A Lower Eastside Film and Video History
Edited By Clayton Patterson
|Paperback | 554 pages | Seven Stories Press | New York | August 2005 | ISBN 978-1583226742|
|TAGS: DESCRIPTION + FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE + TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|REVIEWS: NEW YORK PRESS + NEW YORK TIMES + NEW YORK SUN
VILLAGER + AM NEW YORK + BROOKLYN RAIL
The definitive anthology of New York’s underground cinema, in its creators’ own words. New York’s Lower East Side has been a fountain of creativity and art since the early 1950s, a free-wheeling bazaar of ideas and artists that has challenged and shaped mainstream culture. Captured tells the story of film and video in the Lower East Side and the East Village in the artists’ own words. Over one hundred contributors discuss the early years with Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Taylor Mead, and Jonas Mekas, as well as the wild 70s and 80s with Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Louis Guzman, Nick Zedd, and many others. Movements such as No Wave and the Cinema of Transgression are covered, as is the story of Pull My Daisy, considered among the true progenitors of “indie film.” Captured is part formal history and part inspirational text, to remind people on the outside looking in how often their contributions form the invisible pillars of American art and popular life. To quote the great pop art filmmaker Jack Smith, “Art school? Art school? I didn’t have the luxury of going to art school. I had to come to New York and go straight to work making art.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE by Jessie Kinding, August 15th, 2005:
The definitive anthology of New York's underground cinema, in its creators' own words: "ny became our only school and we made that trip by train or else in nickys black house painted vw a 1000 times. the elgin the thalia losey bresson altman jean vigo cocteau decameron satyricon brakhage see through your own eyes michael snow seeing kazan arguing with nicholas ray on a street corner but always ending on the Lower East Side where 5 years or so later i saw mean streets and the conformist back to back on the same afternoon and i knew i was to be a filmmaker or die and watching films was more or less over for me." Abel Ferrara, from the foreword.
New York's Lower East Side has been a fountain of creativity and art since the turn of the century starting with the Yiddish Theater, a free-wheeling bazaar of ideas and artists that has challenged and shaped mainstream culture. In the 1950s, the Lower East Side became home to a new generation of artists and cultural outlaws who were moving away from rapidly gentrifying Greenwich Village and looking for a new place to live, work, and create. Beginning with the Beat movement, the Lower East Side quickly became the touchstone of an anarchic cultural ferment that developed a new, underground aesthetic: in the words of great pop art filmmaker Jack Smith, "Art school? Art school? I didn't have the luxury of going to art school. I had to come to New York and go straight to work making art."
Captured is the story of the Lower East Side's radical underground film movement in the words of the people who created it. Over one hundred contributors discuss, dissect, and reflect on the early years in the Lower East Side with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Taylor Mead, and Jonas Mekas and, from the later years, with Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Louis Guzman, Nick Zedd, and many others. Film movements such as No Wave and the Cinema of Transgression are covered, as is the story of "Pull My Daisy," a project considered to be one of the true progenitors of indie film.
A must read for students and fans of independent film, cinema, and America counterculture, Captured is both a history of the artistic currents that helped establish New York City as an underground film mecca and a reminder of how our culture is influenced by the numerous outlaws, artistic bandits, and unruly geniuses invisible to the mass media who live and work within our midst.
Canadian-born CLAYTON PATTERSON is a photographer, artist, outlaw historian, and community activist. He lives and works on the Lower East Side of New York City, where he hosts public readings and gallery shows at his world-renowned Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Art Museum, a place described by NYU film professor Jeremiah Newton as "a cultural bastion," the "pivotal juncture where the East Village and Lower East Side electrically and magically converge." Clayton's extensive paper, photo, and video archive on the life and times of the Lower East Side is well known, and has drawn scholars and writers researching the arts, politics, and alternative cultural scenes of the Lower East Side.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
|Adodeo, Rachel: Making A Movie: What About Me?
Anntelope: Clayton and I
: Clayton's Lower East Side Side Show
Arcade, Penny: Tell all the Scum Of Baghdad: the Legacy of Jack Smith
Beall, Aaron, and Zambrano, Laura: The Film, Video, and Animation History of Todo con Nada 1988-2000
Binelli, Mark: Cool Actor, Luis Guzman
Blowdryer, Jennifer: Richard Kern
Bowen, Michael: Twenty Questions with Taylor Mead in Love
Bugarcic, Gary Ray: Films & Video at Darinka: A Performance Studio 1984-1987
Burkhardt, Jacob, and Gordy, Bill: Shooting A Movie On The Lower East Side - 1986
C., Jim, aka James Cornwell: Once in a Lifetime
: This Revolution Must Be Televised
Calmx: Filming in the Wild, Wild, East: An Extended Interview of East Village Filmmaker Mary Bellis
: Interview with Edward Braddock III, aka Red Ed, aka Carol Anne Braddock
Carter, Michael: The Ballad of Wideo Wim: Jim C., Nada Gallery and the East Village Scene
Choy, Christine: Third World Newsreel
Clifford, Michelle, and Landis, Bill: Sleazoid
Coddington, Robert: The Pravda of the Matter
Corber, Mitch: How I Became NY Poetry Video "KINGPIN"
Corn, Thom: Thom Corn as East Village Video/Filmmaker...
