Module guide

This is an edited version of the guide for the module on American indie cinema that I teach at Brunel University, minus much of the procedural information provided to students.

FM3015: American Independent Cinema

 

Term One: 2011-2012

 

 

Module Content

 

The independent sector has produced some of the most exciting and distinctive films to appear in the US in recent decades. But what exactly do we mean by ‘independent’, and what is the relationship between the indie scene and the commercial mainstream? This module will look closely at the industrial, formal and social-cultural-political dimensions of American independent cinema, from the work that verges on the avant-garde to the margins of Hollywood. Students who choose this module will find it helpful to have taken FM2003: New Hollywood Cinema at Level 2, but this is not a requirement.

 

Week-by-week overview

 

1. Introduction: How Independent?

Screening: to be announced

2. Industrial Context of American Independent Cinema

Screening: Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)

3. Narrative in American Independent Cinema

Screening: Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991)

4. Formal Approaches

Screening: Julien Donkey-Boy (Harmony Korine,1999)

5. Genre

Screening: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)

6. Black Independent Cinema

Screening: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

7. Research Week – no classes this week (7-11 November)

first assessment due this week, Tuesday 8 November

8. New Queer Cinema

Screening: The Doom Generation (Gregg Araki, 1995)

9. Politics in American Independent Cinema

Screening: Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)

10.Cult Indies

Screening: Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

11.From Indie to Indiewood

Screening: Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

12. Mumblecore and Beyond: Contemporary low-budget indies

Screening: Four Eyed Monsters (Susan Buice & Arin Crumley, 2005)

 

second assessment due Tuesday 10 January

 

 

Main Aims of the Module

• To study the texts and contexts of American Independent Cinema, especially in the form that came to prominence from the 1980s and 1990s.

• To examine connections between the industrial, formal-aesthetic and social-political aspects of American Independent Cinema.

• To examine the location of American Independent Cinema in a dynamic field in relation to Hollywood and American avant-garde and independent exploitation cinemas

 

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this module, you should be able to:

• Demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and vocabulary used in the analysis of American Independent Cinema and an ability to understand and evaluate a range of theories and debates

• Demonstrate an awareness of the connections between the industrial, formal and historical-social-ideological dimensions of American Independent Cinema

• Demonstrate ability to apply theoretical analysis though close textual analysis of films

• Demonstrate a use of a range of primary and secondary materials going beyond material used in lectures or on the reading list

• Show good communication skills in both written form and during participation in seminars

 

Books to buy?

 

General, in-depth studies of American Independent Cinema at an academic level are in short supply.

 

One of the key readings for this module is Geoff King’s book, American Independent Cinema (I.B.Tauris, 2005). Chapters from this book form the basis of some of the sessions on the module and will offer more in-depth versions of some of the material covered in the lectures. The library has multiple copies, but not enough for everyone – it is very much worth buying your own copy if you can as the book will be of use throughout the module. The introduction is available as an extract online via gkindiefilm.com

 

Another very useful book that turns up in various weeks and is also worth purchase is Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture (Columbia University Press, 2011).

 

Also recommended is E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001 (Peter Lang, 2002), although this is a little dense in places and includes overseas as well as American films (many of the lengthier case studies focus on non-American films, but much of the argument can also be applied to US examples).

 

There is one academic-oriented edited collection, Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004, although this is a bit patchy.

 

Two general surveys that are useful for orientation more than for anything in depth are Emanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, New York University Press, 1999 and Greg Merritt, Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000. A lively insider’s account is found in John Pierson, Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes: A Guided Tour across a Decade of Independent American Cinema, Faber, 1995 (plus later updated version). Another colourful account, which also includes some elements of substance, is Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Simon and Schuster, 2004. None of these are works of an academic level, however, and so are only of limited introductory value.

 

You should also read more widely on subjects covered, not just in relation to American Independent Cinema (general theory of genre or narrative, for example, in relation to genre or narrative in AIC). This is a Level 3 module, so you will be expected to demonstrate a depth of analysis appropriate to final year work and will in some cases need to find material for yourself and/or bring to bear in your work on this module analytical perspectives encountered elsewhere in your studies.

 

It is worth buying, or otherwise obtaining, copies of films you intend to write about in depth, where this is possible, to permit close study of the text. This is highly recommended. Some can be bought quite cheaply on DVD, although others might be more difficult or expensive to obtain – some might only be available from the US, on amazon.com in NTSC video format (the only source of some earlier less mainstream films, which is compatible with most VCRs of recent vintage) or region 1 DVD.

 

Background knowledge

 

To understand American independent cinema, it helps to have some background knowledge about two major points of reference: Hollywood cinema and postwar American culture and society.

 

Many of you will have taken FM2003: New Hollywood Cinema and will be familiar with the workings of contemporary Hollywood. You all should have some familiarity with Hollywood from other Film and TV Studies modules. But if you did not take FM2003, you might want to do some reading to gain some useful background, as the independent sector is defined in many respects through its differences from Hollywood and mainstream cinema more generally. The reading list for FM2003 from last year will be available on U-Link, or email Geoff for a copy. The key text for that module is Geoff King, New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction (I.B.Tauris, 2002).

