Jack Sargeant wrote his first book at the age of 26, and DEATHTRIPPING : THE CINEMA OF TRANSGRESSION still exists as the most exhaustive handbook on post-punk New York underground film. The subversive Soft Skull imprint have recently published its third edition. Sargeant`s interests range from underground cinema to avant garde practice, as well as extreme attitudes and actions, largely ignored histories, obscure ideologies and overlooked viewpoints. Other books include; NAKED LENS: BEAT CINEMA, SUTURE, NO FOCUS: PUNK FILM and CINEMA CONTRA CINEMA. His interest in forms of outsider contemporary culture have sparked numerous essays which have been published in ADDICTED, UNDERGROUND USA, FORTEAN TIMES, PANIK, HEADPRESS, BIZARRE, BB GUN and LOST HIGHWAYS. His fascination with the furthest parameters of human nature informed his hardboiled true crime writing, including the book BORN BAD, as well as two volumes edited by Sargeant; DEATH CULTS, and BAD COP BAD COP.
He is a regular on the lecture circuit, and frequent guest / curator at venues and festivals in New York, Chicago, Melbourne, Sydney, London, Berlin, Brussels, and all points in-between. Sargeant has also made numerous television and radio appearances, appearing alongside Thurston Moore and Richard Kern in LOVE AND ANARCHY: THE WILD, WILD WORLD OF JAMIE LEONARDER which received a highly successful premier at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July 2002. Sargeant is also a subject of a Danish television programme NEW APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE broadcast in 1999. I caught up with Jack to talk about his work and the publication of the third edition of DEATHTRIPPING, whilst he was back in the Brighton, UK;
Jack, your latest book; Deathtripping : The Cinema of Transgression, has been recently re-published by Soft Skull, what additions are there to this one?
It's redesigned totally, with several new and different pictures. I was lucky to be able to call upon many of the filmmakers included in the book to re-visit their archives and pull out new images. In terms of written content, basically some things were tidied up to make the text flow with more clarity. The last section has a couple of additional paragraphs.
And what, if anything, has changed in the books subject areas to make you carry out a re-edit for the third edition?
Simply the second edition had fallen out of print and I felt that with this edition coming from a new publisher - Soft Skull - it was a good time to revisit it and create a third edition. Soft Skull have a great catalogue, and it feels like a good place for my work to be, alongside Lisa Carver and Genesis P-Orridge.
At what point did you feel that film and cinema became as valued as, say literature, music and other popular cultural forms, within the relatively new Cultural Studies line of enquiry?
I always felt that all forms of self expression were essential and are equally worthy of exploration. Superficially, I can see as much value in either so called high or low culture. That said, the very concept of cultural value strikes me as somehow outmoded, you can't help but wonder exactly what the term 'culture' or what the concept of 'value' actually means. They are both such loaded terms, most obviously the notion of value implies the presence of things that lack value, so we have to ask who chooses what has value and what doesn't?
I would hazard a guess at any individual or group who maintain the economic control and who can then reap the financial rewards, as well as the means to benefit from the added cultural cachet and currency, in whatever influential forms that manifests itself within the media......
I, naturally, am drawn to those things that are considered by the mainstream to have 'little' or 'no' 'value', likewise I am interested in those 'cultural' manifestations that are often considered to be low-culture or sub-cultural. I teach film, media and culture, so on another level I work in a zone in which I can suggest other versions of culture and value which are traditionally seen as unusual or sub-cultural.
You have devoted a large slice of your life to exploring subterranean cinema and outsider culture, what drew or seduced you into this line of investigation?
I was always drawn to the areas that most people felt were insalubrious. The rigorous pursuit of personal vision and of imagination have always appealed to me, and often people who pursue their vision doggedly are outsiders simply because dominant culture wants things to be palatable and easily accessible, and individual obsessions invariably appeal to a more limited market.
The idea of seduction you evoke reminds me, in my new introduction to Deathtripping I described my interest in film and so on as an obsession and such an intense description seems fitting, I have little interest in people who are merely dilettantes.
What/who were your heroes when growing up?
That's interesting. I'm not really sure I ever believed in heroes so much as people who I admired. I always liked William Burroughs, who seemed to have this incredibly interesting life and influence on so many different things, I have a fascination for outsiders who followed their dreams. I first read the Ubu plays by Alfred Jarry when I was fourteen or fifteen and they really impressed me, so I went and found about Jarry. A little later I discovered Artaud and Bataille the dissident Surrealists, the Vienna Aktionists, and so on.
What has been your most exciting project you have worked on?
I don't really know, possibly all of them at various times. Deathtripping was my first book and I got to travel to America to interview people then I was invited to film festivals and colleges and so on to talk about it, so I guess that was pretty exciting. But then, with the last book I worked on - No Focus: Punk On Film - which I co-edited with Chris Barber, I was invited to curate a season of films at ACMI in Melbourne, Australia, and that was exciting. I enjoy being able to do what I do, and I guess that's the most exciting thing?
Where have you been lecturing recently?
The public lecture I did most recently was at the Sydney Underground Film Festival where I talked about various forms of pornography. I also often talk at the Mumeson Archive in Sydney - I've done lectures there on topics such as amputee fetishism, bestiality, and various underground filmmakers. During the amputee fetishism lecture four people left, during the bestiality talk only one person left, but she ran out! There's always a pleasure in offending people so much they run out!
Who are your current heroes, movers and shakers?
I'm not sure. Probably the handful of friends who I speak to most frequently, some of whom are involved in similar fields while others are artists or musicians or curates or photographers, but they always produce work I respect.
What will tip the balance and re-politicise the general public?
I think people are politicized, but perhaps not in ways that are necessarily recognized by the traditionally defined paradigms delineated by mainstream media.
Could you describe your last year as a recipe for the main course at a Lithuanian wedding reception?
I could, but I'd be lying.
You spend your time inbetween the UK and Australia, is traveling something you find keeps your brain active, or does it become a dull blade with which to sharpen the enquiring and curious mind?
I love traveling. It keeps my brain active. I actually live in Australia.
And what have you got your sights on next?
I've always got several ideas in various stages of development. I am working on several book projects, including a new edition of my book Naked Lens: Beat Cinema again for Soft Skull. I'm also editing a journal on film due out shortly. I have also written numerous short pieces for books all of which should see the light of day at some point in 2008. Beyond writing, I am the Programme Director for the Revelation International Film Festival, in Perth, Western Australia next year so I am already working on selecting films for that.