Avant-garde film in Europe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Two conditions made Europe in the 1920s ready for the emergence of avant-garde film. First, the cinema matured as a medium, and highbrow resistance to the mass entertainment began to wane. Second, avant-garde movements in the visual arts flourished. The Dadaists and Surrealists in particular took to cinema. René Clair's Entr'acte took madcap comedy into nonsequitur, and artists Hans Richter, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Dulac and Viking Eggeling all contributed Dadaist/Surrealist shorts. The most famous experimental film is generally considered to be Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un chien andalou. Hans Richter's animated shorts and Len Lye's G.P.O films would be excellent examples of European avant-garde films which are more abstract and less focused on formal analysis.

Working in France, another group of filmmakers also financed films through patronage and distributed them through cine-clubs, yet they were narrative films not tied to an avant-garde school. Film scholar David Bordwell has dubbed these French Impressionists, and included Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, Marcel L'Herbier and Dimitri Kirsanov. These films combines narrative experimentation, rhythmic editing and camerawork, and an emphasis on character subjectivity.

In 1950, the Lettrists avant-garde movement in France, caused riots at the Cannes Film Festival, when Isidore Isou's "Treatise on Slime and Eternity" was screened. After their criticism of Charlie Chaplin there was a split within the movement, the Ultra-Lettrists continued to cause disruptions when they announced the death of cinema and showed their new hypergraphical techniques. The most notorious film of which is Guy Debord's "Howlings in Favour of de Sade " (Hurlements en Faveur de Sade) from 1952.

The Soviet filmmakers, too, found a counterpart to modernist painting and photography in their theories of montage. The films of Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Dovzhenko and Vsevolod Pudovkin were instrumental in providing an alternate model from that offered by classical Hollywood. While not experimental films per se, they contributed to the film language of the avant-garde.

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