THE ORPHAN AVANT GARDE

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been looking more carefully at the expansive field of  recycled cinemas.  I am particularly interested in the the places where found and orphan films intersect with the contemporary avant garde, producing works that are torn between past and present tenses, between concepts and material.  At the recommendation of a colleague, I have been making my way through the work of Peter Tscherkassky, an Austrian filmmaker whose work combines cinematic scraps with dense layers of sound:

Dream Work (2001)

Tscherkassky’s work also includes several returns to early cinema.  His most recent film, Coming Attractions (2010) explores Tom Gunning’s canonical concept across eleven distinct visual “chapters”.  I am still trying to get my hands on it for a screening.  In the meantime, bits of Tscherkassky’s other works can be found online.  Mubi hosts a small, but very good collection (and charges a small fee per film).

THE PLEASURE OF ATTRACTIONS

Early film historian Tom Gunning’s now-canonical concept of “the cinema of attractions” at once locates an historical moment and a mode of address.  The cinema of attractions inherits its rhythms from 19th-century amusements that rush toward their viewers, that grab and shake and make them feel.

Any and all early film thrills seemingly unite beneath the expansive reach of Gunning’s term.  Against the “temporality of surprise, shock, and trauma,” Gunning opposes the reassuring rhythms of classical narrative film.[i]  He compares the spectator of narrative to Little Hans, a figure who masters the traumatic departure of his mother through the predictable outcomes of his Fort/Da game.  Early cinema, by contrast, is a spool out of control: “If the classical spectator enjoys apparent mastery of the narrative thread of film […] the viewers of the cinema of attractions plays a very different game of presence/absence, one strongly lacking predictability or a sense of mastery,” (5).  Trauma, shock, surprise, the thrills of Coney Island, a single-shot vue, or one of Méliès’ carefully orchestrated screen shows: all equally “smack of the instant.”  The cinema of attractions is a grab bag of visual (and bodily) stimulations as Gunning resists distinguishing between these radically different kinds of early film experiences. Continue reading