Also known as avant-garde, experimental films are rare and totally unpopular. Some people may spend their entire lives without ever catching a glimpse of an experimental movie. Most will never sit through one.
As the word “experimental” suggests, this type of movie is trying something new, different...so different that, at first, it will cause confusion, if not annoyance on the viewer.
In simple terms, experimental films are incredibly easy to define but quite difficult to understand since most people have no preconception of what they are. Imagine a movie that is neither narrative nor documentary. What remains? Chaos, disorder, incoherence … An amalgam of ideas forced together by the filmmaker without any regards for characters, structure, or theme.
The vast majority of avant-garde films are not screened in theatres, aired on TV, or sold in discs – they are not mainstream and have no commercial life whatsoever.
So who makes them and why?
Like any other art form, cinema can also be a therapeutic activity. This is not to imply that those who make them are ill or demented, not at all. However, some directors are not concerned about what people may think or commercial success – they make movies for themselves.
Occasionally, an experimental movie may become popular despite its peculiarities or even because of them. Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel achieved quite some renown with Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog). A surrealist, 16-minute movie from 1928, Un Chien Andalou is generally considered the most famous experimental movie. Here goes the first minute…
Un Chien Andalou opens with a title card that reads “Once upon a time,” followed by a tight shot of a razor being sharpened. After sharpening his razor, a man (played by Buñuel himself) walks to a balcony, from where he gazes at the moon, which is about to be obscures by a thin passing cloud. Then there’s a close-up of young woman, who sits calmly at the balcony. The man looks at the moon again, and, as he looks back at the woman, he slits her eye. End scene. Another title card: “Eight years later.” Another man bicycles down a street while wearing a nun’s habit…
Again, experimental films are not imprisoned by story structure, character arc, or common sense.