While other experimental filmmakers have explored the boundaries of cinema through formalist rigor and shock effects, from the '40s to the '80s, James Broughton, as he put it, "followed his weird," and celebrated the body in touchy-feely films that even now could confirm a lot of people's worst suspicions about abstract artists. The 17 shorts on the three-disc DVD set The Films Of James Broughton contain plenty of scenes where dolled-up young people flounce around outside in slow motion, while Broughton recites poetry about how we must all "discover our oases."
But Broughton also dared to move people, which set him apart from his avant-garde contemporaries, and in films like his impressionist autobiography "Mother's Day" and his allegorical study of human relationships "The Bed," the images still burn with sincerity. And while watching Broughton's deeply symbolic 45-minute surrealist fairy tale "Dreamwood"—made with higher production values than experimental films usually sport—is merely impressive from a historical perspective, it's genuinely impressive to see Broughton's casual nude studies in films like "The Golden Positions," which capture the beauty of the human form better than any erotica.
Taking a more conventionally cutting-edge approach to experimental film, contemporary Chicago collective Animal Charm—led by Jim Fetterley and Rich Bott—chops up modern media images into ironic and sometimes nightmarish video collages. The pieces on the DVD anthology Animal Charm: Golden Digest run hot and cold, with the worst shorts never overcoming their facile mockery of easy targets. But Animal Charm's best pieces really penetrate: like "Marbles," which strings together random segments of the movie Meatballs, asking viewers to locate where the comedy really lies. As with a lot of the avant-garde—the good and the bad—the mere fact of Animal Charm's vision is almost more important than how they use it.
Key features: On the Broughton, none; on Animal Charm, bonus shorts and an enlightening behind-the-scenes glimpse at the filmmakers.