 

One of the perspectives used in this module is to consider the social-cultural context of American independent cinema, which requires some familiarity with American society, culture and recent history. Some of you will have more familiarity with this than others. Some background reading here is advised. Note in particular that the module does not explicitly address social-political issues until week 7 (black indie cinema, New Queer Cinema, politics in indie cinema), although broader social-cultural issues will be in play throughout the module (and some of you will choose to use this perspective in the first assessment). Many books are available on recent American history, culture and politics, including William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (Oxford University Press, 1986, and later edition, 2003). A search of the library catalogue or shelves will provide many more texts on general or specific issues (for example, on issues such as race or gender politics in the US, should you chose to focus on those topics). Credit will be given for the use of initiative in the finding and use of source sources beyond the reading list.

 

Other sources

It is worth looking in film-related journals and exploring the resources of the internet. But do not just rely on non-academic web sources. Make sure you use some material of appropriate substance. Web sources tend to be of more use for factual background than for substance.

The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) and Box Office Mojo (boxofficemojo.com) are handy sources of data such as film budgets and box-office figures for the US and overseas markets, and for identifying the producers and distributors involved in particular films.

Google and other web search sites can turn up useful material, particularly factual details, but beware of the quality and reliability of some material on the web – and always include any internet sources you use, with full URL details and identification of sources, in your bibliography

 

The best on-line source of material specific to American Independent Cinema is indiewire.com, which is free of charge. It produces a daily newsletter and has a useful and searchable archive. Also worth consulting is the website of Filmmaker: The Magazine of Independent Film (subscribed to by the library), which allows access to much of its archive.

 

See also my website IndieFilm (www.gkindiefilm.com), which contains links to these and other websites as well as other resources including the introduction to American Independent Cinema and an annotated list of other readings.

 

Variety, the film industry bible, is taken by the library. Note that you can also access the online version of Variety via the library, which includes a searchable database on past issues. This is very useful for finding industry-related material for your case study and highly recommended – just enter the title and you will find articles written about the film during its production and release.

 

Websites of other major Hollywood trade papers provide limited access to their materials, but are worth checking in some cases:

The Hollywood Reporter (www.hollywoodreporter.com) has another good searchable archive of past issues, but you have to subscribe to get that in full.

Also worth consulting are academic film journals in the library.

For research on case studies especially, and more generally, it is recommended that you also visit the BFI library in central London: a limited number of membership cards can be borrowed from the School office in the Gaskell building. Among other things, the BFI library has a facility for searching their holdings of journals, a good way to find out if any academic articles have been written on individual films about which you might wish to write.

 

Week 1: Introduction: How Independent?

Screening: to be announced

Seminar: Questions for small group discussion

 

The independent sector has thrived in American cinema in recent decades, producing a body of work that stands out from the dominant Hollywood mainstream and that includes many of the most distinctive films to have appeared in the US. But what, exactly, do we mean by the term? This session will seek to define independent cinema from three overlapping perspectives: industrial context, formal-aesthetic context and social-political-ideological context (a process similar to that used in the Level 2 module FM2003: New Hollywood cinema). Rather than offering a single, static definition, the module as a whole will explore American independent cinema as a dynamic construct located somewhere between Hollywood and alternatives including the avant-garde, ‘art’ cinema and exploitation cinema.

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, I.B. Tauris, 2005, ‘Introduction: How Independent?’ (available as an extract on gkindiefilm.com)

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, Introduction

• Chris Holmlund, ‘Introduction: From the Margins to the Mainstream’, in Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004

• Yannis Tzioumakis, American Independent Cinema: An Introduction, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, especially introduction & chapter 8

• E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001, Peter Lang, 2002, especially introduction & chapter 1

• Michael Z. Newman, ‘Indie culture: in pursuit of the authentic autonomous alternative’, Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3, Spring 2009

• James MacDowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, issue 1, August 2010, online at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/film/movie/contents/notes_on_quirky.pdf

• Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, New York University Press, 1999 (this and Merritt are primarily of value for broad survey background)

• Greg Merritt, Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, BFI, 2001

• John Pierson, Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes: A Guided Tour across a Decade of Independent American Cinema, Faber, 1995

• Jim Hillier, ‘Introduction’ to Hiller (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, BFI, 2001

• Geoff King, ‘Following in the Footsteps: Gus Van Sant’s Gerry and Elephant in the American independent field of cultural production’, New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, August 2006

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Irony, nihilism and the new American “smart” film’, Screen, 43, 4, Winter 2002

• Jason Wood, ‘Introduction’ to 100 American Independent Films, BFI, 2004 (brief essays on individual films are also useful as an initial guide)

 

Week 2: The Industrial Context of American Independent Cinema

Screening: Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)

Seminar: Student-led discussion.

 

At the industrial level, the American independent sector stretches from extremes of low or almost no-budget filmmaking to the margins of Hollywood; from grainy images shot in 16mm or digital video to glossy products that look more like those of the commercial mainstream; from small one-off home-based production to the world of suits, offices and consolidated business enterprises. This session will focus particularly on developments since the mid-1980s, examining the impact of pioneering low-budget feature film-makers, the importance of the development of an industrial infrastructure including institutions such as the Sundance film festival, and the nature of the relationship between Hollywood and the indie sector.

