Saturday, September 6, 2014


I believe every single one of us has had the experience of watching some form or another of experimental film. I would hope that by now we have all sat in Film Aesthetics and Analysis, where the dominant type of film being watched is either experimental or art films. Now, I am in no way disparaging either the class or how it is taught I am merely hoping that it will help to lend some credence to what I am trying to blog about. I would like anyone reading this to stop for a minute and to consider the meme below:

I am going to be the first one to concede that experimental film can be very complex to watch and understand but with that concession made, I do believe that we can learn a tremendous amount about the art of film making. Often times, experimental film makers will attempt to subvert already established conventions and ideas about film making that with time removed from the film's creation and academic study often become permanent fixtures into the language of cinema. In particular, I would like to focus on two seminal experimental film makers, Maya Deren, and Andy Warhol. While these are but two of many important auteurs of this genre I want to bring attention to the groundbreaking efforts that these two have made in our understanding of this genre of film. 


Maya Deren, or Eleanora Derenkowskaia, born in Kiev, Ukraine became a hugely important figure in the realm of experimental film making for her movie, Meshes of the Afternoon, as well as her ground breaking idea on the role of cinema. Deren believed that the role of cinema was to create an experience for her audience, and to evoke some kind conclusion, which led to her style being ever evolving. Additionally, Deren combined her interests in dance, voodoo and subjective psychology in a series of surreal, perceptual, black and white short films. Using editing, multiple exposures, jump cutting, superimposition, slow-motion and other camera techniques to her fullest advantage, Deren creates continued motion through discontinued space, while abandoning the established notions of physical space and time, with the ability to turn her vision into a stream of consciousness that engages the audience at both a subjective and objective level. Below are some examples of that:



Deren's work with fluid point of view has had critics hail her as the first film maker to "inject a fresh note into experimental film making" (Lewis Jacobs, 279). Additionally, critics have found much interest in the way that Deren makes use of intercutting between the subjective point of view and the objective point view. Joseph Briton suggests that this duality of view gives the film new depth by allowing the audience to both experience the human being in the film both from how they are perceived by others and how they are perceive themselves. Lewis Jacobs also suggests that these dramatic, often confusing shifts in her points of view helps to create a double climax between the real and the imagined in which the tension we were feeling as viewers breaks for the first time when we learn it was just a dream of her suicide, and then it breaks a second time when we learned that the imagined has become a reality when Deren goes through with the act. In 2010, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) held a retrospective of Deren's work in which it was suggested the Meshes of the Afternoon was a direct sequel to another Deren film called At Land, and that this film then set another one of her movie entitled, Ritual in Transfigured Time.   



Andy Warhol is yet another example of a film maker that completely subverts the established conventions and ideas of what film artistry is. One of the prime examples is an eight hour long film that he shot called Empire, in which he took a single shot of the Empire State building over a period of day shifting into night. A fun fact about Empire is that it was actually only shot for six and a half hours at 24 fps but then Warhol slowed down the frame rate to 16 fps for the exhibition of it which caused it to the run at it's current pace of eight hours and five minutes. Supposedly, abridged showing of this movie were never allowed by Warhol and the unwatchable nature of the movie was the main reason for it's creation. 

However, in order to understand why someone would go out of their way to create something that was purposefully unwatchable, we need to understand Warhol's artistic principles. 


Andy Warhol was considered a pop artist but to understand what that means we first need to look back to the early 20th century to an art movement that originated in Zurich and New York called Dadaism or Dada. The main principle of this art movement was to create art that was away from the consumer, bourgeois sphere that preexisting art movement such a impressionism and expressionism found themselves in. The main way that the practitioners of the Dada art movement found to do this was to create what they called "anti-art," or art that was meant to have no consumer worth whatsoever. This was accomplished in the mediums of assemblage, and collage, as well as nonsense poetry and sculpture. 


Now how does this relate to pop art, one might ask themselves? Andy Warhol, especially with the famous Campbell Soup Can, set out to create art that had no meaning affixed to it whatsoever but then the people that would view it would attempt to affix meaning to it or interpret it in some way. I can tell you from personal experience when I went to see an Andy Warhol exhibit with my mother back home, that there would people who would stand by a piece of his art for 20 minutes looking it up and down, and trying to dissect some meaning from it. Let me tell you something right now, THEY GOT GOT!!!! They 100% fell for the trap of pop art, but let me tell me what that is again, so you the educated reader of this blog never make this mistake, Pop art is literal. What does the mean? It means that the Campbell's Soup Can is just a Campbell's Soup Can, not some artistic statement about capitalism, just a soup can, THAT'S ALL!!!

Understanding these principles of the Pop Art movement become important when looking at a film like Empire. Viewed from the understanding of what the Pop Art movement represents it becomes a genius statement about the need for film and more broadly art in general to have a meaning associated with it. This is why, in this bloggers opinion, Andy Warhol will always be one of the great modern artists of our time.

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