Gary Comenas (2014)
At the beginning of 1964 Mekas was still presenting films at the Gramercy Arts Theatre under the heading of "Film-Makers' Showcase." On 17 January 1964 the world premiere of Andy Warhol's film Sleep took place there. (FAW10)
Village Voice ad, 16 January 1964, p. 13
The ad is interesting because Geldzahler compares Sleep to Eric Satie's repetitive Vexations. Although some writers have used Geldzahler's comments to show that Warhol edited Sleep with Vexations in mind, this is unlikely for the reasons I previously set forth in "Notes on John Cage, Erik Satie's Vexations and Andy Warhol's Sleep." Geldzahler does not claim that Warhol edited Sleep repetitively because of Vexations. He just draws an analogy between the two. The repetitive editing of Sleep simply reflected the use of repetition that Warhol was already known for in regard to his paintings. (See: http://warholstars.org/andy_warhol_sleep_vexations.html.)
Although billed as "Andy Warhol's Eight Hour Sleep Movie," the film critic Arthur Weinstein pointed out that the film only lasted 5 1/2 hours in his review for the New York Post. He also reported that only nine people were in the audience and two of them left during the first hour. (FAW10)
In the following week's issue of the Voice, Mekas relayed a conversation he overheard at Sleep which mentioned Flaming Creatures:
Jonas Mekas, "Movie Journal," The Village Voice, 22 January 1964
In the following week's Village Voice, Mekas advertised the screening of a "special programme" which was actually Flaming Creatures. Although Mekas had already advertised Flaming Creatures at the Bleecker Street Cinema and the Gramercy Arts Theatre under its rightful name during 1963, he chose here to advertise it simply as a "special programme," possibly reflecting his concern over what happened in Belgium with the film at the end of 1963. The film had become controversial as a result of his coverage of the festival in the Voice. During his yearly round-up for 1964, published in the 7 January 1965 issue, he writes "February. Flaming Creatures is introduced to New York via the Gramercy Arts Theatre..." (p. 12) but doesn't mention the 29 April 1963 screening at Bleecker Street.
Village Voice ad, 30 January 1964
Mekas repeated the screening the following week and the week after that - February 10th and 17th:
Village Voice ads - 6 February 1964, p. 12 (L) and 13 February 1964, p. 12
According to most accounts of the Flaming Creatures controversy, the Gramercy Arts Theater's license was terminated two weeks after the February 3rd screening.
Bryan L. Frye ("The Dialectic of Obscenity," Hamline Law Review, Vol. 35, Issue 1, p.242):
"In 1964, New York City stepped up enforcement of obscenity laws, trying to clean up the city in time for the World's Fair. Targets included beatnik coffeehouses, gay bars, and underground movies. Flaming Creatures was soon caught in the dragnet.
On February 3, 1964, the Filmmakers' Showcase presented Flaming Creatures and rushes from Normal Love at the Gramercy Arts Theatre. Two weeks later, its licence to show films at the Gramercy Arts was terminated because it had failed to respond to a citation for showing unlicensed films. Mekas moved the Filmmakers' Showcase to the New Bowery Theater, a 92-seat theater at 4 St. Marks Place that he subleased from Diane Di Prima and The American Theatre for Poets, Inc."
The New Bowery would later be renamed The Bridge. The American Theatre for Poets had leased the New Bowery for their theatrical productions. (See: "Andy Warhol, Diane di Prima, Freddy Herko,The New York Poets Theatre and the Judson Dance Theatre.") An article appeared in the Voice on 27 February about the New Bowery schedule:
The Village Voice, 27 February 1964, p. 10
In his yearly round-up for 1964, published in the 7 January 1965 issue of the Voice, Mekas wrote that the Gramercy Arts Theatre had been closed by the License Department and that the "Film-Makers' Cooperative moves its screenings to the New Bowery Theatre. Kuchar brothers are introduced and acclaimed as masters of the new pop humor." (p. 12)
Mekas presented Flaming Creatures at the New Bowery a number of times without naming the film. A Film-Makers' Cooperative ad placed in the February 20th issue of the Voice promised a repeat of of the "infamous surprise program," which was, of course, Flaming Creatures.
Village Voice ad, 20 February 1964
Mekas advertised yet another screening of Flaming Creatures, as a "surprise program," the following week.
Village Voice ad, 27 February 1964
There had, apparently, also been a screening of Flaming Creatures the night before the advertised 3 March screening above. The 2nd of March screening would lead to Mekas' arrest the next evening.
J. Hoberman (On Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures and Other Secret Flix of Cinemaroc, 2001):
"Flaming Creatures was shown, together with Andy Warhol's newsreel Jack Smith Filming Normal Love, on Monday March 2, with an undercover policeman in the audience. The following night, two NYPD detectives broke up a near-capacity showing attended by some ninety spectators. (JH42)
Mekas' arrest was covered in an article by a news article in the March 12th issue of the Village Voice.
