Beneath New York: The formations and effects of canons in American underground film movements

Beneath New York: The formations and effects of canons in American underground film movements

Mark Drew Benedetti

Language: English

Pages: 345

ISBN: 2:00181354

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This dissertation examines the development and transformation of alternative cultural formations by analyzing the relationships between cultural values, affects, practices of everyday life, and canons in such formations. Specifically, it examines two film-centered cultural formations in New York City-the 1960s underground cinema and 1970s No Wave Cinema-by theorizing them as "undergrounds" cultural movements manifesting the structure and organization of subcultures with some of the goals and values of avant-gardism. It describes the ways that these formations developed formal and informal institutions and regimes of value, regimes based in foundational ways on the valorization of affect and everyday life. It analyzes ways in which those institutions and regimes were articulated to alternative and/or oppositional cultural, social, and political values and perspectives, and how they were also articulated to hegemonic values, perspectives, and institutions. These latter articulations emerge clearly in the canonization process, a process that each formation underwent in different ways. The dissertation examines these canonization processes, their relationships with the formations' regimes of value, and their effects on the historical development of the formations. It demonstrates the ways in which canonization, frequently understood as an inherently hegemonic, conservative process, has multiple effects on underground cultural formations, directing tastes and facilitating cooptation while also encouraging continued underground cultural practice and aiding in the introduction of such work, practices, and regimes of value to new audiences. By examining underground cultural formations through the lens of the canon, the dissertation rethinks conventional ideas about the ways hegemonic forces appropriate or incorporate alternative and oppositional cultural movements, rethinking the received historiographies of such movements, the ways in which conceptions of belonging and mappings of difference are constructed by and for underground formations, and the lessons canonization processes teach us about the role of culture in social and political opposition.

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subcultural resistance are directly correlated to the class belonging of a group's participants. While this may have been a workable schema in the 1960s and 1970s (an arguable claim itself), Muggleton and Weinzierl argue that it is, in the postmodern age, bankrupt. Quoting Gilbert and Pearson on U.K. dance club cultures, they point out that in such cultures "there has appeared 'an uneasy and drug-related syncretism of the most unlikely collections of youth: hoolies, hippies, crusties, casuals,

relation to the object (Massumi, Parables 258-9). Massumi’s third key term, sensation, is, like perception, an effect, but one of the “perception of perception,” the body’s awareness of perception—an “endoreferential” effect (258-9). 91 and his “wow” response suggest that the film’s affective power often overwhelms whatever meanings we might be able to pull from the film. Such a response to the film is, I think, common (it’s certainly my own experience), and is the kind of experience that Vogel

underground group. This is in line with the underground’s avant-garde values: one of Peter Bürger’s primary markers of the historical avant-gardes is their opposition to the established institutions of art (the museums, critics, and other gatekeepers of the art world). Though Mekas did not exactly reject assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, by firing the man responsible for the interest the Foundation had in the underground, Mekas largely severed the ties between that institution and the

critical bulwark against encroachments by the larger social sphere, or at least those encroachments that threatened the underground’s subcultural regime of value and its affective bonds (themselves built around group activity, mostly notably Cinematheque screenings). Certain elements of the larger social sphere— particularly the institutions of art and the commercial filmmaking industry—were perceived as threats, and steps towards professionalization such as those of Brockman threatened the

such as Warhol films (FilmMaker’s Cinematheque announcements, Aug. 1967).66 Dubbed the New Cinema Playhouse, the new theater premiered Portrait of Jason in the hope of developing the same kind of buzz the Warhol’s films had received. However, the film was unable to garner that kind of audience, and the renovation expenses, combined with the cost of an aggressive marketing campaign, meant that the film lost $7,500 over the course of three months (Rabinovitz 138).67 While Mekas had agreed to

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