Author: jonjost

OK UK – On the Road in Europe

 

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The house in Cassina Amata

I left Cassina Amata in spring, 1963, early March as I recall.  In the Po Valley it was warm and as I headed out my inexperience told.  I was going as direct as I could to London, and that meant up the Simplon Pass before travel in Switzerland had been reduced to a kind of Disney ride, with the mountains flattened with tunnels and pylon perched highways; one zig-zagged up the passes and then down.  And in early March spring was in hiding in Switzerland and I found myself in snow-covered landscapes and a cold for which I was not prepared.  I recall only two things from that journey – one a lady at the door of her distant rural house looking at this stranger hitching in such a climate; in my mind she seemed concerned, as if she would offer a place to sleep if I did not get a ride – which I did.  The other was camping in snow by Lac Leman, and masturbating to generate some warmth so I could sleep.

I passed through Geneva and into France and on to Calais, surely with a bundle of adventures along the way, ones of which I remember nothing. Arriving in England and the relief of speaking the language I knew, I got to London and found a Youth Hostel in Highgate.  Back then these were very cheap, as was the food they served. I almost instantly acquired an English accent, and was seldom taken for an American.  At the University of London I found members of a film society, and they had the most minimal of basic editing equipment: a desk with rewinds and a Moviescope, and a tape splicer.  They let me use this, and I commenced to look at the footage I’d taken in Cassina Amata.  I hadn’t really edited anything before and I recall being disappointed in my material, as seen through the small and dirty Moviescope viewfinder.  And worse it seemed much faster than I had imagined it, skittering by like animation instead of the slow languid movement I’d thought I was doing.  I carried on, a bit discouraged, taping the cuts together and wondering how I had tricked myself into seeing it as I had.

Home Editing Kit Full Set up (Portable Rewind, Moviescope, Split Reels, Splicer)

 

Meantime I had another thing to deal with, the imminent arrival of April 1st and the end of my passport’s valid date. Aiming to renew it, I went to the new American Embassy in central London’s Grosvenor Square. Entering the room of the consulate officer dealing with passports I immediately noted the military photographs on the wall, and instinctively knew trouble was coming. The first words out of the man’s mouth were, “I bet your father wouldn’t like that haircut.” In the papers one had to provide, was information on your family and all that. It was all down-hill from there, with a grilling of an unpleasant kind, and ending with a not-kind word about getting back to me. Later word was that they were refusing to renew my passport, which came as no surprise.  I am not sure just why – were they already aware of my Selective Service failure to comply, or was it just a government guy pissed at a budding hippie?  Or something else?   I never found out.

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Back at the University of London, I finished up my editing, and somewhat unenthusiastically asked to use their 16mm projector to take a look at my film which I figured was a frenetic mess.  They said OK, and a few of them sat with me to watch after I’d threaded it up.  I flicked it on, and the motors cranked up like an old machine, and I watched as the light flickered and the images unfolded – slowly.  Instead of the rapid-fire I’d seen on the Moviescope, the shots were as I’d imagined and thought.  As I recall those who watched with me seemed impressed and liked it, though it wasn’t at all like the kinds of things they had ever seen.  Along the way I realized that I’d been hand-cranking the rewinds way too fast.  Live and learn.  And while it seemed back then a bit crude and primitive to me, and still does today, I could see something innate that said “cinema.”  For a first try, it wasn’t bad at all.  Decades later the Eyefilm Museum in Amsterdam, which holds all my materials, would make an archival copy of it, and made a digital file which I was able to show Matilde and her family 50 years later!

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Finished with my editing, I hitched from London to Edinburgh, taking some photographs along the way with a Pentax 35mm camera, and found myself at a hostel there. Pentax was stolen. Later the prints of what I’d shot in the UK and Italy were all burned up.  I recall a very nice one of the driver in an old truck, caught in the side rear view mirror.  It is still impressed in my mind, though lost.

From Edinburgh I went hitching with a South African kid (white) met at the hostel, and we went on a big flatbed truck that picked us up, taking us through the Glencoe pass. A spectacular place, which we were able to see in near 360 degrees from the back of the truck. I recall being deeply impressed.  We camped there. Nearly everything else is a white blank, though it was surely full of adventures.

 

Glencoe Pass, Scotland

As April 1 came upon me, and the US consulate, despite some prodding from the head master at the hostel, declined to renew my passport I decided to do it for myself. Using a pin I scratched out, as carefully as I could, the diagonal line in the typed-in three, back before electronic inserts and such made this kind of thing impossible:

and I put in a vertical. It was a little messy if one looked closely, but at a distance it just seemed a bit smudged. It was illegal to do so, of course.  While it made me a little nervous, I’d already cast my lot as “criminal” in the Selective Service papers left in the Atlantic.

On my first use of this self-made 2 year extension, entering France from the UK, I was admittedly a bit nervous, thinking if the officer looked closely, they would see, and if they thought for a minute they might wonder what this strange two and a half year limit was about. However nothing happened, then, or in any other border crossings, of which back then I made many as Europe still had boarder crossings then. On my return to the USA however, I deleted my alteration and returned it to the officially out-of-date, April 1, 1993. Some years later, in 1969, the passport was burned up, along with my photographs of Europe, in a fire in Woodside, California.

As summer approached, my passport renewed, my film edited, I left the UK, and went to France, Bolex at hand. I have no idea how I kept the print and negative of the film and never lost it, nor how I managed with guitar and camera to carry on, but somehow I did. Summer stretched out before me. I was 20.

Photo taken in Oslo Norway, summer, 1963

La Famiglia

P8Frame from Portrait, 1963

Sitting down at their kitchen table in the one heated room of the house, the family was gathered around – 8 children, aged 38 down to 12, and the parents.  They’d just brought me from the Stazione Centrale of Milano to their home in Cassina Amata, at the time on the still-rural flanks of the city. It was early January 1963, in the midst of a brutal winter. Outside the street was mud and ice, and farm fields surrounded the tiny town and its church.  A few new 5 story apartment blocks stood in the distance wrapped in Po valley fog.  It reminded me of an early Antonioni film, like Il Grido.

They did not speak English, and my Italian was at best a handful of words.  I had fifty dollars, 19 years, and had met them a year and a half earlier when they picked me up hitching in Como, 30 miles to the north.  Then they’d taken me home and set me down for a good Italian pranzo and asked me to stay.  I’d said no back then, though I had no schedule and could have said yes, but something dissuaded me.  And now I was back.

In our shared non-language, they inquired how long I would stay.  Not wanting to seem overbearing, I suggested two or three nights.  This begot a table of unhappy faces, and despite the communal absence of words, somehow the number was escalated to three weeks, at which point they seemed happy.  Thus began my new adventure in Italy, and, though neither they nor I understood it at the time, I had found a family, at least of some kind.

 

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The door to the left was to the kitchen & dining room; up the stairs were the bedrooms, the window on the left being the boys one – with me there were 5 of us in there.  The only heated room was the kitchen.

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It was bitter cold that winter, record-breaking, which confined me, and everyone else at home, to the kitchen – a high-ceiling basic room, with a big dining table suitable for the 10 of the family, and me.  I had almost no money and couldn’t afford to take the tram into nearby Milano, a 30 or 40 minute trip, initially through farm fields and then transitioning to city.   I think I went there 3 or 4 times in two months, once to get some film stock and another time to see about a repair on the cheap Japanese telephoto I’d bought with the Bolex.  (They wanted more than I could afford and dissembled the lens and fixed the flopping iris blade myself and so I learned to not be afraid of such things and when feasible do not hesitate to dive into the innards of cameras, computers or anything else usual left to “the pros.”)

For some weeks, trapped in the kitchen, with nearly always a handful of people in it, I was surrounded with constant chatter.  Italians are culturally wired to talk, to argue, to be social.  I am by instinct more or less a loner, though I can readily be social as well.  For that time I was forced by circumstances into more or less non-stop socializing, though handicapped by my being unable to say much.  Instead I listened.  I took walks in the little town and connected words in shop windows to items.  I tried to read the newspapers.  And listened, slowly learning by osmosis, however badly, this new language.

grembule scuola Maty.p16Frame from Portrait, 1963

Meantime I fell into the family routines:  the decanting wine from a big demigianna into bottles for the table; once a week scattering home-made pasta all around the dining-kitchen room on sheets of newspaper to dry overnight; killing chickens on a wall in the muddy courtyard.  At the same time I began to work on my first film, which would be a portrait of Matilde, the youngest child in the house.  I filled pages of a notebook with scribblings, and in my mind this blossomed out into a feature, though it ended as a little 15 minute short – something far more appropriate to my means, financial and experiential.  I was, after all, just a beginner.

And in a way I went crazy, or perhaps I proved to myself I already was crazy, or at least very deeply alienated from the world I lived in.  I did things which, as I told the family, I would have thrown myself out of the house for doing.  I recall once tossing a broom on the roof of the house; one evening I found myself under the kitchen table during dinner, acting like an animal.  I don’t recall what other things I might have done, but surely there were other things.

