Experimental movie

Experimental film , experimental cinema or avant-garde cinema is a mode of filmmaking that rigorously re-evaluates cinematic conventions and explores non-narrative forms and alternatives to traditional narratives or methods of working. [1] Many experimental films, particularly early ones, relate to arts in other disciplines: painting, dance, literature and poetry, [2] or arises from research and development of new technical resources. [3]

While some experimental films have been distributed through mainstream channels or even made in commercial studios, the vast majority has been produced on a very small scale with a minimal crew or a single person and is either self-financed or supported by small grants. [4]

Experimental filmmakers generally begin as amateurs, and some used experimental films as a springboard into commercial film making or transitioned into academic positions. The aim of experimental filmmaking is usually to render the personal vision of an artist, or to promote interest in new technology rather than to entertain or generate revenue, as is the case with commercial films.


The term describes a range of filmmaking styles that are quite different from, and often opposed to, the practices of mainstream commercial and documentary filmmaking . Avant-garde is also used, for the film shot in the field of history’s avant-garde currents in France, Germany or Russia, to describe this work, and ” underground ” was used in the sixties, though it has also had other connotations. Today the term “experimental cinema” prevails, because it’s possible to make experimental films without the presence of any avant-garde movement in the cultural field.

While “experimental” covers a wide range of practice, an experimental film is often characterized by the absence of linear narrative, the use of various abstracting techniques-out-of-focus, painting or scratching on film, rapid editing-the use of asynchronous ( non-diegetic ) sound or even the absence of any sound track. The goal is often to be seen in the movie. At least through the 1960s, many experimental films took an oppositional stance towards mainstream culture.

Most such films are made on very low budgets, with a minimum crew or a crew of only one person, the filmmaker. Some critics have argued that much experimental is not enough in fact “experimental” but has become mainstream film genre . [5] Many of its more typical features-such as a non-narrative, impressionistic , or poetic approaches to the film’s construction-define what is understood to be “experimental”. [6]


The European avant-garde

Two conditions made in the 1920s ready for the emergence of experimental film. First, the cinema matured as a medium, and highbrow resistance to the mass entertainment began to wane. Second, avant-garde movements in the visual arts flourished. The Dadaists and Surrealists in particular took to the cinema. René Clair ‘s Entr’acte (1924) featuring Francis Picabia , Marcel Duchamp , and Man Ray , and with music by Erik Satie , took madcap comedy into nonsequitur.

Artists Hans Richter , Jean Cocteau , Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Dulac and Viking Eggeling all contributed Dadaist / Surrealist shorts. Fernand Léger , Dudley Murphy , and Man Ray created the Mechanical Ballet film (1924), sometimes described as Dadaist , Cubist , or Futurist . Duchamp created the abstract movie Anemic Cinema (1926).

Alberto Cavalcanti directed Just the Hours (1926), Walter Ruttmann directed Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927), and Dziga Vertov filmed Man With a Movie Camera (1929), experimental “city symphonies” of Paris , Berlin , and Kiev , respectivement.

The most famous experimental film is Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí ‘s An Andalusian Dog (1929). Hans Richter’s animated shorts, Oskar Fischinger ‘s abstract films, and Len Lye ‘s GPO Film Would Be good examples of more abstract European avant-garde films.

Working in France, another group of filmmakers also financed films through patronage and distributed them through cine-clubs, yet they were narrative films not tied to an avant-garde school. Film scholar David Bordwell has dubbed these French Impressionists , and included Abel Gance , Jean Epstein , Marcel L’Herbier , and Dimitri Kirsanoff . These films combine narrative experimentation, rhythmic editing and camerawork, and an emphasis on character subjectivity.

In 1952 the Lettrists vanguard movement in France, Caused riots at the Cannes Film Festival , When Isidore Isou ‘s Venom and Eternity (Also Known As Venom and Eternity ) Was screened. After their criticism of Charlie Chaplinat the 1952 press conference in Paris for Chaplin’s Limelight , there was a split within the movement. The Ultra-Lettrists continued to cause disruptions when they announced the death of cinema and their new hypergraphicaltechniques; The Most notorious example is Guy Debord ‘s Howlings in favor of Sade (Screams in Favor of Sade ) from 1952.

