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Underground New York   cover photo

Underground New York 2016, 1968

Recommended with reservations

Distributed by Re-Voir Editions Video, 43 rue du Faubourg St. Martin, 75010 Paris, France
Produced by Gideon Bachmann
Directed by Gideon Bachmann, Jonas Mekas
DVD , color, 88 min.

Middle School - General Adult
Avant-Garde Films, Experimental Films, New York (N.Y.), 1960s

Date Entered: 11/22/2016

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

New York Underground is a vintage film by Gideon Bachmann, made for a German television network. It’s a fitting, if high context, tribute to the underground filmmakers working in New York City in 1968. The lack of narration and titles to indicate who is on screen combine with odd and random action to capture the zeitgeist of the avant-garde film movement. Many pioneering fimmakers are present including Shirley Clarke (Portrait of Jason (1967)), Jonas Mekas (founder of Anthology Film Archives), George and Mike Kuchar (Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966)), Bruce Conner (A Movie (1958)), and Andy Warhol, but except for Warhol most won’t be recognized except by serious followers of the genre. A few scraps of paper taped to walls are all that identify the artists and even that isn’t consistent. Footage of war protests is used to suggest the radical nature of the filmmakers.

For the right age group, art enthusiasts aged 60 and up, this is a fun artifact to behold. We see Warhol and his confidante Brigid Berlin engaging in a typically blasé interview and a bit of wackiness as the Kuchar brothers film scenes for one of their movies. The Mekas brothers take the film crew to rural New Jersey for some improvisational filming with a deer hunter. The casual observer might come away with the impression that it’s better not to look too closely at how art is made. Fortunately there is an accompanying booklet that provides added information about several of the filmmakers and detail about the making of the documentary.

There are two related films also on the DVD. Jonas, also made by Bachmann on the same visit, includes interviews with Jonas Mekas, who was regarded as a guiding light of avant-garde cinema, and footage of him in his daily life which included making films and writing on cinema for the Village Voice. There is also an excerpt of Walden, a film Mekas made about the visit from Bachmann and the German TV crew and their trip to the New Jersey.

The bottom line is that these films are a curiosity and won’t add much to the legacy or awareness of these filmmakers but they do have their quirky charms so are recommended with reservations. Note: There was an option for English subtitles on the DVD menu but only French subtitles functioned on the reviewed video.