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published page: 03/08/03
last update: 03/08/03


this cinema of the margin, May 2000

“Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception”
Stan Brakhage

Short history

> download the french text

Preliminary note (2002) :
I wrote this text in 2000. I am neither a historian, nor critical of cinema, and either academic.
This text can thus present errors or gaps, lapses of memory. Moreover this text was not written for the web.
I chose to present it like it, without working it over again. With each one to make the share of the things, to remain lenient or curious according to its knowledge about this cinema.



“Invent an alternative to capitalism to safeguard a total aesthetic independence.”
Jean-Michel Bouhours

In the Sixties, the american underground cinema gives at the same time a statute and a recognition to a cinema of the margin, until there not very organized. It acquires its independence with creation of autonomous diffusion and distribution networks: co-ops which transfer the majority of their receipts to the filmmakers. Placing itself out from industry of the cinema and at the same time out of the capitalist system of trade society, the underground cinema escapes to the concept of profit, profitability, and reaches a total freedom of creation.

But the experimental cinema, the cinema of the margin did not wait the Sixties to exist. From the beginnings of the cinema and to today, it took various forms, was constituted himself in various movements, more or less significant, more or less influential, but always existed in an uninterrupted way.


"We can do make films in all possible ways. There is not a (dominant) practicewhich would dictate and impose the right manner of making a film…"
Yann Beauvais

The cinema of the margin is generally defined by the negative one, it should be said that the traditional cinema is so reducing that it becomes difficult to define the experimental cinema in report/ratio in this cinema, otherwise than by regarding the traditional cinema as a particular way of the global cinema, which is not the habit.

It is possible to locate characteristics which without being neither exhaustive, nor systematic, join together many of these marginal films:

To differently define it than by the negative one, we can say that it is a cinema which is in the search of a own cinematographic language, an art inseparable from its means of expression; and which gives himself the means of its ambition.

Esthetics means:

- Widening of the standards of the commercial cinema, too arbitrary and too restrictive (type, lenght, sort of film…), with all the possible fields of the cinematographic one. Each film is organized according to an own logic.
- Fragmentary, deconstruct, or non-existent
narration .
- Conception is generally done during making the film: experiments and reflexions, shooting and writing go hand in hand.

Production means:

- The film is before any personal: the filmmaker controls all the whole of tasks of the development of the film and often do them himself (shooting and sound recording, process, editing…) It is a cinema of filmmaker (in opposition to the cinema of author or director ).
- Autoproduction and reduced budget.
- Distribution and diffusion by the means of parallel structures (co-ops…)

The cinema known as "author cinema" is already a cinema which take distances with the normative criteria of the t
raditional cinema, but falling under a commercial system of production-distribution-diffusion, it is often difficult for him to deviate too much from the standard.

Short history

We are called the kinoks to differentiate us from the 'directors', herd of ragmen who give us their old-fashioned things rather well… WE declare that the old fictionalized, dramatized films and others have leprosy… WE affirm that the future of the cinematographic art is the negation of its present… WE purify the cinema… of the intruders: music, literature and theatre…"
Dziga Vertov


Precursors of what it is agreed to call the "pre-cinema" (Eadweard Muybridge, Etiennes-Jules Marey, Emile Cohl…) by their experiments are located in a logic of "expanded cinema", such Cineorama with ten projectors of Raoul Grimoin-Sanson. They are linked in that to the experimental cinema through the history.
In the same way beginnings of the cinema, within the meaning of the current device dominating, one be a vast field of experiments any azimuth. One can find the sources of the most conventional cinema as well as a cinema of research. The amateur
cinema of the Lumiere brothers, or the cinema of experiments of Melies, to quote only they, contain already ingredients of the future experimental cinema.

10th, 20th, 30th years

It is necessary to go up with the Manifesto of futuristic cinematography (1916) to find truly the first steps of what will become during time the experimental cinema: an autonomous cinema, which even applies to him.
The futuristic films are regarded as lost today.
The first abstract films date from the Twenties with Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking
Eggeling. Oskar Fischinger will continue in this way.
At the same time Dadaism inaugurates the cinema of the Avant-gardes to come. The experimental cinema falls under the history of art, at the same time as it acquires its own history.
Certain numbers of artists come from others practise (Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp…) have seen in the cinematograph one of new possibilities, a new means to express itself, a new material to work.
Some filmmakers (Rene
Clair , Henri Chomette, Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens…) through their specific medium are registered in their turn in the artistic field of these Avant-gardes.
Surrealism in its turn (Jean Cocteau, Germaine Dulac, Luis Bunuel…) becomes driver of an experimental cinema.

40th, 50th years

Len Lye, Mac Laren, Peter Kubelka, Robert Breer make films in the line of abstract films.
Lettrism (Isidore Isou, Maurice Lemaitre, Gil J Wolman…) then Situationnism (Guy Debord…) prolongs the work of the Avant-gardes.
Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger or Marie Menken in the United States announce already the underground cinema.

