Underground Film Journal

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7 Cool Documentaries About Filmmakers

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 10, 2011

While there hasn’t been an explosion of documentaries made about the great underground filmmakers, the fact that any have been made about these groundbreaking, but still mostly obscure to the general public, directors seems like a great accomplishment.

These seven documentaries listed below are all available for easy viewing on DVD or VOD, which is more than can be said for many of the subjects’ actual movies.

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, dir. Mary Jordan. (Amazon | Netflix) Jack Smith is one of the most complicated figures in underground film history, but Jordan’s documentary provides an in-depth portrait of this reclusive artist who ended up alienating his closest friends and most ardent supporters. Turning his back on the film world after directing one of the most notorious movies ever made, Flaming Creatures, Smith would go on to be an admired performance artist who would act sporadically in others’ art films.

In the Mirror of Maya Deren

In the Mirror of Maya Deren, dir. Martina Kudl├ícek. (Amazon | Netflix) It wasn’t just Maya Deren‘s films that made her one of the most influential filmmakers in the underground filmmaking world, though those didn’t hurt. (Her first film was 1943’s Meshes of the Afternoon.) It was also her aggressive writing, workshopping and publicizing of herself and her theories on avant-garde filmmaking. Sadly, she died in 1961 at the age of 44 before she could truly see the amazing ’60s underground film boom that she helped usher in.

Notes on Marie Menken

Notes on Marie Menken, dir. Martina Kudl├ícek. (Amazon | Netflix) Out of all the underground filmmakers who’ve had a documentary made about them, Menken is probably the most obscure. Yet, she was a tremendously supportive, admired and beloved figure to peers such as Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger and Jonas Mekas. Like Deren, Menken only made a handful of short films before an early death (1970), but her impact on the underground movement can’t be understated.


Brakhage, dir. Jim Shedden. (Amazon | Netflix) Stan Brakhage had a long life (1933-2003) and made hundreds of films over the course of it. His output and career is legendary and thanks to snazzy anthology DVDs put out by Criterion, a wide audience can experience his truly visionary work. While this documentary serves as a good introduction to who the man behind the films was, the real Stan Brakhage was such a complicated figure, his life and career could serve as the subject of several more docs.

It Came From Kuchar

It Came From Kuchar, dir. Jennifer M. Kroot (Amazon | Netflix) The “Kuchar” of the title refers to twin filmmaking brothers George and Mike, who started out making loving parodies of Hollywood epics together in their Bronx neighborhood when they were kids in the 1950s. Eventually, though, they would go their own ways: George became an influential film professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, while Mike became a spiritual wanderer. But, they’ve never stopped making films and Kroot’s documentary is a loving portrait of this iconoclastic directing duo.

Divine Trash

Divine Trash, dir. Steve Yeager. (Amazon | Netflix) Yeager focuses mostly on the production of John Waters‘ filthiest movie, Pink Flamingos, but still provides a nice portrait of the early days of the eccentric and highly influential director. At a time when the underground was moving towards more structural and abstract work, Waters carried on the tradition by rebels against good taste like Jack Smith and the Kuchar brothers, creating midnight movie masterpieces that are still beloved for their rank offensiveness and nose-thumbing at the cultural elite.

I Am Ugly and Want to Die

I Am Ugly and I Want to Die, dir. Bob Moricz (Etsy) Most filmmakers wait to have a lengthy career, then hope some other filmmaker will make a hagiographic documentary about their lives. Not Bob Moricz, who’s already directed dozens of short films and features. Instead, Moricz turns the camera on himself for some good ol’ fashioned soul searching and explanations of his craft.

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