Archive for July, 2011





Jodorowsky’s acid fueled follow up to his cult smash “El Topo“…

“What I am trying to do when I use symbols is to awaken in your unconscious some reaction. I am very conscious of what I am using because symbols can be very dangerous. When we use normal language we can defend ourselves because our society is a linguistic society, a semantic society. But when you start to speak, not with words, but only with images, the people cannot defend themselves.” 

— A. Jodorowsky

a few pages of the shooting script...

“THE HOLY MOUNTAIN” 1973 directed by Alexandro Jodorowsky

see also — the films of ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY:  PART 1 AND PART 3

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renegade author of Burroughs’ favorite red book “You Can’t Win”…


“Jack Black calls his book You Can’t Win. Well, who can? Winner take nothing.”  — W.S. Burroughs, 1988

This autobiography of the outlaw and convict Jack Black, which Burroughs recalls from memory as “the Good Red Book,” is a documentary of life lived against the grain. It came as a shock and a revelation when it was originally published in 1926 during the Roaring 20s — his tales of poverty and deprivation as a youth, and then as a young man, ran counter to the prevailing image of America as a land of wealth and excess. Originally published in serial form in The San Francisco Call, the book became a best-seller, going through five printings and gaining the attention of social reformers like Lincoln Steffens. Its success propelled Black into a brief literary career that included a play based on his experiences and then a film contract at MGM writing screenplays for $150 a week.

The picture of Black as a literary figure and upright citizen is too simple, though. Those who found the Folsom Prison ex-con extremely well-read probably didn’t know he had used his prison years to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica three separate times learning “to play Society’s game.” Or that he got his 25-year sentence by shooting a man in a botched hold-up in Golden Gate Park in what one biographer calls “a one-man San Francisco reign of terror.” His prison years were spent developing a network for survival, a patchwork of favors done for favors received, that extended years after his release. This underworld had its cast of prison”yeggs” and, just as important, people whom Black calls “the Johnsons” –those who are as good as their word, and keep their promises.

“Some of my debts had to be paid in kind, and no one could help me. I owe my life to a thief who risked his life to get me out of jail. He smuggled me saws to open my cell, then came in the night to cut the bars out of the window and lifted me through the hole when I was so weak from tuberculosis I could barely walk. … Years afterward, when I had cured myself of the dope habit and served my sentence, won immunity from the law, and was just beginning to feel a little secure in my respectability, my telephone rang in the small hours of the night. A woman’s voice asked if I was ‘Mr. Black,’ and said ‘I have a message from Eddie … of course, you know I can’t give it over the phone. Hurry.’ I didn’t know what had happened but I knew another debt was due.”

Once he got out of prison Black seems determined never to go back, and this is where You Can’t Win develops its themes of reform and resurrection. Though he found a respectable life full of “too much hypocrisy” and said he never cared for it, for a short time Black became a police reporter and then circulation manager of The San Francisco Bulletin. He was befriended by members of the Progressive movement who urged him to write about his hardscrabble life and prison experiences in order to promote prison reform, and You Can’t Win — first serialized as Breaking the Shackles — was the result, a modern pilgrim’s progress full of crime and punishment — and redemption.

“I am sure but of one thing — I failed as a thief and I am luckier than most of them. I quit with my health and liberty. What price larceny, burglary and robbery? Half my thirty years in the underworld was spent in prison. Say I handled $50,000 in the fifteen years I spent outside; that’s about nine dollars a day… ‘what chance have you now?’ I would ask any young man, ‘with shotgun squads, strong-arm squads, and crime-crushers cruising the highways and byways; with the deadly fingerprinting, central identification bureau, and telephotoing of pictures; and soon every police station broadcasting ahead of you your description and record?’ Then consider the accidents and snitches — what chance have you? Figure it out yourself. I can’t.”

“I was fascinated,” Burroughs writes in his foreword to the 2000 reissue of You Can’t Win, “by this glimpse of an underworld of seedy rooming-houses, pool-parlors, cat-houses and opium dens, of bull pens and cat burglars and hobo jungles.” The book made such an impression on Burroughs that he used some of Black’s characters like Salt Chunk Mary, and even his language word for word. “When you can remember a passage of prose after fifty years it has to be good,” he writes. Here’s a passage from Burroughs’s late novel Place of Dead Roads:

“A two-story red-brick house down by the tracks in Junction City, Idaho. Salt Chunk Mary, mother of the Johnson Family … train whistles cross a distant sky. Mary keeps a pot of pork and beans and a blue porcelain coffee pot always on the stove. You eat first, then you talk business, rings and watches slopped out on the kitchen table. She names a price. She doesn’t name another. Mary could say “No” quicker than any woman Kim ever knew, and none of her no’s ever meant yes. She kept the money in a cookie jar, but nobody thought about that. Her cold gray eyes would have seen the thought and maybe something goes wrong on the next lay. John Law just happens by, or John Citizen comes up with a load of double-zero into your soft and tenders.”

The fame, and the money, was fleeting. Jack gave his talks on crime and prisons under the auspices of the League to Abolish Capital Punishment, which Clarence Darrow had started. Only his lecture fees were “keeping him out of the soup kitchens and breadlines,” he wrote. His pride, or something like it, would not let him seek the charity that was becoming part of the Depression of the 1930s. Speaking engagements became fewer, and the royalties from You Can’t Win dried up.

He had once told friends that if life got too grim he would tie weights to his feet, row into New York Harbor and drop overboard. This seems to be precisely what he did in 1932: Black vanished. His watch was found in a pawnshop pledged for eight dollars; it had been his prize possession, a gift from an ex-con he had helped. For his friends this became definite proof that he had been as good as his word to the end.


