Underground Films: A Bit of Male Truth  

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"The virtues of action films expand as the pictures take on the outer appearance of junk jewelry. The underground's greatest mishaps have occurred in art-infected projects where there is unlimited cash, studio freedom, an expansive story, message, heart, and a lot of prestige to be gained. Their flattest, most sentimental works are incidentally the only ones that have attained the almond-paste-flavored eminence of the Museum of Modern Art's film library, i.e., GI Joe, Public Enemy. Both Hawks and Wellman, who made these overweighted mistakes, are like basketball's corner man: their best shooting is done from the deepest, worst angle. With material that is hopelessly worn out and childish (Only Angels Have Wings), the underground director becomes beautifully graphic and modestly human in his flexible detailing. When the material is like drab concrete, these directors become great on-the-spot inventors, using their curiously niggling, reaming style for adding background detail (Walsh); suave grace (Hawks); crawling, mechanized tension (Mann); veiled gravity (Wellman); svelte semicaricature (John Farrow); modern Gothic vehemence (Phil Karlson); and dark, modish vaudeville (Robert Aldrich)."

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Underground Films: A Bit of Male Truth" is a 1957 film essay by Manny Farber which coined the phrase underground film. The phrase was later redefined for its current meaning by Stan Vanderbeek who gave the term its current meaning in his 1961 essay/manifesto "The Cinema Delimina: Films from the Underground."

The essay was first published in the November 1957 issue of Commentary and is anthologized in Negative Space.

Farber's “underground films” were the culturally disreputable action films of then obscure directors like Howard Hawks and Raoul Walsh.



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