DEATHTRIPPING: The Extreme Underground reviewed by Lordouch

Book Reviews
DEATHTRIPPING: The Extreme Underground reviewed by Lordouch
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Dec 14, 2007, 07:14

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DEATHTRIPPING: THE EXTREME UNDERGROUND by Jack Sargeant; Soft Skull Screenprint, 2007

[Editor's note: though amply revised, this is the first American edition of the author's book originally published by Creation Books, UK in 1995 under the subheading, The Cinema of Transgression so what you have below is our original review as it ran in Your Flesh #33 shortly after the book's original release.]

Jack Sargeant traces the history of a group of NYC filmmakers as he compiles a series of interviews with the participants. How ironic that the notoriously recalcitrant group which clustered around Nick Zedd, Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch becomes most cooperative when talking about their own importance. Deathtripping does a four-star job of corralling the participants’ voices and providing the critical perspective necessary to show their relevance.

Familiarity with the “classics” of the genre, Fingered, You Killed Me First, War Is Menstrual Envy among them, is unnecessary. Of more interest is tracing the elements which cause the rise and fall of an artistic cult movement; a series of events which is remarkably similar in a great number of mediums.

Independently of each other, Kern, Zedd etc, were inspired by the films of Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, George Kuchar and John Waters. As restless youth are wont to do they started creating their own super-8 films. A like-minded community began to form in the early ‘80s and centered in a few small clubs which (pre-video) were screening biker films and trash cinema. Soon the self-promoting Zedd began publishing a newsletter “The Cinema Of Transgression,” replete with a defining manifesto, and a movement was born. As soon as these people found a minute justification of their innate sense of self-importance, any semblance of a cooperative effort was destroyed by drugs and petty infighting. Inevitably some of the artists and actors on the periphery continued to create interesting work with similar approaches and the pyramid effect ended up making “The Cinema Of Transgression” an important sub-cultural reference point. Replace a few names and change the medium and you could tell the same story for many of the cultural movements in this Century.

Sargeant not only understands the mechanisms of the art world, he also knows the workings of the “power of transgression.” He laces his essays on the aesthetics of transgression with the ideas of theorists such as Foucault, Bataille, and Deleuze. In the process of conducting his interviews, Sargeant reveals that he is more eloquent and well versed than his subjects. Could this be further proof that intellectuals have a place in the underworld after all?

Even those uninterested in “The Cinema Of Transgression” will be intrigued by the interviews with David Wojnarowicz, Joe Coleman, and current filmmakers Jeri Cain Rossi and Todd Phillips. Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground is an interesting study on a multitude of levels.

-Lordouch

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