Stephanie Gervis Harrington ("Mekas Jailed: City Sleuths Douse Flaming Creatures," The Village Voice, 12 March 1964, p. 3, 13):
... Without making themselves known, plainclothesmen watched Flaming Creatures when it opened last Monday night at the New Bowery Theatre, 4 St. Mark's Place. Presumably they did find the film objectionable - or those parts of it that included shots of male sex organs and female breasts - because the next night the film and four of those involved in its showing were seized by the police. Mekas, a founder and guiding light of the Film-Makers' Cooperative, was not at the theatre at the time, but when he was notified of what was happening, he rushed down and demanded that he be arrested too. The police obliged.
Also arrested were Kenneth Jacobs, projectionist; Florence Karpe, the ticket seller; and Gerald Sims. Although the others, according to their own report, told arresting officers Michael O'Toole and Arthur Walsh that Sims was just a friend who had been asked at that last minute to come down and help take tickets and was not in any way responsible for the showing, he was taken along with the rest.
Diane di Prima, an officer of the American Theatre for Poets Inc., which has a temporary lease on the New Bowery and is presenting New American Cinema films as part of its program, also asked to be arrested. She says, however, that the police told her they already had four people. The audience was dispersed, and the four were taken to the Ninth Precinct house on East 5th Street, where they were booked on a misdemeanor, violation of Title 1141, and held for the night.
They were arraigned shortly before noon the following day on a charge of showing an 'indecent, lewd, and obscene' film and released without bail on the recognizance of their lawyer. Trial was set for March 16. In the meantime, the regular Tuesday and Wednesday night showings of New American Cinema films at the New Bowery are continuing. And last Saturday Mekas ran continuous half-hour showings of the Jean Genet film Un Chant d'Amour, a homosexual love story set in a prison, at the Writers' Stage Theatre, 83 East 4th Street. The police did not interrupt the showing, although Mekas reports that they were in view outside the theatre.
The City License Department has also moved into the case and served a summons on New Bowery Theatre owner Theodora Bergery for showing an unlicensed film... When Mrs. Bergery, who is in no way connected with the current program at their theatre, heard that the film had been seized and the audience dispersed, she attempted to break the lease she had contracted with the American Theatre for Poets. When that failed, she tried to lock them out by changing the lock on the front door of the theatre. But they got in through another door. 'So I was driven to surrender,' she told The Voice. 'But I am not sympathetic and I am not amused.'
Mrs. Bergery, who describes herself as a 'classicist' and a 'purist' in art whose 'heroes are Doestoevsky and Tolstoy, Goethe and Shakespeare,' said that she would prefer commercialism to a film like Flaming Creatures, which, to her, is 'not art.' When asked if she had seen Flaming Creatures, she said she had not but added, 'Anything that's bad enough for Detective O'Toole is bad enough for me.' To Mrs. Bergery's regret, the lease held by the American Theatre for Poets is good for another month. The date for Mrs. Bergery's hearing before the License Commissioner has not yet been announced."
The Village Voice article also mentioned two earlier censorship incidents involving Ron Rice and Naomi Levine:
Stephanie Gervis Harrington ("Mekas Jailed: City Sleuths Douse Flaming Creatures," The Village Voice, 12 March 1964, p. 13):
"On other fronts in the war against obscenity, the City License Department has set a hearing for March 11 on charges that on December 9 the Gramercy Arts Theatre, 188 East 27th Street, presented a program of unlicensed films - Ron Rice's Chumlum, The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man, and Senseless (Chumlum has since received a license for its current showing at the 55th Street Playhouse.) And in Los Angeles on Sunday night, the vice squad interrupted a showing of brother Adolfas Mekas' Hallelujah the Hills and Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising and seized the Anger film.
In regard to the screening of Un Chant d'Amour mentioned in the article, Mekas presented the film again the day after the article was published and was promptly arrested.
Brian L. Frye ("The Dialectic of Obscenity," Hamline Law Review, Vol. 35 (2012), p. 244):
"When Mekas presented Un Chant d'Amour on March 7, nothing happened. But when he presented it again on March 13, undercover police officers John Fitzpatrick and Walter lynch attended a midnight show. After watching the film, they paid the suggested $2 donation. Then they arrested Mekas and his ticket-taker, French film critic Pierre Cottrell. They also seized the film and all of the projection equipment. Mekas and Cottrell spent the night in prison and were released the next day on $1,500 bail."
