Saturday, November 2, 2013

Experimental Women

 Alternative media differs from mainstream media in an abundance of ways. Not only do alternative media sources provide information easily found on commercial or government owned applications, they also bring forth the flip-side of topics and controversial issues that are often neglected and steered away from. Alternative media gives people who do not necessarily fit into the cookie cutter mold set forth by prevailing mass media a voice that is capable of reaching the general public, that would otherwise be muffled and unheard. Alternative media can be extended to all facets of media communication; television, radio, newspapers, magazines, internet, and film. Independent, experimental, avant-garde cinema is one form of alternative media that exists out side of the typical major film studio/ Hollywood narrative cinema, that deconstructs the structure of cinema that we as audience members have grown so accustomed to.

This deconstruction of society's commercially manifested notions of 'cinema norms' extends to the employment opportunities available and fulfilled by women working with in the media. According to a study collaborated by Sundace Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, “the percentage of female directors at Sundance is significantly higher than that of the top 100 films at the box office”, with percentages of 23.9 versus 4.4 (Indie Wire). The study also found that women were 34.5 percent more likely to direct while having more women behind the cameras as cinematographers, writers, producers, and editors. Although the survey only examines the prevalence of women filmmakers present at the Sundance festivals between the years of 2002 and 2012, this is not a phenomenon so unfamiliar with the past.

(Still from Introspections)

Women such as Marie Menken, Maya Deren, and Sara Kathryn Arledge are considered the “foremothers of experimental cinema”, with their works dating as early as the late 1930's extending all the way to the mid 1980's (Alternative Projections). These pioneers of experimental film boldly went against the mainstream forms of cinema dominant at the time, and managed to provide equally (if not more) thought provoking work in relation to their commercial box-office competitors. Sara Kathryn Arledge's films, What is a Man? (1958), and Introspections (1947), uses interpretive  dance, social satire, and experimental/ alternative methods as an attempt to recreate life and reality artistically that both directly challenges and criticizes formal gender conventions. These two films employ the use of mysterious, chaotic, psychedelic, and even disturbing visual compositions, essentially unseen in commercial Hollywood, big budgeted films. In 1956, Arledge's film What is a Man?, which was started in 1951, received the Creative Film Foundation award for best script (Filmmaker's scoop).

 Maya Deren, is another woman who drastically shaped and promoted the progression of independent- experimental cinema from early on. In terms of production, Deren did it all; directing, filming/ shooting, recording, performing, and editing. Every detail was her decision- her experimentation. Originally named Eleanora Derenkowsky, shortly after Deren's "first and most remarkable experimental film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)", she changed her name to 'Maya Deren' (Maya meaning 'illusion' in Buddhism), as a means to fully encompass herself in her work (Senses of Cinema). Indeed, experimental film can be seen as an illusion, often times providing the audience with highly staged scenes that one may deem to unrealistic/abstract/out of the ordinary to depict reality. However, this is not the case for Arledge nor Derne. Meshes of the Afternoon, created in the early forties, illuminates the paranoia and confusion prevalent society during a period of wartime, while also criticizing and commenting upon the formal/commercial structure of Hollywood cinema.

Maya Deren
 Although experimental and independent films may not always blatantly cause the audience to reflect onto their environments, behavior, and societal views, they perform on a more subconscious and indirect level. Bell Hooks argues that it is this very essence of creative art that provides the most compelling emotions and thoughts, stating that; "the less a work of art reflects the world, the more is being in the world and having its natural being like anything else", she goes on, "film must be free from all imitations, of which the most dangerous is the imitation of life" (Hooks, 1). It is through challenging what is forced fed to us through big-budgeted, government-owned, mass produced media, rather than perpetuating it, that we get a better understanding of  the nature of society, culture, nation-states, controversies, and social conflict.  

Part of meshes of the Afternoon

Work Cited:

  • (Indie Wire) Willmore, Alison. "More Female Filmmakers in Indie Film Than in Hollywood, According to a New Study." Indiewire. N.p., 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <>. 
  • (Alternative Projections) "Sara Kathryn Arledge." Alternative Projections. The Getty, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. <>. 
  • (Filmmaker's scoop) "The Film Makers Cooperative." The Film Makers Cooperative. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <>. 
  • (Senses of Cinema) Haslem, Wendy. "Maya Deren." Senses of Cinema RSS. N.p., Dec. 2002. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <>. 
  • Hooks, Bell. "Making Movie Magic." Introduction. Reel to Real. London: Routledge, 1997. 1-5. Print. 

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