A beat vagabond traverses San Francisco’s deepest nooks and crannies, spreading about a peculiar brand of wisdom and lollygagging.
In Ron Rice’s baggy-pantsed beatnik artifact The Flower Thief (1960), Warhol superstar in training Taylor Mead traipses with elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafés, oceanside fairgrounds, and collapsed post-industrial ruins. Boinging along an improvised picaresque up and down the city’s hills, Mead teases playground schoolkids, sniffs wildflowers, gets abducted by cowboys in the park, and has a tea party on a pile of rubble with a potbellied bathing beauty. Rice captures his antics on gravelly black-and-white 16mm (reportedly army surplus aerial-machine-gun camera stock), setting the near nonsensical whole to a serenade of classical kitsch. According to Anthology staffers, this print restores dialogue on the audio collage soundtrack that had long been muffled.
By all accounts a wild character himself, Rice died in Mexico at age 29, after completing a handful of underground movies with Mead and Jack Smith. For consummate subcult critic Parker Tyler, Rice’s “dharma-bum films” work by discarding the distinctions between art and life. They “bear resemblance to the lunatic romps of the Marx Brothers, only now the actors are not in comic uniforms, as if the parody were part of real life, not a movie fiction.” Today, Mead’s Flower Thief uniform—tight hoodie, button-down shirt, three-stripe tennis shoes, and beat-up jeans—can be seen on many an L-train habitué, en route to neo-Bowery facsimilies of post-war cafés, and so the parody has been reversed; such are our own meticulous restorations of the fantasies of other people’s youth.
1.44GB | 58m 44s | 708×531 | mkv