"If it's not transgressive, it's not underground. It has to be threatening the status quo by doing something surprising, not just imitating what's been done before." -Nick Zedd.

The Cinema of Transgression is a term used to describe the New York underground avant-garde film scene, mainly focusing on the time between the late seventies and early eighties. During this span of time a slew of filmmakers, including Richard Kern, Beth B, Nick Zedd, and Kembra Pfahler, and Lydia Lunch, began to make very low budget films using cheap 8 mm cameras.

These films were extremely dark in nature, which came from the fact that their inspiration was the daily life of New York’s Lower East Side; an area over run by artists of all sorts, often involved in drugs, sexual brutality, poverty, and nihilism. These filmmakers also grabbed inspiration from the extreme and brutal noise/jazz/post-punk No Wave music scene that came as response to the punk explosion of ’77.

A numerous amount of fanzines began to spring up including The Underground Film Bulletin, a fanzine edited by one of the forerunners within the Cinema Of Transgression, Nick Zedd. In the fourth issue of The Underground Film Bulletin Nick Zedd produced a manifesto for the Cinema Of Transgression.

We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e., to bore, tranquillize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged.

We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery, which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possessed the vision to see through this charade.

We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over.

Legitimizing every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centers and geriatric cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank - such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.

We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again.

We propose that a sense of humor is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film, which doesn’t shock, isn't worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition. Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men.

We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema. We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed.

Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing ourselves before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression - to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.

And with that manifesto the underground film scene began to take notice, especially the magazine Film Threat, and the filmmakers of the Cinema Of Transgression began to receive larger distribution of their films. Just like with all underground things that begin to get popular, the Cinema Of Transgression eventually disbanded as the filmmakers began to go their own separate ways.


Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression by Jack Sargeant
History Of Avant-garde film