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After three or four weeks, my Italian grew to be enough to actually have a discussion, never mind that my vocabulary was sharply limited and such things as past or future tense eluded me, so I spoke in a simple first person, present tense, manner.  But I could talk.  And so one evening, now that it was possible to communicate, everyone sitting at the table, I tried to tell a bit of myself, among the realities being that I refused to go in the American military.  Three of the Rebosio sons had already done their tour – sent to the south of Italy, Sicily, whereas soldiers from the south were sent north.  This was because parts of northern Italy were in dispute with Austria and there were little guerilla actions going on and the government perhaps wasn’t so sure of the loyalties of those there.  So the northerners guarded the south and the southerners the north.

In various orders:  Cesarina, Ezio, Ambrogio, Lodovico,
Aldo, Rosanna, Mariangela, Matilde

The family, once they understood, said I should return to the US and do my duty.  And, somewhere along the line in this discussion I realized they did not understand – not my terrible Italian, but “me.”  As this crashed into my adolescent mind I burst into uncontrollable weeping – here my fresh newly-minted seemingly understanding “family” did not actually know or understand dear “me.”  It was a kind of psychic breakdown, and I had no option or brakes.  I wept overtly, and one by one the parents, and then sons, abandoned the table and left me alone with two of the older sisters, Rosanna and Mariangela.

In the brief time I’d been in the house, I had taken up a new pleasure – wine.  While earlier I had drunk American 3.2 beer, here in Italy the usual was wine.  In quick order, as it was in the wine-cellar, and no one seemed to mind, I got in the habit of having about a half-bottle of the home-decanted over the long and full lunches, and then would over the afternoon have a bit more.  Evening dinner, still more.  And so on this night of weeping, Rosanna and Mariangela and I concocted a little minuet.  Outside it was snowing, and I announced I was going to “take a walk” and perhaps sleep outdoors.  A thinly veiled suicide proposal, doubtless under the sway of way too much booze and my wounded still-teen soul: They did not understand me !

Ah !  And like a good teenager this was affront enough to question whether living was worth the candle.  Or so it seemed that night.  Hence did we did a little round-a-lay as I would go to the wine cellar for a slug more of drink, Rosanna and Mariangela would hasten to block me and I would then head for the door, to take my “walk.”   And they would block the door.  This went on until I was good and drunk, and the sons came home after their round of the cafes, and escorted me to bed.  This grand theatrical event was henceforth called “La Notte Famosa” – the famous night.

P4Frame from Portrait, 1963

And yet, despite my dubious ways, they did not kick me out.  Had I been in their shoes I would have sent me packing.  But they were different.  And so I spent the next month and some shooting my first film, with little 12 year old Tilde my subject.  I had far broader thoughts – about society, life, and a head full of the usual portentous youthful crap, which I scribbled into a note book, and imagined this little silent film would be a feature.  Reality intervened and it shrank to a small little 13 minute portrait of a sometimes reluctant Tilde, dressed in her black school dress.  It is rough and primitive, and very much a “first film” though one which seemed also to announce that I was a natural filmmaker. I was 19.  Later the film would get my first real review, in Chicago, by none other than Roger Ebert, writing in some alternative paper of the time, 1965 or so. It screened at the Aardvark on the near north side, a place like the paper he wrote for long since gone.  He liked it.   And far later, in 2015 or so, EYE Film Museum and their archive in Amsterdam would make an archival print of it.

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As spring began to arrive in Cassina Amata I took advantage of the warmer weather and went hitch-hiking, once up into the mountains where I stayed overnight, shooting a sequence for Portrait, sleeping in an empty hutch in a snow covered farm field.  Another time I went on a Sunday to Lago Maggiore.  And another time I headed north, to the top of Lake Como, passing the small town where Mussolini had been captured and killed.  A guy in a sports car picked me up and said he was headed to St Moritz.  It was spring in the valley and I unthinkingly said, “great” and we went up the mountain passes and snow stood by the side of the road, deeper and deeper until it was meters.  We got to St Moritz, a ritzy ski town then and now.  And he dropped me off in the center and I probably had less than $10 on me.  Initially I thought maybe to go into a hotel and ask if I could sleep in the basement heating system room, or something like that, but then thought no way they’re going to buy that.  And then in the cold I wandered around trying to find the working class neighborhood, thinking maybe someone would take pity on stupid me.  It didn’t at the time occur to me that St Moritz was a very classy town and would have no working class district, but that dawned on me as I tramped in the snowy streets of fancy suburban chalet houses.  And then I came across a house under construction and the sounds of voices came from it.  With some doubt I approached it, and some one, a worker, answered the door and in some way I was able to explain myself.  I was invited in, sat down for a dinner – a hearty soup and bread as I recall – and then given a place to sleep.  Somewhere along the way I figured out that it was the local custom for a work crew to live in the place they were building.  I had found the working class neighborhood and they did as I’d imagined and hoped.  The next day I hitched out of town as early as I could.

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Each time I would return from these excursions the family would be amazed, so crimped were their mental horizons.  For them a trip to Torino, less than 100 miles away, was a major deal.  For me it was a thumb stuck out by the side of a road.

As March arrived, and in the valley spring burst with warmth, I had finished shooting the film and had to think about editing.  I knew of the film school in Rome, Centro Sperimentale, and was tempted (mistakenly) by the name to head there, but somewhere I became leery of my capacity for negotiating what I wanted in my limited Italian, and instead opted to head for London.  I think perhaps I was also just hungry for English. Many decades later I was to teach a bit at Centro Sperimentale – the circle closes.

Leaving my little bit of material goods there with the Rebosio’s, I told them I was headed to England to go to edit my film, and that sometime I would be back.  If I recall properly la Mama cried at my departure, like I was her own beloved son.  It was strange, and for a young screwed-up adolescent kid, moving.  Mama Gesuina.

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Little did they, or I, know what this sojourn in the Rebosio home would mean.  I headed towards the UK, into a long adventure, my Bolex tucked into my backpack, a guitar at my side, and thumb in the air.  In hindsight, it was a trip that would never stop.  But there would be returns.

Sequence 01.Still001.jpgPhoto, summer 1963, Olso, Norway

A Ship of Fools

1280px-Verrazano-Narrows_Bridge-_The_Beginning_(15694094466)My ship was considerably less impressive when passing the Narrows

It was mid-December, date lost to memory, and the ship left the dock in Brooklyn, moving out towards the sea, passing the Statue of Liberty and through the Verrazzano Narrows before the bridge was built, and out to open sea. 1962. I have the vaguest recollections of watching the city slip away, and feeling that something deeply fundamental in my life was occurring.  In hindsight I’d have to say, yes, it had. The inchoate anger I had with America propelled me away, to somewhere else, to, it seemed, anywhere else.  And, unknowingly, I seemed to have chosen my future, testified in a shiny new Bolex.

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The ship was a Yugoslav quasi-freighter, carrying 50 passengers rather than the at-the-time usual 12.   It was the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic then, and the passengers on board reflected that – an assortment of youths, blooming Bohemians, and other escapees from the world.  One was a Yugoslav who’d taken the passage to look at America – he had no visa so his view was confined to what he could see from the deck.  He also was a voyeur, prone to looking in the cabins of the females on board.  In my cabin were two friends from Boston, self-declared artists, one of whom proved to be the ship’s Lothario, bedding whomever was available – in my cabin.  I got tired of entering to the pounding of his bunk, and finally just ignored it.  His habit ignited the biggest drama of the cruise.

There was another man, utterly forgotten, in the cabin which we shared for a month, four crammed into a small space bracketed by double bunk beds. Memory is selective. And you get what you pay for – in this case $150 for 3 meals a day, crossing the Atlantic, and when we arrived at our only stop, Casablanca, a cheap hotel.  What was lost in amenities was made up for in the claustrophobic hot-house atmosphere of the ship, with the tone perhaps heightened by the world’s recent brush with imminent collective death.  It was a compacted fare-well to the 50’s and blossoming of the 60’s, a veritable Ship of Fools. Little did we know.  The film based on Katherine Anne Porter’s book would be released in 1965, around the historical corner.

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For myself, still virgin and near broke – even then $50 could not be milked too far – my days were confined to chatting, drinking up the left-overs of the booze others bought, watching the winter sea glide by, and for the most part my journey has been lost in the smear of erased memory.  I do recall absurdly and romantically proposing to a young lingerie model from New York jumping over-board holding hands, a proposition which I doubt held any appeal for her and certified me as yet another shipboard nutcase.  Such was the folly of my youth.  Despite the example of my cabin mate, I did not get laid.

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Of other flickering memories, that of the Boston artist, with pictures of his so-so sculptures, and his ostentatious self-important airs.  I doubt he went anywhere in that world, but he perhaps left his mark in me in the form of a life-long loathing of self-important pompous artist sorts, of whom I have met not a few:  Peter Greenaway, Alexander Sokurov, and a few luminaries of the American underground cinema, among others.