“You Can’t Win” by Jack Black 1926 Macmillan Press





“on this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling…”


During the 1880’s, 1890’s, and the first few years of the 20th century, the Bicycle Craze prompted many innovations that would soon be adapted for the automobile. One innovation was described in the following article about a bicycle freeway, built before the term “freeway” was coined.

The following article, as printed in the November 1901 issue of Good Roads Magazine, was originally published in from Pearson’s Magazine:

The South California towns, Los Angeles and Pasadena, are now connected by the strangest and most interesting of links-a magnificent, elevated cycle-way, with a smooth surface of wood, running for nine miles through beautiful country, flanked by green hills, and affording views at every point of the snow-clad Sierras.

On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling. At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight. The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.

Southern California-with her delightful climate and beautiful country, verdant and radiant with wild flowers in the midst of winter-should be a cyclist’s paradise. There is only this drawback-a really good cycling road cannot be found in all the country! Where a good road is most needed it is least in evidence-between the towns that are now linked by the sky cycle-way.

Horace Dobbins and automobile, 1900...

A conservative estimate places the number of cyclists in the two towns, including visitors, at 30,000. As a sign of the enthusiasm that exists for wheeling, it is stated that no fewer than 5,000 inventors of cycles are numbered in the populations. On Sundays, enthusiastic cyclists often swarm over the apologies for roads between the towns. They bravely face the sand and the dust and the steep hills that they have to combat.

There is a difference of some 600 feet in the elevations of the larger city and of its suburb; but this does not deter the enthusiasts, although the twenty-mile ride from one town to the other and back is no mean feat of endurance. At present, not only is there no good cycling road, but there is little chance of one being constructed, owing to the number of railway tracks that would have to be crossed.

What a boon, therefore, is the new cycle-way to these beautiful California cities! It is thought that in five years time, industrial activity will be so quickened that the country will enjoy such prosperity as it has never known. Wheelmen increase and multiply every season. Motor cycles are fast coming in. The day is at hand when the motor-cyclist will be able to buy for a few cents enough compressed air to propel his machine for twenty miles at top speed. That in Pasadena, Queen of the Cities, and in Los Angeles, her metropolis, there will be 100,000 cyclists and 10,000 motor-cyclists in a few years, is a moderate computation. It is well that they will not have to trundle over the old, rutty adobe roads.

The inventor and promoter of the great cycle-way scheme is a wealthy Pasadena resident, Mr. Horace Dobbins, while the vice-president of the Cycle-way Company is an ex-Governor of the State, Mr. H.H. Markham. When the first bill for the cycle-way was brought before the Legislature it was vetoed-the scheme was thought chimerical. In 1897, however, the proposition was officially sanctioned, and although no one but its daring originator had any faith in it at first, gradually public support was gained. In spite of all difficulties and opposition, the cycle-way at length became a fact, and is now, perhaps, one of the most noteworthy institutions in Southern California.

The long track that winds like a great green snake through the hills between the two towns is built almost entirely of wood, and is strong enough to bear a service of trolley cars. Throughout the entire distance from the center of one city to the center of the other it has an uninterrupted right of way, passing over roads, streets, railway tracks, gullies and ravines. At its highest point, the elevation of the track is about fifty feet. The maximum grade in the nine-mile run is three percent., and that only for two thousand feet. Elsewhere the grade averages 11/4 percent.

At present, the cycle-way is wide enough to allow four cyclists to ride abreast, but its width may be doubled presently. As it is, cycles and motor-cycles alone are allowed on the road, but when the track is widened, motor cars may be permitted the privilege of running over its beautiful surface.

From the engineer’s point of view, the road is a triumph. No fewer than 1,250,000 feet of best Oregon pine were used in its construction. The wood is painted dark green. At night, the cycle-way looks like a gleaming serpent, for it is brightly lit with incandescent lights on both sides.

The cycle-track has pretty terminal stations and a Casino. The stations are little buildings of Moorish design, where cycles and motor cars may be hired and repaired and housed. The Casino sits on one of the loftiest hills in a beautiful tract of country that has been christened Merlemount Park, and which is now laid out as a peaceful retreat for the weary townsman. You look out from the crown of the hill over a superb view-the grand Sierra Madras overshadow the beautiful San Gabriel Valley; Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Bernardino, rising 9,000 feet and 11,000 feet, stand sentinel over the rich land of orange and olive; the blue pacific waters glisten to the south; and far out to sea your eye can discern the island of Santa Catalina.

According to internet sources, the Cycleway ran from the Hotel Green in Pasadena to the Plaza in Los Angeles. The toll was 10 cents for a one-way trip or 15 cents for a two-way ticket. The first mile and a quarter opened on January 1, 1890, but the commercial prospects for the Cycleway were doomed by the slowing of the Bicycle Craze and the coming of the automobile to the Los Angeles area.


