Harvard University's Suggested Film Viewing List: Experimental/Avant-garde/Underground Films (2011)

List source

This list is "an educational resource that offers guidance and encouragement as students seek to find points of orientation within the vast history of film and video." It is not a list of the best films of all time. Rather, it reflects a variety of criteria.

The list is divided into 6 sections:
I. Narrative Films
Hollywood Genres (with an emphasis on the classical studio era)
II. Non-Fiction Films
III. Animated Films
IV. Experimental/Avant-garde/Underground Films
V. Videos
VI. Video Installations (this section can't be added to IMDb because IMDb doesn't list video installations)

According to the list source, this section is incomplete (i.e. they're planning to expand it in the future).

The list includes only the "Material Girl" segment of Madonna: The Immaculate Collection.
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1.
The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
One of the first feminist movies, The Smiling Madame Beudet is the story of an intelligent woman trapped in a loveless marriage... (54 mins.)
Director: Germaine Dulac
 
2.
At 3:25 (1924 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
A scientist's invisible ray freezes Paris into immobility. (35 mins.)
Director: René Clair
 
3.
Return to Reason (1923 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Experimental film, white specks and shapes gyrating over a black background, a light-striped torso, a gyrating eggcrate... (3 mins.)
Director: Man Ray
 
4.
Ballet mécanique (1924 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A pulsing, kaleidoscope of images set to an energetic soundtrack. A young women swings in a garden; a woman's face smiles... (19 mins.)
 
5.
Entr'acte (1924 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
An absolute dada movie. Somebody gets killed, his coffin gets out of control and after a chase it stops. The person gets out of it and let everybody who followed the coffin dissapear. (22 mins.)
Director: René Clair
 
6.
Ménilmontant (1926 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A couple is brutally murdered in the working-class district of Paris. Later on, the narrative follows the lives of their two daughters, both in love with a Parisian thug and leading them to separate ways. (38 mins.)
 
7.
Anemic Cinema (1926 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
A spiral design spins dizzily. It's replaced by a spinning disk. These two continue in perfect alternation until the end: a spiral design... (7 mins.)
Director: Marcel Duchamp
 
8.
The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Obsessed with a general's woman, a clergyman has strange visions of death and lust, struggling against his own eroticism. (28 mins.)
Director: Germaine Dulac
 
9.
Emak-Bakia (1927 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A long series of unrelated images, revolving, often distorted: lights, flowers, nails. A lightboard... (18 mins.)
Director: Man Ray
 
10.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Allan has a hard time finding the Usher's house, which is known to be cursed... But he is a personal friend of Roderick Usher... (63 mins.)
Director: Jean Epstein
 
11.
The Starfish (1928 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Two people stand on a road, out of focus. Seen distorted through a glass, they retire upstairs to a bedroom where she undresses... (21 mins.)
Director: Man Ray
 
12.
Un Chien Andalou (1929 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí present seventeen minutes of bizarre, surreal imagery. (16 mins.)
Director: Louis Bunuel
 
13.
À Propos de Nice (1930 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
What starts off as a conventional travelogue turns into a satirical portrait of the town of Nice on the French Cote d'Azur, especially its wealthy inhabitants. (25 mins.)
 
14.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A woman returning home falls asleep and has vivid dreams that may or may not be happening in reality. Through repetitive images and complete mismatching of the objective view of time and space, her dark inner desires play out on-screen. (14 mins.)
 
15.
Pacific 231 (1949 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
An engine moves from the roundhouse to a track where it couples with several passenger cars. At 2:10 in the afternoon... (9 mins.)
Director: Jean Mitry
 
16.
Images pour Debussy (1951 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
This film illustrates Debussy's works "En bateau", "Arabesques", "Reflets dans l'eau" and "Arabesques en sol". As a visual counterpoint to the music it shows playful reflections, transparencies, and iridescence of water. (22 mins.)
Director: Jean Mitry
 
17.
A Song of Love (1950 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Two prisoners in complete isolation, separated by the thick brick walls, and desperately in need of human contact, devise a most unusual kind of communication. (26 mins.)
Director: Jean Genet
 
18.
Adebar (1957 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.9/10 X  
An early experimental short film produced by Peter Kubelka. (2 mins.)
Director: Peter Kubelka
 
19.
Schwechater (1958 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  
A short film originally intended to be a commercial for Schwechater Beer, but along the way it morphed into something completely different. (1 mins.)
Director: Peter Kubelka
 
20.
Anticipation of the Night (1958 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
Notes of journey life of Stan Brakhage like a befits of a diary book in a very strong sense of experimentation, romantic, modernist and abstract. (42 mins.)
Director: Stan Brakhage
 
21.
A Movie (1958 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Clips of atomic explosions, pornography, and B-movies are spliced together to evoke certain emotions. (12 mins.)
Director: Bruce Conner
 
22.
Window Water Baby Moving (1959 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Stan Brakhage films the birth of his first child, Myrrena. (13 mins.)
Director: Stan Brakhage
 
23.
Prelude: Dog Star Man (1962 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
A creation myth realized in light, patterns, images superimposed, rapid cutting, and silence. A black screen... (25 mins.)
Director: Brakhage
 
24.
Dog Star Man: Part I (1962 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
From a murky landscape, a wooded mountain emerges. We watch the sun. We see a bearded man climbing up the mountain through the snow... (30 mins.)
Director: Brakhage
 
25.
Dog Star Man: Part II (1963 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
A man, accompanied by a dog, struggles through snow on a mountain side. We see film stock blister; drawn square shapes appear... (7 mins.)
Director: Brakhage
 
