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Underground film

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Title: Underground film  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Experimental film, Cult film, Emit Snake-Beings, Jack Sargeant, Incredibly Strange Films
Collection: Experimental Film, Film Genres, Underground Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Underground film

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


  • Definition and history 1
  • Underground versus cult 2
  • List of underground cinema's figures 3
  • Further reading 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

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 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 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.[2][3]

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.[4]

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. 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's 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. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ [ // "360 Sound and Vision’s Lineup for 2014 Announced"] . 
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