If you’re not familiar with Cinema of Transgression, it is a term coined by Nick Zedd to describe the work of underground filmmaker John Waters and the films of directors like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean-Luc Godard, and Andy Warhol.

The term was first uttered in 1985. Trying to define Cinema of Transgression isn’t easy because there is no central theme or topic that is explored in these films.

Instead, most of these films have a style that is unique and often very abrasive. There are no rules when it comes to Cinema of Transgression so long as they are experimental in nature.

Cinema of Transgression

What Is Cinema of Transgression?

Cinema of Transgression is a term coined by Nick Zedd to describe a loose group of filmmakers who began making and exhibiting their films in downtown New York City from the late 1970s onwards.

Including Zedd himself, as well as Richard Kern, Beth B., Jack Sargeant, Rosemarie Turko, Lizzie Borden, Ron Athey and Lydia Lunch.

The Cinema of Transgression has been described as “the most significant experimental movement in the field of video art since Fluxus”“.

The term “Cinema of Transgression” was first used by Zedd to describe his own underground movie theater.


What Is Cinema Of Transgression?

Cinema of Transgression films are usually characterized by a complete disregard for narrative conventions.

This style is often referred to as “anti-cinema,” a term which was also coined by Nick Zedd.

Cinema of Transgression concerns itself with the exploration of violence, sexuality and taboo topics that would otherwise be considered objectionable by mainstream audiences.

The goal of Cinema of Transgression is to shock viewers in order to make them think about their own moral values and social constructs.

It’s meant to get the viewer out of their comfort zone and make them confront the ugliness that exists within the world around them.

In an interview with indieWIRE in 2000, Zedd said that he had been using that phrase as a “secret name for my little secret club” since 1982.

According to Zedd, the term was used both to refer to his theater and his philosophy towards filmmaking: “I wanted my movies to be like transgressions – like when you break the law or go against society’s norms. I wanted them to be dangerous.”

Richard Kern And The Cinema Of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression is a name given by film critics J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum to a filmmaking movement in the New York City underground film scene of the 1980s. It refers to a type of avant-garde film that transgressed standard morality and convention.

The Cinema of Transgression arose in response against the dominant mode of cinematic realism, which was seen as stifling under the socio-political climate at the time. 

The movement began on Long Island, New York in the late 1970s and became more prominent in the early 1980s with filmmakers such as Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Amos Poe, Beth B, Lizzie Borden, Scott B and Beth B., Jim Finn and Richard Kern.

Films belonging to this genre are often shocking, gruesome and confrontational but frequently have a sense of humor or irony; they are generally not “acted” but rather presented as so-called “real life”. Often these films were screened at clubs or at festivals such as the New York Underground Film Festival (founded 1981).

The Cinema of Transgression helped pave the way for what is now known as underground or alternative independent filmmaking. Richard Kern (born 1956) is an American photographer who lives in New York City.


History Of Cinema Of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression movement was a short-lived experimental film movement that began in the early 80s (1981-1985) and ended with the death of its main founding figure, Nick Zedd, at the end of 1985.

I find it to be a fascinating subject because this moment in time was when most of the key players and filmmakers that would go on to become the leading lights in independent cinema were starting out and developing their style.

The Cinema of Transgression was inspired by Zedd’s manifesto, which he edited and published in 1983 under the name “Tulsa.” The manifesto was originally posted as part of a group exhibition called “Cinema of Transgression” held at Artists Space in New York.

Amongst other texts, it included George Kuchar’s “Manifesto From A Different God” (1979). This text is shorter than Zedd’s but is also worth reading for anyone interested in this period, as it articulates many of the ideas pursued by artists at that time.

The Cinema of Transgression was not based around any single film or filmmaker, but rather around a series of philosophical ideas. These ideas were developed through various manifestos and essays that have been collected together into an anthology.

Essential Filmmakers Of Cinema Of Transgression

Cinema of Transgression (COT) is an underground film movement that began in New York City in the late 1980s. Although it was short lived, this movement gave birth to a new breed of American avant-garde filmmakers and helped put New York on the international film scene.

In addition, many COT filmmakers successfully crossed over into mainstream Hollywood productions. 

Troma Films, founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, played a central role in the development of Cinema of Transgression.

