Underviewed, Undervalued, Underground

Visionary Mode

Exemplary artists include:

Federico Fellini

Jean-Luc Godard

F.W. Murnau

Werner Herzog

Sergei Paradjanov

Hayao Miyazaki

Guy Maddin

Stan Brakhage

Roy Andersson

Alexander Sokurov

Robert Bresson

There is something to be said for the novelty of images. This is Herzog’s express mission: to find new images.  Perhaps it is this group relates most closely to official European Modernism, because they each find ways to “make it new” as Yeats once put it. They show us things we have never seen through unexpected juxtapositions, disorienting camera angles and magnification.

They invent new forms, hence the fact that the great experimental filmmakers of the American avant-garde almost all employ this mode.  Many of them make films without even using a camera.  Painting directly on celluloid, or scratching it, or gluing leaves and dead bugs to it, are among the ways experimental filmmakers have sought to create new images.  Brakhage made films for years believing that they should not even have sound, that the cinema was exclusively for the eye. For him the projector is the fundamental cinematic tool.

(Sound too, can be used as a device of estrangement, as Paradjanov and Bresson’s films will attest.)

Paradjanov’s tableaux’s are dense with symbolism that may indeed conform to an eternal iconography, but it could also be a world of his invention.  Fellini, Godard, Herzog, Murnau, Paradjanov and Miyazaki immerse you in their fantasy worlds.  In their movies you have come out the other side of the rabbit hole into unfamiliar worlds.  The colors are different, the proportions are off the perspective has changed.

In Andersson, events happen that you would never see in daily life, but they go by as matter-of-fact as waiting for a bus or buying a pack of cigarettes.  This is also true for Brakhage and indeed for a significant majority of experimental cinema.  Brakhage makes movies without even using a camera.

Maddin, Andersson, Sokurov, Bresson, Dreyer show us new images as well, but they do it not through strange content, but strange views of the content.  Maddin and Sokurov (and Murnau) put a haze over the image.  You have to squint to see it.  This style is therefore physically demanding in ways most movies are not.

Maddin makes his movies look old as if he is working in Murnau’s early twentieth century silent idiom even though he is contemporary and makes sound films.  Simply using outdated conventions can have the effect of estrangement.  Maddin makes it old in order to make it new.

Sokurov, Bresson and Dreyer (in Joan of Arc) break apart the body.  They fill up the frame with hands, the backs of legs, torsos, extreme facial close-ups from skewed angles.

Andersson and Bresson change the way people interact with one another.  They don’t act, but recite.  Anderson shows the moments in between the narrative events.  Bresson shows us empty rooms and doorways at the beginning and ending of scenes.


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