is one of those projects that needs to be reviewed on
this website because of what it represents in the history
of no-budget filmmakers. But it's a very difficult thing
to review because I am torn between putting it in the
DVD training review section or the film critique section.
In the end, I felt that it was a leader by example, rather
than a leader by explanation, which meant that it should
be looked at as a film rather that reviewed as a training
set. As such, I created a special critique section for
works like this.
avant-garde movement is the birthplace of the Micro-Cinema
and, now, Microfilmmaking movement. In the French, it
literally translates into "ahead of the pack"
or "leader of the pack." Hollywood was first
started when a group of avant-garde filmmakers who were
pushing the envelope in film production fled from the
East Coast where Edison ran a studio conglomeration (that
is not so different from old Hollywood today!) to the
West Coast where they could try new things with freedom
and exploration. As we all know, another studio system
developed in this West Coast outreach of filmmakers and,
once again, avant-garde filmmakers were pushed to the
fringes. Some departed this Hollywood that they had helped
birth and pursued film projects at other ports of call,
while others stayed in the system and made their avant-garde
films over the weekends.
the studios of Hollywood muddled through with black and
white, the avant-garde played with post-production colorizing-a
procedure that is not so very different from modern colorization
of old black and white films. This counter-culture that
some would argue was the counter point to Hollywood (though
I would argue that Hollywood was the true counter point
to it!), was not limited by the studios and tried new
things that hadn't been proven to be commercially "viable"
yet. Filmmaker Vorkapich was exploring high level special
effects and spectral elements in 1937, long before Hollywood
was willing to admit that his ideas were on the money.
1913's film Suspense used split-screens long before it
became the fad for Hollywood studios to do so.
are many more stories like this that can bee seen in this
fascinating, must-own set of short films.
and edited by Bruce Posner, the 155 avant-garde films
in this set have been broken into seven DVDs: The Mechanized
Eye, The Devil's Plaything, Light Rhythms, Inverted
Narratives, Picturing a Metropolis, The Amateur as Auteur,
and Viva la Dance.
Mechanized Eye - We see the first explorations camera
effects and mechanical filming elements. While this is
not a perfect summary, it's close enough. Some of the
elements, like Poem 8 and Portrait of a Young
Man, look at the mechanics of the world we're in,
rather than in terribly mechanical filming techniques.
of the films are excessively long, like the intentionally-silent
Portrait of a Young Man that drags on for an hour-long
look at close-ups of water and is designed to get you to
become introspective. Eventually, you become introspective
in the way that Native Americans became introspective in
steam lodges, with all the glimmers on the water making
your eyes glaze over and see strange visions.
this wasn't my cup of tea, there were many other short
films on this disc that really did capture my mind. For
example, the Paris Exposition Films, which were
shown at a convention in 1902, showed an aerial tilt of
the Eiffel Tower in Paris. What made this fascinating
was that, after the cameraman tilted back down to ground
level, there were a bunch of French people waving at the
camera as though they were in the background at Good Morning
America proving that people never change! Another great
segment was called Oil - A Symphony in Motion,
a short film that offered the theory that it is not man
that controls oil, but oil that controls man. A fascinating
little study, especially in consideration of our current
oil and gas issues and the way in which we've become enslaved
by the 'black gold.'
shorts dealt with problems
in the '20's and '30's...
others dealt with oil issues
that plague us to this day.
- We see the early explorations of American surrealism
in this disc and it is truly fascinating to watch. Some
things are fascinatingly revolutionary, like the 360 degree
romp of a man who has had too much rarebit before bed
in 1906's Dream of a Rarebit Fiend that actually
showcased a person walking up walls and ceilings in a
very convincing manner. Humor can be found in short films
like The Thieving Hand, the story of an artificial
hand that steals compulsively, regardless of who's body
it happens to be attached to. Meanwhile, hard commentary
on Hollywood's studio system can be seen in Florey and
Vorkapich's film, The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood
Extra, which was shot in Vorkapich's kitchen with
live actors and models over the course of several weekends
and a combined budget of $97 in 1927. This film pointed
out that the studio dream of starting out as an extra
and then becoming a star was a largely unrealistic and
Rhythms - This is somewhat like a combination of both
the Mechanized Eye and Viva la Dance, looking
at subjects that fall into both categories but are delineated
by light play and rhythm. Busby Berkely By a Waterfall
segment from Footlight Parade may seem like
pure water dance, but, as you watch the entertwining bodies
moving in light and shadow, you see almost M.C. Escher-like
maze of line and shape. Segments from Vorkapich's MGM-released
The Firefly show how the avant-garde director had
incorporated fascinating light and over exposure special
effects into his personal cut of the film which were scrapped
by MGM in their release of the film. Prohibition uses
the changing light of the last hour before Prohibition
takes hold to look at one last drunken binge for America.
Meanwhile, H20 and Surf and Seaweed revisit
some of the aquatic musings of Portrait of a Young
Man, but this time look at water in altogether different
ways that focus more on their fluid movement.