The Soviet filmmakers, too, found a counterpart to modernist painting and photography in their theories of montage . The films of Dziga Vertov , Sergei Eisenstein , Lev Kuleshov , Alexander Dovzhenko , and Vsevolod Pudovkinwere instrumental in providing an alternate model from that offered by Hollywood . While not experimental films per se, they contributed to the film language of the avant-garde.

The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a view of the subject . You may improve this article , discuss the issue on the talk page , or create a new article , as appropriate. (April 2012) ( Learn how to remove this template message )

Prewar and postwar American vanguard: the birth of experimental cinema

The US had some avant-garde films before World War II , such as Manhatta (1921) by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand , and The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra (1928) by Slavko Vorkapich and Robert Florey . However, much pre-war experimental film culture of artists working, often in isolation, on film projects. Painter Emlen Etting (1905-1993) directed dance films in the early 1930s that are considered experimental. Commercial artist ( Saturday Evening Post ) and illustrator Douglass Crockwell (1904-1968) [7]animations made with blobs of paint entre pressed sheets of glass in His Studio at Glens Falls, New York . [8]

In Rochester, New York , medical doctor and philanthropist James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber directed The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933). Harry Smith , Mary Ellen Bute , artist Joseph Cornell , and Christopher Young made several European-influenced experimental films. Smith and Bute were both influenced by Oskar Fischinger, as were many avant garde animators and filmmakers. In 1930 appears the magazine Experimental Cinema with, for the first time, the two words directly connected to any space between them. [9] The editors were Lewis Jacobs andDavid Platt . In October 2005, a large collection of films that were restored and re-released on DVD, titled Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 . [10]

With Slavko Vorkapich, John Hoffman made two visual tone poems, Moods of the Sea (aka Fingal’s Cave , 1941) and Forest Murmurs (1947). The film is set to Felix Mendelssohn ‘s Hebrides Overture and was restored in 2004 by film preservation expert David Shepard .

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid is one of the first important American experimental films. It provides a model for self-financed 16 mm production and distribution, one that was soon picked up by Cinema 16 and other film societies . Just as importantly, it established an aesthetic model of what experimental cinema could do. Meshes had a dream-like feel that was shared with Jean Cocteau and the Surrealists. Early works by Kenneth Anger , Stan Brakhage , Shirley Clarke ,Gregory Markopoulos , Jonas Mekas , Willard Maas , Marie Menken , Curtis Harrington , Sidney Peterson , Lionel Rogosin , and Earle M. Pilgrim, followed in a similar vein. Significantly, many of these filmmakers have been established in Los Angeles and New York . In 1946, Frank Stauffacher started the “Art in Cinema” series of experimental films at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where Oskar Fischinger’s films were featured, Jordan Belson and Harry Smith influencing artists to make experimental animation.

They set up “alternative film programs” at Black Mountain College (now defunct) and the San Francisco Art Institute . Arthur Penn taught at Black Mountain College, which points out the popular misconception in both the art world and Hollywood as the avant-garde and the commercial never meet. Another challenge to that misconception is the fact that late in life, after each of Hollywood’s careers had ended, both Nicholas Ray and King Vidor made avant-garde films.

The New American Cinema and Structural Materialism

Main article: Structural film

The film society and self-financing model continued, but by the early 1960s, a different outlook became perceptible in the work of American avant-garde filmmakers. Artist Bruce Conner created early examples such as A Movie(1958) and Cosmic Ray (1962). As P. Adams Sitney has pointed out, in the work of Stan Brakhage and other American experimentalists of early period, film is used to express the individual consciousness of the maker, a cinematic equivalent of the first person in literature. Brakhage ‘s Dog Star Man(1961-64) exemplified a shift from personal confessional to abstraction, and also evidenced a rejection of American mass culture of the time. On the other hand, Kenneth Anger added a rock sound track to his Scorpio Rising (1963) in which it is sometimes said to be an anticipation of music videos , and included some camp commentary on Hollywood mythology. Jack Smith and Andy Warhol incorporated camp elements into their work, and Sitney posited Warhol’s connection to structural film.

