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Coney Island Sideshows Presents... Underground Films, Underground

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2025L Atwood Ave

Madison, WI 53704

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Explore rare, transgressive, groundbreaking experimental films in a 4-part series at Coney Island Studios on Madison's East Side.

Underground films stand among the great artworks of the 20th century, but also among the most underappreciated. Unlike The Velvet Underground or Jackson Pollack masterpieces of the same era, underground films are far more difficult for current audiences to discover. Too many films languish on archive shelves, rarely seen.

Filmmakers were compelled to make these films, uncertain if they would find an audience. The films found their way around the globe in cine-clubs, coffee shops, art galleries—and union hall basements. Equipped with the same 16mm projectors that screened science films to middle schoolers, underground film screenings stimulated and fostered artistic and social movements since the Beat generation: feminism, queer camp, psychedelia, and punk.

This series returns underground films to their authentic digs—in the basement on a 16mm projector with a group of devoted followers huddled in the dark, catching up with what’s going down. The way it always has been.

Shows highlight films from different eras - Come, hang out, listen to records, watch films.

Curated by Erik Gunneson and James Kreul
Sponsored by JJ Murphy
Presented by Coney Island Sideshows
Come as you are.


Thursday, August 17 - 1953


In 1953, experimental film screenings often included psychodramas influenced by surrealism, with dreamlike symbol-laden narratives.

In At Land (1946) filmmaker Maya Deren washes up on a beach and explores the landscape of her own identity.

Kenneth Anger’s homoerotic classic Fireworks (1947) portrays a young man who has a rough encounter with muscular sailors in a sado-masochistic fantasy.

Sidney Peterson’s class workshop-produced The Lead Shoes (1949) features disparate elements that distort time and space as a maternal melodrama collides with an English ballad.

As a distinct counterpoint, in The End (1953) Christopher Maclaine eschews surrealism for bleak, Beat-influenced portraits of six characters who live their last day on Earth.
Combined running time: 82 minutes.

Thursday, August 24 - 1969

Larry Jordan's 1969 film

By 1969, underground film screenings were common on college campuses across the country, and the films often reflected emerging countercultures.

Storm de Hirsch creates psychedelic visuals in Peyote Queen (1965) by shooting through kaleidoscopic objects
and painting or scratching directly on the film strip.

Bruce Baillie executes complicated in-camera mattes and superimpositions in Castro Street (1966) to create a stunning visual portrait of an oil refinery and railway yard.

George Kuchar’s camp appreciation of lurid exploitation melodrama mutates into a personal meditation on loneliness in Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966)

Robert Nelson delivers a “kinetic film sketch” of a truck in trouble on the rocky seaside cliffs near Stinson Beach, California in Hot Leatherette (1967),

Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley juxtapose idealized women in commercials and beauty pageants with the lived experience of women and their bodies in their collage Schmeerguntz (1965).

Tom Chomont extends the visual language of the diary film with the systematic repetition of 30 images in Oblivion (1969).

Larry Jordan injects surreal cut-out animation with an infectious playful energy in Our Lady of the Sphere (1969).
Combined running time: 70 minutes

Thursday, August 31 - 1979

Foregrounds medium.jpg

Experimental filmmakers in the 1970s extended their techniques and sensibilities to more subdued and austere projects.

The city portrait genre finds new life in Peter Hutton’s contemplative black-and-white New York Portrait, Chapter 1 (1979) and Betzy Bromberg’s vibrant showcase of summer in the city, Ciao Bella (1978).

Master of the optical printer, Pat O’Neil brings technical precision to his abstract, mind-bending Foregrounds (1978).

Owen Land explores the absurd logic of instructional films in New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops (1976).

James Benning pushes the minimal threshold for narrative in 8½ x 11 (1974), filmed in Wisconsin, which toggles between two on-the-road plots with each deceptively simple shot.
Combined running time: 81 minutes.

Thursday, September 7 - 1994

Sink or Swim.jpg
Our first season underground concludes with two essential personal essays from the 1990s.

Words and terms in reverse alphabetical order provide Su Friedrich a framework to explore her complicated relationship with her father in Sink or Swim (1990). Third person voice-over narration gives Friedrich’s memories a storybook quality as both father and daughter confront loss and regret.

Jay Rosenblatt combines found footage imagery with stories of childhood cruelty in The Smell of Burning Ants (1994) to examine how the “boys will be boys” sensibility leads to emotionally disabled men. Boys are not taught to be men, Rosenblatt argues, they are taught not to be girls, which alienates them from any feminine qualities that could provide emotional balance.
Combined running time: 69 minutes.

* 18 and up
* no food or beverages
* no firearms
* Come as you are


2025L Atwood Ave

Madison, WI 53704

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