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Dziga Vertov


Focus of the unit

This unit contributes to synoptic assessment. Understanding will be fostered through:

• studying complex films from different contexts, extending knowledge of the

diversity of film and its effects


• exploring spectatorship issues in relation to a particular type of film


• applying key concepts and critical approaches gained throughout the course to explore one film in a synoptic manner.



Spectatorship: Experimental and Expanded Film/Video

The study of radical 'alternatives' to mainstream film form and representation, challenging our sense of how we see and consequently how we respond to audio-visual material. Examples may be taken from both the historical and the contemporary. Where possible candidates should visit galleries and other venues where work is installed in relation to specific physical spaces.


The focus may be on a number of works seen in locations, on a number of short films, on two feature length films or on a mixture.

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

Viking Eggeling

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Viking Eggeling (21 October 1880, Lund – 19 May 1925, Berlin) was a Swedish artist and filmmaker.[1] His work is of significance in the area of experimental film, and has been described as absolute film and Visual Music.


At the age of sixteen, the orphaned Eggeling moved to Germany to pursue an artistic career. He studied art history in Milan from 1901 to 1907, supporting himself with work as a bookkeeper. He lived in Paris from 1911 to 1915; he was acquainted with Amadeo Modigliani, Hans Arp, and other artists of the time.[2]


Eggeling made a film called Symphonie Diagonale, which was completed in 1924 and first exhibited in May 1925, just before his death.




For the purpose of the Specification what is the definition of an

“experimental” and an “expanded” film / video?


An experimental film is one that, especially for the purposes of a spectatorship study, challenges our normal and routine expectations of film as a narrative realist medium to be viewed in a particular physical context.

An experimental film is one that asks questions of our normal expectations and

assumptions about what a film is, what it’s for and how we should view it.


The term “expanded cinema” may describe: “multi-screen and mixed-media

presentation built around one or more film projectors.

Cinema is “expanded” in more than one sense in this definition: it could utilize a number of screens or surfaces, it could involve other not-strictly-cinematic mediums, and it could utilize the conventionally static screening environment; even the audience

could be implicated or drawn into the flow of performance/event.”


http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/cont ents/08/46/dirk-de-bruyn.html


In contemporary terms, expanded film / video may include v-j practices and the

screening of film/video work in a dialogic relationship to other art work within

mixed media events.


Though it may not be a popular option, this is in many ways the most lively of

the spectatorship studies because it requires the student to think most

directly about spectatorship in relation to some very unusual and vivid viewing



What approach is recommended in studying Experimental and

Expanded Film / Video in relation to spectatorship?


This option should generate excitement, debate, outrage!


In relation to the broader objectives of this section of FM4, focus should be on how different kinds of film challenge conventional assumptions about the role of the spectator and the nature of cinematic pleasure.


In this latter regard even boredom may become a fruitful area for exploration!

As with the Early Cinema option, here there is an opportunity for exploration, setting personal response within a framework of learning about the specific films chosen.



What films are recommended for the Experimental / Expanded Cinema



Some of the films appropriate for this topic could find themselves used for

other options and topics, especially canonical films from the history of avant

garde cinema. For instance, Man with a Movie Camera and Meshes in the

Afternoon are mentioned as appropriate films Section A options.

Much experimental work from the 50s and 60s is available on dvd - including the

work of BrakhageAnger,

Warhol/Morrissey, etc

Any film work that falls within the broad terms of 'avant garde', 'underground', 'trash’ is appropriate. However, it is important to remember the focus is on spectatorship rather than on a history of aspects of experimental film.

If the emphasis is to be on the contemporary, then to see new work in sight specific locations / events will be important.





Recommendations – including those from teachers – will be posted annually

on the WJEC website after the Summer examination series.

Meshes of the Afternoon
United States
14 Min
Black and White Full version of the film at this excellent site An excellent site for experimental cinema
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

The art world, in its ignorance of art, sells objects, but we create experiences, we create life and death challenges to the psyche
Ken Jacobs

The Kuleshov effect takes its name from Lev Kuleshov, an influential filmmaker in the mid-twentieth century Soviet Union, who illustrated it. It's a little hard to pin down precisely what the nature of his experiment was. According to Ronald Levaco, Kuleshov shot a single long closeup of an actor named Mozhukhin, sitting still without expression. He then intercut it with various shots, the exact content of which he forgot in his later years, but which, according to his associate Vsevolod Pudovkin, comprised a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a child with a toy bear. The audience "marveled at the sensitivity of the actor's range."


