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See also: art film - avant garde film - banned films - cult films - drug films - experimental film - exploitation film - erotic films - film - grotesque film - paracinema - pornographic film - transgression - underground film - violent films
The Cinema of Transgression
Related: punk rock - no wave - Andy Warhol - John Waters - Kenneth Anger - Lydia Lunch - Richard Kern - underground - Nick Zedd - Sonic Youth - Jack Sargeant
"If it's not transgressive, it's not underground. It has to be threatening the status quo by doing something surprising, not just imitating what's been done before." --Nick Zedd.
The term "transgressive films" was coined by Village Voice critic Amy Taubin in a review of Nick Zedd's feature-length, super-8 movie, They Eat Scum (1979). -- Joan Hawkins in Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste (2003), page 227
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 Nick Zedd, Kembra Pfahler, Jack Waters, 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.
An important essay outlining Zedd's philosophy on the Cinema of Transgression is the Cinema of Transgression Manifesto, published pseudonymously in the Underground Film Bulletin (1984-90).
Perhaps the most famous transgressive artist, Richard Kern, began making films in New York with actors Nick Zedd and Lung Leg. Some of them were videos for artists like the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth.
The Cinema of Transgression shares a legacy with underground film-makers Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, John Waters and Kenneth Anger. It evolved directly out of the New Cinema or No Wave Film movement, which was related to, and the cinematic extension of, the then thriving New York Punk and No Wave musical movements. Often, although by no means exclusively, musicians of the period, including Arto Lindsay, Pat Place, Klaus Nomi, and Lydia Lunch, acted in these films. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema of Transgression [Jan 2007]
Excellent article on transgressive cinema over at contemporary-magazine
Kaleem Aftab and Ian Stewart argue that film has a lot to tell us about current attitudes to transgression in art.
When European obscenity laws were liberalised in the late sixties and early seventies, countless auteurs wanted to push the boundaries off the map, with decidedly varying motives. Some bordered on pure prurience. Walerian Borowczyk was one of the world’s foremost avant-garde animators in the sixties; in 1977 he directed Emmanuelle ’77 and Behind Convent Walls. Others, however, mined gold in this new territory, or at least staked a claim to their own swath of ground. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) and Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses may be the best known taboo-busting films of the period, finding something worthwhile in the anonymous or obsessive character of the overexposed relationships of their protagonists. But there are other forgotten gems to unearth. In Claude Chabrol’s La Rupture (1970), pornography becomes a brainwashing device, which makes for interesting parallels with Kubrick’s infinitely less restrained A Clockwork Orange (1971). Dusan Makavejev, central to the Yugoslavian Black Wave, was one of cinema’s true anarchists, and his WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) is an insane blend of faux Communist propaganda and documentary footage of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Accumulator boxes, designed to capture libidinal Orgone energy. There are dozens of other auteurs who dabbled in the sexplicit in the seventies, from Godard (Numéro Deux) to Pasolini (Salo) to Miklos Jancso (Private Vices and Public Virtues), and some, like Jean Rollin and Radley Metzger, made their careers blending soft-focus erotica with quasi-artistic agendas.
In 1980 it all stopped. The last semi-serious (to be generous) attempt before the mid-nineties was Tinto Brass’s Caligula (1980), a misguided big-budget epic produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, with Fellini’s production designer, a Gore Vidal script, and the crème of English thespianism. It was a mammoth aesthetic and commercial failure, but the hardcore art film had gone mainstream. At the dawn of the home-video age, pornography was easy to find, and screen sex was no longer radical. Arthouse sex died out quickly.
It has recently been resurrected with a vengeance. Again, many of the films have a French connection. The seventies films seemed mainly concerned with obsession and the intersection of power and sexual relations. Now that Foucault has been digested, this connection is no revelation. In the past five years, films have been concerned with new definitions of sexuality, and defusing the erotic charge. While our inboxes fill up with junkmail images of skanky model shoots, these films are a kind of antidote: it’s anti-pornography, but not of the Andrea Dworkin variety. Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (1998) features an orgy of people pretending dementia; Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy (2001) refuses the airbrush and presents sex with carpet burn; Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) is literally auto-eroticism, where sexuality and the machine are welded together, Virilio’s speed fetish sexualised; Catherine Breillat’s Romance (1999) is a woman’s quest for sexual fulfilment directed with the froideur of Bresson; and Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001) presents sexuality in the non-erotic context of self-mutilation. Bertrand Bonello’s The Pornographer (2001) sums up the state of affairs: a philosophical pornographer, who felt his métier was a subversive political force in the seventies, grows weary of making films de cul on discovering his artistic goals are now at odds with the demands of the genre.
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