1965: Underground Cinema, Film Poets May Be Pulling Viewers’ Limbs
From the San Rafael Daily Independent Journal, November 25, 1965
by John F. Kearney
Nearly every seat was taken five minutes before the start of the movie.
By the time the wall lights in the Gate Theater, Sausalito, were dimmed, a middle-aged couple had squeezed into the last remaining space, a few feet from the screen set up on the stage.
Whatever their motives, members of the audience were in high spirits to witness the arrival in Marin of an American phenomenon known as the Underground Cinema.
There were those curious to see movies made in cellars and back yards on a shoestring by arty people who, until a couple of years ago, expressed themselves only in the relatively introvert world of canvas and paint.
Then there was the fun crowd, anxious not to miss a thing considered “in,” even if it meant having its collective leg pulled from time to time.
Others came to criticize. “Gee whiz, this is terrible,” said a voice in the row behind as geometric shapes flashed and jiggled their way across the screen.
Although the Underground Cinema is playing to full houses across the nation from San Francisco to New York, some of the movies defy description.
They lack the symmetry of conventional films, story lines are vague (non-existent in some cases) and images blurred and overexposed in the hands of the “film poets.”
The film-makers themselves are among the first to admit their movies lack the professional touch, but, they point out, their works are pulling in festival awards and the consideration of serious critics.
One of the movies shown on the first of a series of weekend showings of Underground Cinema at Sausalito was described as “very pineapple” by the New York Herald Tribune. Its plot was a breakthrough in modern cinema or pickled with innuendo and eroticism, according to taste.
Another called “Oh Dem Watermelons” was shown this year at the San Francisco Film Festival and was described on the program as a “top money award winner.”
Watermelons were systematically squashed, mashed, thumped, sliced and kicked until one of them fought back. Anyway, it excited a more vocal reception than the last time Rock Hudson and Doris Day walked hand in hand into the sunset.
The “11 o’clock Underground” (11 p.m. is the starting time) tomorrow and Saturday at the Gate will feature the world premiere of “Quixote,” an experimental film which might qualify among the world’s lowest budget movies.
It was produced and photographed by Bruce Baillie, who spent 13 months traveling around the U.S. in a Volkswagen filming the scenes. Donations from well-wishers enabled him to eat and buy film, he claims.
Two other Baillie films, “A Hurrah for Soldiers” and “Mass,” will also be shown.
Preceding the “underground” is the San Francisco Mime Troupe with its “Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel” minstrel show, opening at 8:30 p.m. That will also be staged Sunday at 8 p.m. for its final showing.
Underground Film Journal notes:
This semi-review article is typical of the time — slightly condescending, but giving the “underground” its due just in case it eventually became mainstream. (In case you didn’t know: It didn’t.) Kearney actually seems admiring of Robert Nelson‘s comedic Oh Dem Watermelons, which is nice.
What makes this an interesting article, though, is that it claims that Bruce Baillie‘s masterpiece Quixote would make its World Premiere in Sausalito on November, 26, 1965. That’s a big claim the Journal hasn’t seen in any other source.
Baillie would go on to tinker with the film until its “final” version in 1967, which you can watch here.