The Genet bust was covered in the 19 March 1964 issue of the Voice with a report by an unnamed journalist:
From "Mekas Gaoled Again, Genet Film Does It," (The Village Voice, 19 March 1964, p. 13):
"Voice film critic Jonas Mekas spent another night in jail last week, this time for showing the Jean Genet film Un Chant d'Amour, a homosexual love story. One reason for he screening of the Genet film on Friday night at the Writers Stage Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, was to raise money for a defense fund for Mekas and three associates arrested two weeks earlier for showing the Jack Smith film Flaming Creatures at the new Bowery Theatre.
On both occasions he was charged with showing an obscene film. When the police interrupted the Flaming Creatures showing, Mekas was not actually in the theatre. But when he heard what was happening, he rushed down and demanded to be arrested. In the case of the Genet film, however, he was the projectionist. He was arrested for the second time at about 1 a.m. Saturday by plainclothes patrolmen John Fitzpatrick and Walter Lynch and taken to the Ninth precinct house on East 5th Street, where he had spent the night the last time. Arrested with him was film critic Pierre Cottrell, who was watching the contribution box. They were released the next day on $1500 bail for each. When Mekas was arrested the first time he was released without bail...
Screenings of Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising and Stan Brakhage's Window, Water, Baby Moving, scheduled for Tuesday night at the New Bowery, were cancelled. A Los Angeles showing of Scorpio Rising last week was interrupted by the vice squad there and the film was seized.
Smith, Anger, and Brakhage are all associated with the avant garde New American Cinema movement, of which Mekas is a founder and guiding force. Weekly screenings of New American Cinema films are being presented at the New Bowery Theatre. The Flaming Creatures showing was part of this program, but the Genet film was not."
Mekas gave his account of what it was like to be arrested in his column in the same issue of the Voice:
Jonas Mekas ("Movie Journal," Village Voice, 19 March 1964, p. 13):
"A few notes on my second arrest:
The detectives who seized the Genet film, Un Chant d'Amour, did not know who Genet was. When I told them that Genet was an internationally known artist, I was told it was my fantasy.
I was called by the detectives 'pink,' and was introduced to the other cops as 'pink,' because the covers of the two books I had with me, Reviews of Modern Physics and Poetical Works of Blake, had red covers.
At the Criminal Court, before being squeezed into a 10-by-20 foot room in which 60 people were standing for three to four hours, I was told to leave the books outside. I put down the Reviews of Modern Physics but I kept Blake. The guard told me to put the book down. 'The book could be used as a weapon, ' he told me. I told him that it was Blake, and that he would have to take it from me by force. The guard ripped the book from my hands by force...
During my Kafkaesque journey into the womb of the Tombs, the traces of civilization and inhumanity were fading out. While I was walking toward my cell, I was pushed on my back by the cop. I told him not to push me since I was not resisting. For this remark, the copy kicked me full force in the back. When I reminded him again not to use force, I was pushed again.
Somewhere in the process my name became 'Mexas.' When I attempted to correct it, since it was difficult to respond to another name, I was told to keep quiet, because my name really should be spelled 'Schmuck'...
The judge, mind, the judge himself was making snide and idiotic remarks about 'art,' with his toone of voice and grimaces implying that art was the most unnecessary, stupid, and low thing. It would be another matter if we'd been accused of murder!
This is just a small taste of Justice at Work, and it makes me puke. The time is here for a total change. But nobody really believes it will or can be done. This corruption is almost total, form top to bottom. Nevertheless, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.'"
The cancelled screenings of Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage mentioned in the news article presumably relate to the following advertised screenings to be shown 17 March.
Village Voice ad, 12 March 1964
Instead of showing Brakhage and Anger, Mekas must have shown two Japanese films. Brian L. Frye refers to two "unlicensed Japanese films" being shown on that night. Despite the cancellation of the Brakhage and Anger screenings, the show was still stopped by the License Department.
Brian L. Frye ("The Dialectic of Obscenity," Hamline Law Review, Vol. 35 (2012), p. 244-45):
"When Filmmakers Showcase presented two unlicensed Japanese films on March 17, 1964, the director of the License Department stopped the show. The License Department also cited the New Bowery Theater for showing an unlicensed film. Theodora Bergery, the owner of the theater was livid. Ultimately, the License Department suspended the new Bowery Theatre's license for 30 days, and the American Theatre for Poets found a new home."
The same isue of the Voice also featured a separate ad for the American Theatre for Poets at the New Bowery which included a screening of Warhol's Haircut.
Village Voice ad, 12 March 1964
The next issue of the Voice contained an ad for further screenings of Brakhage, along with the Kuchar Bros. and other filmmakers. This was the last ad for Mekas' screenings at the New Bowery.
Village Voice ad, 19 March 1964
It's unclear whether these final screenings actually happened. Mekas doesn't mention them in his own chronology mentioned previously. He writes that the new Bowery period ended on 17 March. He also writes that the New Bowery was "Closed by police after seizure of Flaming Creatures on 17 March." (DJ322) Presumably he means the cinema was closed on 17 March, not that Flaming Creatures was seized then as we know from the above press accounts that it was seized on 3 March. He also writes that the Gramercy Arts series finished on 3 March but it actually finished in February according to the ads in the Village Voice.
