Re: [Frameworks] Experimental Documentary

From: Anna Biller (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Jul 19 2010 - 08:42:26 PDT

And even "avant-garde" has a specific set of requirements that are not
necessarily about being "new." An person uneducated in art history who
makes a weird artwork is not being "avant-garde," but merely "naive,"
an "outsider," or making "personal" artwork.

On Jul 19, 2010, at 8:15 AM, Jonathan Walley wrote:

> The validity, usefulness, and/or accuracy of the term "experimental
> film" is a perennial discussion/debate on Frameworks.
> [Interestingly, I've never seen a similar discussion of the term
> "avant-garde film" on this list in the 12 years I've been on it -
> the debate always centers on the term "experimental." Anyway...] I
> remember one iteration of this debate in which the film scholar Tag
> Gallagher accused some Frameworkers of a sort of "racism" (his word
> choice) because they did not consider ground-breaking films by the
> likes of Ford, Welles, or Rossellini to be deserving of the
> "experimental" moniker. That was unfair to those directors and made
> Frameworks exclusionary (as if studio-based narrative filmmakers
> like Ford and Welles were the victims of experimental film's
> hegemonic grip on world cinema).
> I think Gallagher was making a common mistake - that "experimental"
> means that only filmmakers like Brakhage, Sharits, Deren, etc., were
> experimenting with their medium and that more mainstream, industrial
> filmmakers weren't, and, moreover, that "experimental" was an
> evaluative term meaning "groundbreaking," "novel," etc., the use of
> which was being unfairly reserved for certain kinds of filmmakers
> despite the fact that all artmaking is, in a sense, "experimental."
> Of course all filmmakers "experiment," if we use that term in the
> broad, non-scientific sense of trying out new things without a fully
> defined sense of what the outcome will be, and doing that to achieve
> new and different results (e.g. to learn something new, create new
> experiences, etc.). But I don't believe that's the way we use the
> term when we refer to the thing called "Experimental film." As Fred
> points out, it is a term that denotes a relatively specific artistic
> tradition into which an artist enters (knowingly or not). Thus, we
> can say that Brakhage was an experimental filmmaker because we
> worked within - indeed was instrumental in the creation of - this
> tradition, not because he was "experimenting" in that broad sense
> mentioned above (i.e. tinkering - making tentative, only temporarily
> novel films). By the way, this idea of experimental filmmaker as
> tinkerer, hobbyist, "gentleman filmmaker" - in other words, not a
> REAL filmmaker but someone who's merely experimenting - is the dark
> side of the term experimental. Fred references it, I think, in this
> quote:
>> "The films you have just seen are not "experimental." I made some
>> experiments in the process of working on them, and I left those
>> experiments back in the editing room. What you have seen are finished
>> films."
> Is this Kubelka? I seem to recall a very similar passage attributed
> to him. In any case, we needn't assume that the "experimental" in
> "experimental film" is evaluative, either in positive terms
> (experimental filmmakers are the only ones breaking new ground in
> the art of film) or negative ones (experimental filmmakers are just
> fooling around with their medium, in the hopes of eventually
> producing something real). Experimental film is an artistic
> tradition, and the films are neither good nor bad simply by dint of
> their inclusion within that tradition.
> But unlike Fred, I wouldn't equate a tradition with a genre. I don't
> think "genre" is an appropriate term for experimental film. A genre
> is recognizable by more or less consistent characteristics of form
> and style, and I don't believe that experimental film can be unified
> by such characteristics. Maybe we can talk about genres WITHIN
> experimental film (the flicker film, the deconstructed narrative,
> the abstract film, film installation, paracinema, and on and on...),
> but experimental film as a whole is defined by more than just what
> we see or hear in the films themselves, and that's why I prefer the
> term "tradition." [Actually, I prefer the term "mode of film
> practice:" without any pretense of modesty (to borrow Ken Paul
> Rosenthal's terrific phrase), I direct any interested parties to my
> essay "Modes of Film Practice in the Avant-Garde" in Tanya
> Leighton's collection "Art and the Moving Image: A Critical
> Reader" (2008) (
> )]
> Without trotting out the entire argument, I just mean that
> experimental film names a way of working, circulating, showing, and
> talking about films and filmmaking, not simply a collection of
> surface features such as scratching, fragmentary narratives, and
> flicker. It's as much an ethic as a specific set of filmmaking
> techniques. And this is why it's sometimes worth worrying over terms
> and definitions, and about what the term "experimental film"
> "really" means. Jennifer Saparzadeh seems to be worried about the
> potential "pigeon-holing" effect of so much concern over names and
> definitions, and this is a valid concern. On the other hand,
> however, artists self-identify with artistic traditions all the
> time; consciously and purposely affiliating with such traditions can
> be a source of empowerment, resources, values, and new ideas, not
> just a way of conveniently labeling oneself (e.g. "I'm in the
> Experimental section of Film Festival X"). In other words, there are
> deep and meaningful values in traditions, and the act of affiliating
> yourself with these values can be important and powerful. Saying,
> "I'm a flicker filmmaker" or a "scratcher of film" only tells us
> what your films look like. Self-identifying with a tradition is much
> more significant and telling. And such self-identification requires
> at least a general sense of the nature and meaning of the particular
> tradition(s) in which you see yourself.
> Best,
> Jonathan
> Jonathan Walley
> Asst. Professor of Cinema
> Denison University
> email suppressed
> On Jul 19, 2010, at 12:20 AM, Fred Camper wrote:
>> "The films you have just seen are not "experimental." I made some
>> experiments in the process of working on them, and I left those
>> experiments back in the editing room. What you have seen are finished
>> films."
>> I don't know if I ever heard a filmmaker say that exactly, but I
>> think
>> it was the sentiments of many filmmakers starting in the 1960s.
>> As I argued in an article in the 20th anniversary issue of
>> "Millennium
>> Film Journal," published in 1987, the phrase "experimental film" no
>> longer connotes, in its most common usage, a film that is new,
>> different, pushes the boundaries, etc. "Experimental film" is now,
>> instead, a genre. Scratching on film, painting on film, lack of an
>> obvious linear narrative, and a number of other features (though not
>> necessarily all of them) make a film "experimental."
>> This in itself is neither a good nor bad thing, in my view, as long
>> as
>> the filmmaker who is scratching on film understands she or he is
>> working in a tradition, and is aware of the past, and believes she is
>> adding something.
>> Fred Camper
>> Chicago
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