Some avant-garde filmmakers moved further away from narrative. The New American Cinema was marked by an oblique take on narrative, one based on abstraction, and Structural-Materialist filmmakers like Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow created a highly formalist cinema that foregrounded the medium itself, the projection most importantly, time. It’s been argued that by breaking film, they sought to create an anti-illusionist cinema, though Frampton’s late works was a huge debt to the picture of Edward Weston , Paul Strand, and others, and in fact celebrate illusion. Further, while Many filmmakers Rather Began making academic “structural film” following Film Culture ‘ s publication of an item by P. Adams Sitney in the late 1960s, Many of the filmmakers named in the Article OBJECTED to the term.

A critical review of the structuralists appeared in a 2000 edition of the art journal Art In America . It examined structural-formalism as a conservative philosophy of filmmaking.

The 1960-70s and today. Time arts in the conceptual art landscape

Conceptual art in the 1970s pushed even further. Robert Smithson , a California-based artist, made several films about his earthworks and attached projects. Yoko Ono made conceptual films, the most notorious of which is Rape,which finds a woman and invades her life with cameras following her back to her apartment as she flees from the invasion. Around this time was entering the field, many of whom were students of the early avant-gardists. Leslie Thornton, Peggy Ahwesh , and Su Friedrich, who is a member of the United States.

Andy Warhol , The Man Behind Pop Art and a variety of other oral and art forms, made over 60 films throughout the 1960s, most of them experimental. In recent years, filmmakers such as Craig Baldwin and James O’Brien ( Hyperfutura ) have made use of stock footage of married to live action narratives in a form of mash-up that has strong socio-political undertones.

Feminist avant-garde and other political offshoots

Laura Mulvey’s writing and filmmaking launched a flourishing of feminist filmmaking based on the idea that Hollywood narrative norms and norms have a patriarchal gaze. Their response was to resist narrative in a way to show its cracks and inconsistencies. Chantal Akerman and Sally Potter are just two of the leading feminist filmmakers working in this fashion in the 1970s. Video art Emerged as a medium in this period, and feminists like Martha Rosler and Cecelia Condit Took full advantage of it.

In the 1980s feminist, gay and other political experimental work continued, with filmmakers like Barbara Hammer , Su Friedrich , Tracey Moffatt , Sadie Benning, and Isaac Julien among others finding their way to their questions about identity politics.

The queer movement has made a number of other filmmakers, such as GB Jones (a founder of the movement) and Scott Treleaven , among others.

Experimental Film and the Academy

With very few exceptions, Curtis Harrington among them, the artists involved in these early movements. A few years ago, starting in 1966, many became professors at the State Universities of New York , Bard College , California Institute of the Arts , Massachusetts College of Art , University of Colorado at Boulder , and the San Francisco Art Institute .

Many of the practitioners of experimental film have their own showings are prestigious. Some questions about the status of movies made in the academy, but longtime film professors such as Stan Brakhage , Ken Jacobs , Ernie Gehr , and many others, continued to expand and expand their practice while teaching. The inclusion of experimental film in film racing and standard movie stories, however, has made the work more widely known and more accessible.

Exhibition and distribution

Lithuanian artist Jonas Mekas , considered a godfather of American avant-garde cinema

Beginning in 1946, Frank Stauffacher ran the “Art in Cinema” program of experimental and avant-garde films at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art .

From 1949 to 1975, the Knokke-le-Zoute International Experimental Film Festival -located in Knokke-Heist , Belgium -was the most prominent festival of experimental cinema in the World. It permits the discovery of American avant-garde in 1958 with Brakhage’s European and American filmmakers.

