Manuel De Landa—one of today’s most provocative philosophers—arrived in the gritty landscape of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1977 and staked his territory as a street artist in the days before Ed Koch indelibly marked New York’s landscape as mayor. De Landa’s punk imagery and anarchic philosophy found their place in the Cinema of Transgression, raging against the art world’s codified norms and challenging the parameters of the medium. De Landa’s work The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle (1976), offers a reproach to Hollywood’s classical editing style, while Incontinence: A Diarrhetic Flow of Mismatches (1978) perverts the psychodynamics driving Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Raw Nerves: A Lacanian Thriller (1980) is a trash noir set in a public bathroom, using disorienting optical printing to disentangle the moving image from theory’s psychoanalytic obsessions. Ism Ism (1979) remains a living testament to De Landa’s experience of the Lower East Side, as we see him spray paint the injunction to “Use illegal surfaces for your art.” Harmful or Fatal if Swallowed (1982) evokes the Artaudian language of the Lower East Side with its hand-drawn wipes and erratic transitions. The body is tortured, the frame is dismantled, and the image stays in flux. The films of Manuel De Landa remain a critical image of New York’s Lower East Side and a testament to the cinema’s living body. “The space of cinema is alive,” De Landa wrote in notes for a 1981 screening. “It has its own body, a very wet body.”
(1976-1983, 84 min., 16mm and Blu-ray courtesy of Anthology Film Archives)
Curated by A.P. Pettinelli (CMS) as part of the Film Studies Center’s Graduate Student Curatorial Program. Films preserved by Anthology Film Archives with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Film Preservation Foundation.