Creative Constraints

I find the main difference between Surrealists and Oulipians to be the control of their respective experimentation processes. In the Oulipo movement, there is usually a known structure, but a mathematic (such as the N+7 Method) or concrete constraint is placed on a structured framework. Constraints often help writers or filmmakers who have writer’s block. Surrealists are far more experimental and risky in their work–they are not given restrictions or a framework.

Also, the ideas of creative freedom vary significantly within each movement. Oulipians often have restrictions or “challenges” in their work, while Surrealists take their chance at randomness and fate. Oulipian works are often “re-creations” compared to “new creations.” Both movements were revolutionary and both offer a fresh look to a final product.

I have definitely seen constraints as stimulating in my experience. I personally find film experimentation and problem solving, especially within film, very interesting. When there is a challenge at hand, watching experts, such Jørgen Leth, find ways get around challenges is entertaining and brings that fresh feel to the film. As Philipsen says in her essay on constraints within film, “[constraints are] also a significant “tool” for the simple reason that it adds something to the tabula rasa; it gets you started. If some conditions are predefined, then the filmmakers do not have to work everything out from scratch.” Constraints allow an artist to begin with a framework of what to work with.

It is seen in The Five Obstructions that Leth has to create a re-make of his The Perfect Human film as punishment for not following von Trier’s guidelines. Creating something entirely knew is much more difficult of a process compared to using constraints. There is evidence here that constraints are much more entertaining than the new work. The class voted that Leth’s film without constraints or instruction was much more boring than the others. To me, it seemed slow and just was not eye catching.

The idea of using constraints is ironic within itself. One is restricted, but in a way, the restriction opens up doors in terms of creativity.  In The Five Obstructions film, Leth states that it is much easier when von Trier gives him the restrictions, rather than having full freedom. The film also exemplifies the idea of the psychological constraint. Leth’s emotions are displayed while filming in India, which I found to be an interesting twist in the idea of constraints. Finally, the metafiction within the film was creative. To have scenes within scenes in the final 5th film was enjoyable. I enjoyed the film and look forward to passing it on to friends.


Works Cited:

Philipsen, Heidi, Constraints in Film Making Processes Offer an Exercise to the Imagination, 2009.


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