Film as a Subversive Art  

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"This is a book about the subversion of existing values, institutions, mores, and taboos -- East and West, Left and Right -- by the potentially most powerful art of the century. It is a book that traffics in scepticism towards all received wisdom (including its own), towards eternal truths, rules of art, "natural" and man-made laws, indeed whatever may be considered holy. It is an attempt to preserve for a fleeting moment in time -- the life of this book -- the works and achievements of the subversives of film." --from the introduction


"Dissolution, fragmentation, simultaneity, decomposition -- these are words in the service not of obfuscation but of clarification. They denote not escape from reality, but a more fundamental analysis by a dissection of its ever growing complexity. "The art of our century," says Katherine Kuh, "has been characterized by shattered surfaces, broken color, segmented compositions, dissolving forms and shredded images. During the last hundred years, every aspect of art has been broken up -- color, light, pigment, form, line, content, space, surface, and design." (Katherine Kuh, "Break-Up", 1965) From the fragmentation of color by the impressionists to the broken distortions of the expressionists, from the segmentation of surfaces and planes by the cubists to the surrealists' destruction of space and time, from the abstract expressionists' attack on form and pigment to the dadaist- pop subversion of art and the conceptualists' reduction to structure and non-meaning, the "break-up" of form and content in modern art is complete." -- Amos Vogel in Film as a Subversive Art (1974)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Film as a Subversive Art is a 1974 film history book by Amos Vogel with mini-essays on over 600 'subversive', surreal, experimental and countercultural films. Curiously absent in the book are the films by Guy Debord and the Lettrist films. View the complete list here.

Contents

Epigraph

"But that the white eyelid of the screen reflect its proper light, the universe would go up in flames." — Luis Buñuel
Your order is meaningless, my chaos is significant.” — Nathanael West
“I like my movies made in Hollywood.” — Richard Nixon
Only the perverse fantasy can still save us.” — Goethe, to Eckerman [ spurious quote ]
“Behind the initiation to sensual pleasure, there loom narcotics.” — Pope Paul VII
“By the displacement of an atom, a world may be shaken.” — Oscar Wilde
“Film is the greatest teacher, because it teaches not only through the brain, but through the whole body.” — Vsevolod Pudovkin
“The cinema implies a total inversion of values, a complete upheaval of optics, of perspective and logic. It is more exciting than phosphorus, more captivating than love.” — Antonin Artaud
"'Don't go on multiplying the mysteries,’ Unwin said, ‘they should be kept simple. Bear in mind Poe's purloined letter, bear in mind Zangwill’s locked room.’ ‘Or made complex,’ replied Dunraven. ‘Bear in mind the universe.’" — Jorge Luis Borges

Table of contents

The Film Experience

film experience
  • The World View of Subversive Cinema

Part One: Weapons of Subversion, The Subversion of Form

  • I. The Revolutionary Film Avant-Garde in Soviet Russia
  • II. Aesthetic Rebels and Rebellious Clowns
    • a. Expressionism: The Cinema of Unrest
    • b. Surrealism: The Cinema of Shock
    • c. Dada and Pop: Anti-Art?
    • d. The Comic Tradition
  • III. The Destruction of Time and Space
  • IV. The Destruction of Plot and Narrative
  • V. The Assault on Montage
  • VI. The Triumph and Death of the Moving Camera
    • a. The Camera Moves
    • b. Minimal Cinema
  • VII. The Devaluation of Language
  • VIII. Straining towards the Limits

Part Two: Weapons of Subversion, The Subversion of Content

  • I. International Left and Revolutionary Cinema
    • a. The West: Rebels, Maoists and the New Godard
    • b. Subversion in Eastern Europe: Aesopian Metaphors
    • c. The Third World: A New Cinema
    • d. East Germany: Against the West
  • II. The Terrible Poetry of Nazi Cinema
  • III. Secrets and Revelations

Part Three: Weapons of Subversion, Forbidden Subjects of the Cinema

  • I. The Power of Visual Taboo
  • II. The Attack on Puritanism: Nudity
  • III. The End of Sexual Taboos: Erotic and Pornographic Cinema
  • IV. The End of Sexual Taboos: Homosexuality and other Variants
  • V. The First Mystery: Birth
  • VI. The Ultimate Secret: Death
    • a. Death
    • b. Concentration Camps
    • VII. The Attack on God: Blasphemy and Anti-clericalism
    • VIII. Trance and Witchcraft

Part Four: Towards a New Consciousness

    • I. Counterculture and Avant-Garde
  • II. The Subversion of Subversion
  • III. The Eternal Subversion

List of films mentioned




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