all photos Pasadena Museum of History




the best zine on the planet releases the new book “Objects Also Die“…


“Observe its honesty, dignity, and moral courage; it’s drawn all the necessary conclusions from its own total loss of function. Objects also die my friend. And if they also must die, then that’s it, better to let them go. It shows far more style, above all. Don’t you agree?” So says Micòl Finzi-Contini. Grappling with that question and the necessity of letting go is the motivation behind the panegyric essay “Objects Also Die,” Doug Magnuson’s filmic memorial of the same name, and the two combined along with extra material that makes up Objects Also Die. Designed by Myron Hunt and built in 1920, Los Angeles’ The Ambassador prevailed at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard through innumerable guests, two Oscar ceremonies, one assassination of a presidential hopeful, and countless unrecorded collective and personal histories before being demolished to make way for a school in 2006. Through the prism of the hotel itself, San Diego’s El Cortez and Estes Park, Colorado’s The Stanley, this compendium explores the loss of the Ambassador while delving into the conundrum of dealing with the death of inanimate things that have taken on a life of their own. The draw at The Ambassador was communion with unknowable bygone times and that special stillness pervading rooms no one had been for a long time, a kind of mildly illicit romantic exploration of seductive ruins. Magnuson’s elegiac, calm, dry-eyed yet poetic nineteen minute documentation is accompanied by George Draguns’s affecting and occasionally spooky soundtrack, and the pages herein include Greg Magnuson’s haunting photographs of the beautiful decrepitude that defined the hotel in its last days. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (and the bungalow they set fire to), the Cocoanut Grove, the Venetian Ballroom are all included, as well as ephemera and mementos related to its seventy-year run, along with special guest appearances by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Charles Manson, Alice Cooper, Norma Shearer, Art Nyhagen (the hotel’s doorman from 1946-89), and Dominique Sanda and Helmet Berger in Vittorio de Sica’s adaptation of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

(ELK 5.15.11)

available at Printed Matter New York City, Desert Island Brooklyn, Family Los Angeles, and 2nd Cannons online…




remembering the magic that was public access television — PART 2


New Wave Theatre was a television program broadcast locally in the Los Angeles area on UHF channel 18 and eventually on the USA Network as part of the late night variety show Night Flight during the early 1980s. The show was created and produced by David Jove, who also wrote the program with Billboard magazine editor Ed Ochs. It was noted for showcasing rising punk and New Wave acts, including Bad Religion, Fear, The Dead Kennedys, 45 Grave, and The Circle Jerks. Peter Ivers, a Harvard-educated musician with a gregarious personality and a flair for the theatric, was the host for the entire run of the show. The format was extremely loose, owing partly to the desire to maintain the raw energy of the live performances and partly to the limited production budget. The program was presented in a format dubbed “live taped”, in which the action was shot live and the video was then interspliced with video clips, photos, and graphics of everything from an exploding atomic bomb to a woman wringing a chicken’s neck.

The show started with a montage of clips from punk/new wave acts while the title appeared and the theme song, an abrupt mixture of Fear’s “Camarillo” and The Blasters’ “American Music”, played. Ivers would appear at the beginning and end of each show wearing dark glasses, spouting a stream of consciousness spiel about life, art and music. Besides the top-billed music acts, short skits were shown, including Sri Maharooni, a chain-smoking Indian fakir speaking about the meaning of life, and Chris Genkel (played by actor Robert Roll), a pitchman hawking bizarre products for “gherkins” from his company, Genkel Wax Works, in Adonai, Illinois. Celebrities, including Debra Winger and Beverly D’Angelo, were known to show up at NWT’s tapings. New Wave Theatre came to an end in 1983 when Ivers was found bludgeoned to death in his LA apartment. Rhino Video released two volumes of the best of New Wave Theatre in 1991 (Rhino Video numbers RNVD 2903 and RNVD 2904). Both are out of print, but used copies are not hard to find.


more public access television — PART 1




Thor Heyerdahl’s Atlantic crossing by reed boat…


During the expedition to Easter Island in 1955-1956, Thor Heyerdahl became interested in reed boats and their seagoing properties. The archaeologists’ excavations had uncovered pictures of large reed boats with masts and sails engraved in the buried statues and painted on flagstones in prehistoric houses. It soon became clear to Heyerdahl that not only balsa wood rafts, but also reed boats, with pre-Incan sailors could have carried the earliest South Americans out over the open Pacific Ocean.

Other researchers had pointed out the obvious similarity between the old reed boats from Mexico and Peru, and the papyrus boats from the earliest civilisations in the Mediterranean region. These anthropologists, who were known as ‘diffusionists’, had listed reed boats as one of the many cultural parallels between the great civilisations of pre-Columbian times on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They used the reed boat as an argument in the discussion about transoceanic-contact prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Their opponents meanwhile, the ‘isolationists’, pointed to the accepted view that reed boats could not cross oceans. They believed that cultural parallels could be ascribed to independent development.

The Papyrus Institute in Egypt had determined that papyrus-reed rotted and dissolved after two weeks in a water tank.

Despite this, Heyerdahl was convinced that ship builders in the time of the pharaohs would never have used this reed to built enormous seagoing vessels if they had only stayed afloat on the ocean for two weeks. He decided to build a reed boat and cross the Atlantic Ocean with it to see whether or not his assumption was correct.

Ra was launched in the spring of 1969 in the old Phoenician seaport of Safi, Morocco. In order to show that people from different nations could work together even under pressure and difficult circumstances, Heyerdahl picked a crew of 7 men from 7 nations and sailed under the flag of the UN. Ra sailed west with the trade winds and the Northern Equatorial Stream. The reed bundles proved to be incredibly buoyant. Despite broken steering oars and poor weather, Ra had sailed 5,000 km in 8 weeks before the loss of bundles on the starboard side made Heyerdahl call off the experiment, just one week before they would have reached Barbados, in the West Indies.

Ten months later Heyerdahl launched a new papyrus boat – Ra II – from the same Moroccan seaport.

This time he had brought four Aymara Indians over from Lake Titicaca in South America to build the vessel.

The Aymara still built reed boats on the shores of this stormy mountain lake in the Andes, 4,000 m above sea level, using the same methods used in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The entire crew from the first Ra voyage wanted to repeat the experiment and, with the addition of a representative from yet another nation, Heyerdahl hoisted the sail on Ra II. This boat was only 12 m long, but was structurally far stronger than Ra.

Ra II crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed the approx. 6,100 km from Safi in Morocco to Barbados in the West Indies in 57 days. Since this time the experiment had been successful, anthropologists across the entire world had to forget the old dogma that papyrus boats could not have brought cultural impulses from North Africa to Central America in pre-Columbian times.

During the Ra voyage, Heyerdahl wrote his first letter to the UN about the fact that the oceans of the world were becoming polluted. He was asked by the Secretary-General of the UN to make daily pollution observations during the Ra II voyage. Hardened clumps of tar were collected on 43 days of the 57-day voyage. In this way the voyage helped to raise awareness of the need to stop the pollution of the world’s seas.

Heyerdahl presented reports about the pollution problem to the UN’s first conference on oceanic law, committees of the USA’s senate and congress, the USSR’s scientific academy and in a long series of campaigns for the conservation of the world’s seas.

Following the expedition a book was published about the Ra expeditions, as well as a documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar.


“The Ra Expeditions” 1972 directed by Lennart Ehrenborg and Thor Heyerdahl


MUDHIF houses…


reed architecture of the Iraqi swamps…

A mudhif is a traditional reed house made by the Madan people (also known as Marsh Arabs) in the swamps of southern Iraq. In the traditional Madan way of living, houses are constructed from reeds harvested from the marshes where they live.


Houses built of reeds had the additional advantage of being portable. In the spring, if the marsh waters rose too high, a five-arched raba could be taken down, moved to higher ground, and re-erected in less than a day. With proper care and repair, reed dwellings could last for well over 25 years.

Reeds had the same physical properties in the past as they do today, requiring similar innovations for structural soundness. For instance, if arches were made from bundles of fresh reeds, the structure would collapse in short order. For maximum soundness the core of a new arch bundle was made up of reeds taken from an older structure.

(LAPUTAN LOGIC  1.19.07)





the magnificent…

“If you are great, El Topo is a great picture. If you are limited, El Topo is limited.” 

Alejandro Jodorowsky

“EL TOPO” 1970 directed by Alexandro Jodorowsky

see also — the films of ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY: PART 2 and PART 3




through july 30 in Manhattan…


Tony Bennett unsuspectingly coined a new term of surprising relevance when he once said he liked what Oskar Kokoschka did “along the peripheter.” Though meaning the perimeter and periphery in the painting itself, he innocently zeroed in on a murky netherworld away from the formal where success and failure, acceptance and indifference, and Tony Bennett and Oskar Kokoschka meet. Like these two disparate personalities, the artists in The Peripheterists elude the standard definition of outsiders to form a diverse and unaligned but oddly complimentary non-scene that doesn’t really register with either the hoi polloi or the intelligentsia. In many cases low-key and unsung though prodigiously gifted, all are fairly unconcerned with and unknown in that rarely satisfying milieu known as “The Art World.”

The Peripherterists examines the wide-ranging connections, affinities, and allusions amongst works that posses the popular appeal often absent at the your typical white cube. That luck, social standing, ladder climbing, and a multitude of other variables determine who gets fêted is not news by any means, but it does give rise to an urge to address that vexing situation with a gathering of mostly uncelebrated rare birds. A few encounters amongst many will have Mark Hubbard’s fantastical diagrams for actual skateparks, Gloria T. Park’s expressionist wig designs, and Jim Nieuhues’ paintings that are the basis for ski area maps consorting with Sereno Wilson’s glittery Nubian goddesses, Nicole Andrews’ paper cutouts of ennui-suffused suburbanites, and Stu Mead’s poignant, troubling, and very funny depiction of sexually active adolescents. This is not a polemic but an excursion into parallel realm of wonderful art that combines the fiercely individualistic and unorthodox with the accessible, and brings up old-fashioned but eternal questions about what art is and why people bother.

(APEXART  4.11)

artists: Nicole Andrews Brandes, Natascha Belt, Dave Bevan, Dwayne Boone, Gerardo Castillo, Rick Charnoski, Edward Colver, Ale Formenti, Renée French, Joseph Griffith, Thomas Hauser, Mark Hubbard, Chuckie Johnson, Gary Kachadourian, Taliah Lempert, Doug Magnuson, Alfredo Martinez, William McCurtin, Stu Mead, James Niehues, Gloria Park, Daniel Pineda, Randy Turner, Dennis Tyfus, Unidentified Cameroonian barbershop painters, Sereno Wilson, Jesse Wines, Jason Wright…

“THE PERIPHETERISTS” curated by Jocko Weyland 6.1 – 7.30.11 @ APEXART 291 church st., NYC…


Oscar winning documentaries…



meet Marjoe Gortner, eight year old Bible Belt star…


“We’re here to make a film about Brother Marjoe, praise the Lord.” The words sounded awkward — almost as if we were speaking in tongues. It felt bizarre to be calling strangers “Brother” and “Sister.” My co-directing partner Howard Smith and I had never spent much time in churches, let alone the revival tents and auditoriums of the Pentecostal faith. He was Jewish; I was technically Christian but my father, with a straight face, preferred to identify himself as a Druid. Yet there we were, in 1972, embarking on the Holy Roller circuit, navigating the Bible Belt, recording American evangelicals in their hyperemotional religious rites as if they were an obscure tribe in Pago-Pago.