 

Exercise to prepare in advance of seminars

 

Choose two independent features and try to establish the following:

 

1. Which company or companies produced it. What can you find out about the company/companies?

2. Which company distributed it (especially in the US, if several listed). What can you find out about this company? Does it have any connection with the Hollywood studios?

3. What was the budget?

4. What was the US domestic box-office gross?

5. What kind of release pattern did it have; that is, in how many cinemas did it open and how did that develop during its theatrical run?

 

The basic facts should be available from the Internet Movie DataBase (imdb.com) and/or boxofficemojo.com. In addition to company details and figures for budget and box office, the imdb also usually includes week-by-week detail of how many screens a film was on and what it earned each week – data that can be used to analyse the kind of release strategy employed in any individual case.

 

Finding out the nature of the companies will require more research. Try to find a home page, for example, or do a search on an engine such as googe

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 1, ‘Industry’

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, chapter 2, ‘’Home is Where the Art Is: Indie Film Institutions’

• E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001, Peter Lang, 2002, especially chapter 1, ‘Codependence: The Independent Industry’

• Chuck Kleinhans, ‘Independent Features: Hopes and Dreams’, in Jon Lewis (ed.), The New American Cinema, Durham/Duke University Press, 1998

• Justin Wyatt, ‘The Formation of the ‘major independent’: Miramax, New Line and the New Hollywood’, in Neale and Smith (eds.), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, London & New York/Routledge, 1998

• Yannis Tzioumakis, American Independent Cinema: An Introduction, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, especially introduction & chapter 8

• John Pierson, Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour across a Decade of Independent American Cinema, London/Faber, 1996 (updated version, Spike, Mike Reloaded, 2004)

• James Schamus, ‘To the rear of the back end: the economics of independent cinema’, in Neale and Smith (eds.), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, London & New York/Routledge, 1998

• Christine Vachon, Shooting to Kill: How an independent producer blasts through the barriers to make movies that matter, London/Bloomsbury, 1998

• Martin Dale, The Movie Game: The film business in Britain, Europe and America, London/Cassell, 1997, chapter 4, ‘American Indies’, chapter 6, ‘Independent Production

• Tiiu Lukk, Movie Marketing: Opening the Picture and Giving it Legs, Los Angeles/Silman-James Press, 1997, chapter 2, ‘American Independent Films: Pulp Fiction and The Brothers McMullen’, chapter 4, ‘Documentary Film: Hoop Dreams’, chapter 5, ‘More American Independent and Foreign Films: Welcome to the Dollhouse, Howards End, Crumb’

• Peter Biskind, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Simon & Schuster, 2004 (much of this book is journalistic rather than analytical but includes some useful material)

• Roberto Rodriguez, Rebel Without Crew, Faber, 1995

 

Week 3: Narrative in American Independent Cinema

Screening: Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991)

Seminar: Student-led discussion.

 

One of the key identifying features of many American independent films is the extent to which they depart from the familiar conventions of ‘classical’ Hollywood narrative structure. Some independent features are marked by their lack of strong, forward-moving narrative drive, opting instead for more relaxed or decentred structures akin to those often associated with international ‘art’ cinema. Others are more complex than the typical Hollywood narrative, which usually revolves around a small number of major strands. A number of other variations will be explored in this session, including the reversal of narrative sequence found in Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984), Mystery Train (Jarmusch, 1989), Night on Earth (Jarmusch, 1991), Shadows (John Cassavetes,1959), Laws of Gravity (Nick Gomez, 1992), Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994), Gummo (Harmony Korine, 1997), Man Push Cart (Ramin Bahrani, 2005), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

 

Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991), Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), Flirt (Hal Hartley, 1995), Happiness (Todd Solenz, 1998), Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999), Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001), Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997), Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001), 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003), Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 2, ‘Narrative’

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, chapter 3, ‘Indie Realism: Character-Centred Narrative and Social Engagement’ and chapter 5, ‘Games of Narrative Form: Pulp Fiction and Beyond’

• E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001, Peter Lang, 2002, chapter 4, ‘Telling Tales: Narrativity and Independent Film’ & chapter 5, ‘Psychic Cleavage: Reading the Art against the Politics in Independent Film’ (lots of useful argument, although quite dense in places and also tends to use non-American examples in its detailed case studies)

• J.J. Murphy, Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work, Continuum, 2007

• Ken Dancyger & Jeff Rush, Alternative Scriptwriting: Successfully Breaking the Rules

• Richard Armstrong, Understanding Realism, BFI, 2005, especially chapter 2, ‘Narrative and Realism’

• David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film, Routledge 1985, especially part 3, ‘Historical Modes of Narration’

• David Bordwell, ‘Mutual Friends and Chronologies of Chance’, in Poetics of Cinema, Routledge, 2008

• David Bordwell, ‘Subjective Stories and Network Narratives’, in The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies, University of California Press, 2006

• Geoff King, ‘Weighing Up the Qualities of Independence: 21 Grams in Focus’, Film Studies: An International Review, 5, Winter 2004

• Warren Buckland (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema, Blackwell, 2009 (includes essays on Lost Highway, Memento and films scripted by Charlie Kaufman, among others)

• Claire Molloy, Memento, Edinburgh University Press ‘American Indies’ series, 2010, especially chapter 3, ‘Puzzle Films, Ambiguity and Technologically-enabled narrative’

• Murray Smith, ‘Parallel Lines’, in Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader

• Kevin Howley, ‘Breaking, Making, and Killing Time in Pulp Fiction’, Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies , May 2004, accessible via archives at www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Irony, nihilism and the new American “smart” film’, Screen, 43, 4, Winter 2002

• Jonathan Romney, ‘In the Time of Earthquakes’ (Robert Altman and Short Cuts), in Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader

• Mark Olsen, ‘Singing in the Rain’ (Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia), in Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader

• Jonathan Romney, ‘Poison’, review in Sight and Sound, October 1991, also reproduced in Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, 77-8

• J.J. Murphy, ‘Harmony Korine’s Gummo: The Compliment of Getting Stuck with a Fork’, Film Studies: An International Review, 5. Winter 2004

• Edward Branigan, Narrative Comprehension and Film, Routledge, 1992 (a more general work of narrative theory)

 

 

Week 4: Formal Approaches

Screening: Julien Donkey-Boy (Harmony Korine,1999)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

Independent features can also be defined according to departures from the norms of the mainstream in the use of other formal devices such as camera positioning, camera movement, editing and other manipulations of sound and/or image. This session will include two main orientations: formal devices used to make greater claims to the status of ‘reality’ or documentary than those usually associated with the mainstream, and the use of more stylized and expressive stylistic devices ranging from small departures to works bordering on the status of the avant-garde. In some cases, the two overlap or are combined.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Shadows (John Cassavetes,1959), Laws of Gravity (Nick Gomez, 1992), kids (Larry Clark, 1995), The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999), Tape (2001), Pi (Darren Aronofsky, 1998), Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000), Buffalo 66 (Vincent Gallo, 1998), Frameup (Jon Jost, 1993), The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999), The Evil Dead (1983), Blood Simple (Joel Coen, 1984), Raising Arizona (1987, Joel Cohen), Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002), Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003) Man Push Cart (Ramin Bahrani, 2005), Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 3, ‘Form’

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘Harmony Korine’ part of ‘Section 5: Mavericks’ (articles by Geoffrey Mcnab and Danny Leigh)

• Benjamin Halligan, ‘What is the Neo-Underground and What Isn’t?: A First Consideration of Harmony Korine’, in Xavier Mendik & Steven Jay Schneider, (eds), Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon, Wallflower Press, 2002

• Geoff King, ‘Weighing Up the Qualities of Independence: 21 Grams in Focus’, Film Studies: An International Review, November 2004

• Geoff King, ‘Following in the Footsteps: Gus Van Sant’s Gerry and Elephant in the American independent field of cultural production’, New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, August 2006

• Richard Armstrong, Understanding Realism, BFI 2005

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Irony, nihilism and the new American “smart” film’, Screen, 43, 4, Winter 2002

• David Bordwell, ‘The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice’ (1979), in Poetics of Cinema, Routledge, 2008

• E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001, Peter Lang, 2002, chapter 2, ‘Film as Artifact: Alternative Influences on Independent Cinema’ (useful background on avant-garde & art film)

• Shari Roman, Digital Bablylon: Hollywood, Indiewood & Dogme 95, iFilm, 2001

• David James, ‘Alternative Cinemas’, in Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004

• David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson, Film Art, various editions organized differently but see sections on film style generally; in 6th edition, also see section on experimental film

• Ray Carney (ed), Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Faber, 2001

• Ludvic Hertzberg (ed), Jim Jarmusch Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2001

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘Section 1: Pioneers’ (various articles on John Cassavetes, Andy Warhol and Stan Brakhage)

• P. Adams Sitney (ed.), Film Culture Reader, especially part 2, ‘The New American Cinema’

• Wheeler Winston Dixon & Gwendolyn Audrey Foster (eds), Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader, Routledge 2002 (various essays on avant-garde and experimental film)

• Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction, McGraw-Hill, 1994, various parts of ‘Part Four: The Postwar Era, 1946-1960s’, for background on earlier movements such as neorealism, direct cinema, various ‘new waves’

• Robert Philip Kolker, The Altering Eye: Contemporary International Cinema, Oxford University Press, 1983 (for anyone wanting more background on the tradition of international ‘art’ cinema)

 

 

Week 5: Genre

Screening: Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)

Seminar: Student-led discussion.

 

Genre is an important framework for many independent filmmakers, whether as a device to be used or one to be subverted from the inside. This session will look at genre in general, but will focus particularly on the use of the science fiction and horror genres. Low-budget horror has been one of the staples of the independent arena, notable examples ranging from Night of the Living Dead to The Evil Dead and The Blair Witch Project. Science fiction is much less commonly found in the indie sector – for reasons that we will consider – with some exceptions including this week’s screening. Consideration will also be given to the use of elements of comedy and shifts of tone in some indie films.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Horror: Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), Martin (George Romero, 1978), The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1983), The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999), Soft for Digging (J.T.Petty, 2001). Science fiction: Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982), Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983), Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002). Also any other indie films with genre leanings, including westerns such as Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995) and Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 4, ‘Genre’

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, chapter 4, ‘Pastiche as Play: The Coen Brothers’

• Joel Black, ‘Real(ist) Horror: From Execution Videos to Snuff Films’, in Xavier Mendik & Steven Jay Schneider (eds), Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon, Wallflower Press, 2002

