Screening Subversion

Underground cinema at Cinema 17

In almost every city, beyond the neon jumble of multiplexes and megaplexes, there’s a good independent theatre or two. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can even find an alternative film club that showcases the rare and the radical. Cinema 17, run by U4 Cultural Studies student Charles Tuck, is one of these.

The weekly cinema club, which meets at Café Le Cagibi on Monday evenings, screens a mix of cinephile favourites and rough forgotten gems. The entrance fee is “pay-what-you-can,” and the proceeds go toward acquiring films and equipment, most recently, a 16mm projector.

In an interview with The Daily, Tuck explained Cinema 17’s mandate as “if I’m not offending somebody, then I’m not doing it right.”

Tuck has, of course, been doing it right since he first began Cinema 17 in February, as a response to the Quebec student movement. Initially, the club was a platform for films exclusively about strikes.

“I thought this would be a really valuable way of mobilizing support for the strike,” Tuck said. “I was getting into arguments about screenings on the regular.”

After a few months of strike -related films, Cinema 17 broadened its mandate considerably, but continues to showcase subversive material.

“The emphasis is anything marginal, anything that will provoke political discussion, particularly along the lines of race, class, gender and sexuality,” Tuck said.

Last week, Cinema 17 showed Bush Mama, a gorgeous cinéma-vérité-style independent film about a pregnant woman living in the black ghetto of Watts, Los Angeles.

“I actually got an anonymous email from somebody calling me a racist and asking me why I feel I have the right to show this film,” Tuck said. “Of course, the only thing that would be racist is if I didn’t show the film.”

One of Tuck’s resources for films is McGill’s enormous collection of rare experimental 16mm films from the sixties and seventies, that was only recently rediscovered.

“One student in the mid-seventies, this film buff, was using McGill money to amass this collection of experimental films from the sixties and seventies,” Tuck said.

These films sat in a basement deteriorating, Tuck explained, until a member of the McGill staff stumbled upon them, and asked a film professor to come take a look before they were discarded.

The collection includes some films that had their first screenings at Cinema 16, the screening club Cinema 17 models itself after. Operating in New York in the fifties and sixties, Cinema 16 was the first to screen a number of the most important, and most controversial avant-garde films of the time.

Next week, Cinema 17 will continue to challenge its viewers with a screening of LA Plays Itself, a 1972 hardcore gay porn film.

“It was at the vanguard of pornographic film in that era, and helped usher in the period that was called porno-chic,” Tuck said, adding that Salvador Dalí and Groucho Marx were in attendance at some of the film’s first screenings.

While the subject matter may cause some to flinch away, Tuck rightly stressed the importance of gay pornography for the gay civil rights movement, as well as the importance of watching and discussing pornography in general.

“We always facilitate discussions after screenings […] I don’t want people to just come in and watch the films and be on their way without thinking about them,” Tuck said.

Cinema 17 is based on a participatory model, so even if 1970s hardcore gay porn isn’t your thing, you’re welcome to come take in the film and express your views.