On Writing The Anarchist Cinema

  • James Newton University of Kent


This article reflects on the process of researching and writing what became The Anarchist Cinema (2019), where I wrestled with the relationships that exist between anarchist theory and the history of film. I began by suggesting that the cinema has historically been an ‘anarchic’ space – whose unruliness faced persistent regulations of its onscreen content and of its patrons. I then suggested there are possibilities for a definition of an ‘anarchist’ film to exist (typified most commonly in critical circles in the work of avowed anarchist Jean Vigo), despite the contradiction of cinema being such an inherently capitalistic artform. Such a definition, I argued, can be broadened to include films not made by anarchists, but which include formal properties and themes relevant to anarchist politics. Such examples have been found in a number of exploitation film contexts, and as a case study I looked at a cycle of Women in Prison films from the 1970s that replicate Vigo’s broad anti-institution message in unruly cinematic structures and images.  


The final section examined ways of bringing together these disparate and often clashing areas of cinematic history. How does one, for example, reconcile personal filmmaking by an anarchist in 1930s France with commercial American films that centre sexploitation imagery along with other attractions? The answer would be to accept that Anarchist Cinema has been a fluctuating historical trend woven into the development of cinema and springing up in contrasting transnational contexts (and crossing the boundaries between professional and amateur filmmaking). To reconcile these paradoxes and tensions, The Anarchist Cinema should be seen as an impermanent and disruptive force, but one that can be frequently disruptive of its own assumptions and conventions. Films, I propose, should not be ruled out from belonging to an anarchist tradition due to impure content or lack of a perfect alignment with presumed anarchist values. This article is a postscript reflecting on The Anarchist Cinema, as well as advancing new ideas and areas for examination.

Author Biography

James Newton, University of Kent

James Newton teaches film studies and media at the University of Kent, and is a filmmaker. He is the author of The Anarchist Cinema (Intellect, 2019) and The Mad Max Effect (Bloomsbury, 2021), and has directed the micro-budget features Black Lizard Tales (2020) and Katernica (2023).