Kuleshov's own account, though, describes only two scenes: one in which a jailed man is shown an open cell door, and one in which a starving man is shown a bowl of soup. Kuleshov switched the shots, so that the starving man saw the open door and the prisoner looked at soup, and there was no noticeable difference.


Whether the latter account is a product of Kuleshov's forgetfulness or not, the thrust of the experiment is the same. At that time in his career, Kuleshov held very strong views on editing. The montage of a film, he felt, overrode all other aspects of filmmaking, making them irrelevant. He came to call his actors "models," indicating the lack of significance he attributed them. The "Kuleshov effect," though, refers to the more probable experiment, the former.


The essence of the Kuleshov effect is filling in the blanks, or connecting the dots. Mozhukhin isn't actually looking at anything; he probably doesn't even know what they'll make him look at, so he can't possibly be reacting to it. He expresses no emotion, so an audience cannot possibly see emotion on his face, but the audience does. The viewer is presented with a situation or environment along with the academic fact that someone is experiencing it. He cannot simply accept the actor's evident emotion, as none is given, so he decides what the appropriate response would be and assigns it to the actor.


Now here's the real magic of it. The viewer dosn't realize the reaction is in his own mind. He assumes the actor shows it, but he can't see just how, so it seems like an almost magical projection of feeling by a brilliant actor. The viewer admires the actor's subtlety, and at the same time is more strongly affected by the scene. The character seems stoic, which at once impresses the viewer and lends weight to the emotion he does seem to display. In addition, the viewer wonders if others in the audience have caught the undercurrent, patting himself on the back for being so insightful.  

Backward as it may seem, the emotion of the scene is heightened in several different ways precisely because it is not being expressed at all.


The above from this excellent site:





When film studies began to establish itself as an academic discipline in the 1970s, film theorists looked to other fields, most importantly semiotics and psychoanalysis, for cues on how to best articulate the ways in which film functions as a system of language.


Both semiotics and psychoanalysis are based on the understanding that larger structures or systems govern the ways in which individuals engage with the world. These structures are inescapable; individuals have no control over their position within them and are subject to their processes.


Film theorists saw many parallels between the pleasurable experience of watching a film in a darkened theater and psychoanalytic discussions of unconscious states of being.


In accounting for the process of how a spectator experiences a film, theorists drew on Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan's theories of early childhood development, suggesting that the process of watching a film recreates a similar dynamic between what Lacan called the imaginary and symbolic worlds.


Because film language works so effectively to make the viewer feel as though he or she were enmeshed in its world, the spectator is able to relive the pleasurable state of being in the imaginary stage again.


Psychoanalytic theories of spectatorship make several assumptions that raise doubts about its ability to serve as a suitable model for understanding film viewing.


First, in this model the spectator is always rendered a passive subject of the film text, subject to its meaning system.


This suggests that film spectators do not have control over the ways in which they view films and the meaning they take from them—that, in fact, every spectator receives the same meaning from a film.


Also, because Lacan's notion of Oedipal development is experienced only by the male child, psychoanalytic theories of spectatorship are pertinent only when applied to (hetero-sexual) male spectators.


Furthermore, these theories do not take into consideration cultural and historical variants, implying that all (male) film viewers will respond to film language in the same way regardless of their historical, cultural, and political context.


Although the psychoanalytic model remains important within academic film studies and continues to produce active debates, its assumptions have been challenged by several theoretical positions that pose alternative ways of thinking about the film spectator.



In her influential essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), Laura Mulvey takes a feminist stance toward the implicit gender dynamics of psychoanalytic theories of spectator-ship by further interrogating the male specificity on which the entire framework rests.


Like the development process, in which only the male child can enter into the symbolic world where language has meaning, she argues that film language is dictated by a male-controlled system.


Film language is both controlled by men and designed for the benefit of male pleasure, which is inextricably linked with looking, voyeurism, and the objectification of the female image.


Mulvey argues that, because the language of narrative cinema mimics aspects of the stage, film only serves to perpetuate a type of male-driven patriarchal language that facilitates male visual pleasure.

As a result, female spectators have no access to it other than through the male gaze that consistently objectifies the female spectator's onscreen counterpart. Therefore the only pleasure that female spectators derive from it is masochistic (the pleasure in one's own pain).


Mulvey argues that female spectators will be able to find true pleasure from films only by inventing a new type of film language that is not driven by narrative.


Mulvey's article posited a comprehensive paradigm that was difficult to overcome.