Delembard, Cricket: The Cinema of Transgression, Where Are They Now?
Eros, Bradley, and Mare, Aline: Erotic Psyche
, and Liotta, Jeanne: Media Mystics
Fessenden, Larry: Notes from an East Village Filmmaker
Finkelstein, David: Robert Beck Memorial Cinema: Weekly Visit to the Supernal Realms
Fisher, Ebon: Holding a Torch to the Gargoyle Mechanique: Ebon Fisher Interviews Steve Jones and Bigtwinn
Flesh, Henry: Henry Flesh
Fortier, Amanda: Harry Smith: The Lower East Side Legend
Galm, Ruth: The Millennium Film Workshop in Love
Gigliotti, Davidson: Radical Player, Radical Mind, Radical Video
Goldberg, Gary: Copy of Original Yes No Script
Grote, Jason: Michael Auder
Gusella, Ernest: Video Vapors
Halleck, DeeDee: Making Movies With Kids On The Lower East Side
Haller, Robert A.: Amy Greenfield
Halter, Ed: Bradley Eros and Brian Frye Interview
: Multiple Ejaculations: M.M. Serra on Sex and Cinema
Hanavan, Anne: When I Met Clayton
Harrison, Matthew: Short Film From Matthew Harrison: Something for Clayton Patterson
Hartman, Leon: 10 Questions to Phil Hartman
Hartman, Phil: The East Village Captured
Hughes-Freeland, Tessa: Just A Glimpse: The New York Film Festival Downtown
Irizarry, Alfredo Texidor: LES in Video
Jadwick, Ray: M. Henry Jones & the Snake Monkey Studio
Jankowski, Matty: Lower East Side Video X-Ray Warning
Jarmusch, Tom: Scotch and Kodak; After Hours: A Look At Rafic
Jessica Loos, Jessica: Yankin' On Pull My Daisy
Jones, Baird: Baird's Fish Eye View and Reminisces of the L.E.S. Video
Kaboom, Inju/ Lapidus, Kyle/ Pure, Joe: Collective: Unconscious - Interviews with Jamie Mereness and Bryan Frye
Kase, Carlos: On the Importance of Anthology Film Archives: A Historical Overview and Endorsement
Klein, Julius: Film/Video in the LES/EV
Kolm, Ron: Mitch Corber, Documenter of the Unbearables
Koponen, Sandra: The 60s; Notes on the Underground
La Prade, Erik: A Bowl of Cherries
: Paul Morrissey on the Lower East Side
Larsonpage, Rodger: Young Filmmakers
Little, Rik: Rik Little
Magnuson, Ann: Club 57
: East Village Infories
Masters, Greg: Pizza, Beer & Cinema
Mitler, Matt: The Movie of the Month Club 1991-1992
Mele, Cassandra Stark: Why I Left the 'Cinema of Transgression' Behind, or Why It Left Me
Meyerling, Max von: The Lower East Side on Film
Miller, Eric: Live Video as Performance on New York City's Lower East Side in the 1980s
Moore, Alan: MWF Video: from the collection of avant-garde art & media
Moossy, Miss Joan Marie: Marc Friedlander
: Rockets Redglare
Morrison, Bill: Bill Morrison Filmmaker
Murphy, Jay: Emile de Antonio 1989
Newton, Jeremiah: More Than a Few Words: Amos Poe Speaks the Truth
Ng, David: Films Charas
Oisteanu, Valery: The Provocative Confessions of a Poet/Video-Artist
Palazzolo, Francis: More than just raw nerve and cheap metaphors
Patterson, Clayton: A Peek Inside the Archives
: Arleen Schloss Interview
: Bill Rice
: Jeffrey Lerer Interview
: The Eyes Have It
: Tompkins Square Park Police Riot Tape and the Road to Victory
Poynton, Jerome: Baroque on the Lower East Side
Raden, Bill: Tom Jarmusch Profile
Rice, Bill: Gary Goldberg
Robbins, Lane: Jim "Mosaic Man" Power and Video Work
: The Art and Video of Elsa Rensaa
Rosenthal, Bob: Ginsberg At Home
Rothenberger, Joshua: (Dead)panning Through the Lower East Side with Jim Jarmusch
: Performing the Lower East Side: A Conversation With Steve Buscemi
Sempel, Peter: Jonas Mekas
Sitney, Sky: The Search for the Invisible Cinema
Smith, Harris: No New Cinema: Punk and No Wave Underground Film 1976-1984
Smith, Nico: Mon histoire de la Cinema c. 1984
Starr, Rachelle: Gary Goldberg
Statland, Howie: NYC Smoke
Steinfeld, Alan: From Allen Ginsberg to New Realties
: The Non Narrative Life
Swami, Kaprinda: Tompkins Square Park: The Prabhupada Sankirtan Society
Tambellini, Aldo: A Syracuse Rebel in New York
Tully, James: Why the Lower East Side?
