We’re coming to the close of a great retrospective of Joe Sarno’s works at New York’s Anthology Film Archives, ending September 26. Sarno was one of the sexploitation genre’s key auteurs, and his films evoke the independent spirit of the underground film movement — movies popularized during the ‘60s that pushed the boundaries of technique and narrative with experimental artistry. These pictures produced outside the commercial moviemaking industry ranged from the subversive to the formless (at least where any story was concerned), delighting in explicit subjects and exploring radical in-camera editing. Crucial as he is, Sarno is just one of these 50 underground filmmakers you should know.
“The only person I would ever copy. He’s just so terrific, and I think he makes the best movies,” said Andy Warhol of underground filmmaking legend Jack Smith. The influential fringe director challenged gender and sexual norms, and introduced a controversial and delirious camp-trash aesthetic that has been copied by artists and filmmakers like Mike Kelley and John Waters, to name a few. Smith’s 1963 film Flaming Creatures was ruled to be “obscene” and confiscated by the police during its premiere at New York’s Bleecker Street Cinema. Susan Sontag described it as a “rare modern work of art; it is about joy and innocence.”