Once upon a time, all cinema was experimental. The first experiments of Louis Leprince, Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers were perceived by contemporaries as something innovative and out of their everyday experience. The first science fiction films of Méliès immersed viewers in a bizarre world in which the usual laws of logic often did not work.
The world of early cinema was a world in which ideas about the norm were just taking shape, and the 1920s were the era of the heyday of experimentation.
Lev Kuleshov, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Walter Rutman, Viking Eggeling, Fischanger brothers, Abel Hans, Germaine Dulac, Fernand Léger, Rene Claire, Man Ray, the first experiments of Bunuel ... the list goes on and on.
However, by the end of the 30s, the roads of realistic and avant-garde cinema diverged more and more. Cinephiles may think of Maya Deren, Michael Snow or Bruce Conner, or some of the classics of video art. Or Derek Jarman's Blue, a radical expression that often makes the list of the best films of the 20th century.
But what is happening in experimental cinema now, where can you watch it and where is it better to start your acquaintance?
We decided to turn to specialists and asked about this Vova Nadein, co-founder of the Moscow International Experimental Film Festival (MIEFF), and curator of the festival Rita Sokolovskaya. Together with the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, they have compiled the Garage Screen. Experiments ”, the last screenings of which will be held on December 19 and 20. Vova and Rita gave answers to our amateurish questions, and also advised several paintings that are worth paying attention to.
- Tell us about your viewing experience. What films do you remember from your childhood? What influenced you?
Rita: In Moscow, there is a tiny cinema of the re-film "The World of Art" on Novoslobodskaya, which has been playing classics for many years, from Eisenstein and Bergman to Cronenberg. Once upon a time, a ticket for schoolchildren cost 50, and my friends and I skipped lessons there. So, in about a couple of years, I watched their entire program.
Once we got to Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, and with him began my passionate interest in cinema. I, 13-year-old, this film just dumbfounded. I had never seen anything like it before, and it became clear that cinema is not only Harry Potter or The Maltese Falcon. The system has become many times more complicated.
In fact, none of us really understood what was happening on the screen, but it was clear that this was something much more affecting than, for example, Strawberry Glade, where everyone was just sleeping.
Then I studied at the university, where there was an excellent course in the history of cinema, the dawn of the film club MSNK, which was supervised by Katya Beloglazova (and is still in charge to this day), in parallel - a strong passion for contemporary art, video art. At some point, all the streams clashed, we met Vova and began to work together.
Vova: It all started with love. Experimental cinema and more. I got carried away because I discovered a completely new world that affects me like nothing else. It is always a very strong and personal experience.
- What is experimental cinema in general?
Vova: This is something that is difficult to categorize. It goes beyond convention, form. Anything that goes beyond our usual film narration can be called an experimental film. Therefore, it is generally very difficult to give any canonical definition of experimental cinema. In general, this question is always among the first to arise. We try to find words and answer it differently each time.
- How does experimental cinema differ from video art?
Vova: This is the most frequent question after the question "What is experimental cinema?"
In general, historically, the second inherited the first, and this is primarily due to the production technology. Experimental cinema appeared earlier, therefore video art is directly related to the way of producing images using video - that is, shooting not on film. In the 1970s, camcorders became available and artists began, pardon the tautology, "experimenting" with video.
Now, of course, everything is confused, because a lot of production methods have appeared. Therefore, in English they often say "experimental cinema", because this term is much broader than video art. Moreover, more often in galleries and museums you can see the caption for the work "video", but here we already mean the way of display.
You can shoot a film on 16 mm film, scan the film, edit it digitally, then print the resulting film on 35 mm film, scan it again and show the resulting digital image. (This is an example from a movie we recently showed - This Action Lies by James N. Kenitz Wilkins.) How can you tell if it's video art or experimental movie?
- If I want to watch an experimental movie, where should I start? Something like the Andalusian Dog? Or something newer?
Rita: You can start with anything, even with "Andalusian Dog", even with "Workers leaving the factory", even with films by Apichatpong Weerasetakul. It seems to me that it is not necessary to draw a timeline of the history of cinema and start from the beginning and move towards the end.
There are thematic publics on VKontakte, for example Surrealism / Experimental / Avant-garde Art Cinema. They help to understand that "experimental cinema" is not a genre, but a very diverse set of practices and ways of speaking, once united by a curly brace to make it easier for people.
But judging by the number of questions addressed to us about what an experimental cinema is, it has not become easier for most people to understand.
- Share a list of your favorite experimental works.
Vova: I don't really like lists and tops, but I can mention films that have greatly influenced me recently:
- Lapis, James Whitney;
- Crossroads, Bruce Conner;
- Samadhi, Jordan Belson;
- In Order Not To Be Here, Deborah Strathman.
- Five or six films that most influenced the history of experimental cinema?
Vova: You can try to mark some works and say that they are very significant and it is important to see them at least once.
- Wavelength, Michael Snow;
- A Movie, Boyce Conner;
- Free Radicals, Len Lee;
- Meshes of the Afternoon, Maya Deren;
- Arnulf Rainer, Peter Kubelk;
- Lost, Lost, Lost, Jonas Mikas.
- Five or six of the most significant (in your opinion) experimental films of recent times?
Rita: It's hard to talk about specific works. It's easier for me to name artists who regularly work with video and whom I consider important for the development of the medium. They are very different, they use different methods, they choose a video medium for different reasons, so it's a little strange for me to put them all in the same row.
These are Roe Rosen, Hito Steyerl, John Rafman, Laure Prouvo, Andrew Norman Wilson, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Bahar Nurizadeh. But again, this is an extremely subjective selection!
- Is there experimental cinema in Russia? Any advice?
Vova: Parallel cinema, necrorealism and films of the SINE FANTOM studio:
- films of Vladimir Kobrin;
- films of the Aleinikov brothers;
- films by Evgeny Yufit;
- a film by Evgeny Debil Kondratyev;
- films by Boris Yukhananov;
- films by Andrey Silvestrov;
- "Tinnitus" by Daniil Zinchenko;
- video works by Polina Kanis;
- "Hymns of Muscovy" by Dmitry Venkov;
- films by Mikhail Zheleznikov;
- video works by Viktor Alimpiev.
Rita: Misha Maximov!