Re: [Frameworks] Drama films and the Avant-Garde

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Jan 27 2011 - 06:37:02 PST

Certainly in terms of many of the 'outsider' features mentioned in this thread, we would want to go back to Peter Wollen's essay on 'The Two Avant Gardes' and note that 'experimental-vs.-not-experimental' or 'short-vs.-feature' are not useful typologies. That is, the avant-garde feature (exemplified back in the day by Godard, perhaps more recently by David Lynch) is it's own thing, setting up it's own break from the mainstream for it's own purposes without necessarily borrowing from the more hard-core experimental tradition.

My sense is that as time goes by, more feature filmmakers have been exposed to experimental work in school, and there's also a 'Two step flow' effect from the way certain experimental devices have been so completely absorbed (and bastardized, if you will) in music videos and commercials, where many feature directors serve their apprenticeships. So we are beyond the tracing of simple and direct homages or thefts, which almost almost tend to be decorative and/or superficial as various Frameworkers have observed. On a deeper level though, I think many Hollywood films aim for a kind of subjective narrative - a departure from the classic 3rd person style - that owes a lot to early experimental work - 'psychodramas' and 'trance films' in Sitney-esque terminology. This evidences itself somewhat in cinematography, and a lot in editing. Nolan, Aranofsky, Gondry, the Wachowskis -- Scott Pilgrim etc.

On another, somewhat less formal path, we might recall that experimental cinema drew an audience in the 60s because it was one of the few places people could see sex -- especially non-straight sex -- on screen. In terms of subject matter or attitude towards it, there's a whole trajectory from Jack Smith and Andy Warhol and even George Kuchar outward through John Waters et. al and into even more mainstream (if not quite blockbuster) features.

In the indie world, the line between the avant-garde feature and the conventional breaks down. Where do we put Almereyda or the mumblecore stuff? (Hamlet has a bit more than just the Lewis Klahr footage and the fact the Prince is characterized as an 'experimental filmmaker'.)

Off the top of my head though, it strikes me that the turn experimental work took in the 70s is more resistant to incorporation/inspiration for narrative features. I can't think of commercial features that borrow from Snow or Frampton or Gehr or 'Riddles of the Sphinx'.

But then, examining the connections of experimental-to-mainstream via features really misses the action, which (again for good or ill) occurs more in commercials and music videos. There's less of this than there used to be, because music video is simply much less important to the industry than it once was, and commercials have gotten so short there's not time for much technique of any sort. But there's still a lot of stealing from the found footage tradition in ads, and then there are things like the Levis 'O Pioneers' campaign - experimentalism as branding!!

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