A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg

12—14 November 2015

Aesthetic Strategies of Claiming Urban Space. Cinematographic Representation of Metropolitan Temporalities in 1960s New York Underground Cinema

Most serious thought in our time struggles with the feeling of homelessness. The felt unreliability of human experience brought about by the inhuman acceleration of historical change has led every sensitive modern mind to the recording of some kind of nausea, of intellectual vertigo. (Susan Sontag: The Anthropologist as Hero [1963])

“The concept of time must be changed. This will soothe the flaming creatures.“ noted filmmaker Ron Rice in view of escalating riots in New York, suggesting silent “time gaps“ on the radio as a first step in slowing down mass media. Using the medium of film as a means of expression and statement concurrently, the filmmakers of the so called underground cinema in 1960s New York reflected their subjective experience with an urban environment undergoing radical transformation. In so doing, they formulated an alternative concept to the imaginaries of industrial cinema on one side and to the ever increasing influence of mass media on the other. Contemporary witnesses describe the 1960s in the US predominantly as a decade marked by desorientation and alienation in the public sphere, originating from an increased pace of societal change overcoming the 1950s experience of rigid social conventions. Additionally during this time, New York faced major changes in urban structure, thus forever changing the face of the city. This break with habitual conditions of life on the urban level went along with a changed spatial and temporal perception of the city dwellers. Being dependent on locally available resources through networks of production and distribution, the city as everyday living environment consequently played a dominant role in underground cinema.
Working with the assumption, that this form of cinema and the practices connected to its making and exhibition produced a counter-space outside of hegemonic linear temporality, I will outline the representation of such spaces in the work of two filmmakers, Ron Rice and Peter Emanuel Goldman, standing for different tendencies in underground cinema. The majority of the filmmakers during this time did precisely not show the protest rallies happening in many places but trained their cameras on the everyday urban environment as if to reorder its perception. Strategies to be found here were for example the use of an ‘untimely‘ aesthetics such as that of silent film (Rice) or sujets refering to a specific temporality such as the flâneur or drifting protagonist, connected to the city‘s historicity (Goldman). Refering to the general function of urban imaginaries in cinema, the experience of a specific metropolitan temporality represented through these films will be analyzed.

Berit Hummel, studied Psychology at Freie Universität Berlin and Photography at the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig, MA at University of the Arts, Berlin. Since 2012 DFG Fellow at the Center for Metropolitan Studies / TU Berlin with a PhD project on he production of urban space in 1960s underground and counter cinema. Further research interests include: artistic production and spatial politics, urban cinematic landscapes and postwar avant-gardes.

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