Re: experimental film and genre films

From: Jonathan Walley (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Apr 26 2006 - 14:38:35 PDT

On Apr 26, 2006, at 3:39 PM, gregg biermann wrote:

> It would be a film that experiments within some of the established
> conventions of the experimental/avant-garde film genre. It could be a
> parody, refinement, revision, deconstruction of or assault on the
> genre's modernist ancestry. It would do it with a greater historical
> and aesthetic awareness than classical experimental/avant-garde
> filmmakers could have had from their vantage point. It might offer
> more subtle and complex realizations of some of the classic
> experimental films predominant paradigms. In particular it would
> evidence an awareness of what it means to be doing this now. So
> Michael is correct -- it would use contemporary tools. And hopefully
> it would not remain so wierdly and painfully separate from the rest of
> contemporary creative practice.
> Gregg
> New Jersey, USA

It's not as though all of the above hasn't been done already. I can
think of films that are more than 30 years old that parody, refine,
revise, etc. the modernist preoccupations of avant-garde film. Many
films in the seventies (e.g. the so-called "New Talkies") threw a
historical, and historical-materialist, light across contemporaneous
avant-garde art and film practices. And as far as experimental
filmmakers "doing this now," I think many of them are perfectly aware
of the implications of what it means to be a self-identified
"experimental/avant-garde" filmmaker. With this in mind, I'm not sure
what you mean by "so weirdly and painfully separate from the rest of
contemporary creative practice."

I have problems with the characterization of avant-garde film as a
genre, unless the term genre is being applied so expansively that it
becomes useless. Generally, the films in a genre share formal and
stylistic features - indeed, these features define the genre. This just
isn't the case with avant-garde film. Even if we use the term "genre"
really broadly (e.g. calling "Hollywood Cinema" a genre, as Ed Small
does, for instance, in his book Direct Theory), those unifying
characteristics aren't there (as they are in Hollywood films - all of
which are narrative, feature protagonists whose goals drive the
narrative, follow basic rules of the continuity system, possess sound
tracks centered around sync-sound dialogue, etc. etc.).

I prefer to think of avant-garde film, of whatever we'd like to call
it, as an artistic tradition, or cinematic culture, or "mode of film
practice." These entail not only works of art, but the social,
institutional, economic, artistic, etc. practices of which those works
are a part. These things provide some degree of unity that is not
evident in the form and style of the films themselves, and are an
important part of how "avant-garde filmmakers" self-identify.

For what it's worth...

Jonathan Walley
Professor, Cinema Department
Denison University
Granville, Ohio
email suppressed

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