As founder of the country’s first experimental film society, Cinema 16 (the ‘16’ referring to 16mm) in the late 1940’s, Amos Vogel forged the promotion and exhibition of the avant-garde and underground. After it folded in 1968, he founded the Lincoln Center Film Department (now the Film Society of Lincoln Center) and was co-founder of the New York Film Festival. As chief programmer there, he again used it as a forum for artists and films that would’ve otherwise remained unknown and unseen.
Intending Film as a Subversive Art to profile the “accelerating world-wide trend toward a more liberated cinema, in which subjects and forms hitherto considered unthinkable or forbidden are boldly explored,” Vogel seized the opportunity to introduce these unfamiliar films and filmmakers to a broader audience than the societies and festivals could ever reach. Though a few who worked outside of conventional guidelines had established their own followings (notably Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage), Vogel offered equal time to just about anyone whose films provided instances of truth and wisdom while subverting linear narrative structure and the limitations imposed by time and space—“a cinema of experience rather than entertainment” derived from “the subversion of consciousness.”
Without updating or modifying the original text, its attitudes and intentions are fixed in the period. In recognizing “a stylistic, thematic, technological, and ideological liberation of film from nineteenth-century art,” Vogel believed ideally that “Everywhere the trend is away from illustrated literature and simplistic realism towards a freer, more poetic, visually oriented cinema. Realistic narrative structures, clearly defined plots and characters are increasingly displaced by visual ambiguity, poetic complexity, and restless improvisation.” This written when Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard were within ten years of their most lauded work; and Luis Buñuel, John Cassavetes, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dusan Makavejev continued to challenge forms with each new picture.
Emerging from the stifling conformity of the 1950’s, Vogel savored the liberation of art and intellect from the Hollywood and European mainstream, and writes with both passion and wisdom. He crafts an effective and revelatory case for time, structure, mores and morals as manmade conceits that block or deter the creative process. In chapters broken down by themes pertaining to the subversion of form and content, onto forbidden subject matter and anticipated trends for the future, it’s an indispensable and provocative guide through a branch of the cinema rarely discussed any longer.