Yet the work that followed succeeded in posing alternatives to her argument or expanding its framework. One of the main paths of research in this area focused on the potential for female film spectators to establish a different type of relationship with films specifically made to appeal to them—referred to as women's pictures, weepies, or melodramas.


Because these films feature female characters and focus on female issues, theorists raised compelling questions as to whether this more feminine mode has the potential to challenge male-oriented film language. Following the lead of feminist theorists who debated (to varying degrees) the assumption that the subject or spectator implied by psychoanalysis is male, other film theorists responded to the psychoanalytic model by contesting its inherent dismissal of historical and cultural conditions, specifically those of race and sexual orientation.


The emphasis of these alternative readings was both to argue for an active spectator-ship informed by one's cultural and social position and to suggest the possibility for oppositional or alternative readings that deviate from the dominant (Caucasian, heterosexual, male) one set forth by mainstream cinema.


For instance, Manthia Diawara argues that psychoanalytic theories of spectatorship ignore the impact race has on a spectator's reading of films, contending that viewers have the potential to resist dominant readings and establish oppositional perspectives.


He argues that it is therefore possible for African American spectators to identify with and resist Hollywood's often limited image of blacks, which Caucasian spectators do as well. In other words, a spectator's race does not determine his or her response to a given film.


The feminist film theorists Bell Hooks and Jacqueline Bobo augmented this discussion of race and spectatorship by arguing that even more complex readings arise for African American female spectators because of their double exclusion on the grounds of gender and race.


Gay and lesbian theorists have also made significant contributions to the "rereading" of film spectatorship. Teresa de Lauretis, Andrea Weiss, and Patricia White, among others, suggest that lesbian spectatorial desire challenges the traditional heterosexist paradigm, creating a dynamic of desire outside of previously theorized notions of spectatorship. If lesbian spectators are outside of the traditional heterosexual system of desire, then they pose a significant threat to previous theories of spectatorship.


Signifying a departure from psychoanalytic concepts, an increasingly prevalent discussion within film studies of spectatorship focuses on the historical development of audiences in the early film industry. By unearthing archival documents such as box-office records, studio files, and periodicals of this era, film historians have pieced together accounts not only of how audiences responded to early films, but also of how changing audience expectations affected the evolution of the film industry and film language.




Film spectatorship is a very complex matter and many competing theories exist which purport to to tell you exactly what happens when you as a spectator find yourself confronted with the projection of a film.


Some of these theories are expressed in language which is uncommonly hard to follow. The vocabulary used is often one that will not be found in the pages of even quite large dictionaries.


Worse, some of the theories have to be read in translation so that what is being said becomes more and more opaque.

A full understanding of the many theories is not at all required for advanced level film studies.

However for the more ambitious student many of these theories are not without interest or value.

Furthermore some of the terms used to describe the nature of spectatorship are undoubtedly useful.


What follows then is a rather piecemeal approach to this complicated process and students should not feel intimidated if the intellectual going gets tough.

What feels difficult in the misty month of October may yield much greater clarity in the merry month of May.


I will be offering you little kernels or nuggets of wisdom taken from various authors and  favoured websites.

Each of these nuggets will have a link to the website or the main text so that students can read the quotation in its full context.

Spectatorship is obviously about audience and a visit to our sister media studies site where audience is dealt with at some length might be very profitable. It can be accessed here.

Film spectatorship— or at least the most interesting aspects of it—is a conscious activity (Currie 1999):

making sense of film is significantly the same as making sense of the real world (Anderson 1996); the spectator uses perceptual and conceptual systems developed for interacting with a three-dimensional world to interact with and make sense of a two dimensional world; therefore, there is no specific, encapsulated, cognitive module for experiencing the movements and gestures of fictional characters projected on a screen, nor are there specific cognitive modules for aesthetic experiences generally;


♦ though dependent on the same cognitive capacities as everyday experience, aesthetic experiences are qualitatively different from everyday experiences;

if everyday experience depends on coherence,(things hanging together and making sense)

aesthetic experience allows considerably more room for Disparity,


and Tension, which drives spectators to appreciate the complexity (i.e., partial incoherency) of form and meaning;




there is always great pressure to endow such complexities with coherence so that

disparate, tense, and disintegrated elements along one cognitive dimension (e.g.,conceptual incompatibility) become unified, comfortable, and integrated elements along other cognitive dimensions (e.g., deductive inferences, explanatory hypotheses,and emotional valences);


