Experimental Film: Why I chose it
“Experimental film’s purpose is not to simply carry out an amusing story, but to fully express the tremblings of man’s unconscious.” This quote by Jonas Mekas, one of the writers in Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader really resonated with me, and perfectly portrays where Experimental Film has come from and what it has progressed to throughout the years. In all of the resources that I have reviewed in aid of my Final major project, the idea that personal vision always comes above commercial vision was something that was always expressed, helping me realise the focus for my own experimental film. In this literature review, I will identify and explain different elements within experimental film that I have learnt of and what has inspired me. I have broadened my knowledge on the ‘genre’ that I am dealing with through watching multiples of short experimental films, reading books about it’s history and ideologies that inspired it.
Len Lye (1930)
Len Lye ‘Colour Flight’ Still – Experimental film. Len Lye pioneered painting directly onto film.
This is the kind of experimentation I would like to do with colour. I would not be able to paint directly on film, as I am shooting mine with a DSLR. However, I’d like to create something with this same sort of effect.
Go Hirasawa (2017)
Taken from the film Gewaltopia Trailer (1969)
“In their meticulous assemblage of individual shots of different spaces imbued with the symbolic significance of political confrontation, they reject the theatrics of spectacle, instead establishing a radical materialism in both structure and methodology”
Themes: Materialism, Existentialism, Politics vs War
Furthermore, research on Materialism, Existentialism and how we as people react to the worlds negativity helped to develop the themes I wish to portay in my film, and it broadened my understanding of exactly what it is I want to depict. Researching experimental film together with developing an understanding of these topics helped me put together a better plan for the structure of my film, and given me a clearer idea of what I am going to create in detail.
A Brief History on Experimental Film – how it has inspired me
What drew me to experimental film is the ability to create anything without any particular rules, regarding the narrative, genre or style. The creative freedom in the cinema appeared in the 1920’s and 1930’s, where French Surrealists and Dadaists such as Jean Coceau and Man Ray inspired American experimental filmmakers to ‘abandon the constraints of narrative’. This marked a new freedom in cinema. Filmmakers stepped away from concentrating on narrative, and instead focused on how they could portray their individual concerns and interests in a visual and artistic way. Out of this, came Cinepoem- a film based on or following the form rhythm and aesthetics of a poem. Fernand Leger’s Ballet Mecanique (1924) is a 15 minute film that features flashes of shapes, images, bottles, hats, reflections of a camera, carnival rides, the smiles of a woman and so many more images. As an artist, he experimented with cubist form and black and white tonalities and, according to Donald Faulkner of the NYS Writers Institute, all these symbols interweave a complex cinematic metaphor which bonds man and machine.
Screenshots from Fernand Leger’s Ballet Mecanique (1924)
The harsh contrast between the light and dark tones I these photos is something I would like to try in my film.
au miel (2015)
Man Ray also made a classic Avant garde short film called Le Retour a la raison (1923). It featured white specs and shapes over a black background through the use of shadows. The way that these filmmakers achieved these looks were extremely creative. Man Ray made his images by placing objects on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light. He expanded on his rayograph technique by sprinkling salt and pepper onto one piece of film, and pins onto another piece of film. These artists improvisation and creativity when making films and the way they incorporated art into it is really admirable.
Below are some pictures from Man Ray’s film Le Retour a la raison.
In-a-Fog (no date)
Analysis’ of Short Experimental Films
Moreover, I have watched a number of short films while conducting research for my project, particularly by Joel Schlemowitz. His short films have such variety, and I have learnt different techniques from each of them whether it was editing, cinematography or creating a specific mood. In 40/4000 (2007), the different camera angles, camera techniques and the mood they created gave me inspiration for my own film. It creates a similar effect that I would like to portray. The film involves a large group of people at a table having a meal at a restaurant. The shots are very quick and snappy, and show little details of the commotion occurring around the table ie. People talking and eating, close ups of the food. And pans of the restaurant. The camera goes in and out of focus as it zooms into these occurrences, and then swiftly switching to something else within the scene. Together with the upbeat classical music (by Die Zilberne Chassene) the mood created is quite joyful and matches the narrative of the subjects enjoying a night out at a restaurant.
Below is the short film 40/4000 by Joel Schlemowitz
Another film quite similar to this is Bacchanale (1998). It involves people at a house party, who are all wearing masks. The footage is a mixture of sped up and normal paced video, where there are extreme close ups of the individuals faces. As the film progresses the clips get more and more warped- some are flipped sideways, some upside down and some stretched out. It goes completely with the jolly, party mood and can symbolise the perhaps intoxicated nature of the characters. The idea of distorting the footage in such a way that adds to the mood is something I can apply in my own project.
The Beat Era – how it ties in with my own project
Pamela Vieyra (2011)
The beat era in America was most prevalent in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a period where creators rejected the materialism of post-world war II, and made poems, music, paintings, sculptors and films to express this. Beat filmmakers have particularly taken my interest, as the views they expressed through experimental film are quite similar to what I intend to portray. Jonas Mekas classed them as film poems, and they were later described as imaginative work that used the camera the way a poet uses his pen: as an instrument of invention. The Flower Thief (1960) was a huge success in experimental cinema and exemplified exactly what The Beats were all about. It was shot on 50 ft. outdated cartridges from World War II aerial gunnery film. It followed the actor Taylor Mead, on a series of adventures around San Francisco. His character is foolish yet endearing and comes into contact with schoolchildren, jazz musicians, North Beach hustlers to all of whom he is quite unrestrained and uninvolved. The flower thief is described as a paean to the plight of the outsider in a world that is both unresponsive and unyielding. Much like the experimental film I intend to produce, the subject does not connect with what the materialistic thing that are deemed as important, and searches for a greater purpose in a world that seems to be falling apart.
