This dissertation argues for the importance of realist aesthetics to the theory and practice of experimental cinema. While experimental cinema has traditionally been conceived as cinema’s most modernist form due to its rejection of representation in favor of an emphasis of cinema’s material basis, I argue that this view has obscured key elements of experimental films and filmmakers, a problem that has only grown more pronounced with time. Drawing on Stanley Cavell’s theory of modernist art, I draw out an alternative conception of experimental cinema that identifies an attachment to cinema’s capacity to provide views of the world as a specifically modernist tenet. In this view, cinema’s connection to reality becomes a formal problem to be worked through, rather than an ontological fact to be assumed or rejected. I demonstrate the utility of this alternative by considering the work of four distinctive and prominent practitioners of experimental cinema. The core of the dissertation consists of close readings of the current practice of two artists, Deborah Stratman and Kevin Jerome Everson, whose films and videos are acclaimed within and beyond a festival circuit of experimental work but are largely taken up in criticism as documentaries or essay films, separated from the specific historical context of experimental cinema. I argue that through Stratman and Everson’s realist interest in providing views of landscapes and bodies, respectively, their projects pursue history, performance, and race as matters of specifically cinematic form, casting their interests in a modernist light that grounds their connection to the concerns of experimental cinema throughout its trajectory. I strengthen this connection by examining the role of concepts “reality” and “world” in the “camera movement films” of Michael Snow, arguing for the role of cinema’s provision of views of the world in works that have been almost exclusively received as anti- illusionist, reflexive, materialist, or “pure film.” Finally, I offer a speculative case of how far this logic of realism might be extended by tracing the role of the body in the work of artist and video maker Hito Steyerl, arguing that the filmed body’s prominence in her practice demands a novel reading of her work that balances her critiques of representation with a recurrent attraction to photographing and presenting bodies in motion. Throughout I argue for the importance of developing a theory of experimental cinema by connecting its present instances with its history and demonstrating continuities of concern within formal and contextual heterogeneity.




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