Vazakas, Laki: Shooting On Seventh Street
Watson, Carl: Naked Eye Cinema at ABC No Rio
Weinbren, Grahame: 25 Years, 26 Books: The Millennium Film Journal
Williams, Lee: I'd Work in Mexican Car Wash for Her, Rockets Redglare in Love
Wright, Jeffrey Cyphers: Smile for the Camera: East Village Through the LensYalkut, Jud: Media
Mecca and Mayhem: Ferment on the Lower East Side
Yokobosky, Matthew: No Wave Cinema, 1978-87 - Not a Part of Any Wave: No Wave
Zedd, Nick: Nick Zed
: Wait For Me at the Bottom of the Pool: The Writings Of Jack Smith
August 18, 2005, Vol 18, Issue 31 | Review by Jim Knipfel: | Filmmakers have been shooting films in and around the East Village and the LES since, well, the earliest days of cinema. But in the late 1950s, a new community and a new kind of filmmaking began to emerge. With the appearance of the Beats and their freewheeling experimental take on life as well as art, there was a growing dissatisfaction among the young with the staid, sterile world and neat, happy stories represented in so much of what Hollywood was producing.
People began to realize that more interesting things could be done with movie cameras, and more realistic aspects of lifeespecially in places like the Lower East Sidecould be captured on film. What's more, these things could be done independently. They didn't need studios, backers, professional actors, elaborate set designor big audiences, for that matter. They could scrounge for the money they needed to buy a camera and enough film (or hell, just steal them), and the sets and the actors were already right there waiting. The most important thing, they didn't have dreams of Hollywood. They were making these films for themselves and their friends, and if anyone else cared to take a look, that was swell.
In a way, the massive new anthology Captured is reminiscent of the Lower East Side itselfor at least of what the Lower East Side once represented. The hundreds of voices contained here range from the cultured intellectual to the foulmouthed junkie hipster to the sincere True Believer in the Transcendent Power of Art. In that it can at times be contradictory, frustratingeven annoying. But it can also be inspiring, lively, funny and full of unexpected little touches and absolutely unique New York characters, like Taylor Mead, M. M. Serra and the late Rockets Redglare.
What the book tries to do is trace out a bumpy, convoluted oral history of indie/underground filmmaking in the East Village and the Lower East Side from those earliest days to the presentfrom Pull My Daisy and Warhol to Nick Zedd, Jim Jarmusch and the new crop of young filmmakers setting up shop every year. What at first seems like connect-the-dots soon turns out to be a tangled web of influences and relationships.
Like Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me, the story running through Captured is told as often as possible by the players themselves. More than just interviews, however, Captured includes short Infoirs, personal profiles and straightforward cultural history written by people who are in one way or another involved in the filmmaking scene. And the "scene" includes everything from experimental film to arty porn to documentary, as well as distributors, writers, actors, producers and fans.
In many ways, the cast of charactersfrom Ginsberg to Steve Buscemireads like a who's-who of Village hipsterdom over the past half-century. Contributors and subjects include Jack Smith, Harry Smith, Casandra Stark, Richard Kern, Penny Arcade, Jim Jarmusch, Jonas Mekas, Clayton Patterson, Paul Morrissey, Laki Vazakasand dozens of people I'd never heard of, but probably should haveall of them utterly devoted, in one way or another, to movies. (Noticeably absent, it should probably be noted, is Martin Scorsese, who rates only an occasional passing nod, even though he began his career making arty student films on the LES. I have to wonder if his success excluded him from the "indie/underground" club.)
A lot of the people included here aren't writers, and that's pretty obvious. But that's not the point. It's primarily an oral history after all, and these people are just telling their stories (though with all the names flying around, I was thinking at times, "Whoa, back up a secondwho are you talking about again?").
Still, if you're involved even tangentially with the EV/LES art scene, there will be plenty of names here you'll recognize, plenty of stories you've heard already. At the same time, even if you're deeply involved in film and video, there'll be things here you've never heard of before. The more I think about it, the more Please Kill Me is an apt comparison. What that book did, not only for punks, but for struggling local musicians in general, Captured does for any would-be indie filmmakerit provides a sense of the possibilities and the spirit that make doing what you want to do possible. If these losers could do it, why not you?
THE LOWER EAST SIDE, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL | By John Strausbaugh | If you have attended any public gathering on the Lower East Side or in the East Village over the last 25 years - a punk rock gig, a community board meeting, a poetry slam, a Santeria service, the infamous Tompkins Square Park riot in 1988 - chances are you're somewhere in Clayton Patterson's archives. He was the bearish man with the billy goat beard and the biker fashion sense mingling with - but never blending into - the crowd, observing everything through a still or video camera. As obsessive as he is ubiquitous, Mr. Patterson has taken hundreds of thousands of photographs and thousands of hours of videotape in his adopted neighborhood. Where Jakob Riis and Weegee photographed the area "as a project or a job," Mr. Patterson said with a smile in a recent interview at his home on the Lower East Side, "I do it as a disease." He can't stop, even after more than a dozen arrests by camera-shy police officers. He has amassed a huge day-by-day visual history of the area, told mainly through unpretentious portraits of its myriad and diverse faces: tenement kids and homeless people, poets and politicians, drug dealers and drag queens, rabbis and santeros, beat cops, graffiti taggers, hookers, junkies, punks, anarchists, mystics and crackpots.
"It's not an archive of the rich and cool," Mr. Patterson noted. "It's about the tragic, glorious, sometimes depressing history of the Lower East Side."
