Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre
Publication Year: 2013
Undulating water patterns; designs etched or painted directly onto clear or black film leader; computer-generated, pulsating, multihued light tapestries—the visual images that often constitute experimental motion pictures are unlike anything found in either fictive narratives or documentary works. Thus, Direct Theory provides an historical and theoretical survey of this overlooked and misunderstood body of international films, videos, and digital productions that offers a strong case for the understanding of experimental motion pictures as a separate, major motion picture genre.
In a radical revision of film-theory that incorporates Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotic system, and adds to it historian Raymond Fielding’s technological determinism, Edward S. Small and Timothy W. Johnson argue that experimental moviemaking constitutes a special mode of theory that bypasses written and spoken words. By exploring the development of experimental motion pictures over nine decades, they trace the practice from its beginnings in the European avant-garde movement in the 1920s, through American underground productions, into international structuralist works that marked the experimental films of the 1970’s, and finally the digital experimental innovations of the twenty-first century.
To demonstrate that the aesthetic of experimental motion pictures is best understood separately from other major film genres such as fictive narrative and documentary, Small and Johnson highlight eight defining technical and structural characteristics of experimental productions, including the autonomy of the artist, economic independence, brevity, and the use of dreams, reveries, hallucinations, and other mental imagery. They also highlight a number of films, including Ralph Steiner’s 1929 H2O and Bruce Conner’s 1958 A Movie, and provide a sampling of frames from them to demonstrate that the heightened reflexivity of these films transmit meaning through images rather than words.
A deft historical interweaving of experimental production and scholarly discourse, this thought-provoking work firmly establishes the importance of experimental motion pictures in the discipline of film studies (theory and history) and production.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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A portion of chapter 2 was previously published in a different form in Edward S. Small, “Film and Video Art,” in Film and the Arts in 1988, an imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, Edward S. Small wrote the first edition of this book but invited Timothy W. Johnson to be coauthor of the second edition, to work ...
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A number of interesting digital technological developments have occurred since the publication of the first edition (written in 1994 and republished in 1999 with a few corrections and edits), making it appropriate to update the book with Timothy W. Johnson. In fact, the subtitle of the first edition, Experimental Film/experimental works are digital and may not use either film or video, hence the new subtitle: Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre. ...
1. Experimental Motion Pictures as Direct Theory
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Contemporary film/video curricula and pedagogy recognize a dichotomy between coursework in production and course-work in three scholarly areas: criticism, history, and theory. To be sure, these same distinctions are often served by overlapped boundaries. Production skills can inform critical skills, for example, which can reciprocally inform creativity. Likewise, few historical anal-yses are completely removed from critical and/or theoretical concerns. ...
2. Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre
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Experimental productions at once suffer and enjoy a marginal position throughout the history of motion picture scholarship. While these productions constitute a remarkably coherent genre, that genre remains an unusually overlooked one. However, this same marginality provides a peculiar site, an especially heuristic van tage marked the history of motion picture scholarship. Just as Western music’s arbitrary traditions become clearer from the oppositional ...
3. The European Avant-Garde
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The European avant-garde (EAG) has become a common film his-tory label for that body of experimental production realized by a number of fine artists on the European continent who turned to the cinema as an extension of their work in painting, sculpture, and other media during the decade of the 1920s. In the main, these artists operated in France and Germany under no real organization other Partly because of these painterly premises, contemporary motion ...
4. The American Avant-Garde and the American Underground
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It is convenient to posit a precise end for European avant-garde pro-duction with the advent of the Great Depression followed by a sudden flourish of sometimes fresh, sometimes derivative work in the United States. Yet certain concomitant productions preclude such consid-eration. As David Curtis notes, “America’s first avant-garde film was Charles Sheeler’s and Paul Strand’s Manhatta, an isolated attempt made as early as 1921.”1 Curtis’s choice of the qualification “isolated” is, ...
5. Expanded Cinema and Visionary Film
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Sheldon Renan’s pioneer study concludes with a chapter anticipat-ing a “whole new area of film and film-like art . . . expanded cin-ema.”1 Approximately three years later, Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema continued documentation of the explosive growth of experimental motion pictures’ affinity for technologic innovations: “If one considers the introduction of sound then color as successive ‘generations’ in the history of cinema, it is possible to say that we’ve ...
6. Experimental Video
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During the decade of the 1980s, a great many experimental films continued to be made by both established artists like Stan Brakhage and newer, younger artists who were often products of the hundreds of college and university classes devoted to film-making that had become established since the 1960s. However, the extraordinary flourish of experimental film that occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s had long since peaked. So pronounced was ...
7. Digital Experimental Motion Pictures
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What might the digital age hold for the major genre of avant- garde/experimental productions? We believe that this particular technological change will prove so vast and so long-lasting that, at best, our futurism is but “seeing through a glass, darkly.” Indeed, our very expectations are predicated upon our distinct blend of Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotic heritage and the technostructural historiography of film scholar Raymond Fielding....
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About the Authors, Back Cover
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Edward S. Small is an emeritus professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas. He is a motion picture theorist specializing in semiotics and a motion picture artist concentrating on experimental production. ...
Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013
Edition: Second edition.
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth