Un chien andalou, Luis Bunuel
Belle de jour, Luis Bunuel
Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Robert Wiene
Meshes in the Afternoon, Maya Deren
At Land, Maya Deren
Meditations on Violence, May Deren
Shadows, John Cassavetes
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, Stan Brakhage
Window, Water, Baby, Moving, Stan Brakhage
Moth Light, Stan Brakhage
wavelength for those who don't have the time, Michael Snow
News From Home, Chantal Akerman
Birthday Suit, Lisa Steele
Joan + Steve, Monique Moumblow
100 videos, Steve Reinke
The Middle Distance, Yudi Sewraj
Letters from Home, Mike Hoolboom

and others...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

script formatting

scripts for your in-camera project are due this week. they need not be presented in traditional script format BUT they must be complete insofar as they provide a thorough outline/sketch of the film--the audio and visual terrain, including descriptive components and dialogue. below is the script that i showed in class.

Using found footage, voice-over narration, ambient sound and dialogue,
State of Grace recounts what I was doing on the day that JFK was shot.
It’s also a coming of age-story—about how knowledge is gleaned and values
absorbed in a state of distraction.

Scene One: Everything I know I learned at my aunt frances’ beauty salon
Aunt France’s Beauty Salon, sunny day, mid-afternoon

∑ The scene opens with a fade-in from yellow /white as if walking inside on a sunny day (film the sun then film the entrance to an age/business appropriate doorway)
∑ Camera close on a still photograph of a beauty salon from the 1960s (shot at eye-level perspective, from the door) depicting a row of women sitting under the hair dryers reading magazines
∑ Closer to magazines—in hands, on table-tops
∑ re-enact or use found footage of mid-range, frontal shot of two women in conversation sitting under the dryer
∑ a found moving, exterior shot of an site appropriate setting (mainstreet of a small town…) Audio
∑ Sounds of traffic give way to water running, hairdryers, am radio (“Maybelline,” Love, Love me do…)
∑ Voice-over narration:
“Every week, my mother visited my aunt Frances’ beauty salon for a wash and set, sometimes colour and a perm, and, more importantly, a chance to catch up with the girls. Each week the same group of women would meet on the same day and at the same time readying themselves for their weekends of dinner parties and family get-togethers or just to freshen up their look. As the radio played, the women caught up with their news: talk of fashion and fandom, hairstyles and dresses, movie stars and public life gave way to news of families, neighbours and lovelorn friends. And sometimes, in whispers the women talked about absent others”

Scene two: beauty treatments and bearded ladies
Aunt Frances Beauty Salon mid-day

Found footage, mid-range shot of salon
∑ Found footage, mid-range shot of a salon
∑ Still or moving: Interior close-up of woman with mask
∑ Found footage of machinery of beauty salon
∑ Found footage or still of torture chamber
∑ Colour picture of a tomato
∑ Colour picture of a peach

∑ Background salon sounds
∑ Auntie Frances (VO)
“Yup you’ll never see her here. Never goes out in public during the day. Her husband drops her off before he goes to work in the morning and she takes a taxi home after she’s done here. Poor dear is hairy as an ape. A real bearded lady. Lucky for her I’ve got this new electrolysis machine. She comes twice a week for half an hour—the whole time I’m zapping and plucking out her hair. That’s pretty much all anybody can endure. She’s red as a tomato when she leaves. It’s painful, I’m sure, but worth it. It grows back but weaker each time, until its just a little fuzz.” Soon she’ll be pretty as a peach.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

production assignment - things to know/do

Experimental Film: Production Project

This assignment asks students to work in pairs preparing and producing a two to three minute long, experimental video. The assignment will involve the preparation and presentation of a storyboard (5%) and shooting script (5%), and the production of the video project itself (15%). The storyboard and shooting script will be submitted November 5/6. The video work will be produced in class November 19/20 and screened in class November 26/27

The production of an in-camera work requires careful preparation and planning. Before shooting you and your partner must have decided on the subject and theme of the tape, how it will look and sound, where it will be shot, what props, actors and/or actresses you will need and the final sequence for the story. A storyboard and shooting script are essential tools for organizing the project.

The storyboard is primarily visual, with a small amount of written description. It sketches the essential details needed to communicate the information in each scene. The shooting script, on the other hand, provides a written account of the story, in greater detail. The shooting script includes the following components: the location and time of day for each scene; a narrative description of the entrance, exits and emotional states of the characters; narrative descriptions for the actions, settings and props; and dialogue (see reverse for an example of a page of script). Camera direction should be used sparingly. Instead, let the description indicate the camera angles or movement. Each change of scene/location/character requires a new header and narrative description. Use the format guide on the reverse side of this sheet to help you format your script. (One page of script represents one minute of film time.)

