City Lights – Amy Taubin on “New York, 1962–1964: Underground and Experimental Cinema”

Shirley Clarke, The Cool World, 1963, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 125 minutes.

“An utterly amazing, and necessary series, ‘New York, 1962–1964: Underground and Experimental Cinema,’ curated by Thomas Beard and Dan Sullivan at New York’s Film at Lincoln Center, comprises twelve programs of movies—short ones, long ones, and ones in between—all made by filmmakers living and working in New York in those years, all of them programmed at the time by the late Jonas Mekas at the peripatetic Filmmakers Cinematheque, all of them at least mentioned by Mekas in hisVillage Voice ‘Movie Journal’ column, and almost all of them at one time or another distributed by the Filmmakers Cooperative. It was a world that few people knew existed beyond the filmmakers themselves, their good friends, and some devotees like me and my then-husband, the theater writer-director Richard Foreman. The two of us had wandered into a screening at the Charles Theatre on Avenue B in the late 1950s and, figuratively speaking, never left. People often ask me what it was like to see underground films in the early ’60s, and I always say that, most of the time, there weren’t many people in the audience, but I almost always saw something that excited me and changed what I thought a movie could be. I had always loved movies, but these were different. I can still feel their radical difference today, even as the internet and phone cameras have made the category of ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’ ridiculously overpopulated. Perhaps one of the ways to define that difference is by the sense of risk one felt in these movies. You were aware that film was expensive, and it was a gamble every time you exposed a frame of 16 mm or 8 mm. You had to have a vision, stick to it, and then make what you ended up with cohere in a form that perhaps no one had ever seen before. These works were film-specific at a moment when the aesthetic of medium specificity had permeated every genre of artmaking. And because they are medium-specific, you haven’t really seen them if you’ve only watched them on YouTube or UbuWeb, where most of them look and sound like shit. …”
A Series Spotlights NY’s Underground Art and Cinema in the Early 1960s (Video)
NY Times: An Avant-Garde Film That Went for Laughs Instead of Scandal (J. Hoberman)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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