A thread to discuss experimental film, and a thread for experimental film and narrative filmmakers and/or film lovers can exchange ideas/thoughts/rants/raves, etc etc etc.
I think of experimental film and narrative film as cousins who should be in direct dialogue more often.
I’ll start with a post by Polaris DiB about experimental film, which can be found here on Subvex’s blog.
Most of my film work is very personal, since I work on no-budget and mainly make films focusing on feelings or moods I am currently having. Some of those personal things include my thoughts of myself as a filmmaker or feelings I have in my everyday life and/or relationships with certain people I care about. My latest film called Snake is definitely my most experimental, as it’s personal but on a very abstract level. It focuses on masochistic sexuality, but does so in a way as to express my mixed feelings toward my past and my fear of my future. I’m quite terrified by what came out of it, but also quite relieved. A lot of that emotion was bottled up, and getting it out there was some of the best medicine I could possibly do. I just really hope others are as moved by it – but I’ve come to realize that experimental filmmaking is some of the most revealing and abstract of all film types, I believe. Moreso on a personal basis. Some people write poetry to relieve themselves and some write music. I make cheap-as-dirt films.
Ah, hell, I’m just going to reprint DiB’s post here because it brings up some interesting points. Anyone like to comment on this:
I’ve always been really critical about poetry. My opinion on the matter is that there are two types of poetry: good poetry, and painfully horrible poetry.
I just realized tonight that I have largely the same opinion about experimental films.
The problem with experimental films is that a very few do something unique and special, usually something they can explain to you the process behind or that you can obviously see the process is something no one else has ever done, they can focus on a few analytical elements and work out neat effects and so on. Then there are those who want to make an experimental film, or worse, become an experimental filmmaker. There is something decidedly different between being an experimental filmmaker and making experimental film, and wanting to make an experimental film or to be an experimental filmmaker; and that difference is not the same difference between wanting to be a filmmaker and being a filmmaker, or wanting to make a film and making a film. In the latter scenario, the act of trying pushes you toward the process of what you are trying to do. In the former, you can dick around for ages and still have not done anything.
The majority of experimental filmmakers I appreciate are people who were devoted to the camera and were working on their own thing, often knowingly against “Hollywood narrative” or “traditional narrative” or “classical narrative” form, but still with a mode of expression they were trying. That sounds easy. “I don’t want to make a Hollywood movie, so I’ll come up with my own mode of expression.” Nah-uh. Nothing doing, buckaroo. You’ve got to sit with that camera, work with it for a while, and think, “This image–is it compelling? Why? Can I replicate the effect? Can I put it with something else that makes it more effective“, over and over and over again until you actually get something nobody’s seen before. These filmmakers are better known historically and sometimes take a while to get discovered, but they still exist today. They started with the pre-narrative filmmakers who just didn’t know they were doing it wrong because there was no way to do it right, and their stuff survives because of two things: luck (that the prints were not destroyed to make other films), and skill (that their movies were striking and memorable enough that somebody bothered to preserve them). All pre-narrative film is experimental. Then there are those, like Dziga Vertov, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and contemporarily, Jesse Richards, who delivered their content with a goal or a provocation or a manifesto or an interest. I am trying to do this, for this reason, and it works like this, and should be understood in this way.
OR, there are the experimental filmmakers that didn’t seem to really care what people expected out of what they were doing, they just did it anyway. This type of filmmaker is better described by an example than historical development or manifesto: Peter Hutton. Peter Hutton was a sailor who liked to take along a film camera on his trips to do landscape photography–that moved. He saw something that looked good, framed it, shot it, and cut the shot when the light changed. Over time he came up with more “narrative” elements and general montages; one of his most famous is “Exploration of a River” which is a pure montage of visually striking images from one of his inland journeys. These second type of experimental filmmakers are not as easy to round up into various modes because they’re mostly idiosyncratic people who just figured something they liked out and rolled with it, ultimately inspiring other people. Their movies look like no other movies because they do not bother trying to make their movies look like or fit into any person’s general concept of “movie”, they just happened to really want to make these awesome images, that move.
