Wednesday, January 18, 2012

BOOK REVIEW! THE NEW AMERICAN CINEMA, a critical anthology edited by Gregory Battcock (Dutton, 1967)

Ever since I developed an interst in film as something other'n what the tee-vee stations would air in order to fill up time between network feeds, just about every aspect of history and perhaps even style of cinematic blunderment has graced my ever-shiny beanie. And naturally the underground or avant garde if you will cinema had caught my attention ever since I began prowling through film books, making me want to glom loads of mooms that certainly weren't being made available via my local tee-vee outlets. Of course actually being able to appreciate such films back in the seventies and eighties wasn't exactly an easy enough task...I remember when trying to see something along the lines of, say, SCORPIO RISING meant a trip to a distant college campus for a rare Wednesday night showing in some cramped classroom (usually during a winter month on the snowiest night of the year). Thankfully, with the advent of home entertainment and video trading it has become possible for even somebody like myself who's way outta the hot and chi-chi loop to view such items as these old underground films but way back then the best thing that I could hope for was that some local college branch'd maybe have an evening of everything from twenties dada/surrealist shorts of forties innovation up through sixties breakthrough when even the likes of TIME 'n' NEWSWEEK saw a hot story when it bit 'em on the ass. Or better yet hope that maybe PBS'd get the brains to run something innocuous yet still within the avant realm like an early James Broughton short to fill up the time between the ten o' clock documentary and the captioned ABC news repeats they used to sign off with.

Therefore,  THE NEW AMERICAN CINEMA is a handy book when it comes to disseminating info about the mid-sixties underground film explosion, not as handy as Parker Tyler's own book or some of the other collections that were popping up from the sixties onwards, but good enough if you wanna fill in some of the myriad assortment of blanks that might have popped up in your mind. Mainly a collection of essays that appeared in all of those "important" publications I'm sure every high school phony intellectual's scarf up in order to impress someone that he wasn't the noodge everyone has him pegged as, THE NEW AMERICAN CINEMA has a wide array of writers (all coming outta the same channel of new hip Amerigan thought) who, in twenty-plus chapters, all have the same message to zap right into your unaware suburban button down plastic mind. Naturally these tomes all have that brainy, allegedly witty, allegorical and at times obtuse in its flowery style that you don't what the hell you're reading, but at least you can sift through the references to Greek Philosophers and the bloated nature of Hollywood and find something concrete regarding whatever hotcha mid-sixties underground filmmaker you'd choose to research.

Of course that's the problem when say, you'd like to know more about Gregory Markopoulos and you'd like a concrete filmography and descriptions of his work in a way that a ten year old would understand, but I guess you have to put up with the likes of Susan Sontag dredgin' up some of the most intellectual gobbledygook ever in order to lay on the line just what it is 'bout Jack Smith's FLAMING CREATURES that makes it such a powerful and evocative film. Well, at least I haven't come across the word "redolent" yet, but that doesn't mean it's not gonna pop up within the next closer reading since sometimes my mind skips a few words when it gets so late at night...

What I woulda liked to have read was something a whole lot more "concrete", like how did Markopoulos' "in camera editing" work, or just what exactly was PULL MY DAISY (which you'd never know was a neat li'l personal film dealing with the meeting of some of the bigger beats of the fifties narrated by the biggest one of 'em all!)...most of this reminds me of that old comedy gag from the twenties and thirties where the stereotypical fake intellectual black guy spouts loads of big words (some even with actual meaning!) at his audience of old black men in a meeting room who react in righteous "amens", when all the while what we ALL could use is some plain talk without the socia/political aspects as to what we are about to receive! I will say that reading something like Carl Linder's notes for his debut film THE DEVIL IS DEAD made for wonderful reading, but if someone had only bothered to give me a shot-by-shot like has been done with everything from UN CHIEN ANDALOU to SCORPIO RISING I sure woulda appreciated it especially since there's no way that I'm gonna be catching this on youtube any day soon. But I still am hoping.

If you saw 'em all this'll make a good toothpick, but the rest of us lumpen proles need something a lot different, like a big book with lotsa shiny pix and large print and solid descriptions/appreciations. Since that moment has long gone all we're gonna get are textbook lessons and rheumy reminiscences, which might do a lotta good for Jill Johnson if she hasn't dyked herself outta existence but does practually nada for curious cubes like myself!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SCORPIO RISING, FLAMING CREATURES and PULL MY DAISY can be viewed and downloaded at ( and )