81 minutes

“Charming” isn't exactly the word you'd use to define experimental film, that underground community of artists and directors that push the boundaries of form and content in the film medium. But it's exactly the right word to describe Pip Chodorov's engaging documentary, one that doesn't want to be the definitive tome or the ultimate word on its subject. Instead, mr. Chodorov, himself a practitioner of experimental film and one of the driving forces of French experimental film distributor Re:voir, proposes a brisk, brief ride through its history and developments as seen from his own point of view, as the son of free-spirited artists in 1960s New York who grew up in the proximity of it. His father, Stephan Chodorov, was a TV producer in charge of an arts programme on public television, and names such as Hans Richter were either neighbours or family friends.

     What follows is a necessarily compact but consistently interesting journey through mr. Chodorov fils' discovery of experimental cinema, punctuated by excerpts or even full presentations of work by mr. Richter, Len Lye, Jonas Mekas, Stan Vanderbeek or Robert Breer, and interview footage with many of them, including rare archive images from mr. Vanderbeek and Stan Brakhage. The fact that this is experimental film as seen through mr. Chodorov's eyes, rather than a straight-forward chronology, lets it off the hook in many respects and is also its greater strength: the enthusiasm and pleasure the director clearly shows in sharing his discoveries with us strikes exactly the right note between breathless fan and knowledgeable professor. The clarity of language and traditional structure entices the viewer into investigating further a style usually considered too opaque and insular for mainstream consumption while pointing out the influences it had on mainstream filmmakers (underlining, for instance, Terry Gilliam's debt to mr. Vanderbeek on his Monty Python mixed-media collages).

     For diehards, Free Radicals will probably be a case of “too little too late”, maybe even a bowdlerization of the richness of the genre – but for most others this will undoubtedly be the perfect introduction, which may have been mr. Chodorov's intention anyway.

Directed by Pip Chodorov; produced by Ron Dyens, Aurélia Prévieu; written by mr. Chodorov, Lucy Allwood; music by Black Lake, Slink Moss, mr. Chodorov; camera (colour), mr. Chodorov, Nicolas Rideau, Ville Piippo; film editors, Nicolas Sarkissian with Jackie Raynal. 
     A Sacrebleu Productions/Re:voir presentation/production, with support from the French National Centre for Cinema and Animated Image, Île-de-France region, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cinécinéma. (World sales, Celluloid Dreams.)
     Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2011 Da Curta à Longa sidebar, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde (screen 2), July 15th 2011.


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