American Independent Cinema

Yannis Tzioumakis' American Independent Cinema (Rutgers UP, 2006) is out of my period, so scholars closer to the literature on contemporary cinema may or may not see problems with its material (or its novelty?) that went by me. And it's certainly the case that the volume has gotten less attention or visibility than Holmlund and Wyatt, ed.'s Contemporary American Independent Film. However, I found what I've read so far to be an excellent industrial history of American independent film. And Tzioumakis's book serves as a good companion volume to Holmlund/Wyatt's volume and an a useful addition to the emerging scholarship on the field. If anything, it shows the strength of a unified scholarly book: a single explanatory frame applied in logical procession.

What I liked: the book manages to grasp and present the varied and competing definitions of "independence" without either getting bogged down in the definitional questions (they do interest me, but only up to a point) or assuming a trans-historical essence of independence (as if Cassavetes leads, like a genetic strain passed on, to Jarmusch and Hartley).

As industrial histories are wont to do, AIC seeks economic explanations for the aesthetic and thematic shift in leftfield productions in the early 80s and through the 2000s. At points I worry that the argumentation cannot stand firm interrogation: for instance, did public television funding really cause an ethos of proud marginalization in the American independents? Might not both have sprung from the same social factors? Again, genealogical explanations of historical "inheritance" make me leery. I don't expect a historical study to solve such questions tidily, but "culture" has a way of appearance as explanation of last resort in ways I found unsatisfactory. Still, many of the casual explanations do illuminate the films and the period in American cinema. Now if I can just find the time to read more of the book.


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