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Underground Film Links: December 9, 2012

Portrait of film historian Sheldon Renan
  1. This week’s Must Read: A rare interview with one of the unsung legends of underground film research, history and promotion, Sheldon Renan, the author of the essential An Introduction to the American Underground Film and the “father” of several arts films centers in the U.S. that are still going strong.
  2. Jonas Mekas is set to turn 90 in just a few weeks and he’s having one of his biggest years ever with the DVD release of most of his films (unfortunately in all-region PAL format) and major retrospectives/showings in England and France. So, first, the Guardian has an incredible and incredibly lengthy article on the man who all owe such a debt to.
  3. Next, BBC Radio has an audio interview with Mekas.
  4. Fandor has posted a fantastic list of films most in need of restoration. Of course, I agree with Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, but I like they also included the obscure films of Tony Buba. His Lightning Over Braddock is a film that’s stuck with me in bits and pieces ever since seeing it back in film school.
  5. Cineaste reviews two new books about Andy Warhol’s films — Douglas Crimp’s Our Kind of Movie and J.J. Murphy’s Black Hole of the Camera — and ends up preferring the more queer-oriented take on the films. Reviewer Michael Sicinski, I think, gets lots of things wrong about Murphy’s approach, such as not getting his personalized interpretation, which is fairly clear from the outset.
  6. ArtForum posts John Waters’ annual list of the year’s best movies, which are usually ones you wouldn’t expect.
  7. 366 Weird Movies considers Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend.
  8. Bob Moricz groans about the need for archiving one’s own material, but more importantly, frets about the loss of media ownership, which I think is a strong point. Plus, Happy Krampus!
  9. Waylon Bacon finally reveals what he’s been working on: A creepy music video. We can’t wait!
  10. Not underground: Here’s a funny because it’s sickeningly true list of ways the Hollywood media speaks. Why I think this is important to read is because how this kind of jibber-jabber creeps into “real world” speak.
  11. Also not underground: My friend Bob Greenberger has some chipper advice for the freelance writer in the Internet age. I agree with him, but the more pessimistic side has severe doubts about the lousy economics of the web for the “little guy.”

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  • Hi Mike!

    The other three regional film centers founded with NEA money, thanks to Sheldon Renan’s persistence, persuasiveness and vision, are not in the Northwest. I’m sorry – you are right, the way I wrote it it seems that way. They are regional film centers in the sense that each are intended to cultivate film love in a specific region.

    Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley
    Northwest Film Center at Portland Art Museum in Portland
    Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts Auxiliary
    The Gene Siskel Film Center, formerly The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and commonly referred to as The Film Center or The Gene Siskel, attached to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    All began as a result of Sheldon’s activism during his time as a panel member ( I believe 1970 – 1972) on the first NEA funding panel for media.


  • Hello Mike,

    Thank you for drawing attention to my review of the Warhol books in Cineaste.

    As for getting certain things wrong about J.J. Murphy’s book, I suppose I’d like to invite you to be more specific, since your comment simply makes the assertion and moves on. (And I’m sorry for the lack of timeliness on my part. I was only just made aware of your link.)

    I can appreciate that Crimp’s book is more “queer” (and, in some senses, more academic) than Murphy’s. And this in itself may rankle some readers, especially those more prone to allegiance with Murphy because of his background as a filmmaker. (I’m not saying you fit this description — I don’t really know — but that a lot of people do.)

    But as I tried to make clear, I had trouble with Murphy’s tendency to elevate certain Warhol films, and denigrate others, based on criteria that often seemed to have little to do with their aesthetic achievement, or their place in the corpus, and a lot to do with the particular appeal or repulsion of the Superstars and/or the sex acts those films featured. And often, as I tried to note, this bias on Murphy’s part was a heterosexual one. If this is what you call a “personalized interpretation,” that’s fine. But at the risk of wearying you, every personal preference has its political dimension, especially when it’s left implicit and unexamined.

    I don’t expect everyone to share my viewpoint on this. But I contend that it is valid, and waving it away as “wrong” is rather feeble.

    • Hey Michael,

      First, these links round-ups are meant to be “blurby” and, when writing them, I’m trying to make a quick observation that, I concede, when re-reading them months later, especially when I’m making a criticism, those criticisms read more intensely than when I conceived them.

      Particularly, in this case, using the word “wrong” sounds more like I’m condemning your review and not that I just thought that I didn’t understand something.

      By “wrong,” I meant that you wrote:

      “Murphy’s focus is hardly neutral, something the author never exactly announces to the reader.”

      Yet, right in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments, which occurs in the beginning of the book, Murphy states:

      “[Warhol’s films] influenced me enormously, and, in retrospect were clearly determining factors in my wanting to become a filmmaker.”

      He then continues writing about his personal experiences with Warhol’s crew and viewing the films from a fan point of view. To me, that completely colored where Murphy was coming from throughout the entire book. Although, perhaps it’s because Murphy doesn’t repeat that assertion much (if at all) that it feels as though he isn’t “announcing” his non-neutral position.

      I also didn’t quite understand your reading that Murphy’s description of John Giorno in Sleep as coming from a place of “adamant distaste.” The description sounds rather neutral to me, but I guess I see how that’s a matter of interpretation.