Film As A Subversive Art
Ever fall in love with a book at first sight? It happened to me with Amos Vogel's Film As A Subversive Art (1974) a couple of years ago after I idly pulled it off a library shelf. Discovering it was out of print, I hunted it down used and tattered on the Net for a cool fifty bucks. Without hesitation I wrote out a check, only to find recently that the book is back in print and available new at my local bookstore for half the price.
Amos Vogel did something pretty amazing: from 1947 to 1963, based in New York, he ran Cinema 16, the single most successful and influential American film society ever. (It is interesting that film societies occupy no more than footnote status in US film history while being legendary in France, associated with figures like Henri Langlois and Georges Franju.) Vogel programmed hundreds of films, often creating provocative "dialectical" double bills of movies that deliberately subverted expectation, either of subject, form, or both. All the while, he was taking careful notes after each screening, amassing material for what would become Film As A Subversive Art. The book is lavishly illustrated with over 300 fascinating and eye-popping stills. (If I had brought it home as a kid, I'd have surely done so between the pages of my math textbook.)
I've always believed that epigraphs can uncannily telegraph the sensibility and thrust of a book. So, I thought I'd share with you the ones Vogel chose; they're pure dynamite.
"But that the white eyelid of the screen reflect its proper light, the universe would go up in flames." — Luis Buñuel
“Your order is meaningless, my chaos is significant.” — Nathanel West
“I like my movies made in Hollywood.” — Richard Nixon
“Only the perverse fantasy can still save us.” — Goethe, to Eckerman
“Behind the initiation to sensual pleasure, there loom narcotics.” — Pope Paul VII
“By the displacement of an atom, a world may be shaken.” — Oscar Wilde
“Film is the greatest teacher, because it teaches not only through the brain, but through the whole body.” — Vsevolod Pudovkin
“The cinema implies a total inversion of values, a complete upheaval of optics, of perspective and logic. It is more exciting than phosphorus, more captivating than love.” — Antonin Artaud
"'Don't go on multiplying the mysteries,’ Unwin said, ‘they should be kept simple. Bear in mind Poe's purloined letter, bear in mind Zangwill’s locked room.’ ‘Or made complex,’ replied Dunraven. ‘Bear in mind the universe.’" — Jorge Luis Borges