 : An Inventory. Harvard Film Archive, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University.


Filmmaker and critic Warren Sonbert (1947-1995) was a central figure of the American avant-garde for more than thirty years, known especially for his rhapsodic style of montage. Initially inspired by underground legends like Gregory Markopoulos and Andy Warhol as well as Hollywood auteurs such as Alfred Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk, Sonbert began making 16mm films as a student at New York University in 1966. Sonbert's 1960s films use pop music and subtle formal structures to unpack codes of fashion, desire, and leisure underlying seemingly casual footage of friends and acquaintances. After relocating to San Francisco in the early 1970s, Sonbert reemerged with Carriage Trade, an intricately latticed montage of Bolex footage shot around the world. The film's dazzling array of impressions and ideas, as well as its fragrant suggestions of narrative and spectacle, paved the way for a remarkably consistent output over the next 25 years. In the words of Jon Gartenberg, "Sonbert built upon his early experiments in camera movement, lighting, and framing to create brilliantly edited masterworks that encompass not only his New York milieu, but also the larger sphere of human activity. In these films he commented upon such contemporary issues as art and industry, news reportage and its effect on our lives, and the interrelationship between the creative arts. His late works culminated in symphonic montages (both silent and sound) that unite universal human gestures into singular works of moving image artistry." Sonbert made 18 films during his career. His final work, Whiplash, remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1995 and was completed by Jeff Scher in accordance with Sonbert's instructions.
Sonbert was also active as a film critic and theorist throughout his career, starting with early editorial work The New York Film Bulletin in the 1960s. Writing about music and opera for The Advocate and several San Francisco newspapers under the nom de plume Scottie Ferguson throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Sonbert articulated perceptions of performance and musicality that are central to his film work. An inveterate traveler, Sonbert's opera itineraries in Europe and the United States furnished him with the exotic locations necessary for his films.



Organized into the following series:

Scope and Contents

The Warren Sonbert Collection includes preservation masters of all of Sonbert's completed films as well as 26 of his 16mm work reels and the equipment he used to make his films. The work reels consist of the original footage from which Sonbert would select images for his finished films. The collection also includes Sonbert's papers. Highlights of these holdings include Sonbert's screenplay materials for Capriccio, his unrealized film adaptation of the Richard Strauss opera; shot lists for several finished films and work reels; extensive documentation of Sonbert's exhibition history; handwritten travel itineraries; manuscripts of Sonbert's original articles; hundreds of published reviews; and unpublished correspondence with other filmmakers, critics and friends, including 1200 postcards.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Capriccio (Opera)
Experimental films—United States
Motion pictures—Aesthetics
Motion pictures—Catalogs—United States
Experimental films
Motion picture programs
Personal papers
Press materials
Production materials
Advocate (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Almendros, Néstor
Arnold, Martin, 1959-
Art Institute of Chicago. Film Center
Arthur, Paul, 1947-2008
Bard College
Bay Area Reporter
Beauvois, Yann
Benson, Steve, 1949-
Berkson, Bill
Bernheimer, Alan, 1948-
Bold, Alf
Breer, Robert
Broughton, James, 1913-1999
Burckhardt, Rudy
Camper, Fred
Canyon Cinema
Carroll, Noël, 1947-
Child, Abigail
Collective for Living Cinema (New York, N.Y.)
Dorsky, Nathaniel
Ehrenstein, David
Fagin, Larry
Film Culture (Periodical)
Film-Makers' Cinematheque
Gartenberg, Jon
Hanhardt, John G.
Harryman, Carla
Hitchcock, Alfred, 1899-1980
Hoberman, J.
Hutton, Peter
Jacquette, Yvonne, 1934-
Keller, Marjorie, 1950-1994
Kramer, Edith R.
Kubelka, Peter
Larsen, Ray
Liss, Carla
Lopate, Phillip, 1943-
Mandel, Tom, 1942-
Mekas, Jonas, 1922-
Metropolitan Opera (New York, N.Y.)
Millenium Film Workshop
Motion Picture (Periodical)
Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). Dept. of Film
New York Film Bulletin (Periodical)
Österreichisches Filmmuseum
Pacific Film Archive
Pena, Richard
San Francisco Art Institute
San Francisco Cinematheque (Calif.)
San Francisco International Film Festival
San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco Opera
San Francisco Sentinel (Periodical)
Scher, Jeffrey Noyes
Sirk, Douglas, 1897-1987
Sitney, P. Adams
Sonbert, Warren
Stein, Elliot, 1928-2012
Sterritt, David
Strauss, Richard, 1864-1949
Taubin, Amy
Troyanos, Tatiana
Village Voice (Periodical)
Whitney Biennial
Whitney Museum of American Art