The documentary begins with footage of a boy running around a garden. The boy's mother appears and disappears. The boy runs toward a fence or a tree. The boy is happy. The only interesting thing about this home movie is its colors (an alien blue and green) and ghostly blotches. The narrator and director of the documentary, Pip Chodorov, then says something like this: His dog peed on the film, which was stored in the garage for many years, and this is how his career in experimental film began. The delightful lightness of this opening is never lost, never shadowed, but persists to the end of the documentary.
One would expect a film that claims to be "A History of Experimental Film" to be heavy, to be exhaustive, to be long, to explain with academic language the short and strange films of Maya Deren, to denounce with Moses-like gravity the moral and artistic bankruptcy of Hollywood, to portray almost-unknown filmmakers (Robert Breer, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Peter Kubelka) as saints, as men who rejected the logic of the market to make films for the sake of films, for the sake of the imagination, and so on. Free Radicals does not take this path at all. It's by no means exhaustive, academic, heavy, or moralistic. It never mentions Hollywood or deifies unknown filmmakers who suffered for their art. All Chodorov wants to show, and the reason why this documentary is a pleasure to watch, is the joy and meaning a number of artists derived from making short and weird films.