Vintage New York School Video

An irreplaceable part of what I understand as studying is easing into a nonlinear, felt relationship with what's at hand (and what's not), arriving at and reading the exchangeable portions of authorship and writing while also sifting into the ephemera and noise that show how that writing is a life. If not in the archive, this usually means errant searches online for recordings and photographs, a more organized look via PennSound or UbuWeb, and deep searches on rare book sites like ABAA and Abebooks. Rarely, videos of poets might emerge. These videos carry an aura. I'm always a little stunned. 

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I was thinking of how special these videos are after a friend recently circulated a video of Kenward Elmslie made available by Ron Padgett. As Padgett describes: "Maxine Groffsky rediscovered a three-minute film she made of Kenward in 1972. In the first part he is in Louisville for a production of his musical (with Claibe Richardson) The Grass Harp. In the footage with him are the poet Gerritt Henry and the fellow who was directing the Louisville presentation. In the second part Kenward is in Calais, VT, in his vegetable garden and then walking back to his house. The film concludes with a guest star appearance by his dog, Whippoorwill."

The stills to the right are from the short film. The Jerry's Restaurant sign is just great, such a surprising yet perfect intersection of New York School artistic elegance with the monumental Americana that informs the humor of writers like Elmslie, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch. The shots from Calais are gorgeous, including iconic Whippoorwill in the yard, the dog that appears in paintings by Joe Brainard and who James Schuyler describes in "The Morning of the Poem," as my friend Aaron reminded me: "Yes, that whippet is / The one I nominate for terrestrial immortality … Love, love / Is immortal. Whippoorwill, I know that.” It's great to actually see the Calais house, too, which is described so often in Padgett's memoir of Brainard, Joe.

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Below are just a few videos I've returned to often, including a selection from Larry Fagin's home movies from 1968-69, the Ed Sanders portion of "USA: Poetry" that starts with the more well-known Frank O'Hara section, a section of a Spanish documentary on the Beat Generation that includes (from 7:56-9:27) a walk-through tour of Ted Berrigan's and Alice Notley's apartment at 101 St. Marks Place, a hijacked video of a Notley lecture by Cassandra Gillig, and a 1990 reading by Elmslie at the Poetry Project. I'm always devoted to videos of readings, and there are so many incredible ones on PennSound, the SF Poetry Center Digital Archive, and scattered across YouTube. But the video recordings of these poets being themselves, not reading poems, being people, and being in places they inhabited -- those videos carry a little magic. The archive is always alive, but it's special to see it in motion, body, kitchen, paintings, pets, and all. There are too many details in the videos below to describe, too many little moments that act as artifacts. Like in the Sanders video from late 1965 we're inside Peace Eye Book Store with him, seeing the books on display (including copies of William Burroughs's Time, Philip Whalen's Every Day, and the magazine Mother with a Brainard cover), and then Sanders in front of the East Village Other newspaper offices -- it's incredible. I'm not interested in whether they're representative or accurate, performative or realistic, just that they're these particular images of this particular moment or movement. You become familiar with a red sweater or two, a mannerism, and you start to recognize the poems a little differently. I'd like to watch these videos entirely unprofessionally. I think that's what I'm advocating for. I mean, I'm watching them and studying, whatever that needs to be.

"It was wonderful": Ted Berrigan's Screen Shot

In the far corners of the art-minded, archival internet, impossible things tend to emerge. Here is a recording of an interview with Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1965 which happens to include a slice of conversation between the interviewer, Gerard Malanga, and Ted Berrigan.

This recording was made the day that Warhol did a screen test of Berrigan, a still of which appears on the back cover of Nice To See You. Some googling led me to this after reading Reva Wolf’s Andy Warhol, Poetry, and Gossip in the 1960s where she quotes a transcript of the interview. I’m writing an essay about Berrigan’s novel Clear the Range, part of which is about Berrigan’s relationship to Warhol and Pop Art, so hearing them talking together here is amazing. I’d love to see the actual screen test, too. Warhol also did screen tests of Ashbery and Ginsberg. A lot of this is a combination of background noise, music playing,  whitenoise, phone calls about parties and money, inaudible voices, an on-and-off interview, and normal chatter in keeping with Factory-era audio recordings. The entire thing is pretty incredible. The description says Brainard is here but I can’t pick out his voice.

