New York Press on the underground cinema scene


Views from The Avant-Garde

Ed Halter
New York Press
Oct. 11, 2000


Flying in the face of complaints that rising rents, commercial strip-malling and gentrification are indelibly harshing New York’s artistic vibe, the underground cinema scene has been booming in the city for more than a couple of years now. Going on its third year, Bradley Eros and Brian Frye’s Tuesday night Robert Beck Memorial Cinema continues to screen celluloid hermeticisms to an avowed art-core crowd on Ludlow St. In Williamsburg, the Monday night screenings by Ocularis at Galapagos have become increasingly popular, serving up a mixture of underground oddities, live music and video mixing, film festival showcases and classic experimental fare, sometimes going head-to-head with similarly eclectic guest-curated offerings on the same nights at Tonic. Up until last May, curator Astria Suparak rounded out the week with Wednesday avant-garde film screenings at Pratt, spun with a superlative curatorial taste that combined a savvy political consciousness and sexy indie-rock-style showmanship without ever losing crucial nerd cred.

While this curatorial energy may have brought back New York’s edge as cinematic tastemakers in the avant-garde realm, similar smaller scenes are flourishing all across the country. There’s hardly a metropolitan area now that doesn’t host some kind of underground festival or ongoing experimental cinema series. Some of the most engaging and interesting work isn’t being produced in New York, but by small cadres of artists in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and more obscure locales. Building off the burgeoning downtown interest in avant-garde work, uptown’s art mafia has stepped up its response. Since its “American Century” film series, the Whitney has been ambitiously programming avant-garde classics nonstop. The curators at Lincoln Center racked up an impressive slate of showcases of new work in the past year as well. The Film Society’s Video Festival in July appeared to attract larger crowds than ever before. The newly energized “Image Innovators” series has presented popular one-man shows by Lewis Klahr, Luis Recoder and Nathaniel Dorsky, and even hosted a program of new Super 8 work produced by young filmmakers from downtown and Brooklyn.

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