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Archive for December 4th, 2011

by Maurizio Roca

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. December will be “Avant-Garde Month.” Each week, three related films will be covered in one entry, with videos of the work included.

While Joel has selected the weekly theme, the films were chosen by this week’s guest writer. Today Maurizio Roca, last seen conducting the noir countdown on Wonders, investigates three of his favorite experimental films from the riches of the silent era.

In the 1920s, avant-garde filmmaking slowly emerged as more intellectuals started to take cinema seriously as an art form. The scorn and ridicule that greeted movies in earlier times gradually subsided and was replaced by a general enthusiasm for the medium’s possibilities. A few members of certain cultural movements, notably the Surrealists and Dadaists, started to realize that their philosophical and personal concerns could be administered quite effectively on celluloid. This was another area of visual art where the creator could manipulate the tools he placed in front of him to construct a result he deemed aesthetically satisfying. It’s no coincidence that many early directors in this new enterprise had already established themselves in other forms of art. Just scan some of the names that graced early avant-garde pictures—Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger—and you can see that a healthy dose of cross-pollination was occurring quite frequently. Yet this new cinematic form was also attracting young budding filmmakers that understood that the relatively cheap, independent spirit that lay at the heart of this new medium was a way to break into cinema without relying on a studio for finances. Many future narrative filmmakers that worked almost exclusively in motion pictures had gotten their start in the avant-garde films of the ’20s. In this essay, I will be focusing on three such films of that decade.

For some readers that are unfamiliar with what constitutes an avant-garde film (as it can be considered in the confines of the 1920s), one needs to look at prevailing elements that were generally found in such works. For one, the absence of a linear, chronological narrative is usually present (or at least fractured to an exorbitant level). Second, a strategic use of cinematic techniques is abundantly added to abstract and consciously alter the images for the viewer by rapid editing, out of focus imagery, animation, filtered lenses, expressive and exaggerated camera movements, optical effects and non-diegetic sound. Third, it provides a highly ambiguous or symbolic message (sometimes even being completely nonsensical) that is meant to be reflexive and/or opposite of what can be found in more mainstream fare. These pictures are basically designed to offer the audience a sort of contradictory experience to what they would generally find in most theaters back then. (more…)

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