8. Outer Space
Spliced, edited, tortured and perverted is Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space used from archive footage of the horror film The Entity. Tscherkassky takes this footage from another film and creates something completely new and different, honestly making it his own genuine work.
This is his trademark, the destruction and recreation of stock footage in his own vision. From production it is completely chaotic in its destruction of editing, lighting and splicing. In another, it does what many avant garde films have difficulty doing and that is conveying a sense of a story in its images. So what is artistically demonstrated in its mutation of film still holds the main attributes that cinema requires.
It has an increasingly tense atmosphere building up the suspense for the viewer by only showing them glimpses of a nightmarish fantasy. The viewer has no clue what is suppose to be real or not as coherency is no longer needed for the experimental genre. But as the film progresses, we begin to see the cyclic nature of evil at work. This is no longer the ghost story that the actual footage was filmed for.
Tscherkassky has transformed it into a haunting inner battle of one woman coping with her mental frailty. The multiple spliced images of the same woman in one shot represents multiple points in her personality struggling for superiority. Outer Space is one of the most effective avant garde pieces of cinema in terms of experiential result. One can literally experience this film in a multitude of ways, most often it tends to be of the terrifying sense.
7. White Mane
The lesser viewed short film by French director Albert Lamorisse lurking in the shadows behind his more widely acclaimed The Red Balloon. Both shorts compliment each other nicely and while The Red Balloon is known for its fantastical elements, White Mane is strict realism that feels magical as told through the boy protagonist’s point of view. The titular Mane itself emitting an aura of being a mythical beast, untamed, wild, and free.
In many respects, White Mane is the superior film in Lamorisse’s double feature of short films even though that goes against popular opinion. The film is crafted with an utmost brilliance in cinematography capturing the serene beauty of Southern France. The film is also almost double the runtime compared to The Red Balloon and that tends to help flesh out the story and add to already remarkable realism.
Expressed as being famous film critic Pauline Kael’s favorite film, a rouge opinion that is certain to draw intrigue with her previously known stature. However in the midst of the film you can begin to see why she considers it so. Ménilmontant is a haunting silent short film that takes a basic and bleak melodramatic format and films it in an avant garde fashion.
Pre-dating the classic experimental cinema landmark Man with a Movie Camera director Dimitri Kirsanoff crafts this film with monumental skill and groundbreaking techniques that are normally accredited to the previously mentioned. With no intertitles, the story is conveyed through visuals alone. This proved interesting and with Kirsanoff choosing an experimental outlet in which to tell the story it made it more difficult to comprehend. The easy part about that is the story is not much more than meets the eyes, you may think there is given Kirsanoff’s unique way of even metaphorically showing the character’s thoughts and actions but it is indeed straightforward.
That is the magic of it and why this film is so highly lauded to take a simple albeit dark tale of violence, orphanage, sisterly bond and betrayal and mix it with avant garde elements into something almost other worldly. Almost as if the dreary street scenes and cuts of Ménilmontant in Paris were of a voyeuristic and ominous apparition watching the colorless neighborhood and its inhabitants.
5. Un Chien Andalou
Luis Bunuel took cinema by storm with this early short film and collaboration with painter Salvador Dali. It was not only Bunuel’s welcoming card to the medium in the eyes of all of the critics but also an access point to further spread the surrealist art movement on a international scale.
Bunuel’s 1929 short film has been so incredibly influential throughout the near century of cinema it has existed in that still even today it maintains its potency and the inspiration spawning from it can be found throughout many examples in all different forms of artistic mediums. Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist fever dream that leaves one trembling with a cold sweat and it is one of the few films that actually delivers on the promise of being a unforgettable cinematic experience.
21-87 can be simply viewed as a hypnotic experience assaulting the senses into a state of awe. Or if one chooses, layers of meaning could be found beneath its vignette of images and sound. Director Arthur Lipsett recycled abandoned stock footage left on the cutting room floor in the National Film Board of Canada along with his own shot footage to create this wonderful collage of rejected images.
Along with this is an eerie soundtrack comprised of sound effects and recorded conversations ranging from religious topics, spirituality, discussions on life and philosophy. With questions of God and the soul juxtaposed randomly with scenes of children, anonymous strangers, death and violence; the film becomes a mesmerizing display of finding meaning in the anonymity of life.
3. The Man Who Planted Trees
Frédéric Back’s renowned animated short adapted from Jean Giono’s 1953 novel is nothing short of breathtaking in its scope. At a mere 30 minutes Back is able to tell in extraordinary fashion an allegorical tale on the value of life, nature, and our purpose in this world. However the absolute highlight of this film is to witness some of the best hand drawn animation designed for the screen.
The animation in this film reminds one of the classical paintings and masterworks from the 18th and 19th centuries that vary from broad brush strokes to intricate details. The natural environment of the animation is akin to that of a Renoir or Monet painting with the rich use of colors and textures. The Man Who Planted Trees is an unforgettable cinematic experience and one of the best animated films ever made.
2. Pas De Deux
A lyrical love poem told in silhouettes of dancers in the dark. Norman McLaren creates an amazing and sensual experimental film using professional ballet dancers, back lighting and after image effects to alter the visuals in unique and aesthetic ways.
To film the dancers in the dark and shadow with minimal lighting, enhanced the beauty and definition of the human form. In fact the entire film felt like an ode to the beauty of the feminine and masculine human physique. Beauty in the contortion and motion in which these figures spin and pirouette. McLaren captures these moments with slowed reaction time so we can digest every move.
As the film advances so does the evolution of its editing. He begins to use a lingering effect of super imposition of the same scene that just past creating an effect that looks like a shadow trying to keep up with its owner. This gradually begins to increase and become more manipulative and layered. The images evolve into something more than a mere dance exposition and take on a life of its own and affects the sensory perception of its viewers in a multitude of ways.
1. Meshes of the Afternoon
Maya Deren’s multi-faceted short film is one that can never be fully understood. The symbolism, representations of reality and fantasy and the interpretations that follow all try to touch the base of this film but try as they might, this film is just untouchable.
It’s an experience more than a film. An atmosphere of mood and imagery tailor made to affect the viewer’s psyche. Co-directed with then husband Alexander Hammid, the duo crafted what is considered in many circles of critics, not only a transcended creation in the short film medium but possibly ranked among the greatest films ever made. It is a surrealist tapestry woven with feminist metaphors and a repetitive visual narrative culminating in the downward spiral into the pits of insanity suffered by the film’s protagonist played by Deren herself.
An important piece of trivia to add is this film was originally intended to be viewed silent but the score that commonly companions it in most versions now was added afterwards by Deren’s current husband before her death Teiji Ito. The score is more than recommended and I would say essential to view the film.
Author Bio: Robert Beksinski III is a Baltimore, MD native but currently residing in Chambersburg, PA. Just like any other cinephile; film has become an integral part of his life and the drive to fuel his cinema addiction has also drove his needs to write about films. Which brings us here. You can find him at Letterboxd here: http://letterboxd.com/bbeksinski/.