FREE RADICALS: A HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL FILM (director/writer: Pip Chodorov; screenwriter: Lucy Allwood; cinematographer: Pip Chodorov/Nicolas Rideau; editor: Jackie Raynal/Nicolas Sarkissian; music: Slink Moss; cast: Stephan Chodorov, Pip Chodorov, Robert Breer, Michael Snow, Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, Len Lye, Jonas Mekas, Peter Kubelka, Hans Richter, Stan VanDerBeek; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ron Dyens; Kino Lorber; 2012)
“A playful and audacious homage documentary to the pioneering and economically hard-pressed avant-garde filmmakers from the silents to the present.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A playful and audacious homage documentary to the pioneering and economically hard-pressed avant-garde filmmakers from the silents to the present, that is pleasant viewing but underwhelming in covering the vast scope of its material (ignoring the West Coast artists for those on the East Coast). Writer/director Pip Chodorov (“A Visit to Stan Brakhage“) is humming when through interviews he shows film clips (at times the complete short like Rainbow Dance by Len Lye) and explores underground filmmakers (a term coined by high tech filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek) like Hans Richter, who started doing avant-garde films during the silents and might have made the first avant-garde film ever in 1921. Richter boldly says the artist is on the way to becoming a holy man and actually becomes one when he finishes his creation. Robert Breer tells us experimental films scare people because something new is a shock to the system. Stan Brakhage creates the images in his mind and uses his nails to scratch it on film. Peter Kubelka, who once designed the perfect theater in Manhattan, where the viewer sits in an all-black theater in pew like seats with covered side boards so he can only see the screen, a theater I had my weirdest and best viewing experience ever, says the artist must make no compromises. And the ever optimistic visionary Jonas Mekas, once the movie critic for the Village Voice, who co-founded for struggling filmmakers such places to show their films as the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and the Anthology Film Archive.
The reverent to the old time abstract filmmakers youngster, Pip, whose father Stephan was part of the avant-garde movement, seems besides himself to be among all the noted older experimental filmmakers, whose films are unpredictable and edgy and are not shown in commercial theaters. Pip’s boyish enthusiasm comes across as a positive and his film serves the avant-garde artists well.
The documentary takes its name from Len Lye’s “Free Radicals” (1958) surreal short, which depicts white lines swaying to tribal music. This is meant to symbolically threaten society leaders that it not only can’t control objects but also can’t control people. The avant-garde movement started in 1914 in Europe when its artists tried to warn people of the dangers that maybe the ordinary person didn’t see. Now they are also in America and as Pip reminds us, are still needed today to warn us of dangers most commercial filmmakers shy away from.
REVIEWED ON 1/29/2014 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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