The Beat Generation were a group of artists from the 1950s who emerged after World War II. They believed in rejected cultural standards, innovations of new style, use of illegal drugs, rejection of materialism, and an anti-conformist culture. They were in favor for a “simpler lifestyle, living in cheap apartments, staging poetry readings, happenings and film screenings.” (pg .5 Introduction)
In the film “A Movie (1958)” by Bruce Conner, author J. Hoberman explains that all of the images are “hand drawn from 16mm newsreels and travelogues, as well as stag films, academy leader, and a Hopalong Cassidy western film.” (pg. 94). The film is considered to be an endless loop that can be seen as an installation in a gallery. It has been described as a “Self-reflexive exercise for the academics, a deconstructive anti-narrative, a materialist joke on the power of background music, or even a Pop-Art masterpiece for avant-garde film” (pg.94). “A Movie” has is a film that has many different aspects that make it unique. It seems that the film does not have a direct plot. Brackhag stated that Bruce Conner grew up in a small town in Kansas, where there would be nothing but dry air, no wind, silence, and a large blue dome in the farm. He stated that it reminded him of The Wizard of Oz. The blue dome became a figurative of “death as the great adventure of destruction” (pg. 130). In “Film at Wit’s End”, Brackhage,also stated how Bruce Conner created the film “Report” based on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and used 8mm film to created “peril and terror when Oswald was shown walking down the hallway” (pg 132). There were many shots that were constantly repeated in the film. Throughout the film, there are many metaphors for death. In Conner’s films, there are an array of emotions felt, such as sadness one minute, and the next happiness and laughter.
Hoberman also wrote about Jack Smith and his film “The Flaming Creatures” and how it was “discontinuous, primitive and sophisticated, hilarious and poignant, and avant and nostalgic,” (152) and allowed the viewers to feel an array of emotions when watching this film. The film is disembodied and strange than other films of its day.
Soviet filmmaking changed the Communist society. The Soviets believed that films lead to freedom and sought out anyway to teach the people Communism. They created trains that would educate people in film and advertise literacy. The best film school of the time was in Moscow. Sometimes the films used would only be for propaganda. The socialists believed that class structure is destroyed by capitalism and material life is determines the social, political, and intellectual processes of life. In “Man with a Movie Camera”, the cameraman becomes the character. The camera man is how the audience identifies with the characters throughout the film. In “Battleship Potemkim”, the use of montage, popularized by Sergei Eisenstein, allowed for change in cinema. It changed the syntax and linear progression of the film, It allowed for different point of views to be shown in the film. It also created high tension and suspense in film.
In “Film at Wit’s End”, Brakhage, stated how Bruce Conner created the film “Report” based on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and used 8mm film to created “peril and terror when Oswald was shown walking down the hallway” (pg 132). There were many shots that were constantly repeated in the film. Throughout the film, there are many metaphors for death. In Conner’s films, there are an array of emotions felt, such as sadness one minute, and the next happiness and laughter.
In “Meshes of the Afternoon”, Brakhage states that the film “Meshes of the Afternoon”, created by Maya Deren was about personal and psychological problems. It also has early styles and inspiration from avant-garde films and their film makers. In “Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality”, Maya Deren states that film must “be a total experiment and relinquish the narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the casual logic of narrative plots.” She is stating how film must be unique and allow the audience to create their own interpretations of the film. Judith Mayne writes about women in early cinema and the issues of primitive, racial, and feminism in early film.
The two films I watched outside of class this week were “Fantasia” (1940) and “Hugo” (2011). “Fantasia” has many animated segments that were combined with music, constructed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. It opens up with scenes showing the orchestra in a blue background, in half light and half shadow. They fade into abstract patterns, along with animated lines and shapes that reflect the sound and rhythms of the music. They are also synchronized. The first segment also consisted of graphic animation. Oskar Fischinger was a German artist who created abstract animated films. He was hired by Disney to create the film, but Dinsey believed that his work was too abstract. Oskar Fischinger also believed that his work was too abstract for the audience and left in the middle of the production of “Fantasia”. Fischinger’s work was mostly used as a background for the first segment. The other ones included actual animation, such as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with Mickey Mouse.
The film “Hugo” is a representation of Georges Meilies’s life in the eyes of a young boy named Hugo. Hugo is an orphan who lives in a major French train station maintaining the clocks. Before his father was killed by a museum fire, he and Hugo went to see Georges Meilies’s films and also worked on an broken automaton found in a museum. The automaton was Georges Meilies’s. This film connects to life of Georges Meilies and his famous works, including “A Trip to the Moon”. It also discusses the sad and hard life after the success with the major films. Georges Meilies had to sell the films to other companies and had to open a toy store in the train station because he lost a lot of his money. He became hopeless until Hugo and his goddaughter Isabelle helped him realize that his work has meaning and brings life and entertainment to others.