From 1947 to 1963, the New York-based Cinema has exhibited in the United States. Under the leadership of Amos Vogel and Marcia Vogel, Cinema 16 is a nonprofit membership society committed to the exhibition of documentary, avant-garde, scientific, educational, and performance films to ever-increasing audiences.

In 1962, Jonas Mekas and other film makers founded The Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York City. Soon similar artists cooperatives Were FORMED in other places: Canyon Cinema in San Francisco, the London Film-Makers’ Co-op , and Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center.

Following the model of Cinema 16, experimental films have been exhibited mainly outside commercial theaters in small film societies , microcinemas , museums , art galleries , archives and film festivals.

Several other organizations in both Europe and North America helped develop experimental film. These included Anthology Film Archives in New York City, The Millennium Film Workshop, the British Film Institute in London, the National Film Board of Canada, and the Collective for Living Cinema.

Some of the most popular film festivals, such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival , the New York Film Festival’s “Views from the Avant-Garde” and the Rotterdam International Film Festival prominently feature experimental works.

The New York Underground Film Festival , The Chicago Underground Film Festival , the LA Freewaves Experimental Media Arts Festival, NYC MIX The New York Experimental Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and Toronto’s Images Festival seen. There is some dispute over whether “underground” and “avant-garde” are truly the same thing and if challenging non-traditional cinema and fine arts are fundamentally related. quote needed ]

Venues such as Anthology Film Archives , The San Francisco Cinematheque , The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California , Tate Modern, London and the Pompidou Center in Paris often include historically significant experimental films and contemporary works. Screening series no longer in New York that featured experimental work include the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema, Ocularis and the Collective for Living Cinema .

Recently Pacific Film Archive abolished their experimental Tuesday night program. A new curator (since 2000) of the Whitney Museum stated in a 2001 interview on Charlie Rose that he believed it was the responsibility of the Anthology Film Archives to show the work because the work is essentially unsellable and the Whitney was not interested in “renting “video art and movies. He went on to intimate that it would fall out of favor in coming biennials. (PBS / Charlie Rose). citation needed ] However this statement seems irrelevant, as The Whitney has exhibited experimental film in exhibitions, installations, and screenings since then, eg screening series for the Summer of Love exhibition, films in biennials, and the installation of Oskar Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst in 2012.

Some distributors of experimental movie today include The Collectif Jeune Cinema , [11] Cinédoc , and Light Cone [12] in Paris, Canyon Cinema in San Francisco Canadian Filmmaker’s Distribution Center, The Film-Makers’ Cooperative in New York, and Lux in London. Sixteen mm prints are still available through these organizations, and some archives. Center for Visual Music distributes curated film programs of experimental animation, including that of Oskar Fischinger , Jordan Belson , Mary Ellen Bute and others.

All these associations and movements have allowed the birth of national experimental films and schools like “body cinema” and “post-structural” movements in France, and “structural / materialism” in England for example. [13]

Influences on commercial media

Experienced filmmakers, and the influence of cinematography , visual effects and editing .

The genre of music video can be seen as a commercialization of many techniques of experimental film. Title design and television advertising have been influenced by experimental film.

Many experimental filmmakers have also made feature films, and vice versa. Notable examples include Lars von Trier , Jørgen Leth , Alejandro Jodorowsky , Nikos Nikolaidis , Jean-Luc Godard , Steven Soderbergh , Kathryn Bigelow , Curtis Harrington , Richard Williams , Andy Warhol , Peter Greenaway , Derek Jarman , Harmony Korine , Jean Cocteau , Isaac Julien , Steve McQueen (director) , Sally Potter ,David Lynch , James O’Brien , Vazilis Mazomenos , Thierry Zeno , Patrick Bokanowski , Gus Van Sant , Shaun Wilson , Paolo Pasolini , Simone Rapisarda Casanova and Luis Buñuel , the filmmaking takes on mainstream commercial aesthetics differs widely .

