Over the last decade there has been a phenomenal international resurgence of interest and activity in the field of Underground film and video. In Britain and North America there has been a new wave of highly influential Underground, Microcinema and Protest Video groups, and there are now established Underground film festivals in cities across Europe and the U.S, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, Baltimore, Boston, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Washington DC. Augmenting this activity has been the development of an international web culture of Underground cinema enthusiasts and the publication of a series of related books, journals and magazines. However, despite this resurgence there has, until now, been no attempt to either document the cultural origins of Underground Cinema or to contextualise it into the broader theory and history of experimental media. Subversion is the first study which specifically redefines and relocates Underground Cinema as a discrete radical subculture with a history and practice which is subversive and alternative to both commercial mainstream cinema and Avant Garde Art.
Since the mid 1970’s Anglo-American experimental film theory has been dominated by the ideas of a key group of British academics including Peter Wollen, Peter Gidal, Malcolm Le Grice and Al Rees. Under this hegemony, Underground Cinema was dismissed as an adolescent phase of the Avant-Garde film movement that developed in London and New York in the early 1970s. Experimental film theory developed around a binary opposition between commercial ‘Mainstream’ popular cinema which was considered repressive, and film and video Art which was held to be radical. This binary separation was in turn an element of a deeper historical separation between popular culture and the official and legitimate culture of Art. Although there have been complex Postmodernist sophistications of this binary, the essential opposition persists. Subversion challenges this binary and tracks the development of a hybrid and radical popular Counterculture, from the illegitimate fairbooths of Mediaeval London to the Bohemian Cabarets of 19th century Paris and into the first wave of Underground media in the late 1950's. Because this new history is written by a leading activist and filmmaker from the contemporary London Underground Cinema movement, its significance is systematically contextualised into contemporary situations, problems and potentialities. And because it transgresses the Art/Mainstream binary it empowers activists, students and enthusiasts of experimental media to move beyond the institutional dead end of contemporary experimental theory.
Based on comprehensive research and incisive critique Subversion reopens the history of experimental cinema to discover the revolutionary potential of the Underground, why that potential was suppressed and how to realise that potential in practice. Subversion is a provocative reclamation of media history that will become an essential text for all independent and guerrilla filmmakers.
‘Underground film is a messy business and few writers have attempted histories; those who have tend to toe the line and respect the classic avant-garde at the expense of the loud, exciting, vivid, unruly and sexy underground. Enter Duncan Reekie who has produced a gleefully anarchic and rightly biased schizo-history that examines not just the filmmakers but crucially also considers the dissemination of the work and the responses of audiences galvanised by a cinema that embraces everything from radical structuralism to mysticism, revolutionary politics to pop culture, and from auteurism to collectivism. An established filmmaker and part of the legendary Exploding Cinema collective, Reekie is not afraid to demand that underground film is seen as the revolutionary form it always was.’
– Jack Sargeant, author of Deathtripping and Naked Lens
‘A must for makers, critics and lovers of underground film ... a book written with in-depth knowledge of filmmaking, film criticism and exhibition practices in this vital but unconventional realm of moviemaking. This authoritative volume takes a broad-ranging but accessible approach to the celluloid underground that combines consideration of its trash and transgressive, pulp and political, comic and countercultural influences, as well as profiling all the key movements from documentary, free cinema, structural film, digital practices and beyond.’
– Xavier Mendik, Director of the Cult Film Archive, Brunel University
'Duncan Reekie’s book, Subversion: The Definitive History of Underground Cinema, sheds light upon the world of underground film, exploring the movement as far back as the Bohemian cabaret of the late nineteenth century and with an especially strong emphasis on the avant-garde cinema of 1920s Paris and the counterculture explosion of the 1960s. Reekie delves deep into a subject matter that many independent filmmakers choose to ignore.'
- Filmmaker Magazine, 2007
'If you can hear the sound of cracking that may be several noses being put out of joint around contemporary film circles due to Duncan Reekie’s new book Subversion, The Definitive History of Underground Cinema published by Wallflower Press. But that’s nothing new, Duncan Reekie doesn’t get up in the morning to please people. This book sets out to rattle a few cages and set a few records straight.'
- Nicola Woodham, Vertigo Vol. 3 No.8 Winter / Spring 2008
'It is not just about underground film and is a defense of popular culture more broadly. What this book does more powerfully than any I’ve read is to hack through the weedy and tangled field that is the study of popular culture and come up with a radical reclaiming of the term.'
- Stefan Szczelkun, Variant 31 Spring 2008
'Well before the institutions of official culture recognized avant-garde film as a legitimate art form, avant-garde filmmakers were striving “to liberate the cinema from its shackles and create a pure cinema,” as Germaine Dulac wrote in 1925. For Reekie, “The crucial point is that cinema was not an art when the avant-garde modernists attempted to assume aesthetic leadership; cinema was a popular culture.”
-William C Wees, the Canadian Journal of Film Studies 18.1 2009
978-1-905674-21-3 £16.99 (pbk)
978-1-905674-22-0 £45.00 (hbk)