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Underground Film History 1968: Underground Film Business Booming

Text for a newspaper article on underground film business

From The Victoria Advocate, Sunday, Jan. 21, 1968. Article text:

Wild Is the Word

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — The underground movie — or “non-commercial cinema,” as those who make them prefer to call their product — is blooming. Most major cities have theaters showing these avant-garde films. There are dozens of festivals at which they are shown.

And now there is a catalogue listing hundreds of movies you can rent for from $4 (for a three- or four-minute epic) up to $129 for something like Andy Warhol’s eight-hour “Empire,” which he describes as “homage to the world’s tallest.”

There is something for everyone. If you like action, there is “Blazes” — “100 basic images switching position for 4,000 frames. A continuous explosion.”

Like tragedy? Try “Snow” — “Snow (that fluffy white stuff that falls in the winter) which is beautiful and winter too somewhat since snow comes then and winter is a kind of pseudo-death, so maybe the movie is about a beautiful kind of pseudo-death.”

Like comedy? “Duet for Two Hands” should do — “Duet for Two Hands is a gray comedy about the hazards of playing duets with members of the immediate family, advantages of solo playing are also shown.”

One of the more intricately complex films is “Chrysalis,” which has a genuine plot:

“In Golden Gate Park, a picnic takes place. A beautiful girl, dressed in white, is kept in misery by three evil brothers who are gorging themselves. A hero appears, kisses her at full gallop; he runs away pursued by the three brothers who want to clobber him. The girl also chases him, hoping for a second kiss. The hero is trapped twice. He escapes each time ingeniously. The brothers are finally overcome by exhaustion. The girl reaches him: they slide down a bannister together, embrace and run into a tunnel.”

Some of the films come with detailed instructions as to how they are to be projected, such as these with “Christmas on Earth”:

“The film is on two reels. Both reels must be projected simultaneously. Two projectors are needed. The first projector fills the screen; the image of the second projector is approximately one-third smaller and fills only the middle of the screen, superimposing on the first image. This can be done either by using different lenses or by placing one projector closer to the screen. It doesn’t matter which reel is on which projector.”

Some of these movies squeeze a lot into a short time. “The Banquet” deals with “collages, distortions, multiple images, animations, close-ups, far-outs, nudes, microcosms, macrocosms, psychedelic experiences, slow motion, speed-up motion, people pulling boats, flowers, birds, oceans — desert will be served at the end.”

And you wanted to see “Camelot”?

Underground Film Journal notes: The condescending tone of this article is in stark contrast to the similarly-themed yet upbeat article from the Feb. 5, 1966 Pocono Record by Charlotte Roberts.

Most likely, the anonymous author of the above article was copying from the Film-maker’s Cooperative Catalog — several of the films written about are still listed with the Coop with the same descriptions. But, the most condescending thing this author did was not to mention filmmaker names with the titles, as if who made these films were totally unimportant, with the exception of dropping Andy Warhol’s name because, it can be assumed, Warhol’s name could sell newspapers in 1968.

As for the films mentioned above, Blazes is, of course animator Robert Breer’s breakthrough and legendary experimental animated film. Blazes is still listed in the Coop’s online catalog with the same description used above.

The same goes for Snow, a 1965 short film by Shirley Erbacher, a filmmaker whose name the Journal is unfamiliar with at this time.

Duet for Two Hands is unfortunately no longer listed with the Coop, and neither is The Banquet. So, the Journal does not know who made those. If you happen to do, please leave a comment below.

Chrysalis, which is named in the article, is most likely not the Ed Emshwiller film of the same name, since that has a completion date of 1973 and the article was published in 1968. Is there an earlier version of Chrysalis that Emshwiller did? Again, if you know, please leave a comment below.

Lastly, Christmas on Earth is the classic multiple-projection film by Barbara Rubin.

For everyone who thinks the above list of films sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening, this article reprint is dedicated to you.


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