Hybridity, History and the End of Cinema

Leighton Pierce’s 50 Feet of String (1995) is an example of simply using what is around you and creating a different perception than what is normal. It teaches the viewer to look differently through the eyes of a child instead of an adult. It concentrates on the childhood time and motion. The film uses stop-motion and slow motion and moves into another space.  by changing the ordinary. The film focuses on listening to background noises, such as the lawn mower, truck passing in the back, and people having conversations. Sometimes images would be blurred in the background to accentuate other images, such as the boy cutting grass with scissors. This is done to show the importance of the boy’s childhood. The adult perspective is not important because he was blurred out when he was cutting the grass with a lawn mower. Sometimes the film would show film techniques of horror films, such as suspenseful scenes with the boy and a semi-truck and the audience believes the boy would get hit by the truck. Even though the boy never interacted with the truck and was fine, the audience is programmed to believe that he can become injured since the film is set up in that certain way.

In “The Western Edge: Oil of LA and the Machined Image”, Paul Arthur explains how Los Angeles’s culture is dominated by the entertainment industry, including experimental film, even though it would hid in the shadows of major mainstream film, television, and other forms of art. Arthur further explains how experimental films from the past such as Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and how “it was under-acknowledged role in the evolution of avant-garde psychodramas in the forties” (pg. 94). In the mid-seventies, film became a important part of academia in Southern California in USC, UCLA, and CalArts. LA experimental film differs from the film technique such as the narrative fluidity. “O’Neill’s  work stems in part from the complexity of individual images, but it is also a consequence of their laconic, transient organization, re-presenting familiar objects as prone to mysterious incursions” (pg. 105).  Pat O’Neill’s films have the possibility to contradict the natural world and how things are perceived in relation to light, shape, and color. His films effect the natural orders of how things are perceived in normal films.

Avant-Garde of the 1920s

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.

The Influence of Avant-Garde and Experimental Cinema on Early Film

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.