ON THE EXPERIMENTAL IN EXPERIMENTAL FILM
By definition experimental art is art born out of experimentation. What does it mean when one's experimental work begins stemming from established ideas/traditions of what is historically or culturally deemed to be experimental? Do we redefine the word experimental itself? Do we create a new word to describe work that breaks with those traditions?
When artists of old wanted to make a film they had at their disposal only mechanical cameras and celluloid film. Later there was the cheaper option of magnetic tape video. Today we have digital cameras and computers for editing. When smartphones became ubiquitous, everyone who had one suddenly found themselves with a motion picture camera and editing tools in their pocket.
When a filmmaker has an idea for a film, they use the tools readily available to them. If the filmmaker doesn’t have much money, they use the cheapest tools possible to create their work. Before video, poor filmmakers used the cheapest cameras and the cheapest celluloid film. If they couldn’t afford even that, they painted on film or used found footage. Today, with film cameras nearly obsolete and film processing astronomically priced, filmmakers have the option of using digital cameras and digital editing equipment. Is a filmmaker not to be taken seriously if they use the latest and/or cheapest tools and technologies to express their ideas? Is a filmmaker only to be taken seriously if they use only certain agreed upon tools for the making of moving image work?
Celluloid film, magnetic tape video, and digital video all produce moving images in different aesthetic styles. The images produced look and feel different in each medium. What does it mean when someone says that a film is less important because it's created using one tool instead of another? Is it not simply an expression of that person's visual aesthetic preference? What matters more in art: an artist’s idea or the aesthetics of the medium used to express the idea? And isn't it conceivable to create aesthetic depth and beauty in any medium?
It seems that in order for experimental film art to keep advancing, filmmakers must first accept the aesthetics of new mediums and new technologies. Then, once accepted, they can: a. experience other film artists’ ideas expressed in those mediums, and b. they can themselves stretch new mediums to their limits to see what they can do and how they can break. And within that stretching and breaking, they can find beauty, they can find art. That art then becomes the experimental film art of the day.
take me home!