“Andy Warhol interviewed by teenage David Ehrenstein at the Factory on March 3, 1965. It’s a real trip. Special appearances by, Gerard Malanga, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, a Rolling Stones LP, calls from Bob Brown and Nancy Fish.”

The above description is from http://www.teenagefilm.com/archives/dear-diary/andy-warhol-interviewed-by-a-teenager/ who reblogged it from Dennis Cooper who originally posted it on his blog in 2007 via Ehrenstein.

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An excerpt starting at 9:17:

Ehrenstein: What about Screen Test?

Malanga: Uhhh, no comment.

Ehrenstein: No comment. Could we ask him about the movie?

Malanga: Oh yeah. (in background) Ted Berrigan, what about the movie you just did?

Berrigan: What about it? (laughter)

Ehrenstein: Did you like what you did?

Berrigan: Uh sure, it was wonderful.

Ehrenstein: You said tears were coming into your eyes.

Berrigan: I was looking at the light, to see what it looked like, and (mic cuts out) …It was all really wonderful. I loved myself every second. (laughs) I looked at the camera and it looked like, the light made it look like a big blue flower and so I looked at it each time until the flower effect wore off and then I looked at the light for a few more minutes until it came on again.

I WAS LOOKING AT THE LIGHT, TO SEE WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE

Ted Berrigan and Foreign Film

 from Michelanglo Antonioni’s  L'Avventura  (1960)

from Michelanglo Antonioni’s L'Avventura (1960)

I just finished an essay on Ted Berrigan’s novel Clear the Range (1977) and one of the things I found really interesting while researching the book was the possibility of it being influenced by Ted’s interest in foreign films. Clear the Range is a transformed western, in the same sense that Star Wars is a western, and though it’s been well-documented that Ted loved the “badness” of western and gangster movies, his attraction to more experimental cinema like French New Wave hasn’t really been talked about. In March 1962 Ted wrote to his first wife Sandy about seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), Michelanglo Antonioni’s L'Avventura (1960), and Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961). And that was just during one month. Pop Art film also could have been an influence. Berrigan was friendly with Andy Warhol, used one of Warhol’s Brillo boxes as a coffee table, and was probably interested in the “boringness” of Warhol films like Sleep (1963), Empire (1964) and (we can only hope) Taylor Mead’s Ass (1964). Warhol conducted a screen test (ST22) with Berrigan in 1965, so Ted was pretty intimate with the avant-garde film scene in the 60s. I write about this in my essay, which will be published sometime soon, but it’s interesting enough to bring it up outside of Clear the Range, if only to show how I got to this point in reading Berrigan and suggest that we look for ways to read more poets through aesthetic frames other than literature. The below passages are from Dear Sandy, Hello: Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan edited by Ron Padgett and Sandy Berrigan (Coffee House Press, 2010). The fact about Ted’s Brillo box is from Ron Padgett’s Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan (The Figures, 1993).

March 4 or 5, 1962: “Tonight Dick [Gallup] and I and Joe [Brainard] are going to see Breathless and L'Avventura in a double bill. You and I will see them again when you are here. Breathless is so frantic, so nervous, so controlled anyway. So alive. L'Avventura is like a dying life. Days take minutes. Seconds sometimes last for hours. In both pictures, from opposite sides of the coin, marvelous things are done with time. To rip out of the mind of human beings the dead concept of time as mathematical…time is not arithmetical. Nor is it geometrical. It is magic.”

March 31, 1962: “I went to see a movie called Last Night at Marienbad. It’s the new movie by Alain Resnais, who made Hiroshima Mon Amour. It’s a collaboration with the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet, and it is one of the greatest things I have ever seen….The movie is presented in such a way as to make it all seem unreal and real at the same time. The characters sometimes move as if they were in a slow-motion ritual dance. Sometimes they are completely symbolic, other times completely flesh and blood. There is no story nor plot as such. Time is almost nonexistent in a chronological sense. There is only night and day, darkness and light….The move is masterful. It concerns life and death, and the chance for new life. If only people would remember when they were alive, they would always renew their lives. But they don’t remember. There is always something between them and life: walks, games, responsibilities. They don’t remember.”

 from Alain Resnais’s  Last Year at Marienbad  (1961)

from Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961)