Paracinema is an academic term to refer to a wide variety of film genres out of the mainstream, bearing the same relationship to 'legitimate' film as paraliterature like comic books and pulp fiction bears to literature. The term was coined by Jeffrey Sconce,[contradiction] an American media scholar, and elaborated upon by Joan Hawkins. By Sconce's own description this is 'an extremely elastic textual category'.
In addition to art film, horror, and science fiction films, "paracinema" catalogues "include entries from such seemingly disparate genres" as badfilm, splatterpunk, mondo films, sword-and-sandal epics, Elvis flicks, government hygiene films, Japanese monster movies, beach party musicals, and "just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to ... pornography (Sconce, 372).
The term "paracinema" is also used in the context of avant-garde or experimental film studies to denote works identified by their makers as films but that lack one or more material/mechanical elements of the film medium. Such works began to appear in the 1960s in the wake of Conceptual art's rejection of standard artistic media like painting and embrace of much more ephemeral, transient materials and forms (including concepts themselves, independent of realization in any concrete material form). In exploring the fundamental nature and purpose of their medium, experimental filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s began to question the necessity of film technology for the creation of cinema, and began making works without film that were nonetheless still considered part of the avant-garde film tradition.
Such works include Ken Jacobs's "Nervous System" works and live shadowplays, the latter made with no film, camera, or projectors, only shadows cast by flickering lights onto a screen (Jacobs was the first person to coin the term "paracinema"[contradiction] [see references][which?] in the early 1970s). Anthony McCall's "solid light" films, such as Line Describing a Cone (1973) and Long Film for Ambient Light (1975), are other examples; Long Film for Ambient Light, despite its title, employed no film at all. It consisted simply of an empty artists' space lit over a 24-hour period by sunlight during the day and electric light at night. Tony Conrad's Yellow Movies (1972–1975), rectangular pieces of paper coated with house paint and allowed to turn yellow from exposure over many years, are yet another example of film makers' investigation of the fundamental properties and effects of cinema outside the physical boundaries of the film medium. In many cases, "paracinematic" works came out of a sense among radical filmmakers that the film medium posed overly restrictive and unnecessary constraints (e.g. material and economic limitations) on their search for new kinds of cinematic experience. "Cinema," in this context, is understood as a much more varied art form than among most other kinds of filmmakers, who assume that "film" cannot be disconnected from the film medium.
- Tony Conrad, "Is This Penny Ante or a High Stakes Game? An Interventionist Approach to Experimental Filmmaking," Millennium Film Journal nos. 43/44 (Summer/Fall 2005); 101–112.
- Lindley Hanlon, “Kenneth Jacobs, Interviewed by Lindley Hanlon (Jerry Sims Present), April 9, 1974.” Film Culture, nos. 67–69 (1979): 65-86.
- Anthony McCall, “Line Describing a Cone and Related Films.” October 103 (Winter 2003): 42–62.
- —, “Two Statements.” In The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism ed. P. Adams Sitney, 250–254. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1987.
- Jonathan Walley, “The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema: Contrasting Practices in Sixties and Seventies Avant-garde Film,” October no. 103(Winter 2003): 15–30.
- —. “The ‘Paracinema’ of Anthony McCall and Tony Conrad.” In Avant-Garde Film: Critical Studies ed. Dietrich Scheunemann. Edinburgh: Editions Rodopi (2007).
- Jeffrey Sconce, '"Trashing" the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style', Screen vol. 36 no. 4, Winter 1995, pp. 371–393.
- Joan Hawkins, "Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde". 2000, ISBN 0-8166-3414-9
- Paracinema Quarterly film magazine dedicated to b-movies, cult classics, indie, horror, science fiction, exploitation, underground and Asian films from past and present.