​​The Wind in the Burlap Trees: Vachel Lindsay’s Utopian Film Theory ​

Harris, Judy. 2022. ​​The Wind in the Burlap Trees: Vachel Lindsay’s Utopian Film Theory ​. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis argues that Vachel Lindsay’s utopian film theory has new relevance today. In 1915 in his first book of film theory, The Art of the Moving Picture, Lindsay put forward a concept of film as an intermedial art form which could restore an imagistic consciousness and revive regional cultures. While out of step with the mechanised concept of film which dominated early 20th century film theory, his work can now be seen to anticipate the breakdown of medium essentialism, the ascent of the image in modern life, the amateurisation of media, and the rise of maker culture.

Lindsay’s film theory is best understood within the context of his utopian vision of American modernity in which preindustrial sensibilities are sustained alongside urbanisation and industrialisation and this thesis draws heavily on his utopian writings. In approaching his film theory from this vantage point, the cultural eclecticism and strains of antimodernism which inform it are no longer problems to be overcome but, on the contrary, are revealed to be central to his concept of film as a hybrid, intermedial technology which can revive important elements of pre-modern life. Moreover, central to Lindsay’s utopian social programme was the democratisation of culture and the localisation of artistic production and viewing his film theory in this context illuminates the relevance of his aesthetic theories to contemporary developments in digital technology and maker culture.

While interest in Lindsay has increased in recent years his work still exists on the margins of film theory. This thesis seeks to show not only the prescience of his ideas, but the various contributions he makes to key debates in aesthetic theory, including the relationship between text and image, the value of amateur aesthetics, and the politics of artifice. Too long neglected, Lindsay’s work enriches the field of film theory by providing a unique vision of film’s relationship to modernity, while also illuminating the utopian possibilities of the contemporary media landscape.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Vachel Lindsay, film theory, silent film, intermedial film, film history, amateur film, crafts, American Studies, aesthetic theory

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 November 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Dec 2022 16:54

Last Modified:

21 Dec 2022 18:00



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