New York Underground: Avant-Garde, Experimental and Underground Cinema from the Big Apple

Experimental, Underground and Avant-Garde cinema movements have often centred upon specific cities. With this season we explore some of the key figures in the New York scene from the 1940s through 1980s, contextualising their often challenging films by presenting three paired screenings, one a documentary and the other a selection of the films themselves.

In the Mirror of Maya Deren/Im Spiegel der Maya Deren

Martina Kudlácek | Austria/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Germany | 2002 | 103 minutes

Using footage from filmmaker Maya Deren’s avant-garde films of the 1940s, including the seminal Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, and Ritual in Transfigured Time; archival audio interviews and observances from contemporaries such as Stan Brakhage, Amos Vogel, and Jonas Mekas, this documentary provides a glimpse into the mind and life of this ground-breaking and influential artist.

Maya Deren Experimental Films

Maya Deren | USA | Various | 76 minutes

The collected shorts of Maya Deren the “Mother of the trance film” who worked completely outside the commercial film industry and made her own inner experience the center of her films. From the early 1940 s until her death in 1961, Maya Deren evoked and exemplified the American avant-garde movement virtually by herself. The programme comprises: Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, A Study in Choreography for Camera, Ritual in Transfigured Time, Meditation on Violence and The Very Eye of Night.

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis

Mary Jordan | USA | 2007 | 94 minutes

A mesmerizing collage of images and audio from the life and work of Jack Smith, the underground filmmaker, photographer, performance artist, and anti-capitalist, who worked in New York from the 1960s until his death in 1989. Highlights include the story behind the Supreme Court case over the banning of his 1963 classic Flaming Creatures.

Flaming Creatures

Jack Smith | USA | 1963 | 45 minutes

Declared obscene by the New York Criminal Count, Smith’s sexually ambiguous, polymorphously perverse short is both a seminal work of the New York underground cinema and what would later become known as queer cinema.

Showing with


Andy Milligan | USA | 1965 | 32 minutes

An under-acknowledged figure in the history of US underground cinema, Andy Milligan moved from staging plays to making ultra-low budget films. Unfortunately for Milligan his position within the off-off-Broadway circuit meant that his contributions went largely unnoticed at the time. Recently, however, Milligan’s work has undergone something of a re-evaluation, including some notable releases from the BFI. The bathhouse-set Vapors is a case in point, now being recognised as a key pre-Stonewall example of a specifically gay cinema.


Jim Shedden | Canada | 1998 | 80 minutes

Throughout his entire career, Stan Brakhage struggled to remain true to his personal vision of filmmaking. Jim Shedden captures Brakhage’s remarkable journey in this documentary, interweaving observations by from film critics, film makers and film historians with recent and historical interviews with Brakhage and his family.

By Brakhage

Stan Brakhage | USA | Various | 120 minutes

A selection of Brakhage shorts, comprising Desistfilm, Wedlock House: An Intercourse, the five Dog Star Man films and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes.

Note that this programme contains images that some viewers may find disturbing, Wedlock House including an explicit sex scene and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes footage of an autopsy.