We began with our recitation on “The Counterculture Goes Mainstream” with a discussion of Andy Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls.
Chelsea Girls was met with a generally positive response from our class. Many commented on the film’s modesty–the film’s lack of editing, the realism of Warhol’s style, etc. One observation that became especially important in our discussion was the idea of breaking the fourth wall. All of the actors in Warhol’s film know they are being filmed; they even interact with the camera. We also interpreted this to be something about self-acknowledgement of one’s own “phoniness.” When Ondine gets called a “phony” by the girl at the confessional in the famous pope scene, he begins to hit her and chase her. Since it would have been a supreme offense to have been called a “phony” if you were a hipster such as Warhol or any member of his factory, Ondine got angry. He becomes self-aware and self-conscious, which incites anger inside him. Such is the case with the film too–Chelsea Girls uses that self-awareness to deconstruct film as a medium. We also discussed the effect of drugs on Ondine’s performance. At what point did he stop acting? Where did improv begin? Was the anger all just drugs. The question of why Warhol used two films was then posed. One response was that it questions the relation between images and sound, a further deconstruction of film. Furthermore, the lighting, sound, and cinematography guide our senses between the two films projected simultaneously–another filmic deconstruction.
Peter Biskind’s essay, “Who Made Us Right?,” was then presented after a brief discussion of history in 1968. Biskind traces the developments of several directors and producers in the early 60’s in what was labelled as “salacious journalism” the night before. The early careers of Schneider, Rafelson, and Hopper are traced in Biskind’s essay. The three directors’ films ended up becoming responsible for the dawn of a new Hollywood, one that was more open to countercultural movements. Biskind creates a narrative out of a series of interviews given by the aforementioned directors.
Following the presentation of Biskind’s essay, two clips of Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film Easy Rider were shown–that of the acid trip in the cemetery and that of the film’s bloody finale. We discussed why Hopper juxtaposed these two scenes. The acid trip represents freedom, while the shooting of the two protagonists represents imprisonment. Whether or not the protagonists “blew it” remains ambiguous. One important observation was that Hopper clearly had Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising in mind when he made Easy Rider. This is very much evident in the editing style. Another important observation was that reading Biskind’s essay changed many people’s perception of the film. When you know that the actors and Hopper feuded on set and that the girl in the LSD trip scene was forced to strip, Easy Rider seems much more raw.
After that, we began discussing Bob Rafelson’s 1968 film Head. As for what the film meant, an important point that was raised was that Rafelson destroyed many different genres in the process of making this film. By making fun of The Monkees, their image, many different Hollywood genres, and mainstream culture, Rafelson intentionally destroyed the film’s subjects, economically and otherwise. We discussed the poor marketing strategy a bit. Columbia Pictures, a mainstream distributor, released the film under the false notion that a Monkees picture would be highly successful. That, however, turned out to be wishful thinking, as Head flopped. It is important to note, however, that the film may have been designed to fail. Rafelson did, after all, make advertisements (and a title) that alluded to Andy Warhol’s Blow-Job, an avant-garde success. Was Head only for a small, educated audience and not for the hipsters? Did Rafelson want Head to hurt the studio and the Monkees? We then watched a clip of Davy Jones’ “Daddy’s Song” dance in Head.
When asked what the clip reminded us of, one said Chicago, another said Singin’ in the Rain. Rafelson has actually been inspired by Paul Sharits’ 1969 film T, O, U, C, H, I, N, G. Sharits’ film, like Head itself, destroys film. The word “destroy,” which is repeated many, many times in Sharits’ film, is meant to refer to the physical, phenomenological destruction of the film itself. Many of us objected to Sharits’ single-frame editing style because it is a film that is so hard to watch, however this was all Sharits’ intention. And so ended the recitation.