Experimental Film

Shirley Clarke Productions

Shirley Clarke grew up wealthy, the daughter of a manufacturing magnate and a family fortune. She had an extensive education between four universities, and married to escape her father’s tyrannical control of her adult life. At first Clarke pursued modern dance in New York City but, failing to secure a future for herself in one art form, she began making experimental, avant-garde and documentary films in her mid-thirties. Over the next several decades, Clarke produced fiction films that looked like documentaries, documentaries that flirted with the boundaries of fiction, some of the first video art projects, and movies that possess an incredible energy to them that few filmmakers have mastered, then or now. She studied under Hans Richter, inspired other New York filmmakers like John Cassavetes, helped co-found the Filmmakers’ Co-Op with Jonas Mekas, yet the important role that she played in the New American Cinema scene has risked becoming stuck between the pages of cinema history. Thankfully, Milestone Films has restored some of her groundbreaking works, including The Connection, Portrait of Jason, and Ornette: Made in America, all due for a home video release sometime this year. So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an artist who never stopped challenging herself.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? There’s little room for joy in Quinn da Matta‘s experimental short about trying to impress your father beyond the point of reason. That can usually be a stumbling block; not showing what happiness life brings can dehumanize a story, but in this case the stark imagery and alienating animation blends in to create something calmly nightmarish. The music choices are a bit cloying, but there are few problems overall beyond that. Unlike the bulk of uninspired student shorts that wordlessly explore imagery where nothing much happens, Ever Dark has a bit of weight and a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the momentum going forward (even at its most existential). Designed not only for the journey, the last few minutes are visual cinder block to the chest. What will it cost you? Only 15 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? The idea behind I’m 5 is the kind of thing you might find in the manual for a Sociology/Theater class. It could go something like this: “Find a small child and ask them to tell you a story. Now go act that out.” The result here is something provocative and warm, built on the shifting absurd foundation that makes total sense when you’re a child. It’s kid logic brought to life, and it’s beautiful. And of course there’s interpretive dance involved. What will it cost you? Only 4 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? With a punchy, computer-aided sound track, this new short from Kadavre Exquis is the audio-visual equivalent of LSD. Its random images are tied together only by a vague memory of what the past thought of the future, and the result is something mildly brain-shaking. It earns a raised eyebrow, but it’s undeniable beautiful in its exploration of 70s retro imagery. What will it cost? Only 2 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? It’s food being squished. Sometimes nothing more needs to be said. Enjoy. What will it cost? Only 1 minute. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? With a crushing techno beat built from the sounds of the games themselves, this keen short film is a breezy, incomplete timeline from Pong to beyond. It’s nostalgia-packed and striking in how drastically things have changed. From two lines bouncing a dot between them, to the lifelike composition of soldiers going into battle, it’s a nice reminder that video games have evolved profoundly in just a few decades. It’ll be fun to see what the games of 2032 bring. Toasty! What will it cost? Only 3 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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There’s no way that a project called The Fourth Dimension, being billed as three movies in one, being directed in part by Harmony Korine, starring Val Kilmer could be self-indulgent could it? The movie is also directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko and Jan Kwiecinksi and defies easy definition. Themes of identity and enlightenment come together (apparently with Kilmer shouting at people in a roller rink) to try to grope at higher planes of existence. At any rate, it looks just as out there as it sounds. Self-indulgent, perhaps. But maybe it should also be celebrated. Check it out for yourself:

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Descriptions are always helpful, but this is one of those shorts that just has to be experienced. The easy idea here is to attach a camera to the edge of a jump rope and use the revolutions to leap through space, time and person, but it’s more carefully crafted than that. It’s colorful, compelling, and the kind of thing that can be universally appreciated even in its experimentation. Callum Cooper and Klezinski nail it. What will it cost? Only 2 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Sometimes, mouth agape, eyebrow askew, hand up in the air, you just have to give in to absurdity and say, “Why the hell not?” The mostly-POV show Sljuub is the kind of movie that elicits that kind of reaction, and it’s Friday, so pinch your nose and just go with it. What will it cost? Only 2 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? What if Charlie Kaufman and Salvador Dali got to film a live-action version of Fantasia? It’s a great question, and Andrew Huang‘s Solopsist comes close to answering it. It’s no wonder why it won the Special Jury Prize for Experimental Short at Slamdance this year. It’s an explosion of practical and special effects with no need for a narrative. Two women become one giant, furry technicolor beast; strange sea creatures offer up a symphony of snorts; and a young man turns to dust in vignettes that are evocative and visually arresting. Plus, after you pick your jaw up off the floor, you can see how they made the magic. What will it cost? Only 10 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? This super short film from Jesper Karmark features a bombastic song and gloriously gorgeous shots of sunrises creeping through the woods and the wide open sky. It’s a huge movie for such a small subject (and such a short run time). It’s the kind of experimentation that goes down the easiest. It’s a breezy movie with a fistful of wanderlust and a pinch of philosophy. It’s also further proof that birds either can’t read or don’t take orders. What will it cost? Only 2 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? If it’s part creepy and part endearing, it must be from Jim Henson, right? io9 keenly celebrated this find from the ATT Tech Youtube channel – a short created by Henson in 1963 for a business owner seminar from The Bell System. Even without seeing his name on the work, you could have guessed it. His unique artistic sense is on display here in a fantastic, desperate monologue from a robot that loves ingesting vast oceans of information smoke. Adorable and unnerving. Yeah, it’s Henson alright. What will it cost? Only 3 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? In this bizarre work (half authored by the internet), artist and academic Sebastian Schmieg loaded a transparent image into a search engine, nabbed the top result, searched with that new image, and repeated the cycle. Almost 3,000 images later (2,951 to be exact), he created a 12 frames per second flip book that is both stunning, confusing, and somehow also banal. It’s our everyday extrapolated and turned into what might be called Found Object Short Film. Or it might just be true Found Footage filmmaking. How do you go from images of the universe, to breasts, to Rage Comics, to Google (the search engine itself), to graphs? Let the internet do the directing. Ingenious. What will it cost? Only 4 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films.

