Attack of the Mutants:
Tracking the Resurgence of Experimental Film
By J. Hoberman
The Village Voice
March 7, 2000
Far from klieg lights, unknown to the E! Channel, a particular mode of filmmaking has begun to flourish again in New York, fueled by young enthusiasts and newcomers, some participants in the active San Francisco scene of the mid ’90s.
Unlike other moments in dissident cinema, there is no single new tendency or dominant content—rather a burgeoning culture of difference and purposeful derangement. The Internet may have facilitated information flow, but, in practical terms, this resurgence is not a response to some overriding technological imperative. Artists are combining digital processes with presentations based on projection equipment that could have been used a century ago.
There is no one particular center, but there is an ongoing flow. This week, the New York Underground Film Festival opens in an expanded and more experimental mode; next week, the latest feature by San Francisco filmmaker-programmer-media guerrilla Craig Baldwin gets a commercial run at Cinema Village; later in the month, the Whitney Museum begins screening a range of avant-garde films and videos as part of its 2000 Biennial. Meanwhile, institutions like Anthology Film Archives and the Millennium have been joined by new micro-cinemas (another San Francisco term) on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg.
Given the relative lack of critical attention, who could have predicted the audience that thronged the Whitney for its mind-bogglingly comprehensive retrospective of American avant-garde cinema last fall, or the crowds that packed the Walter Reade last month for an evening of lyrical diary-films by Nathaniel Dorsky? Similarly, legendary underground figures like the protean Ken Jacobs and minimalist composer Tony Conrad are lionized by audiences born years after these men made their structuralist blockbusters. Even the art world has shown a new interest in time-based film/video installations.
You know something is happening when a sure Oscar winner like American Beauty makes an alienated teen with camcorder the emblem of high-school cool. We asked a number of knowledgeable parties to discuss the current scene. Participating were filmmakers Peggy Ahwesh (professor of film at Bard College) and Brian Frye (cofounder, with Bradley Eros, of the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema); programmers Gavin Smith (the Walter Reade Theater) and Astria Suparak (Pratt Institute); and Voice film critic Amy Taubin…