An experimental cinema is a genre in film making which is characterized by the use of a non-linear narrative, use of an asynchronous or no soundtrack at all. It is a low budget film, usually self-funded or financed by small grants and funds. The crew consists of a very few people, sometimes just one person who is the filmmaker.
The origin of experimental films dates back to around the 1920s when visual media was gaining popularity as a form of art. It was a distinct part of the avant-garde movements back then. Surrealists and French impressionists laid emphasis on exploring the genre whilst experimenting with the non-linear narrative, soundtracks and camera work. By the 1950s, the movement reached France. Artists like Hans Richter, Jean Cocteau, Dudley Murphy and many others became important experimental filmmakers who contributed to the European Avant Grande.
Films of Time
The most famous experimental films of all times were considered to be Luis Bunnel and Un-Chien andalou. Others in the list are ‘ Berlin: Symphony of a metropolis ’ by Walter Ruttman and ‘ The man with a movie camera ’ by Dziga Vertov filmed in Berlin and Kiev respectively. These films and many others were instrumental in creating a new focus angle, slightly away from classical Hollywood films.
Growth of Experimental Cinema
The actual ‘ birth ’ of experimental cinema took place in the post-world war Avant Grande in America. Although the European Avant Grande had its influence on Hollywood since the 1920’s, with films like Manhattan by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler and also Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood extra, it had left a mark on Hollywood. These films were made before the world war and were characterized by artists working in isolation. These series of activities in film societies continued over the next two decades when in around 1962, the perspective started changing. Films such as A Movie and Cosmic Ray, unlike the early experimental films started shifting the focus from individual consciousness and first personification to abstraction, from non-linear narrative to oblique angled narratives.
In fact, the later works even saw the addition of soundtracks in their films like the film Scorpio Rising by Brakhage where he surprised the audience with the addition of a rock soundtrack. That was the era of structural-materialist film makers. Around the 1970s, experimental films became more and more conceptualized. Yoko Ono was one such well-known name who contributed to the experimental film society with her notorious and bold film called Rape.
Conceptual films also encouraged feminist film makers where they promoted ideas that defy gender norms and patriarchy. Most of the artists who were involved in experimental film remained aloof from mainstream Hollywood and became professors at universities like State Universities of New York, California Institute of the Arts, Massachusetts College of Art and a few others. Though these filmmakers themselves do not hold college degrees, they continue to pursue their practices and refine them while continuing to teach. The inclusion of this subject in the film courses has further led to the popularization of the genre.