Underground Film Journal
More » Underground Film News

INCITE!: Filling The Void

INCITE! is billed as the Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics, so it’s a kindred spirit to the Underground Film Journal. INCITE! exists as an online journal as well as having a actual 147-page printed edition. While I’ve browsed, and enjoyed, the INCITE! website, editor Brett Kashmere was also kind enough to send me a copy of the first paperback version that I recently read every single word of.

The articles for the first issue of INCITE! are on the longish side, so, for me personally, they make for better reading on paper, which is why I was so thrilled to get a copy. (My aching eyes thank me every time I go do something off-line.) My own favorite pieces are the substantial interviews with Canadian experimental filmmaker Karl Lemieux and the San Francisco legend Craig Baldwin. INCITE No. 1 has been out for awhile, but if you haven’t read those pieces, go do so now.

There’s lots of other good articles in INCITE No. 1, including manifestos, histories and theorizing, and the first issue has proved successful enough that issue No. 2 is currently on its way and will include interviews with Michael Robinson, Cory Arcangel and Aleesa Cohene; and pieces by Ryan Tebo, Jenny Perlin, Noam Gonick and more. Exciting stuff.

What I really wanted to draw attention to in this article, though, was the INCITE! introductory piece written by Kashmere, where he bemoans the lack of coverage of modern experimental filmmakers in art and film journals. It’s a situation that I, too, find dispiriting and completely baffling. Kashmere rightly identifies the literal explosion of alternative or — in the parlance of this particular web journal — underground media and how amazingly accessible all of this new work is online and at microcinemas all over the world, yet it exists in an almost total critical, analytical and appreciative vacuum. The most telling bit in Kashmere’s article is this particular sentence:

Those daring spirits who continue to make it new in the artisanal, non-commercial traditions of experimental film and video have been left with fewer instruments of publicity and analysis.

To me, this situation is even more puzzling especially in these days of quick and easy online publishing. When I started to write exclusively about underground film almost four years ago, I — like Kashmere — recognized the need to fill a void of critical study of alternative media. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how vast that void is.

There’s a very appreciative audience for non-commercial media out there just based on my own limited experience of screening attendance and personal on-going dialogues I have with filmmakers and film festival directors. Yet, although there are reports of over a hundred million blogs in existence today, it seems that it’s possible to count the ones devoted to the critical analysis of modern alternative media on one hand — and a hand that’s missing a few fingers at that.

I’ve puzzled over why this situation might be many times over the year, but can’t come up with any answers. The best I can reason begins with what Kashmere discusses about the lack of the major journals covering modern underground filmmakers. In the online world, it’s sort of a reverse trickle-down effect where the big film sites don’t cover or provide seriously limited coverage of modern non-commercial media, so the little sites don’t see the point of covering it either. Why write about a subject that other websites aren’t going to link to you about? Why bother when there’s no public discussion network to plug into to hash about underground media with like-minded writers, critics and theorists?

The pleasures of producing┬áthe Underground Film Journal happens almost exclusively off of the site: Exchanging private emails with filmmakers and festival programmers, discussing films via Facebook comments with people I’ve met exclusively through the site, Tweeting replies back-and-forth with underground film folk. Not to mention the great movies I get sent to me or directed towards online. That’s the private joy because the the public discussion is practically non-existent.

So, that’s why I wanted to give a very public shout out and give some enthusiastic support to INCITE!, its editor Brett Kashmere and the journal’s contributors. I could have just sent Kashmere a private email on Facebook thanking and congratulating him, but we need more public discourse on modern avant-garde, experimental and underground media. Brett: Thank you for helping make the void that much smaller.


Underground Film Feedback (5 comments)

  • I think that if there was more coverage of “underground” or “experimental” film the appealing elements of the “genre” (if it can be called that) could very well trickle into “mainstream” films thus improving the overall quality, artistry and content of those films.

    The market and/or availability and creation of “underground” and “experimental” films would also exponentially increase as more would-be “underground” filmmakers realize they don’t need to go commercial to get recognition or find an audience.

    • One of the problems, which has pretty much always and continues to exist, is that lack of exposure and discussion prevents a larger audience from appreciating what an underground film is all about. “Success” in film is pretty much defined by technical and financial achievement. Although, technical achievement comes first. Audiences expect films to look and behave a certain way, instead of appreciating the artistic intentions first.

