Visual Experiments in Film

I want to begin this session by re-capping some of the ways in which experimental film makers have constructed their forms of visual language. What have they drawn upon? What can you take from their examples to try and make work visually in your own experimental pieces?

Some of the techniques established were from the early days of film history. These techniques are used again and again by all types of film makers. Even mainstream studio based makers were very well aware of their film history and important antecedents.

Lets look at one of the early Russian experiments in assembling film to produce an idea or emotion. This technique is used in most film types and you will have used it without even thinking of its genealogy.

Lev Kuleshov showed the impact of cutting and associating two disparate images to produce a new meaning or feeling. Hitchcock explains:

In Kuleshov’s example he uses stills to get over the same point:


Eisenstein further refined the notion of montage and used and categorised a variety of types of montage. In his Odessa step sequence from the film Battleship Potemkin he assembles many of these techniques into this one sequence.

Eisenstein believed that film montage could create ideas or have an impact beyond the individual images. Two or more images edited together create a “tertium quid” (third thing) that makes the whole greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Eisenstein’s greatest demonstration of the power of montage comes in the “Odessa Steps” sequence of his 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. On the simplest level, montage allows Eisenstein to manipulate the audience’s perception of time by stretching out the crowd’s flight down the steps for seven minutes, several times longer than it would take in real time:”


“At the conclusion of the Odessa Steps sequence, two sequences of images illustrate the notion of the ‘tertium quid’ as well as the ideological potential of montage. In the first sequence below, the rapid montage of the three cherubs makes the small angel seem to be throwing a punch. In the second sequence, three shots of stone lions, shown rapidly in succession, indicate awakening militancy. In Potemkin, both montages represent a call to the people to rise up against oppression.”


Film’s directly influenced by Odessa step sequence.

Montage From Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho :


The other thing that we have looked at is the use of the space on screen and in effect splitting the screen into areas that explore the mechanisms of editing in terms of time.

In Bill Viola’s the Vanishing Pool it is particularly the manipulation of time in one screen space that is the focus of the piece. It is the means by which he uses the manipulation of time to keep our attention without a conventional narrative.

Another of Bill Viola’s pieces:

In your final pieces I want to see evidence of you considering and making use of some of these techniques in your own work.

All of the examples above deal with film not as a simplistic tool for recording or showing the “real” but as a form that is constructed, assembled and forms a new object that is a partial view.

I therefore want to conclude with examples that show the unreliability of the image and how its construction and particular point of view cannot simplistically be bracketed out.

Guardian POV advert 1986:


Who Dunnit?

The power of the group:


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