The screenings at the New Bowery had definitely finished by the time the 26 March 1964 issue of the Voice was published as it contained an ad announcing that the Film-Makers' Cooperative was "temporarily under a cloud."
Village Voice ad, 26 March 1964
There are no ads for screenings the following week but there is an ad for people to rent or buy New American Cinema films for screenings at galleries, museums and "at home." Films listed included a number of Warhol films - Sleep, Eat, Haircut and Twice a Man.
Village Voice ad, 2 April 1964
In the following week's issue this appeared:
Village Voice ad, 9 April 1964
The next issue of the Voice did not contain any ads for screenings by the Co-op or at a "cinematheque" but it did contain news of a march that would be taking place against censorship inspired by the cases of Lenny Bruce and Jonas Mekas:
The Village Voice, 16 April 1964, p. 9
Mekas discussed the censorship battle in his April 22nd column and concluded that the way forward for films by independent filmmakers was home cinema. He had already offered some of the "New American Cinema" films for purchase or rent in the April 2nd issue of the Voice (see above).
Jonas Mekas (The Village Voice, 22 April 1964, p. 17-18):
"No matter what happens with the obscenity and licensing cases in which we got entangled - whether we win lose or break even - I see only profit for everybody. A wide-scale transformation and transvaluation is on its way. The independent film-makers are getting some clarity about their work, their audiences, their true friends, their true directions.
The most important of all these clarities is that the 16mm cinema is moving toward the 8mm, private home cinema. Underground cinemas will soon invade the Beautiful American Home. The Film-Makers' Cooperative, though badly crippled, is working on an ambitious plan to reduce its films to 8mm and to place them in bookshops and record ships, side by side with your LPs. Soon you'll be able to buy prints of the films you like for three to five dollars for your own library, like books, like records, like tapes. Our movies, like letters or book of poems, will go across the borders of countries, thus making all film import and film custom laws obsolete; our films will be screened in galleries free for everybody, for no profit other than Beauty; our films will be screened in every home. This is a development that nobody foresaw, neither the police nor the Mayor nor the District Attorney nor the film-makers themselves."
The next issue (April 30th) included front page coverage by Michael Smith of the censorship march with a photo of Allen Ginsberg and his boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky, on the march, with the heading "Drizzle Does Not Dim Ardor of Arts Marchers.
Michael Smith ("Drizzle Does Not Dim Ardor of Arts Marchers," Village Voice, 30 April, 1964, p. 1, 11):
"Braving a mean drizzle and the competition of a World's Fair opening, more than 200 practitioners and admirers of the various arts gathered at dusk last Wednesday and march from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center to protest governmental limitations on freedom of the arts...
March leaders Julian Beck and Diane di Prima, organisers of the sponsoring Committee for Freedom of the Arts, led the way... The demonstration's official hand-out detailed a long list of 'immediate grievances:' obscenity charges against the films Flaming Creatures and Un Chant d'Amour and against Lenny Bruce, licensing summonses against various films and theatres, License Department actions against several off-Broadway theatres and coffee houses, Federal seizure of the Living Theatre, housing problems of the Artist-Tenants Association, and the banning of books including Fanny Hill and Tropic of Cancer...
The mood of free expression was so rampant on Wednesday that half a dozen different leaflets were distributed at large, to the apparent confusion of many passers-by. Movie critic Jonas Mekas passed out a reprint of his Voice column and ad explaining the Film-Makers' Cooperative's difficulties with licensing and obscenity restrictions...
Both Beck and Diane di Prima subsequently agreed that the demonstration had not been especially communicative and that most of the public had not understood its purpose... But the leaders were satisfied anyway. They felt that the demonstration had not really been aimed at the public but at the demonstrators themselves. 'The main thing,' said Miss di Prima, 'was to make them feel that there were a lot of them and to make a ritual for them."
The same issue contained an article, "Flaming Theatre Rising Again" which confirmed that "The American Theatre for Poets had "recently lost its tenure of the New Bowery Theatre in conjunction with the obscenity charges against the film Flaming Creatures...."
Amos Vogel, director of the New York Film Festival and founder of Cinema 16, voiced his opinion about Mekas and the Flaming Creatures controversy in the 7 May 1964 issue of the Voice.
Amos Vogel ("Flaming Creatures Cannot Carry Freedom's Torch," The Village Voice, 7 May 1964, p. 9, 18):
"For the past year or so, friends and ideological sympathizers of Jonas Mekas, while applauding his pioneering, devotion, and achievements, have watched with growing concern a progressive narrowing of his perspectives, an inward-turning which threatens to limit his sensibilities and insights to an ever smaller circle of elect...
