There's no consensus on the best term for the genre of film that's artistic and non-narrative, like the work of Stan Brakhage or Joseph Cornell. "Avant-garde" is a fairly apt descriptor, except that it applies equally well to, for example, the French New Wave. The word "experimental" has its own problems, according to David Gatten, an accomplished visiting filmmaker at Duke whose work generally shows in art spaces rather than movie theaters. "When I make my films, sometimes I really am conducting tests," he said in a learned post-screening talk last Tuesday. "But other times I actually know what I'm doing."
Whatever you choose to call the genre, it has had a heyday at the Nasher this spring with Gatten's curated series, Framing Language: Words as Pictures in the Arts of the Moving Image. Today is the last installment in the series, with two works. North on Evers (1991) by CalArts professor James Benning depicts his cross-country ride by motorcycle, bringing up the question of whether a film made by an avant-garde filmmaker is still avant-garde if it has a strong narrative structure (perhaps the answer is that we shouldn't invest too much in these categories). Hollis Frampton's Gloria! (1979) more readily fits the mold, with footage from an old silent film incongruously paired with text about his grandmother displayed on the screen of a '70s-vintage computer. —Marc Maximov