• Robin Wood, ‘Normality and Monsters: The Films of Larry Cohen and George Romero’, chapter 6 of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, Columbia University Press, 1996, especially section on Romero

• R.H.W.Dillard, ‘Night of the Living Dead: It’s Not Like Just a Wind That’s Passing Through’, in Gregory Waller, American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film

• Stephen R. Bissette, ‘Curtis Harrington and the Underground Roots of the Modern Horror Film’, in Xavier Mendik & Steven Jay Schneider (eds), Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon, Wallflower Press, 2002

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘Section 6: Generics’ (various articles on genre in general)

• Geoff King, Film Comedy, Wallflower Press, 2002, especially chapter 4, ‘Comedy beyond comedy’

• Geoff King, ‘“Killingly funny”: mixing modalities in New Hollywood’s comedy-with-violence’, in Steven Jay Schneider (ed.) New Hollywood Violence, Manchester University Press, 2004

 

Genre theory more generally

• Rick Altman, Film/Genre, London/BFI, 1999

• Rick Altman, ‘A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre’, in Barry K. Grant (ed.), Film Genre Reader, Austin/Texas University Press, 1986, also reproduced in Film/Genre

• Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Film Genre Reader II, University of Texas Press, 1995 (various essays on genre/genre-theory)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 6: Black Independent Cinema

Screening: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

Films by new, young black filmmakers were an important component of the indie upsurge of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the early films of Spike Lee in particular helping to inspire a new generation of work. Less well-known but also considered this week is a previous black independent movement of the 1970s that became known as the LA School, key members of which including more socially and politically oriented filmmakers such as Charles Burnett and Haile Gerima.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadassss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971), Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977), Bush Mama (Haile Gerima, 1976), Ashes and Embers (Haile Gerima, 1982), Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991), She’s Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1986), Get on the Bus (Spike Lee, 1996), Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), any other Spike Lee films; Straight Out of Brooklyn (Matty Rich, 1991), Menace II Society (Allen Hughes and Albert Hughes, 1993)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 5, ‘Alternative Visions: Social, Political and Ideological Dimensions of Independent Cinema’

• Paula J. Masood (ed.), The Spike Lee Reader, Temple University Press, 2008

• E. Deidre Pribram, Cinema and Culture: Independent Film in the United States, 1980-2001, Peter Lang, 2002, chapter 3, ‘“Fixing” Difference: Identify Cinema and Independent Distribution’

• Amiri Baraka, ‘Spike Lee at the Movies’, in Manthia Diawara (ed.), Black American Cinema, Routledge, 1993

• Houston A. Baker, Jr., ‘Spike Lee and the Commerce of Culture’, in Manthia Diawara (ed.), Black American Cinema, Routledge, 1993

• Ntongela Masilela, ‘The Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers’, in Manthia Diawara (ed.), Black American Cinema, Routledge, 1993

• Toni Cade Bambara, ‘Reading the Signs, Empowering the Eye: Daughters of the Dust and the Black Independent Cinema Movement, in Manthia Diawara (ed.), Black American Cinema, Routledge, 1993

• Berenice Reynaud, ‘An Interview with Charles Burnett’, Black American Literature Forum, vol. 25, issue 2, Black Film Issue, Summer 1991, accessible online from university computers (accessed won’t be granted from elsewhere) via http://uk.jstor.org/

• Ray Carney, ‘“Challenging Understandings”: An essay on Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger’, accessible online at http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/indievision/burnetttext.htm

• Chris Norton, ‘Black Independent Cinema and the Influence of Neorealism: Futility, Struggle and Hope in the Face of Reality’, Images journal, 5, December 1997, accessible online at http://imagesjournal.com/issue05/features/black.htm

• Mark Reid, ‘Haile Gerima: Sacred Shield of Culture’, in Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004

• Haile Gerima, ‘Thoughts and Concepts: The Making of Ashes and Embers’, Black American Literature Forum, vol. 25, issue 2, Black Film Issue, Summer 1991, accessible online from university computers (accessed won’t be granted from elsewhere) via http://uk.jstor.org/

• Ed Guerrero, Framing Blackness: the African American Image in Film, Philadelphia, 1993

• Ed Guerrero, ‘A Circus of Dreams and Lies: The Black Film Wave at Middle Age’, in Jon Lewis (ed.), The New American Cinema, Duke University Press, 1998

• Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, New York University Press, 1999, chapter 9, ‘Cinema of Diversity’, chapter 11, ‘The New African American Cinema’

• Gregg Merritt, Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000, see sections on ‘African Americans’ in several chapters

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘Section 2: African Americans’ (various articles)

• Mark Reid, Redefining Black Film, Berkeley, 1993, chapter 5, ‘Black Comedy on the Verge of a Genre Breakdown’

• Cynthia Fuchs (ed), Spike Lee Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2002

• Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Continuum,1993 (classic account of racist stereotyping in American cinema)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 7: Research Week – no classes this week

 

 

 

 

Week 8: New Queer Cinema

Screening: The Doom Generation (Gregg Araki, 1995)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

