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Fringes of Cinema: Phil Hall Takes Us Underground PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Joe Sherlock   
Apr 15, 2005 at 02:00 AM
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Fringes of Cinema: Phil Hall Takes Us Underground
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Phil Hall is contributing editor for online magazine Film Threat and book editor for the weekly New York Resident newspaper. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wired Magazine, American Movie Classics Magazine, and the Hartford Courant. His new book dealves into a world familiar to b-movie.com fans, but in exhaustingly deep detail.

DG: Was there one film or occurrence that inspired you to write your new book, "The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies: Films from the Fringes of Cinema?"

PH: It was actually the culmination of four years of reviewing underground films and interviewing the talent behind these films. Since I joined the editorial staff of Film Threat (www.filmthreat.com) in 2000, I've been given the opportunity to explore the barely-acknowledged world of contemporary underground cinema. In this period of time, I've been astonished by the depth and scope of the underground scene, and I've been equally amazed that no one has made any effort to do a serious book on the subject. When we think of underground movies, we tend to think of the experimental classics of Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol and that group - but those are films which were made from the 1940s through the 1960s. No one was paying attention to the Derens, Angers, Brakhages and Warhols of today.

DG: One thing I think sets the movies you talk about apart from what most call "Indie" cinema is that by and large those operating in this "underground" have a clear understanding of the where they are and that they are going to remain there. In other words, most underground folks revel in the fact that they are underground, free of what most see as "trappings" of Hollywood. In contrast many an "Indie" director actually aspires to be a part of Hollywood and see independent film and festivals as their ticket in. Am I on the mark here with this?

PH: What is "independent"? A movie like "Lost in Translation" was promoted as an independent film, even though it was financed by Francis Ford Coppola, directed by his well-connected daughter Sofia, starred Bill Murray and was released by a subsidiary of Universal Pictures. Where's the independence?

Independent cinema has become corrupted - it feels like Hollywood talent making films on lower budgets, but they are nonetheless Hollywood productions complete with A-list talent, huge publicity campaigns and distribution by the big studios (albeit through their so-called "classics" divisions).

Let's be honest, every filmmaker wants to work in Hollywood. But the filmmakers who were profiled in my book are far removed from that scene. Eric Stanze is in St. Louis, Jimmy Traynor is in Baltimore, Shanti Guy is in Forth Worth, the Hale Manor trio works out of Southington, Connecticut - and yet being so far from Hollywood, they are also far from the negative influences that Hollywood puts on film production. Their films aren't "safe" - they represent a distinct, perhaps reckless but nonetheless original concept of what films should look like and sound like.

DG: Many have cited your book as a great resource on underground films to see and where to see them or get a hold of them. How did you go about gathering info on such a vast number of movies?

PH: They found me! Film Threat is one of the very few major film media outlets that actively covers underground cinema. The filmmakers were in touch with Film Threat and I saw their films by way of video and DVD screeners.

DG: What are your thoughts on the idea that much of cult cinema's fan base have now picked up DV cameras and become "cult" filmmakers themselves, actually shrinking the audience for such material?

PH: No, the audience has not diminished. Those with the serious drive to succeed will continue in their filmmaking. Those who make one film just for a lark will never get anywhere. My book is not about the latter category. I am focusing on those who are in it for the long haul.

DG: What was the hardest part about getting your book together?

PH: Deciding which films and filmmakers get the feature coverage. There is a wealth of talent and I cannot pretend this is a definitive text. But it is my professional opinion on which folks are the best of their field and thus require the attention of the movie fans.

DG: Aside from "Pick up the book!" what advice do you have for those leaning towards getting into the underground cinema world?

PH: Pick up the book - and read it. Seriously, the book is a celebration of the struggles that arise in the creation and distribution of underground cinema. The book covers everything from getting inspiration for a screenplay through dealing with hostile critics. In many ways, this is the ultimate how-to book for DIY filmmakers.

DG: Any parting words?

PH: You can find the book online at MWP Books (http://www.mwp.com) or at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online sites, or in most major book retail outlets.

DG: Thanks for your time Phil! All you aspiring or dedicated filmmakers out there - sounds like you've got a new book to check out!

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