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Underground Film’s Rich History: Bringing The Past Alive Online

Underground film is all around us online. It’s just buried in the nooks and crannies of the Internet, which is, of course, why it’s thought of being underground. For example, you can find underground films listed in the Internet Movie Database, but you won’t find trivia questions or quotes or pictures of them listed on the homepage. Wikipedia has entries for underground films and filmmakers — some I’ve written myself — but how would you know how to find them unless you already knew about them to search for their names?

This is why I think it’s important to build up an underground film loop in 2010. The more we can make each other visible and provide valuable information on the oddball and the obscure, the more chances underground films will float by casual, Internet-surfing audiences.

And audiences who are new to underground film may become interested in the form’s history. But, that’s where things become problematic. Underground film has never had its history adequately covered online in a cohesive fashion, by any one website or multiple. Oh, one can piece together a history and find examples to watch of older underground films — “old” meaning 5 or 50 years ago — if one knows how to run proper searches, but putting those pieces together to form a big picture is difficult.

However, the good news is that recently there are several sources working to correct this situation. Piecing together a history through the web of the Internet is becoming easier. People are crafting filmographies and histories and link databases of underground films and filmmakers. There’s a real interest out there to have the underground film scene properly documented, cataloged and referenced.

This work — and I’ll have examples below — is in its infancy stage, but it’s very encouraging to see so many people interested in history and not just endlessly chasing the “new” thing. It’s a cliché, but to see where we’re going, we should know where we’ve been.

So, if you need to do research on underground film, here are some good places to visit:

  1. Underground Film Guide. Yeah, I’m going to start by plugging myself. I don’t write about the UFG very often since I don’t update it all that often. Unfortunately, the Underground Film Journal eats up most of my spare Internet time. Also, I’ll admit the format kind of blows, but this is my attempt to create an IMDB-style website just for underground filmmakers, with pages for films and filmmakers.
  2. Experimental Cinema’s Wiki. Experimental Cinema proper has lots of great news and event information, but the site also houses a very nice Wiki for underground film. If you go to the site and you know what to search for, there’s a lot of great research and info to be found within for films and filmmakers.
  3. Making Light of It filmmaker profiles. Jacob has only just begun, but he’s been compiling some fantastic profile pages for filmmakers that include filmographies, brief biographical data and extremely comprehensive links to other website. So far, there’s only Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baillie, Nathaniel Dorsky, Ernie Gehr and a few others. I’m very excited to see who he keeps adding.
  4. Flicker’s artist page. There’s a long list of filmmakers listed on that page that includes either links to their official websites or to biography pages housed on the Flicker website. It’s a great resource if you’re just casually looking for a new filmmaker to learn about.
  5. UBUWEB. This is the granddaddy of us all with pages on dozens of avant-garde filmmakers that include brief biographical overviews, as well as tons of embedded videos with detailed descriptions. This site is like a never-ending online film festival of the avant-garde.

Personally, I’d like to eventually see a comprehensive online timeline of underground film, as enormous an undertaking that would be. But, I really think something like that would serve the community well. In the meantime, it’s great to see all this data being compiled. I think the challenge now is to keep compiling this data and somehow find a way to make it more cohesive and engaging for a wider audience.

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  • Jacob W. says:

    Thanks for the words, ideally I would liked to be involved in something like a more in-depth/expansive version of what McCarney:


    has done, with complete filmographies, stills, letters, film notes, lectures, screening transcripts, essays etc. etc. etc., though access to the materials would obviously be the biggest hurdle. I think Anthology Archives may be heading in this direction though…

    • Thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen McCarney’s site before. That’s a more in-depth version of what I would like the Underground Film Guide to be.

      I really wish I had been as in-depth into this stuff when I lived in NYC because, as I understand it, the Anthology has an extensive collection of journals, books, magazines, festival programs, etc. I’d be there constantly doing research. And I wish there were some way to bring their collection online somehow.

      I’ve really been inspired by my current AFI research job and wish I could bring the same thing to the underground world. Maybe someday, which is why I wrote this article. If we all stick our heads together and combine our own research, we can really build something together.

  • Andrew says:

    This is a nice post that slipped under my rss radar; however, I somehow subconsciously began to pursue this same sort of “underground film loop” community identity thing, starting with the css I was tweaking for dinca.org (right-bottom .div).

    I propose this simple concept: To better establish, and brand, an underground film community, we will design a simple graphical .html badge for embedding purposes … a start.

    Underground film sites that are ripe, perpetually active, and of integrity will be invited to the community, i.e., they embed the badge on their site. Clicking this badge will send the visitor to a community portal, a portal where RSS feeds will import into a brilliant typographic grid, displaying each site’s most recent 10 articles in text form. In addition to that, there will be a section of featured articles for each site. Furthermore, there will be links to underground filmmakers’ websites and others of note.

    I’m down to design the logo and the css. Let’s start this discussion, build this bitch, and establish this shit.

    – AR

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