♦ spectators can produce psychological responses as if they were witnessing the events being projected before them; but spectators can respond with equal ease to the medium of representation as a medium of representation and to the world outside the representation as it relates to that representation (Allen 1995); the formal aspects of film—and the material conditions of reception—make these as if responses likely but only for relatively short intervals (i.e., seconds);


♦ these as if experiences, although illusory, are neither inherently irrational nor pathological but normal aspects of human aesthetic experience;



♦ the feature film is a derived intentional object, created by someone with specific

ordered properties; as with any work of art, we can experience them as concretized pre-aesthetic wholes and as complex layered aesthetic objects (Ingarden 1973); in each case, the spectator constructs (or reconstructs) meaning through processes of appresentation: “filling in the gaps” with presupposed knowledge to produce understanding.


Toward a General Theory of Film Spectatorship



Perhaps the experimental film immediately sends the signal that what you are watching is not the everyday world; while often, at the same time, indicating clearly that the film you are watching will not be be operating within the rules or generic tropes of mainstream film.


One of the most obvious signs that you are in the presence of an experimental film is incoherence.

Things do not hang together neither do they appear to make sense.

This is, perhaps, the most obvious feature of early surrealist films.

This pressure to somehow make the incoherent coherent is one of the frustrations or delights of experimental film.

The mind desperately tries to integrate the various elements of the film so that they make sense.


Having failed in this process of integration or making sense the culturally aware mind moves on, perhaps, towards an aesthetic approach, a more poetic approach or even a psychoanalytic approach in the hope that the film will yield some form of aesthetic statement.


However it is often the business of experimental film to frustrate or sidestep this approach by making it impossible to paraphrase their film’s aesthetic frame of reference.


Think what the mind might do when confronted with a single shot of the sea where nothing happens for 25 minutes.

Where does the mind take itself while watching the sea do nothing but be itself for 25 minutes?


This is stupid!

It makes no sense!


Perhaps it’s art?

It certainly arty farty.


Perhaps it’s a dream?

Perhaps the dream means he is afraid of death or the sea?


What would Dr Freud think?


Fear of drowning?


I’ve been watching this sea for 10 minutes and nothing has happened.


Perhaps if I wait something will happen?

I know it is art, but I am  bored and still nothing has happened,


perhaps it is about boredom?


Doubtless, with many notable exceptions, humankind has evolved to make sense of the world.

It will always strive to fill in the gaps, to find explanation, to seek causes for effects and it is this hardwired capacity that experimental filmmakers encounter when they present films which deliberately refuse to allow the making of sense or the filling of gaps.


Is this the reason, this frustration they often produce in the Spectator, that has stopped experimental film from ever joining the mainstream and consigned them to art galleries and esoteric film festivals?

We may as well begin with an overview of spectatorship in the cinema

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.

Watch Laughing Jacques on You Tube


# prototype: a standard or typical example; "he is the prototype of good breeding"; "he provided America with an image of the good father"


# substitution class: the class of all items that can be substituted into the same position (or slot) in a grammatical sentence (are in paradigmatic relation with one another)


# the generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline at a given time; "he framed the problem within the psychoanalytic paradigm"


Paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physicist Lord Kelvin  famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over two hundred years. In this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case in the sense that Newtonian mechanics is still a good model for approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light.

Three Positions


Morley outlined three hypothetical positions:     

 * Dominant  reading: The reader shares the programme's 'code' (its meaning system of values, attitudes, beliefs and assumptions) and fully accepts the programme's 'preferred reading' (a reading which may not have been the result of any conscious intention on the part of the programme makers).


    * Negotiated reading: The reader partly shares the programme's code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but modifies it in a way which reflects their position and interests.


    * Oppositional  reading: The reader does not share the programme's code and rejects the preferred reading, bringing to bear an alternative frame of interpretation.


Morley argues that 'members of a given sub-culture will tend to share a cultural orientation towards decoding messages in particular ways. Their individual "readings" of messages will be framed by shared cultural formations and practices'



Comparison between mainstream/ Hollywood narration and what may happen in experimental/expanded cinema:.

While experimental film may run for a specific amount of time, that is to say, duration of performance, how it handles time may well be quite bizarre. Often there is the sense of being outside of time, or perhaps, being in a sort of dream time.




Space is often problematic in experimental film, location is often vague and can have the sense of a theatrical set or, as above, a sense of being in a dream landscape. Some films, often those dealing in abstract shapes, are more about the interaction of light and space.