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Why Watch? This year, the city of Talinn, Estonia created 60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero, an experimental film project which saw a bunch of different directors from all over the world create a one-minute short film which would play a grand total of one time in front of an audience before the sole 35mm copy was burned along with the screen it played on. Fortunately, digital copies weren’t off limits. Be warned that Adam Wingard‘s entry, Ultra Modern, features nudity and sadness but also be warned that it carries a sort of uneasy beauty, a vibrancy that can leave you cold, and an abruptness that makes it difficult to access. Simply put – it’s uncharacteristically abstract. What’s more, I’m not so sure it’s meant to be understood. What does it cost? Just 1 minute of your time. Trust us. You have time for more short films.

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Why Watch? We’ve already featured filmmaker Zac Grigg‘s work, but if his last film were slapstick, this new work is ballet. Set to the dichotomous mix of “Ave Maria,” a gospel standard, and a bluesy, electric fusion track, this wordless story focuses on a young man searching for redemption inside his dreams. The camera work outside of the dream sequences is a bit lacking, but the rest is a stirring showcase of how versatile this director is proving to be. In short, it’s experimental, sepia-toned poetry. What does it cost? Just 6 minutes of your time. Check out The History of the Bracelet for yourself:

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Why Watch? Haven’t you always wanted to see a man and a bathtub procreate? This experimental short film from director Bobby Miller is the kind of movie that portrays a man masturbating in a shower while overdubbed 70s intermission music plays. It’s also the kind that can force cry-laughing, a confusing emotional state where fear, sadness, and pure laughter somehow live inside the same facial expression. Feel free to ball up in a corner for the rest of the day after watching it. What does it cost? Just 12 minutes of your time. Check out Tub for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because the combination of animation, experiment, and Welles is a palpable one. In 1977, experimental filmmaker Larry Jordan used work from 19th century French artist Gustave Doré and the thunderous tones of Orson Welles to bring Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most famous epic poem to life. It’s a potent story of a sea captain who kills an albatross while on the ocean and pays a hefty penalty. But chances are that you already knew that, having had to memorize it for freshman English class in high school. The version here, which is more than a bit different from Raúl daSilva’s 1975 take, is surreal at times but also direct. The engravings are wonderful, but there’s no denying that Welles is the star. What does it cost? Just 40 minutes of your time. Check out The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for yourself:

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Why Watch? Because there is no because. This short film is billed as the first surrealist film, and it’s easy to see why. It apparently has a plot (involving a clergyman lusting after the wife of a military man), but it would be tough to pluck it out from watching the images alone. It’s a beautiful set of visuals (paired here with a stirring guitar-based score), but it doesn’t mean anything. On the other hand, it’s a nice reminder that filmmakers have been experimenting since very, very early on. Leave it to the French to make a nonsensical film about erotic dreams, I guess. What does it cost? Just 31 minutes of your time. Check out The Seashell and the Clergyman for yourself:

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For those of you new to the column, I’m revisiting formative events in my life that have made me what I am today: A Special Effects Make Up Artist looking for relevance in the 21st Century. I have completed one year at the California Institute of the Arts Film Graphics program, and I have returned for my second year, I have moved off campus and have a small garage shop to make monsters. I am nineteen years old… My second year at CalArts, I ended up on Academic Probation. That was no easy task since students were not graded on an A, B, C, etc. scale. Instead, it was High Pass, Pass, or Incomplete. There was no “fail” but every two years (sophomore & senior) all students were “reviewed” by a board made up of a few faculty members. It probably had something to do with my cessation of attending classes primarily because they truly weren’t much more than glorified “wrap sessions.” It would be unfair to mention faculty names, but I will mention some of the classes to illustrate what I mean. I took a class called “Direct Animation” which the course description promised the manipulation of three-dimensional objects in front of a camera. To me, that is a description of Stop Motion Animation, right? It was finally something in which I had a passionate interest.

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Why Watch? Because the things of this universe will steal the breath right out of your lungs. This experimental piece instantly became a favorite because it combines still and moving imagery from the NASA Cassini Mission with the music of Nine Inch Nails, and it’s edited together with keen understanding. The music and the vast nothingness make for a heavy, somber feeling, but the grandiose nature of what’s filling the void is something triumphant and brimming with cosmic importance. It, at once, reminds us that we’re small and of what something small can do. We can travel out into the blackness of the universe and bring back its beauty. What does it cost? Just 2 minute of your time. Check out Cassini Mission for yourself:

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