Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wonders if Rhythmus 21 inspired the Mannix title sequence.
"It was really trying to find a new form of expression."—Hans Richter
Hans Richter's oldest surviving experimental film—1921's Rhythmus 21, a short full of abstract images moving around—might not be saying much, but his Ghosts Before Breakfast was banned by the Nazis. The filmmaker eventually had to leave Germany for the United States.
Richter was a family friend of director Pip Chadorov, so his story is used to illustrate a movement in Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film. However, there were quite a few European exiles fueling the experimental film movement of 1930s and 1940s. The movement continued after World War II, with the Filmmakers' Cooperative formed in 1961 in New York.
Pip's history of experimental film starts out as a personal story; he was in some of his father's films, and Stephan Chadorov helps explain the history of the movement. Thus, the history seems disjointed at first. As the documentary continues, though, the timeline of experimentation takes shape. Surrealism, found footage, diary filmmaking, and scratch animation are among the elements that Pip shows in Free Radicals. It contains plenty of clips and a few shorts shown in their entirety.
The image quality has all the variations you'd expect, since the footage ranges from 1921 to the present. There are no extras, which is a shame considering how much material Pip apparently had to draw upon.
Free Radicals pays more attention to techniques than to politics, but you'll notice from Pip's rough timeline that experimental film took off in the 1930s in Europe and in the 1960s in the States.
Why would this be of interest in the relatively dull 2010s? Stephan Chadorov gives a hint of an answer. Even back in the 1960s, Terry Gilliam was moving collage animation into the mainstream with his Monty Python's Flying Circus shorts. Pip adds another hint when he mentions modern distribution channels. Today, everything you'd have seen in the 1930s or 1960s from experimenters could turn up in a car commercial. At the same time, anyone could get on their computer and have their experimentation on YouTube by day's end.
Both sides of that equation give experimental filmmakers an impact on our lives, making their genesis all the more interesting. Free Radicals will only whet your appetite and give you something to think about, but is does provide that spark.
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