Direct Theory: Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre
Direct Theory: Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre
Southern Illinois University Press

Direct Theory: Experimental Motion Pictures as Major Genre

  • Publish Date: 2013-08-02
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Edward S. Small;Timothy W. Johnson

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Making the case for the significance of experimental motion pictures

Undulating water patterns; designs etched or painted directly onto clear or black film leader; computer-generated, pulsating, multihued light tapestriesthe visual images that often constitute experimental motion pictures are unlike anything found in either fictive narratives or documentary works. Thus, Direct Theory provides an historical and theoretical survey of this overlooked and misunderstood body of international films, videos, and digital productions that offers a strong case for the understanding of experimental motion pictures as a separate, major motion picture genre.

In a radical revision of film-theory that incorporates Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotic system, and adds to it historian Raymond Fieldings technological determinism, Edward S. Small and Timothy W. Johnson argue that experimental moviemaking constitutes a special mode of theory that bypasses written and spoken words. By exploring the development of experimental motion pictures over nine decades, they trace the practice from its beginnings in the European avant-garde movement in the 1920s, through American underground productions, into international structuralist works that marked the experimental films of the 1970s, and finally the digital experimental innovations of the twenty-first century.

To demonstrate that the aesthetic of experimental motion pictures is best understood separately from other major film genres such as fictive narrative and documentary, Small and Johnson highlight eight defining technical and structural characteristics of experimental productions, including the autonomy of the artist, economic independence, brevity, and the use of dreams, reveries, hallucinations, and other mental imagery. They also highlight a number of films, including Ralph Steiners 1929 H2O and Bruce Conners 1958 A Movie, and provide a sampling of frames from them to demonstrate that the heightened reflexivity of these films transmit meaning through images rather than words.

A deft historical interweaving of experimental production and scholarly discourse, this thought-provoking work firmly establishes the importance of experimental motion pictures in the discipline of film studies (theory and history) and production.


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