Hey San Francisco-dwelling friends! I’m putting together a film night at Rock Bar this Wednesday (tomorrow) – come join me for a drink and some silent film action starting at 8pm!
I’ve selected four visually-stunning, feature-length experimental art films from the ’60s and ’70s, each of which stars (or features) musicians and their music. Although the films will be played silently, I’ve compiled a playlist on Rdio (unfortunately, none of The Beatles’ music is available on Rdio) which will help us vibe out to these trippy (yet provocative, innovative, and artful) music movies. If you plan to come, RSVP on Facebook!
FILMS TO BE SHOWN:
“Head” with the Monkees, 1968 – we’ll go on a hilarious, surreal adventure with The Monkees as they swim with mermaids, trudge through the desert, and get sucked into a dandruff vacuum. From The Guardian:
Head could never be mistaken for Ghostbusters. It’s a fourth-wall-shattering, stream-of-consciousness black comedy that mocks war, America, Hollywood, television, the music business and the Monkees themselves. These days, it is fondly remembered as one of the weirdest and best rock movies ever made, and a harbinger of the so-called New Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright are both fans. DJ Shadow and Saint Etienne have sampled its dialogue. According to director Bob Rafelson, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones both requested private screenings, while Thomas Pynchon attended a screening disguised as a plumber. But to the fans who had made the Monkees household names, it might as well never have existed. “The movie dropped like a ball of dark star,” says bassist Peter Tork. “The simile of a rock in the water is too mild for how badly that movie did.”
This scene may be the most beautiful sequence in any movie, ever (the song helps, too):
“Yellow Submarine” with The Beatles (sort of), 1968 – your childhood favorite is weirder and more amazing than you remember. Also, at one point, John Lennon rises out of Frankenstein’s body. Apparently the voice actors are not The Beatles, except for one scene at the end of the movie. From The Beatles’ website:
Yellow Submarine, based upon a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, is a fantastic tale brimming with peace, love, and hope, propelled by Beatles songs, including “Eleanor Rigby,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “It’s All Too Much.” When the film debuted in 1968, it was instantly recognised as a landmark achievement, revolutionising a genre by integrating the freestyle approach of the era with innovative animation techniques.
Inspired by the generation’s new trends in art, the film resides with the dazzling Pop Art styles of Andy Warhol, Martin Sharp, Alan Aldridge and Peter Blake. With art direction and production design by Heinz Edelmann, Yellow Submarine is a classic of animated cinema, featuring the creative work of animation directors Robert Balser and Jack Stokes with a team of animators and technical artists.
“I thought from the very beginning that the film should be a series of interconnected shorts” remembers Edelmann. “The style should vary every five minutes or so to keep the interest going until the end.” These styles included melding live-action photography with animation, 3-dimensional sequences and kaleidoscopic “rotoscoping” where film is traced frame by frame into drawings. The entire process took nearly two years, 14 different scripts, 40 animators and 140 technical artists, ultimately producing a groundbreaking triumph of animation.
*RELATED: check out this amazing 3D animated rendering of The Beatles recording the title track. It’s… kind of… amazing???
“Rainbow Bridge” with Jimi Hendrix, 1972 – this film is all over the place, covering motifs such as spiritual awakening, surfing, old ladies chanting, and windy Hawaii. It features concert footage that was shot a mere two months before Hendrix would die in London. From Maui News:
Hendrix’s final days were dark ones. He was having problems with his manager, Michael Jeffery, and, according to biographer Harry Shapiro, “was becoming increasingly distrustful of those around him.” At the same time, Hendrix was changing his sound—with mixed results. “Both his management and his audiences seemed determined that Hendrix should be content with simply repeating his former triumphs,” writes another biographer, Charles Shaar Murray. “Much to Hendrix’s disgust and despair [his] fresh material seemed to be merely tolerated.”
This “fresh material,” while beloved by enthusiasts today, embodied a bold new direction for Hendrix—jazzier, rolling compositions inspired by his camaraderie with Miles Davis as well as his repeat visits to the Hawaiian islands from 1968-’70 (Potts, among others, points to the tune “Pali Gap”). “He planned to release a double album with the working title of First Rays of the New Rising Sun, at the end of ,” writes Murray. But with that project left unfinished, “two posthumous albums released in 1971, Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge… both betray their makeshift origins.”
The latter-named release is better known for the movie of the same name, principally filmed on Maui during the summer of 1970. Murray writes that Rainbow Bridge was a project “close to [Jeffery's] heart—an incoherent farrago of dope and mysticism.” … Sure, the flick’s incongruous plot line (if one even exists) coupled with misleading marketing (bootlegs and re-releases often try to pass it off as a straight concert film) make it a tough sell to even diehard Hendrix fans. But it remains worthy as a cinematic hippie relic; a portrait of a sect of youth—specifically youth on Maui—from that era, and includes a unique snapshot of one of music’s most revolutionary icons in what would be his final weeks.
Here’s an excerpt from Rainbow Bridge featuring an awesome Edgar Winter look-alike:
“Baby Snakes” with Frank Zappa, 1977 – I’ve been a Frank Zappa fan for as long as I can remember (my dad had me singing “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” before I knew what an asshole was), and his seminal/experimental film Baby Snakes has captivated my imagination from the first time I saw it. This film features mind-melting stop motion claymation from award-winning animator Bruce Bickford mixed with footage from a Halloween stadium performance. We see a rare window into the completely insane world of musical genius Zappa, plus his equally eccentric band and crew. From Frank Zappa’s Revenge:
The movie “Baby Snakes” represents well the dichotomy of reactions Zappa faced regarding his work, a split of opinion that was often clearly marked by the Atlantic Ocean. Recordings that only faired decently in the U.S., or even failed miserably, were frequently better received in Europe, and the movie “Baby Snakes” was no exception. Zappa couldn’t find a distributor for the film in the U.S., even after he had hacked its length from 166 minutes down to 90 minutes. He ended up distributing the film on his own. Barry Miles writes in “Zappa: A Biography” –
“It premiered on 21 December, 1979, at the Victoria Theater in New York to less than ecstatic reviews, probably because of the extended footage featuring an inflatable sex toy. Typical of this criticism was Tom Carson’s piece in Village Voice: ‘Once, Zappa built a satirist’s career on the idea that all of life was just like high school; now it turns out that all he ever wanted, apparently, was a high-school clique of his own – and on the evidence of Baby Snakes he’s found one.’ Zappa was unfazed by the criticism. Foreign critics were more sympathetic and in 1981 Baby Snakes won the Premier Grand Prix at the First International Music Festival in Paris.”
See an excerpt of the fascinatingly gruesome (yet beautiful) claymation work: