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.”