Re: [Frameworks] Experimental / Genre

From: gregg biermann (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jul 20 2010 - 10:26:36 PDT

One can, as Jennifer suggests, look purely at the physical/sensory
properties of a work and ignore everything else. However I rarely read
criticism that does not attempt to classify works. Taxonomy is useful
for critics in determining what a particular work is trying to do and
how it relates to previous works. This soon goes to evaluation and to
which works deserve support and attention within a climate of limited
resources and opportunities. As you've suggested, avant-garde art
movements historically espoused originality as being central to the
project. And some critics assign aesthetic value to things that were
achieved first and therefore have historical significance. Perhaps this
is why within the avant-garde or experimental film community we often
try to resist categorization in general and especially dislike the term
genre. The term genre suggests a highly codified collective activity.
Genres are formulaic but this is retrospective (i.e. Billy Wilder didn't
think he was making a film noir when directing Double Indemnity). It is
interesting though that there has been a consistent, perhaps obsessive
interest in the technologies of the past discussed here as this also
suggests a retrospective vector.

Fred Camper wrote:
> To Jonathan Walley, thanks to a fine, smart, and very clear post. I
> believe Kubelka did say something like what I quoted, but can't be
> sure. And your objections to calling "experimental film" a "genre"
> seem reasonable. I was using the word very very loosely; it does have
> more specific meanings within film (and literary) studies. I think we
> just have to be clear about what we mean by "genre," and how we are
> using the word. It seems right, too, to include things such as
> exhibition practices within "experimental" film.
> Andy Ditzler is right, too, that labels are often helpful in
> promotion. Indeed, when, in the fall of 1965, at age 17, I began
> showing films by Anger, Brakhage, Baillie, and others, at MIT, under
> the rubric of the MIT Film Society, I decided, on our posters, to call
> them "Experimental Films," knowing full well everything that was wrong
> with that term. But we needed a phrase that would connote, especially
> in an era in which media was far more homogenous than it is today,
> that these films were going to be *really* different. And it worked; I
> know of people who knowing nothing of cinema except "conventional"
> films but, seeing that tag line on our posters, figured these would be
> films that (for example) might have something to do with the
> contemporary art they loved, came to our shows, and had their lives
> changed.
> I'm less certain of the usefulness of this phrase today, but if an
> exhibitor finds it helpful, by all means, use it. Certainly it could
> help prepare viewers.
> Jennifer Saparzadeh asks
> "But what if someone makes something like that not knowing about the
> history? What if they discover film and use it in such ways without
> ever knowing that anybody else did that until later?"
> First, I must always remind myself that there are no rules about what
> makes great art, or how to make it. So anything is possible.
> But Sam Wells wrote in reply:
> "One problem is that they might be imitating the watered down history,
> the 'Honda Commercial' history...."
> And in my experience, this is most often the problem. Most young
> people today have absorbed a vast trove of moving images, including
> commercials and music videos that ripped off many avant-garde film
> traditions with none of the meaning those works had.
> In my experience, young film and videomakers who haven't seen very
> much of cinema's past often wind up making works that seem like pale,
> watered down imitations of filmmakers whose work they have not seen,
> or don't know well. While there surely are filmmakers who have studied
> Brakhage endlessly yet do make not very interesting derivative works,
> just as often, filmmakers who know someone like Brakhage well don't
> feel the need to imitate him, but, understanding his achievement, make
> works that take his achievements in another direction, or that don't
> even use much of his cinematic "language," or that actually argue with
> the ethos behind his work.
> I've heard more than one great artist say something like, "I had to
> make these works, because I didn't know of anything like them. If
> someone else had done something like this, I wouldn't have felt the
> need."
> Jennifer also asks,
> "And is there no such thing as experimenting with the film format in
> new ways? I mean, it is not like all of the capabilities of film have
> been broken through.."
> Of course it's fine to try. Go for it. But how can you know if you're
> using film in new ways without having a deep knowledge of what has
> been done in the past?
> Perhaps the greatest of all physicists, and certainly one of the most
> original, was Isaac Newton. Of the scientists who came before him and
> of their relationship to his own achievement, he wrote: "If I have
> seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
> Fred Camper
> Chicago
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