Both of these films connect to the class because of the idea of early cinema and abstract/graphic animation, a form of avant-garde.
In the Introduction of “Literature and Revolution”, Leon Trotsky explains how art in a Socialist society needs to flourish because it would be the highest test of survival and vitality in the Socialist society. He also states that the “culture feeds on the sap of economics, and a material surplus is necessary, so that culture may grow, develop and become subtle.” The society needs to create furniture faster, schools would need to be better and factories would need to work faster in order to achieve greatness. The literature from the bourgeoisie was destroyed and needed to grow again and the Revolution helped destroy the old to make way for the new. Trotsky believed that the “the bourgeoisie laid its hand on literature, and did this very quickly at the time when it was growing rich. The proletariat will be able to prepare the formation of a new, that is, a Socialist culture and literature, not by the laboratory method on the basis of our present-day poverty, want and illiteracy, but by large social, economic and cultural means.” The ideas of Socialism led Russia to create new forms of art, including film, such as the Soviet Montage.
In Chapter 3 “The 1920’s Soviet experiments” O’Brien explains how the Soviet Union was the center of avant-garde in the 1920s. Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertiv, Lev Kuleshov, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Alexander Dochvchecnko were the leading filmmakers from Soviet Russia. A very famous film from this era is Battleship Potemkin. With the combination of “”montage an political revolutionary aims” (O’Brien 27). Most Russian filmmakers tried to differentiate themselves from the European avant-garde filmmakers and create their own work.
Vertov claimed how the viewer needs to to have organization with the camera when they watch film in order to edit and organize the consecutive events. This is revolutionary for this film genre and time period. Eisenstein wanted the audience to see his work through revolutionary ways through existentialism and radical forms. Eisenstein also claimed that the audience needs to have an “attractional approach to the montage of effects that are useful to the class and the utilitarian goals of cinema in the Soviet Revolution.
In surrealist movies, such as The Seashell and the Clergyman or Un Chien Andalou, there is no logical narrative and no true interpretation of the symbolism throughout the films. The symbolism in The Seashell and the Clergyman shows the overly sexual priest and violence towards the Catholic Church and the King. Also in Un Chien Andalou, two priests are being dragged by a piano with dead cows. This would be seen as disrespectful to the Catholic Church. These films mess with the equilibrium, such as the night and day, because it tries to confuse the viewer and destroys the continuity that is normal in film.
In “Absolute Animation”, P. Adams Sitney described who are the four filmmakers who created the graphic cinema. Hans Richter created the black and white rectangular shapes that are animated on the screen. Viking Eggeling worked with Richter and made figures that moved along alternative diagonal lines crossing the screen. Marcel Duchamp created an illusory depth in a very narrow spectrum. Luis Buñuel was the fourth filmmaker in the graphic cinema. He was the director for the avant-garde film, Un Chien Andalou. All of these film makers let the viewer question what they create certain films and why it is created in a certain way. The works are full abstraction and surreal.
Walter Ruttmann stated that people are satisfied with justifying that film is a form of art or technique that conveys emotions, actions, feelings. Hans Richter stated how “cinema today gives no indication of the range of possibilities open either to photography or to movement… it does not understand that it creative form is the control of material in accordance withe the way er perceive things.” (Richter) John and James Whitney claim how they have “sought an equilibrium between technical limitations and creative freedom.” (Whitney 1) All of these writers claim that the viewers are in control of what they what to see and have the power to interpret them in their own way.
Dada started in Switzerland. People fled to there because of the conscription due to World War I. World War I was the first war to be fought at night because of the invention of electricity. Andre Breton was the founder of Dada and believed it to be a state of mind. It was also a sense of disequilibrium when one would view the work of Dada. Breton would go to classical shows or operas and allow the audience to throw rotten fruit at him and told them to stop being passive. He also threw his Dada Manifesto towards the audience. Multiple examples of Dada didn’t always have to include paintings, film, or other forms of artwork. Sometimes it can include postcard books that show the before and after of cities that were destroyed in World War I. Another example of Dada that does not solely include artwork is a very early form of plastic surgery. After World War I, many soldiers returned with facial deformities. Instead of surgeons, wounded soldiers would go to sculptors and construct lead faces and put on them. It did not look realistic. Since the masks were created from lead, they patients received lead poisoning.
