Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema Of The 1920s And '30s (1921-1939)
Genre: Silent Avant-Garde Shorts (USA, France, Germany)
Overview: This is two-disk collection of early Experimental film, including Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkadich's The Life and Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra, and Dimitri Kirsanoff's Menil-Montant, and Erno Metzner's Uberfall. This also includes work by Orson Welles and Sergei Eisenstein.
Acting: When reviewing a film, you sometimes compare those films with similar films. Let me tell you that compared to Maya Deren's stuff, this is terrific. It's almost like (wild stroke of genius) these directors got actors to actually ACT the parts instead of messing it up with their amateurish displays! The three shorts mentioned above are terrifically acted, and as much as melodrama always seems to take hold of Experimental (not to mention Silent) film, the acting is not the problem at all.
Cinematography: High art. That's what you expected, and that's generally what you got. Sometimes the low budget of a particular short was obvious, but is seemed that these experiments in film were about trying something new with a camera, and it pretty much worked everytime. Too bad there wasn't substance behind the look.
Script: There were only a few shorts with dialogue, as most films tended to be simply a montage of the visual, but also some of the actual stories did a great job of having no intertitles, leaving a lot up to the viewer to interpret. Still, most of the films had this wonderful safety net of a "Film Notes" section in the DVD menus where you could read about the director, subtext, plot and meaning of a given piece. That was important for me to have, because some stuff was just too vague.
Plot: Unfortunately this constant barrage of silent montage and panoramic images can lead to overall boredom. When all we see is a shot of water, followed by a trickle of water, followed by a cool pond of water with a stick floating in it (the piece in question is H2O), you tend to wonder why there's so many empty stories. If I had compiled this, I would have included the shorter montage pieces, and thrown in more plot-based films.
Mood: This should have been one disk's worth of film. There was a lot here that wasn't worth it, and it detracted from the overall wonder that could have been a compilation of the best of the early days of Experimental Cinema. Whether the producers thought they could draw more sales from a dual disk set, or if they just had art film historians pressuring them to add all the 'important' film that only had worth as 'firsts', I'll never know, but I won't recommend this to anyone. There's too much bland to sift through.
Overall Rating: 60% (An Experiment In Boredom)
Aftertaste: Seriously, I'm this close to writing off art film altogether, this is starting to hurt. I don't know why 'Avant-Garde' has to mean plotless tripe. Directors like David Lynch and Jan Svankmajer have secured the survival of this style of film while artists like Matthew Barney seem to prefer doing what they can to make an art-show translate to film. It can't be done, and shouldn't be attempted. All told, this title is also a collection of the same problems.
I will end with a positive: My favorite piece was The Life and Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra. The style is highly artistic from the acting to the camerawork, and I loved the commentary on Hollywood's treatment of the Human Resource that is the actor as a number, is well displayed. Comparing Hollywood to Hell in one of the scenes was a nice final stab at the industry. If you have a chance to see this 20 minute short, do it.