Step 1: Development: Brainstorming and Idea Generation
Step 2: Flesh out the idea by identifying key scenes
Step 3: Write the script
Step 4: Prepare the Storyboard
Step 5: Production

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

German Expressionism—Experiments in Horror

Screening: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1921 Robert Wiens

Expressionism: Definition

German Expressionism in Film (focussing on Dr. Caligari)


Period research (20%): in groups of two, students will make use of on-line and DVD resources to produce an oral presentation on a key artist + period in experimental film. These presentations will act as preparation for in-class screenings—the students will teach the class! Presentations should be concerned with identifying the social and cultural context giving birth to the film style/movement, its principle stylistic and/or narrative features and critical concerns, the key participants and representative films. Presentations should be illustrated with clips from relevant films. Each presentation should be approximately 20 minutes in length, with the work shared equally. Presentations should end with questions designed to test the classes understanding of the period and practitioners discussed. If films are unavailable at school or in your local video store, check with Boite Noire (locations throughout the city) to see if they have it. Check with me and on-line as well—at least two weeks before the presentation date.

1 New York Movements: John Cassavetes + Jonas Mekas October 1/2

2 American experimental film + Stan Brakhage
October 9 Anthony
October 10 Kevin

3 Structuralist Film: Andy Warhol + Michael Snow
October 15 Bridget, Sarah
October 16 Danny, Matthew A.

4 Feminist Filmmaking: Chantal Akerman, Lisa Steele, Monique Moumblow
October 22 Patrizia, Chelsea, Clemence
October 23 Oliver, Matthew C.

5 Canadian Experimental Film + Video: Peter Mettler, Mike Hoolboom, Jan Peacock, Steve Reinke
October 29 Jordon, Mnuela
October 30 Ashley, Corrine

6 Diary Films + Pixelvision: George Kuchar, Sadie Benning, Michael Almreyda
November 5 Kristina, Ally, Sabrina, Sam, Angelica
November 6 Amit, Elena, Sophie

7 Web Cam, Internet + Data-base Filmmaking: Jenny Ridley, Cheryl Sourkes and Lev Manovich
November 12 Farrah
November 13 Francis, Clara, Kim

Style analysis (20%): students are asked to analyse the formal attributes of an avant-garde film screened in class, with a view to interpreting the film’s meaning. These analyses should be presented in ‘essay’ form, beginning with a brief ‘thesis’ statement followed by a short description of the film and the analysis itself, which will identify the recurring visual motifs and formal patterns in the film, as well as a brief interpretation of the film based on the description and analysis and, an equally brief conclusion. 500 words/2 typed, double-spaced pages: due October 9/10

Journal (20%): each student is expected to keep a journal noting the names, styles and concerns of experimental films screened in class. Students must include a short paragraph interpretation for each film. Each of you are expected to make an appointment to see me, at some point over the course of the term, to show me the progress made in your journal. In addition to my regular office hours, time will be set aside on a regular basis during the last half-hour of the class for these meetings, beginning the week of September 24/25. In-class meetings need to be booked in advance. Completed journals (12 entries) are to be handed-in November 19/20.

Film: (25%) working in groups of two, students will conceive and develop, script, storyboard and shoot a short, in-camera, experimental video work. ‘Treatments’ are due October 23; scripts and storyboards are due November 5/6; production will take place November 19/20; screenings November 26/27.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Soviet Avant-garde

Our eyes see very little and very badly--so people dreamed up the microscope to let them see invisible phenomena; they invented the they have perfected the cinema camera to penetrate more deeply into the visible world, to explore and to record visual phenomena so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of in the future, is not forgotten. Dziga Vertov, 1926

Dziga Vertov or

(Two of Twelve) Principles of Kinoki (Camera Eye)
The Cameraman uses many specific devices to 'attack' reality with his camera and to put facts together in a new structure; these devices help him to strive for a better world with more perceptive people.

Knowing that 'in life nothing is accidental', the cameraman is expected to grasp the dialectical relationships between disparate events occurring in reality; his duty is to unveil the intrinsic conflict of life's antagonistic forces and lay bare the 'cause and effect' of life's phenomenon.

Man with a Movie Camera or

Bolshevik revolution

soviet montage vs. continuity editing


1 Discuss how Vertov made his audience aware of the cinematic apparatus in his film The Man with a Movie Camera.
2 Discuss Vertov’s theoretical points in relation to the film.
3 Discuss the use of montage in The Man with a Movie Camera
4 Discuss the ‘reality’ of the film.
5 Is the juxtaposition of disparate elements to create a third meaning a truthful depiction of the world which the film records? As a re-contextualization of actual events, is it still realistic?