One of the most striking manifestations of the early 1990s boom in independent production, and a contributor to its wider and sometimes controversial public profile, was the movement that became known as New Queer Cinema, a term coined by the critic B. Ruby Rich to mark the appearance of a group of fresh, provocative and formally inventive lower-budget gay and lesbian oriented features including Todd Haynes’ Poison, Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Gregg Araki’s The Living End and Tom Kalin’s Swoon.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991), Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992), My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991), The Living End (Gregg Araki, 1992), Totally Fucked Up (Gregg Araki, 1993), Nowhere (Gregg Araki, 1997), Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004), Kaboom! (Gregg Araki, 2010), Go Fish (Rose Troche, 1994), The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (Maria Maggenti, 1995), Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999), Chuck & Buck (Miguel Arteta, 2000), L.I.E. (Michael Cuesta, 2001)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 5, ‘Alternative Visions: Social, Political and Ideological Dimensions of Independent Cinema’, section on New Queer Cinema

• Michele Aaron, ‘New Queer Cinema, an Introduction’, in Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• B. Ruby Rich, ‘Homo Pomo: the new queer cinema’, Sight and Sound, vol. 2 no. 5, September 1992; reprinted in Pam Cook and Philip Dodd (eds), Women and Film: A Sight and Sound Reader, Scarlet Press, 1993

• B. Ruby Rich, ‘Queer and Present Danger’, Sight and Sound, March 2000, reprinted in Jim Hillier (ed), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader

• Jose Arroyo, ‘Death, Desire and Identity: The Political Unconscious of “New Queer Cinema”, in Joseph Bristow and Angela Wilson (eds), Activating Theory: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Politics

• Chris Holmlund, ‘Generation Q’s ABCs: Queer Kids and 1990s Independent Films’, in Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004

• Monica Pearl, ‘AIDS and New Queer Cinema’, in Michele Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• Glyn Davis, ‘Soup Cans and Heart-Throb; The Role of Camp in New Queer Film and the work of Gregg Araki’, in Michele Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• Michael DeAngelis, ‘This Past That Haunts Us: Todd Haynes and the New Queer Cinema’, in Michele Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• Anat Pick, ‘Out-Skirts: New Queer Cinema and Lesbian Films: Between Marginality and Mainstream’, in Michele Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• Michele Aaron, ‘Everywhere and Nowhere: New Queer Cinema and the New Queer Spectator’, in Michele Aaron (ed.), New Queer Cinema: A Critical Reader, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

• Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, New York University Press, 1999, chapter 12, ‘The New Gay and Lesbian Cinema’

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘Section 3: Queers’ (various articles, including Rich’s, ‘Queer and Present Danger’, 2000)

• Alexander Doty, Making Things Perfectly Queer, University of Minnesota Press, 1993

• Alexander Doty & Corey Creekmur (eds), Out in Culture: Queer Essays on Popular Culture, Duke University Press, 1995

 

Week 9: Politics in American Independent Cinema

Screening: Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

What scope has American independent cinema offered for other alternative voices, particularly those from left-of-centre? In general, it might be argued, not very much, and the reasons for an absence of more politically-oriented filmmaking will be one issue to be considered this week. There are exceptions, however, including the contentious personal-essay style of documentary found in the work of Michael Moore, his predecessor Emile De Antonio and a number of successors, and in the fiction films of John Sayles.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989), Fahrenheit 911 (Michael Moore, 2004), Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007), Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, 2009), Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins, 1992), Matewan (John Sayles, 1987), Lone Star, (John Sayles, 1996), Sunshine State (John Sayles, 2002), Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004), The Corporation (Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott, 2003), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices (Robert Greenwald, 2005), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005), Uncovered: The War on Iraq (Robert Greenwald, 2004), Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (Robert Greenwald, 2006)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, American Independent Cinema, chapter 5, ‘Alternative Visions: Social, Political and Ideological Dimensions of Independent Cinema’

• Brian Neve, ‘Independent cinema and modern Hollywood: pluralism in American cultural politics?’, in Philip John Davies and Paul Wells (eds), American film and politics from Reagan to Bush Jr, Manchester University Press, 2002

• Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin, America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies, second edition, Oxford/Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, especially chapters 1, 8 and 9 on class and ideology in American film

• Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner, Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, University of Indiana Press, 1988, brief section ‘Beyond Hollywood: The Independent Sector’ in chapter 10, ‘The Politics of Representation’

• Emmanuel Levy, Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film, New York University Press, 1999, chapter 8, ‘Drama: Challenging Stereotypes’, pp 282-284

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Irony, nihilism and the new American “smart” film’, Screen, 43, 4, Winter 2002

On Michael Moore:

• Paul Arthur, ‘Jargons of Authenticity (Three American Moments)’ in Renov (ed.) Theorizing Documentary, Routledge/AFI, 1993, pp. 108-34

• Gary Crowdus, ‘Reflections on Roger and Me: Michael Moore and his critics’, Cineaste 17(4), 1990, pp. 30-32

• Carl Plantinga, ‘The Mirror Framed: A case for expression in documentary’ Wide Angle 13(2), 1991, pp. 40-53.

