Uncovered: 1995 New York Underground Film Festival Picks
I’ve remarked a couple of times on the site in the past that there’s little to no reference sources online for the first two New York Underground Film Festivals, held in 1994 and 1995. The official NYUFF website has had its archives offline for, I think, over a year now. If you go to their site, they simply direct you to what’s available on the site Archive.org. (And, from my own experience, it’s a safe bet not to assume your stuff will be on Archive.org forever — it can really vanish at any minute.)
At Archive.org, the NYUFF archives only go back to 1996. I don’t know if the fest had a web presence those first two years or not, but whether they were ever there, the optimum point is that they’re not there now and probably never will be. And my own personal assumption is that they never were online. Even if you go to Wikipedia, they have lineups for all the fests, except for the first two years. And I’ve only been archiving underground film festival lineups on the Underground Film Journal since 2006, so I’m no help.
I believe a pertinent question at this point, also, is: Who really gives shit what films played at a film festival in 1995? Well, I think it’s important for historical reasons, particularly in determining the evolution of the term “underground film” from the 1950s to the present. Thanks to Nick Zedd‘s zine The Underground Film Bulletin in the ’80s and the New York Underground Film Festival launching in 1994, the term “underground film” was coming back into vogue around that time.
But, what was really considered “underground” enough to be in NYUFF in ’94 and ’95? Recently, doing research at my current day job at the American Film Institute, I found some answers buried around the Internet that I want to share.
I found the titles of two films that played at the 2nd annual NYUFF, but before I get to those, I found something interesting regarding the first ever NYUFF in ’94.
The New York Times rarely wrote about NYUFF during its 15-year run, usually just mentioning the fest when a film that screened there went on to have a regular theatrical release in NYC. However, on March 18, 1994, at the end of a review of a film that was screening at the New Directors/New Films event at the Museum of Modern Art, film critic Caryn James wrote:
The New Directors/New Films festival at the Museum of Modern Art is not the only place to see the work of young directors this weekend. Close to 50 short and feature-length films will be screened through Sunday during the first New York Underground Film and Video Festival in the East Village. All the works are premieres by American film makers and many are films rejected by the New Directors series.
The screenings are at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street. The programs last about two hours and offer either several short films, a single feature, or a double bill of feature-length films.
I wonder if that bit about many of the films being rejected by ND/NF is accurate or was just a loosely-true PR marketing statement made by the fest. Anyway, I thought that was a weird mention shoehorned into a non-relevant review.
Now, onto the 1995 NYUFF:
Two feature-length films, that I know of so far, that screened at the 2nd NYUFF went on to screen theatrically in NYC and perhaps in other cities. Those films are:
Cracking Up, directed by Matt Mitler
Dirty Money, directed by James Bruce
The 2nd annual NYUFF ran at the Anthology Film Archives and at Cinema Village on March 23-26, 1995. (You can see that on the poster above, which I nicked from the NYUFF website.) I don’t know on which days these two films particularly screened, but they did sometime during those four days.
Dirty Money would go on to have a theatrical run pretty soon after the fest at the Quad Cinema beginning on May 12, 1995. I don’t know for how long it played. The New York Times did run a review of the film on its opening day written by Stephen Holden who said it was a “skillfully paced thriller,” but it did lose “its nervous edge and becomes clunkingly amateurish in its scenes of the police investigation.” Overall, it’s a fairly positive review.
As far as I can tell, Dirty Money was never released on DVD or video. Some listings confuse it with a 1972 French flick of the same name starring Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve, which is available.
Cracking Up would also screen again in NYC after NYUFF, but not for another three years. The film played again at the Anthology Film Archives beginning on Nov 24, 1998. The New York Times also reviewed this film during its post-fest run. On the opening day, Anita Gates didn’t like the film very much, saying:
Sometimes the biggest collective fool in Danny Gold’s life is the people in the audience, because they just don’t get it. But maybe they do understand and just don’t think the message is very well expressed.
Cracking Up also screened at the First Glance Independent Film and Video Festival in Philadelphia on March 26, 1997. At the time, the Philadelphia City Paper didn’t so much review the film as profiled the filmmaker, Matt Mitler, for the festival and did give it a Critic’s Pick recommendation. The film also did have a DVD release, but is currently unavailable, but perhaps can be dug up somewhere if one looks hard enough.
