When it comes to experimental film, there's a fine line between adventurous and pretentious.
Born out of early 20th-century modernism and its unrelenting pursuit of the new, experimentation in all of the arts became de rigueur as artists sought to redefine the aesthetic and technical boundaries of what was considered "art." Film, a relatively new medium at the time, was a natural vehicle for both entertainment and experimentation. While Buster Keaton was riding The General to fame in 1927, Luis Buuel, Salvador Dal and their surrealist compatriots were busy slicing eyeballs and stuffing dead horses into grand pianos in the 1928 classic Un Chien Andalou.
Eventually, their shocking surrealist techniques found their way into the popular culture, and in 1945, Dal was asked to design the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. Similarly, Andy Warhol's low-budget, hand-held "screen test" experiments in campy vrit during the 1960s eventually found their way into mainstream cinema when Lars von Trier of the cinematically chaste Dogme 95 school began using hand-held digital video cameras for stripped-down films like Breaking the Waves in the late'90s.
More recently, Matthew Barney's epic experimental video and film series, The Cremaster Cycle, has brought experimental film to a new level of cinematic prominence with its elaborately conceptual structure and visually opulent videography and cinematography.
While the word "experimental" may be more likely to send eyeballs rolling back into heads than it is to shock anyone out of any kind of aesthetic torpor, the innovations made by filmmakers working on the margins of cinematic expectations still play a vital role in the evolution of cinema.
The Colorado Springs-based International Experimental Cinema Exposition (TIE), one of the most active groups of avant-film enthusiasts in the world is hosting another blockbuster (by experimental standards) festival of more than 50 films from the fringe including works by the great Stan Brakhage, Hans Richter, beat filmmaker Christopher MacLaine, and dozens of others. TIE also plans a tribute for vaunted filmster Gregory Markopoulos featuring four of his rarely seen films and a program of films by the brilliant conceptual filmmaker Standish Lawder (who now lives in Denver).
While many of the bigger name, more historically noteworthy films will arrive in the few days preceding the festival, the Independent got a sneak preview of a representative slice of the all-film (i.e., no videos) program folks can expect this weekend.
A shadowy figure moves jerkily across the screen (apparently a film of a film) to reveal the edges of the original frame. Thankfully short.
This black-and-white film follows the filmmaker's happy-go-lucky grandmother on a luxury cruise ship to Europe in semi-narrative snippets. In contrast with the grandmother's easygoing glee, lines of poetry (like "I was taken by your world" and "I could not learn your language") that flash on the screen seem to cast a pall over the viewer/director's sense of alienation and loss. An excellent, expressionistic [travelogue. ]
Using collages of 1950s images and documentary-like panning techniques, Lewis Klahr creates a world of deliberately superficial nostalgia that calls the patina of progress into question and implicates aesthetics in the manufacturing of ideals. Not the most visually compelling film overall, but does become mesmerizing in its obsession with pattern and shape.
Discord between the beautiful, almost abstract natural imagery of waterfalls combined with pounding bass sounds gives this film an overall feeling of unnatural horror.
Den of Tigers
This gorgeous film manages to take you deep into the street culture of West Bengal, India, in less than 20 minutes as it lovingly chronicles street carts, clothing, floods, chickens dipped in boiling water for feather removal, palm reading, tightrope walkers, and the many sounds of this extremely poor, yet visually rich city.
Encounter in Space
A not-so-carefully woven tapestry of intrigue clips from disparate B movies (sci-fi, soft porn, period films, Godzilla movies and a Gene Hackman exploitation pic) set to techno beats make this short feel like little more than backdrop for a rave.
Lots of crotch shots of young boys set to "Sober Rage" by Ramona the Pest. Or, as Thad Povey put it, "The molding of young flesh and the beating of desperate wings."
Figures in the Landscape
One of three films in the lineup shot with a pinhole camera, this brilliant little piece turns suburban ennui into pointillist existentialism as unidentifiable figures stand before equally unidentifiable building blobs in the washed out dot-n-blob landscape of Schaumburg, Ill.
Part of TIE's tribute to beat generation filmmakers, The End has the flavor on an unintentional sendup of knee-jerk existentialism la Albert Camus. Capturing five absurd lives on their last days, an earnest beat voice waxes philosophical over the (hand on forehead) meaninglessness of it all. Very John Cassavetes-looking. Best quote: "Our little friend could not face the 20th century"!
The International Experimental Cinema Exposition
Fine Arts Center Theater 30 W. Dale St.
Fri. Nov. 14 through Sun., Nov. 16
Tickets: $17 per section, $50 for Festival Pass, $125 for VIP Pass