When you want to become a narrative filmmaker, you can draw from the resources of previous narratives and even experimental films to recontextualize into your own thing. When you want to become an experimental filmmaker, you have to experiment–sort of recreating the wheel, but unfortunately either being completely oblivious to how the wheel works, or purposefully recreating it in a completely different way than it’s been done before–and it still has to roll smoothly.
This is not to say that experimental filmmakers do not ever respond to each other, but they certainly do not in the same way narrative filmmakers respond to each other. Those who are well-practiced and in love with their own medium are usually able to break down their responses into some technical or experiential creation that expands or subverts the work being responded to in a distinctive way, whereas response between narrative filmmakers is typically a matter of reference or reappropriation–even of experimental filmmakers.
Just like poetry, experimental filmmaking is a small venue. Not a huge audience, not a lot of practitioners, not a lot of publishers, and wayyyyyyyyyyyYYYYYYyyyyYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYyyyyy too many slam poetry competitions. Experimental film embraces the term “amateur” in it’s “lover of” sense, the idea that they are not predominantly concerned with making their name or being a professional in the creation but something about the form itself, the moving images, the projections, the lights, the device of the camera or the camera as tool (or projector as same, or whatever) has them working for hours on end day after day year after year making pretty (or beautifully ugly) things that in a lot of ways means something to a discerning group of people, and sometimes incites something bigger than themselves. That’s why people “want to be” experimental filmmakers, is the results that can be made. The hard part is that “hours and hours, day after day, year after year” thing–and basically willingly doing something that may never get you paid. (Also, if you’re a trufax legit FILMmaker, then that celluloid is expensive).
This is a particularly interesting point to me, what say you to this, narrative filmmakers?
“When you want to become an experimental filmmaker, you have to experiment–sort of recreating the wheel, but unfortunately either being completely oblivious to how the wheel works, or purposefully recreating it in a completely different way than it’s been done before–and it still has to roll smoothly.”
Ideally any filmmaker should experiment, narrative or experimental. It’s just that unlike narrative filmmaking avant-garde has no mainstream branch, there is no equivalent of Michael Bay in experimental, they all can be qualified as art filmmakers, and this means the percentage of filmmakers who try to push the boundaries forward is higher overall. (yeah, I know what especial effects Belson, O’Neill, etc have worked on, Conner was one of the creators of music-video, Brakhage’s techniques has been absorbed into mainstream, etc. My point still remains the same.)
Furthermore, feel free to bash me for saying this as I like to be proven wrong and I’m far from an expert in this field, I sense that experimental cinema hasn’t exactly gone beyond it 60s/70s much more than narrative filmmakers have. I’m not against experimental film at all, just saying that this “narrative vs experimental” comparison sorta baffles me.
Except for the advent of digital, that can and has changed the landscape, because new technology.
Don’t you agree? And that affects any kind of cinema. How it looks, how it sounds, how it’s shown.
Something I’m participating in now, Occupy Cinema via the Cine Foundation. Projected my film tonight (to be posted 11/11 along with films by other filmmakers, wherever we can). Guerilla style projection of films can be done pretty easily, this can lead to fun and unexpected things…
This would be different with a projector and a reel.
Yeah sure, I agree with most of the points you guys made. Some avant-garde circles have been lamenting over the gradual death of film but well, digital has opened lots of windows in any kind of cinema. Obviously besides all the new techniques, more people can make films now.