Of the ship’s Lothario, in cruising the available girls, one he picked up was off on a vacation with her Boston Irish boyfriend, who at some juncture sussed out that girlfriend was bonking my cabin-mate.  This led to a late-night Irish drunkard coming down the hallway of the cabins, opening each door looking for his lady, loudly slamming closed the doors, and coming clinically towards ours.  However, cabin-mate had jumped if not ship, cabin, and when the door was flung open by the livid drunk he did not find the person he sought.  Slam went the door. Shortly afterwards a burly sailor escorted the Bostonian to somewhere.  In the following days none of the involved parties seemed to materialize for meals.  When we arrived in Casablanca at New Years, the new couple absconded together and the Boston drunk was abandoned to his fate .  I vaguely recall hearing from someone somehow that they were still together a year or so later.  Romance.

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Another shipmate was a black boxer from New York, who said he was going to his home-land, Africa.  When we arrived in Casablanca he was at the rail as we pulled in, gesticulating wildly, greeting his brothers – none of whom, to his surprise, were black. They looked quizzically at him as he waved.

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And another was a young woman who as I recall had gone to one of the fancy women’s schools in New England and saw herself as a rebellious free spirit.  She left the ship in Casablanca, and returned to tell tales of her adventures.  In one case she’d met someone with a Harley, and driving such a beast the first time, she’d come to a corner and plowed straight ahead into a field, and luckily was not hurt when it tipped over. As well she told of the weird toilet in the hotel where she was staying, that wasn’t like American ones. She’d taken a crap and tried to poke the mess down the drain.  Of the bidet.  Our young rebel had a few things to learn!

Having arrived on New Year’s, the ship was stalled a handful of days in harbor, thanks to the non-working stevedores, who listlessly hung on the pier smoking hashish.  It gave time to wander the city though I recall almost nothing of it, except that the French colonial air still lingered, and the city was white and less seemingly entrancing than the film of its name suggested.  I suspect my poverty kept things well out of view for me.  Not a casino guy, then or now.

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A few days after New Years, 1963, we set sail again for our destination, Genoa.  After nearly 3 weeks on the ship those left were antsy, and some days later, arriving at the shore of Italy, eager to disembark.  Except as happened, as was the nature of freighter travel then, there was no open pier for the ship, and we lingered off shore for two, then three, and then four days, the lights of the city beckoning, and the passengers getting ever more cabin crazed until finally a rebellion prompted the sending of a little packet ship to haul us to shore.

A final oblique lesson awaited me as we disembarked.   Concerned about my precious new Bolex, rather than tucking it into my footlocker, I decided to carry it myself, wrapped in clothes in my backpack.  Descending the gangplank stairway, the sea swell had the packet boat below rising and falling 5 or 6 feet, and one watched as it came up, a passenger stepped on board as it crested, and then went down.  When my turn came I mis-timed my step, being perhaps less than a half-second late, and found myself plunging down, airborne.  As the little boat hit the bottom of its wave and began its journey back upward I was still heading downward.  The reward was a good sharp whack to my legs and a stumble.  Crew hands were on me, and pulled me inward to the boat.  I flashed in a nano-second a different scenario, of landing in the frigid water and following the laws of physics down, taken swiftly by the weight of my back pack.  A little personal brush with perhaps-death, from which I learned to accede to not always, as is my inclination, doing things DIY.

Landed on Italian terra firma, the passengers dispersed, and I recall only a warren of narrow dark alleys and small streets, the bustle of humans and the sense of those “helping” being likely to relieve you of whatever possessions you had.  Benvenuto a Genoa.

 

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A Christmas Story: (Chronological Disturbance #3)

CITY 2SMFrame from City

1964. I was living in the largish 3rd floor janitor’s closet of a residential building in Chicago’s Hyde Park, no rent.  21 years old, awaiting trial from an October bust. I slept on a wide shelf at the window, just long enough to lay out with a slight tuck-in of the legs. It was December, Christmas eve to be precise. On the window ledge outside was a seemingly ceramic melted glass bead, dark yellow in color. It was actually the crystalized gunk I’d spit up some days earlier, the result of chronic post-nasal drip I’ve had all my life, aggravated by smoking, which I was doing at the time.

On the inside window ledge was a razor blade, placed there to taunt me. After getting arrested I’d been, in my own mind, a bit suicidal.   I thought about it.

A friend, Jerry Geary, who worked at a film lab, lived in the building and had arranged for me to stay in the closet. Up a few floors was a young woman, Kathy Handler, a would-be artist, like myself. We were very on/off lovers. I recall her once coming down to knock on my door and announce, plain and simple, she wanted to fuck, now. We did.

Jerry would take printer’s tails from the lab for me – a very very low speed ASA stock (5) meant to make B&W prints. I used it for camera stock though it was so slow it required sunlight to use and was merciless on exposure settings.  It was on the nose within 1/4 a stop, or nothing. I did have some normal camera stock too, and was at the time busy trying to shoot that up as I knew I’d soon be gone to prison for a few years, and they said film stock doesn’t age well.  Use it up!

City

That Christmas eve there was a light snow. I stood at the window watching it come down, flickering in the street lamps, the dark street and side-walk turning slowly to white. That reminded me of a year earlier, in Salzburg, Austria, and being up somewhere high overlooking the city as the first snowfall of the year arrived, and the city becoming a crystal clear etching, the lines of the copper roofing emerging as everything else turned white, and the forms of the old baroque architecture standing out clear and beautiful. It was magical.

There was no one on the streets in Hyde Park, everyone gone home for the holiday. I stood alone in the window, watching the street below, lost in whatever thoughts my young mind might have had.

On the ground floor of the building I lived in there was a bar, I don’t recall the name. As I looked down, the sidewalk now covered with a half-inch of powdery snow, a man came out of the bar. He walked to a wire trash bin on the corner and stood a moment, and then clutched its sides. His body seemed to heave, and I saw tiny little black dots begin to speckle the white blanket around him. I instantly imagined his story – an abandoned or lost family, a wife, children, all gone. He stood there a few minutes, the dots multiplying, and then walked away leaving a trail of foot prints impressed in the snow.

That image is embedded in my mind like a Goya etching and I have over the years toyed with the idea of using it in a film. An image that needs no words.

There is an etching by Edward Hopper that reminds me of the image in my mind each time I see it:

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In March of 1965, having shot up most of my film stock with a few short films – City, We Didn’t Go To Unique’s, and Judith – I took the El to the loop, went into Federal Court alone, and was sentenced to 3 years in prison for failure to fill out Selective Service form 1000. Or was it 100? The judge said I’d spend the rest of my life in prison because I’d get out and rebel again. He was right about half of that.

In the first year in prison, I received a note from Judy Noerdlinger, the woman who had been in the film Judith. It was a newspaper clipping, a black-framed obit announcement saying that Kathy Handler had been found dead in Lake Michigan, an apparent suicide. I recall being jolted, and in some way feeling guilty from this.  And shortly after I quickly wrote, rather unconsciously, the text for a film I would make not long after leaving prison: TRAPS. It is one of my best films – crude, direct, poetic, and still these decades later, powerful.

Frame stills of Traps

A handful of years ago I learned that Judy had died. And today, as I write this and checked on-line about the deli in Chicago,  I read that its owner, Sam Creinin, died in January 2017 at the age of 100.

Jon Jost, December 23, 2018

[To see City, Traps and other early short films, go here.]

A Crucible

1962.

To put things into context, it was the early ’60’s and a time of cultural ferment:

January 13 – Ernie Kovacs, died, in an LA Freeway car smash up,  comedian and actor (born 1919).

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I recall growing up in the 1950’s with Ernie Kovacs, the most original thing on TV back then, a surrealist who played with the media and your mind.  I suppose he had some influence on me, both in rebelling against the trajectory society had set for me, and later in my play with the media I ended up working in.  I of course did not know it at the time.

February 3 – The United States embargo against Cuba is announced.

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February 20 – Project Mercury: while aboard Friendship 7, John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth, three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes.

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March 19 – Bob Dylan releases his debut album, Bob Dylan.

June 15 –  The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)  Port Huron Statement was completed.

July 2 – The first Wal-Mart store opens for business in Rogers, Arkansas.

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July 10 – AT&T‘s Telstar, the world’s first commercial communications satellite, is launched into orbit, and activated the next day.

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August 5 – Marilyn Monroe is found dead at age 36 from “acute barbiturate poisoning”.

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As these fragments of the times floated by, naturally no one knew that around the corner lay a major historical trauma centered on Cuba, or that Sam Walton’s stores would expand to being one of the biggest businesses in America, or the havoc that it would bring to Main Street, USA. Or that the AT&T satellite would bloom into the internet, bringing its own “disruptions” throughout society.  At the time these blips were just “the news.”  It’s interesting how “the news,” accumulated in time, becomes the weightier matter of history.