Causality is often nowhere to be found, there is an incoherence and illogicality that appears to defy the normal rules of cause and effect. This  defiance or refusal of logic is one of the major generic signifiers of experimental film as is its insistence that the only logic is the logic of dreams.






It is perfectly possible in the more abstract forms of experimental or expanded Cinema for there to be no characters at all. They are often people free zones.

Characters, if they appear, will often seem trapped in a range of behaviours that may seem to us spectators without either motivation, coherence or any definable logic. They can appear rather like the puppet creatures of an unknown and indecipherable puppet master.




In experimental cinema an obvious narrative is generally dispensed with in favour of something far more problematic and challenging. It is often as if the jigsaw of narrative has been scattered to the four winds. In some people free films there is no narrative to be discovered at all except perhaps to speculate where the joins come in a looped film.



Making meaning is the kernel of the problem for the spectator at a showing of experimental or expanded Cinema. The spectator is bereft of the usual genre signifiers which in mainstream cinema help him or her with responses. Basically the spectator is unsure as to what mode of reception he should settle into.

Should she attempt to make sense of what she’s viewing or should she abandon logics and attempt to make aesthetic sense of what is before her?

Should she read the gallery catalogue and count the number of  artwords she does not understand?

She probably often exists in a continual state of interpretive confusion or uncertainty.





While there can be suspense and emotion generated by experimental cinema it is not usually its principal aim or concern. Images can be particularly powerful and visceral, think of the cutting of that eyeball in The Andalusian Dog, however, experimental cinema is more often described as challenging or unsettling as the imagery and construction is often powerful enough to produce these mental and emotional states in the spectator. Conversely there is, all too often, a take it or leave it approach to the spectator in that his comfort, her interests are not catered to at all.




Running times of experimental cinema rarely conform to mainstream practice. Only Man with a Movie Camera and Run Lola Run seem to have been intended for the general cinema goer. Andy Warhol’s film which watches the Manhattan skyline for hours and hours and hours and hours certainly does not conform.




The phrase, determining limits to originality, would be loathed by those involved in experimental cinema. Genre conventions would be equally despised and only hinted at to be subverted.

The aim is never to provide cosy recognition for the audience, rather they are to be made uncomfortable and unsettled.




While some experimental or expanded Cinema can seem more like hard work than pleasure, much of this genre continues to offer pleasure but pleasure of a more cerebral  and aesthetic sort. It can also help break the mould of conventional ways of seeing and experiencing the moving image which can be life enhancing in that it expands  modes of consciousness.

It can also, through its modes of expression, be importantly memorable in the way that good poetry is. Indeed, it can often aspire to the condition of great music.

It is well worth noting that many of the techniques and modes of experimental cinema have made their way into the mainstream.

The cinematic techniques introduced, for perhaps the first time, by Man with a Movie camera have, long ago, passed into general mainstream use. Surreal and dreamlike sequences were also put to good, if limited use, in Hollywood Cinema.

Narrative discontinuity is also commonly used, though sparingly. In fact it is hard to think of a single trope of experimental cinema that has not in some way, found its way into the mainstream.

Examiner Phillips summarises mainstream film narrative thus;



it is time based.







occurs in space(location)








empathises causality















• creates interest in its protagonists (characters), who will nearly always be the principle causal agents,








• has a narrative structure a beginning, a middle and an end (although not necessarily conforming to the chronology of the story),





• depends upon the audience to make meaning by fleshing out the plot into story,
















• uses narration in order to hold back or manage knowledge and emotion in ways that create active audience involvement in what will happen and why.










• conforms to the requirements of producers and audiences, for example, in regard to running time,








• works within the conventions of a genre form, determining limits to originality, but providing recognition for the audience.









The next bit is top stuff because Phillips addresses the notion of narrative and pleasure; you might get the notion reading some theorists that movies were about pain.

Talking The Talk

(while interrogating the Discourse)

Ephemerality and the æsthetics of process


As I suggested earlier, one of the ways in which expanded cinema poses problems for analysis is that it is a notoriously elusive, essentially transitory form. Based strictly in the live event, each performance is as such “a single moment, never to be repeated, and its complete form will resonate only in the memory of its audience” (12). As such, according to artist and theorist Jackie Hatfield, expanded cinema has avoided or “resisted taxonomy” (13), and has remained outside interpretation and even historical canonization in ways that art forms based around concrete, finished “texts” have not. I would add that in the same way expanded cinema has also resisted commodification, a point of defining importance to the various sub-cultural filmmaking co-ops from which it emerged in various countries after the late ’60s. Though provocative, this aspect of expanded cinema should not strike us as unfamiliar in these times where, Hatfield points out, “artistic practice has become increasingly removed from the production of objects” (14). But, clearly, expanded cinema is not the only art form grounded in the performance event, and some works might foreground and exploit the æsthetics of ephemerality and process more than others.


