John Wisniewski interviews Jack Sargeant

by Joseph Matheny on June 4, 2009

in Uncategorized

Jack Sargeant (12 March 1968) is a writer specialising in cult film, underground film, and independent film, as well as subcultures, true crime, and other aspects of the unusual. In addition he is a film programmer and an academic.

Since 1995 Jack Sargeant has written and contributed to numerous books on underground film, including: Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression, about Cinema of Transgression filmmakers such as Richard Kern and Nick Zedd, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema, and Cinema Contra Cinema, a collection of essays on alternative film. He is the editor of the journal Suture, and has co-edited two volumes Lost Highways: An Illustrated History of the Road Movie (with Stephanie Watson) and No Focus: Punk on Film (with Chris Barber). In 2007 Deathtripping was republished by Soft Skull Press.

He has contributed to numerous books on subjects ranging from Andy Warhol movies to road rage and car crash songs and his work has been included in collections such as Mikita Brottman’s Car Crash Culture, Mendick & Harper’s Underground USA, Wollen & Kerr’s Autopia, among others.

He has also authored and edited true crime books including Born Bad, Death Cults, Bad Cop Bad Cop, and Guns, Death Terror’. These books have featured contributions from Monte Cazazza, Michael Spann, Andrew Leavold, John Harrison, Simon Whitechapel, Chris Barber, and others.

Jack has written introductions for Joe Coleman’s Book of Joe and photographer Romain Slocombe‘s Tokyo Sex Underground.

He has contributed to publications such as Headpress as well as Panik, The Wire, Fortean Times and Bizarre magazine, as well as academic journals such as Senses of Cinema and M/C.

Between 2001-2003 he was film editor at large for Sleazenation. Jack has written cover notes for DVDs by various underground and independent filmmakers, including the British Film Institute’s DVD release of Kirby Dick’s film Sick: The Life And Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.

Jack has appeared in numerous film and TV documentries on culture and film, as well as having cameos in underground films. He has also appeared on recordings by the experimental group I/O.

He has promoted and organized shows for filmmakers and artists at the Horse Hospital in London and Cinematheque in Brighton, UK, and has also toured film festivals in America, Europe, and Australia, including the New York Underground Film Festival, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Brisbane International Film Festival, and Sydney Underground Film Festival. In 2002 and 2003 he collaborated with Simon Kane on The Salon, an annual event that has featured performances by David Tibet, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Cotton Ferox.

He is currently curating the Revelation – Perth International Film Festival 2008. (wikipedia)


Hello Jack. Here we go. What inspires you to write on the subject of extreme cinema-Beat Movies, cult films etc.?

In terms of inspiration, I think I become inspired because I want to find out about things personally, for my own interest, and I pursue these absolutely. I think, and have been told, that I can be pretty obsessive about my interests. Then of course I know there’s a handful of people out there who share my tastes, so it makes sense to write books. It should also be obvious that I am fascinated by the creative processes behind writing and always have been, although not in a precious way, I am happy to work with editors and so on.

Additionally, I’ve always been drawn to things that were considered to be outside of the mainstream. I have very little interest in what I guess you’d call dominant culture and was never really interested in it. The topics which I write about all, I think, reflect my own tastes. But I don’t know if I have an overarching theme across all my books or anything, I write about what I want, there’s no wider agenda. Or if there is it only emerges subsequently when looking back from the vantage point of history at my earlier books.

What were the subjects of your first published articles?

I used to write music fanzines when I was a teenager, so I guess interviews with bands and so on. Additionally I wrote about odd things that got my interest for various magazines. I went through a phase writing about cars and violence, something I return to periodically when writing true crime pieces or in some of the more obscure pop culture pieces I’ve written such as on car crash pop songs for Mikita’s book Car Crash Culture.

Were you always a fan of exploitation and cult films?

Yes. I was exposed to these things very early on. I remember just watching video after video of horror movies, exploitation movies, cult films and so on. But the best thing was midnight movies, I used to go and see late night double bills week after week, Friday and Saturday nights. That was such as education you know, just watching movies, all those great late night classics The Thing, Assault On Precinct 13, Salo, Halloween, Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Eraserhead, Santa Sangre, Evil Dead, The Beast and so on, I loved sitting in the cinema with the film geeks, fans, crazy night people, oddballs, drunks, stoners, and so on who made up the crowd. True nighthawks one and all.

