Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rainbow Dance!
Rainbow Dance
Directed by Len Lye, 1936, 3:50

In true Experimental film style, Rainbow Dance lacks narrative and seems to be a continuous acid trip. It shows a dancer with various objects, and switches between scenes of this man and other shapes such as fish, and diagonal lines.

I think after a certain point, all experimental films contribute the same thing to the film industry, and to the film audience. Its main purpose is to give the audience a strange experience that they can't get from typical genres of film.

One element specifically prevalent in these experimental shorts is the lack of narrative. I think it's important to note that this is probably the main purpose of experimental films. They're the anarchists of the film industry. Rather than conform to the typical narratives that the rest of the genres follow, experimental films say, "Fuck that" and get their point across in their own way. This is important because it gives filmmakers a way to express themselves in a more abstract way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fireworks (1947)

Part 1
Part 2

Kenneth Anger
1947, USA
14 Min

Kenneth Anger's "Fireworks" is a statement about the difficulty of being a homosexual in 1940's America as well as an exploration of the thoughts and feelings of a gay teenage boy trapped in such a culture. Anger's own synopsis of the film states: "A dissatisfied dreamer awakes, goes out in the night seeking a `light' and is drawn through the needle's eye. A dream of a dream, he returns to bed less empty than before." I believe the identity of this "light" is first revealed when the "dreamer" exits the place he had been sleeping through a door marked "Gents." "Light" symbolizes, in my opinion, the fulfillment of the boy's sexual needs. Thus, he goes out into the night looking for "light" and finds it in the form of a muscular sailor.

In the next scene, the "dreamer" is attacked by a group of sailors and beaten badly, cut with broken class and would have had his heart cut out if his heart had not been a gas gauge. Milk is then poured over the "dreamer", a sailor that is meant to seem larger than life then appears with a firework protruding from his pants. He lights said firework and a stream of sparks fly from its tip. The next scene is of a burning Christmas tree and the final scene is of the view of the "dreamer" in bed with a sailor with his face disillusioned by light.

In my opinion, the film is filled with a great amount of symbolism starting with the muscular sailor who I believe is the "dreamers" ideal man, the kind of man he wishes to pursue. The scene in which the "dreamer" is beaten and cut with glass could in fact be a scene in which the character is being raped by a group sailors, brutalized by them, and finally covered in semen (milk). This part of the film confused me and if I followed the train of thought that this scene was a rape scene then it might be an expression of Anger's own homoerotic sadomasochism. The image of the sailor with the phallic firework also led me to this notion as he appears to be "larger than life" and has "light" protruding from his metaphorical phallus. The final scene of the "dreamer" in bed with the sailor whose face is obscured by light leads one to believe that the dreamer found his "light" and that is the reason he returns to bed "less empty than before."

Overall, I believe this film is an exploration of being a homosexual in 1940's American and what it meant to attempt to fulfill the urges that one finds running through their mind at night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mongoloid - Devo music video by Bruce Connor

Bruce Connor
1977, USA

This music video follows much of the same pattern as Bruce Connor's "Movie," the short film we watched in class: bizarre images from spectacles and popular culture smashed together into a whimsical weird montage. In that film, music often contrasted starkly with image to create a witty feel of ironic tension. (Witness men falling off jetskis while somber high-drama music blares on in the background). Much of the same technique is employed by Connor here. This time Devo's "Monogloid" makes up the entire soundtrack though. The song, with it's ironically simplistic chord progression and bleating vocals, makes the perfect contrast to 50's images of smiling men in lounge chairs, a man pulling a bus with his teeth.

Much of the video is filled with old imagery that looks like it could have come from a television special about how the brain works. We see people's heads attached to wired caps, animations of crossing lines perhaps meant to look like neurons, and a sketched cross section of the human brain's reaction to a plate of food. There are also recurring images of bucolic suburban life: waving to the post man, people wearing cardigans, reading papers happily behind desks, clips from cereal commercials, etc. While these images on their own might be difficult to assign meaning to, with the aid of Devo's self-conscious irony, they become instead witty commentaries on what it means to be really brain dead.

View the video here

Monday, October 24, 2011


Drinking Out Of Cups
Liam Lynch, USA, 2006, Approx. 2 mins.

Drinking Out of Cups is an animated short film about a misanthropic lizard who rants about people he is observing. As he talks, the backdrop fades in and out of random locations and oddly literal images from his rant pop up (the lizard calls somebody "Mr. Walkway" and then a walkway with legs strolls by). Short pieces of text occasionally appear to highlight things the lizard is saying.

This is technically a music video-- the audio was taken from musician Dan Deacon's 2003 album Meetle Mice and 3D animation was added over it three years after the fact with no input from Deacon. I mention this to give some kind of context-- I know that the first time few times I watched it I wanted any kind of background. You want something to grab onto that you can use to start to understand whatever this is.

It sounds like a field recording taken outside a bar at 5 am but it clearly is not that because nobody is unintentionally this incoherent. Drinking Out Of Cups can fairly be classified as an experimental short film because it was clearly crafted but it does not make any sense. There was a script written and the animation is of a high enough quality that somebody had to spend a significant amount of time working on the lip-sync and nonsense animations. But it doesn't really let the viewer into its world. It's like a postcard into a bizarro world. There is logic at work but the short doesn't feel like letting you in on that logic.

And I like it for that. It was initially difficult for me to find an experimental short to write about because, no matter how odd, most films have a beginning, middle and end. The difference between this and the art school projects I found online is that it's funny. The viewer is able to follow the nonsense because it's idiosyncratically hilarious. If "follow" isn't the right word, maybe "be pulled along" is a better phrase. It's an experiment that isn't trying to show off to the viewer or academically confound anybody.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Screen Test: Helmut

Screen Test: Helmut

Andy Warhol, United States, 1966

Andy Warhol may be one of the most renowned and controversial artists of the mid to late 20th century. His work, while found in art galleries across the globe and heralded as groundbreaking and enormously innovative, is seen as hypocritically mainstream and pointlessly pretentious in some ‘more authentic’ modern artistic communities (how many times have you see the campbell soup picture on tote bags, stickers, and buttons on your entry-level artsy friend who has whole-heartedly embraced ‘post-modern-art’?). So of course Andy Warhol’s head-scratching journey into filmmaking deserves evokes the same sort of response. Among the films he shot, which include such rewarding gems as “Empire” and “Eat” are about 500 Screen Tests, video portraits that he shot of the attractive, the famous, or the interesting.

“Screen Test: Helmut” is a five minute silent black and white continuous close-up of a young man’s face. The face remains deathly still other than the occasional blink or involuntary bat of his eyelash. The film is slowed down to about 24-frames per-second to capture these slight movements a bit better, but other than this and the choppy fade-in’s and out’s at the beginning and end respectively, nothing changes throughout the film.

Unlike some experimental films, the Screen Test series is relatively straightforward: it’s Warhol’s attempt to use film and video to paint a sort of modern portrait which takes its cues from still photography. The Screen Tests were originally arranged by Warhol into compilations or sets such as “13 Most Beautiful Men” and “13 Most Beautiful Women,” which were projected onto the walls during some of his gallery shows. There isn’t really much deeper meaning in these portraits, other than to capture beautiful people in a modern way. Warhol believed that these Screen Tests demonstrated that beautiful or interesting people could hold an audience’s attention no matter what they were doing.

Although some critics still find merit in these ‘films’ (enough so to get one put on the Cinema 16 short film collection), they would be much more appropriately classified as video-art or even experimental photography. The films lacks narrative, sound, characters, and themes, which all-together create a series case against these portraits as films.