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Feature Article

July 15, 2018

Uncovered: The 1970 New York Underground Film Festival!

Poster for the 1970 New York Underground Film Festival

The New York Underground Film Festival that the avant-garde, experimental and degenerate film world is familiar with began in 1994 and lasted until it’s 15th edition in 2008.

However, the Underground Film Journal has recently uncovered that there was a previous New York Underground Film Festival — in 1970! This event is totally unconnected to the ’90-’00s era festival and featured a weeklong series of screenings in mid-October of that year, from October 12 to 19.

The festival was held “upstairs” at the notorious art world hangout spot Max’s Kansas City, located at 213 Park Avenue South. Most nights featured screenings of work by a singular filmmaker; while Saturday, Oct. 17 had a “Matinee” of Shorts” by several filmmakers.

Beyond the list of filmmakers who screened work, there is very little information about the 1970 NYUFF. Most of what the Journal knows about the festival comes from participant Anton Perich, who shared with us the promotional poster that you see above.

At the time, Perich was a recent transplant to New York City from France who occasionally worked at Max’s as a busboy. Perich, an artist, would document the goings-on at Max’s in Super 8 film and photographs. He tells the journal that the films he shot at Max’s were screened on the 17th and that the people in the films were also in the audience watching, people such as Jack Smith, Francis Francine, Candy Darling, Ruby R., Mary Woronow, Tiger Morse, and Taylor Mead. You can watch segments of Perich’s Super 8 films in the Journal’s Forum.

Some of the filmmakers who screened work are very familiar names in the underground film world, such as Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Taylor Mead, and Beverly and Tony Conrad. Other names — such as Bill Vehr, Fred Mogubgub, and Michel Auder — may be less well-known in the underground “canon” of the ’60s and ’70s, but have had significant film, art, and/or video careers. Perich would go on to become a raucous figure in the NYC public access TV scene and invent a precursor to the inkjet printer.

Other than what Perich has told the Journal, it’s unknown exactly what films screened at NYUFF ’70, but here are some of our thoughts:

By 1970, Jack Smith had begun retreating from making official “films” and was officially soured by the whole controversy surrounding his 1963 epic Flaming Creatures, so it’s unknown what films he would have preferred showing in 1970, although he did complete Song for Rent in 1969.

As far as the Journal knows, Taylor Mead never made his own films, so he must have screened work that he acted in, such as the films by Ron Rice, who had passed away in 1964. Mead also appeared in numerous Andy Warhol films. Warhol had pretty much given up directing movies himself and didn’t seem much interested in screening them anymore, so what he would have presented in 1970 is also curious.

Experimental filmmaker Tony Conrad collaborated on two films with his wife Beverly that were widely screened in 1970: Coming Attractions and Straight and Narrow, both of which may have been screened at NYUFF ’70.

Bill Vehr, mostly known for his stage acting career, had made a popular underground film called Avocada and others all starring drag performer Mario Montez. Fred Mogubgub was a painter who also made short films combining live action and animation, such as The Pop Show (1966), which starred a young Gloria Steinem.

Lastly, the Journal has discovered that the NYUFF ’70 was promoted in the Village Voice. A small ad in the October 9 edition of the voice matches the screening lineup in Perich’s poster. Plus, screenings would continue into November, according to additional Voice ads. Perich’s films would screen again on November 18, according to a November 19 ad; while other films screened the week before. It is not clear in an ad in the November 12 Voice if films from the official festival screened on November 11, or if it was considering new films — Marty Topp’s Paradise Now and Nancy Kendall’s Almira — as continuing the festival.

The NYUFF ’70 lineup is typed out below; while below that you can look at the Voice ads the Journal has uncovered.

October 12

10:00 p.m.: Michel Auder

October 13

10:00 p.m.: Bill Vehr

October 14

10:00 p.m.: Fred Mogubgub

October 15

10:00 p.m.: Jack Smith

October 16

11:30 p.m.: Taylor Mead

October 17

3:00 p.m.: “Matinee of Shorts”
Bill Gamble
Anton Perich
Claude Purvis
Rayanne Rubenstein

October 18

10:00 p.m.: Beverly and Tony Conrad

October 19

10:00 p.m.: Andy Warhol

Online Cinema

June 30, 2018

Flight — Greta Snider

Flight by Greta Snider (1997)

San Francisco-based filmmaker Greta Snider is primarily known for her unique spin on documentaries. At first glance, Flight may seem like a straight-up experimental film, but reading its official description by Snider shows the work’s documentary essence:

My father’s photographic legacy, compiled and transformed into light. His family photographs, his hobbyist pictures of trains and roses, his airplanes and his obsession with birds circling…these images are imprinted onto the film, like a fingerprint or trace. The film is hand-processed and hand-exposed without a camera (as with Ray-O-Grams).

In the book The Garden in the Machine, Scott MacDonald describes the “rayogram” technique, which was pioneered in the 1920’s by Man Ray with his film Retour a la raison (1923). A “rayogram” is when a filmmaker places objects onto film stock and exposes the film to light. The end result, as you can see in Flight, creates a “negative” cinema of reality.

In Ex-Cinema, Akira Lippit writes of Flight that “Snider’s photogrammatical work of mourning literalizes the forces of impression in the activity of recycling.”

Negative image of an astronaut in a space suit

Made in 1997, Flight screened two years later on April 27, 1999 at the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema. Other screenings are unknown as of this writing.

The film begins with film leader text, followed by the title Flight that passes by in what looks similar to the “rayogram” imagery that follows for the majority of the film. The same technique is used on several words that appear individually at the end of the film:

Take
care
good
luck
Love
Dad