Underground film

An underground film is a film that is out of the mainstream either in its style, genre, or financing.

Definition and history

The first printed use of the term "underground film" occurs in a 1957 essay by American film critic Manny Farber, "Underground Films." Farber uses it to refer to the work of directors who "played an anti-art role in Hollywood." He contrasts "such soldier-cowboy-gangster directors as Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, William Wellman," and others with the "less talented De Sicas and Zinnemanns [who] continue to fascinate the critics."[1] However, as in "Underground Press", the term developed as a metaphorical reference to a clandestine and subversive culture beneath the legitimate and official media.

In the late 1950s, "underground film" began to be used to describe early independent film makers operating first in San Francisco, California and New York City, New York, and soon in other cities around the world as well, including the London Film-Makers' Co-op in Britain and Ubu Films in Sydney, Australia. The movement was typified by more experimental filmmakers working at the time like Shirley Clarke [2] Stan Brakhage, Harry Everett Smith, Maya Deren, Andy Warhol [3], Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Ron Rice, Jack Smith, George and Mike Kuchar, and Bruce Conner.

By the late 1960s, the movement represented by these filmmakers had matured, and some began to distance themselves from the countercultural, psychedelic connotations of the word, preferring terms like avant-garde or experimental to describe their work.

Through 1970s and 1980s, however, "underground film" would still be used to refer to the more countercultural fringe of independent cinema. The term was embraced most emphatically by Nick Zedd and the other filmmakers associated with the New York-based Cinema of Transgression and No Wave Cinema of the late 1970s to early 1990s.

In the early 1990s, the legacy of the Cinema of Transgression carried over into a new generation, who would equate "underground cinema" with transgressive art, ultra-low-budget filmmaking created in defiance of both the commercialized versions of independent film offered by newly wealthy distributors like Miramax and New Line, as well as the institutionalized experimental film canonized at major museums. This spirit defined the early years of underground film festivals (like the New York Underground Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Boston Underground Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival, Hamilton Underground Film Festival, Toronto's Images Festival, and others), zines like Film Threat, as well as the works of filmmakers like Craig Baldwin, Jon Moritsugu, Carlos Atanes, Sarah Jacobson, and Bruce La Bruce. In London the Underground resurgence emerged as a movement of Underground cinema clubs which included the radical open access group the Exploding Cinema.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the term had become blurred again, as the work at underground festivals began to blend with more formal experimentation, and the divisions that had been stark ones less than a decade earlier now seemed much less so. If the term is used at all, it connotes a form of very low budget independent filmmaking, with perhaps transgressive content, or a lo-fi analog to post-punk music and cultures. Taking place in basements across America, underground film has long had difficulties in gaining mainstream acceptance.

A recent development in underground filmmaking can be observed through the Lower East Side based film production company ASS Studios. Founded in 2011 by writer Reverend Jen and filmmaker Courtney Fathom Sell, the group avoided most modern methods of production, choosing to shoot all of their work on an outdated Hi 8 format and usually with no-budget. Utilizing many New York based performers, their work generally contained camp elements and taboo themes. These films were commonly screened at venues & bars in and around New York City.[4][5]

360 Sound and Vision is a small independent film production company located in New York City that produces underground films in the science fiction and action genres. Its productions are The Glasses 2006, The Minority, Cybornetics 2012, The Face in the Wall, The Glasses 3D, and Cybornetics 2:Rise of the Cyborgs.[6]

Underground versus cult

The term "underground film" is occasionally used as a synonym for cult film. Though there are important distinctions between the two, a significant overlap between these categories is undeniable. The films of Kenneth Anger, for example, could arguably be described as underground, experimental and cult. The 2013 indie sci-fi Hyperfutura by James O'Brien is likewise an underground, experimental and cult film. However, a studio film like Heathers may have a cult following, but could not be accurately described as an underground film.

List of underground cinema figures


Further reading

  • Wheeler Winston Dixon, The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary History of 1960s American Experimental Cinema, Albany: SUNY UP, 1998.
  • Sheldon Renan, An introduction to the American underground film, New York : Dutton, 1967
  • Jack Sargeant, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema, London : Creation Books, 1997, 1999.
  • Jack Sargeant, Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression, London : Creation Books, 1995, 2000.
  • P Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant Garde 1943 - 1978, Galaxy Books, 1979
  • Jack Stevenson, Desperate Visions: Camp America ; London : Creation Books, 1996
  • Duncan Reekie, Subversion: The Definitive History of Underground Cinema  ; London : Wallflower Press 2007.

See also


  1. ^ Manny Farber, "Underground Films" (1957), in Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies (New York: Da Capo, 1998), 12–24; 12.
  2. ^ Underground Film: A Critical History|Underground Film Journal
  3. ^ The Black Hole Of The Camera: The Films Of Andy Warhol|Underground Film Journal
  5. ^ "Trolling the LES with Rev Jen". Vice.
  6. ^ "360 Sound and Vision's Lineup for 2014 Announced". dailydead.com.
  7. ^ 50 Underground Filmmakers Everyone Should Know-Flavorwire

External links

Boston Underground Film Festival

The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF) is an annual event held in the Boston area that specializes in alternative film and video. BUFF is the largest underground film festival in New England, spotlighting short films and feature-length films that would not otherwise find an audience. It was the only film festival in the world to give an award for "Most Effectively Offensive" films, an accolade it awarded from its inception until 2017; on the festival's twentieth anniversary, the award was retired and replaced with "Best First Feature Film," marking a shifting focus towards celebrating new voices in filmmaking.

Despite the festival's title, BUFF has not taken place in Boston proper since 2003. The 2004 festival was held mainly in Arlington, Massachusetts. In 2005, BUFF was held entirely in Somerville, Massachusetts. From 2006 on, BUFF has taken place entirely in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Although BUFF, as an organization, has hosted year round programming at various Boston venues (such as Space 242 in the South End, The Savant Project (now defunct) in Mission Hill and the Milky Way Lounge in Jamaica Plain), there seem to be no current plans to hold the festival in the City of Boston. Starting in 2016, the festival expanded operations to include a monthly screening series called Dispatches from the Underground at the Somerville Theatre Microcinema. The series screens "the ones that got away," highlighting films that weren't selected for the official festival, as well as occasional repertory titles and guest curated programs from other New England festivals, as well as traveling festivals.

BUFF is one of the longest continuously-running underground film festivals in the world, second only to Chicago Underground Film Festival.

Camp (1965 film)

Camp (1965) is a feature-length underground film directed by Andy Warhol in October 1965 at The Factory. The film stars Gerard Malanga, Baby Jane Holzer, Tally Brown, Mario Montez, Jack Smith, Paul Swan, Dorothy Dean, and Tosh Carillo.

Chicago Underground Film Festival

Chicago Underground Film Festival (CUFF), founded in 1994, occurs each spring at various venues in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Cinema of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression is a term coined by Nick Zedd in 1985 to describe a New York City-based underground film movement, consisting of a loose-knit group of like-minded artists using shock value and humor in their work. Key players in this movement were Zedd, Kembra Pfahler, John Waters, Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Casandra Stark, Beth B, Tommy Turner, Richard Kern, and Lydia Lunch, who in the late 1970s and mid-1980s began to make very low-budget films using cheap 8 mm cameras.

Zedd outlined his philosophy on the Cinema of Transgression in "The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto", published under the name Orion Jeriko in the zine The Underground Film Bulletin (1984–90).Cinema of Transgression continues to heavily influence underground filmmakers. In 2000, the British Film Institute showed a retrospective of the movement's work introduced by those involved in the production of the original video films.

Couch (film)

Couch (1964) is a feature-length underground film directed by Andy Warhol, and starring Gerard Malanga, Piero Heliczer, Naomi Levine, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, John Palmer, Baby Jane Holzer, Ivy Nicholson, Amy Taubin, Ondine, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac, Taylor Mead, Kate Heliczer, Rufus Collins, Joseph LeSeuer, Binghamton Birdie, Mark Lancaster, Gloria Wood, and Billy Name.

Horse (1965 film)

Horse is a 1965 underground film directed by Andy Warhol, written by Ronald Tavel, and starring Edie Sedgwick, Gregory Battcock, Tosh Carillo, Ondine, Norman Glick, Daniel Cassidy Jr., and Larry Latrae (Latreille). Warhol himself makes a cameo appearance in the film.A photo from Horse published in Parker Tyler's book Underground Film (Grove Press, 1969; reprint DaCapo Press, 1995) shows all the male performers dressed only in jockstraps.

L'Amour (film)

For the 1948 Roberto Rossellini film, see L'Amore (film).L'Amour (1973), also known as Andy Warhol's L'Amour, is an underground film written by Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol and directed by Morrissey and Warhol. The film, released on May 10, 1973, stars Patti D'Arbanville, Karl Lagerfeld, Donna Jordan, Michael Sklar, and Jane Forth.

Melbourne International Film Festival

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is an annual film festival held over three weeks in Melbourne, Australia. It was founded in 1952 and is one of the oldest film festivals in the world. MIFF is one of Melbourne's four major film festivals, in addition to the Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF), Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) and Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF). As of 2017, the festival's Artistic Director is Michelle Carey.

Melbourne Underground Film Festival

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) was formed out of disagreements over the content and running of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). When director Richard Wolstencroft's film Pearls Before Swine was not accepted by the Melbourne International Film Festival, Wolstencroft claimed it was because his film was too confrontational for the tastes of MIFF. As a response to the film's rejection by MIFF, Wolstencroft founded MUFF in 2000 as an alternative independent film festival, featuring mostly genre, controversial, transgressive and avant garde material. MUFF has been known for controversy with a screening of Bruce LaBruce's LA Zombie gaining worldwide attention including coverage in the New York Times. Over the years, the festival has been outspoken on the poor state of the Australia film industry and the need to make more local genre films, and has championed many issues of freedom of speech and outsider politics and ideas. The festival has also discovered (first world festival to show the work of) Australian directors like James Wan, Greg McLean, Scott Ryan, Spierig brothers, Stuart Simpson, Patrick Hughes, Andrew Traucki, Dave de Vries, David Nerlich, Neil McGregor, Mark Savage and many others. International Guests of MUFF have included Bruce LaBruce, Lloyd Kaufman, William Lustig, Ron Jeremy, American film director Chris Folino, Michael Tierney, Peter Christopherson, Jim Van Bebber, Bret Easton Ellis, Gene Gregorits, Terry McMahon and Geretta Geretta.

New York Underground Film Festival

Founded in 1994 by filmmakers Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) and Andrew Gurland, the New York Underground Film Festival was an annual event that occurred each March at Anthology Film Archives in New York City from 1994 through 2008. After Phillips and Gurland turned the festival over to programmer Ed Halter (now an author and occasional critic for the Village Voice), it became noted for documentary and experimental film programming, and occasionally courted controversy, particularly in its early years.

Some of these have included: premiering the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) documentary, Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys, in 1994; premiering a film in 1995 that accused Quentin Tarantino of plagiarism; being protested by Reverend Fred Phelps in 2002 (apparently for not choosing to show a film about Phelps); and premiering a theatrical version of Brad Neely's Harry Potter parody Wizard People, Dear Reader, which eventually led to action by Warner Brothers to suppress future theatrical performances of the work.

Nevertheless, though the festival has remained a small affair, and has little value as a market, its programming has attained a certain prestige, especially among younger or more experimental filmmakers. The first year showcased the work of Independent Animator Bill Plympton. The New York Times described the event " as a collection of love and independence".

In February 2008 the festival organizers announced that, instead of passing on the torch to a younger generation - as has been the tradition, the 15th festival would be the last. Instead two of the former organizers intend to create a new festival under the name Migrating Forms (taking the name from a film by James Fotopoulos).

Paris Underground (film)

Paris Underground, also known as Madame Pimpernel, is a 1945 film directed by Gregory Ratoff, and based on the memoir of the same title by Etta Shiber.

The film stars Constance Bennett and Gracie Fields as an American and an Englishwoman trapped in Paris when Nazi Germany invades in 1940, who rescue British airmen shot down in France and help them escape across the English Channel. This was also Bennett's only producing credit.

Alexandre Tansman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score (one of 21 nominations that year).

Robert Downey Sr.

Robert John Downey Sr. (born Robert Elias Jr.; June 24, 1936) is a retired American actor, director, producer, writer and cinematographer and the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. He is known for writing and directing the underground film Putney Swope, a satire on the New York Madison Avenue advertising world. According to film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon, Downey Sr.'s films during the 1960s were "strictly take-no-prisoners affairs, with minimal budgets and outrageous satire, effectively pushing forward the countercultural agenda of the day."

Six Underground (film)

Six Underground is an upcoming American vigilante action film directed by Michael Bay and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Dave Franco, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, and Ben Hardy. Bay produced the film with Reynolds, Dana Goldberg, David Ellison, his longtime partner Ian Bryce and Don Granger.

Soviet Parallel Cinema

Soviet Parallel Cinema, often referred to simply as Parallel Cinema, was an underground film movement in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The films made as part of the movement were noted for embracing amateur aesthetics and for "deliberately [refusing] to conform to professional standards."

Space (1965 film)

Space (1965) is an underground film directed by Andy Warhol, written by Ronald Tavel, and starring Edie Sedgwick, Gino Piserchio, Dorothy Dean, Ed Hennessey, singer-songwriter Eric Andersen, and Norman Levine. Unlike many of Warhol's other films made at The Factory, this film involved a moving camera, moving around the actors as they stood still.

The Weather Underground (film)

The Weather Underground is a 2002 documentary film based on the rise and fall of the American radical organization Weather Underground. Using much archive footage from the time as well as interviews with the Weathermen today, the film constructs a linear narrative of the organization and serves as a cautionary tale for current volatile times. The film, directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, won the audience choice award at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award in 2004.

Transgressive art

Transgressive art is art that aims to transgress; i.e. to outrage or violate basic morals and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used in this sense by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985. Zedd used it to describe his legacy with underground film-makers like Paul Morrissey, John Waters, and Kenneth Anger, and the relationship they shared with Zedd and his New York City peers in the early 1980s.

Underground (1995 film)

Underground (Serbian: Подземље / Podzemlje), is a 1995 comedy-drama film directed by Emir Kusturica, with a screenplay co-written by the director and Dušan Kovačević.

It is also known by the subtitle Once Upon a Time There Was One Country (Serbian: Била једном једна земља/Bila jednom jedna zemlja), which was the title of the 5-hour mini-series (the long cut of the movie) shown on Serbian RTS television.

The film uses the epic story of two friends to portray a Yugoslav history from the beginning of World War II until the beginning of Yugoslav Wars. The film was an international co-production with companies from Yugoslavia (Serbia), France, Germany, Czech Republic and Hungary. The theatrical version is 163 minutes long. In interviews, Kusturica stated that his original version ran for over 320 minutes, and that he was forced to cut it by co-producers.

Underground won the Palme d'Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. It was Kusturica's second such award after When Father Was Away on Business (1985). It went on to win other honours.

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