Since the earliest days of avant-garde cinema, experimental filmmakers have interrogated vision. They have defied or ignored norms of cinematography to create images that appear distorted, abstract, fantastical, or visually confusing. Historically, the reasons why individual filmmakers distort the image have been diverse. Some seek a “pure” cinema akin to classical music. Others feel that marginalized stories need to be told differently than mainstream cinema.
Still others are interested in vision itself, and the relationship between the cinematic image and how the audience sees the world. In the video essay, Wash Out Your Eye, I look at avant-garde filmmakers that use cinema in an attempt to retrain the eye of the audience. Through a variety of cinematic manipulations, they want to change how we see the world around us. This includes canonical, U.S. filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s concept of the “untutored eye,” the animation abstractions of Robert Breer, the flicker films of Paul Sharits, and Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s “kino-eye.”
In different ways, these four filmmakers challenge vision, asking us to relearn how to see.
[This video contains clips from flicker films. Please view with caution if you have photosensitivity or are prone to seizures.]
Interested in retraining your eye? The Underground Film Series will feature the works of avant-garde filmmakers Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler on Friday November 18.
The IU Cinema has previously screened Stan Brakhage and Paul Sharits as part of the Underground Film Series, as well as the experimental film documentaries Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film and Visionaries: Jonas Mekas and the (Mostly) American Avant-Garde Cinema.
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.