Those desperate to read more of this class of thing should click the link below,


http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2008/46/ dirk-de-bruyn/

Art and Cinema discourses present problems for the blunt speaking but sharp thinking Yorkshire film student. Her rich local dialect may have left her unprepared for words which do not appear to yield any immediate “sense” or which send her to large dictionaries only to set more puzzles about the the signifier and its signified.

It often seems that “plain” speaking is off the agenda and that calling a “spade” a “spade” is too limiting or even too “simplistic” (always used pejoratively)

What follows are some guide lines to help you navigate these perilous waters....

'discourse' refers to a formalized way of thinking that can be manifested through language, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic, or, as Judith Butler puts it, "the limits of acceptable speech"—or possible truth. Discourses are seen to affect our views on all things; it is not possible to avoid discourse. For example, two notably distinct discourses can be used about various guerrilla movements describing them either as "freedom fighters" or "terrorists". In other words, the chosen discourse delivers the vocabulary, expressions and perhaps also the style needed to communicate. Discourse is closely linked to different theories of power and state, at least as long as defining discourses is seen to mean defining reality itself. This conception of discourse is largely derived from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault


The WJEC have decided that discourse surrounding experimental film is a valid one so we must accept their ruling, you could question the discourse but there would be few marks in it...


It might be interesting to read the short passage below with a friend. Having read the passage you then privately note the areas of difficulty by underlining or using question marks. Then get together again with your partner and see which words or phrases or even sentences gave you problems.

Then, together again, try to resolve these difficulties, seeing, if together, you can make sense of what has been written. Should you find this task comparatively easy, well done!

Should you find it difficult in the extreme don’t worry about it because with time and a few pointers you will become masters and mistresses of this discourse.

Michel Foucault


pe·jor·a·tive  (p-jôr-tv, -jr-, pj-rtv, pj-)adj.

1. Tending to make or become worse.

2. Disparaging; belittling.n.

A disparaging or belittling word or expression.

pe·jora·tive·ly adv.

Adv. 1. pejoratively - in a pejorative manner; "I am not using the word pejoratively"

Sim·plis·tic –adjective

characterized by extreme simplism; oversimplified: a simplistic notion of good and bad.

Use simplistic in a Sentence

To say, “that was never a penalty,” to sum up an entire game is rather simplistic, and I do use that word pejoratively.



1855–60; simple  + -istic

—Related forms

sim·plis·ti·cal·ly, adverb


—Can be confused:  simple, simplified, simplistic

Mnemonic for experimental film:

If Cats Can’t Climb Randy Monkeys Steal

All Their Sex Gadgets.


Interpretative framework which might mean Gallery, Cinema, Art house Cinema, Gallery guide booklet, the suggestion of generic codes.


Comfort zone, a deliberate attempt on the part of the filmmaker to make the Spectator uncomfortable by the use of distasteful content or his refusal to offer any narrative or generic cues.


Causality and Coherence, which means the film does not appear to follow the usual mainstream notions of cause and effect, neither does the film come together in its various parts to make clear sense.


Characters, there may be none, or if there are any they may lack any of the usual motivations, often behaving repetitively.


Repetitive, the film may simply be a loop, or characters perform actions which are repetitive but with slight variations.


Motivation, the Spectator does not know why the characters do what they do, characters seem robotic or even somnambulist, the why of their behaviour is a Mystery.


Space. Settings or mise en scène are often vague or highly theatrical and may even be unreliable in that they can change in an apparently arbitrary fashion.


Abstract, the film may be completely without realist images of any sort, simply a collection of moving abstract shapes, lines and colours for example, Walt Disney’s Fantasia.


Time, time may be constructed in weird ways, sometimes using real-time which makes the film’s running time exceptionally long as is the case with some of Andy Warhol’s films. Jumping about along the timeline is also a feature.


Symbolism, films often borrow heavily from Freudian and Jungian ideas of the dream so that objects within the film supposedly take on potent meanings. Surrealism, the rejection of realism in favour of the dreamlike, is also often present.


Genre, the usual genre signifiers are absent or else subverted. It could also be said that experimental cinema through the use of any or all of the above tropes signs itself generically as experimental.