A number of Mr. Patterson's snapshot-casual portraits appear in a hefty book, "Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side," published this month by 7 Stories Press. Edited by Mr. Patterson, Paul Bartlett and Urania Mylonas, the collection of 100 interviews and personal essays documents the neighborhood's long and vital role in avant-garde and independent film and video.
Born into a working-class family in Calgary, Alberta, in 1948, Mr. Patterson studied printmaking and came to New York City in 1979 to take a job in a commercial print shop. He and Elsa Rensaa, his partner for more than 30 years, came first to Brooklyn, "where we lived for probably three weeks," he recalled. "We just found it too suburban."
They moved to Broome Street near the Bowery, where their neighbors included a pre-fame Keith Haring, then to the Bowery itself. In 1983, "after applying to 42 banks," they managed to secure a mortgage on 161 Essex Street, a small building between Houston and Stanton Streets. They moved into the second floor, over a Hispanic dressmaker.
"Our first night here we looked out the window and saw a guy get shot across the street," Mr. Patterson said. "Very few white people came below Houston Street. It was about at the level of Avenue D in terms of who lived here, the drugs, the violence."
Drug dealers and their crews ran the streets in those days. Mr. Clayton's archive includes a large collection of empty heroin bags he found as he walked the neighborhood, each stamped with a logo and brand name identifying the dealer who sold it - evocative names like Body Bag, Redrum, China Cat and Hellraiser.
In 1986, Mr. Patterson opened the storefront Clayton Gallery, where he demonstrated little affinity for the nearby SoHo art scene. "I found it too conformist and careerist," he said. "I've always been more interested in visions and ideas that are outside the corporate art mainstream."
Over two decades, he has shown work by a Hasidic Jew and a Hell's Angel, tattoo artists and a Santeria priest, the leader of the Satan Sinner Nomads gang and an occasional underground celebrity like the Beat writer Herbert Huncke or the Warhol superstar Taylor Mead.
Probably of most interest to locals was what neighborhood kids called the Wall of Fame. Every day for years, Hispanic youths from the tenements and public housing came by to have Mr. Patterson snap their photos and display them in the gallery's window. There was always a gaggle of kids out front, tapping the window and laughing: "Mira! Mira!" Despite the roughness of the neighborhood in those years, Mr. Patterson's building was never vandalized (though he cheerfully agreed to have the front door tagged with graffiti), and he and Ms. Rensaa were never bothered. They were the Wall of Fame couple.
Those kids are gone, pushed out over the past decade by the inexorable encroachment of million-dollar condos and hipster bars. They are faces in Mr. Patterson's archive now. You can flip through the photos and watch them grow up - and then they vanish.
"These are real people," he said. "But until you see the photographs, you won't even remember they were here."
In 1988, Mr. Patterson began using his cameras not just to document events but also to participate in them, when he and Ms. Rensaa shot three and a half hours of videotape showing uniformed police officers attacking political protesters at Tompkins Square Park. Their startling tape was instrumental in spurring subsequent police department reforms and helped a number of victims win lawsuits against the city.
Mr. Patterson notes with some bitterness that he never made a dime from the tape. What it made him was a lot of enemies on the force. After 1988, there wasn't an officer in the area who didn't seem to know and usually dislike Mr. Patterson, who developed an uncanny knack for showing up with his camera at, it seemed, every drug bust, tenant eviction and political rally.
In 1992, Mr. Patterson said, a police officer used his baton to knock out a few of his teeth for filming a confrontation with squatters at Avenue D and East. Fourth Street. He was arrested 13 times over the years "just for taking pictures," he said, resulting in one misdemeanor conviction for obstructing governmental administration. Mr. Patterson fired back with a few lawsuits for unlawful arrest and violation of his civil rights; he lost two, and a third is under appeal.
Frustrated and exhausted after 15 years of such confrontations, Mr. Patterson is looking to quieter pursuits. "It's now time for me to mine the archives," he said.
"Captured" is one result. Although the book is studded with household names from Ginsberg, Kerouac and Warhol to Jarmusch, Buscemi and Ramone, Mr. Patterson's concern, characteristically, was to highlight unsung heroes and local legends. He is now compiling a similar book on the history of radical political movements in the neighborhood.
"History" is the key word, he said. "For over a hundred years, the Lower East Side was a magic crucible where people were inspired to great art and ideas. The Lower East Side probably changed the history of America five hundred times."
In just the last decade, he believes, he has seen the end of that era, as soaring real estate prices have largely emptied the area of its artists, bohemians, radicals and immigrants. The third annual Howl! Festival of East Village Arts, now through Sunday, seems to him as much a nostalgia trip as a celebration of current artistic and intellectual life.
"What we have here now is bars and college students vomiting on the streets," Mr. Patterson sighs. "Nothing will rise out of it. It's all vacuous and lacking substance. When I go out my door now, I don't see anyone I know. I see the loss of a community." (Copyright 2005 The New York Times)
August 25, 2005 | AN UNDERGROUND SCENE CELEBRATES ABOVEGROUND | By Gary Shapiro | On Monday at Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Art Museum on Essex Street, the trio of Clayton Patterson, Paul Bartlett, and Urania Mylonas greeted a crowd who came to celebrate the launch of their book “Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side” (Seven Stories, 586 pages, $26.95).
