The term “avant-garde” sometimes feels like a cavernous catch-all, but when it comes to art and film, it’s most often used to describe groundbreaking work that defines and changes our view in new, unusual, or experimental ways. In the early 20th century, Modernist creatives felt drawn to cinema’s exciting technology, which provided a medium to explore untraditional artforms, animating their ideas in fascinating ways. As cinema evolved, its full potential became realized. Filmmakers proudly on the margins of commercialism overcame the hurdles of changing technology (including sound, which prevented many directors from creating experimental efforts due to high costs), bucked linear narratives, encouraged active interpetation of the works, and more.
In celebration of Criterion’s Blu-ray set compiling the movies of iconic American avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton, we wanted to look back on a few essential titles that helped redefine cinema — and they’re all available to watch online right now. See our picks past the break, and feel free to drop your own links in the comments section.
Viking Eggeling, Diagonale Symphonie (1924)
Swedish artist and filmmaker Viking Eggeling hung out with people like Hans Richter, Jean Arp, and other Dada figures. The artist wanted to explore movement and started creating scroll drawings, eventually moving to film, eager to invent a new kind of cinema completely devoid of a naturalistic style. His first cinematic effort has since been lost, but Symphonie Diagonale became his avant-garde calling card. The short incorporates Eggeling’s paper cutouts and tinfoil figures, which were experiments to “discover the basic principles of the organization of time intervals in the film medium.”