So, based on the above research and previous research I’ve done, here’s the list of titles I’ve compiled so far for having screened at the 1995 NYUFF:
Cracking Up, directed by Matt Mitler
Dirty Money, directed by James Bruce
Half-Cocked, directed by Suki Hawley (Read the underground film review)
Andre the Giant Has a Posse, directed by Helen Stickler
Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?, directed by Mike White (Watch online)
Raging Boil, director unknown
Searching for this stuff is like when I was younger and I would go and dig up Jack Kirby and Thor comic books at different conventions. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt.
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You bring back fond memories with your research since two of my short films were shown at the Second NY Underground Film Festival in 1995 (both of which are featured on my Scratch video web site : WARM LEATHERETTE and FLASHBACK. See them at http://www.scratchvideoquebec.com).
I still have 2 copies of the program, so I can provide you with some info on whatever film title was shown during that unforgettable week-end !
Ex : Yes, a film called RAGING BOIL was shown the same night as Mike White’s WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING. RAGING BOIL was a short 16mm film of 52 min directed by Judd Metni. Program description : “It’s your classic ‘Guy meets mom. mom dies. guy makes a film about dealing with mom’s death” story. RAGING BOIL is an exploration into the meaning of Metni’s mother’s death and its impact on his future as a lover and a filmmaker. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, the film follows a young film student struggling with fear and self doubt while trying to complete his mediocre thesis film RAGING BOIL, a comedic take-off of Martin Scorsese’s RAGING BULL.
Other titles show :
MOD FUCK EXPLOSION (76 min directed by Jon Moritsugu)
PLUTONIUM CIRCUS (72 min documentary directed by George Ratliff)
DIENSTAG – ONCE UPON A TUESDAY (my personal favourite ! Kick-ass serial killer film by Franz Berner (15 minutes)
EVIL TOWN (BEST SHORT AWARD WINNER) by EVIL TOWN !!
HIGHWAY OF HEARTACHE (86 min) by Gregory Wild
THE POPE OF UTAH (93 min, by Chaim Bianco and Steven Saylor)
SHATTER DEAD (81 min, by Scooter McCRae)
MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN (80 min, by George and Mike Baluzy)
THE OPERATION (BEST EXPERIMENTAL AWARD WINNER) by Jacob Pander
I AM A SEX ADDICT (82 min, by Vikram Jayanti)
NOTHING (90 min, by Evan Aaronson)
BTW, quite a few films shown at NYUFF were later shown at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Such was the case with a 17 min short called A LOT OF FUN FOR THE EVIL ONE directed by M.M. Serra and Maria Beatty. The NYUFF program described it as : “A worthwhile and well-executed foray into the notoriously dangerous world where art meets porn : the result is exciting and entrancing — plus it stars two sexy little vixens.” Film was a nice, no dialogue, black and white and beautifully shot S&M session involving the usual spanking, piercing, golden shower, etc.
When shown at the Chicago Underground Festival (which I attended), film was followed by an unforgettable real-life S&M demonstration with the 2 stars !! What I saw that evening is forever burned into my psyche …
Another gem shown at NYUFF 95 : SMUSH by Jeff Vilencia. As described in the program : “Where does cruelty to earthworms become art ? This eight minute film chronicles the little known foot-crush fetish as a young lass mashes earthworms into little grease spots with her bare toes and heels.”
Film is actually hilarious, as the squishing sounds are amplified (to the viewer’s disgust or delight) and the young lass is obviously having a grand time doing away with the worms …
Couldn’t find the film on Youtube but found this other Jeff Vilencia film which is VERY similar :
My favourite film at the festival was a 15 minutes B&W short called DIENSTAG directed by Franz Berner. Program description :
“This rockin’ horror-suspense short makes Brian DePalma look like Brian Piccolo. Taking us inside the world of a punk rock pathological killer who gets an unexplainable urge to kill every Tuesday. (Dienstag kicks ass) ”
The added parenthesis/warning is no joke ! This film KICKS ASS and the scene where the killer (Thomas Kurz) finally tracks his young blonde victim (Ute Bachner) and repeatedly smashes her face on the concrete ground (to the sound of Irving Taylor’s and Kermit Lane’s version of EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY SOMETIME) is shocking to watch even by today’s standards ! What he does next to her (which involves an axe, amongst other things) is the ultimate test of the viewer’s endurance (but, hey, it’s all beautifully shot and edited, so who cares, right ? )
A very talented director whose name, strangely enough, produces nothing when Googled. What happened Franz ??