• Matthew Bernstein, ‘Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes: Michael Moore’s Roger & Me’, in Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (eds), Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, Wayne State University Press, 1998

• Jon Dovey, Freakshow: First Person Media and Factual Television, Pluto Press, 2000, chapter 7 ‘Klutz Films’ (section on early Moore and wider context of his work)

• Douglas Kellner, Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush-Cheney Era, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, chapter 3, ‘Michael Moore’s Provocations’

On John Sayles:

• Diane Carson, ‘John Sayles, Independent Filmmaker: “Bet on Yourself”’, in Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Routledge, 2004

• Gavin Smith (ed.), Sayles on Sayles, Faber, 1998

• Diane Carson (ed), John Sayles Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 1999

• Jim Hillier (ed.), American Independent Cinema: A Sight and Sound Reader, ‘John Sayles’ part of ‘Section 5: Mavericks’ (various articles)

On Emile De Antonio:

• Douglas Kellner & Dan Streible, ‘Emile de Antonio: Documenting the Life of a Radical Filmmaker’, in Kellner and Streible (eds), Emile de Antonio: A Reader. See also various interviews in this collection with de Antonio and sections on individual films, including pp199-226 on In the Year of the Pig

• Thomas Waugh, ‘Beyond Vérité: Emile De Antonio and the New Documentary of the Seventies’, in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods, Volume 2, University of California Press, 1985

• Randolph Lewis, Emile De Antonio: Radical Filmmaker in Cold War America, University of Wisconsin Press, 2000

• Bill Nichols, ‘The Voice of Documentary’, in Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods, Volume 2, University of California Press, 1985

On documentary strategies more generally

• Bill Nicholls, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary, John Wiley, 1992

• Michael Renov, ‘Towards a Poetics of Documentary’, in Renov (ed.), Theorizing Documentary, Routledge, 1993

 

 

 

 

Week 10: Cult Indies

Screening: Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

What gives a film the status of a ‘cult’ movie? Donnie Darko was labelled an ‘instant cult classic’, but what exactly does that mean? What are the ingredients necessary for a film to gain such status? Is it a question of the film itself, or the nature of its reception by a particular subculture of viewers? How are such works differentiated from the mainstream, and how do we understand the place of films that are given this label within the broader independent spectrum?

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Liquid Sky, (Slava Tsukerman, 1982), Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984), Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977), Pink Flamingos (John Waters, 1972), Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003, 2004); many other examples you can add!

 

Reading

• Mark Jancovich et al, (eds), Defining cult movies: The cultural politics of oppositional taste (Introduction and various essays)

• Mark Jancovich, ‘Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital and the Production of Cultural Distinctions’, Cultural Studies, 16, 2, 2002

• Geoff King, Donnie Darko, Wallflower Press, 2007

• Barry Keith Grant, ‘Second Thoughts on Double Features: Revisiting the Cult Film’ in Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper (eds), Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics, Fab, 2000

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, ‘Cult Indies’, pp 211-216

• Barbara Klinger, ‘Becoming Cult: The Big Lebowski, Replay Culture, and Male Fans’, Screen, vol. 51, no. , 2010

• J.P. Telotte, ‘Beyond All Reason: The Nature of the Cult’, in Telotte (ed.), The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason, University of Texas Press, 1991 (copy available from GK)

• John Fiske, ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom’, in Lisa Lewis (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, Routledge, 1992

• Bruce Kawin, ‘After Midnight’, in Telotte (ed.), The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason, University of Texas Press, 1991 (copy available from GK)

• Timothy Corrigan, ‘Film and the Culture of Cult’, in Telotte (ed.), The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason, University of Texas Press, 1991 (copy available from GK)

• Geoff King, Indiewood, USA: Where Hollywood meets Independent Cinema, I.B.Tauris, 2008, ‘The mainstreaming of cult: Kill Bill’, pp111-135 and ‘Niche-market audiences, Indiewood and taste cultures’, pp11-22

• Michael Z. Newman, ‘Indie culture: in pursuit of the authentic autonomous alternative’, Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3, Spring 2009

• Christine Holmlund and Justin Wyatt (eds), Contemporary American Independent Film, essays in ‘Part 2. Cult Film/Cool Film’, Routledge, 2004

• Sarah Thornton, ‘The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital’, in Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton (eds), The Subcultures Reader, Routledge, 1997 (alternatively, see general material on subcultural capital in Thornton’s Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, Polity Press, 1995, especially chapter 1, ‘The Distinctions of Culture without Distinctions’)

• Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Routledge, 1984 (definitive, although massive, study of cultural/taste distinctions)

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Trashing the Academy: taste, excess and an emerging politics of cinematic style’, Screen, 36, 4, 1995

• Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste, Basic Books, 1974, updated 1999 (useful background on notions of ‘taste’ more generally)

• Gaylyn Studlar, ‘Midnight S/Excess: Cult Configurations of “Femininity” and the Perverse’, in Telotte (ed.), The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason, University of Texas Press, 1991 (copy available from GK)

• Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper (eds), Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics, Fab, 2000

• Barbara Klinger, ‘The Contemporary Cinephile: Film Collecting in the Post-Video Era’, in Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby (eds), Hollywood Spectactorship: Changing Perceptions of Cinema Audiences, BFI, 2001

 

 

 

Week 11: From Indie to Indiewood

Screening: Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

Indiewood is the place where Hollywood and the American independent sector meet, where lines blur and two very different kinds of cinema come together in what can be a striking blend of creativity and commerce. This is an arena in which innovative, sometimes challenging cinema reaches out to the mainstream. Or, alternatively, a zone of duplicity and compromise in which the ‘true’ heritage of the indie sector is co-opted as an offshoot of Hollywood.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004), Shakespeare in Love (John Madden,1998), Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003, 2004), Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000), Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002), American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999), Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999), Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003), Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005), Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 2006)