“We threw out a big net,” said Mr. Bartlett, describing the black-covered, mammoth-size anthology about underground cinema, which is bursting with pages from more than 100 contributors. Initially about 50 writers were asked to contribute in the hopes of getting 40 to complete their essays, he said. But only three or four made the first publishing deadline: “All of them were out of town,” such as Peter Semple from Germany and DeeDee Halleck from the Catskills. So, he said, they asked more contributors, and eventually a flood of articles poured in.
This source book follows the independent and experimental film and video scene on the Lower East Side from its beginnings in the 1950s through succeeding decades, as filmmakers continued to settle in the neighborhood. Cameras in hand, they expressed themselves freely, all the while remaining firmly outside the strictures of any Hollywood machinery. “Film and video mix all the arts,” said Mr. Bartlett, describing the Lower East Side as a place where artists and writers tend to produce for each other and not the market.
Along with covering such wellknown people as Andy Warhol, Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, and Luis Guzmán, the anthology consciously sets out to recover many lesserknown figures. As Mr. Patterson writes in the foreword: “This history includes those who are usually missing in action of the final ‘grand’ stories. People who were in everything and are remembered in nothing. The backbones and pillars.”
Drawing a parallel, Mr. Bartlett said histories of the Beat Generation tend to focus on the “same five or six Beats,” usually those associated with Columbia University, like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
Many of those in the book owe more to city streets than to any academy, as exemplified in an exchange recounted in Penny Arcade’s essay on filmmaker Jack Smith, director of “Flaming Creatures.” After one of Smith’s performances in 1985, a young man ran up and asked, “Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith, I’m a big fan of yours. I go to the School of Visual Arts and I just need to know, what art school did you go to?” Smith replied, “Art school? Art School? I didn’t have the luxury of going to art school.”
The book contains numerous amusing anecdotes, like the one relating to documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio’s fascination with guns. De Antonio, the story goes, once knocked out the lights in his house “by hitting the power lines with his shotgun.”
Some of the book’s essays are about individual films,like the influential Beat movie “Pull My Daisy” (1959), in which, as Jessica Loos writes, “the directors let things happen.” Others profile individual artists like the writer, actor, and Warhol star Taylor Mead, who was in attendance Monday evening; movements such as No Wave Cinema; or organizations like the Millennium Film Workshop and Anthology Film Archives.
A number of contributors to the volume were present at the party, including Lee Williams, whose piece is about the East Village denizen Michael Morra, known as Rockets Redglare; poet Erik La Prade, who wrote about “A Bowl of Cherries,” a film that satirizes artists; and impresario Aaron Beall, who wrote about the history of the storefront theater Todo con Nada.
Other contributors to the volume present included Michael Carter, who said he recently wrote a poem about journalist Steven Vincent; Nick Zedd, whose cable show is a superhero comedy called “The Adventures of Electra Elf”; and art critic Valery Oisteanu, whose poetry was blacklisted during the Soviet era in Romania. Mr. Oisteanu was wearing a wristwatch with the image of Man Ray’s work “Le Violon d’Ingres” on it.
Other people attending included a Skidmore professor of English, Terence Diggory, who co-edited “The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets”; New Jersey-based writer Marvin Greisman; a candidate in medieval history at Fordham, Ken Mondschein, who has written “A History of Single Life”; artist David Katz; and poet Mark Furstenberg, who writes travel guides.
In an introductory note, the editors compare the book’s inclusion of so many artists and contributors to Akira Kurasawa’s film “Rashomon” because it demonstrates “how invaluable it is to include many viewpoints.” Simply thumbing through the copious 18-page index conveys the casts-of-thousands feel of this book. It’s as though Cecil B. DeMille were filling Tompkins Square Park for a closing theatrical show-stopping number.
Although he wished the book were better organized, poet and anthologist Richard Kostelanetz praised the volume as “extraordinary and invaluable at evoking forgotten arts history.”
A feeling of having come too late pervades Mr. Patterson’s lament of changes in the landscape such as gentrification: “Creative anarchy is gone and the dust has settled,” he writes, “Not to say no more art will be made, but the beautiful chaos has ended.The LES is now definable and contained.”
Copyright 2002-2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.
Volume 75, Number 15 | Aug. 31 - Sep 06, 2005
All sides of Lower East Side film scene in new book
By DAVID H. KATZ
Clayton Patterson, editor of “Captured: A Film/Video History
of the Lower East Side”, Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
“Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side” is a massive, mind-boggling compendium of interviews, personal recollections, stories, gossip, anecdotes, Inforabilia and other documentation on the history of underground film- and video-making in the Lower East Side of Manhattan from the last half of the 20th century and onwards into the opening edge of the 21st. Edited by photographer, artist, historian, video outlaw and community activist Clayton Patterson, with Urania Mylonas and Paul Bartlett, this densely packed, encyclopedic history of cinematic art, Downtown culture, social mayhem and underground dreams is told by the people who made it happen; creating, over the course of five decades, some of the wildest, most influential and avant-garde scenes in art history. Actually, this 586-page oral history chronicles a series of movements, trends and happenings, some simultaneous, some overlapping, all rooted in the chaos of creativity, a heady flux fueled at times by sex, drugs and booze and music, but more importantly, fueled by the incandescent creativity of an extraordinary roll call of talent and genius.
