Session 5 Structuralist Film (Anti Narrative)

In this session I want to look at a range of different filmmakers and their approaches to experimental narrrative. A focus on the structural elements of film, colour, shape, repetition, screen space, soundscapes.

I want to follow how some of these approaches have been taken up by more contemporary filmmakers who you may be more familiar with.

Structuralist Film:

Part one of Peter Gidal’s introductory essay to the Structural Film Anthology, Published by the BFi in 1976.

Structural/ Materialist film attempts to be non-illusionist. The process of the film’s making deals with devices that result in demystification or attempted demystification of the film process. But by ‘deals with’ I do not mean ‘represents’. In other words, such films do not document various film procedures, which would place them in the same category as films which transparently document a narrative, a set of actions, etc.

What might this mean in terms of visual language?

Len Lye


Len Lye was one of the few filmmakers working in inter-war Britain to have established an international reputation in experimental filmmaking. Though his British oeuvre was by no means limited to the making of abstract films, this was the area that most interested Lye and he has sometimes been viewed as the only genuine avant-garde filmmaker of this period.

Colour Box

Free Radicals

Malcolm Le Grice

Berlin Horse 1970

Two fragments of 8mm home-movie footage shot by the artist near Berlin weave together in repeating cycles of action, temporal manipulation, and colour distortion, heightening the viewer’s awareness of film-time and the film-image, and perception of colour in motion.

Stan Brakhage

Those who consider cinema a narrative art form, and believe that films should have a beginning, a middle and an end – in that order – will have problems with the work of Stan Brakhage, who has died aged 70. His films were difficult also for those not willing to shed the conventionalised illusion, imposed by rules of perspective, compositional logic and “lenses grounded to achieve 19th-century compositional perspective”.

For Brakhage, the goal of cinema was the liberation of the eye itself, the creation of an act of seeing, previously unimagined and undefined by conventions of representation, an eye as natural and unprejudiced as that of a cat, a bee or an infant.


Dog Star Man 1962

Filmmakers that used some of the techniques of these filmmakers but in a more conventional narrative context:

Derek Jarman Screen ONLINE

Derek Jarman was the maverick radical of the British cinema during the late 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. His highly idiosyncratic form of avant-garde art cinema managed to sustain itself due to his personal reputation as an auteur, as an enfant terrible, and to his more or less public private life.


Last of England

Experimental Film and Music

Michel Gondry

White Stripes:

The Making of

Science of Sleep

Gill Scott Heron

The Revolution will not be Televised

New York Is Killing Me

Christian Marclay, The Clock

You have to settle into The Clock, and go into the extraordinary trance-like state that it induces. When I first arrived, I found myself giving a little amused laugh at each appearance of the time. Then the novelty wore off and I became silent. Some other people, arriving after me, went through the same process. I arrived just after 11 in the morning and left before 1pm, so I went through the midday climax of emotions: I expected, and got, Gary Cooper in High Noon.



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