Another audience favourite at NYUFF 95 : THE OPERATION by Jacob Pander
Program description : “Shot entirely on infrared video, this film takes you into a cold operating room where a surgeon clad in protective Ty-Vek suit, goggles and tight rubber gloves demonstrated her skills before a group of observers … She then loses the suit, and bodies merge like molten lava as the viewer is drawn into an experience that probes beneath the boundary of skin …”
See the trailer here :
A UNIQUE visual treat, beautifully shot (by Steve Doughton) and scored (by Michael Gerard) !
A truly bizarre entry at NYUFF was LICK OF FURY (15 min) by Matthew Sidle. Pgm description : “A musical comedy that tells the tale of Skunk Boy, an unfortunate protagonist who has the perpetual habit of licking himself. His quasi-prosthetic wearing neighbours constantly ridicule him. One night, a magical manatee painting he found at the dump comes to life and blesses his lick which becomes the catalyst of miracles. Even as a now divine being, can Skunk Boy overcome his fear of crossing the street ?”
What more to say ? That’s only a fraction of the crazy stuff going on in this flick. Check out the amusing first minutes, to the sound of HUMAN LEAGUE’S MIRROR MAN :
Saturday March 25th 1995 at 9:30 p.m. at NYUFF was the presentation of MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN (80 min) by the (brothers ??) George and Mike Baluzy (who, according to their IMBD profile, are now busy making documentaries : http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0051285/) Strangely enough, this film is not listed in their imbd profile … ;)
Pgm summary : “This offbeat odyssey about a band of escaped mental patients and a kidnapped doctor swirls together classic horror, trippy surrealism, and dark humor. The film’s most engaging element is the eerie narration of Quentin Crisp, who serves as a disembodied tour guide to the insane.
After attacking two elderly men, misunderstood yet clearly bonkers James bunting is committed to an upstate New york mental institution. There, he encounters a group of whacked out characters led by the homicidal Butch, who is orchestrating an elaborate plan to escape from the institution.
At a gathering to celebrate the birth of jesus (Christmas party), Butch escapes, taking his violent sidekick Leon, his transexual girlfriend Rose, a doctor and James. On the outside, Butch descending further into madness viciously murders a toupee-wearing mute, steals his car and leaves the rest to fend for themselves. Thus begins Butch’s non-stop romp through hell as he embarks on a ruthless killing spree in his search for happiness.
James decides that in order to exorcise his own demons, he must put an end to this mass carnage created by Butch. A confrontation ensues as the group stumbles upon Butch during their hallucinogenic trek across the countryside.
(I haven’t seen this one but am trying to locate it via Internet)
As far as DIRTY MONEY is concerned (81 minutes, directed by James Bruce), here is what the program had to say : ” A man named Sam Reed, on the fritz with his loving wife, suddenly finds himself caught in the middle of a West Coast chase after he is suspected of slaying her in cold blood. The thugs who actually killed his wife want to get their hands on him because he managed to acquire a key to a bus locker filled with cash from one of the other gang members who was killed. The cops want him, the killers want him and he just wants to settle down in a nice cantina in Mexico and trash a bottle of tequila. Frederick Deane plays Sam Reed with an intense and quietly amusing quality. Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh, on the other hand, portrays the lead bad guy Frank with the ruthlessness of Mr Pink and the slickness of Jimmy Conway.
Made for 50 grand over a year and a half with money that came from directing episodes of AMERICA’S MOST WANTED – (dirty money ??) this film is a fast paced, realistic thriller that packs a punch !
(Synopsis excerpted from Drew Stepek’s review in FILM THREAT Feb 1995)
Guess I forgot to include a link to one of my films shown at NYUFF 95 … Here it is :
The other film (FLASHBACK) was taken off Youtube for being too violent …