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August 1996, Week 4


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Pip Chodorov <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 24 Aug 1996 09:05:10 -0400
text/plain (84 lines)
Comments on experimental as genre/form:
I looked at the descriptions with an eye towards experimental film. Though
the categories seem good, there are some discrepancies.
For example, LOST LOST LOST (Jonas Mekas, 1949-1976) and THE TIES THAT BIND
(Su Friedrich, 1984) are both referred to as Experimental + Biographical.
Biographical, however, does not seem to include Autobiography, and is
characterized as "Fictional work dramatizing the life (or portion thereof) of
an actual historical figure..." or as "Nonfiction work documenting the life
and career (or portion thereof) of an individual or small group of related
persons such as a family. Note:  Not necessary to also use Documentary, since
that is implied by the term Biographical (Nonfiction)."
Neither LOST LOST LOST nor THE TIES THAT BIND, however, are fiction nor
documentary, in the terms posed in the descriptions given ("In Documentary,
actuality should still be dominant over the creative treatment...").
Moreover, the two films differ in an important way that is not taken into
account by the "+Biographical" modifier: LOST LOST LOST is made up of shots
filmed by the author at the time of the events in the film; whereas THE TIES
THAT BIND is a reconstruction of the life of the filmmaker's mother during
WWII using interview, stock footage, scratched footage, symbolic shots, and
voice over. Therefore, LOST LOST LOST can be defined as Film Diary, and THE
TIES THAT BIND as Portrait. You could also add +War, but again the categories
are not satisfying (war fiction=redramatization, war nonfiction=documentary
on specific battles or events...)
This is just one example of a general problem that I think stems from putting
Fiction, Documentary and Experimental all into the Genre list instead of the
Form list. If these were categorized as forms, then any subject, genre or
theme such as biography or war could be treated in any form (animation,
experimental, fiction, documentary, etc..), and you would not have to specify
this form as part of the genre definition.
Another problem which I started to evoke above is that there are many
categories within experimental film (I have mentioned Film Diary and
Portrait). Other subforms include Found Footage (reappropriating film not
shot by the author, including but not limited to stock shots), Lettrism
(films about film form, can be rather militant), Chemical/Hand Processing or
Treatment (picture is broken down chemically using tinters, toners, acids,
peroxides; picture is developed manually using nonstandard chemistry; film
grain is reticulated, solarized, or otherwise distorted, altered or
discolored), Optical Printing (picture is broken down or altered optically,
either step-printed, reframed, rerhythmed, refiltered, or several pictures
are combined on the same screen), Nature (studies in the colors and textures
of nature i.e. MOTHLIGHT), City Symphonies (urban imagery - "BERLIN--DIE
SYMPHONIE EINER GROSSTADT" is already evoked under Documentary), Historical
Avant-Garde (Dada, Surrealism, etc), Psychedelic (incl. computer animation
and "acid optical printing"), Militant/Political, Gay/Lesbian, Structural,
Lyrical, Interactions with other art forms (for example, for film+music, the
films of Henry Hills or Peter Kubelka, for film+photo, those of Gary Beydler,
NOSTALGIA by Hollis Frampton, Paul de Nooijer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy...,
film+dance=Maya Deren, Doris Chase....).
There are many categories, and each category would help to distinguish
between hundreds of films. You started to do this under Animation, though
those categories are not succinct enough; for example, for cameraless
animation, now defined as "type of animation in which the images are drawn
directly on the film stock, rather than photographed," you should add to
drawn: painted, scratched, stenciled, layed down and exposed (such as in Len
Lye's COLOR CRY, 1952), glued (MOTHLIGHT again), taped (Giovanni Martedi's
FILM SANS CAMERA, 1974), previously photographed images removed and
repositioned layer by layer, (color by color) using ammonia and scotch tape
(Cecile Fontaine's JAPON SERIES, 1991), and other various processes.
These comments are not sufficient to account for all types of experimental
film (for example, Warhol's SLEEP still does not fit into any category), but
I think the description given for experimental film is far too cursory
(compared to the myriad of narrative genres elaborated) to allow identifying
an entire body of work which by the nature of its relevance in American film
history and by its scope deserves to be given a taxonomy as diverse and
developed as the art form itself. An institution of the US government such as
the Library of Congress should do all it can to demarginalize experimental
film, considering the wide influence American filmmakers from across the
country have had since before the underground movements of the 1950's.
-Pip Chodorov
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