Said Cocteau: “What one should do with the young is to give them a portable camera and forbid them to observe any rules except those they invent for themselves as they go along. Let them write without being afraid of making spelling mistakes.”
The documentary “Film as a Subversive Art” tells the story of Austrian-born film historian and curator Amos Vogel, who in 1947 established Cinema 16, America’s most important film club, and later the New York Film Festival, as well as publishing in 1974 one of the most legendary books on cinema ever, FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART, which Norman Mailer called “the most exciting and comprehensive book I’ve seen on avant-garde, underground and exceptional commercial film.”
The film has been screened on PBS and at many archives and festivals worldwide, including International House (Philadelphia), Cinémathèque française in Paris, the Denver Film Festival – where Vogel was awarded the Stan Brakhage Award for Poetic Film – and festivals in Berlin, Tribeca, Jerusalem, PiFan (South Korea), San Francisco, Vancouver and Vienna, where Vogel‘s life and work was the subject of a major retrospective.
Published in 1973, FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART is an oft-referenced, hugely influential, landmark text in the history of film literature. A book with no discernible beginning, middle, or end, it’s as energizing, entertaining, and important a work of film criticism as any that has ever been written – a labyrinthine trek through world cinema via one man’s visionary cosmology.
That man was Cinema 16 and New York Film Festival founder Amos Vogel (1922–2012), who dedicated his life to supporting the pioneering efforts of independent artists and aesthetic rebels. In its radical, impassioned polemics and dialectically-placed film frames, FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART is the fulcrum of Vogel’s years as a film programmer, festival juror, lecturer, and critic.
Citing numerous films that have become increasingly difficult to see due to the vagaries of distribution, his book remains a Pandora’s box of cinematic treasures and an astute elucidation of the artist’s role in contemporary society.
“Will we ever break out of the mold of Profit Motive, Commercial Imperative, Bottom Line, Product? Will the awesome free spirit of humans ever be allowed to offer us splendiferous visions instead of the calculated spurious anti-fantasies generated by the current crop of Hollywood directors and producers? Whatever the answers, I am content knowing that I contributed to the dissemination of such visions, passionate creativity, and radical challenges. To question what exists and to radically transform it remain our most compelling imperatives.”
– Amos Vogel, 1984