Mubi (no date)
Research Into The Themes of My Film
On another note, a big part of my secondary research entailed the themes and topics that I explore for my final major project. These include materialism, various social, environment and politic issues occurring around the world and peoples attitude towards it. To look into this, I watched a variety of talks and interviews, read articles and books to broaden my understanding. I also looked into existentialism, to see how and if I would like to subtly incorporate it into my piece, through the way the subject feels about her urge to have a purpose and do something meaningful in a world where the negativity seems overbearing and so much more than her. Before the existentialism concept , there was first essentialism. This idea claimed that everyone was born with a purpose, or an essence, that they had to follow or achieve throughout their life. There was no concept of ‘finding ones self’, because everything you were supposed to be was already set in stone before you were born- presumably by God. It is after this that existentialism come out, which explains that one is born first, and then it is up to that individual to find ones essence. Jean Paul Sartre expanded this theory by saying “If there are no guidelines for our actions, then each of us is forced to design our own moral code. “ He went on to say that If the world is going to have any of the things most of us value, for example justice and order, we’re going to have to put it there ourselves. Otherwise, these things will not exist. This theory is really interesting. It emphasises that if us as individuals don’t do our part in changing what we don’t like abut the world, who will?
In addition, materialism is one of the main themes I aim to express in my Final Major Project. A number of works have inspired me to express this. One of them is a group called The Minimalists, who run a blog and travel around America giving talks about how much happier people can be if they simplify their life. They stress that when we put materialistic things first, we lose sight of our real priorities and life’s purpose. Reducing the amount we own and buy and giving it less of our attention will help us to focus on the more important things, like relationships, our contribution, community and growth. Research has repeatedly shown that the more people value material things the lower their happiness and life satisfaction and the fewer pleasant emotions they experience throughout the day. Materialistic goals have also shown to affect our social relationships. Research shows that the more value we put on material things, the less concern we have for others in terms of compassion, empathy and cooperation. This also implies to peoples attitude towards the environment. Tim Kasser explained in his video “The High Price of Materialism’ that as materialistic values go up, concern for nature tends to go down. He went on to say, that we as a people need to diminish the power of materialistic values in their personal lives.
My Inspiration from Fight Club
When recently watching Fight Club (1999) for the first time, the overall motif of materialism and consumerism stood out to me immensely. After watching the it, I did so much research into the background story of the film, and all of the subtle messages that it contained. The way Tyler Durden viewed the materialistic nature of American life is so relevant in today’s world, and as extreme his character was, he had an important point. I have found a great deal of inspiration from it, and his expression that a life revolving around buying things. A quote that always stands out to me from Fight Club, is something that the character Tyler Duran says. “God Damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables- slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don’t need”. I think this is so relevant and this line depicts the exact message I hope to make apparent in my own film.
In conclusion, the secondary research that I have undertaken has successfully lead me to expanding some of the elements within my idea for my film. It has educated me in ways that will not only improve the quality of my project, but have also added to my understanding in general- equipping me for future projects. Through looking at different experimental films, the way themes are portrayed and techniques are used, I am motivated to experiment myself, and see how I can incorporate it into my own work. Furthermore, looking into ideologies such as existentialism that I was previously unfamiliar with has enabled me to give the story within my film more detail and meaning. Knowing the facts and statistics about materialism as well will help to support the accuracy of the message I wish to portray. Without having done this research, I would in no way be as equipped to produce the film I intend to, in the best possible way.
Cinepoem: a new Film Competition – European Foundation Joris Ivens. 2017. Cinepoem: a new Film Competition – European Foundation Joris Ivens. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ivens.nl/en/139-cinepoem-a-new-film-competition. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
alchetron.com. 2017. No page title. [ONLINE] Available at: https://alchetron.com/Ballet-Mecanique-14629-W. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
au miel. 2017. au miel. [ONLINE] Available at: http://au-miel.tumblr.com/post/125196377004/ballet-m%C3%A9canique-fernand-l%C3%A9ger-dudley-murphy. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
YouTube. 2017. 40/4000 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfqYV1S0n1c. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
YouTube. 2017. Man Ray. Le Retour A La Raison (The Return to Reason), 1923 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwLD5WWQptw. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
Internet Archive. 2017. “Return to Reason” [“Le Retour aÂ la Raison”]  : Man Ray : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive. [ONLINE] Available at: https://archive.org/details/returnToReasonleRetourLaRaison1923. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
Film Notes -Ballet Mecanique. 2017. Film Notes -Ballet Mecanique. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/filmnotes/fnf96n3.html. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
Movie Review – – Screen: ‘Flower Thief’:Avant-Garde Movie at the Charles Theatre – NYTimes.com. 2017. Movie Review – – Screen: ‘Flower Thief’:Avant-Garde Movie at the Charles Theatre – NYTimes.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9403E6D71131EF3BBC4C52DFB1668389679EDE. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
YouTube. 2017. The High Price of Materialism – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGab38pKscw. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
YouTube. 2017. A rich life with less stuff | The Minimalists | TEDxWhitefish – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgBpyNsS-jU. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
YouTube. 2017. Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaDvRdLMkHs. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
Three Radical Japanese Filmmakers – Harvard Film Archive. 2017. Three Radical Japanese Filmmakers – Harvard Film Archive. [ONLINE] Available at: http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2017marmay/radical.html. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
IN-A-FOG. 2017. IN-A-FOG. [ONLINE] Available at: http://in-a-fog.tumblr.com/. [Accessed 07 June 2017].
Flickr. 2017. Flickr. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/napoleon-in-aquamarine/5559487913. [Accessed 07 June 2017].