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Posts Tagged ‘Experimental Film’

New Book: Cinema at The Margins

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

I have a new book out today, Cinema at The Margins, from Anthem Press, London.

More and more, just a few canonical classics, such as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) or Victor Fleming’s Gone With The Wind (1939), are representing the entire output of an era to a new generation that knows little of the past, and is encouraged by popular media to live only in the eternal present. What will happen to the rest of the films that enchanted, informed and transported audiences in the 1930s, 1940s, and even as recently as the 1960s?

For the most part, these films will be forgotten, and their makers with them. In this book, I argue that even obvious historical markers such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) represent shockingly unknown territory for the majority of today’s younger viewers; and yet once exposed to these films, they are enthralled by them. In the 1980s and 1990s, the more adventurous video stores served a vital function as annals of classic cinema. Today, those stores are gone and the days of this kind of browsing are over.

This collection of essays aims to highlight some of the lesser-known films of the past – the titles that are being pushed aside and forgotten in today’s oversaturation of the present. The work is divided into four sections, rehabilitating the films and filmmakers who have created some of the most memorable phantom visions of the past century, but who, for whatever reason, have not successfully made the jump into the contemporary consciousness.

“Few have explored the cinematic margins as thoroughly as Wheeler Winston Dixon, and few match his talent for finding and celebrating the secret glories of overlooked, undervalued films. Gliding from Peter Bogdanovich to Myra Breckinridge by way of Robert Bresson, this is an exciting and ever-surprising collection.” —David Sterritt, Columbia University and Chair, National Society of Film Critics

“The marginalization of important films is a constant threat in the age of the New Hollywood blockbuster, with commercial cinema reduced to a cheap thrill and the audience conceived as adolescents. Dixon’s thoughtful remarks on neglected films testify not only to his own fine sensibility, but to the urgency of the concerns he sets before us.” —Christopher Sharrett, Seton Hall University

You can read more here, or click on the image above; available now from Amazon in all formats.

Jean Isidore Isou

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

There are many radical theorists within the cinematic firmament, but Jean Isidore-Isou (born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein) is in a class by himself. Isou’s film Traité de Bave et d’Èternité (Venom and Eternity) (1951) is truly a one of a kind project, which Isou created out of stock footage, numerous views of Isou himself walking throughout Paris looking like a disconsolate rebel, advertisements for his various book and pamphlets, and a soundtrack that resolutely has absolutely nothing to do with the film’s images — the creation of what Isou calls in the film “le cinéma discrépant” — the separation of visuals from the soundtrack.

Much of the film takes the form of a supposed lecture that Isou interrupts with his theories, much to the derision of the rest of the audience, but we only hear this on the soundtrack; the images are a separate track altogether. Isou also raises the very interesting, and very real question of “what constitutes beauty” — why we deem some images “beautiful” and some not.

As he shouts on the film’s soundtrack: “I believe firstly that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limits, its maximum. With the first movement of widening which it will outline, the cinema will burst! Under the blow of a congestion, this greased pig will tear into a thousand pieces. I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, of rupture, of this corpulent and bloated organization which calls itself film.”

Towards the middle of the film, Isou ceases lecturing the viewer, and instead presents examples of the kinds of images he would like to use in film, such as scratched and bleached stock footage of upside-down dump trucks, along with a soundtrack of Lettrist poetry, which is composed for the pleasure of sheer sound alone. Indeed, Isou was the founder of the Lettrist school of poetry, whose later adherents included François Dufrène and Guy Debord, though they soon split off to form their own groups.

“I want to make a film that hurts your eyes” Isou rants on the soundtrack at one point, but it really doesn’t do that at all; what is does accomplish is waking one from the reverie of scripted narrative, from preconceived notions of pictorial composition, and from the chains of synchronous imagery, in a film that is both audacious and impossible to repeat.

When Isou screened the film at the 1951 Cannes film festival, a riot broke out, and Jean Cocteau, who appears briefly in the film and who supported Isou’s work as that of a genuine original, was asked to defend the work. He refused to take to the stage, but later commented in an article that “someday Isou’s work may be the fashion,” and saw to it that the film was awarded a special prize.

Once seen, never forgotten, Isou’s film is a call for a complete revolution in the cinema, and although he goes over the top — to put it mildly — he raises some very real and interesting questions.

You can see a clip from the film here.


You can view/download the entire film here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or Visit him at his website

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In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website