Douglass Crockwell — Filmmaker

Maury Thompson
3 min readFeb 6, 2022

Joseph J. Dodge knew from his close friendship with artist/illustrator Douglass Crockwell that it was abstract filmmaking that made Crockwell tick.

“Only among his friends locally, and among a small number of advanced artists, critics, museum directors, and interested individuals in other places is it known that his real creative interest is in the field of the animated motion picture,” Dodge, curator of The Hyde Collection, wrote in his weekly “The Visual Arts” column in The Post-Star on Nov. 26,1946.

“He also feels that the future of abstract and sur-realist art both, perhaps, lie in the cinema, where effects of the movement, color changes, dramatic continuity, and psychological suggestion can be developed for beyond the possibilities of of the scale painting,” Dodge wrote. “A visual art akin to music, ballet, and the dramatics are thus possible; and for visual illustration, a new and infinitely wide horizon is thus opened up in the fields of education, physics and mathematics.”

Dodge predicted Crockwell’s techniques would make a mark in the art film world.

“In style and conception, they are as different from Walt Disney’s cartoons as Picasso’s paintings are from the average magazine illustrations…. We hardly dare to conjecture where it all might lead.”

On April 6, 1940, The Post-Star called Crockwell’s film work a “hobby” when his work was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

“Painting on the reverse side of glass panes, Mr. Crockwell obtains depth and flexibility by photographing mobile forms against the backgrounds superimposed on one another of various levels. Without without showing any direct influence, his films have a curious resemblance to (French) surrealist Yves Tanguy.”

Side-line? — Yes

Spare-time diversion? No

Crockwell, in the spirit of a real estate developer, politician or evangelist, showed his experimental films at church suppers, service club meetings, public library events and anywhere else that would allow him to.

His films also were shown at such prominent arts centers as the Museum of Modern Art and the Willard Gallery in New York City and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

It wasn’t self promotion.

It was a passion to build an audience for modern art.

“Mr. Crockwell, himself, said the pictures ‘don’t mean anything that can be put into words,’ but added that he supposed ‘there is something psychological about them,’” The Post-Star reported on Oct. 4, 1940, when Crockwell showed his films at a Glens Falls Rotary Club luncheon at The Queensbury Hotel. “The artist warned his audience not to be worried if they failed to appreciate his pictures. ‘No one seems to care a bang about them,’ he remarked.”

Crockwell, who had studied engineering before switching to art. had recently received a patent on a specialized camera he designed for his craft.

Crockwell also received a patent in 1948 on a wax slicing machine.

“For every minute of film, he said, 1,000 pictures have to be made.”

The equipment Crockwell designed made it easier, cheaper and faster to make abstract films, Dodge wrote in his 1946 column.

“His film, entitled ‘Simple Destiny,’ was declared to be without meaning, but to be an experiment in the possibilities of creating illusions through the introduction of paintings,” The Glens Falls Times reported on May 8, 1937, when Crockwell was to show his work at a session of the Glens Falls Film Guild series at Crandall Library.

Crockwell’s other films were “Glens Falls Sequence,” produced in increments between 1937 and 1946, “Fantasmagoria # 1” in 1938, “Fantasmagoria # 2” in 1939, “Fantasmagoria # 3” in 1940, “The Chase” in 1942, “The Long Bodies” in 1947, “Red” in 1949, “A Long Body” in1950, and around the 1950s “Random Glow,” “Stripes,” “Ode to David,” and “Around the Valley.” according to the Internet Movie Database.

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Maury Thompson

Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY