Cecil B. Demented and Underground Movies

Monday, August 18, 2008

I used to love underground movies and in fact I still do. But the term, Underground, has become as trite and meaningless as ones like Alternative and Hardcore.

There are about as many definitions for Underground Movies are there are people talking about the subject, but I always felt that it stood for danger. Risk. Underground Movies were produced outside the law and outside the standards of the established movie industry.

If one man knows about the real meaning of Underground Movies, it would have to be John Waters. His early movies are atrocities, his celluloid crimes which were condemned and savaged by critics. Many of whom later retracted their harsh words when John gained acceptance from so many quarters.

John has managed to maintain his integrity while becoming an established film director. That he went from one of the most reviled individuals in film history to one that made one of the most beloved movies of all time (Hairspray) is a remarkable accomplishment. Yes, he made some family-friendly movies, but John Waters' black heart has remained in tasteless, transgressive motion pictures and Cecil B. Demented is his love letter to them.

I hadn't seen Cecil B. Demented is quite some time and I dusted off my old DVD and spun it the other night. Just as when I first watched it, Cecil B. Demented touched my own heart and made me despise the mainstream all over again.

Contemplating it, I'm wondering where the real underground movies are today? I'm not talking about a bunch of strippers showing their stuff or yet another tedious zombie opus. That ain't Underground, folks. Not by a long shot.

Part of it is the digital revolution. Now anyone can shoot a 'movie' for almost nothing and they can edit them with ease on their home computers. In theory that's a good thing, but I think it takes away from things. No longer does a filmmaker have to have the determination to make the amount of film he was able to buy (or steal) count. It isn't as critical that every shot be on the money.

Where are the Kenneth Angers, the Maya Derens, the George Kuchars of today? Regardless of whether you like his efforts, where are the filmmakers with the passion and political conviction of Nick Zedd? Or Richard Kern, who turned eroticism upside down with his perverted sensibilities? Who are the heirs to these provocateurs? Are there any?

I don't see them, but I've reached the point where I've just about stopped trying. Too much unfulfilled hype and not even passion and originality, from what I've seen. Part of me thinks that there has to be some out there fighting the good fight. Breaking down the barriers of good taste, shocking viewers into seeing through the bullshit in our society. People are becoming more braindead than ever. Senses dulled by video games, the rising tide of extreme religious fanaticism and subversiveness in the form of grossout comedies and lame cartoons. And I know, John Waters made his career with grossout comedies, but Pink Flamingos was released thirty-six long years ago. It just took the mainstream a few decades to catch up, compromise it and sell it to the masses.

If there are any groundbreaking truly independent films or filmmakers out there, I'd genuinely love to know about them.


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