“Furthermore, feel free to bash me for saying this as I like to be proven wrong and I’m far from an expert in this field, I sense that experimental cinema hasn’t exactly gone beyond it 60s/70s much more than narrative filmmakers have. "
A lot of it went to experimental video, which in addition to doing all the breaking-the-frames stuff of regular experimental film, also opened up the arena to a variety of different installations. Experimental film does have its genre of projection but video made the space that the audience observed the piece become another integral part of how it was observed. Plus, digital cinema invites things such as datamoshing, a variety of new animation techniques, compositing… Now that you can make movies on computers, experimental "film"makers are experimenting with computers.
There is and hopefully will always be the old school garde of experimental film makers—people baking their celluloid in ovens with salt and vinegar to see how it looks when it runs through a projector (yes this is happened; yes I watched it) and sleeping with their arms around a reel of film like a teddy bear (I don’t know if this happened but I can totally imagine it), and some of them will continue to point out things film can do that no other moving-image medium is really capable of replicating at all.
In response to Odi’s original post, a lot of my familiarity with experimental film is academic, and that is where a lot of experimental film lives on. The filmmakers get “day jobs” teaching film to other students, which is actually a pretty good set up in one sense, and depressing in another. There are still experimental film festivals where you can observe the quality curve in real time—you can sit and watch twenty or thirty movies before one person’s piece plays and you are completely blown away. The entire idea is worth it for those one in thirty pieces.
Well. I really just make little bits and pieces that seems somewhat go with the flow when I’m editing. Since that’s where a lot of my work goes to. More recently, I’ve been trying to work more with sound, because image can be just as important as sound.
Ideally any filmmaker should experiment, narrative or experimental.
Well since some of the discussion here is going toward what a lot of us do personally…
I sort of approach the idea of experimental moviemaking as a more technical thing for myself, and do not share a lot of it with other people. I have about 20 hours of footage I’ve shot on video and about eight hours of footage I’ve shot on film that may be interesting to people one day if I become famous and die and it’s discovered in my attic or basement or whatever (fat chance), but isn’t to me the slightest bit worth sharing with others now. In each case there was something specific I was trying to achieve, and the only reason I’m on my “fourth” short film now is because these short films that I actually share I think achieve something.
That said, I still have a few things from classes I’ve taken that you guys can check out.
It plays slower through the YouTube embed than it should, the background is much more headache inducingly fast. Anyway this was made in Flash for my Electronic Arts class. The background is just me putting colors and gradients next to each other, nothing special, but the foreground is video of a man wrestling an octopus that I manipulated. It was fun to make.
The assignment for this one was a pretty familiar one for most art students—“Choose among 1) A self-portrait that doesn’t feature your body or voice, 2) a music video with music nobody in the class has heard of, or 3) a found footage piece manipulated into a different narrative.” You do those activities a LOT.
Anyway I chose the music video and then got in touch with all of my music theory friends to have them introduce me to something I doubt anyone else in the class had heard. My friend Ryan alerted me to AGF—I really like her work, and you guys should check it out because she is very hands-on learner, figuring out new things as she goes along, variants of theme stuff.
Anyway, a lot of personal shooting I practiced with was trying to record with the lowest amount of light available, so I sort of see this video as a showcase for the amount of light I’m able to capture on such a small consumer camera that I had at the time. After this video was done I stopped working in that mode because I was satisfied with it (for now). When it was over I put it on YouTube and contacted AGF for permission—she okayed it and I think that’s awesome so that’s why it stays. Last I checked there was only one other AGF video available.
I have to admit I really really like the AGF video, and still do. I feel embarrassed whenever I like my own work. The Contrasts video, however, is total crap.
As I see it, experimental filmmaking is not about making experiments, and then just thinking they’re an experimental film.
You experiment in order to create something new (at least for you), to find new ways of expression, rhythm, structure, visual, etc… But experimental filmmaking needs as much work, or even more sometimes, than narrative filmmaking.
I find out that the term “Experimental Filmmaking” has been used lately to describe almost everything that doesn’t follow the rules of narrative filmmaking. And i think that’s a mistake.