Could you name some of your favorite films?

Every time I do the list changes, lets just say I love all kinds of movies, I admire filmmakers who follow their vision and films that show you something in a different way, ultimately the films I write about are the ones that matter most to me. If you need a list: Fingered, SXXX80, Eraserhead, Holy Mountain, The Proposition, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Night of the Living Dead, The Idiots, Wake In Fright.

Let’s talk about “Beat Cinema”. What effect did jazz music have on the films of the beat writers?

I guess the idea of the freedom in the music inspired the idea of freedom in other forms of expression, but I don’t think the progression was simply from one to the other, these things happened at the same time and followed their own pathways. The idea of the Beat Cinema book Naked Lens was simply to examine the way this subculture or subcultural gesture extended culture beyond the boundaries traditionally ascribed to it.

What made these films so important to the culture of the 1960′s?

It depends on which films you are talking about. Some no doubt inspired people – like the freedom of Pull My Daisy or Flower Thief which got people to pick up cameras and make their own movies. Or Flamming Creatures which influenced queer theatre and what became know as glitter rock, and eventually, by extension, bands like the New York Dolls, and of course filmmakers like John Waters. Others like Balch and Burroughs’ film The Cut Ups probably found a more appreciative audience in the late ’70s within industrial music.

Did you ever meet Allen Ginsberg or any of the other beat writers?

I spoke to Allen Ginsberg on the phone for Naked Lens. I saw Herbert Hunke read when he toured, which was incredible, a truly inspiring performer and writer.

How are exploitation films such as those made by Herschel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman (“Blood Feast”) trangressive?

Well, I don’t think I ever said they were, but I guess they broke the boundaries of what was considered culturally acceptable at the time, with the gore, sexual representations and so on. But I don’t think it maters if its transgressive or not, if you enjoy it then that’s fine, you know.

What is the audience seeking in viewing these films?

I don’t think that it is possible to say, I mean, every member of an audience has their own interest in a film and motivations for being there watching.

What are some of your favorite road movies and why do you think audiences love road movies so much. What do films like “Easy Rider” give to the audience?

Again, what my favorites are changes all the time. I love Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop and so on.

Could you name some Punk rock films that you may want to talk about? Some of your favorites. What about the nature of punk music may have brought about the making of these films?

The punk rock movie book (No Focus) was very much a joint project. I curated an entire season of films at ACMI in Melbourne and those

movies I selected were probably the ones I liked best: Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains, Jubilee, Louder Faster Shorter, TG Live at Oundle, Repo Man and so on. I think the most obvious aspect that punk music has on film was less to do with music per se and more to do with the whole punk idea of being able to do it yourself.

Do you listen to punk or hardcore?

Sure I enjoy some punk and hardcore, but my preference is for those bands who were were not so generic thrash… broadly, the more experimental post-punk bands.

Let’s get back to Beat Cinema and the experimental films of William Burroughs, Cut-Ups as they are called and the films and musical experiments of Brion Gysin. What did these films hope to accomplish? Is there any relation between Burroughs writings and his films?

Oh, there’s a whole lifetime’s research in that. I mean, I’d suggest all of Burroughs’ work can be seen as part of a large project to attack control systems. As to what the films tried to accomplish, I think that was covered in Naked Lens.

What do you think of the banning or censorship of certain violent films, underground or mainstream? Is there such a thing as going too far?

Obviously I think censorship is absurd. Going “too far” is interesting, to me going “too far” isn’t so much about say the level of violence but the metanarratives around it.

What was your opinion of the film “Caligula” and “Canniba Holocaust” perhaps two of the most extreme films ever made?

I’m not sure that extremity can be quantified. I mean Cannibal Holocaust is just entertaining trash but it’s no worse than say Cannibal Ferox or a dozen other Italians horror movies. As for Caligula, I can’t remember, I haven’t seen it for years.

Are films like the Guinea Pig series from Japan, “too disturbing”?

I’m not interested in those films particularly. I do like Mishima’s film about ritual suicide which is beautiful.

What lies in the future for extreme culture?

I don’t know, I maintain an interest in underground film, and always find things I like. I’m not sure if these films are extreme – as I said I don’t think it’s possible to quantify extremity – but there’s good things being made still.

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