Mary Ellen Bute

Active - 1936 - 1963  |   Born - Jan 1, 1906   |   Died - Jan 1, 1983   |   Genres - Drama

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Short, poetic, and highly abstract musical films are the hallmark of avant-garde filmmaker and animator Mary Ellen Bute. Bute began by studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy and at the Sorbonne. She then moved to New York and began cultivating her interest in creating ways to order musical compositions with pictorial forms. Finding that medium too restraining, Bute began working with Leon Theremin, a musician and electronic pioneer. Together they experimented with using optical color projection devices synchronized to music. She then became fascinated with utilizing mathmatical formulae to order sequences, and began working with painter and mathematician Joseph Schillinger and director Lewis Jacobs on Synchronization (1932), which was never finished. Throughout the 1930s, Bute produced a series of abstract animation films such as the black and white Rhythm in Light. In Spook Sport (1939), she began working with color. During the 1950s, Bute began using an electronically controlled light beam to choreograph images. In the late 1950s, she began directing live action films adapted from modern literature. She was adapting Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth at the age of 77 when she died.