“The Lower East Side of New York has always been a state of mind as well as a physical location,” writes filmmaker Jud Yalkut, who came to New York in 1960, moved into a rent-controlled fifth-floor railroad flat between Avenues C and D, at $50 a month, “upped from 33 from the previous tenant to compensate for an extra radiator and a new tiny toilet which replaced the shared facility in the hallway….” Truly, we are talking another era, one when Yalkut and other aspiring artists, writers, poets and filmmakers could move with relative ease from neighborhood to neighborhood, find space to work and live in for a reasonable rate (even adjusting for inflation), and get gigs like “painting the interior of The Ps” jazz club on Sheridan Square…“while Charlie Mingus and his Pithecanthropus Erectus band, with Jackie McLean and J.R. Montrose, rehearsed endlessly and marvelously as we, in our coveralls, applied our rollers to the walls.”
Possessing a healthy disgust for the postwar conventionalities of American life, the repressive politics of the Cold War and vapid tidiness of Hollywood’s cinema, L.E.S. filmmakers, and later, videoegraphers, virtually invented independent filmmaking, creating new cinematic sensibilities and vocabularies. They broadened the scope of moviemaking to include, as Sandra Koponen catalogs it in her excellent overview of the underground film explosion of the ’60s, “documentaries, film diaries, beat films, experimental films, expanded cinema, gay/camp films, psychedelic films, erotic films, structuralist films, animation and satirical comedy.” These artists, many of them coming to filmmaking with no formal training of expertise, rejected big production values, classical narratives and all forms of Hollywood professionalism, in favor of simplicity, spontaneity and a get-it-done, do-it-yourself ethos that continued to influence independent filmmakers into the ’80s and ’90s, and created their own venues for presenting their work, in 8 millimeter or 16 millimeter film and other, more esoteric formats, in bars, lofts, storefronts and clubs, with likeminded visionaries and nonconformists.
Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s legendary Beat homage “Pull My Daisy,” John Cassevettes’s “Shadows,” and Shirley Clark’s dark and prophetic look at the emerging heroin culture, “The Connection,” inspired a generation of directors, actors, writers and cinematic poets, like Robert Downey, the irrepressible Taylor Mead, Ron Rice, Ken Jacobs, Aldo Tambellini and many, many others, inspiring the next generation of filmmakers, the especially fertile punk and No Wave underground film scene of the mid-’70s to mid-’80s, which is covered in two excellent essays, one by Harris Smith, which traces the origin of the boom in do-it yourself productions to a load of Super 8 sound cameras that “fell off a truck” into the hands of a notorious dealer in “gray market” goods on E. Houston St., and from there into the hands of emerging filmmakers like Scott and Beth B, Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell Charlie Ahearn, Vivienne Dick, Bette Gordon and Lizzie Borden to name but a few.
While covering major and fairly well-known figures such as Harry Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Emile de Antonio, Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Luis Guzman, Richard Kern, Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith, Emile De Antonio, Paul Morrissey and many others, the beauty of the book “Captured” is to be found in the care that Patterson has taken to include interviews with, and material on less celebrated, but certainly no less significant contributors to the history and culture of the independent cinema on the L.E.S./E.V: people like media activist and founder of Paper Tiger Television DeeDee Halleck, who taught Puerto Rican kids filmmaking at the Henry Street Settlement in the ’60s; the legendary Rafic, whose film and video supply store on 814 Broadway, along with the notorious OP Screening Room, became a focal point for No Wave figures of the mid-’70s and ’80s, such as Vivienne Dick, Scott and Beth B, Nan Goldin, James Nares, Nick Zedd, Amos Poe and Bradley Eros; animator Henry Jones, who works tirelessly to keep the spirit of Harry Smith alive with screenings and performances as well as in his own incredible works of 3-D animation; documentarians of riots and rowdiness, like Rik Little and Elsa Rensaa; and of course, the never-to-be-forgotten spirit of decadent L.E.S. comedy and chaos, the immortal Rockets Redglare.
Patterson, whose gallery on Essex St., voluminous video and photographic archives of the Downtown scene and generous and unceasing efforts to save and protect all that is unique and counterculturally significant about the Lower East Side, has packed so much information, so many Inforable scenes and so many great stories into “Captured,” it’s hard to wrap your mind around this big and important book, much less tote its 586 pages around. More than the indispensable reference and definitive work it is sure to become, this massive labor of love is also an elegy for a Lower East Side and an East Village that is fast disappearing in the early years of the 21st century, a victim of its own success, consumed by mindless gentrification and Disneyization; swamped by the relentless commercialization of cool, and the hucksterization of hip.
Sept 8, 2005, Issue 175, Volume 3 | Popular artists like Madonna and “Broken Flowers” director Jim Jarmusch, who lived for a while in the Lower East Side, receive the most attention when critics and historians survey the neighborhood’s rich cultural past.
But Clayton Patterson, an informal documentarian of the Lower East Side, says they were just the surface of its once vibrant art scene.
But tressing some of those successful counterculture crossovers, he said, were hundreds of unrecognized creative minds, or “pillars,” as he calls them.