You play with your camera for a while, you edit it somehow, add an obscure soundtrack to it and then you think you made an experimental film…
As I understand it, experimental filmmaking has a lot to do with preparation, study, technique, mixing formats, styles… It needs to grow on top of a well thought desire of the creator in order to express something in a non conventional way, and most of the time, it comes from a theoretical and technical basis and understanding of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and where do you want to take it.
Great way of putting it SP, many great experimental films are more expressive than anything ever created after sliced bread. A lot of people have so far objected to the term experimental but the most solid argument I’ve heard was Peter Kubelka’s which was something in the line of “I experiment in the lab, what you see is a complete film.”
But then again I think everyone knows that experimental/avant-garde/whatever are words that merely refer to certain brands of non-narrative filmmaking and not words that define it.
The same kind of quote applies to many musicians, writers, painters, cooks…
Experimenting is, in my understanding, the only way of moving forward, making your style more precise, your ideas more clear, making mistakes, doubting, re-thinking the whole thing over and over again.
I have a need to experiment. But the final product is a consequence of those experiments, not the experiment itself. And i think there’s a big difference between these two concepts.
Right, this is why most of my experiments are not showable. Only once I’ve come to a conclusion do I have a “product” to show… THEN I have to set about rethinking the product, and starting the process all anew.
I don’t really do it with the goal to be an experimental filmmaker or to make experimental movies. My goal is to learn, relearn, and unlearn how to make movies.
The best example I can think of about this issue is Robert Beavers. His films are usually made over the course of decades and after all that time they have the mere running time of 20 minutes or so but those 20 minutes end up being more precise and meaningful than pretty much anything else out there, and they’re also breathtakingly beautiful and sensual to boost things. You can really feel all the time spent on making them, on forming mechanisms that control their images. I never sensed the immense importance of editing before watching them!
I am not sure I have seen any of Robert Beavers’ work, do you know where I may be able to track it down, Sy?
Well, they show up from time to time in film festivals, Views from the Avant-Garde section of NYFF festival especially. Here is a list of some of the places that have screened his works in the past and will probably do so again, http://www.the-temenos.org/events.htm – http://www.the-temenos.org/events_p.htm.
Views from the Avant-Garde of NYFF seems the most likely to me.
And a few of his films can be found via erm, alternative routes.
Haha, don’t bother for now. I still have enough choices of films to watch free and legally to bother hunting down the stuff I need to download.
The best example of devotion, technical and theoretical knowledge, experimental video with a huge depth in meaning, feelings, pace and visually stunning that I’ve ever found (until now of course) is Jose Val del Omar’s “Triptico Elemental de Espana” – “Elemental Triptych of Spain”. He spent more than 50 years working in this three episodes film of around 90 minutes. And the more you read about him, his essays, his techniques, his love and depth for everything he was doing, the more I fall in love with this incredible master piece, and this unbelievable autheur completely unknown for most of the world.
If you want to check him out, you can find it in youtube (quality is horrible) or download it somewhere. No worries for the rights, there are not any (that how we’re in Spain with our true geniuses).
I really suggest anyone interested in Experimental Filmmaking to check him and his work out.
A few months ago I was able to make MUBI upload the three different episodes of this movie: “Made of Clay”, “Water/Mirror from Granada” and “Fire in Castilla”. You can check them in the database, but if you want to get a little bit deeper follow this link: http://valdelomar.com/inicio.php You also have it in English, the problem is that most of his essays are only in the Spanish version.
Hope you enjoy it.
^ sounds amazing, Silence Please, going to check him out!
To me this is rather an experimental music video. Harmony Korine and Will Oldham. I love this song, and this video is just… spooky.
“If you want to check him out, you can find it in youtube (quality is horrible) or download it somewhere. No worries for the rights, there are not any (that how we’re in Spain with our true geniuses).”