In his single-minded pursuit of the 'New American Cinema' - which, by papal ukase, excludes a sizable proportion of native talent while including others that do not wish to belong - Jonas has become more dogmatic, more extremist, more publicity-conscious. While the flamboyancy and provocative extravagance of the positions taken has undoubtedly served to make at least one segment of the independent film movement more visible - a laudable if one-sided acheivement - it has also been accompanied by an absence of style and seriousness, a lack of concern for film form, rhythm, and theory which leads many people to view the existing works and pretensions with an indulgent, amused air, smiling at the antics of the movement or somewhat repelled by the 'camp' atmosphere of its screenings. Mass-media publicity has increased; audiences and critical interest have waned.
The latest project of the movement is an attack on censorship in the form of a series of calculated provocations of the Police and License Departments...
First, however justified an objective, the quesion of timing and tactics is a crucial one... At present, every single country has an obscenity statute; and while the justificaiton of such a statute may well be questions, it is even more questionable whether a guerrilla skirmish as the New Bowery Theatre is the best method of bring about its elimination.
Second, it is highly debatable whether Flaming Creatures should have been used as a test case... Flaming Creatures is a valid and 'felt' work. But, alas, intentions and achievement are not synonymous, and Flaming Creatures, despite flashes of brilliance and moments of preverse, tortured beauty, remains a tragically sad film noir, replete with limp genitalia and limp art."
Mekas responded to Vogel's criticism in the next issue of the Voice:
Jonas Mekas "Movie Journal,"
The Village Voice, 14 May 1964
The same May 14th issue includes a section on Stan Brakhage in which Mekas quotes the filmmaker about replacing the editor and splicer that was stolen from his car in new York. Instead of replacing the equipment Brakhage purchased a "complete set of 8mm equipment purchased for exactly $30 at an opportune sale of same in a Boulder auction." (The Village Voice, 14 May 64, p. 15)
In the reprint of the column in Mekas' 1972 Movie Journal book, Mekas illustrates his reproduced 1964 column with what appears to be a flyer for Songs by Stan Brakhage. The flyer does not appear in the original column that was published by the Village Voice in '64.
Unexplained 'flyer' reproduced as part of Mekas' 14 May 1964 column in Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959-1971 (New York: Collier Books, 1972), p. 137 which does not appear in the original Village Voice column
There is no explanation of the flyer. Although it appears in the 1964 column in Mekas' book, there is no year indicated for the actual flyer. It gives the Filmmakers' Cinematheque location as 80 Wooster Street and entreats the reader to "see our weekly advertisement in the Voice" for details. There are no adds for Wooster Street screenings in March '64. Mekas didn't start using Wooster Street until 1967. (See page four.)
Songs was a series of 8 mm films that Brakhage made from 1964 to 1969. It may be that the flyer is from a later period and Mekas included it in 1964 to mark the year that Brakhage purchased the 8mm equipment. There were screenings of Brakhage films at the Cinematheque on 24 March 1964 but that was when the Cinematheque was operating out of the New Bowery Theatre - see 19 March 1964 ad above.
The 14 May 1964 issue also included an announcement that Allen Ginsberg was requesting any information on the harassment of the arts, including for "showing films," for a report that he and Diane di Prima planned on presenting to the New York City Office of Cultural Affairs.
The Village Voice, 14 May 1964
The Flaming Creatures trial began on 2 June 1964. On 12 June 1964 the Court convicted Mekas, Jacobs and Karpf. They acquitted Sims because he had been hired as a ticket seller at the last minute. On the 7 August 1964, Jacobs and Mekas were sentenced to sixty days in the city workhouse. Their sentence was suspended and Karpf also got a suspended sentence. On 13 July 1966 they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On 12 June 1967 the court dismissed the appeal as moot because the time of the suspended sentences had lapsed. (BLF248-950, 253)
In a "Postscript" in his 21 May column, Mekas reported on the 1964 hearing. (The fact that this appeared as a postscript in the 21 May issue presumably means that the Voice came out well after the publication date - at least in this instance. It may also account for discrepancies in other issues regarding the advertising of specific film screenings. There may be a few instances in which the ads appeared but the films weren't screened.) In the "Postscript," Mekas indicates that the hearing was on "Monday (June 18)." This is either an error or there was another hearing that has gone unmentioned in accounts of the controversy which only refer to a hearing on 12 June. J. Hoberman writes, "On June 12, Jacobs and Mekas were convicted and sentenced to sixty days [suspended] in the New York City workhouse." (JH46)
Jonas Mekas ("Movie Journal," The Village Voice, 21 May 1964, p. 14):
"POSTCRIPT: At the Monday (June 18) hearing on Flaming Creatures, Jerry Sims and I were shouted at by the judge (William Ringel) and threatened with contempt of court (they can put you in prison for it) for not wearing neckties. I have seen everything: people jailed and killed because of their race, their religion, nationality, political creed, or simply for a murder - but never yet for not wearing a necktie! As I watched the judge shouting in rage at Jerry Sims, my life ran through my mind and this seemed to top all my experiences of horror. Jerry Sims, truly one of the most innocent and defenseless people I know, was trembling in fear. (He has only one suit, and I noticed he came to the court cleaner than ever.) I am still in a state of shock that a man can be treated like this, that such a horrible thing can be permitted - legally - in the courts. I demand from Judge Ringel a public apology to Jerry Sims - nothing else can correct this inhuman act. Unjustice and mockery of people must have become commonplace in New York courts, an accepted part of 'justice.' Nobody reacts to such acts in horror and rage, which is to me, an incredible fact. How true Linder's movie now looks to me, what horror surrounds us, inside and outside. Truly, The Devil is Dead is a lullaby when compared with the chamber of horrors that is Manhattan's Criminal Court."
In his yearly round-up of notable underground cinema events during 1964 (published in the 7 January 1965 issue of The Village Voice) Mekas wrote that in April 1964, "A dark period in the New York film underground begins. No screenings for seven months. With no place to meet, film-makers' spirits go low. Clandestine screenings continue at the Co-op late into the summer, until the Co-op is raided and cops are placed nightly across the street."
An ad seeking premises for a small movie theatre for the Co-op appeared in the July 23rd issue of the Voice:
Village Voice ad, 23 July 1964
During the period that the Co-op was without a screening venue, Mekas continued to try to exploit the home market for underground cinema:
Village Voice Ad, 13 August 1964
Washington Square Art Gallery
Mekas' attempt to market underground films for purchase "like books of poetry, or records" must not have been very successful, however, as he stopped offering them for purchase in ads. However, there were, apparently, still screenings during this period. According to Mekas in "Showcases I Ran in the Sixties," he held screenings at the Washington Square Art Gallery at 530 West Broadway from 16 July to September 1964. The reason he gives for stopping them is "Gallery closed; we had to leave." He was a bit more specific in his yearly round-up for 1964 published in the 7 January 1965 issue of The Village Voice. In the section pertaining to June 1964, he writes "Washington Square Galleries begin their film screenings and then are closed by the License Department." In the account published in the Voice, then, he didn't claim that he had anything to do with the screenings. Screenings at the gallery are mentioned in Popism but although it says that Mekas was at the screenings it doesn't say that Mekas actually organized them.
Andy Warhol via Pat Hackett in Popism:
We [Andy Warhol and Mark Lancaster] went down together to that art gallery near Washington Square that Ruth Kligman, who'd been Jackson Pollock's girl friend and was right in the car with him when he was killed, was running with her new husband, Mr. Sansegundo. They screened movies every night and Jonas would be there with underground filmmakers like Harry Smith and Gregory Markopoulos. John Chamberlain and Neil Williams were around a lot, too, looking identical - they dressed alike and they both had big butch moustaches and were always drunk." (POP72)
Mekas did not mention the screenings in his Village Voice column with the exception of one on 27 August 1964. He doesn't mention that he was involved in the screening of film but he does compare it favourably to the work of filmmakers he was associated with.
Jonas Mekas ("Movie Journal," The Village Voice, 27 August 1964, p. 12):
"Ingreen, a 12-minute film by Nathanial Dorsky, was screened at the Washington Square Gallery last weekend. It's hard to tell what it's all about, but I would say it is mainly about green. It is made of beautiful greens... but the esthetic experience is created by the flow and play of superimpositions.
The superimposition is coming back to cinema... In New York, the superimposition came back permanently with Ron Rice's Chumlum, with Jerry Joffen, Barbara Rubin's Christmas on Earth, Carl Linder's Devil is Dead, and now Dorsky's Ingreen."
Ron Rice and the others were all filmmakers whose work Mekas had either screened or promoted in his Village Voice column.
In November 1964 the Film-Makers' Cinematheque was finally formed, as announced in the following ad from November 12th issue of the Voice:<
First ad for the Film-Makers' Cinematheque in the Village Voice, 12 November 1964, p. 15
New Yorker Theatre
Four "initial programs" of the Cinematheque were announced in the 26 November 1964 issue of the Voice. The venue used for the first Cinematheque was the New Yorker Theatre at 89th Street and Broadway. There were quite a few Warhol films scheduled:
Village Voice ad, 26 November 1964, p. 19
The week prior to the ad, in the November 19th issue, Mekas' column had consisted of an "interview" between him and the Cinematheque which didn't mention that he was behind it, although presumably most underground film aficionados would have known it at the time. (In other words, Mekas published an interview with himself.)