At the end of summer 1962 my less than eager effort to find a job came up empty handed, and I returned to IIT to make a deal.  I went to the head of the Institute of Design, Jay Doblin, and had a talk, basically saying I would like to return, but not to get a degree, and only to take courses of interest to me and to use the equipment.  Surprisingly he agreed, and, having seen my freshman work, told me that I was leaps beyond what they had to teach. He gave me a carte blanche.  So I returned, taking courses in photography – taught by Aaron Siskind and Joseph Jachna, and drawing, and wood and metal working, and if I recall properly maybe sculpture or at least 3D something.  I took no academic courses – no algebra, no economics, no literature.   It was for me more a playground to taste various things and see what I found of interest.

However, at the same time, the bigger world was coming to a boil, a cultural shift was underway, and, as a fresh new generational icon had it, The Times They Are A’Changin’.  Along with my peers, we were caught up in the flux.

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September 22 – 21-year-old Bob Dylan premiered his song “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall“.

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

 

Oct 1.   The first black student, James Meredith, registers at the University of Mississippi, escorted by Federal Marshals.

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636005929918974322-meredith-1---pulitzer.jpgJames Meredith, shot outside Memphis Tenn

The civil rights movement kicked into gear, the rumble of music from swinging London – The Beatles, The Stones – wafted across the pond, and at IIT the Marines sent in recruiters.  I, along with a handful of friends, decided to contest this, and made signs that said such things as –

Travel to exotic places. Meet new people. Then kill them. Join the Marines.

– which in short order begot a summons from the Dean.  IIT was an engineering and technical school, where the students at the Institute of Design stood out as anomalies, a gloss of artsy frisson in a sea of rock-ribbed conservative business-minded mid-western Republicanism. Hauled before the school’s head, we were given a sharp lecture about the usual patriotism stuff, and told to cease and desist, or we’d be thrown out. My companions, all aiming at degrees, beat a hasty retreat.  On the other hand, knowing I had no intention of securing such certification, I was free to follow my gut, and I recall telling the dean that not only would I carry on, but that I knew the Armour Research Institute, a branch of IIT, was doing military research, and I would protest that as well.  I recall being rather dismayed at how easily my compatriots backed off, though I understood:  they still accepted “the system”; I had already in my mind opted out.

 

October 14 – Cuban Missile Crisis begins: a U-2 flight over Cuba takes photos of Soviet nuclear weapons being installed. A stand-off then ensues the next day between the United States and the Soviet Union, threatening the world with nuclear war.

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In the middle of October, Americans were jolted with the news that the Soviet Union had installed mid-range nuclear armed missiles in Cuba.  What ensued was a major crisis which traumatized the world. Along with millions of other Americans my friends and I seriously contemplated an imminent war, one which would incinerate vast parts of the earth.  The MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) policies which had been developed and practiced through the duck-and-cover 1950’s, snapped into reality.  While the politicians huddled and back-room diplomacy lay hidden in the fogs of Machiavellian plots, we ordinary citizens were left in the dark, our worst fears left to fester.

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For my friends and I this became a retreat into a fair bit of drinking really lousy red wine and smoking really lame pot.  We gathered together to await the sirens that would announce our deaths.  School was abandoned for the most part, and the nation stood paralyzed.  A truly traumatic event had overtaken the entire world.  For myself I did a quick bit of research and determined that New Zealand would perhaps survive a nuclear exchange in the Northern Hemisphere, and I went about selling all I had – mostly books on art and architecture – and raised about $800.  This, as it turned out, was about precisely what it would cost to take a ship to NZ.  I schemed to escape.  But by the time I had sorted it all out, had the money and the information to get the ticket and visa, it was already late in November and the Cuban missile crisis was resolved.  The world was not incinerated.  Life was going on.

November 20 – The Cuban Missile Crisis ends: in response to the Soviet Union agreeing to remove its missiles from Cuba, U.S. President John F. Kennedy ends the quarantine of the Caribbean nation.

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Confronted with this turn-about I quickly calculated my realities.  I could go to New Zealand and arrive broke, knowing no one or anything.  Yes, I’d be safe from a hypothetical nuclear war, but….

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And in one of those fatal and inexplicable leaps which we humans can make, with no prior thought or desire, I decided I would make films.  Out of almost nowhere.  Yes, I’d seen some experimental films.  Stan Van der Beek had visited a class and shown some 16mm animation things he’d done, and talked about his work.  I recall him saying how simple it was, using his Bolex, and – perking my ears – how cheap.  I took note. Somewhere in that same time I’d gone with a few friends to underground screenings in the basement of a Unitarian Church down in Hyde Park, among other things to see a film touted by Stan Brakhage – the big man in that world – as the next genius filmmaker.  I think by then I’d seen Brakhage’s grand opus, DogStarMan, of which, frankly, I didn’t think much.  I don’t recall the soon-to-be famed filmmaker’s name, but the work was a sub-standard sort of Bergmanesque psycho-drama, with very clutzy atmospheric effects. I distinctly remember a scene in which “fog” was made by a thing with 4 cigarettes parked in front of the lens, sending up plumes of smoke – which I found truly lame, along with the rest of the film.  I recall commenting to the friends I gone with that if that was considered a really good film, with Brakhage’s blessing, well goddammit, I could do better and should get in that racket.  True story.  The hyped filmmaker disappeared into the advertising business I later read somewhere.

Having made my decision, and having utterly abandoned ID, I proceeded to write the Rebosio family back in Italy with a stick figure letter and some photos of them and myself, asking if I might park a footlocker of my things with them while I traveled Europe.  Snail mail.  Many weeks later I received a note, saying “si.”  I then bought a ticket on a Yugoslav freighter out of NYC, for Genoa, for $150, due to sail in latter December.  In the interim in I ordered a Bolex from an outfit in New York City for $500.

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And I began my crash course in film, going to the Clark Street Cinema (long closed), a rep house where they showed old Hollywood and European classics, the latest Euro and Japanese films, and sort of very soft porn – tits & ass stuff.  They showed two a day, or was it three, changing everyday.   I probably averaged 2 films a day for a month or so.  And while I don’t recall for sure, I imagine I had my eyes out for whatever experimental fare was to be found in the Windy City back then.

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And so I got my fill of early Antonioni, Godard, Visconti, Truffaut, Bergman, gritty English realism, Chris Marker, Kurasawa, Losey, Pasolini – the whole litany of late 1950’s and early 1960’s “art house” fare, with a dash of aged classics tossed into the stew.  Renoir, Welles, Ford.  A real mishmash.

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I was young, and duly impressionable.  The older classics left me mostly less than overwhelmed, though The Grand Illusion made a mark, as did Lady from Shanghai (mirror sequence!) and a few others.  My attraction was to more contemporary things, and those more extreme in aesthetic terms.  Vivre sa Vie, The Seven Seals, La Dolce Vita. L’Avventura.  I liked being challenged, even left in the dust.  I am still that way.

Along with the film education, the Clark offered another kind as well:  the men’s room was a notorious pick-up place for the at-the-time much suppressed gay scene.  I was, by the standards of the time, I suppose, a young pretty boy, and was duly cruised heavily.  I learned to try not to drink much before to save myself running the gauntlet.  And out in the cinema one might see someone jacking off down a row of seats, along with the sleeping bums, pickpockets and other riff-raff plying their trades or urgencies.

12219504_10153800295872474_6927690067993131937_nMaybe a few years later – don’t know the date.

And while taking this  cinematic cram session I had to tidy up a few more mundane matters.  Writing to my parents, with whom I had for reasons unknown left my passport for safekeeping, they refused to return it to me.  So I went to the passport agency and applied for a new one, stating I had lost or misplaced my not-so-old one.  In my mind it was true: I had placed it in the hands of untrustworthy people.  However, the new passport was only good for 6 months owing to the MIA other one.  It expired on April 1, 1963.   Which a bit later proved a kind of joke.

December 2 – Vietnam War: after a trip to Vietnam at the request of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield becomes the first American official to make a non-optimistic public comment on the war’s progress.

Ship ticket in hand, I took the train to New York City, my port of disembarking, watching the  snowy stubbled corn fields of Indiana and Ohio blur by.   Arriving in the big city I went to get my shiny new Bolex, and checked out the Bowery for a place to sleep, but then thought better of it, and surprised my parents by knocking on the door.  This time there was no order regarding my hair or look, and I went in.  I remember nothing except that the next morning I went to catch my ship without telling them a word.

As I left for Europe I had fifty dollars remaining of my $800 stash; the rest had gone to the Bolex and tickets.

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Gone and Back

p1040671-1Montreal harbor, circa 1960

Lost in a haze of time, I recall in June 1961, at the ripe old age of 18, taking a train from Chicago to Montreal, arriving rather exhausted. I found a hotel, took a bit of a walk around, and went back and collapsed in bed. I awoke later and checked my watch which said it was 9:30 something, and I panicked: my ship was scheduled to leave at 8:30. I ran, checked out of the hotel and grabbed a taxi to the port and on getting there the slip was empty, the ship gone.  I was naturally crushed, and then inquired with someone around what the story was and found that it was not 9:30 in the morning as I had imagined, but at night!   I’d let the trip and the modest setting further north trick me into thinking the light in Canada would be much less than in Chicago.  My ship was leaving the next morning, though from a different pier than originally assigned.  I went to find it, and then checked into a harbor-side fleabag for sailors. Next day I boarded my ship, a quasi-passenger one that also hauled freight, and we went up the St Lawrence, passing Quebec, and on into the northern Atlantic. I recall almost nothing of this sea journey, unlike other such passages. I know the ship arrived in Le Havre for a stop before heading on to England where I debarked, the rest is simply erased.

d8bcd3257021e7e71b248b0dab18d44d.jpgTrafalgar Square, London, 1960’s

London in those days was a gray and gritty place, still very much recovering from the war, but 16 years away. I stayed at a youth hostel and then headed, hitchhiking, on to Bath, to leave my footlocker at the Bath Academy of Art. On arrival at this school, located a bit out in the country-side from the Edwardian crescents of town, I met the head master, who, when I said I’d be spending the summer hitch-hiking around Europe, advised me to go to museums and sketch the masters. Inwardly my eyes rolled at this, as my focus was fully on contemporary art, and I could scarcely look at an old Renaissance painting or other such thing, and certainly had no intention of sketching them. I kept my thoughts to myself, and noticing that the school seemed for a posh sort, where MGs and the like seemed the norm for the students, I concluded I’d not be going to school there after all. I left my stuff though, and headed out with my backpack and hitched around Europe for the summer. I don’t recall where I went or what I did, though a vague flickering of visiting Torino – almost a complete blank except for one thing: that a family that had picked me up hitching outside of Como took me to their home near Milano for lunch in Cassina Amata.  They asked me to stay but I left for Paris, taking their photo and address.

Casa natale Via Reali 18- 080The Rebosio house, Cassina Amata di Paderno Dugnano (Milano)

I only know at the end of the journey I’d booked passage on a freighter out of Liverpool, for New York, via St John’s Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Boston.  I recall a bit of getting off in the Canadian towns for a brief look and then…?  Amnesia resumes.  I arrived in New York, and stayed at my parents a brief while, applying quickly to the Pratt Institute, which accepted me but required me to wait another semester. I was not inclined to do so, and headed back to Chicago where I checked with the people at IIT and after a talk with Jay Doblin, head of the Institute of Design, I was enrolled in their program, the foundation year. ID was located in the basement of Crown Hall, of the architecture school where I’d spent the previous year.

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The school was an off-shoot of the old German Bauhaus, originally founded by exiles from Nazi Germany.  It adhered almost religiously to a certain mode of Modernism, just as upstairs slavishly knelt at the altar of Miesien purity.  I was in the foundation course – with woodworking, welding, drawing, and photography all thrown into the works.  While sticking to the Bauhaus ethos, the place was much looser, and it was almost like playing. And the students ran from a mix of industrial designer sorts on to very artsy folks.  I naturally fell into the latter group.  My acquaintances included a few I remain in touch with, and some who became good friends:  Charles “Chick” Therminy (who died in spring, 2017), Kurt Heyl, Rodney Galarneau.  Among the teachers were Aaron Siskind and Joseph Jachna in photography.

h2_1991.1215Aaron Siskindbefc3fd1108eac5254338eb5b4dc1f39Joseph Jachna

Still with the thought I’d not be getting a degree, I spent the first semester happily indulging at a kind of play, of perhaps learning to be some kind of artist.  More or less I enjoyed it all, and in turn secured a straight-A grading at the conclusion of the period.  Even, as I recall, in the literature class where I remember writing what I think was a perceptive essay on the book The Beloved Country, by South African Alan Patton.  And life outside school was enriched with such new things as smoking weed (bad), and indulging in wine and beer (also bad).  My hair grew, perhaps in proportion to my mind, as I perused art galleries, went to concerts and exhibits, read a lot, and began to sort out my interior interests.  Most of this has evaporated into the haze of my memory, another smear of time lost but for a few vague landmarks I still recall.

Grant_Wood's_Daughters_of_RevolutionPhilip Guston, earlier work

The second semester went largely as had the first, as I easily out-distanced most of my peers in whichever class, sometimes to my dismay, and found myself wondering why I was in the same group whose work often seemed to me inept and unworthy.  I suppose I was unjustifiably a bit arrogant.

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2007-09-25-mark-rothko-no-14-1960-7893Mark Rothko

And I began to rebel inside, and at the conclusion of the semester, as we mounted our “class show” of the best of the work each of us had done, I assembled my things, put them up, and surely would have received another straight-A list of grades.  However along with my work, I put up a little verbal manifesto accusing the school of being the same kind of “academy” that many of the teachers sneeringly put down, referring to old-time classical schooling – doing drawings from classic arts, etc.  Just this academy proselytized for “modernism” in its myriad forms.  I knew this commentary would not be taken well by some of the teachers so along with pinning it to the wall, as was done with the various art things, I also glued it.  The orientation year head was a nice, if rather flitty gay man, who taught the drawing class and was one of the hard-core school ideologues cattily denouncing the long-dead academy of yore.  I was not there when it happened, but as the assembled faculty approached our room to survey our work, Mr. X apparently did a final prance through the class display, saw my manifesto, and was found by the faculty attempting to tear it from the wall.  I was told this provocation elicited a range of responses, from a basic agreement that I was correct in my critique to vehement disagreement.  My grades reflected this, ranging from a D from Mr X, on to middling to A’s.  Had I held my peace I am certain I’d have again received straight A’s.  I left the school at the end of term, thinking this time of my life was over.

Low res 2Joseph Jachna

During the summer I looked for a job, if rather listlessly, and found nothing.  Encouraged by some friends I applied for a Post Office job, and going through all the tests and rigmarole, I passed easily.  At the end, we were to sign our contract and at the bottom of it was something I’d been told would not be there: a pledge of allegiance sort of thing about dear America.   I could not and did not sign it.  Kiss that job goodbye.  It was a hint of things to come – those letters I’d received from the Selective Service that I’d put in the circular file come to mind.   The next years would prove to be foundational.

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john targetJasper Johns

In Retrospect: (Chronological Disturbance #2)

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2004-9-21-pic-2Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia, by Stefano Maderno

Some many years ago, in the late 1990’s, while living in Rome, on a Sunday morning I wandered my neighborhood, Trastevere, looking around in my habitual manner. Being a self-named “church junkie,” I entered Santa Cecilia, around 10 am. It was empty, except for me. I’d gone in to look at the art – the sculpture of S. Cecilia before the altar, the frescoes. While looking around a priest entered, and commenced to give Mass. To no one, since I am not a “believer” but a firm atheist. The man looked to be in his late 70’s or perhaps older. I’d seen this a few times before – priests giving services to empty churches, or wandering around tending to the upkeep – but this time it struck me as sadly poignant, and I tried to imagine for myself what it must be like to have gone through one’s life – giving one’s life – to a deeply held belief, and for that system to have evaporated before your own eyes. Being a filmmaker I instinctively sensed a story and clustered some images in my mind – the feet shuffling toward the altar, the hands clutching the rosary, lifting the chalice, and then from behind his head faced out toward the empty church as he intones the Mass. Somber.

For some time this little story tantalized me, wandering in my brain, concocting further images, reminding of others – Bergman’s Winter Light and Bresson’s The Trial of Jeanne D’Arc among them – and recurrently popping into mind.  From such nebulous stimulae is the material from which I birth a film.

 

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On visiting Rome, most recently this past December 2013, I continued to visit churches, and remain struck with the irony that there in the heart of Catholicism, these many and impressive edifices are often empty, places where I and a few others slip in to seek silence amid the frantic bustle of the city, or to gaze at the art within, or the infrequent believer sitting in prayer. The major ones bustle with tourists, whose obligation to visit St. Peters or S. Ignazio, or the Pantheon, is as fixed a ritual as taking a selfie in front of the place. (There are others, mostly of the 3rd world of South America and the Philippines, who are pious believers still, and who now heavily populate the younger priests and nuns one sees padding around the Eternal City,  tending to the mostly empty real estate.)

I was drawn to Rome this time by an invitation from RomaTre, a newer university, to give a talk.  Being of an age in which jet-lag is less kind to the body than when younger, and similarly when visits to places or friends just might be “the last,” I decided to extend my stay for some months.  Thanks to the kindness of friends I could afford to do so – for me Europe is extravagantly costly, and without friends putting me up, just plainly out of reach.  I stayed until March, visiting Rome, Bologna, Milano, Istanbul, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Brussels, Madrid and Lisbon before returned to the USA, where another journey awaited me.  All told it was 6 months of travels in Europe and the USA.  Ample time for me to take endless photographs and to philosophize in the cavern of my mind.

 

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July, 2016.  Since writing the above some years have flown by, and again I am in Italy. Percolating in mind remains that Sunday morning in Trastevere, the visit to Santa Cecilia, and the apparition of the old priest facing the empty church.  I think to write a parable, indirect and oblique, though I don’t yet have a handle on it.  Since those 3 years ago I’ve gone on several American “tours” to show my work.  A journey from Butte, Montana, to Salt Lake, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Lincoln, Chicago and finally New York, 10 cities and 12 screenings – which begot a cumulative audience of less than 100 souls.  Figuratively no one.

While I hardly take cinema – this transient art spoken in the most transient of means, a flicker of here-now-gone light – with the gravity which I imagine that old priest took his service to his god, (and in truth I think cinema, and perhaps the “life” which it reflects and refracts, is meaningless), still that morning hangs in the recesses of my mind.  In however petty and marginal of ways, I realize that in some sense, I am that priest, after now 54 years of making films, looking out over a now emptied cinema.

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 Old-Cinema

ABANDONED CINE

Small Steps (1960)

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14823224407_4a1b684304_bMies van der Rohe, Crown Hall, Neues National Gallerie

I arrived in Chicago, following the family’s charade visit to relatives in nearby Hinsdale, and found myself on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, a carefully organized place of tan brick and black painted steel, designed and constructed by the famed architect Mies Van der Rohe. I’d, of course, never heard of him. My singular architectural touch-stone was Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work is dotted through the city and region. The IIT campus is a perfect example of Miesian style: a formalist kind of perfection working within a narrow, northern Germanic-derived pattern. It stood out as an anomaly, buried in the dominantly poor black ghetto of Chicago’s Southside, though it was also adjacent to a once Irish-Italian neighborhood, Bridgeport, home to many of the city’s mayors.

On one of my first days there, dressed in quasi-preppy DC-suburban Bermuda shorts, I decided to take a walk of 20 some blocks to the Hyde Park neighborhood, the home of the University of Chicago. Somewhere along the line, maybe 5 or so blocks south of IIT it dawned on me that mine was the singular white skin to be seen, and though I’d been brought up in the desegregated schools of the military, and in Virginia had frequented the black shanty town near my Fairfax home, I suppose I’d never been in a dense urban black-only ghetto. A fear entered me, and literally I began to whistle, as I tried to play the innocent 17 year old nonchalant, just cruising on through deepest darkest Africa. Twenty nervous blocks later I got to UC safe and sound, and took the El back. A local lesson learned.

southside chicagoFotos: John H. White

At IIT, I vaguely recall being assigned to a dorm room, which initially I shared with an Arabic student, I think from Saudi Arabia, there to study engineering. He was Muslim and prayed his five times a day. This didn’t last long, whether he or I asked for a change I don’t recall at all, though my guess is it was probably him. Not because of anything I did, but of what I didn’t: pray, be Muslim. Next in line was a fellow from Milwaukee, Ron Gutkowski – of working class Polish origins. We hit it off OK, though as I recall it was his intention to go in the Army and I already knew that wasn’t going to be my case. For some years I’ve tried to track him down, in part to see if he survived Vietnam – so far no luck.

Meantime in classes I got my serious dose of Mies, as the school functioned essentially to produce clones of Mies, a kind of architectural fundamentalism. Luckily the school was on the first floor of Crown Hall, one of Mies’ masterpieces: a vast open glass box space, with no interior columns, divided only by low partitions. The entire architectural department was there and as the partitions were open one could wander from the freshman area on through the grad school and see it all. I did, and over the year felt I had soaked up the entire 5 year course.

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6f6126d24e0492b5f3161509b1ed231d  Carson Pirie Scott Building

auditoriumMies, Louis Sullivan

The freshman classes never broached architecture, but rather dwelt on discipline: an architectural drafting class using T-square, triangles, and a year of drawing lines, grids, each requiring hours to make and designed to require perfection. At the time I found it irritating, as did my fellow students. Only later did I see the wisdom in this process. Other classes included free-hand drawing – models from life, visits to the botanical gardens, taught by a woman from the old German Bauhaus. And classes including algebra, economics and things of that kind required to graduate.

Within 6 weeks of being there I realized that architecture was a kind of corporatized business, and that I clearly wasn’t going to fit in. I also quickly realized I’d never get a degree. And I figured out how to game the system. As apparently is still the case in many colleges and universities, there one could sign up for a class and if you dropped it before six weeks were up, it never appeared in the records. So, knowing I wasn’t aiming for a degree, I dropped any course I didn’t like or at least didn’t like because of the way it was taught, and out the window went those basic degree-requirement courses. In turn after one semester I was on the Dean’s Honor List, Mr. Straight A’s. And I got another scholarship!! For a 17 year old I was learning fast.

At the same time I quickly gravitated toward the more Bohemian sorts in my class, and by the end of the first semester I’d connected with a handful of folks that led to me leaving the dormitory, and into an apartment block in the next door neighborhood, the Italo-American one next to IIT.

During that first period I leaped head-first into the arts world, going to the Art Institute Museum where I was quickly acquainted with the Impressionists, on up to the contemporary art world of Rothko, Pollock, Warhol and others. I went to some concerts at the Auditorium building, (Segovia, from the top-most seats, marveling at the amazing unamplified acoustics; van Cliburn and others), to some opera, and at the same time to the Maxwell Street area on weekends, listening to blues on the street, and once with an older friend, heavily into Chicago blues, going into the nearby apartment room of an old blind black blues singer, to hear him there. Myself, I played folk music, getting Sandburg’s American Songbag, and learning a sizable chunk of now-forgotten folk-tunes. My Virginia background convinced some of the college guys that I was the real thing, an Appalachian country folk warbler. I, of course, knew better, but it was a fun gig.

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At the same time I broke the Miesien strangle-hold imposed by the architecture department and rapidly acquainted myself with a range of others, from Louis Sullivan and Burnham & Root, to Corbusier, and the then-current crop from Ero Saarinen to Paul Rudolph and many others. Liking Corbu was considered heresy in the department, as was any variance from the Miesien grid. That rigidity merely underlined my inclination to flee.   I had a professor, in the terminology the time, who was a Negro, Charles Sharpe.  I rather liked him and we got along well, even if he was firmly of the Miesian religion of “form follows function,” and was busy teaching his students to make rubber stamp Miesien copies – which litter the midwest with poorly done copy-cat buildings by the students of this architectural factory.   This was the aesthetic base of Miesien logic, in which the structure of a building is in effect exposed, and shows how it stands. So with his buildings the basic frame is exposed, even celebrated. Crown Hall was a crowning example: four deep girders spanned the building, visible above, and hanging from it the smaller I-beams of the actual roof; from the edges hung vast windows, floor to ceiling. One could (sort of) see the entire structure. Having had this drilled into me as a catechism, I went up to see one of Mies’ new apartment buildings rising up on the North Side, the 2400 Lakeview Apartments.  They’d poured the reinforced concrete skeletal structure and I noticed that the columns were rather deep 2.5 to 1 rectangles, and that they were cladding the columns with some aluminum sheathing, but so that it appeared the columns were square in proportions. I went back to Professor Sharpe and told him this, probably with bit of sarcasm, and said in effect, “Well, what about this form follows function?” He initially denied that it could be so, but as he worked in Mies’ office, he was able to get a basic blue-print, which, lo and behold, showed exactly what I’d seen on the site with my own eyes. Mr. Sharpe ate humble pie. And I suppose my wariness of a certain kind of religious-like fundamentalism sharpened.

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In hindsight I very much appreciate my year there at the architectural school, as I was able to quickly absorb most, if not all, of the 5 year learning process in a fast year, courtesy of the open Miesien lay-out of the place, and my own hyper-eager desire to cram as much into my naive self as I could. But, I had quickly concluded, architecture was not to be my future – though I remain a serious buff, and would like, before I drop dead, to build at least one thing.

In December, classes over, I went to New York City, to my supposed new home on the then-military base on Governor’s Island, off the tip of Manhattan.  During the short three and a half months I’d had on my own, my somewhat would-be preppy 17 year old self got exchanged for something more grungy and rebellious. Having left Fairfax with a military crew-cut – the only permissible way in the household – when I went to my new, never-before-seen “home” I had whatever length one’s hair can grow in 100 days.  Maybe it was an inch and a half long.   I do recall odd looks from the jar-head military people on the ferry over, and then on the base.  Arriving at the front door of my alleged new home, I knocked.  My father answered the door, and the first words he said were, “get a haircut.”  I did an immediate about face, and left, and did not return, but went straight back to Chicago.  I am told my mother was devastated, and over the next months she apparently convinced my father that I should be allowed to do as I wished.  Perhaps a touch prematurely for me, the 60’s had arrived.

Detoured from architecture, in the late winter and spring of 1961, I cast about for an alternative, and without telling my parents a word of it, I applied to an art school in Britain, the Bath Academy of Art, sending them some samples from the drawing classes. I was accepted, and in June of that year I took a train from Chicago to Montreal, to catch a ship sailing up the St Lawrence to France, and then the UK. I’d saved from my monthly $100 allowance from the family to pay for all this, and had arranged it all without a nod to them.  Some dies had been cast.  It seems, at least in my head, I’d decided I would be some kind of artist.

