Visual Culture Films
August 28, 2013 8:24 PM   Subscribe

I need suggestions for movies to show in a series I'm curating. The series is associated with a Visual Studies program, and so I'm seeking films that relate to visual culture or non-cinematic modes of representation in some meaningful way. In other words, the theme of the series is intermediality.

I would like to have a huge list of such films in my brain at all times, but I do not, and I want to be over-prepared before the series planning begins in earnest.

To restate, I want films that can be discussed as making some kind of critical intervention in visual culture themselves, above and beyond portraying some facet of the visual arts or of visual communication. This is the ideal, anyway. For example, I am probably going to use Exit Through the Gift Shop, since it troubles conventions of documentary representation, but also challenges the ways value is produced in the art economy. This, in contrast with a biopic of an artist, like Pollack, which more simply portrays the art scene and a moment in art, without grappling with problems or paradigms of visual culture in some way.

I am also thinking about a night of scientifically-themed cartoons and shorts, since animation and other types of specialized film are able to present scientific concepts and content in uniquely accessible and informative ways. Jean Painleve, Powers of Ten by the Eamesesses... some experimental animation perhaps.

Some half formed ideas: films dealing with surveillance culture, archives or scrapbooking, advertising, broadcast, online cultures, sculpture or other physical visual arts, authenticity, representation, realism, science and forensics...

Non-documentaries would be especially valued, since I can only seem to think of docs, but all suggestions are appreciated!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As a former film scholar who often went to great lengths to look for features of movies that made them "about" things in your list, I am struggling with your question. Many films have themes of authenticity, representation, realism, etc, and a lot of cinema has connections to visual arts beyond the cinematic. Therefore, I am betting other people are going to come up with better suggestions than what I offer. That being said, here are my suggestions (to be taken with a huge grain of salt):

How about Timecode?

Anything by Stan Brakhage?

The French had this whole thing called cinema verite, which was the cinema of truth.

See also: early Russian cinema a la Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein.

Those are more to do with the themes you mentioned, and not as much with the visual arts connection, though there are those that may argue differently.
posted by Temeraria at 8:51 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ooh also! Check out some of the dance movies from the 50s-60s where random "ballets" occurred in the middle of otherwise normal movies. People were always popping out of paintings, doing some crazy stuff, then going back in.

In that same vein, remember the Mary Poppins chalk art adventure scene?

Know what else? A-Ha.

And of course, one of the original film and science linkers, this guy.

Perhaps a stretch, but hey.
posted by Temeraria at 8:59 PM on August 28, 2013

Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books did some pretty novel (for 1991) things with digital image manipulation.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 9:06 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

The non-documentaries I can think of that are 'about' another visual medium probably all fail the intervention test and may be a little too popular or well-known, but maybe you need some crowd-pleasers: Blow-Up (photography), No (political advertising), Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (film adaptation of a comic book, loaded with video game visual clichés), and the Peter Greenaway suggestion reminds me of The Belly of an Architect (architecture and sculpture).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:31 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Muppet Movie is an amazing, fabulous, self-conscious critique-slash-parody-slash-celebration of almost every aspect of American visual/media culture. Among other things.
posted by obliquicity at 10:35 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

For experimental work, why not call Canyon and Film Makers and see what they can recommend from their collections?
posted by bubukaba at 11:25 PM on August 28, 2013

Temeraria, you're on the right track but I don't think anyone wants in this graduate program wants to watch Chronique d'un Été or Man with a Movie Camera on their off days, or ever again. I am however considering my favorite direct cinema film, Titicut Follies which has a strange spectacular beauty and always draws associations with Foucault's panopticon. Just looking for films that can incite discourse that befits a Visual Studies program. Also to note, as an USC cinema doctoral student, we might run in similar circles.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:36 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Film scholar/programmer here.