      One of the things that drives me nuts when I invariably read a review of an underground film on a mainstream website is that the reviewer has to explain first that the film under discussion is “underground” in order to set up in the reader’s mind that the film is somehow inferior to mainstream films, yet can still be enjoyable if one looks past its technical limitations.

  • There is certainly some “education” (or disclaimer?) that is required to appreciate any art form that challenges what the audience may be used to. However, I do believe that it is the filmmaker’s responsibility to ensure that what or how they are presenting their work (technical limitations included) does not detract from what they are expecting the audience to glean from it.

    I imagine that most artists refer to their own work in a way that is intended to “educate” the audience (to some extent) before the work is viewed by calling it an “art film” or “experimental” or “underground” when asked to describe it.

    I can’t think of a time when I saw a film (underground or mainstream) without knowing, at least, a little bit about what I was going to see. And I think that reviewers may have a responsibility to their audiences to make sure they understand the film under discussion. In fact your website itself is called “The Journal of Underground Film” which immediately allows any reader to know what they are getting themselves into when they stumble across your site.

    I do, wholeheartedly, agree that lack of exposure definitely prevents a larger audience from appreciating the finer points of underground film and interestingly this has had a trickle-up effect (I think) on the independent film “industry” in general. In the 90’s there was a ton of coverage of the “hot new indies” and they did booming business. But when the coverage and exposure went away, so did the box office and now we are left with what we have.

    • Any review of any film is going to contain an (hopefully) accurate description of the film. For example, no reviewer is going to analyze, say, Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight in terms of character motivation. And to review Mothlight by comparing it to, say, James Cameron’s Avatar in terms of budget and scope is equally pointless. Yet, I see dumb shit like that all the time.

      Recently, there’s a modern underground sci-fi film that I love and admire that I read a review of on a mainstream site where all the reviewer could do was compare the underground film to Kubrick’s 2001, when in fact those two films share absolutely nothing in common in plot, themes, characters or anything. I don’t care if the reviewer didn’t like the film, but that comparison was idiotic.

      A mainstream reviewer may have to describe an underground film by its budget limitations or acting style, which is fine, but typically when I see that done it’s almost in a condescending way, like the film is good in spite of not having a technical polish.

      And what’s also interesting to me as I write this is that this little back and forth we’re having, I never read any type of similar discussion via competing blog posts among various sites. I see back and forth all the time between film sites because I read a lot of them, but its never about undergrounds.

  • I would completely agree with you regarding the current state of film criticism ( so-called “reviewers” on so-called “film” sites) and film discussion but would go one further and say that most (by ‘most’ I don’t mean 51%, I mean 95% or more) reviewers, ESPECIALLY on-line reviewers, have absolutely no business reviewing films and fail on every level whether it be references to the technical merits or the substance and content of the film. Most of the time, they just don’t ‘get it’ be it underground or mainstream.

    In all fairness though, the current state of filmmaking (mainstream, independent or underground) is in just as bad condition as the state of criticism. Many filmmakers have no idea how to overcome the budgetary limitations or technical limits that are available to them and expect the audience (and reviewers) to make a leap of faith and ignore serious and distracting issues with the production. And many filmmakers have no idea how to (or no desire to) handle theme, subtext, character or any of the other subtle components that go into making a worthwhile film. They simply “paint by numbers”.

    You do raise a question that I often have though: Should there be different expectations for a $10,000 movie than for a $1,000,000 or $10,000,000 movie? And should the $10,000 movie get a ‘pass’ on some of the areas (picture, sound, effects, etc) where it might not be able to ‘compete’ with a $10mil picture? Are there enough examples of micro movies exceeding these limitations that those expectations should apply? The movie “Primer” comes to mind. If that movie can be made for $9,000 (as reported) shouldn’t every $9,000 movie be able to succeed in achieving the same level of ‘quality’ (at least achieving the filmmakers intended level of quality).

    I guess I have to disagree with you that you think a movie being described as “the film is good in spite of not having a technical polish” is condescending. I think that indicates a certain level of triumph for the filmmaker. A validation that there are parts of the movie that are so good (story, plot, theme, character etc) that they transcend the limitations. So many times I see people write about how all they want to see is a ‘good movie’ and don’t care if it’s on film or video or looks ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they just want a good story or characters, but so many times those statements are false. Now if the filmmaker can take those limitations and apply them effectively, turn them into positives (verite, for example), for the film, then you have something really, really special.

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *