a brief history of three momentous films that didn’t make the cut…
In the mid-1960s, with his career at a low ebb following the critical failure of Marnie and an ambivalent response to Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock worked on a groundbreaking experimental film that would have represented a radical change in his style-possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity.
Kaleidoscope was the story of a serial rapist and killer. It was initially envisaged as a kind of prelude to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. There would be several murders, including an attempt on the life of a decoy policewoman – an idea that particularly excited Hitchcock – and a Psycho-style stabbing. And the director intended to use story details from infamous UK criminal cases (including an acid bath murderer and a necrophile).
This could have been Hitchcock’s darkest film. Indeed, Hitchcock himself worried that some scenes might be too frightening for the audience. In a bold move, he wanted to tell the entire story from the perspective of the killer, envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man (Hitchcock later decided that the character would be gay). More radically, he planned to experiment with innovative filming techniques such as hand-held filming and natural light.
Unfortunately, MCA studios turned the film down as they apparently thought that the protagonist was too “ugly”, a decision that rankled with Hitchcock for the rest of his life. All that remains now of his experiment is an hour-long tape of silent footage – and the tantalising prospect of a new wave of Hitchcock films in a new vérité style, influenced by the European avant garde, to whom he had become a deity.
In the 1920s, the pioneering Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein changed the face of cinema with his celebrated Battleship Potemkin – a seminal illustration of his theories of montage. And if he had succeeded in completing Que Viva Mexico, his ambitious social history of Mexico, weaving together its myths, art, religion, and social history, he might have changed cinema history once again.
Unfortunately, Eisenstein’s financial backer, the American novelist Upton Sinclair, cancelled the production before filming was completed in 1932. In part this was due to the film’s extended delays and increased expenses brought on by arduous working conditions in Mexico, as well as Eisenstein’s increasingly epic conception of the film. However, a telex from Stalin presenting Eisenstein as a traitor to Russia also weighed heavily on the project. The director was forced to return to Russia empty-handed. Although Sinclair promised to send him the footage, he was prohibited from doing so by the Russian state.
Que Viva Mexico represented a breakthrough in Eisenstein’s artistic development. Gone was the social realist approach to montage; in its place came an innovative improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of cinema, exploring picture composition and mise-en-scène, anticipating directors like Von Sternberg. He was never again to achieve this kind of creative freedom.
Several versions of the film were culled from the footage, but none bear comparison to Eisenstein’s ambitious vision, notwithstanding the fragmentary beauty of Edouard Tisse’s stark vivid images. However, the influence of the film’s imagery can be seen on directors such as Luis Buñuel, John Huston and Orson Welles.
Although Orson Welles left a myriad of incomplete films during his 50 years in cinema, Don Quixote was his most enduring passion. He began filming in 1955 and continued in Mexico, Spain and Italy over the following decades, bringing together the cast and crew whenever he could raise the finance. Indeed, Welles was still talking about finishing the film months before his death in 1985. Don Quixote was Welles’s great obsession. “What interests me is the idea of these dated virtues [like chivalry] and why they seem to speak to us, when by all logic they are so hopelessly irrelevant,” he said in an interview, revealing that this was a key theme of his films. In Welles’s film, Quixote was a timeless figure who leaves 16th-century Andalusia to confront modern Spain and the modern world.
The film mutated countless times over the years. Unable or unwilling to finish it, Welles continued proliferating images and stories, not unlike the style of Cervantes’ book. All that was left at the end of Welles’s life was 300,000ft of film footage poorly organised and distributed across the world.
A hastily “restored” version of the film, put together by Jess Franco in 1992, director of exploitation films such as She Killed in Ecstasy, was received with revulsion. It offered only occasional glimpses of Welles’s brilliance and Francisco Reiguera’s superb performance as Don Quixote.
Over the decades, Welles indiscriminately accepted films in order to raise finance for this film. This was not the only sacrifice he made. At the end of editing Touch of Evil, he rushed off to Mexico to film Don Quixote. And Universal studios, taking advantage of his absence, radically re-edited his dark noir masterpiece.
also see Kubrick’s “Napoleon”…
in the 1940s and 50s, the heart of Fillmore jazz…
by ELIZABETH PEPIN
Billie Holliday singing at the New Orleans Swing Club. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Kenny Dorham. Dexter Gordon hanging out at Bop City. During the musical heyday of San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the 1940s and 1950s, the area known as the “Harlem of the West” was a swinging place where you could leave your house Friday night and jump from club to party to bar until the wee hours of Monday morning. Nonstop music in clubs where Young Turks from the neighborhood could mix with seasoned professionals and maybe even get a chance to jump on stage and show their stuff. A giant multi-block party throbbing with excitement and music and fun.
“You might have four clubs in a block, two on each side of the street. And then you go around a couple more blocks and then you have another couple of clubs,” Earl Watkins recalls in an interview with Carol Chamberland for her documentary on Bop City. “You had the Club Alabam (1820-A Post Street), which was one of our old established jazz clubs. Across the street was the New Orleans Swing club. They had a (chorus) line of girls in there. The guys had an excellent band. On Fillmore between Sutter and Post, you had Elsie’s Breakfast Club… Then down the block was the club called the Favor. Across the street from that was the Havana Club. And then when you went down the next block, Fillmore between Post and Geary, you had the Long Bar, which had Ella Fitzgerald. Then down another couple of blocks and you had the Blue Mirror. Then across from the Blue Mirror, they had the Ebony Plaza Hotel. In the basement, they had a club. And if you went up Fillmore to Ellis Street, you had the Booker T. Washington Hotel. And on their ground floor, in the lounge, they had entertainment.”
As World War II ended and the decade changed, so did the music. Bebop, which had been introduced to San Francisco just after the war, was being embraced by the city’s musical community like a long-lost child. Jazz clubs began opening up all over, especially in the Tenderloin and in North Beach.
The Western Addition music scene was also growing larger. You could hear jazz, blues, and R&B at the dozens of clubs in the neighborhood. Vout City (1690 Post) was a club run by the handsome and colorful musician Slim Gaillard, who had a good ear for music but lousy business sense. The club quickly folded and Gaillard took off for Los Angeles, leaving Charles Sullivan, a prominent African American businessman and entrepreneur who owned the building, to find a new tenant. Sullivan approached Jimbo Edwards, one of San Francisco’s first black automobile salesman, to rent the space. Jimbo agreed to open up a cafe, which he called Jimbo’s Waffle Shop. However, local musicians had other ideas.
In an interview with Carol Chamberland, Jimbo tells more: “Now I opened up this little cafe thing with Jimbo’s Waffle Shop. But there was a big old room in there. So musicians didn’t have no place to play their work and whatnot. About eight, ten musicians come and say ÔLet’s take this back room and have us a hangout house.’ So when I opened it up, I said, yeah, OK. Now when we opened it up, we didn’t even have a bandstand… So I built me a bandstand… And so that’s how Bop City came. Now it didn’t have no name, so we figured since Bop City’s closed in New York, we might as well name it Bop City. But the bottom line, it was never Bop City, it was always Jimbo’s Waffle Shop.”
Bop City quickly became the place to play. After all the other clubs in the city shut down, everyone would head to 1690 Post for amazing after-hours jam sessions and parties. Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Billy Eckstine, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dinah Washington, and John Coltrane were but a few of the many musicians who graced the club’s stage.
Pony Poindexter describes the scene: “One night, or should I say one morning, Art Tatum was honored with a special party at Bop City. There was lots of food… Up on the piano were cases of liquor. After everyone had stuffed himself or herself, we all settled back to look and listen to some real piano playing. Still, several hours went by and no one moved. It was daybreak. No one moved. Finally it came to an end. When I left there, I was spent — both from playing and listening…The very next weekend we had at Bop City the big three trumpet players of the bop style: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Kenny Dorham. Dexter (Gordon) was also there. The session went on til early noon the next day. Jimbo honored them all with a special dinner. The next week the Woody Herman band came to into town, and there was another party for them. That night we heard Stan Getz and Zoot Sims stretch out.”
Saxophonist John Handy, who later went on to play with Charles Mingus, began sneaking into Fillmore clubs at the age of 16 in 1949. For Handy, Bop City was like a second home, and musically it was his first home, having been a member of the house band at one time or another. He told me the club was a place where young aspiring musicians could sit mesmerized for hours, watching their heroes play on stage, and maybe even be given a chance to join them on stage.
In bebop, if you couldn’t play, the musicians would tell you to get right off the stage, even during your solo,” Hester says. “They didn’t care. You had to be good, or forget it.”
“THE LEGEND OF BOP CITY” 1998 directed by Carol Chamberland
35 years of painted racing machines…
The concept for the BMW art cars was introduced by Hervé Poulain, an auctioneer and ardent racing driver from France. Poulain was searching for a link between art and cars and he asked his friend and renowned artist Alexander Calder to paint a rolling canvas on the BMW 3.0 CSL that he would race in the 1975 Le Mans endurance race. Poulain’s 3.0 CSL was the first car to create a symbiosis between the world of art and the world of motorsport. Prompted by enormous enthusiasm for this work of art on wheels, BMW then decided to put its brilliant idea of establishing the Art Car Collection into practice.
the artists: Alexander Calder 1975, Frank Stella 1976, Roy Lichtenstein 1977, Andy Warhol 1979, Ernst Fuchs 1982, R. Rauschenberg 1986, M.J. Nelson 1989, Ken Done 1989, Matazo Kayama 1990, Cesar Manrique 1990, A.R. Penck 1991, Esther Mahlangu 1991, Sandro Chia 1992, David Hockney 1995, Jenny Holzer 1999, Olafur Eliasson 2007, Robin Rhode 2009, Jeff Koons 2010
L.A.’s first and finest punk rock magazine…
by MARK VALLEN
Slash Magazine grew out of the tasteless wasteland of Los Angeles in 1977, when a cluster of punk malcontents emerged who would challenge prevailing attitudes with as much verve as any group of nonconformists who had preceded them. Slash set trends not only in music, but also in street fashion and visual art. It offered tirades against the corrupt music industry and its stars along with endless rants in favor of turning the status quo upside down.
Slash provided coverage of local punk concerts and extensive interviews with LA punk bands like the Weirdos, Germs, X, Fear, and Black Flag. It also gave approving coverage to English bands like the Clash, Sex Pistols and the Damned – when hardly a single US paper would dare write about them. Slash was also the primary source of record reviews for punk and “new wave” records. I was an avid reader of Slash from the beginning, but in 1979 decided that perusing its inflammatory pages was not enough. One day I waltzed into their offices and got myself hired as a part time designer and production artist. Ultimately I was to contribute two cover illustrations to the publication, both of which are presented here (Sue Tissue & last edition).
Slash was founded by Steve Samioff and Claude Bessy on May Day of 1977. Bessy turned out to be the publication’s main writer and editor. Samioff grew bored with Slash and around 1979 he partnered with Bob Biggs, a bohemian entrepreneur who saw a goldmine in Slash. In 1980 Samioff handed the project over to Biggs, who terminated the publication and built a record label upon its ashes. I’m eternally proud to have created the cover art for the very last issue of Slash. an edition as hard hitting and full of integrity as the first issue. It’s hard to believe that in only four years of existence as a publication, Slash would have attained such far reaching success. It not only helped change the face of music, it trailblazed a path that eventually would have an effect on millions.
Claude Bessy’s words have been ringing in my ears for many years now, so I’m thrilled to be able to inflict his vision upon the rest of the world by posting some of his old Slash editorials on these pages. What’s remarkable about Bessy’s diatribes is that, while they reveal just how far we’ve come – they also show how little has actually changed. The screaming banality observed by Bessy in the late 70’s has now grown so pervasive that few seem to notice any longer. Ever so often I recall working at the Slash office, putting together the pages of the magazine – all the while hearing Claude typing in the other room, chuckling as he contemplated the effect his words would have on an unsuspecting audience. Sometimes he’d excitedly run out of his tiny room with a mischievous glint in his eyes, to share with me some of his poisonous barbs.
One of my favorite Slash stories concerns the reviewing of vinyl records. It was 1980, and the number of records and tapes sent to Slash by bands hoping to be reviewed was staggering. Most submissions were vinyl 45 singles self-produced by bands who then promptly faded into obscurity. One day we received a 45 sent to us from Ireland by an unknown band. Claude placed it on the turntable and we listened to it once, before he muttered something about “typical pop” and tossed the record aside. It fell into the Slash Black Hole of music not edgy enough to be considered punk. The name of the single was I will follow, and the unknown band was U2.
While working at Slash Magazine, I crossed paths with a number of artists, writers, musicians, and photographers – but few such encounters could top my being rude to one of the contemporary art world’s biggest stars. One day, as I was designing pages for the magazine, Bob Biggs popped in with a disheveled looking blond fellow. I immediately recognized the scruffy fair-haired man, but feigned blankness (not being a fan of the luminary). Claude Bessy had stopped pecking at his typewriter in the adjacent room, no doubt to better overhear something.
Biggs stepped up to me with his guest at his side, and with stars in his eyes pronounced, “Mark, I’d like you to meet David Hockney.” Barely looking up from my work, I said, “Should I know that name?” Biggs was more embarrassed by my insufferable attitude than was his famed UK artist friend, but the both of them retreated to a friendlier setting. Bessy emerged from his room sniggering and grinning ear to ear after having heard the encounter. I had apparently passed his test of not falling to celebrity worship, and from then on he considered me a friend.
Soon after Slash Magazine folded in 1980, Claude and Philomena left the country for good, eventually settling in Spain. The Hollywood punk scene had splintered and many of its innovators moved on to other things, though a few of the original torch bearers continue to exemplify the spirit of ’77. Punk rock exploded onto the world stage in the late 70’s like a cataclysmic act of God – and just in the nick of time. It saved some of my generation from the clutches of a mind-numbing conformity. But as it’s been said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Slash was just one small stab at altering society and re-energizing a rebellious state of mind, a mission that is certain to be taken up by others… starting now.
ART IN CINEMA part 5: “cosmic cinema”…
Jordan Belson is an enigma and a legend of the experimental film world. He has produced a remarkable body of over 33 abstract films over six decades, richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. His films have been called “cosmic cinema,” and the imagery is not terrestrial — it is of skies, galaxies, halos, suns, stars, auroras. He works with a vocabulary of film images he’s created since the 1940s, but does not use computers. He withdrew his films from distribution decades ago, thus many are difficult to see. Belson doesn’t give interviews, write about his work, or discuss his methods, leaving the viewer to derive his/her own experiences and meanings from his films. He states, “The films are not meant to be explained, analyzed, or understood. They are more experiential, more like listening to music.” (1992–94 interview with Scott MacDonald)
Belson has decades-long ties to the museum, so we’re pleased to bring his work back to the museum on October 14, with new preservation prints and some rarely screened early films. In fact, some of Belson’s major influences were films and kinetic light art exhibited at SFMOMA (then the San Francisco Museum of Art) in the 1940s–60s.
Born in Chicago, Belson moved to San Francisco at age seven. He attended Galileo, then Lincoln High, studied painting at the California School of Fine Art (now San Francisco Art Institute), and received a B.A. in Fine Arts from UC Berkeley in 1946. He was first a painter, until he attended the seminal Art in Cinema series at the museum from 1946–53. Art in Cinema exposed the San Francisco cinema community to European avant-garde films and new American experimental films. It was here that many young artists first saw films by Oskar Fischinger, the Whitney Brothers, the European surrealists, and the French avant-garde. Art in Cinema had a profound effect on Bay Area artists and painters, some of whom were inspired to make films.
Belson especially appreciated Fischinger’s films (calling him “one of my heroes”); the work of Norman McLaren; and Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 (1921–25). Belson made two short animated films in 1947–48, shown in later Art in Cinema programs; however, he still considered himself primarily a painter. Belson’s painting and film work soon merged with films he made with scroll paintings, including Caravan (1952).
In 1953 Belson attended Fischinger’s performance of his Lumigraph (a mechanical color-light performance instrument) at the museum. The Lumigraph was performed in pitch darkness, and Fischinger created what he called “fantastic color plays” with spontaneous movements of colored light dancing to accompanying music. Belson was struck by the simple elegance and the mysterious soft, glowing images. Similarly, Belson later saw one of Thomas Wilfred’s Lumia color-light machines exhibited at SFMA, which became an influence on his later work.
A few years after Art in Cinema, Belson and Henry Jacobs created the legendary Vortex Concerts.
In May 1957 the first Vortex Concert was held at the California Academy of Science’s Morrison Planetarium. Featuring new electronic music from avant-garde composers worldwide curated by composer/DJ Henry Jacobs, Vortex was described by Belson (as visual director) as “a series of electronic music concerts illuminated by various visual effects.” In the blackness of the planetarium’s 65-foot dome, Belson created spectacular illusions, layering abstract patterns, lighting effects, and cosmic imagery, at times using up to 30 projection devices.
Belson filmed interference-projector patterns for Vortex, and later used some of these patterns in Séance (1959) and Allures (1961).
Vortex was an immediate success, and five Vortex series were performed through 1959, with over 38 concerts. Unfortunately, planetarium management did not share the press’s and audiences’ enthusiasm, and cancelled in 1959. The Vortex legacy is evident in 1960s psychedelic light shows, live multiple-projector shows, and VJ culture. Belson has even been called the first VJ!
Belson and Jacobs tried to remount Vortex, but were unable to find a venue and sufficient backing. In October 1959 Belson and Jacobs presented a “concert of electronic music and non-objective film” called Vortex Presents at the SFMA. This was a very different, single-screen event. Belson screened early versions of films he was working on, including one which became Allures, plus films by others. Only one evening of Vortex Presents occurred; though it was planned as a series, the audience reaction was disappointing. According to Belson, they came expecting a multiple projector planetarium show, but saw instead a film screening.
The Vortex Concerts were crucial to Belson’s transition to a new style of filmmaking — he stopped using traditional animation techniques and began working with pure real-time light sources.
Belson has continued to create a resplendent body of work. Other films with spectacular cosmic imagery include Light (1973); Cycles (1975), made with Stephen Beck; and Music of the Spheres (1977), all screening this week. His film Epilogue (2005) was funded by the NASA Art Program and commissioned by The Hirshhorn Museum. Belson’s films today are often installed in major museum exhibitions, and Center for Visual Music has presented special retrospectives of his work in the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, and Australia.
© Cindy Keefer, all rights reserved.
for more on Jordan Belson visit the Center for Visual Music Belson Research page…
Cindy Keefer curates, preserves, and writes on experimental film, and is working on a book about the Vortex Concerts… she produced the recent Belson and Fischinger DVDs, Belson’s last film Epilogue and is currently the director of Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles…
images (from top): Allures (1961), 16mm film by Jordan Belson. © Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music. Chakra (1972), 16mm film by Jordan Belson. © Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music. Epilogue (2005), videofilm by Jordan Belson. © Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music. Seance (1959), 16mm film by Jordan Belson. © Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music…