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American Independent Cinema

Rites of Passage and the Crisis Image

Anna Backman Rogers

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Examines crisis, transition and metamorphosis in American independent cinema

Anna Backman Rogers argues that American independent cinema is a cinema not merely in crisis, but also of crisis. As a cinema which often explores the rite of passage by explicitly drawing on American cinematic heritage, from the teen movie to the western, American independent films deal in images of crisis, transition and metamorphosis, offering a subversive engagement with more traditional modes of representation.

Examining films by Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola, this study sets forth that American indie films offer the viewer an ‘art experience’ within the confines of commercial, narrative cinema by engaging with cinematic time (as a mode of philosophical thought) and foregrounding the inherent ‘crisis’ of the cinematic image (as the mode of being as change).

Key features

  • Case studies include: The Virgin Suicides, Elephant, Dead Man, Last Days, Somewhere and Broken Flowers
  • Argues for the relevance and importance of American indie cinema as a mode of ‘art’ cinema that offers a challenging viewing experience to a broad audience
  • Engages with and develops on recent scholarship on American independent film from a formal perspective
  • Situates analysis of indie film within the context of American generic cinematic (and historical) traditions


Chapter One: Adolescence: Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’ (1999)
Adolescence: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant’ (2003)
Chapter Two: Death: Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man’ (1994)
Death: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Last Days’ (2004)
Chapter Three: Life-Crisis: Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’ (2011)
Broken Flowers (2005)
Conclusion: The Crisis-Image –Mumblecore and Beyond

About the Author

Anna Backman Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Gothenberg, Sweden.


'[American independent cinema: rites of passage and the crisis image] presents case studies of films that offer aesthetic forms of ‘radical or cerebral critique’ (2). These films not only rethink what American independent cinema can do, but also rethink how we can think through cinema.'
- Laura Stamm, University of Pittsburgh, New Review of Film and Television Studies

American Independent Cinema offers a welcome original take on US indie films. The first book-length study to engage with this most popular of forms using Deleuze, it provides a refreshing political engagement with the aesthetics of US indies. Backman Rogers’ deft argument insightfully illuminates how US indie’s manifold bodies in crisis (for example, consider Bill Murray’s ubiquitous deadpan lethargic characters) produce a "radical or cerebral critique" of neoliberal USA. A sophisticated scholarly endeavour, the engaging prose enables Deleuze’s complex ideas to be realised in the most lucid way, and in relation to some of the most important films of recent decades: from Dead Man through Elephant and Broken Flowers to Somewhere.

Professor David Martin-Jones, University of Glasgow

'Its arguments are lucid, thought provoking, and convincing; its remarks on individual movies are exemplary instances of close readings. The text should be read by anyone pursuing scholarly work on contemporary cinema, and its greatest value is perhaps that it offers inspiration and justifications for similar studies of other films.'

- Christopher K. Coffman, Boston University , Journal of Popular Film and Television

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