What does experimental film entail? Well, largely making a film that breaks the normal rules of film. Non-narrative films are common. Films where the process is more important than the outcome also play a roll. It’s a weird and woolly world you step into when you start to watch these puppies, but the up side is that you come off seeming very arty and high brow when you can talk about them. It’s because experimental film is more about the fine art end of film making. It’s less “recorded play type thing” and more “painting that moves, and maybe tells a little story.”
Un Chien Andalou is perhaps the great granddaddy of the experimental films. I don’t think it was really the first film that could be considered experimental, really. It was, however, the first one that got everyone to sit up and take notice. Probably because it was made by Salvador Dali and Luis Brunel. In true surrealist fashion they set out to make a very dream-like movie with weird logic, free association, and a very loosely constructed narrative flow. Also some really nightmare-level stuff goes on too. The title cards make no sense. The scenes shift unpredictably. All in all, it’s a gloriously weird little film. And with a big ARTIST working on it, it got people thinking about film as fine art, rather than some sort of funny half step away from theater pop art.
(caution: this one gets a bit gory)
Animators love the experimental film. It frees them up to try new processes and techniques. The one shown above is a fairly popular one among students (and indeed that is a student film I found on YouTube and liked by user, skolegutten). It involves taking a roll of film stock and scratching the emulsion off with a knife to create white streaks. Alternately, film without emulsion on it is sometimes taken and drawn on. I’ve also seen semitransparent objects like flower petals glued to the film stock.
Of course it isn’t all dull high minded stuff that you appreciate because you know good art when you see it, not because it manages a decent entertainment value. While perhaps a bit fewer and farther between, comedy does periodically rear its head into the realm of the experimental film. Doxology is one of my favorites, not only because it is absolutly brilliant, but because the first time I saw it, I was at a festival and had been sitting through enough dull high brow experimental films (not all of them good to compound the problem) to make me want to beg for a narrative, any narrative. No narrative here, but a bit of cheeky humor that brightened up a dull afternoon.
So, you would like to see more experimental films, but don’t know where to do so? After all, the local megaplex would probably shoot itself in the foot before it tried to sell tickets to this stuff to its popcorn munching masses. Well I luck out in that one of the major experimental film festivals is held almost in my back yard every year. But for those of you not so blessed as to live in southeast Michigan, the Ann Arbor Film Festival goes on tour. And really, film festivals are where these puppies shine. Still, if you have a local art house theater, watch there to see if they do a short film night. Sometimes these sneak in there. Art museums with a theater attached sometimes show them as well. Don’t forget the glory of the Internet for short film. Short of the Week is a great site for catching quality short films and they have a section dedicated to experimental film. Do a little digging out there in the strange world of experimental film, you may be surprised at the gems you turn up.