 

Reading

• Geoff King, Indiewood, USA: Where Hollywood meets Independent Cinema, I.B.Tauris, 2008

• Geoff King, Indie 2.0: American Independent Cinema Since 2000, forthcoming I.B.Tauris, 2012, chapter 1, ‘Quirky by Design? Irony vs. sincerity in Little Miss Sunshine and Juno’, pre-publication text available on u-link

• Michael Z. Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture, Columbia University Press, 2011, chapter 6, ‘Indie Opposite: Happiness vs. Juno’

• Justin Wyatt, ‘The Formation of the ‘major independent’: Miramax, New Line and the New Hollywood’, in Neale and Smith (eds.), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, London & New York/Routledge, 1998

• Michael Z. Newman, ‘Indie culture: in pursuit of the authentic autonomous alternative’, Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3, Spring 2009

• Geoff King, ‘The Major Independents’ in Pam Cook (ed.) The Cinema Book, third edition, BFI, 2007

• Geoff King, Lost In Translation, Edinburgh University Press ‘American Indies’ series, 2010

• Jim Collins, Bring on the Books for Everybody, Duke University Press, 2010, chapter 3, ‘The Movie Was Better: The Rise of the Cine-Literary’, chapter 4, ‘“Miramaxing”: Beyond Mere Adaptation’

• James MacDowell, ‘Notes on Quirky’, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, issue 1, August 2010, online at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/film/movie/contents/notes_on_quirky.pdf

• Yannis Tzioumakis, American Independent Cinema: An Introduction, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, especially chapter 8 and epilogue

• Paul McDonald, ‘Miramax, Life is Beautiful, and the Indiewoodization of the foreign-language film market in the USA’, New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 7, no. 4, December 2009

• Jeffrey Sconce, ‘Irony, nihilism and the new American “smart” film’, Screen, 43, 4, Winter 2002

• Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, University of Chicago Press, 1997

• Peter Biskind, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Simon & Schuster, 2004 (much of this book is journalistic rather than analytical but includes some useful material)

• James Mottram, The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood, Faber 2006 (this and Waxman, below, are journalistic accounts, useful for factual background but non-academic in focus)

• Sharon Waxman, Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System, Harper 2005

• See also some of the other general reading in weeks 1 and 2

 

 

 

Week 12: ‘Mumblecore’ and Beyond: Contemporary low-budget indies

Screening: Four Eyed Monsters (Susan Buice & Arin Crumley, 2005)

Seminar: Student-led discussion

 

The rise of Indiewood has led some commentators to predict the death of a distinctly indie cinema, but lower budget production continues to thrive, even if distribution is often less easy to obtain. This week will conclude the module by looking at recent examples of low-budget indie cinema, including a group of films of the 2000s that became known as ‘mumblecore’. Contemporary low-budget features are produced on both celluloid and in a number of digital video formats, the latter offering a number of commercial and other qualities that will also be considered this week, including digitally-based forms of distribution.

 

Secondary viewing suggestions:

Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, 2003), Mutual Appreciation (Bujalski, 2005), LOL (Joe Swanberg, et al, 2006), Kissing on the Mouth (Swanberg, et al, 2006), Hannah Takes the Stairs (Swanberg, 2007), The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplas, 2005), Dance Party, USA (Aaron Katz, 2006), Quiet City (Katz, 2007), Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)

 

Reading

Academic reading relating to this week’s material is limited so far. Some of the texts cited below are journalistic and some are more practically-focused ‘how to’ guides.

• Geoff King, Indie 2.0: American Independent Cinema Since 2000, forthcoming I.B.Tauris, 2012, pre-publication text available on u-link: chapter 2, ‘Industry 2.0: The digital domain and beyond’, chapter 3, ‘Mumblecore’, chapter 5, ‘The Desktop Aesthetic: First-person expressive in Tarnation and Four Eyed Monsters’

• Aymar Jean Christian, ‘Joe Swanberg, Intimacy, and the Digital Aesthetic’, Cinema Journal, vol. 50, no. 4, Summer 2011

• Holly Willis, New Digital Cinema, Wallflower, 2005

• Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, Rutgers University Press, 2009, chapter 4, ‘Desktop Productions: Digital Distribution and Public Film Cultures’

• Alicia Van Couvering, ‘What I Meant to Say’, Filmmaker: The Magazine of Independent Film, Spring 2007, accessible at http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/spring2007/features/mumblecore.php

• Amy Taubin, ‘All Talk?’, Film Comment, November/December 2007, accessible at http://www.filmlinc.com/fcm/nd07/mumblecore.htm

• Dennis Lim, ‘A Generation Finds Its Mumble’, The New York Times, 19 August 2007, accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/movies/19lim.html?_r=1&8dpc&oref=slogin

• J. Hoberman, ‘It’s Mumblecore!’, The Village Voice, 14 August 2007, accessible at http://www.villagevoice.com/2007-08-14/film/it-s-mumblecore/

• Scott Kirsner, Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age, CinemaTech Books, 2009 (this and Reiss, below, are ‘how to’ books with advice and examples of DIY distribution and other strategies)

• Jon Reiss, Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era, Hybrid Cinema Publishing, 2010

 

 

 


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