Monday, August 27, 2007

film journal entry

experimental film: journal entry
each entry must include the following information:
  1. the film's title + year of production
  2. the name of the director(s)
  3. the nationality of the director + the artistic movement
  4. a list of key images/motifs
  5. a list of themes/narrative threads
  6. notes on any other thoughts
  7. a brief, paragraph-long commentary

sex death + surrealism

surrealism: a definition

Gemaine Dulac, the first surrealist filmmaker made The Seashell + the Clergyman (1928) based on a script by avant-garde playwright Antonin Artaud

Seashell (an excerpt on Youtube)

Luis Bunuel Un chien andalou (1928) DVD 378
Luis Bunuel Belle de Jour (1967) 102 minutes DVD 98


three minute film school - surrealism

amateur vs. professional - maya deren

The major obstacle for amateur film-makers is their own sense of inferiority vis-à-vis professional productions. The very classification “amateur” has an apologetic ring. But that very word—from the Latin “amateur” – “lover” means one who does something for the love of the thing rather than for economic reasons or necessity. And this is the meaning from which the amateur film-maker should take his clue. Instead of envying the script and dialogue writers, the trained actors, the elaborate staffs and sets, the enormous production budgets of the professional film, the amateur should make use of the one great advantage which all professionals envy him, namely, freedom—both artist and physical.
Artistic freedom means that the amateur film-maker is never forced to sacrifice visual drama and beauty to a stream of words, words, words, words, to the relentless activity and explanations of a plot, or to the display of a star or a sponsor’s product; nor is the amateur production expected to return profit on a huge investment by holding the attention of a massive and motley audience for 90 minutes. Like the amateur still-photographer, the amateur filmmaker can devote himself to capturing the poetry and beauty of places and events and, since he is using a motion picture camera, he can explore the vast world of the beauty of movement… Instead of trying to invent a plot that moves, use the movement or wind or water, children, people, elevators, balls, etc. as a poet might celebrate these. And use your freedom to experiment with visual ideas; your mistakes will not get you fired.
Physical freedom includes time freedom—a freedom from budget imposed deadlines. But above all, the amateur film-maker, with his small, light-weight equipment, has an inconspicuousness (for candid shooting) and a physical mobility which is well the envy of most professionals, burden as they are by their many-ton monsters, cables and crews. Don’t forget that no tripod has yet been built which is as miraculously versatile in movement as the complex system of supports, joints, muscles and nerves which is the human body, which, with a bit of practice, makes possible the enormous variety of camera angles and visual action. You have all this and a brain too, in one neat, compact, mobile package.
Cameras don’t make films; film-makers make films. Improve your films not by adding more equipment and personnel but by using what you have to its fullest capacity. The most important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind, and your freedom to use both. Make sure you do use them.
Maya Deren Film Culture, Winter 1965

Sunday, August 26, 2007

what is experimental film?

As Fred Camper, has suggested defining experimental film is difficult because of the broad range of practices that comprise the genre. Nonetheless, most avant-garde or experimental films do share the 'qualities' listed below:

1. It is created by one person, or occasionally a small group collectively, working on a minuscule budget most often provided out of the filmmaker's own pocket or through small grants, and is made out of personal passion, and in the belief that public success and profit is very unlikely. "Minuscule budget" means something very different from what the phrase might mean in theatrical narrative filmmaking; here it refers to a figure in the hundreds, or thousands, or in rare cases tens of thousands of dollars.

2. It eschews the production-line model by which the various functions of filmmaker are divided among different individuals and groups: the filmmaker is the producer, director, scriptwriter, director of photography, cameraperson, editor, sound recordist, and sound editor, or performs at least half of those functions.

3. It does not try offer a linear story that unfolds in the theatrical space of mainstream narrative. [The hypertrophic counter-example that proves the rule here is Hollis Frampton's Poetic Justice, which does tell a "linear story" � but the viewer receives that story by reading hand-printed script pages that are piled one after another on a table, not by seeing the script's story enacted on screen.]

4. It makes conscious use of the materials of cinema in a way that calls attention to the medium, and does not do so in scenes bracketed by others in a more realistic mode that would isolate the "experimental" scenes as dream or fantasy sequences. [Examples: scratching or painting directly on the film strip; cutting rapidly and unpredictably enough that the editing calls attention to itself; the use of out of focus and "under" or "over" exposure; extremely rapid camera movements that blur the image; distorting lenses; extreme tilts of the camera; placing objects in front of the lens to alter the image; time lapse photography; collaging objects directly onto the film strip; the use of other abstracting devices such as superimpositions or optical effects; printed titles that offer a commentary that's different from simply providing information or advancing the narrative; asynchronous sound; the cutting together of spatially disjunct images in a way that does not serve an obvious narrative or easily reducible symbolic purpose. I can think of at least one filmmaker � Brakhage � who has done all of these.]

5. It has an oppositional relationship to both the stylistic characteristics of mass media and the value systems of mainstream culture. [Thus in a found footage film using footage from instructional films, the original will be reedited to create some form of critique of the style and meaning of the originals.]

6. It doesn't offer a clear, univalent "message." More than mainstream films, it is fraught with conscious ambiguities, encourages multiple interpretations, and marshals paradoxical and contradictory techniques and subject-matter to create a work that requires the active participation of the viewer.

Without ranging through the whole history of the mode, many landmark films seem to me to meet all of the criteria above, from Meshes of the Afternoon to Fireworks to Twice a Man to Mothlight to Wavelength to La Raison Avant La Passion (Reason Over Passion). I don't propose any mechanical method whereby meeting, say, five of the six automatically qualifies a film, but rather suggest that considering these characteristics might be useful in thinking about this body of work.