Warren Sonbert: Montage and Polyvalence

Poster by Matt McKinzie.

Join us at the Film-Makers' Cooperative (475 Park Avenue South, 6th Floor) on Friday, March 10th, 2023, for two films by Warren Sonbert, followed by a conversation by Drake Stutesman with Jon Gartenberg.


Warren Sonbert (1947–1995) was one of the seminal figures working in American experimental film. He started making films in 1966 while a student at New York University, and when he was 20 years old, he had a career retrospective at the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque. These were proto-narrative films in which he both directed and followed his youthful protagonists and Warhol superstars Gerard Malanga and Rene Ricard around New York City.

Beginning in 1968, with The Tuxedo Theatre, Sonbert began traveling the world and created tightly edited, silent montage films. He became known as the leading proponent of polyvalent montage, in which, according to Sonbert, his films were “not strictly involved with plot or morality but rather the language of film as regards time, composition, cutting, light, distance, extension of backgrounds to foregrounds, what you see and what you don’t, a jig-saw puzzle of postcards to produce various displace effects.”

Tonight’s screening will include two of Sonbert’s most accomplished silent montage films: Honor and Obey (1988) and The Cup and the Lip (1986). Honor and Obey questions all forms of male-dominated authority, particularly familial, religious, political, and military. As for The Cup and the Lip, according to critic Fred Camper: “what is unique about it is… the never consummated state of suspension that Sonbert achieves. In this film’s universe, the cup must never reach the lip, for if it does, the party is over; the cup’s contents, once ingested, are digested, and thus destroyed, never to be seen again.”



Drake Stutesman is the Senior Editor of Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media and the author of the cultural histories Hat: Origin, Language, Style (2019) and Snake (2005), both published by Reaktion Books. She co-edited Film, Fashion and 1960s (2018) and has had work published by, among others, the British Film Institute, MoMA (N.Y.) and MoCA (L.A.). She is an adjunct professor at New York University and the President of Women and Film History International (, and former co-chair of New York Women in Film and Television's Women's Film Preservation Fund. She is currently working on a book on American violence.

Jon Gartenberg is a film archivist and curator. Initially working at MoMA, he initiated the restoration of the films of Andy Warhol and acquired experimental films for MoMA’s permanent collection. As Program Director of Film Preservation for the Estate Project of Artists with AIDS, he oversaw the restoration of the complete oeuvre of Warren Sonbert, as well as selected films by David Wojnarowicz, Jack Waters, and Curt McDowell. From 2003 to 2014, he programmed experimental films for the Tribeca Film Festival. He has also produced short films by Ken Jacobs and Jeff Scher. His company, Gartenberg Media Enterprises, currently distributes experimental films to universities in the United States and Canada.