Experimental Film Discussion/Reccomendations

I think it’d be cool for us all to talk about different experimental or unconventional films, feature length and otherwise, we’re fans of and to get recommendations for the genre in the future. In other words, we should put projects we think are underrated in different ways in the spotlight and give them a fair go.

Just to start it off, a personal favorite director of mine is Don Hertzfeldt and his trilogy of animated short films “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” are insanely dark and funny in a way that got him a decent amount of notoriety in film critic circles but the biggest mainstream success he’s had was landing a Simpsons couch gag in 2015. His more recent short, “World Of Tomorrow” features a time-traveling plot centered around a 3rd generation clone meeting her original copy and showing her the ropes of how the world operates, centuries from the time she was born.

If anyone is a fan of Austin’s specific brand of existentialism on Friends At The Table, give World Of Tomorrow a shot, you might enjoy it.

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Oh hi! I definitely just got all mushy about Maya Deren, Luis Buñuel, and Jan Švankmajer in these very forums. Experimental is so broad though!

I haven’t actively watched any of his movies in ages at this point, but Švankmajer is someone I’d recommend everyone having seen. He makes stop-motion films, often adaptations of stories, that are striking and uncanny and difficult and surreal in the best ways. I’d probably start with a short or two, and then I’d most highly recommend Faust, I think. Alice and Little Otik are also both masterpieces, though.

If we’re including anime, Tatsuo Satō’s Cat Soup is a brilliant short that I watch every few years. It’s slow and uncompromising and cute and violent and it has the best image of a frozen sea in any media. Also pretty much anything by Masaaki Yuasa, but especially the feature Mind Game. It opens brutally (TWs should probably be sought out ahead of watching?) but dances itself into a beautiful frenzy. Literally, at one point, in a performance art piece in the belly of a whale. Also, the flashback with the bird when the guy is going off the bridge is among the single most incredible cinematic moments ever.

Hertzfeldt is someone I’ve been thinking about checking out for ages, but I just keep forgetting to/not prioritizing him. Would you recommend starting with World of Tomorrow or looking back at older stuff first?


i’m hardly a film buff but one of the last weirder films i enjoyed was The Rambler. i enjoyed the way it doled out suspense and sorta played on the cowboy archetype? its a total fever dream and i liked it a lot

Much love for Hertzfeldt

“It’s Such a Beautiful Day” is one of the most stunning and emotionally flooring pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.

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Most of these are probably more “unconventional” than “experimental”, but I wanted to share some of my recommendations for anyone who doesn’t feel like diving too far into the deep end of avant-garde cinema.

  • I’m a huge fan of Terrence Malick’s films. His post-hiatus films (i.e. The Thin Red Line onward) are especially fascinating in how they translate Malick’s brand of Heideggerian philosophy to film (my favorites being The Tree of Life and To the Wonder).

  • Michael Haneke is another director I can’t get enough of. Funny Games is probably his most well-known film(s) (and for good reason, I’d argue), but I also adore Cache for the way in which it critiques violence in film.

  • Taxi by Jafar Panahi was my favorite film of 2015. I had to see it for a film class I was taking at the time, and had no idea what to expect from it. What I came out with was the shameless adoration for a film that doubled as a protest toward the censorship and imprisonment of its director. This one’s on Netflix, and I’d recommend anyone to see it.

  • I also saw Certified Copy relatively recently, and maaaaan it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy are some of my all-time favorite movies, and the way Kiarostami subverts the style of those films is simultaneously brilliant and infuriating. I rarely tell people they should avoid spoilers, but do not look up the premise before watching it.

  • Speaking of Linklater, Slacker is the movie that got me into experimental film, and I think it’s a great introduction to unconventional film narratives.

  • Finally, David Lynch is just great. I’m still amazed by what Showtime is letting him do with this new season of Twin Peaks so far (the first two episodes are especially experimental in style). In general though, it’s hard to go wrong with any of his films (except probably Dune). I remember enjoying his short films a lot, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen them.

And as for less approachable directors go: I also enjoy Bunuel, Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, and a bunch of others I can’t think of right now.

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For recent filmmakers I’d highly recommend Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a palatable but experimental filmmaker who has received a lot of recognition in the past few years. His film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, was exceptionally well received and his most conventionally structured film. My favorite of his is probably Tropical Malady with looping dialogue/time/souls and lots of gorgeous atmospheric shots. I would recommend maybe starting with Uncle Boonmee and working your way backward.
I also mentioned this in a thread about documentaries but the films coming out of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab are superb and many of them are or were available on streaming services. MANAKAMANA, Leviathan, and Sweetgrass are probably the most well known. The Lab produces documentaries without commentary, presenting just the recorded and edited film.