26.
Dog Star Man: Part III (1964 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Sexual intimacy. Three kinds of images race past, superimposed on each other sometimes: two bodies, a man and a woman's... (11 mins.)
Director: Brakhage
 
27.
Dog Star Man: Part IV (1964 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
A man is supine on a mountain side. Images rush past of nature and a stained glass saint. An infant is born... (6 mins.)
Director: Brakhage
 
28.
The Connection (1961)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A director tries to film a group of junkies in Leach's room while they are waiting for Cowboy to bring their heroin connection. (110 mins.)
Director: Shirley Clarke
 
29.
Flaming Creatures (1963)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.1/10 X  
With full disturbing and weirdo graphic plus sexual scenes, Flaming Creatures is one of most daring and controversial film of all time, According to Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures is a comedy in a haunted music studio. (45 mins.)
Director: Jack Smith
 
30.
Scorpio Rising (1965 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
An army of gay/nazi bikers make their engines roar and ride the way to pain/pleasure as sexual and sadistic... (28 mins.)
Director: Kenneth Anger
 
31.
Film (1965 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A twenty-minute, almost totally silent film (no dialogue or music one 'shhh!') in which Buster Keaton... (20 mins.)
Director: Alan Schneider
 
32.
Chelsea Girls (1966)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
Lacking a formal narrative, Warhol's art house classic follows various residents of the Chelsea Hotel in 1966 New York City, presented in a split screen with a single audio track in conjunction with one side of screen. (210 mins.)
 
33.
Fuses (1967 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
An experimental short in which a couple engaged in lovemaking is superimposed over ocean and beach scenes. (22 mins.)
 
34.
Unsere Afrikareise (1966 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Kubelka was asked to do a documentation group of Europe's hunters in Africa, working on it for hours... (13 mins.)
Director: Peter Kubelka
 
35.
Castro Street (1966 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
Inspired by a lesson from Erik Satie; a film in the form of a street - Castro Street running by the Standard Oil Refinery in Richmond, California ... (10 mins.)
Director: Bruce Baillie
 
36.
Wavelength (1967)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
One of the most unconventional and experimental films ever made, Wavelength is a structural film of a 45-minute long zoom in on a window over a period of a week. (45 mins.)
Director: Michael Snow
 
37.
69 (1968 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.9/10 X  
An experimental short film from Robert Breer combining various shapes and colors. (5 mins.)
Director: Robert Breer
 
38.
T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1969 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
A subversive experimental short film in which the word "Destroy" is uttered constantly while images on an individual are show with changes colors and the letters T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G displayed. (12 mins.)
Director: Paul Sharits
 
39.
Zorns Lemma (1970 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
A rhythmically edited alphabet composed of street and shop signs shot in New York City and other elements is gradually replaced by repeated seemingly abstract shots in this influential structuralist film. (60 mins.)
Director: Hollis Frampton
 
40.
Serene Velocity (1970 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  
An experimental short film which shows a time-lapse in the basement hallway of a Binghamton University building. (23 mins.)
Director: Ernie Gehr
 
41.
Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (1969)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Ghosts! Cine-recordings of the vivacious doings of persons long dead. Preservation of their memory ceases at the edges of the frame. (115 mins.)
Director: Ken Jacobs
 
42.
Hapax Legomena I: Nostalgia (1971 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Frampton burning slowly his an nostalgia black and white photograph who his taken on a hot plate. (36 mins.)
Director: Hollis Frampton
 
43.
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A film diary divided into three episodes. The first part reflects Jonas Mekas of his time as emigrant in 50th century New York... (88 mins.)
Director: Jonas Mekas
 
44.
 
45.
Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975 Video)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
Martha Rosler takes us through an A-Z of the kitchen in this parodic feminist art film. (6 mins.)
Director: Martha Rosler
 
46.
Riddles of the Sphinx (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
In this avant-garde classic, protagonist Louise deals with a change in her lifestyle in which she must learn to negotiate domestic life and motherhood. (92 mins.)
 
47.
One Way Boogie Woogie (1977 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Sixty one-minute shots with no camera movement. This tension between painterly and cinematic space is... (60 mins.)
Director: James Benning
 
48.
One Way or Another (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Film about Miraflores, a housing development built in 1962. (78 mins.)
Director: Sara Gómez
 
49.
Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1979 Video)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
(6 mins.)
Director: Dara Birnbaum
 
50.
Thriller (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  
What happens after the curtain falls on the death of Mimi, tragic heroine of Puccini's La boh?me? In Thriller, Mimi teams up with the opera's comic heroine Musetta to investigate her own death. (45 mins.)
Director: Sally Potter
 
51.
Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  
An epic meditation on psychoanalysis, the Baader-Meinhof, feminism, and pre-revolutionary Russia. (125 mins.)
Director: Yvonne Rainer
 
52.
Born in Flames (1983)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
Set ten years after the most peaceful revolution in United States history, a revolution in which a socialist government gains power... (80 mins.)
Director: Lizzie Borden
 
53.
Madonna: The Immaculate Collection (1990 Video)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
Definitive classic collection of 12 music videos from the Queen of Pop released along with her first greatest hits package. Her "Vogue" MTV Video Music Awards performance is an added bonus. (60 mins.)
 
54.
The Ties That Bind (1985 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
The Ties That Bind is an experimental documentary about the filmmaker's mother, who was born and lived in southern Germany from 1920-1950... (55 mins.)
Director: Su Friedrich
 
55.
Privilege (1990)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Privilege is an intelligently conceived, boldly anarchic, and wickedly insightful exposition on the... (103 mins.)
Director: Yvonne Rainer
 
56.
Blue (1993)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Against a plain, unchanging blue screen, a densely interwoven soundtrack of voices, sound effects and... (79 mins.)
Director: Derek Jarman