Underground Film Journal

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Watch Online: Cinema of Transgression

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 11, 2007

Two women get ready for their jobs as exotic dancers

Last week, I posted up a random short I found, Richard Kleeman’s A Suicide, that came from the ’80s Cinema of Transgression movement from NYC’s Lower East side. After doing some research on Transgression, I came across the site UbuWeb, which has posted up about a dozen films from that period that you can watch here. Unfortunately, I can’t embed any of them on the Underground Film Journal — and while I understand why a small site like UbuWeb can’t allow free embedding, it’s still a shame.

I found out about UbuWeb a couple of months ago, which archives films and recordings from the avant garde. But when I visited them back then, they seemed to only have films available for download that I couldn’t get to work. So, at least putting up the flash players is an improvement.

Not being too familiar with Transgression films previously, the ones posted up by UbuWeb all seem to revolve around male aggression: Celebrating it, challenging it and subverting it. My favorites of the bunch were ones made by female directors: Tessa Hughes-Freeland‘s Baby Doll, a quick meditation on the de-evolution of exotic dancing from artform to cheap and sleazy entertainment; and Jeri Cain Rossi’s Black Hearts Bleed Red, an adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor short story about a troubled family on a disastrous road trip in which an overly sexual female is punished for her wanton desires.

Dicks figure prominently in several of the films, and mostly used for evil purposes: Nick Zedd‘s in Richard Kern‘s Thrust in Me; Kern’s own in his My Nightmare and Bob Mook wearing (I sincerely hope) a prosthetic in Tess Hughes-Freeland and Holly Adams’ Nymphomania. The only real vagina-centric film is Kembra Pfahler’s Cornella: The Story of a Burning Bush.

Also included in the collection is an early film from Jon Moritsugu, the punk rock explosion Mommy, Mommy Where’s My Brain? as well as David Wojnarowicz and Tommy Turner‘s epic Where Evil Dwells, based of the Satanic murdrers of Ricky Kasso, which ends in a hellish orgy of destruction that reminded me of a violent and bloody update of Jack Smith‘s Flaming Creatures. The only film on the page I didn’t watch was Beth B’s Stigmata, due to it’s length.

One of the really nice things about watching these shorts, too, is that with all the cheap video and slick feature film clips one sees on sites like YouTube, it’s refreshing to be able to go to a site and feast on classic, grainy B&W 16mm film stock. It’s a real treat for film nerds.

The UbuWeb retrospective also includes the Cinema of Transgression manifesto written by Nick Zedd, which I’ll reprint below. Zedd seems to have a real beef with film schools, which, as a former film student myself, I certainly understand. However, in my personal experience at RIT in the ’90s, that “entrenched academic snobbery” that he rails against, came as much from the students as it did some professors. There was a good contingent of dipshits who openly ridiculed anything that seemed even remotely avant garde and who thought they were just one step away from making multi-million dollar films.

The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto

We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possesed the vision to see through this charade.

We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimising every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centres and geriatic cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.

We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition.Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema.

We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.