on the avant-garde

thurs. 3/2/2017 11:28am

I remember I hadn’t ever been exposed to avant-garde film until my first film class here at Duke, and I wondered why that is – people these days are more than willing to sit and watch a half-hour TV show than they are a full-length feature film, aren’t they? Why are we more inclined to watch those Hollywood blockbusters with linear narratives then, as opposed to a short that explores and pushes the boundaries of film?

Perhaps it’s just that: we are not used to following non-linear narratives, and spectators do not always tend to accept these kinds of challenges. Of the six films we explored in class the other day, I only felt as if I ‘understood’ half of them. I’m also not sure if they’re meant to be understood, or if they are there for the spectator to simply take in the beauty/images presented in front. For example, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Hollis Frampton’s Lemon (1969), Christian Marclay’s Telephones (1995), and Talena Sanders’ Liahona (2013) appeared to not only show, but tell, but I found Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963) and Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round (1958) much more difficult to glean a meaning from.

Abstract expressionism is something I was never fully able to grasp my head around, but I suppose for the latter two films it was more a matter of exploring the physicality of film, rather than the content itself. Upon further research, I discovered that Stan Brakhage did not utilize any camera to create this work, but rather physically placed moths and moth parts (along with other natural pieces) in-between film, thus creating this work. This is more an exploration of the medium itself, rather than a focus on the spectator.


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