Our guide was a fire-and-brimstone minister named Marjoe Gortner. A charismatically handsome man in his late 20s, he frequently performed as a guest preacher for congregations across America, wherever the born-again movement had rooted. What his audiences didn’t know was that he was leading a double-life. He hung out and smoked dope with his hippie friends in LA for half the year, and then when he ran out of money he would go back to preaching, changing on the plane from tie-dye to mod-style suits and ties, changing his persona to “Brother” Marjoe.

He had been a Bible Belt star most of his life. His parents, both itinerant evangelists themselves, noticed his gift for mimicry and his phenomenal powers of recall when he was 3. They set out to transform him into a preaching sensation, a “miracle child.” He was taught lengthy sermons, complete with gestures and lunges, and was ordained at the age of 4. They kicked off his career in 1949 by having him perform a marriage while a Paramount newsreel camera rolled. That got him into Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the “World’s Youngest Minister.”

Marjoe and his parents toured the country for eight more years, raking in offerings from eager crowds, some $3 million by his own reckoning. Receiving his sermons from heaven, delivering souls, healing the sick, he seemed like God’s little angel, or — as his father put it ingenuously — “a preaching machine.”

After a time, the act broke down. Marjoe’s father absconded with the money, the prepubescent boy was too old to be a novelty anymore, and his rage surfaced. He left his mother and lived off the kindness of nonreligious strangers in California for the duration of his adolescence. Then he found himself drawn back to the flame — the spotlight, the adulation, and of course the cash — of the evangelical circuit. His audiences never knew that his belief in God was nil, and the host preachers had no idea that he had, in his other life, joined with legions of hippies.

When he reached his late 20s, Marjoe tried to make a break for once and for all. In 1970, he arrived in New York to become an actor. He thought it would help his career if he gained a little publicity. He approached my partner Howard Smith, hoping to interest him in his story. Howard had a syndicated FM radio show in which he interviewed celebrities. What he and I learned about Marjoe’s incredible story convinced us to make a documentary feature about him.

In 1972, the film was finished in time for the Cannes Film Festival. Roger Ebert saw it at an out-of-competition screening in rented theater. “The real sleeper this year is Marjoe,” he wrote. “It generated the most electric response of anything at the festival.” Film audiences seemed entranced by Marjoe, who sang like a canary about the cynicism of the religion business and the chicanery of his fellow preachers — including himself. As another critic wrote, “It proves that not only is Elmer Gantry still alive and well, but that the reality is more absurdly repulsive than the fiction.”

Shortly after, the movie opened across the northern United States. The press was unbelievable: nearly every major national publication — Time, Newsweek, Life, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Esquire — ran stories and photos of this brash young sellout. Folks in the Bible Belt, however, never got to see the film. The distributor was too afraid of the furor it would cause, so he refused to open it in any city south of Des Moines. But anyone watching the Oscars in 1973 couldn’t have missed it, because it won the Best Documentary Feature award for Howard and me.

Flash forward 30 years. The evangelical sect has grown from this fringe cult to a huge, vibrant mass movement. It is in one’s face 24/7. According to a Barna research poll in 2001, four out of ten Americans reported that they consider themselves “born-agains.” The president and his administration have shown a keen interest in the evangelical agenda.

I was working at Duart Labs in Manhattan, finishing up another documentary, a short about a street musician, Thoth, another galvanizing performer like Marjoe. This performer, however, sought spiritual deliverance through presenting a solo opera, singing all the voices while playing violin and dancing, and providing percussion with bells and whistles tied around his ankles. (This film would go on to win my second Academy Award in 2002.) Marjoe, meanwhile, had disappeared. My Web site,, had brought me increasing inquiries about the film, mainly because people seemed interested in evangelicals again. And I had nothing to tell them.

Joe Monge, who heads Duart’s video department, happened to mention that they’d been clearing out their vault of film materials. Duart struck the original theatrical prints of Marjoe. I casually asked him to look and see if there was any remnant of the film in their archive. He returned with an inventory. They had everything. Original 35mm blow-up, 16mm negative, magnetic tape, mix, out-takes, TV spots, trailers. I was staggered. And resolved on the spot to rescue the film.

At that point, I brought in Hollywood attorneys Alan Wertheimer and Darren Trattner. They helped me trace the ownership to a small company, which had bought Marjoe as part of a larger film catalog. The problem was: They were bankrupt. The catalog was in receivership, and nothing could be purchased from it because Sony Film Corp had a lien on the holdings of the company. On top of that, the company’s president was walled up in Florida and not talking to anyone.

It took two years. But the day came: I signed a single piece of paper making me the owner of this ancient documentary. Now what? As if — pardon my spirituality — from God, an e-mail arrived on the same day, funneled through my Web site. A company called New Video, which distributes mostly documentaries, and especially Oscar-winning ones, wanted to know who owned the rights to Marjoe. They wanted to put it out on DVD.

More invitations arrived. At the time of this writing, and thanks to my film rep Ira Deutchman at Emerging Pictures, the film is playing for a limited time at the IFC Center in New York and in theaters in Florida and Delaware.

What will Marjoe mean now, after all these years? I am hoping that the DVD will reach those parts of the country in which the film was never released. The Bible Belt especially. I hope people of other faiths will understand where the power of the evangelical movement has come from, understand the lure of the music and the promise of a life-altering spiritual experience. I hope they will see, too, that this ecstatic union with Christ is also … sometimes … commandeered by ruthless and greed-fueled “servants of God” — the ministers who have, since the year Marjoe was made, erected a formidable enterprise sprawling over the media, corporate America, and the Beltway, with no notion of stopping until the United States becomes one big mega-church.