Opening paragraphs of Mekas' interview with the "Cinematheque"
Village Voice, 19 November 1964, p. 12
Warhol is mentioned later in the same article with the Cinematheque saying, "We would like to correct one mistake all cinematheques are making: we aren't going to push Brakhage or Anger or Warhol or Breer or Leacock into side; we'll treat them as equals, as they should be treated - equals with the directors who are working in the feature dramatic cinema." (p. 12)
The column ends with a plea for money. Mekas asks the "Film-Makers' Cinematheque," "What can the public do for the Cinematheque?" The Cinematheque answers "Become a member. For a number of reasons the Cinematheque will have to remain for sometime a membership activity... The Film-Makers' Cooperative, our older brother, hasn't been able to get any support from outside. For the past two years it has been fighting a lonely fight. Despite all the publicity, only TWO or THREE people have come to the Coop to help the avant-garde film-makers with money! The Cinematheque intends to come to their assistance, to join in their work. The Cinematheque will accept donations directed toward film-makers. Someone, we hope will come forth with a theatre. A place is also needed where he could have a library and a workshop, a center which won't reek with the dust of history and the stuffed shirt but, more likely, with the dust of a busy and working supermarket." (p. 23)
Mekas listed a partial schedule for January at the New Yorker in the 31 December ad in the Village Voice:
Village Voice ad, 31 December 1964, p. 12
Apparently at this time he was also trying to establish screenings at 4th Street. An announcement went out to members informing them that they were working on the venue, but that they would continue the screenings at the New Yorker:
Mekas later noted in his Village Voice column that the venue at 4th Street "never got started." (See page four)
In his yearly round-up about 1964, published in the 7 January 1965 issue, Mekas noted the opening of the Cinematheque at the New Yorker. Although it started at the New Yorker, Mekas used a number of venues for his Cinematheque during 1964-67. David E. James notes that "Like previous efforts, this was initially peripatetic, opening at the New Yorker in November 1964, moving to the Maidman, the City Hall Cinema, and other locations, and eventually settling at at the Forty-First Street Theater." (DJ11-12)
According to Mekas, the Cinematheque operated out of the Maidman Theater, 416 West Forty-second Street from 18 January to 26 January 1965. He notes that they moved out "after the owner or manager of the theater, seeing huge crowds coming to our shows, started raising the rental price." (DJ323)
Although there are no adverts for the Maidman screenings in the Village Voice, Mekas gave the schedule for the screenings in the following announcement to Cinematheque members:
In the 21 January 1965 issue of the Voice, there was an ad for a screening of Ron Rice films that featured the Cinematheque's logo but it took place at the Bleecker St. Cinema and not the Maidman.
Village Voice ad, 21 January 1965
Mekas does not mention the Bleecker Street screening in his own chronology. According to Mekas, he used the New Yorker Theater from 30 November to 21 December 1964 on Monday nights for his Cinematheque, giving the reason for moving out of the New Yorker because of their decision "to use Monday nights for 'rare classics'." As noted, Mekas says he then used the Maidman for about a week - from 18 January to 26 January 1965.
City Hall Cinema
The short run at the Maidman was followed by screenings at the City Hall Cinema, 170 Nassau Street from 25 January to 31 May 1965 for three days a week. (DJ322) Mekas sent the following announcement to members that they were still trying to get a certificate of occupancy for a venue on 4th Street near to the office of the Cinematheque. (As already noted, the 4th Street venue "never got started.)
The first City Hall ad was for a screening on February 4th of Mekas' film, Guns of the Trees.
Village Voice ad, 4 February 1965
Screenings at the City Hall Cinema included the "world premiere" of Empire in March 1965. The ad for the March 6th screening of the film was placed sideways in the March 4th issue of the Village Voice.
Ad for the "world premiere" of Empire in the 4 March 1965 issue of The Village Voice, p. 15 (Note that authorship of the film is equally credited to Warhol and John Palmer)
The Brig ad referred to in the Empire ad was printed next to it in the Voice. In addition to giving the screening information for Mekas' film, the ad repeated the information about the Empire screening and gave details of future Warhol screenings:
Village Voice ad, 4 March 1965, p. 15
Meanwhile, the New Bowery Theatre had re-opened calling itself The Bridge, and was showing the same sort of underground films that Mekas was showing. In March they showed Ron Rice's Chumlum and The Flower Thief which Mekas had shown in January at the Bleecker Street Cinema. The films were presented by the "Bridge Cinema Group."
