A contemporary of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, Bob Kaufman is one of the Beat Generation’s most overlooked artists. The African American surrealist poet led a life laced with tragedy, and here his story is given a focus worthy of his indescribable talent. Lovingly assembled from photo montages, laid-back interviews with those who knew him, and the cool, angered rhythms of Kaufman’s poetry, celebrated filmmaker Billy Woodberry’s return to the director’s chair is a powerful work of biography that refuses to shy away from the darker periods of the poet’s life—a decade spent under a vow of silence, battles with drug addiction, and the isolation that followed his abandonment of his familial responsibilities. Continue reading
Jim Sledden’s 1998 documentary Brakhage is an interesting, well-constructed portrait of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who made almost 400 film in the 50 years up to his death in 2003. Along with fellow artists Jonas Mekas and Maya Deren, he’s regarded as one of the most important of American experimental filmmakers, and his influence can be seen in everything from music videos to title sequences from such films as Se7en. Starting with the psychodramas so typical of young filmmakers, he eventually moved into more abstract films, even physically manipulating the celluloid itself by gluing things to it or scratching it with a variety of implements. Continue reading
Many people consider Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb to be the greatest blues guitarist and songster of all time. This glowing portrait of the legendary musician (also life-long husband and sharecropper) is among Blank’s special masterworks. Instead of growing bitter, tough times made Lipscomb sweet.
The favorite film of Kurt Vonnegutt, Jr. Continue reading
An affectionate portrait of a group of women who, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and evacuation, returned to the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant and have resided there – semi-officially, for years. Continue reading
In the annals of Hollywood film since the artistic glories of the New Hollywood era, few have a better reputation and body of work in the field of the suspense film exploring the contemporary darkness in American life than Brian De Palma. Here, the great film writer and director takes us through his professional life in his own words of a career that would redefine film horror and suspense. All the while, he also confesses the challenges of working in Hollywood and the price paid even the great artists pay for being a part of it. Continue reading
These six reels of my film diaries come from the years 1949-1963. They begin with my arrival in New York in November 1949. The first and second reels deal with my life as a Young Poet and a Displaced Person in Brooklyn. It shows the Lithuanian immigrant community, their attempts to adapt themselves to a new land and their tragic efforts to regain independance for their native country. It shows my own frustrations and anxieties and the decision to leave Brooklyn and move to Manhattan. Reel three and reel four deal with my life in Manhattan on Orchard Street and East 13th St. First contacts with New York poetry and filmmaking communities. Robert Frank shooting The Sin of Jesus. LeRoy Jones, Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara reading at The Living Theatre. Documentation of the political protests of the late fifties and early sixties. First World Strike for Peace. Vigil in Times Square. Women for Peace. Air Raid protests. Reel five includes Rabbit Shit Haikus, a series of Haikus filmed in Vermont; scenes at the Film-Maker’s Cooperative; filming Hallelujah the Hills; scenes of New York City. Reel six contains a trip to Flaherty Seminar, a visit to the seashore in Stony Brook; a portrait of Tiny Tim; opening of Twice a Man; excursions to the countryside seen from two different views; that of my own and that of Ken Jacobs whose footage is incorporated into this reel. Continue reading
Jonas Mekas, the godfather of American “underground” cinema, shot literally miles of impromptu film on a tiny, touch-and-go Bolex camera before assembling his first “diary film” and screening it before an audience of friends and fellow indie artists in 1969. At that point the home-movie ethos was somewhat less than groundbreaking, but a glance at what Mekas’s contemporaries were working on or releasing at the time—Kenneth Anger was ensconced in off-and-on production for Lucifer Rising, Stan Brakhage was toiling on the 8mm Songs cycle, and Paul Morrissey had just morphed the Warhol aesthetic into the zeitgeist-preaching Flesh—suggests just how perpendicular his project stood in relation to the remainder of the bicoastal art-house scene. Mekas, as a distributor and critic in the ‘60s, had praised and promoted films both archetypically absurd (Anger’s Scorpio Rising) and angularly as well as legally shocking (Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures); perhaps this is why the program notes prepared for the first showing of Diaries, Notes and Sketches, also known as Walden contained an uncharacteristically humble and ambivalent letter from the director of the evening’s presentation. “You are going to see maybe two, maybe three, maybe four reels, from the total of six,” it read. “It will depend on your patience, on your interest.” Continue reading