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I don’t know how experimental it is (it’s maybe just arty?) but Holy Motors is one of my favourite films.


intermission song:

some criticism:

another weird arty film I really like is Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, which the trailer:

makes it look about a hundred times more eventful/dramatic/tension filled than it is, whereas in actual fact it’s this kind of meditative zen thing. but it does feature an ASTOUNDING flamenco sequence which seemingly is in there just for the sake of having an astounding flamenco sequence:

edit: oh another that I just remembered, Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. Marker is best known for La Jetee, but Sans Soleil is something special IMO.

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Chris Marker and Jim Jarmusch! Sweet recommendations @juv3nal! Holy Motors was a lot of fun and certainly unconventional in its storytelling. I don’t know enough about Leos Carax to say how experimental it was, but it was certainly very good!

The thing about the deeper you get into experimental filmmaking the more the viewing factors into the experience. Silent filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky pushes for filmgoing to be a sort of sacred experience that is tied to the space you view almost as much as the film itself - but more than that even, the more experimental the film the less likely it will be readily available for viewing.
That being said, I would keep an eye on the programming at Mono No Aware in NYC, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival, both are dedicated to the avant-garde and experimental films.
If you live in a city or near colleges chances are there will be opportunities to view the films you want to see.

Anyone who knows me knows that my very predictable response to this is to recommend more films by Shinya Tsukamoto. Most people know him from his student debut Tetsuo the Iron Man but honestly his other films do so much more in terms of fleshing out his ideas.

I’m also going to give a blanket content warning here: his films frequently deal with ideas of suicide, self harm, violent sexuality, and distorted bodies. They’re not films I’d watch if you aren’t in the place to deal with those.

Bullet Ballet is one of my all time personal favorites, and probably the most traditional in terms of storytelling, so it’s probably the easiest to start with.

A Snake of June is my next favorite, a psychosexual thriller with some incredible, and very uncomfortable, imagery. It’s also one of the hardest to recommend for a lot of reasons including its specific depictions of suicide and blackmail.

Finally I want to recommend Kotoko, for the sheer power of its imagery and Cocco’s performance. It’s really stuck with me, even if I find it difficult to watch or return to. Its a story about a mentally ill woman and her trials as she tries to take care of her child, and a certain kind of terror in motherhood.

There’s a couple of other films of his I’d recommend after these, but I’m going to cut myself short here so I don’t talk about his entire filmography.

@benladen oh man i have no idea how i found out about Cat Soup but that’s a beautiful and a terrifying little piece of animation.


It’s funny that you mention Louis Buñel! I’m a big fan of the Filmspotting family of podcasts (think Giant Bomb but for movies and edited for NPR) and they just had a Buñel marathon! Great director.

As far as Hertzfeldt goes, I’d say World Of Tomorrow is arguably his most conventional/easy to approach film so I’d definitely say start there. His claim to fame, It’s Such A Beautiful Day, utlizes some unique techniques exclusive to analog animation that make it a joy to watch but slightly harder to follow. He has a decent amount of older films he’s uploaded to his YouTube channel as he’s been animating since high school but I originally came around to him after watching his short “Rejected.” A film known for birthing early internet memes such as “my anus is bleeding” and “my spoon is too big.” I won’t say much about the narrative since I think it’s much funnier the less you know about it, but it’s also relatively easy to follow and about a marketer and his rejected commercials.

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I’m always a big fan of experimental short films.

Meshes of the Afternoon is fantastic and by a female director as well:

Stan Brakhage is another big name in experimental shorts. Mothlight is a good entrypoint:

And then Outer Space is such an amazing assault on the senses and deeply terrifying:

Lots of people have already mentioned Buñel and he’s fantastic.

For longer films, Man With the Movie Camera and Koyaanisqatsi are two of my favorites.


That’s funny that you mention that; I’ve recently been (very slowly) digging my way through some of the archives of The Projection Booth, and I listened to their episode on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie not too long ago. That’s probably a big part of why I’ve been thinking of him so much recently. I’ll have to check out Filmspotting, I’ve been trying to find more film podcasts lately.

People have reminded me of a bunch of things!