Village Voice ad, 18 March 1965
Astor Place Playhouse
In late May 1965, the Cinematheque moved from City Hall to the Astor Place Playhouse. According to Mekas, he had to move out of the City Hall Cinema "after the city decided to tear down the building." (DJ322)
A Film-Makers' Cinematheque ad in the 27 May 1965 issue of the Voice announced that the "Film Makers' Cinematheque is moving from City Hall Cinema to an interim location which is the ASTOR PLACE PLAYHOUSE, 434 Lafayette Street New York... Our first program at the ASTOR PLACE will be in honor of Kenneth Anger's visit to New York." The Anger films were shown on 28, 29 and 30 May.
Village Voice ad, 27 May 1965, p. 19
The same page contained an ad for a screening at The Bridge which featured both Andy Warhol's Kiss and Thomas Edison's Kiss.
Village Voice ad, 27 May 1965, p. 19
It was at the Astor Place Playhouse that Mekas presented most of the "New Cinema Festival 1." Although the festival would later be referred to as the Expanded Cinema Festival, it was officially advertised as the New Cinema Festival 1 at the time and referred to by that name by Mekas in his "Movie Journal" column. (See "Expanded Cinema.")
Village Voice ads, 28 October 1965, p. 28
According to Mekas, the screenings at Astor Place were from 4 June to November 1965, "four days a week, then daily." Mekas says he was forced to move out "when the owner, seeing the crowds of customers, increased the price drastically." (DJ323)
41st St. Theatre
An ad in the November 25th issue of the Voice announced that on December 1st, the Cinematheque would be moving to the 41st St. Theater at "125 West 41st St. or 120 West 42nd St. - in between 6th Avenue and Broadway." The first event at the venue would be an evening featuring work by Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Whitman and was part of the New Cinema Festival 1 series.
Village Voice ad, 25 November 1965, p. 20
Strangely, Mekas does not mention the 1965 move to the 41st St. Theatre in his chronology, "Showcases I Ran in the Sixties in To Free the Cinema, although he does mention later screenings at the venue - "from early 1967 to 30 August 1967." (DJ323) But we know the 41st St. Theatre was operating in late 1965 and 1966 because of the above announcement and the advertised screenings held there, including a considerable amount of Warhol films.
These included a screening of a Warhol film with a censored title that was actually Blow Job:
Village Voice ad, 30 December 1965, p. 15
Warhol Film Ads
and a "double screen experiment" by Andy Warhol & Barbara Rubin:
Village Voice ad, 27 January 1966
Warhol Film Ads
and "A new film by Andy Warhol" shown on 16-17 April:
Village Voice ad, 21 April 1966
Warhol Film Ads
and Andy Warhol's The Bed "Based on a play by Bob Heide," along with "An evening of films with Gerard Malanga" which included Warhol's Harlot, Vinyl, and Couch and excepts of Malanga's "second feature film Mary for Mary starring Mary "Wornov" [sic] with a soundtrack by The Velvet Underground. Also included was "Andy Meyer's film portrait of Gerard Malanga:"
Village Voice ad 28 April 1966
Warhol Film Ads
and the premiere of The Chelsea Girls on 15 September 1966. See Nico Films.
According to Popism, "We opened it [The Chelsea Girls] at the Film-Makers' Cinematheque on 41st Street... But then Jack Kroll wrote a long, fascinating review of it in Newsweek that made so many people want to see it that we had to move to a bigger theater, the Cinema Rendezvous on West 57th Street. (POP185)
L: Village Voice ad, 15 September 1966, announcing premiere of The Chelsea Girls at the Cinematheque when it was at the 41st Theatre/R: Village Voice ad, 22 September 1966, holding the film over for an additional week after it opened/reproduced in The Inevitable World of The Velvet Underground (ed. Alfredo Garcia) and "Andy Warhol Films: Newspaper Advertisements 1965-1970."
David Bourdon gives more information about the venues used for showings of The Chelsea Girls in his biography of Andy Warhol, although he doesn't mention that the film was held over for a second week in September during its first run at the 41st St. Theatre, as per the ad above. (For a complete listing of the New York cinemas at which the film was screened during 1966 to 1967, see The Chelsea Girls, here.)
David Bourdon (Warhol, p. 248):
"Chelsea Girls opened at the two-hundred-seat Film-Makers' Cinematheque early in September and instantly attracted a following. The film returned for a second week's engagement from October 19 through 25. Press coverage and word of mouth prompted a third, relatively extended run, and the film reappeared at the Cinematheque from November 6 through 9, and from November 19 through 30, with many screenings being completely sold out...
On the basis of receipts at the Cinematheque in November, the Film-Makers' Distribution Center (FDC), an organization found by Mekas and several of his filmmaking colleagues to release underground films to commercial theaters, decided to gamble on a midtown booking at the six-hundred seat Cinema Rendezvous at 110 West 57th Street, making it the first underground movie to get a two-week run in a midtown Manhattan art theater. The estimated investment was about $15,000, which included rental of the theater, advertising, and publicity expenses. The film opened on December 1."