“You will hear about a Jarmusch,” said Patterson, whose gray hair, ancient fu Manchu and tattoos give the appearance of an aging biker. “But in reality there’s a whole subculture beneath Jarmusch that made Jarmusch into Jarmusch.”
Since he moved to the neighborhood in 1979, Patterson has spent decades recording Lower East Side unknowns who have shaped much of the city’s creative scene. His photos range from a young boy writhing in pain from a bullet wound to portraits of Lower East Side artists to the Tompkins Park riots.
Now some of the life he captured on film has been compiled into a book. Late last month, 7 Stories Press published, “Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side,” which contains essays by various contributors about the neighborhood’s avant garde and underground moviemakers.
One entry is devoted to Rafic, an artist little known outside the Lower East Side who supplied others with editing equipment and developed film.
“He had a list of almost everything you would need to make a small independent avant garde or underground film,” said Patterson, who also owns the Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Museum, on Essex Street. “He was really the backbone to so many people, and I am sure if you talk to Jim Jarmusch, he would say the same.”
The book offers only a glimpse of Patterson’s personal recordings. He has amassed hundreds of thousands of photographs and video footage capturing the neighborhood, which has been largely unshown.
The neighborhood’s dimming art scene is partly why he’s started to turn his recordings into a readable history.
“Now that the neighborhood is in a place where so much creativity and that reckless energy has stopped, it seems like this was the time now to dig into the archives,” he said.
THE WILD, WILD EAST | By DAVID VARNO | Kitsch, Camp, sexploitation, severed limbs, police brutality; Beatniks young and old, video poems, film diaries; punks, drag queens: all of these and much more, Lower East Side film.
Captured (Seven Stories Press, 2005), edited by Clayton Patterson, is a summary of the Lower East Side’s recent history. A tome, a scrambled and occasionally repetitive though deeply illuminating (and loud, play it loud) record of the characters and social conditions that have given way to a crucial tradition of independence and innovation in film and video. The book is oriented more toward experimental film, and focuses mostly on those who remain underground, though mainstream crossovers such as Tom DiCillo and Vincent Gallo are oft mentioned, and Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch each have chapters.
The book avoids the problems of revisionist delusion common among journalists who seek to invent a mythology to encompass the history of the scenePaul Morrissey is quite vocal about this, claiming there never was a “scene” or community among filmmakers in the ‘60sby having no editorial summary or analysis whatsoever. The dozens of submissions and interviews are a noisy mass of differing and concurrent voices.
Clayton has done his best to include all the characters who have come and gone since the ‘50s, along with those who continue to advocate and produce work. Many of the 112 chapters are written like magazine columns, and often include the writer’s contact information, if not a self-promotional blurb, which facilitate the book to serve both as a reference and a basis for further dialogue.
Some of the autobiographical chapters are surrounded by reflections on the individual by others involved, which serve as good background for those not of the in-crowd. Others, howeverfor example Henry Jones or Henry Flesh, or Bradley Eros’ two collaborative verse essays come, in a sense out of nowhere, yet they continue to color the oral history of the scene. Miraculously, the story is toldand in a relatively linear narrative, if one commits to plowing through the whole thing. Most of the voices and tales are vastly entertaining. Some interviews are presented in raw transcriptions, which permit even the closest reader to scan, though they suggest an intentional charm, and with repetition of similar opinions and facts from one interview to the next the book becomes a powerful cross-referencing tool.
Ruth Galm, in her chapter on the Millennium Film Workshop’s history, brings up Stan Brakhage’s stubbornness around labels: “For Brakhage, “Underground film conjured up images of a Victor Hugo character traipsing through the sewers of Paris; “experimental” sounded like people were just puttering around; and “avant-garde” sounded too pretentious and French.” Jonas Mekas is someone who believes in the humanist responsibility of all art forms, and stresses the limits of an auteuristic obsession with one’s own life and experience. So while he avoids labels in film, he prefers the title of “filmer” to “filmmaker” (he invented the film/video diary)and when asked what the most serious thing about experimental film is, he proclaims that the only serious thing about experimental film is that it isn’t serious. He has been a dedicated advocate in New York City for more than fifty years.
The pioneers of Lower East Side film point to a variety of influences, and of course don’t always agree on them. Paul Morrissey rails at what he calls Cassavetes’ misuse of improvisation, and calls his product “heavy-handed, soap-opera emotional crap.” He points out the spontaneous narrative that was formed in Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief as a better source of inspiration. But Mekas was a strong supporter of Cassavetes in his early Village Voice columns, and within an anthology of Film Culture (the journal Mekas headed for 35 years), edited by P. Adams Sitney, is a piece written by Parker Tyler that, in 1962, gave more credit to John Cassavetes than Robert Frank and his beatnik-nostalgia film Pull My Daisy: “Concentration camps were authentic; so what if this film was authentic.” He criticizes the film for refusing to acknowledge its roots: “The grab is as big as the bag.” Cassavetes was more gracious and comfortable with his homage, which predated the ethos that Jim Jarmusch fulfills when discussing his own insightthat of “Strummer’s Law”. “No input, no output,” stated the late great Clash front man.
Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog was a pastiche of various cultures and narratives, both from old pulp films and from the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan. “[I took] things from disparate places,” Jarmusch says, “genres like hit-men movies and crime movies, and Samurai movies and philosophies…[mixed] eastern things with hip hop… living in the Lower East Side was a garden of that.”