I'm also really having trouble understanding what you're asking. I don't understand what you mean by "visual culture" at all, especially because the list of subtopics (films dealing with surveillance culture, archives or scrapbooking, advertising, broadcast, online cultures, sculpture or other physical visual arts, authenticity, representation, realism, science and forensics) is so broad, and the items on it so unrelated.

Can you narrow your theme at all? The one you have is just too broad, it seems to me, which means you may have trouble "linking" the films in the eyes of the viewers. "Visual culture" is way, way too broad!
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:13 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wim Wenders's Lisbon Story (1994) should fit the bill.
posted by elgilito at 4:33 AM on August 29, 2013

Videodrome? The Truman Show? Special Bulletin?

For another documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.
posted by jbickers at 5:58 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Orson Welles' F for Fake opens up a lot of questions on perception and authenticity, and it's pretty entertaining, too.
posted by mdrew at 6:42 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Werner Herzog comes to mind, such as Fata Morgana, Heart of Glass ...

There is also the Italian neorealist movement maybe?
posted by gudrun at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2013

posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2013

Herzog's Lessons of Darkness presents itself as a sort of alien nature documentary but is a devastating portrayal of a landscape ravaged by war and oil.

Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg is a surreal pseudodocumentary that merges personal myth with the history of a particular landscape and city.

Ryan is a brilliant short animated film in which filmmaker Chris Landreth confronts famed animator Ryan Larkin about drug and alcohol abuse, withering fame, and the nature of art and storytelling.

Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation tells the story of Caouette's childhood and his relationship with his mentally ill mother, through a stunning assemblage of hundreds of old home movies, photographs, and answering machine messages.

Also I feel like you could spend an entire semester discussing True Stories by David Byrne / Talking Heads.
posted by oulipian at 8:19 AM on August 29, 2013

troubles conventions of documentary representation, but also challenges the ways value is produced in the art economy

F For Fake is also pretty good at exactly this.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:29 AM on August 29, 2013

Visual Culture. It's an interdisciplinary approach that's kind of hot right now. Yes, it's vague and all-encompassing but it's the program I'm working in. That's why I've chosen the intermediality theme, to hopefully illustrate how one visual form (film) converses with others.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:40 AM on August 29, 2013

Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev
Mishima - A Life in 4 Chapters

A little off your track, but probably related.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:04 AM on August 29, 2013

Respectfully, A.V., your explanation doesn't really clarify anything. By the definition you've given, literally any film ever made in the world history of cinema could be plugged into this series.

I'm not trying to be disagreeable or anything - I would actually like to help you, and have a fair bit of experience programming film series. In my experience, the more clearly defined the theme or reason for a particular group of films, the more successful the series, especially in an academic context. I just don't really see anything to work with here.

I realize that intermediality is one of those vague academic interdisciplinary things, but without a firm definition of how you're using it for this series, you'll have no direction whatsoever, it seems to me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:30 PM on August 29, 2013

Would movies about making movies fit in here? Purple Rose of Cairo, Son of Rambow, Be Kind Rewind, etc.
posted by lillygog at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2013

They Live is explicitly about American visual culture and the sociopolitical function of advertising messages. Videodrome is about television specifically. I think both of them attempt to engage in a real way with "visual culture" beyond movies themselves.

That said, when you write, "I want films that can be discussed as making some kind of critical intervention in visual culture themselves," and then immediately bring up Exit Through the Gift Shop, I think, "Yep, that's the one movie that fits that description!"

But then your mention of Pollack got me thinking. How about My Kid Could Paint That?

And I'd definitely second the recommendation of Prospero's Books, even though I know Greenaway is out of fashion these days.

How about "A Study in Choreography for Camera" by Maya Deren? Or, heck, Hollis Frampton's "(nostalgia)"?

Now that I think of it, Until the End of the World is a pretty prescient critique of social media -- characters become addicted to a machine that plays their dreams back for them to the exclusion of real human contact.

Any of these come within a horseshoe's toss of your target?
posted by Mothlight at 6:18 PM on August 29, 2013

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