LouisSullivan-1Louis Sullivan design

Interlude (Chronological Disturbance #1)

P6Matilde Rebosio, in Cassina Amata, 1963

It’s January 2015, and as happens, I’m in Europe, as I’d been 51 years ago.  Back then I’d just begun filmmaking, having made a first film in Cassina Amata, near Milano, back in January of 1963, and another in Autumn of the same year, in Salzburg, Austria.  Later on in 1964, in Mexico and the US I shot 3 more short films.   It set a pace which would be repeated the next 51 years (so far).   My output, compared to most of my peers, has been large, whatever you do or don’t think of the quality.  38 long films and as many short works in that half-century.  Almost all, as way back then, on nearly nothing money-wise.  And now, looking backwards through time’s telescope, I find myself wondering if it was worth doing or not.  Second guessing the past, which I suppose is the prescription for the fabled “mid-life crisis.”

I am pretty constantly told that I’ve been lucky, persistent, whatever word one wishes to use, in that I’ve done what I wanted to do, which I’m told is more than most people do. And that is true, though I think everyone does what they want to do, within the strictures of their particular lives. If they work a dull 9-5 job, strapped to some institution, they do so because they want to – for the money, the benefits, the insurance, whatever it is they find important enough to sign up for, or just to “fit in” and go along with what their peers find acceptable and proper.   To claim to wish to be doing something else is a kind of inner lie: everyone does precisely what they want to do given their vision of their choices.   And I have done the same, no different.  Though, of course, there is a price:   my choices in doing what I wanted to do, given the options, proscribed many things others might find intolerable.   I have lived my 71 years with no medical insurance; I have never owned a home; I am ineligible for Social Security and have no pension.  And for much of my life financially I have lived below (often well below) the officially defined poverty line.  Not that in the usual sense I was “poor,” as poverty is as much a state of mind as it is a financial reality.   These things, and some I don’t feel at liberty to reveal, have drawn a very real line around my life, just as the choices of others have done to theirs.  We all do exactly what we “want” to do given the worlds we live in.

1JonJostItalyCassina Amata, 1963

And so, as with many others as they arrive at this stage of life – “the ending” as it were – I find myself pondering whether those long years ago, I made “the right” choices.   Though in my case I hardly feel like I “made a choice” in the sense of deciding to become a filmmaker as a “career.”   That I most simply did not do; instead it just happened – I never consciously decided I would become or wanted to become a filmmaker.  It just started, and I continued, despite the reality that I virtually never made any money from it, and nearly always spent my own money in some manner or another to do the work.   What was a vaguely conscious choice was to accept that whether I liked it or not, I was some kind of “artist” and that I didn’t really have much choice in that: it was like a virus living inside me, and it did what it wanted, never mind what I might have thought of it.   And, though very young, I could foresee that there would be a kind of social cost attached to this compulsion – most certainly I could not and would not have a so-called “normal” life.  Nor, as the years demonstrated, did I actually want such a “normal” life.   I did have my opportunities along the way to grab onto such a life, and always declined – consciously, knowing exactly where it was likely to lead.  I have no complaints.

And yet, I now ponder at 71, as if in a rather belated mid-life crisis, whether 52 years of making films was a worthwhile endeavor.  Even making good ones – which a decent number of people, from critics to simple spectators, assert mine are.  Viewing it all from my perspective I feel it is and was all rather unimportant; that filmmaking, or “art” making is no more important that being a decent baker or brick-layer or car mechanic.  It is something one does, and there is nothing glamorous or romantic about it.  It is just a job, and in my case a very poorly paid one.  Even if it is the job one wanted or chose to do.   I’ve had this ambivalence regarding filmmaking for some decades now, or even from the beginning.  I never wanted to be famous, nor its companion, wealthy.  Rather the opposite.  And yet filmmaking is, like more or less all media, from writing to painting to television and films, self-amplifying, and certainly to my experience the people involved in them are mostly rather full of themselves on just how ever so important what they do is, and they have an eager public happy to support that idea.  Celebrity in my view is a disease, personal and social.  It damages all those involved in its manufacture and its playing out on the social stage.  In my life I have tried as best I can to avoid it, while at the same time not going into hiding.  Though, frankly, the temptation to simply disappear is increasingly present – as if life won’t shortly provide that all on its own, whatever I do.


PORTRAIT 1Mountain side near Sondrio, 1963

In my erstwhile career as a filmmaker I have, by some measures, been “successful.”  My work is often praised by critics.  I have received various grants and fellowships and honors, some of which are supposedly highly prized in the narrow confines of the arts world – the kinds of things some people place in frames in their offices, and which I tend to toss in the garbage.  I’ve been regularly invited to festivals and conferences, with an airfare and a few days in a hotel attached. And here and there, in the form of “prizes,”  I’ve even gotten a dollop of money.  Flip-side is that more or less never have I been paid what would be the usual going rate, where ever I was, for the work I do.  And most often I’ve not been paid at all, except long after the fact, when I am reduced to burning, peddling, and posting DVDs for sale.   It is a kind of schizophrenic social position, in which one is celebrated for a certain talent, and if one plays the art-world game properly, one might be rather arbitrarily rewarded – say with a McArthur “genius” grant. For most of my peers, anywhere in the arts/cultural world, the final reward, and for the most part a destructive one, is to land a teaching position somewhere – a situation that seems to leech the energy and drive of most who take it, as well as produce, to my eyes, a toxic dependency on certain cultural attitudes and values deeply embedded in the academic world.   I find most academic “art” tepid, fashionable, and empty.  And so this little life-saver ring seems by and large to be an illusion, drowning most of those who grab it.  I suspect in the complex weave of our socio-political world this is in some way rather deliberate.

On the other hand, at least in my case and those of others I know, one is continually reminded that deep down one is essentially regarded as worthless  –  to say, not worth paying a living wage. Dancing on this social tight-rope is not quite the fun some imagine, and I have seen many of my peers take a tumble from it, sometimes fatally.  As a group, artists seem to have a high suicide rate, whether in the direct manner of a bullet in the head, or the slower one of self-poisoning with drugs &/or alcohol.  Our society seems to take great pleasure in this phenomenon, as evidenced by the tabloids at the super-market checkout, or the clucking of more rarified cultural sorts over the premature demise of this or that artist or actor.

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And so, in this twilight stage of my life as a filmmaker and a conscious being, I do in fact wonder about it, and whether it was a reasonable life or not.  As I study our current reality, and fully acknowledge the grim forecasts of some owing to global warming, our technological prowess, over-population, and the myriad imminent self-made catastrophes about to descend on us, I do in truth recoil from the world I live in.  It is a world dominated by the harsh drumbeat of capitalism, with its incessant demand for growth, profit, insidiously implanting its ideological poisons on a global basis.  Stepping outside its framework, it is transparently a prescription for catastrophe, not in some distant tomorrow, but here and now. It is just that being in its midst, for most people this is not possible to see and those who do see and speak of it are regarded as hysterics, fringe outsiders, conspiracy theorists, and other such dismissive labels.  I’m one of them.  (See this.)

In light of this perception it is hard to think that a life of making films (and little paintings, and verbal scribbles) amounts to much, aside from adding to the Everest of flying photons and variable Hz signals that constitute our environment of 24/7 noise.  That my particular photons have some little unique markers doesn’t really make them different than the others, and in any case, if I do a modest statistical analysis, those I make are all but totally ignored in the larger spectra.  The solace of quoting Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on; I must go on,” is rather thin gruel on which to live.   Especially when I am quite aware that I am already tumbling in an avalanche of our own contrivance, one rapidly sending our little global nest into a state in which our dumb species will exhibit its worst traits rather than its best.  The Four Horsemen have already arrived – it is just that we, collectively, choose not to see them.

P19[Images from my first film, Portrait, Cassina Amata di Paderno Dugnano, January 1963; with Matilde Rebosio as my subject.]

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Beginnings (1)

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It’s hard to know where beginnings begin. Back to the Big Bang, for sure; or in other circumstances the big bang of your parents whose passions and lust coincided with a fertile time, and wanted or intended or not, into the world one came, a mixture of her genes and his, and there, fated with the coiled DNA of your ancestors, were you. When you look back on the long history of life and humans, it seems almost impossible that one could exist at all given the long thread of disease and war and happenstance. If one of those thousands and ten thousands of years ago just one of your ancestors had bit the dust, one wouldn’t be here. And here we are, 7 billion of us and rapidly counting. It’s amazing and crazy and scary.

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Bracketing myself to the realm of what seems to point towards becoming a filmmaker, a prosaic matter, I am unsure where it began. In high-school, Annandale HS in Fairfax, Virginia, at the time virtually rural – there because my father was based in the Pentagon – I recall little that would hint at my future. In truth I recall little, period. I rather hated high-school, with its cliques, and its stupid teen-aged boy machoisms, and all the turmoil of rampaging hormones and a time, the 1950’s, of sexual (and a lot more) repression in the culture. I do recall Elvis Presley being censored from the waist down on the Ed Sullivan show, and the modest innuendos of rock and roll – Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and a range of others. And being a local, I also heard Mose Alison. And I recall frequenting a black shanty town across a large field from the very early and modest housing tract where my family lived. But mostly I recall wanting to escape – from high-school, from my family.

