Beneath New York: The formations and effects of canons in American underground film movements

Beneath New York: The formations and effects of canons in American underground film movements

Mark Drew Benedetti

Language: English

Pages: 345

ISBN: 2:00181354

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This dissertation examines the development and transformation of alternative cultural formations by analyzing the relationships between cultural values, affects, practices of everyday life, and canons in such formations. Specifically, it examines two film-centered cultural formations in New York City-the 1960s underground cinema and 1970s No Wave Cinema-by theorizing them as "undergrounds" cultural movements manifesting the structure and organization of subcultures with some of the goals and values of avant-gardism. It describes the ways that these formations developed formal and informal institutions and regimes of value, regimes based in foundational ways on the valorization of affect and everyday life. It analyzes ways in which those institutions and regimes were articulated to alternative and/or oppositional cultural, social, and political values and perspectives, and how they were also articulated to hegemonic values, perspectives, and institutions. These latter articulations emerge clearly in the canonization process, a process that each formation underwent in different ways. The dissertation examines these canonization processes, their relationships with the formations' regimes of value, and their effects on the historical development of the formations. It demonstrates the ways in which canonization, frequently understood as an inherently hegemonic, conservative process, has multiple effects on underground cultural formations, directing tastes and facilitating cooptation while also encouraging continued underground cultural practice and aiding in the introduction of such work, practices, and regimes of value to new audiences. By examining underground cultural formations through the lens of the canon, the dissertation rethinks conventional ideas about the ways hegemonic forces appropriate or incorporate alternative and oppositional cultural movements, rethinking the received historiographies of such movements, the ways in which conceptions of belonging and mappings of difference are constructed by and for underground formations, and the lessons canonization processes teach us about the role of culture in social and political opposition.

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first generation of U.K. punk) are not in fact from working class backgrounds, yet they still do little work to articulate their subcultural practices to oppositional social or political groups. 65 positions as resistant in a number of different ways, this articulation of conflicting political positions to the same subcultural formation is only possible if we separate out groups organized socially or politically from those organized subculturally rather than conflating them. What Willis’ case

number of queer filmmakers, including Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, and others, played crucial roles in the underground cinema. While not all of their films engaged explicitly with sexuality, queer or otherwise, a consistent focus on sexuality marks much of the work of these filmmakers. Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) represents the sexualized body of the male biker, cutting together shots of its main character Scorpio preening with glamorous images of James Dean and Marlon Brando,

Foundation Grants to underground filmmakers. After the restructuring, the NAC was only responsible for the FMC, whose income was largely reliant on Cinematheque rentals and further donations from Hill and others (Kreul 299). While these financial restructurings suggest a degree of professionalization of the underground’s institutions, they in fact allowed a greater degree of freedom from the professional film world by severing institutional income from conventional, commercial revenue streams.

the astonishment at Mekas’s ability to open a new institution amidst so much debt is perhaps misguided, it should not be forgotten that Mekas wanted to shut the FDC down anyway in the name of amateurism.85 Further, the personal and professional tensions between Mekas and Shirley Clarke were exacerbated by Mekas’s complete exclusion of Clarke from the new Cinematheque; Rabinovitz reports that Clarke “learned about her former partner’s plans by reading about them in the newspaper” (Points of

structural film” (“After Avant-Garde Film” 65). However, a look through the list itself problematizes the idea that structural film and its perceived formalism were some kind of guiding principles for the list. Of the 86 filmmakers included in the first list, only 5 (Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow, and George Landow) are generally regarded as primarily structural filmmakers.96 Further, those 5 filmmakers are responsible for only 15 of the approximately 300 films included

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