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A classic returns. The original edition of Amos Vogel's seminal book, Film as a Subversive Art was first published in 1974, and has been out of print since 1987. According to Vogel–founder of Cinema 16, North America's legendary film society–the book details the "accelerating worldwide trend toward a more liberated cinema, in which subjects and forms hitherto considered unthinkable or forbidden are boldly explored." So ahead of his time was Vogel that the ideas that he penned some 30 years ago are still relevant today, and readily accessible in this classic volume. Accompanied by over 300 rare film stills, Film as a Subversive Art analyzes how aesthetic, sexual, and ideological subversives use one of the most powerful art forms of our day to exchange or manipulate our conscious and unconscious, demystify visual taboos, destroy dated cinematic forms, and undermine existing value systems and institutions. This subversion of form, as well as of content, is placed within the context of the contemporary world view of science, philosophy, and modern art, and is illuminated by a detailed examination of over 500 films, including many banned, rarely seen, or never released works.
I originally got this back in 1975 when in college, and it became my film Bible for many years, until somehow it got lost. Over the years I had seen a smaller reprint (late 80s) and even an original hardcover for about $50. This is a 2005 reprint, with a new introduction by Scott Macdonald and a brief new essay and photo of Vogel himself. Vogel says he feels no need to change anything, and his text is still powerful and intelligent, but while very nice to have again, and definitely an excellent book on transgressive cinema, it really could use an update. Many (many!) of the films covered were recent at the time of publication. Someone really should continue to list and write about films from the last thirty years that continue in the inspiration of this work. Still, highly recommended — though it is truly strange to see how many of these films I have managed to see, eventually. Even the Otto Muehl films I’ve had opportunity to watch in a theater with a (madly rushing for the exits) audience. So if you need a real kick in the head about what the cinema can do, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.
A film wish-list of sorts…
5 people found this helpful.
on January 5, 2007
By Julian G Halliday
I had the privilege of being Amos Vogel’s student back in the early 1980s, and was therefore fortunate to see a number of the ‘unobtainable’ films mentioned in this book. Vogel is an encyclopedia of film knowledge, and the often pithy accounts of various ‘subversive’ films — including some you might not guess would warrant the label — are both entertaining and intelligent. The image selection is great though, as others (including Vogel) have noted, a still frame stands for a film in an inadequate but nevertheless allusive way.
9 people found this helpful.
on December 10, 2003
By N. Hall
I agree with other reviewers. This is a great, indispensible book. I’ve spent the past twenty-five years or so trying to see all the films mentioned. I’ve made pretty good progress, but I still have a lot to go. My copy is all dog-eared and falling apart and I came here hoping to find one for my half-brother, who is just starting out in the movie biz and needs to know what’s in this book. I hope it gets itself back into print. I’d love to see it updated to include subversive films created since 1974.
on October 5, 2013
By Mark Stewart Ceries
this is a masterpiece of film history. this is my 5th copy; it always gets stolen! any film historian or critic worth their salt has read if not treasured this invaluable and educational book. my highest recommendation!
One person found this helpful.
on October 5, 2014
By lyle pearson
Great! Why hasn’t it been reprinted? Lp/14
on January 6, 2009
By Lázaro Manuel Silva
This is the other side of ths Force of the American Cinema. I hope that one day people will see that movies in USA are much, much more than Hollywood. This is the real stream.
Probably the best book in film theory that i know of.
One person found this helpful.
on June 26, 2009
By A. Degtyarev
Easily one of the best books on film theory that i have ever read or wanted to read. Makes you yearn for a Cinema 16 revival.
The Bible of Underground Film
22 people found this helpful.
on April 12, 2006
I’ve had this book half of my life and am still working on seeing all of the films. That said some of the films reviewed in it have dated badly (even Jean Luc Godard has dismissed his Maoist films which never show today). In addition, some of the countercultural (aka hippie) terminology such as “consciousness 3” will leave modern readers scratching their heads. That said it is an essential discussion of films that break film conventions, whether it be through the language of film, political subversion (suddenly relevant again) or sexual politics. The one positive note is that at the end of the book the author states in bold, “But the real question remains: how to reach the masses ‘out there’ with five heavy cans of 35 mm film and nowhere to show them”. The answer is that through video and especially dvd films mentioned in this book that were impossible to find are suddenly resurfacing and being re-evaluated. Though some films are best shelved (I pity anyone who watches all 8 hours of Andy Warhol’s “Empire” just to say that they saw it), others especially from world cinema such as the Iranian film “The Cow” and the Senegal made film “The Money Order (Mandabi)” show film makers who now have recieved acclaim. Though some reviewers wanted an update of this book I think that it was written and speaks for a certain point in time, before the co-option of underground films into indie films, when foreign films were still ahead of the times, before garbage like Jackass broke almost all visual taboos while actually taking film a giant leap backward and before the vcr, when hunting down experimental films showing in theaters or libraries was a religion onto itself.
An Essential Book
on July 10, 2016
This is one of the truly indispensable books on film. This and the books by Robin Wood should be on every film scholar’s shelf.
Vogel’s experience and insight make this required reading
11 people found this helpful.
on March 23, 1999
Film as a Subversive Art is an excellent book for artists, filmmakers, and anyone else that is interested in subversive art and film. Amos Vogel, the founder of the New York Film Festival, is insightful, incredibly knowledgeable, and a skilled writer. His political and ideological views are based around the somewhat existential and often bleak truths of twentieth century scientific research. Vogel himself alternates between a joyful optimism in many of his descriptions, and a bitter anger towards “bourgeois society” and the repression of subversive film. Vogel’s countless first-hand experiences of the films he writes about and his philosophical leanings shape Film as a Subversive Art into a unique reading experience.
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