Marcel Duchamp was another artist from Dada. He had an alias named Rrose Selavy. He cross dressed as an upper class woman to discomfort the bourgeoisie. He used a lot of sexuality in his work, including the spinning disks with the French sexual puns. Hans Richter is also another that used the idea of pure abstraction. His works would usually take up the viewers’ panoramic and peripheral vision. His films would be analogous to music, a precursor to animation. An example of this would be his film of moving squares.
Jean Epstein state how the cinema is based on a feelings of one’s emotion and representation. Germaine Dulac stated how ever changing film was and how it is now a social event. He stated that it includes the visual impression of what the viewer is looking for. People were looking to see how they can change film. These ideas all can connect to Dada, but open the door to a change of cinema such as surrealism.
According to Michael O’Pray, the 1920s was a “complex decade, one of myriad interrelated art movements, fashions and artists.”(O’Pray 8) Movements such as Dada, Surrealism, Constructivism, Expressionism, and de Stijl existed during this time of dramatic change. The 1920s were filled with the combination of high art, which consisted of ballet, painting, poetry, music, sculpture, fashion, and literature and low arts, which consisted of circus, vaudeville, Hollywood silent comedies, and puppetry. The avant-garde in Western Europe during the 1920s was popular in Germany by animators such as Hans Richter, Walter Ruttman, Oskar Fischinger, and Viking Eggeling “who were inspired and motivated by painting, graphics, music and the period’s general air of experimentation. The French avant-garde came from the Dada and Surrealism. Surrealists Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Germaine Dulac, and other artists such as Leger, Duchamp, Man Ray were the popular avant-garde artists from France. Film techniques such as “soft-focus, dissolves, close-ups, slow-motion, and image distortion” were different and key to French expression (O’Pray 11). German based artists used graphic cinema and absolute cinema to focus on abstraction in their films. These innovations helped create new ideas and expressions that will help define and change the film industry.
In Hans Richter’s “The Badly Trained Sensibility”, Richter stated how the film of the 1920s was not able to fully express ones creative form and “visual rhythm and imaginative material” (Richter). He also states how one must control the process and create their own way to express their creativity. This shows how Richter, a German avant garde filmmaker, uses abstraction techniques to create “filmic illusion of space and depth” (O’ Pray 13). This also explains why Richter wants to develop his own form of film that was different from the film created in the 1920s.
The use of optical illusions and allowed for creativity in experimental film. The Bolex camera also let more filmmakers use experimental cinema because of the portability.
Cinema is an important part of our culture that has a vast and important history. Inventors always tried to entertain audiences, especially in ways that push what is normal and try to be innovative and independent, such as Avant-garde. Even before the famous Lumiere Brothers and Georges Melies revolutionized film, there were ways to enjoy moving pictures, such as the camera obscura. The camera obscura is an optical device that eventually led to the photography and the camera. It consists of a box or room with a small hole in one side that allows external light to pass through. An image would be flipped upside down on the opposite side. Film was not seen as art, but as a science. The idea of the camera obscura was used by Rene Descartes as a representation of the eye and the mind. It also helped to produce images with a linear perspective in paintings, maps, and eventually photographic or film creation. Years before the creation of film, people created a robots that were proto-computers. These were nothing like robots of today, but used as optical machines. The magic lantern is a form of an early type of image projector. It was developed in the 17th century. The images projected were forms of exoticism and colonialism. It was used for entertainment and educational purposes. Even photographer Eadweard Muybridge created pictures that had a greater sense of depth, pictorial interest, and nontraditional ideas that were not common in the mid nineteenth century. He developed the zoopraxiscope, a projector that shows moving pictures of animals. All of these inventions served as an optical illusion and a strange form of entertainment.
Auguste and Louis Lumiere were the first filmmakers. They patented the cinematograph, a three in one device that could record, develop, and project motion pictures. Their invention allowed for more people to watch their film, unlike Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope that was too small for multiple viewers. Their first film was called “Workers Leaving the Factory in Lyon”. It simply was a recording of workers leaving a factory. They created “actualities” or documentaries that filmed the lives of people. Another important film was called, “The Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat”. It was considered to be the first horror film because the use of a low camera angles gave the perception of the train coming towards the screen. The Lumiere Brothers reveled verisimilitude, the truth to a film that creates reality. Georges Melies was a magician who created the film “A Trip to the Moon”. He was very important in the film industry because he was the first to majorly use editing, special effects, time-lapse, and the stop-trick. His films were different and allowed more filmmakers to expand the use of experimental film.
Avant-garde consists of art that is different from what is known. Michael O’Pray states that it can be understood as an opposition to mainstream media. It can be represented as aesthetically and politically motivated to attack traditional art values. Even though Lumiere Brothers and Geroges Melies began film ventures, their filmmaking styles changed the industry. Experimental filmmaking and Avant-garde has the potential to change how one see’s popular art.