From one of cinema’s earliest experimental films, Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), to Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), winner in 1947 of Cannes’ Grand Prix Internationale for 16mm experimental film, on to the films of Cocteau, Godard, Tati, Fellini, Lynch, Cronenberg and others, the notion of the film experiment inspires admiration, distaste, love and hatred in film audiences. Commercial movies (frantic pacing, hackneyed surprise, worn-out tropes, special effects barages), with their hero and quest driven narratives, seem diametrically opposed to the whimsical, subjective, interior, asymmetric, disjointed, dream-state inspired plotless, timeless, amoral, and often carelessly created worlds of the film experiment. Yet most if not all conventional cinema depends entirely on the concept and nature of experimental film. It’s axiomatic: without the experiment there is no convention. Experiment lies at the heart of cinema not only because early cine-cameramen experimented with moving images and celluloid film created art (even if art wasn’t the intention); experiment is the fundamental ancestor of all cinema.
Commercial filmmakers often reconfigure ideas and approaches from earlier films, all art in fact, but they owe their largest debt to the spirit of film experiment in all its disguises.
Cannes encourages filmmakers to exhibit their experimental works in Un Certain Regard. 2012’s lineup includes sons of the famous in twenty chosen films. The route of an art film to the festival’s screens is not simple, with the spirit of today’s Deren or Buñuel struggling to shine in the annual failed attempts of filmmakers with ‘unexhibitable’ projects we never see, but without which we would know little of the true scope of cinematic experimentation.