The Sixties

American underground cinema, in relation with social movements of the time, dissociates them from the professional industry, amongst other things by the use of the 16 mm film and creations of co-ops which gives him a great freedom and enables him to circumvent censorship. (Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Carole Schneemann, Jack Smith…)
In parallel filmmakers, rejecting the lyricism of the underground
cinema, make structural films: Michael Snow, Paul Sharits, Werner Nekes…
In France, films appear somewhat in margin of the New Wave (Marcel Hanoun, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Philippe Garrel, Chris Marker…)

The Seventies

In France the different cinema with Hyeres festival makes significant great strides. The films develop a body cinema (Jean-Paul Dupuis, Stģphane Marti, Lionel Soukas…) or a cinema centered around the literature (Duras, Robbe-Grillet…)
Otherwise some other continue in a structural line: Peter Gidal, Malcom LeGrice, Gordon Matta-Clark, Paolo Gioli…

80th, 90th years

The contemporary cinema: new filmmakers appear, with more than ever plural practices:
yann beauvais, Rose Lowder, Patrick Bokanowski, Matthias MŪller, JŪrgen Reble, the Metamkine group…


However these films are so to speak not recognized by the official authorities of cinema (french CNC…). This cinema is regarded as amateur, out-of-date or non-existent.
He is help only by certain institutional museal authorities. (What perhaps takes part in this image of "another time
film ")

This cinema, which however finds a public, remains strangly absent from history of the cinema, official history, such as it is stated by criticisms in books, reviews, encyclopaedias or documentarys.
There are certainly exceptions (Jacques Aumont, Alain and Odette Virmaux, Nicole Brenez, Dominique Noguez… but they remain rare) for which cinema is this
entirety globality.

When we studies the history of the cinema, it seems that the experiments were only place at the beginning of the century (Melies, Vertov…) and that those disappeared thereafter, the cinema having reached after Abel Gance and with the arrival of speaking, an almost final form. People like Vertov or Pelechian seem exceptions, UFOS in the history of cinema.
Vertov besides has this rare faculty to be accepted as well by the traditional cinema as by the experimental cinema. It is a kind of connection between these two worlds however so nearby.

To this alternative pratice of experimental cinema, answers so a cultural and historical marginalisation.

Perhaps because this cinema being placed out of the industry of the cinema, is seen at the same time placed outside of the cultural sphere which answers in the name of cinema, sphere organized by this same industry, the industry of the leisures and the official culture.

The idea of a cinema that everyone can make, contrary to the sacralization of the cinema (of the film stock, of the actors…), of its capitalist elitism which wants that only the large companies of production are able to make films… is a cinema which denies the society of trade, the economic liberalism, it is a cinema which disturbs.
And it disturbs more especially as it is unclassable and unverifiable.
It is not for nothing if the history of this cinema and the marginal movements (homosexual, squatters…) are superimposed regularly.

Conclusion, May 2000

The parallel practices of cinema are before has whole a sociocultural phenomenon. They are artists, filmmakers, who to acquire an aesthetic independence places themselves in margin of a commercial system of the cinema.
They belong to this alternative
culture which finds its expression as well in the cinema as the music, the dance or the theatre, who finds his milieu in certain independent reviews, and in a system of networks.

The social movements of today seem to go towards a model of society which would not be systematically under the control of the financial markets.
It's this which is practice in this cinema of the margin since the Sixties. Perhaps this is not
for nothing, that this cinema seems today profit from an increasing reception with the public.

What counts ultimately in the cinema, it's not to answer criteria of precise manufacture, according to principles of a consumer
society; but to explode these standards, in order to reach an independence of expression and thus a certain sincerity.

Bibliography, May 2000

note 2002 :
this bibliography indicates only the books consulted for this text. (It's only french books).

L’Art du mouvement - Collection cinématographique du Musée National d’Art Moderne 1916-1996 - Éd. du Centre Pompidou 1996 - under the direction of Jean-Michel Bouhours
Conceived like a dictionary by author, it constitutes an anthology of the experimental cinema. It contains a significant bibliography.

Poétique de la couleur, une histoire du cinéma expérimental - collective Work under the direction of Nicole Brenez et Miles Mc Kane - Auditorium du Louvre / Institut de l'Image 1995.

Le Cinéma autrement - Dominique Noguez - Cerf 1987, collection 7eme Art
From the autors cinema towards the experimental cinema

Éloge du cinéma expérimental - Dominique Noguez - Centre Pompidou 1979 ; republ. Paris Expérimental  1999.

Jeune, Dure et Pure ! Une histoire du cinéma d’avant-garde et expérimental en France - under the direction of Nicole Brenez et Cristian Lebrat - Cinémathèque Française / Mazzotta. No more available.
Anthology following the retrospective organized by the Cinémathèque Française of May 3 at July 2, 2000
> note 2002 :
appeared in 2001 to 1 200 specimens, no more available in a few months. No republication is envisaged by the editor.

Dictionnaire du cinéma mondial - under the direction of Alain et Odette Virmaux - Éd du Rocher 1994 -
No more available.
Dictionary by entries and themes (movements, schools, currents, tendencies and types). Global vision of the cinema.

Une histoire du cinéma - Peter Kubelka - Centre Pompidou 1976 -
No more available.
Catalogue of the exhibition of the same name.

L’Avant-Garde cinématographique en France dans les années vingts : idées, conceptions, théories - Noureddine Ghali - Paris Expérimental 1995 - Postface of Dominique Noguez

La Couleur en cinéma - under the direction of Jacques Aumont - Cinémathèque Française / Mazzotta 1995

Pour un cinéma comparé, influences et répétitions - under the direction of Jacques Aumont - Cinémathèque Française 1996.

Le Film est déjà commencé ? - Maurice Lemaître - André Bonne 1952 -
No more available.
With the detailed description of the film in 3 columns: sound, image, auditorium.

Colas Ricard, May 2000.
translation July 2003

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This text Ce cinéma de la marge is available in french on cineastes.net :