Friday, March 4, 2011

Whither The Avant-Garde?

In the early days of film, it didn't take long for experimental filmmakers to emerge in places like France and Russia that, taking advantage of the increasing cheapness of the technology, to start producing films that were, in some cases, decades ahead of their time. This early avant-garde died after the emergence of sound in the late 1920's because all of the patents to produce sound were owned by huge corporations that charged exorbitant prices to license the technology.

After these monopolies were either busted or the patents simply ran out, we had a renewed avant-garde come about after World War II in France, Italy, and New York. Basically, filmmaking on the edge is made easier the cheaper it gets to produce a film.

Computers and the internet have made animation cheaper than at any other time in history, and for a time, it seemed that it would get pushed into new areas of experimentation and quality. Websites like Icebox, Newgrounds, and software like Flash and 3DStudioMax made it seem like we were on the cusp of an explosion in animation. That explosion never happened, and I'm wondering why.

There's more animation, certainly. And some of it is good. Homestar Runner has proven itself vibrant and long-running, for example. There's been some good stuff online, with services like Aniboom acting as an excellent venue, but none of it has approached the quality of the film experimentation of the 1920's and 1970's, or the underground comics of the 1960's and 70's.

Most of the animation is either a poor attempt at grandiosity or drama, or a twee little ditty. Truly, the animation that is high-quality and memorable isn't coming out of people's garages, but out of major production houses that specialize in funding small productions, like the Film Board of Canada. Every year produces one or two great Oscar nominations, and The Animation Show reminds us that there are some talented people out there, but I expected an absolute explosion in quality animation to come from the internet and cheap computing. Why has that explosion not happened? Why are we seeing more animation, but not better animation?

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