Experimental film or experimental cinema describes a range of filmmaking styles that are generally quite different from, and often opposed to, the practices of mainstream commercial and documentary filmmaking.
"Avant-garde" is also used to describe this work, and "underground" has been used in the past, though it has also had other connotations.
While "experimental" covers a wide range of practice, an "experimental film" is often characterized by
the absence of linear narrative,
the use of various abstracting techniques (out of focus, painting or scratching on film, rapid editing),
the use of asynchronous (non-diegetic) sound or even the absence of any sound track.
The goal is often to place the viewer in a more active and more thoughtful relationship to the film.
At least through the 1960s, and to some extent after, many experimental films took an oppositional stance toward mainstream culture.
Most such films are made on very low budgets, self-financed or financed through small grants, with a minimal crew or, quite often, a crew of only one person, the filmmaker.
It has been argued that much experimental film is no longer in fact "experimental," but has in fact become a film genre
and that many of its more typical features - such as a non-narrative, impressionistic or poetic approaches to the film's construction - define what is generally understood to be "experimental"
The above from Wikipedia
The survivors of a destroyed, post-apocalyptic Paris in the aftermath of the Third World War live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. They research time travel, hoping to send test subjects to different time periods "to call past and future to the rescue of the present". They have difficulty finding subjects who can mentally withstand the shock of time travel, but eventually settle upon a male prisoner whose vague but obsessive childhood memory of witnessing a woman (Hélène Chatelain) during a violent incident on the boarding platform ("The Jetty") at Orly Airport is the key to his journey back in time.
He is thrown back to the past again and again to a time before the war, when he had been a child. He repeatedly meets and speaks to the woman from his memory, who was present at the terminal. After his successful passages to the past, the experimenters attempt to send him into the far future. In a brief meeting with the technologically advanced people of the future, he is given a power unit sufficient to regenerate his own destroyed society. Upon his return, with his mission accomplished, he discerns that he is to be executed by his jailers. He is contacted by the people of the future, who offer to help him escape to their time, but he asks to be instead returned to the pre-war time of his childhood, hoping to again find the woman. He is returned and does find her, but an agent of his jailers has followed. The man finds that the violent incident he partially witnessed as a child was his own death as an adult at the hands of the agent.
La jetée (English: The Jetty or The Pier) (1962) is a 28-minute black and white science fiction film by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel.The film won the Prix Jean Vigo for short film.
La jetée has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German. The story is told by a voice-over narrator. It is constructed almost entirely from optically printed photographs playing out as a photomontage of varying pace. It contains only one brief shot originating on a motion-picture camera.
The stills were taken with a Pentax Spotmatic and the motion-picture segment was shot with a 35mm Arriflex.
The music used stock music by Trevor Duncan. In Region 2, the film is available with English subtitles in the La jetée/Sans soleil digipack released by Arte Video. In Region 1, the Criterion Collection has released a La jetée/Sans soleil combination DVD, which features the option of hearing the English or French narration.
The scene in which the hero and the woman look at a cut-away trunk of a tree is a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo.
La Jetée (1962) is an arresting work of avant-garde science fiction that has not lost its capacity to fascinate viewers after almost five decades. Though nuclear annihilation does not hold the public imagination in its grip as it did during the height of the Cold War (the film was released the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis), nevertheless the film remains a haunting and poignant work, whose evocative power is difficult to explain to someone who has never seen it.
Chris Marker’s film lacks the trappings of conventional spectacle – it is a low budget production altogether lacking in expensive special effects, yet it nevertheless succeeds marvelously in providing many of the pleasures associated with science fiction: a suspenseful plot, a convincingly rendered post-apocalyptic society run by totalitarian authorities, and a moving romance between the main character and a woman who inhabits the past, before the coming of nuclear war.
La Jetée is also notable for its form and compositional techniques – it is comprised almost entirely of still images, and makes use of dissolves to convey a sense of succession across time as well as space. It is a complex and weighty meditation on the experience of temporality and duration. The still images, which are often of quotidian sights and objects (birds, children, parks, boats, a lover, and graves), come across as slices of the protagonist’s memory, appearing to him during the experiments he undergoes at the hands of the scientists who rule the camp. The film also lingers over shots of ruins and broken statues, which along with the preserved animals in the museum visited by the couple, redouble the sense of stasis created by the still images. Why such redundancy? Could La Jetée have dispensed with such imagery and retained its emotional resonance?
The film does not establish exactly how the protagonist travels back into the past – it is left unclear whether he dematerializes into the past, or if the past is something he hallucinates, or if it is a memory that he relives. The lines between memory, fantasy, and experience have become indistinguishable as he engages in a romance with the unnamed woman whose face has haunted him since childhood, though he seems not to recognize her as the source of the “one happy memory” that carried him through the war.
Yet I have always found it difficult to relate the full significance of the formal composition of the film to its content. The still images and the one moving shot create registers of reality that correspond to the pre-war world and the post-apocalyptic nightmare. When the woman, lying in bed, opens her eyes and blinks, it is as though time has begun again and life is restored once more in its fullness. Reda Bensmaia once described in conversation the form of La Jetée in the following terms: it is a film that looks like the fragments of a full-length feature, the remnants of a film that has been destroyed in some universal conflagration. One wonders if the film would have been less powerful if more of the sequence shots had been “saved” or “salvaged.” The still images have a poignancy that live action and movement would, in my view, dissipate, because the latter establish for us a kinaesthetic familiarity, a sensory-motor association with the actions and movements that unfold across time. There is something more haunting and painful about the still images as isolated slices of time, underscoring for us the fact that we are watching something that belongs to the past and thus perhaps to death. Movement, on the other hand, comforts us in its very banality.
Bensmaia is quite on the mark, yet the neatness with which the form of the film corresponds to the apocalyptic reality it evokes creates a further mystery for me. Although I have been teaching La Jetée for over ten years now, I cannot say that I was truly satisfied by what I had to say about the film, as much as I love the work. Something vital and fundamental about it eludes me — it wraps itself up too neatly, in an infinite loop created by the man as a young boy watching himself day. Moreover, the ending leaves us with the harsh sting of injustice, as the man who saves humanity ends up condemned to death for this very achievement. The screenwriter Robert Towne once said apropos of the film Chinatown, that crimes which are too great to be punished are instead honored as praiseworthy and beneficial actions. Could it be that those who bring great blessings, perform outstanding acts of goodness, will not be forgiven by the multitude that benefits from their actions? It would seem that everyone is expendable, especially those who are capable of saving the world. Perhaps the only way out is to save the world, or at least the soul, after one has already died.
The film also operates as a kind of abortive inversion of Genesis. The future of the heterosexual (and procreative) couple is undone, but it is the memory of this impossibility that gives the man a strong attachment to images and enables him to travel across time in the first place. The man, through his love for the woman, opens the path to the future, but it is a path open for the rest of humanity, from which he is excluded. Ironically, it is a story that cannot be told because it is a story that has no end — the man must return to the pier in order to be killed so that he can, as a child, watch himself die. This death takes place infinitely, with each occasion providing the formative experience for the child who will grow up and become a prisoner of war in the underground camp. The desire that sustains him is the desire for love, which is the desire to defy death. This desire is ratified, made binding in its truth beyond fantasy and beyond memory, when the man recognizes at the last possible minute the shape his life is destined to take
According to Freud, the mind can be divided into two main parts:
1. The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud called this ordinary memory the preconscious.
2. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.