Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground: By Jack Sargent, 336 pgs. By Jimmy

Aug 31, 2008

This is kinda like the People’s History of the United States of film tomes, not so much because of its presentation of an alternate film history so much as it is so crammed with information that it takes triple the amount of time to take it all in. For those unfamiliar, the Cinema of Transgression was a New York-based underground film movement that sought to marry trash/sleaze sensibilities to art-house film fare, and vice versa. Relying heavily on sex, gore, shock tactics, and art school pretentiousness, its progenitors sought to push out to the extremes of human culture and capture it all on film. Their success is largely based on how one feels about their high art/low brow celluloid endeavors, but there is little denying that it’s damned hard to sit on the fence about their efforts. Sargent is obviously a fan and, as luck would have it, no slouch of a writer. Here he has created what can only be described as the quintessential documentation on the Cinema of Transgression, and one that will be mighty tough to improve upon. Starting with the origins of underground cinema, he methodically builds on that foundation and lays out the history of the Cinema of Transgression: its sensibilities, its ties to punk rock’s noisy fringes, its glory days, and its influence on current underground filmmakers. Included are in-depth interviews with many of the movement’s key figures—Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Cassandra Stark, Linda B, Lydia Lunch, and even Lung Leg, to name a few—tons of pictures, analyses of the films, and even a few scripts. The resulting whole is something of a marvel, in that the writer’s enthusiasm for the subject is infectious, making even those who aren’t all that jazzed about the subject matter wanna go out and subject themselves to a Kern film or two. In short, this is a mighty fine, effective book. –Jimmy Alvarado (Soft Skull Press / Counterpoint, 2117 Fourth Street, Suite D, Berkeley, CA94710)