One preacher not profiting from this success will be Marjoe Gortner. Instead, he came clean. Will anyone listen again?


“MARJOE” 1972 directed by Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith

more Oscar winning documentaries: PART 1, PART 2


Oscar winning documentaries…



Cousteau’s epic adventure to the ocean floor…


For a beautiful and awesome excursion into an underwater realm that combines superb actuality experience and a touch of science-fiction fantasy, you don’t need skin diving equipment. You can simply go to see Jacques-Yves Cousteau‘s latest French-made picture of undersea exploration, “World Without Sun.”

Not since that fine Cousteau document of a journey into the depths, “The Silent World,” have we seen such magnificent achievements in underwater photography as there are in this handsome color picture.

Gorgeous and eerie visions of skin divers clad in silver suits gliding through translucent waters into caverns beneath the sea, brilliant and magical glimpses of all sorts of fantastic fish and surrealistic compositions of plant-like animals and underwater growths are caught by the deep-diving cameras of Mr. Cousteau and his rubber-suited group of oceanauts, as he calls them, who labored to make this film.

Even more striking and exciting is the description the cameras convey of the underwater colony set up by Mr. Costeau’s expedition to explore systematically the resources of the ocean and observe the behavior of marine life.

While it isn’t stated in the narration, this colony is in the Red Sea off Port Sudan on a formation described as the continental shelf—an underwater ledge beyond which there is a precipitate drop. Here, at a depth of 45 feet, is established a base—a dual cylindrical construction containing five rooms in which the oceanauts live. They are supplied with food and electricity from the expedition’s ship, Calypso, which is anchored above.

The purpose of this base is to provide quarters in which the men may dwell under pressures that are safer and more congenial for their daily plunges into the waters below. Here they may also study the biological specimens under conditions more consistent with those of the realms from which they were brought up.

This base also contains a fantastic garage for a “diving saucer” called Denise. This is a piece of submarine machinery, worthy of the imagination of Jules Verne, which is propelled by jets, carries two men and is capable of diving to depths of 1,000 feet, according to the narration. Shots of this weird contraption gliding through the sea provide some of the most fascinating sequences in the film.

But, alas, the climactic sequence, showing this saucer at a depth, of 1,000 feet (or something close to that) moving through a tunnel into what is described as a wholly enclosed “underground lake” and there surfacing, presents an adventure that gravely challenges credulity.

It is reasonable and permissible that some of the scenes should have been shot in a studio, in an aquarium and in a tank, as they evidently were. This sort of simulation was understandably necessary to assure control. For instance, a shot in which the camera moves from the interior of the underwater house through a window and away from it was obviously made in the studio. Otherwise water would have poured through the window and flooded everything.

But when Mr. Cousteau presents that incident of the saucer surfacing in the underground lake after a vastly impressive journey down the wall of the continental shelf, and even permits one of the occupants to open a topside hatch and climb half-way out, the character of the picture suddenly becomes that of a science-fiction fantasy. And one is inclined to question whether Mr. Cousteau has not perpetrated a hoax.

Oceanographers consulted here yesterday said it was highly unlikely that a deep-sea cavern, containing a “bubble,” or pocket of air, at its top, could exist. If it did, the atmosphere in that bubble would surely be noxious, they said. It would be methane or marsh gas. And the pressure in it would be intolerable for man.

Yet this film shows an occupant of the saucer emerging into such a pocket of air. Furthermore, the shot is made from the exterior by a camera that has presumably arrived ahead of the saucer and is already waiting in that cavern beneath the sea.

It is too bad that this obvious faking should finally excite one’s doubt and mar one’s complete enjoyment of this otherwise plausible film. For it is a delightful experience—an achievement of pictorial poetry, complemented by a good English narration and an excellent musical score.

(NY TIMES  12.23.64)

“WORLD WITHOUT SUN” 1964 directed by Jacque-Yves Cousteau

also see Oscar winning documentaries: Part 1, Part 3


Oscar winning documentaries…



on the essence of creativity…


A film of incomparable excitement for students of art and history—and, indeed, for all adult movie-goers whose thoughts would dwell upon the glories of man—arrived on Saturday at the Little Carnegie. It is “The Titan—Story of Michelangelo“—and a more imaginative or expressive cinema effort has not been seen hereabouts in a long time.

For this is not a conventional “screen biography,” in which the life of a celebrated person is represented in re-enacted episodes, with an actor playing the subject and other actors playing subordinate roles. This is a comprehension of the life, the spirit and the times of Michelangelo revealed in a synthesis of images created out of moving camera studies of the artist’s works; of beautiful, sweeping vistas of Italian country; of noble landmarks in Florence and Rome, and in dynamic animations of static objects to express supreme events.

Accompanying this synthesis of images and intrinsically complementing it are an explanatory narration, which outlines the artist’s life and times, and a sound-track that is brilliantly constructed to place appropriate music or sounds to images. It is notable that an actual person is never once to be seen in the whole film.

But let us be more specific. The film begins with the narrator’s voice reciting the credo of the artist, while shadows play upon a marble expanse. Then shots of the village of Caprese, where Michelangelo was born, convey a visual comprehension of the spirit of the place of his youth. Shadows of a moving ox-cart and human voices suggest the boy’s transfer to Florence, with the architectural beauties of that city pictorialized to sense the flooding Renaissance.

