In the 1960's, a trend among the structuralist filmmakers that were taking up the avant-garde cinema was the flicker films. This subgenre of structuralism was mostly explored by Paul Sharits, who began work with flickering in his contributions to the Fluxus Film series, with films such as "Sears Catalogue 1-3", "Wrist Trick", "Unrolling Event", and more. He later moved into such filmmaking at a much lengthier level: the aforementioned lasted only less than a minute, while his films "N:O:T:H:I:N:G" and most notably "T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G" were much longer and most intense. He even referenced, in a way, how audiences might react with epileptic fits when seeing these films with "Epileptic Seizure Comparison" which combined flickering with archive footage of people having seizures, to create a self-reflective concept. But it is "The Flicker" which really takes the cake, as with a title like that one could say it practically named the genre (although I do not know if this is actually true). The first and most known short of filmmaker Tony Conrad's small filmography, the half-hour work reduces the definition of "film" down to the skimpiest it can be, with three of it's only five frames being title cards introducing the short, while the other two are a black frame and a white one. Someone had to try this eventually, and considering the date (1965-1966) it certainly didn't take long.
The film does have a sort of intro and conclusion, starting and ending with the white frame, then flickering first only a little, then constantly until it becomes almost too intense to bear. Unlike others, I had no problems with hallucinations or headaches, but even as one might start wondering how much longer the film with move on like this, it can never be boring with consistent action, not to mention an incredible soundtrack that is almost better than the flickering concept itself. Although this soundtrack was electronically produced, probably with a synthesizer, it really is about the perfect thing to go with such an intense effect, making the experience even more overwhelming. At the end, the flickers subside, until there is just the white frame again; a fitting way to conclude, though I could also see an argument for quickly speeding back up again, and ending it suddenly with a black frame.
Numerous people have argued that to fully experience Conrad's effect, one needs to be sitting in a dark movie theater, with the film projected onto a screen by a projector playing the physical filmstrip. I could see why this would work better: the flashing would be brought out more by a darker environment, the sound would be louder, less distraction and more intensity overall. I thought the copy I saw online was adequate enough in the end, with already enough intensity to get the idea across, and it would certainly be difficult to be able to find this work being screened anywhere these days. "The Flicker" is overall worthy of the recognition it has: an incredible effect, with a masterful soundtrack just as outstanding or even more so than the film. A must-see landmark in structuralism from the 60's.
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