See also

  • Abstract animation
  • Abstract art
  • Art film
  • Pure cinema
  • List of film formats
  • Lists of Avant-Garde Movies
  • Filmbank
  • Microcinema
  • New media art
  • Non-narrative film
  • Performance art
  • Remodernist movie
  • Underground movie
  • Video art


  1. Jump up^ Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis, Film: A Critical Introduction, Laurence King Publishing, London, 2005, pg. 247
  2. Jump up^ Laura Marcus, The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period, Oxford University Press, New York 2007
  3. Jump up^ *Youngblood Gene,Expanded Cinema(Dutton, 1970) available as pdf atUbuweb
  4. Jump up^ “Top 10 Experimental Movies – Toptenz.net” . January 19, 2011.
  5. Jump up^ GreenCine | Experimental / Avant-Garde Archived2005-12-10 at theWayback Machine.
  6. Jump up^ “Experimental Film – married, show, name, cinema, scene, book, story, documentary” .
  7. Jump up^ “Douglass Crockwell, Alphabet of Illustrators, Chris Mullen Collection”.
  8. Jump up^ “Hollywood Quarterly” .
  9. Jump up^ Cinema, Experimental; America, Cinema Crafters of; Amberg, George (January 1, 1969). Platt, David; Jacobs, Lewis; Stern, Seymour; Braver-Mann, BG, eds. “Experimental Cinema 1930-1934 Periodical” . Arno – via Amazon.
  10. Jump up^ “Interview with Bruce Posner, the curator” . Archived from the original on 2010-03-05.
  11. Jump up^ “Young Cinema Collective” .
  12. Jump up^ “Light Cone – Distribution, diffusion and backup of experimental cinema” .
  13. Jump up^ Dominique Noguez, “What is experimental cinema? “Praise of experimental cinema, Paris,Center Georges-Pompidou, 1979, p. 15.


  • AL Rees , A History of Experimental Film and Video ( British Film Institute , 1999).
  • Malcolm Le Grice , Abstract Film and Beyond ( MIT Press , 1977).
  • Scott MacDonald, A Critical Cinema , Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (Berkeley: University of California Press , 1988, 1992, 1998, 2005, and 2006).
  • Scott MacDonald, Avant-Garde Film: Motion Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1993).
  • Holly Rogers, Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press , 2013).
  • Holly Rogers and Jeremy Barham, The Music and Sound of Experimental Film (Oxford: Oxford University Press , 2017).
  • James Peterson, Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order: Understanding the American Avant-Garde Cinema (Detroit: Wayne State University Press , 1994).
  • Jack Sargeant , Naked Lens: Beat Cinema (Creation, 1997).
  • P. Adams Sitney , Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (New York: Oxford University Press , 1974).
  • Michael O’Pray, Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions (London: Wallflower Press, 2003).
  • David Curtis (ed.), A Directory of British Film and Video Artists (Arts Council, 1999).
  • David Curtis, Experimental Cinema – A Fifty Year Evolution (London, Vista Studio, 1971)
  • Wheeler Winston Dixon , The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary History of the 1960s American Experimental Cinema (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997)
  • Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster (eds.) Experimental Cinema – The Film Reader (London: Routledge, 2002)
  • Stan Brakhage , Film at Wit’s End – Essays on the American Independent Filmmakers (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1989)
  • Stan Brakhage, Essential Brakhage – Selected Writings on Filmmaking (New York: McPherson, 2001)
  • Parker Tyler , Underground Movie: Critical History (New York: Grove Press , 1969)
  • Jeffrey Skoller Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2005)
  • Jackie Hatfield , Experimental Film and Video (John Libbey Publishing, 2006, distributed in North America by Indiana University Press )
  • Gene Youngblood , Expanded Cinema (Dutton, 1970) available as pdf at Ubuweb
  • Dominique Noguez , Praise of Experimental Cinema (Paris Experimental, 2010, 384 pp. ISBN  978-2-912539-41-0 , in French) Paris Experimental
  • Al Rees, David Curtis, Duncan White, Stephen Ball, Editors, Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance and Film , (Tate Publishing, 2011)