Troma provided the filmmakers with low-budget film equipment and facilities, which enabled these directors to make experimental films while they were attending college. 

The Troma team also allowed these directors to work on their projects under their Troma Entertainment Group production umbrella and provided them with wide exposure through film festivals and distribution deals.

At its height, Cinema of Transgression had no rules or manifesto, but it did have a recognizable style that distinguished its films from Hollywood fare. 


The majority of Cinema of Transgression films are self-reflexive about filmmaking itself, employing amateur actors and “cinema verite” shooting styles that impart an air of realism.

The directors also use horror film elements such as gore, sexuality and shock to evoke reactions from audiences. 

Essential Films Of Cinema Of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression movement was a loose group of underground filmmakers that emerged in the 1980s. The films were incredibly shocking and confrontational, leaving many viewers feeling very uncomfortable.

The films were designed to challenge societal norms, with the aim of breaking down sexual taboos, as well as many others. The Cinema of Transgression movement was started in New York City in the early 1980s by Nick Zedd and Ron Athey.

It was inspired by the Fluxus movement, which used multimedia events to challenge audiences. 

The Cinema of Transgression also borrowed from other art movements such as Dadaism and Surrealism, both of which promoted the use of shock tactics to draw attention to their work.

The movement soon spread to England, where it gained a lot more exposure. At its height, there were around 100 members, but this dwindled over time to about 30 core members and their associates.

Some of the most notable films made by Cinema of Transgression members include those by Richard Kern, David Wojnarowicz, Beth B and Nick Zedd himself. Members drew influence from a number of sources, including the writings of William S Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr. They also drew inspiration from underground punk music bands.


Importance Of Cinema Of Transgression

Cinema of Transgression is the name given to a loose-knit group of underground filmmakers that emerged in New York City in the mid-1980s. Although their films are diverse, they all share an extreme, confrontational, and often deliberately offensive aesthetic, with a focus on transgressive content.

This movement continues today, but with a much larger group of participants.The term was coined by Nick Zedd in 1985, after he had moved from San Francisco to New York City, where he founded the Cinema Of Transgression Manifesto.

The manifesto was published in 1986 and the group showed works at the Film-Makers’ Cooperative including Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Karen Finley, David Wojnarowicz, John Waters, Cookie Mueller, Lydia Lunch, Tim Miller, Jim Jarmusch, and others. 

Many of these artists are affiliated with Punk and No Wave Cinema. Thurston Moore listed Punk cinema as one of the “25 underground movies you should see” in a 2013 article for Rolling Stone.

The Cinema of Transgression embraced the shock value of films like Deep Throat (1972) and Last House on The Left (1972), but sought to create something new by taking these films to their logical extreme.

Films made by Cinema of Transgression artists were generally short works that defied categorization; they were often too violent. 

Cinema Of Transgression Theory

Cinema of Transgression (Cot) is a term coined by Nick Zedd in his 1985 manifesto of the same title for the provocatively transgressive films that he curated at the New York based Mudd Club from 1982–1985.

The term has since been used to describe a movement in underground filmmaking that reacted against the conservative cultural climate of early 1980s America. 

The name of this movement can be traced back to Zedd’s original manifesto and also stems from an excerpt taken from the writings of French philosopher Georges Bataille, as well as a number of other sources.

The Cinema Of Transgression was a intentionally provocative and nihilistic underground film movement that began in New York City in the early 1980s, created by a group of filmmakers known as “the Cinema Of Transgression,” which included Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Beth B, and others. The term refers to their transgressive artworks, which were shocking, sadistic and intended to offend mainstream sensibilities.

Their short films were screened at various nightclubs in New York City including Club 57 and Mudd Club during the early-to-mid 1980s. The movement was inspired by crime comics, horror films (especially those of Italian director Mario Bava), and absurdist theatre.

The End Of Cinema Of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression is a loose group of filmmakers who deal with taboo subjects and made films in the late 80s and early 90s. Takeshi Kitano, Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, Kembra Pfahler, David Wojnarowicz and Jack Smith were some of the members.

The definition of Cinema of Transgression is always changing depending on the people involved in it or the audience they are trying to reach. Nick Zedd defines it as “the search for something beyond boredom, beyond pleasure”.

He continues stating that “the Cinema Of Transgression has been a loaded phrase that has been used against us. It’s meant different things to different people at different times.”