One theme that seems to have come up consistently throughout this semester, is the idea that the avant-garde film makes the viewer aware of the medium of film itself. This quality can make a film like Stan Brakhage’s material inspired “Mothlight” modern under Greenberg’s definition of modern art that we looked at in the reading “Modern Painting.” A realist painting tries to seduce the viewer into giving in to the illusion of the scene while a work of modern art is fully aware of it’s position as an object in a gallery. In his article for Film Comment “Bad Movies”, J. Hoberman takes on this abstract push and pull between the modern and the classic view of art and puts these ideas into the context of mainstream film in the 20th Century.
With film, it seems, the relationship between art and reality becomes slightly more confusing than it is with painting for example, due to the nature of the medium. With painting the original goal was to capture reality and try to render three dimensional objects on a two dimensional surface. A film camera however, is always capturing some piece of reality, no matter what it is pointed at. For many commercial films today, the film maker’s goal is also to capture a piece of reality, but one that is not the actual reality of the people the camera is pointed at and is instead a fictional space that is created when the people in front of the camera pretend to exist in that fictional space.
In this time of mass information, of the digital bureaucracy of the internet mirroring the real almost entirely, systems are built for fracture; instability of systems becomes the rule, and not the exception. Across the board, mistrust of those in positions of power, and in the nature of these positions in the first place. As frantic, constant, in-flux response, makeshift environments of fear and deterrence are pinned up in order to maintain control of individuals. If everyone’s gonna get crushed, something’s gotta splash out from the sides of the shoe. If we think of stomping as the mechanism of control, and the guts flying out of the sides are those who are pushed to the edges: those who are marginalized, degraded, sent into exile. And in a time of mass dissociation and mass frantic control, the realest experience is that of these individuals, traditions, objects and symbols. The imprint of the real chaos and cruelty and stomping of the world is all too heavy on the exiled.
Sound and film have been ubiquitously grouped together since the development of sound in cinema in the mid 1920s. Last week, we covered what sound and music are in relation to film, how sound aids or detracts from visual cinema, and the differences between sound and music. Sound, in relation to picture, usually comes second in the process of making a film. In traditional cinema, the sound of the film is often determined by the visuals. But what happens when an artist creates a film where sound is the dominant medium? When sound determines the visuals of an avant-garde film, Visual Music is created. This type of film includes work by Mary Ellen Bute, Oskar Fischinger, Norman Mclaren, and Stan Brakhage.
When looking at a garment, one of the first things one might notice is the presence or absence of “the hand.” Are the seams perfectly sewn and pressed, or do we see some threads unraveling at the finishes, some hand stitching? When we see the absence of the human hand as a force of creative work, there are instant connotations that come with this. Some connotations could be considered positive, such as refinement or perfection, but others not so much, such as anonymous labour and mindless production. While watching the material for Week 11’s topic of alternative animation, the presence or absence of the hand as a mark making tool was something that really struck me as important. The following paragraphs are my thoughts on the videos we will watch in class through this lens, with the exception of Night Hunter by Stacey Steers.
Soviet filmmakers spent their lives defining and redefining montage film. Montage is the central genre in experimental film in Soviet Russia. Earlier in the course we discussed and read S.M. Eisenstein’s theories on montage. Precisely, he defines the genre as such: “montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots.” Montage revolves entirely around editing, and when the soviets coined the term they introduced a new kind of cinema to the film world which would greatly affect the future of narrative filmmaking and filmmaking in general.
In their essay titled “A Statement,” S.M. Eisenstein, V. I. Pudovkin and G. V. Alexandrov discuss the introduction of sound to the art of film and its merits and possible detriment it could bring to the medium. Throughout, they seem to go back and forth on what good they think sound can do for film.
The idea of montage is heavily explained, and defended by early soviet film-makers such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov. They would discuss theories in the construction and purpose of montage. When the introduction of sound into the cinematic experience, sure enough, the same soviets had much to say about the way sound should exist and interact with the montage.
The Soviets introduce a few possibilities for how sound can serve a purpose in montage, and also how sound could be the detriment of the piece. In attempts to stray away from the theater and grow into the potential film has apart from it use to capture theatrics, rather as a medium of constructing montage, the automatic adherence of sound to film is what is could be the driving detriment of a film. A “backing track”, so to speak, is what these thinkers are referring to: the purpose of adding sound for the sake of adding sound. This addition of a “backing track” to film is curious in early film because, often the music added to a film was being performed by a live orchestra in the cinema. In order to avoid “destroying the culture of the montage” a few applications for sound in film are introduced.
The author Eamon Christopher discusses the temporality and the multidisciplinarity of art is important to explore the relationship between film and video art. “Happening”, a term coined by the Fluxus artist Dick Higgins, mainly refers to performance art and is valued by its temporality in time. In Fluxus, experimental actions and the multidisciplinary aspect are important. The methods that are used in the filmmaking lead to the formation of the experimental cinema and the video art.
Christopher starts by stating that Jackson Pollock’s drip painting is a Happening, to explain that Pollock’s involvement of his body action in his drip painting allows the artist and the audiences to experience the same feeling in the same work. This method gets Allan Kaprow thinking. By the time Kaprow admired Pollock’s method, John Cage influences Kaprow on the time-based, recordable, and projectable medium of film. Cage creates 4’33’’, which contains a repetition of creating music through an unconventional way. Later, he makes Theatre Piece No.1, which allows the audiences to be a part of the film by using their own actions to fill up the time of the film. Cage’s use of multidisciplinarity in his music makes Kaprow bring connections to his thinking of film.