3ESSAY #4: Early Experimental Film as an Outgrowth of
Copyright Frank Scheide, 2003
ESSAY OBJECTIVES: Examine the history, identity, and content of the “experimental
film”, and consider how movements in modern art influenced the first major period of
I. Experimental Films, Realism, and Formalism
There are three general types of motion pictures that a filmmaker can make:
narrative, nonfiction or documentary, and experimental. Documentary filmmakers utilize
the motion picture’s ability to record and document that which already exists. The
nonfiction film uses “reality” to dictate the form and content of its subject matter. A
narrative film, as we have seen with such motion pictures as
A Trip to the Moon
is structured around a fictional story that has been staged for the camera.
The experimental film is concerned with experimentation
. Such “experiments” may
investigate how and what audiences perceive, or explore how the medium can
manipulate color, texture, shape, light, and time.
The incredible diversity of experimental film subjects makes it a difficult category to
identify. One could almost say that if a film is not a narrative or a documentary than it
probably is experimental. We can get some appreciation for the variety of this grouping
by looking at some examples of experimental films and consider the intention behind their
production. For example the form and content of Tony Conrad's
Essay #1, reflects this filmmaker's interest in how people physiologically perceive
individual images imprinted on film that are projected as "moving images." A much
different intent was explored with the experimental films
(1964), made by the famous artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
is an eight-hour movie of a person sleeping shot from one camera position.
records the Empire State Building, shot from a single stationary perspective,
during an eight-hour period. Needless to say it takes a long time to watch these two films
in their entirety. During these screenings the viewer will probably consider such things as
her or his relationship to the subject, one's expectations when watching a film, what
constitutes a valid viewing experience, and why anyone would spend eight hours