Inspired by the whole Three Years without God thing that Noel Vera brought to the fore in the Mubi Forum User’s Top 20 game, I am wondering if you may not be capable of tracking down either who has the rights or a print of the thing itself to make available for Mubi to actually stream. It’s a long shot (and hasn’t yet happened with Three Years without God ) but it would be interesting if more forum users in the know of obscure to lost cinema were to put their weight behind making these things available on a platform like Mubi for the rest of us.
I would not know how that would work for public realm works…
^ YES, DiB! Great idea!
I found “The Elemental Triptych of Spain” when i was living in NY three years ago. A very good friend of mine, found a copy in VHS (back then we used to look for obscure movies in VHS that were not released in DVD), and later on, we bought a VHS/DVD transfer video in order to be able to digitalise all different movies.
The quality of the film that we had was pretty bad, sound was not the best at all (it had been played too many times) and the transfer was not the best neither.
Later on we got in contact with a teacher of The New York School of Arts, Daniel Ricuitto if I recall it properly, who was the one who had a better copy of the movie, also a transfer from an analog media, but this time a better one. He showed it in MoMA’s cinema.
Of course after the screening we went right to him and asked him to share that copy with us. We used that copy for me to translate and create subtitles for the movie, and later on we also started translating some of his essays. Thanks of my friend working in the Film Work Anthology, he met loads of people really interested in watching this film, and after a few screenings in different theatres in Manhattan and Brooklyn I must say people were really engaged.
All this been said, the copy that we showed of the movie to everybody was a transfer of a VHS or BETA, I cannot remember right now, to a DVD. Back then I tried to find a better copy, looked everywhere on the internet for it, even tried to contact Jose Val Del Omar’s family (because the originals where shot in 35mm, and also the sound design for each movie was made by a special system, the predecessor of the stereo sound, that himself invented). But I must say I never received any answer, and after looking everywhere in the internet, after contacting people who had been collecting obscure movies for all their life, after knocking at every possible door, I was not able to find not even one proper copy of the film.
Just to imagine what it would be watching it in 35mm…
But dreams are dreams, and now I live far away from NY, also far away from Spain, and my projects are focused nowadays in other things.
But of course, if I find out anyone who’d be able to give us some light, some clues on how to make this movie available in good quality for all film lovers to be able to watch it properly, I won’t hesitate on doing everything what’s in my hands to make it happen.
And that’s a deal.
^ Wow what an odyssey. This is probably the problem with many less well-known films. I just recently reconnected with an archivist and preservationist whose specialty is experimental film, his name is Mark Toscano, this is his blog. Also I just saw a link to his work on this blog by David Bordwell. I am going to ask him about this film and see whether there’s a way the net can be cast further by more hands.
Of course this brings up the importance of bringing the non mainstream cinema into the larger picture, preserving it so that people can have a better idea of the breadth and quality of what one can do with the medium. It’s important to film history, and to filmmakers. It’s weird that we’d have so much trouble keeping track of this stuff when traditional visual art, at least on the surface, seems to be better documented (don’t know about the preservation issues in comparison, though). Certainly film as a medium is perishable, but of course so are works made of other media.
I’ll let y’all know where I get….
Got an answer from my friend Mark:
The whole thing is on youtube in three parts, actually:
HereAnd hereAnd also here
The third video says something about it being reconstructed by the Filmoteca de Andalucia, so maybe they’d be the ones to get in touch with about the whole work?
Silence Please, did you know about the Filmoteca de Andalucia working on this?
Love experimental film/video. No particular favorite directors or films. The joy for me is in discovering new ones. That being said, I’m the selector/programmer for the Alternative Film/Video Festival in Belgrade. If anyone would like to submit their work please do so. The festival is in early December. Feel free to send me a private message if you want more information.
^ Wow, thanks for posting this, Greg!
Everyone, please consider!
No problem. You’ll notice on the website that the deadline has passed. In actuality we have extended it a bit. If anyone has any problems submitting, just send me a message and let me know. But please do so sooner than later.