Somewhere in the 1960s and 1970s, a very isolated style of experimental filmmaking was born. ‘Flicker cinema’, a unique style of experimental filmmaking, used rapid flashing lights and alternating frames which created a hypnotic and disorienting effect on the viewers. Moreover, this style led to flicker cinema not being widely recognized as compared to other film genres. However, it had a very significant impact on the art world and the way we think about moving images
One of the pioneers of flicker cinema was Tony Conrad, an American artist who was a part of the New York avant-garde scene in the 1960s. Conrad's film ‘The Flicker’ (1966) is considered a seminal work in the genre. The film consists solely of black and white frames that alternate at varying speeds, creating a strobing effect that is both mesmerizing and disorienting. The effect is similar to that of a strobe light or a flickering flame.
Other artists soon began to experiment with the flicker effect, including Paul Sharits, Hollis Frampton, and Stan Brakhage. Brakhage's ‘23rd Psalm Branch’ (1967) is another notable example of flicker cinema. The film consists of a series of abstract images that flicker and pulsate on the screen set to a soundtrack of religious chants.
Meanwhile in India, from the 1960s onwards, filmmakers have been experimenting with different techniques, styles, and themes, and challenging the conventions of mainstream cinema to explore new avenues of artistic expression.
One of the earliest pioneers of experimental cinema in India was the filmmaker and artist, Ritwik Ghatak. His films, such as ‘A River Called Titas’ (1973) and ‘Subarnarekha’ (1965), were noted for their innovative use of sound and image as well as their focus on the human condition and social issues.
Another important figure in Indian experimental cinema is the filmmaker, Mani Kaul. Kaul's films, such as ‘Uski Roti’ (1969) and ‘Ashad Ka Ek Din’ (1971), were characterized by their non-linear narratives, striking visual compositions, and philosophical themes.
In recent years, a new generation of experimental filmmakers has emerged in India, building on the legacy of their predecessors and pushing the boundaries of the form. Filmmakers such as Kamal Swaroop, Amit Dutta, and Ashish Avikunthak have gained international recognition for their bold and innovative works which combine elements of poetry, music, and performance with avant-garde cinema techniques.
Experimental cinema in India continues to thrive with film festivals such as the Experimenta Festival in Bengaluru and the Indian Experimental Film Festival in Mumbai providing platforms for artists to showcase their work and connect with the audience and industry professionals. These festivals have helped to foster a vibrant and diverse community of experimental filmmakers in India and have contributed to the growth and development of the form in the region.
However, flicker cinema is not without its detractors. Some critics and viewers found the rapid flashing lights to be overwhelming or even physically uncomfortable to sit through. Others argued that the genre lacked substance and was merely a gimmick. Despite these criticisms, flicker cinema has had a lasting impact on experimental film and video art. Its use of light and motion to create a visceral experience for the viewer has influenced filmmakers and artists across generations. The genre has also paved the way for other forms of experimental film, including video art, computer-generated imagery, and interactive installations.
Overall, the history and contemporary landscape of experimental cinema in India is a testament to the power and potential of film as an art form, and to the creativity and vision of Indian filmmakers who continue to push the boundaries of cinema in exciting and thought-provoking ways.
Flicker cinema is a unique and influential genre of experimental filmmaking that has had a significant impact on the art world. Although it may not be to everyone's taste, its use of rapid flashing lights and alternating frames creates a hypnotic, disorienting effect that has fascinated and inspired artists for decades. Flicker Cinema in India is beyond the boundaries of film and art, but the real question is what is the future of flicker cinema going to be looking like? Disoriented? Flashy? Or maybe hypnotic?
Written by Godwin Emmanuel (Filmmaker, Professor - NSoJ)
Edited by Sweety Mohanta