No great artist can be expected to be married to a singular medium in their career. Many of the most renowned artists we are familiar with in the modern era have experimented with a variety of creative methods and mediums during their time to challenge their artistry and express their visions in new, captivating ways. With the invention of film at the end of the 19th century, a new medium for creation was introduced and many famous artists experimented with the cross-section of their artistic style and visual storytelling.
At ArtRKL, we appreciate the expansive narratives that can be told through distinct, stylized movies. When watching a film made by a well-known artist, it’s easy to see where their personal styles meet new technology. Whether you are looking to learn more about your favorite artist or searching for your next date-night movie, we cover four artists who experimented with films that will leave you entertained for hours.
1. Salvador Dali, L'Âge d’Or and Un Chien Andalou
The first film, translated to “Age of Gold,” was released in 1930 and features Salvador Dali as one of the writers. The surrealist, satirical comedy starts with a scene that leads audiences to believe the film is a documentary on scorpions. From there, it cuts to a mind-twisting, vignette-style story of a couple trying to consummate their marriage yet being distracted by bourgeois behaviors, the church, and the morals of society.
Dali brings his surrealist vision to the film through its abstract storytelling and mind-boggling visuals. A particularly memorable section of scenes showcases party guests covered in bugs, ignoring a house fire, and the murder of a child for a harmless prank. The couple is increasingly frustrated with their dilemma and the strange visuals that keep occurring. With no cemented central plot, this film relies heavily on being viewed as a surrealist piece of art, making for a unique watch.
Dali’s other film he helped write, translated to “An Andalusian Dog,” relies on dream logic for its storytelling. Beginning with Once Upon a Time and immediately jumping to eight years later, this film aims to confuse viewers and leave them shocked by the visuals. One of the more famous scenes in the film showcases a quick visual of a man holding a razor to a woman’s eye, while the next clip shows an animal eye being sliced open but leaving viewers to assume it was the woman if they don’t pay close enough attention. As with all surrealism, there is deeper symbolism and psychology at play. Viewers of the films can expect great mental stimulation and hours of content to dissect and understand.
2. Andy Warhol, Chelsea Girls
Andy Warhol actually has a decent-sized collection of films he made during his career. While none of them are critically acclaimed box office hits, they each offer a deeper look into his artistic vision. He often used film to deeper express his disillusionment with his own reality and boredom with the world around him. His films, like other artists, focus more heavily on the visuals than the actual story.
In we follow a lonely woman played by singer Nico as she succumbs to the disillusioned world of the underground arts and culture scene in New York at the time. The film is a tedious three and a half hours long visual that shows a split screen displaying two different scenes at each time. The film does not adhere to technical standards and relies on an expectation that it exists as art and less as a story. Nevertheless, Chelsea Girls provides a unique insight into Warhol’s visual mind and his experiences in the NYC art world.
3. Cindy Sherman, Office Killer
Photographer Cindy Sherman, best known for her photo stills that mimic movie scenes, created her own comedy-horror B-movie titled Office Killer. The movie follows a magazine editor named Dorine, played by Carol Kane, forced to work at home due to budget cuts. Dorine eventually snaps and goes on a murdering spree of her coworkers, mother, and innocent bystanders. The film explores a topic Sherman often touches on in her own work: female rage and control.
Sherman places her own artistic styling often seen in her photography work in a memorable scene where Dorine artfully poses the body, like a photographer would their models. The film was poorly reviewed upon release but remains a testament to Sherman’s consistent creative visions and needs. The film was part of MoMA’s film series in 2022, where MoMA discussed Sherman's artistic staples such as Sherman’s overarching themes of control. This is the best “movie” on the list so far and is great if you’re into cheesy horror or murderous women.
4. Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy, best known for his subversion of art through graffiti and murals, also made a documentary. The film focuses on French immigrant Thierry Guetta, who had filmed a variety of street artists at work. Banksy took the film from Guetta and made it into a documentary. Guetta was obsessed with filming every aspect of his life and on the subject of street art. The result of this obsessive filming culminated in thousands of hours of footage that Banksy and editors watched. After combing through these clips the editing team realized that only seconds of some clips could be used because of shoddy camerawork and unclear focus. The documentary both celebrates and mocks Guetta as an artist, Guetta filmed with the intention of being a documentary. Yet when it came down to doing the work, Guetta showed he had no intention of committing to creating a film from his clips. Leaving Banksy and his editors to do the work of creating the narrative and using the film from Guetta. Yet ironically the film would never exist if Guetta hadn’t carried the camera around. It’s a double edged sword of commentary that offers a unique debate to the viewers. Yet he amassed an impressive collection of films showcasing exactly that.
Eventually in his never ending quest to capture street art, Guetta meets Banksy. Guetta develops an obsession with documenting Banksy, thus leading Banksy to discover the trove of work Guetta was hoarding. But it is the ending of this film that makes it so compelling and so Banksy. We won’t spoil it but we will say viewers are left wondering if anything we watched was true or if the whole thing was an elaborate mockumentary crafted by Banksy himself.
When asked if the film was real or a mockumentary, Banksy only replied, “Yes.”
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