World Wide Underground

Part two of "Bits and Bytes and Flickering Lights" by Brian Dennis

The Outer Limits

The Web has a tendency to attract the bizarre and perverse. The relative freedom of speech it promotes encourages commentary from the well meaning to the truly sick.

This wild west mentality would seemingly be a natural fit for American cinema's underground. The interesting thing is that underground doesn't look so underground when pushed out on to the Web.

For Your Protection

Take for example our fine female friend above, representing the NY Underground Film Festival. By normal US standards NYUFF is on the extreme edge. The festival has in the past promoted films with pedophilic themes that have been excoriated by both conservatives and the gay community.

The above image presented on a billboard or a subway or bus side would be indicative of the provacative nature of the festival. The cheap tit shot and presence of leather would send local smutmongers reeling in many communities. It might even perk up a few people in New York outside of Greenwich Village.

On the Web it's just another "grrl" on the net. And nicely scanned at that.

Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend

Even cult films come nicely packaged on the Web. There's something incogruous about a site that slickly organizes and categorizes such films as "Gore Whore" and "Fast Girls III" with cute little thumbnails of half naked silicon enhanced bimbettes.

The incroguity may arise from a certain legitamacy that the computer adds to many an activity. The simple fact that advanced technology is used in presenting some material often seems to add an aura of professionalism and authenticity. Maybe it's the glossy tube or the slick formatting. Whatever the case may be it's not a short jump from Scorched Earth Productions to Victoria's Secret.

Turn It Up

Fear not though, the Web still has something of a capability to communicate shocking and possibly offensive material, one just has to really push the envelope.

Like our friends at Troma Studios. Famed for such classics as "The Toxic Avenger" and "Surf Nazis Must Die", this site delves toward the depths by including actual stills from their films. Resplendent with blood and nudity, they actually managed to make my browser feel seedy and somehow dirty, in spite of the pleasant violet background.

I'm just waiting breathlessly until they discover QuickTime.

Lighting the Way

But is offending the senses all there is to the underground? Is something underground just because it yanks a moral chain here and there or is material that really challenges people out there on the Web? If so can it actually transmit that challenge through the Web.

In a word yes.

The brilliantly organized Flicker captures an essence of cinema that the more smutty sites can't transmit. First, Flicker takes a step forward in setting forth a vision of underground and actually trying to define it. Second, the site actually celebrates the artists involved in addition to the works.

Finally, and most importantly, Flicker gives an overwhelming sense that there are many artists with visions differing from the typical corporate pap. When seen as a collective, the underground stigma disappears and the simple passion that these artists bring to the table shines through.

There are people who actually care about doing something different and they are not alone or unusual. The magnitude of this community is hard to see in small film festivals and selected screenings. Yet on the Web a grand sense of community can emerge.

And Flicker is a site maintained by one person.

Share the Knowledge

Community also emerges in the transmission of knowledge to enable other visions, a point that the seedy sites routinely miss. This is apparent in such sites as Artist's Television Access, the Chicago Filmmakers, Exploding Cinema and the Virtual Film Festival.

In addition, a large number of alternative festivals including the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the LOWRES Film Festival, and Edinburgh's Fringe Film and Video Festival transcend physical location taking true advantage of the Web.

Marginal Center

Ultimately, for the underground, independent, avant-garde, whatever cinema, the Web can be used to erase the marginalized connotation that the above terms impart to a work. The ambient legitamacy that computers, technology, and the Web add to art applies to challenging cinema as much as major studio works. Even moreso the earnestness of the artists can come through providing an imperative that loads of marketing can't make up for. Finally, the grand sense of community that  the Web can be used to create, helps fragmented underground communities unite into larger more vocal digital institutions.