The surging vitality and drama of the great Pazzi-Medici feud, which flamed soon after Michelangelo came under the patronage of Lorenzo de Medici, is vividly caught in camera movement, in racing shadows, in sounds and suggestive images, such as that of a rope suddenly stiffening to convey the termination of the feud. The influence of Savonarola is comprehended in striking pictures of the monk, in flames, in graphic shots of the piazza, in music and the narrator’s words. And so it goes through the picture, as momentous political events are dramatically integrated with the pattern of the artist’s works.

But it is in the visualization of the latter—in the use of the mobile photograph—that a real comprehension of the artist, of his power and his grandeur—is revealed. For not only is the camera used to search and analyze the details of the glorious masterpieces of the artist—the Bacchus, the Battle of the Centaurs, the statuary of the Medici Chapel, the Sistine murals, St. Peter’s marvelous dome—but the vitality of his creation is actually conveyed in imagistic terms. The mystery surrounding the sculpturing of his David, from a huge block of marble containing a flaw; or the assemblage of the Sistine murals—these are thrillingly dramatized.

Credit for this extraordinary effort in the uses of pure cinema must be shared by those who have revised it from an originally created European film. The idea and assemblage of the picture came from Curt Oertel, whose treatment (with a much different sound-track) was picked up in Germany after the war. The present un-propagandized version has been engineered by Robert Flaherty, who deserves the major credit for obtaining its assemblage here.

To all others on the production credit is due, however—to Alois Melichar for the music, to Norman Borisoff for the commentary and to Fredric March, who narrates it in an invaluably eloquent voice. Except for a few unfortunate passages in which the voice of Michelangelo is supposed to speak—a device of extreme banality and one that shatters the illusion painfully—the track on the picture is in every way an accomplishment in cinematic art quite comparable to the stunning images, the mobile illustrations, on the screen.

“THE TITAN: STORY OF MICHELANGELO” 1950 directed by Robert J. Flaherty and Richard Lyford adapted from “MICHELANGELO: LIFE OF A TITAN” 1938 directed by Curt Oertel

(NY TIMES  1.23.50)

also see Oscar winning documentaries: Part 2Part 3


when whales had legs…


it was no flukes…


A modern whale on the beach faces fairly grim prospects. There was a time, however, when whales moved freely between land and sea. Indeed, the earliest known whales, which date back as far as 50 million years ago, had well-developed hindlimbs and are believed by most paleontologists to have evolved from four-legged terrestrial mammals. Yet details of the transition from whales with large functional legs, such as Ambulocetus, to their streamlined descendants with only internal vestigial legs at most, have remained elusive, owing to a paucity of intermediate forms in the fossil record. New fossils described yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Mexico City, however, are providing insight into the timing of this extraordinary transformation.

Dorudon (A,B), Maiacetus (C,D)...

Lawrence Barnes of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and his colleagues found in Washington State the bones of an as yet unnamed ancient baleen whale from the so-called Late Oligocene epoch. Included among the remains is part of a pelvis. The 27-million-year-old bone displays a deep, cuplike socket that once held the head of a thigh bone, or femur. This ancient whale, he says, appears to have had small, external legs. Barnes estimates that the legs were about one and a half feet long and might have enabled the 20-foot-long animal to shuffle around on the beach. Its close ancestors, he surmises, had larger legs. Only later, in the Middle Miocen epoch, did whales reach the modern condition of having no external vestigial hindlimbs. Barnes additionally points out that because such whales were long thought not to have legs, fossil whale limbs may well have been overlooked by collectors in the past.





“Mardi Gras Indians are secretive because only certain people participated in masking — people with questionable character. In the old day, the Indians were violent; Indians would meet on Mardi Gras, it was a day to settle scores…”


Mardi Gras is full of secrets and the Mardi Gras Indians are as much a part of that secret society as any other carnival organization. The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the blacks of New Orleans’ inner cities. They have paraded for well over a century…yet their parade is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.

“Mardi Gras Indians–the parade most white people don’t see. The ceremonial procession is loose, the parade is not scheduled for a particular time or route… that is up to the Big Chief.” – Larry Bannock, President, New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council

Typical Mardi Gras organizations will form a “krewe.” A krewe often names their parade after a particular mythological hero or Greek god. The ranking structure of a Mardi Gras Krewe is a parody of royalty: King, Queen, Dukes, Knights and Captains…or some variation on that theme. Many more established Krewes allowed membership by invitation only.

Few in the ghetto felt they could ever participate in the typical New Orleans parade. Historically, slavery and racism were at the root of this cultural separation. The black neighborhoods in New Orleans gradually developed their own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. Their “Krewes” are named for imaginary Indian tribes according to the streets of their ward or gang.

The Mardi Gras Indians named themselves after native Indians to pay them respect for their assistance in escaping the tyranny of slavery. It was often local Indians who accepted slaves into their society when they made a break for freedom. They have never forgotten this support.

In the past, Mardi Gras was a violent day for many Mardi Gras Indians. It was a day often used to settle scores. The police were often unable to intervene due to the general confusion surrounding Mardi Gras events in the city…where the streets were crowded and everyone was masked. This kept many families away from the “parade,” and created much worry and concern for a mother whose child wanted to join the “Indians.”

“‘I’m gonna mask that morning if it costs me my life!’ That morning you pray and ask God to watch over you, cause everybody is bucking for number one.” – LB

Today when two Mardi Gras Indian tribes pass one another, you will see a living theater of art and culture. Each tribe’s style and dress is on display…in a friendly but competitive manner, they compare one another’s art and craftsmanship.

The greeting of the Big Chiefs of two different tribes often starts with a song, chant, ceremonial dance, and threatening challenge to “Humba”–the Big Chief’s demand that the other bow and pay respect. The retort is a whoop and equally impressive song and war dance with the reply, “Me no Humba, YOU Humba!”