In the mid-80s, as the early signs of gentrification made their way through the neighborhood, native filmmakers found new challenges to shooting on their turf, as residents were confronted with Hollywood. Steven Spielberg’s production of Batteries Not Included, the plot of which followed other-world beings as they saved an elderly couple from tenement eviction. Real tenants responded with graffiti: “Spielberg Go Home” along with “Not 4 Sale.” A year later, the Tompkins Square riot.
When the Square was reopened post-riot, the band shellwhich had served as an important stage for artists and dissidents, particularly in the ‘60swas removed. Laws were changed, a curfew was instituted, and filmmakers on the independent level had a tougher time getting permits. Rik Little reminisces in his chapter about sneaking onto Hollywood sets in the neighborhood and shooting around them, for example the set of Die Hard with a Vengeance, on which Republican actor Bruce Willis was heckled by residents as he rode a bicycle through the neighborhood.
Clayton’s work as a video artist and documentarian paralleled his involvement with the local political/social strife, which climaxed with the hopefully-not-forgotten riots in August of ‘88. The tape he made of the incident is famous, as is his 90-day-jail sentence and subsequent legal battles. Clayton claims in his essay on the video that he was outraged by its seizure not because of a loss of opportunity with regards to legal action, etc, but as an action of censorship and seizure of his work of art, the unique and elegant nature of which he explains in detail. After all of this, with continued police harassment, he writes from the present day that he is leaving politics to “get back to having fun and chilling out.”
Politics or not, Clayton is an ebullient and admirable champion of the special grassroots cosmopolitan tradition of the Lower East Side, advocating equally in his writing for Orthodox Jews and Hare Krishnas, skinheads and drag queens. He criticizes admirable artists such as Leon Golub, who lived in the neighborhood but he claims rarely went out to absorb it for use in their art. Golub, however, produced art that was deeply informed by politics, and was in fact prosecuted for taking his beliefs to the street.
Alan Steinfeld, who wrote that walking into the Lower East Side was like walking into a movie full of ‘50s beat characters, had the following idea about the artist/poet’s role, quoting E.E. Cummings: “Poetry is being, not doing.” Perhaps an ethos to apply to Clayton, who as an artist may find it most essential to be in touch with the community and maintain a connected lifestyle; “being,” as opposed to the preoccupation of “doing” something politically or otherwise, not specifically related to art.
Those who are remembered in the mainstream independent film history as bit players are memorialized here, for their massive presence on the scene. Rockets Redglare, for example, who passed away in 2001. Passages on him remind us of the notable Hollywood cameos: Big, Desperately Seeking Susan, and paint a larger-than-life character who struggled with addiction and the crime underworld he was born into (when he was a child his mother was shot and killed by the police) but worked in countless independent features.
Cult/fetish erotica players who shined in Richard Kern and Nick Zedd’s Cinema of Transgression productions, such as Annie Sprinkle and Lydia Lunch, tell their stories. And actress Casandra Stark Mele’s has her account of why she left the scene: she points to the break from “underground aesthetics” and ethics rather than the sexploitation. When the sub-genre first broke its manifesto was certainly felt strongly. To quote Nick Zedd from the chapter he wrote: “To transgress is to resist…expanded cinema is a form of live film…a movie can be a situation.” But the situation soon became such that young cutting-edge filmmakers couldn’t finance their projects without a little corporate freelance work on the sidefor example Richard Kern shooting for Penthouse.
In memoirist/performer Jennifer Blowdryer’s chapter on Kern, she claims that he could have continued directing in the ‘80s if he wanted, after Fingeredhis ’86 notorious film starring Lydia Lunch that John Waters allegedly calls the “ultimate date movie for psychos.” “Of course we all could’ve done a lot of things back in the ‘80s,” she writes, “but just couldn’t. The ‘80s…were not lavish spend-fests for everyone”. She also shrewdly points out that the mainstream media is grateful when artists coin their own terms, and has learned to scoop them up so fast that there’s no time for a movement to get going.
Then the cable shows emerged, bringing video performance to public access in the East Village. “Every time you turned on [the] TV you saw someone you knew. We were all famous for fifteen minutes!” Says Jeffery Cyphers Wright, referring to the third generation New York School, which came together in ’76 in the shadow of Warhol’s factory. This kind of instant local recognition was new for the area, and distant from Paul Morrissey’s era, who claims filmmakers never even recognized one another.
Enduring in the present, through all various trends, are figures like Taylor Mead, for whom several written appeals to the cityincluded herebeen made to prevent eviction from his Lower East Side apartment. Robert Cavanagh claims that Mead blames his continued poverty in part on the modest promotion done by Jarmusch for Coffee and Cigarettes, the crown scene of which includes a lovely existential exchange between him and painter/actor Bill Rice.
Theatres such as the Pioneer at Two Boots continue the tradition of offering the avant-garde to the community in an informal setting. The Collective: Unconscious continues to host video performance events, parties, and parades. And the Anthology Film Archive stands strong at 2nd and 2nd tonight.
David Varno is a writer based in Brooklyn.
He can be reached for further discussion firstname.lastname@example.org