Under the leadership of pioneer Barney Rosset, who purchased the Grove Press publishing house in 1951, the first United States publication of such controversial classics as D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover was printed. Rosset’s interest in foreign authors, and in work that challenged traditional political, sexual, and cultural mores, was matched by his commitment to visual art. The Press created a short-lived film production company in 1963 and further expanded its engagement with cinema when it moved into film distribution in 1967 by acquiring Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 library and establishing the Grove Press Film Division. The Film Division’s inventory was developed—primarily with feature-length titles that reflected the Press’ interests, and grew to some four hundred short and feature-length films. These included the notorious Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) (Sjöman, 1967), Glauber Rocha’s Antonio das Mortes (1968), Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Man Who Lies (1969), Nico Papatakis’ Thanos and Despina (1968), and Nagisa Oshima’s Boy (1969). These titles, which were celebrated in the 1970 Grove Press International Film Festival, are among the films that were acquired by the Harvard Film Archive in 1995.
After 1970 Grove Press scaled back its film distribution; the Film Division was dissolved and its film holdings disbanded in 1985, when the Press was sold. The material that was later donated to the HFA comprises approximately 164 titles (35mm and 16mm projection prints, original elements, and trailers), dating from the 1910s to the 1970s. The collection represents Grove Press’ ambition to promote non-mainstream cinema that pushed both formal and topical boundaries. In addition to major and lesser seen works by significant figures in European art-house cinema, highlights include filmic meditations on revolutionary currents in late 1960s Yugoslavia, in Zelimir Zilnik’s Student Demonstrations (1968), and in America, in Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group’s Vladimir and Rosa (1970); “Grove Press Erotic Classic” cartoons and live-action films whose subject is sexual activity and behavior, such as Dr. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen’s 1969 Freedom to Love; 1970s newsreels produced by the People’s Republic of China and the China Trade Corporation; and critical cinema of the American avant-garde, including titles by Willard Maas, Anne Severson, and James Broughton, as well as rare films by Madeline Tourtelot and Aldo Tambellini.