Sion Sono’s a great director, at least the two of his I’ve seen. The more famous is probably Suicide Club/Suicide Circle, but his somewhat recent Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is a laugh out loud funny metafilm about busted dreams, death on film, the yakuza, and so much more.

Also, for that rare mixture of Conventional and Experimental, Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark is a feature that’s all one continuous shot (pretty much) that was done in a single take, exploring a museum of Russian history. It’s pretty neat.

@celadon @juv3nal I feel like Holy Motors is definitely one I should get to at some point. Have either of y’all seen his short “Merde” from the compilation film Tokyo! (which apparently is in full on youtube? There’s also a trailer)? I still feel like I have a complicated relationship with that short many years after watching it and am wondering if that’s something I should expect or if it’s not really comparable?


It’s been a while but I remember disliking Merde… but I tend to dislike any foreigner’s representation of Japan.

Love Russian Ark! It’s a ritual holiday/end of year watch. Along with Fanny and Alexander.

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I’d seen Merde before Holy Motors but only have a vague recollection of it other than Holy Motors has a sequence that features the main character.

edit: I will say that HM is a series of vignettes that are tonally quite different from one another (off the top of my head there are ~6 or 7 such vignettes) so whatever your feelings on Merde, that section is only a small part of the film.

edit part deux: while I’m editing, Russian Ark is great; one of the dvd special features reveals that they got heartbreakingly long through a filming before something happened and they had to scrub it and start again.

Under the Skin is one of my favourite films of all time idft


Pre-Disclaimer: No spoilers ahead.

Disclaimer: I’m cheating a bit with this recommendation it’s a film but you won’t understand it without first watching the show. If that’s a deal-breaker, I completely understand, just thought I’d try and save you some time by being upfront with this fact.

Surrealism is probably the most well recognized and lauded form of “experimental” cinema. And if you’re at all into Surrealism in this context, and haven’t seen Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion…you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

Yes you “have to” watch the 25–episode series first, but that’s no chore. The show is very experimental thanks to many factors, namely the low-budget the show was given. This low budget, and tons of other factors (like the creator, Hideaki Anno’s severe depression at the time) culminates in the final two episodes being some of the most existentialist, surreal experiences I’ve had in my short life. And all of that is nothing compared to The End of Evangelion.

Also, if you’re the type of person who can get really into lore, religious themes, “hidden” or simply not-obvious aspects of a movie or show; you will love this. And if you’re the type to get into or create your own theories, Evengelion will fucking ruin, in all the best ways.

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I’m very much not a movie buff, but F For Fake by Orson Welles is a sort of documentary that blew my mind when I saw it the first time and is probably my favorite movie.

From Criterion’s website: https://www.criterion.com/films/908-f-for-fake

Trickery. Deceit. Magic. In F for Fake, a free-form sort-of documentary by Orson Welles, the legendary filmmaker (and self-described charlatan) gleefully reengages with the central preoccupation of his career: the tenuous lines between illusion and truth, art and lies. Beginning with portraits of the world- renowned art forger Elmyr de Hory and his equally devious biographer, Clifford Irving, Welles embarks on a dizzying journey that simultaneously exposes and revels in fakery and fakers of all stripes—not the least of whom is Welles himself. Charming and inventive, F for Fake is an inspired prank and a clever examination of the essential duplicity of cinema.

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I really enjoyed Tokyo! but I deeply disliked Merde. From a critical standpoint there was plenty about it that was well made and worked well, but it was a little too effective at being repugnant and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Sion Sono sounds like he might make films with the kind of absurd play that I might enjoy. I might have to add those film podcasts to my playlist as well. I don’t engage with enough of that stuff and I’d probably enjoy it.

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Evangelion is the only anime I regularly return to from my Peak Weaboo days, that movie is such a fascinating piece of work that embraces nihilism and kabbalistic imagery with equal fervour. And on a meta level I love the brief shots of hate mail sent to and graffiti on the walls outside of Gainax because of how much they hated the original finale!

Lots of great recommendations in here!

I’d like to add Hans Richter. He had a series in the early 20’s that I find hypnotising. There are some versions of these films with music, but to me they work best silently. If you dig it, look up Walter Ruttman. Similar, but with more of a flowing, Fantasia feel.

I’m also a big fan of Hollis Frampton. Nostalgia is a beautiful film. Criterion put out a great collection of his work. A couple times a year I’ll order it in from the library.