“You know when you’ve won, you see it in their eyes.” – LB

Although there was a history of violence, many now choose to keep this celebration friendly. Each Big Chief will eventually stand back and, with a theatrical display of self-confidence, acknowledge the artistry and craftsmanship of the other’s suit.

Before the progression can continue, the two Big Chiefs will often comment privately to one another, “Looking good Baby, looking good!”

“After Mardi Gras, you thank GOD that you made it.” – LB

Mardi Gras is  no longer a day to “settle scores” among the Mardi Gras Indians. Violence is a relic of the past. It is now Mardi Gras tradition and practice for the Indians to simply compare their tribal song, dance and dress with other tribes as they meet that day. Each Indian has invested thousands of hours and dollars in the creation of his suit, and is not willing to risk ruining it in a fight. This tradition, rich with folk art and history, is now appreciated by museums and historical societies around the world. It is a remarkable and welcome change from the past.





where horror film began…


One of the most sought after short films by fans of the silent era is the 1910 production of Frankenstein from Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios. For many years the only image thought to exist from the 15-minute feature was a single photo of wild haired, shambling monster grimacing at the camera. Fortunately, recent years have revealed that it’s not as lost as one would think.

Frankenstein was filmed at Edison Motion Picture Studios located on the corner of Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx, New York, one of several dozens pictures the studio produced that year. The studio was built between 1906 and 1907 in response to the growing demand for films. Edison had been the leading pioneer of first kinetoscopes and then projected motion pictures. His first film studio, located near his laboratories in Orange, New Jersey, was too inconvenient to the majority of actors based in New York City. A studio opened on the roof of a building on 25th Street in Manhattan proved too small to keep up with the demand. The Bronx location was designed to be a state of the art facility to handle all of the Edison Company’s production requirements. It’s proximity to the end of the recently constructed Third Avenue El subway system is believed to have been so actors could slip away to make films without attracting the attention of their peers who may have disapproved of participating in the new and vulgar medium.

By 1908, the studio was in full operation, putting out several short, one-reel films a week. The motion picture arm of Edison’s business was also quickly becoming its most profitable- pulling in $200,000 plus an additional $130,000 from the sale of projectors. Still, Edison was losing his grip on being the sole technological innovator for the new medium as more studios sprang into existence with legitimate rights to certain patents.

To combat the problem, in 1909 Edison and his lawyers approached nine of the other top studios with the plan to form The Motion Picture Patents Company, commonly known as The Trust, to share patents, pool resources and keep control over everything from the manufacture of production equipment like cameras to film production itself. The Trust then set up the General Film Company to buy out the 52 leading film distributors, just so they could control the distribution of their films. Theatre owners were forced into paying a $2 a week fee for the rights to screen Trust films. (Never mind the fact that Edison’s company was earning almost a million dollars a year on from the other Trust members through patent royalties.)

As the popularity of motion pictures grew, so did the attention they received from moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality. Some called for strict laws governing film content and some communities banned theatres all together. Knowing that these groups could pose a serious threat to his bottom line, Edison ordered that not only the production quality of his films be improved, but also their moral tone. The Trust even set up the first Board of Censors, consisting of film executives and religious and education leaders.

Frankenstein was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It’s a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God’s realm. Plus, Edison made sure that publicity stressed that some of the more sensational elements of the Mary Shelly’s novel had been toned down. The March 15, 1910 edition of The Edison Kinetogram, the catalog that the Edison Company would send to distributors to hype their new films, described the film as such-

“To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might be any possibility shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience.”

One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. While Shelly’s novel did not go into specifics about the monster’s creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science. The film certainly didn’t stress the danger of unchecked scientific experimentation, not when the boss has transformed the world with his own scientific marvels. Instead, the monster is cast more as a reflection of Frankenstein’s baser instincts and dark reflection of a mind that presumed to meddle in God’s domain.

the article continues


“FRANKENSTEIN” 1910 directed by J. Searle Dawley




the exuberant art of the cursed…


Born in Libya in 1934, Mario Schifano moved to Rome as a young child and lived there until his death in 1998. Artist, provocateur, filmmaker and rock musician, Schifano epitomized “la dolce vita.”

Early in his career he worked as a restorer, which led to his making his own paintings, which he began exhibiting in 1959; by 1961 he had signed a contract with Ileana Sonnabend and had shown collectively with Twombly and Rauschenberg.

As part of the historic 1962 “The New Realists” show at New York’s Sidney Janis Gallery, Schifano exhibited with fellow Romans Tano Festa and Mimmo Rotella, along with Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Dine and Segal. In 1964, his work was presented at the Venice Biennale.

This artistic exchange between both sides of the Atlantic fomented what is now known as the “Scuola Romana,” which has been shown by critics and artists alike to have been a prescient movement of its own, independent from American art.

Rome’s eclectic energy and august antiquity were the perfect background for this creative revolution. A vital presence in the Roman art scene, Schifano’s longtime drug habit brought police persecution and numerous arrests, a circumstance that led the artist to refer to his career as “maldoto,” or cursed.

Schifano and his contemporaries, Franco Angeli and Tano Festa, are still little known to American audiences. Andrea Franchetti, art collector, Tuscan winemaker and close friend of the artist, remembers, “Schifano was a very prolific and exuberant artist who did a lot for everyone. At the time the work was made, it was a consolation and a stimulus to see.” This is still true.


“UMANO NON UMANO” 1972 directed by Mario Schifano


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