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Inside the home, I tended to put on a good act as the All-American boy. I dressed neatly (more so than my peers – I wore a sports jacket to school which no one else did), for a few years I was outgoing and social. I tended my schoolwork if not exactly enthusiastically. I sang rock & roll at school dances and I was a wild dancer and won prizes for it. As a sophomore I was class treasurer. I didn’t belong to any of the cliques – not the jocks, the nerds, the socialites – though I was not introverted. Instead I was friends with them all, and in turn saw how they were nasty about those not of their group. I early acquired a distaste for group-think, from whichever quarter. Certainly that had some impact in my filmmaking, and my participation in the little arts bubble in which it exists. I suppose this showed up as well in the sport I took up: a real loner one – pole vaulting. It’s a real DIY affair. And now, decades later, that’s how I still work.

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While I don’t at all remember it, apparently other things in the home clearly were formative – as reaction or maybe self-defense. I recall my father, whose history was interesting, primarily as an authoritarian: whatever he said was “right” and that was that. I suppose rather typical of fathers at the time, and perhaps especially in military families. Somewhere at a very young age I mentally wrote him out of my life – probably by the time I was 12 or earlier. Much later on I was to more or less find out just why. Along with him went my mother, though for very different reasons. She was for me a kind of cypher, a non-person behind her bland 1950’s perfect-wife figure. Only later would I understand that in truth she was rather desperate, a closet alcoholic living under the thumb of her handsome, successful, but very errant husband.

 hf-jost-memories9smss2My father as singer-saxaphonist Gary Temple

hf-jost-memories8smss1As Col. Harry Frederick Jost

paintng crpMy mother, Dorothy, as painted idealistically, after her death, by my father.

Other teen-age things – a useless and hopeless romanticism led to a severe crush on one of my cheerleader sister’s acquaintances whom I plied with doubtless dreadful poetry, and when she moved away, I took a long bicycle trip from Fairfax to somewhere in Pennsylvania, where I got a very cold shoulder. Her name was Dee Sherwood, and she was blonde, tall and athletic, and I suspect in hindsight she was messing around with the football players. I must have seemed a real dork next to the muscle-men of the glorious Annandale Atoms.

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I also, perhaps goaded by my father’s professional literature – to say Army journals, wrote more dreadful poetry about peace and such inanities, and sent them to the Washington Post. Of course nothing was ever printed.   Inside those professional journals were things which at the age of 14 or 15, astounded me, and I suppose convinced me that perhaps my father belonged to an institution of crazy people. I recall one in-depth article which discussed, citing a statistical probability on a “tactical nuclear battlefield” that some 30% or so of the troops might be looking the wrong way when a nearby nuke went off and they would be blinded. This would be a sizable chunk of manpower, so the writer, a Colonel, like my father, proposed setting a cluster of 3 or 4 such just-blinded soldiers in fox-holes, with sticks defining their sweep of fire, and having them with one still-sighted soldier who at the appropriate time would tell them to fire away. This was shortly after the Korean war, when visions of yellow Commie hordes doped on drugs was a common concept, at least on the military bases where I was raised.

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Another article, dealing with a similar quandary – X percent of troops subjected to severe radiation sickness, in which case one gets sick for a short bit, then seems OK a few weeks, and then drops dead – also piqued my interest and negative feelings about my father’s profession. The writer, another “brass” guy, proposed a nice democratic choice for the soon-to-be-dead soldiers: they could go to a pleasure camp to drink and screw away their last few weeks, or, patriotically, they could sign up for suicide missions.

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Military life, which involves, from the experiential viewpoint of a kid, being arbitrarily yanked from one setting to the next on a 1 to 3 year pattern, of course generates its own psychology. I suppose it largely erases the idea of close and life-long friends in childhood. Instead I’d think it would, after a while, discourage the making of close friends, for fear they’d be suddenly pulled away – either because your family or theirs was assigned to some new place. As with other aspects of such a childhood, this tends towards opposing later-life tendencies. Either, as was my case, one becomes used to this, and becomes a constant traveler, able to quickly make friends, but as quickly let them go, or, as my sister, one longs for stability, a constant place, and presumably a cluster of local constant friends.

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In the same military world, for the adults there are other psychologies. In the officer’s world, one of the major drivers of advancement is having been in combat, it is the track towards promotion. And so with this incentive, my father, like his peers, angled to get into a little war. Joining up late in life, at the age of 30, my father had been gung-ho, signed up for paratroops, and I guess being intelligent in his manner, he’d been tapped for Officers Training School. The combination of extra time ended up meaning he missed out on combat in the European theater, by a handful of months. Instead he was in post-war occupation in France, and then in Japan. No flying bullets, no blood and guts, no path to climbing up the ranks. Plotting, to the degree one can in such a system, he then got us posted in Trieste, Italy, sidled up to Commie Jugoslavia, where he sensed another war in the works. And he was almost right, and we were indeed evacuated under the fake pretext that a boiler in my school was going to blow up (!), and ended up after a 3 month sojourn to Viareggio Italy and some town in the German Alps quite near Hitler’s last redoubt, finally in Augsburg. The war my father wanted to be in erupted half-way around the world, in Korea. Dang! Later on as Vietnam came around, he was a desk-jockey in the Pentagon, the personnel officer for assigning officers to go there, but he himself only managed some inspection tours. Some of his friends though returned in body bags. And there went the stars that might have graced his shoulder. Or perhaps there was another stumbling block.  Through all this I put up a nice facade inside the family, as if all were OK, while inside I began to boil. Pure theater. My sister tells me sometimes I’d have an outburst of some kind, though I think of that as par for the teen-age course.

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Though some suggestions of the inner rebel in me certainly came along to cut through the veneer of the ’50’s Ozzie & Harriet suburban ideal. I went to summer school each year, never letting my family know just why. I suppose they thought I was an eager beaver student, though my grades didn’t reflect that with a string of straight A’s; rather they were rather mundane, not good, not bad. The reason I was going to summer school was to get the hell out of high-school a year earlier by amassing enough credits to do so. And so my Junior year became my Senior year, though I suppose only I knew this. It also announced in various ways my “difference” from the world I was living in. I ceased to be the out-going social sort and suddenly turned inward. No running for class offices and such. And toward the end of that year I recall a few particular things which raised bright red flags, as it were.

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In one instance, in a civics or American history class, one taught by an older lady I understood to belong to the Daughters of the American Revolution, I took a final exam and missed 3 questions, two of which were the same but phrased differently. One was to name the writer of the Virginia Constitution or something like that; I didn’t know or remember (I bet it was Jefferson now). The other two were phrasings of the query, “Why is and will be American foreign policy always formulated for the good of the other countries (or the world)?” My answer was that it wasn’t, and having been taught about the Spanish-American war I cited it as an example, though certainly there were many other things. I failed the test having missed 3 of 100 questions! I think I recall taking the matter to the administration, though I don’t recall the outcome. I know I got a lesson in how “education” was in fact indoctrination.

Grant_Wood's_Daughters_of_RevolutionDaughters of the American Revolution, by Grant Wood

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And a few other sore thumbs stuck out in that last year: I refused to go to the banquet to pick up my fuzzy Annandale “A” for my participation in track. And then at the end of the year I refused to go to my graduation, and instead rather dropped out of sight, and with parent’s OK, took off (for two days before rain and a heavy bike took their toll) on a bicycle trip to Chicago, via Nova Scotia. One thing I learned on that brief excursion was never to let your pride insist you pursue some idiotic task you gave yourself: quit when you see your error, not later.

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That last year in Annandale had an additional element, one which I suppose gave a terminal kick to terminating things with my family. My father had been stationed for a year in Korea, in military terms it was a “hardship” tour since he went alone, without his family. There was a daily letter he wrote, wallowing in sentimentality, which invariably ended, addressed to my Mother, “love me, love my children…” It didn’t ever seem to end with “I love you.” Which in its oblique manner was being honest. Six weeks before he was to return, he wrote a letter which informed us that he’d been having an affair nearly from the time he’d arrived. He was fool enough to wax lyrical about “her,” and was sure my mother would like her if they were to meet. Well, the 60’s were beginning so perhaps he was the avant garde of such “liberated” free-sex thinking. In the Army? Doubtful. Nope he was just a guy around 50 having his mid-life crisis, looking at a wife who aged faster than himself, and taking advantage of being far away. The woman was I believe Asian-American, also in the military. That perhaps explained the faux Gauguin paintings of semi-naked Tahitian ladies which decorated our living room. And his later choice of a second wife, another Asian-American.

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At all events my mother didn’t seem charmed, or inclined to like the new partner for her husband, and instead joined with my older sister to plot to leave him destitute if he went ahead with his plans, figuring to deplete the family bank account. Six weeks later my father, much chastened, emerged from a long flight from the Far East, reeking of hard drink, and bearing with him some cheap Japanese trinkets to buy off his children. I was then, and remained to his death, disgusted with him. Further reasons will materialize to underline the matter.

pict0001davidStevie and his family with Aunt Vivian and her father, in Hinsdale, Ill.

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Shortly after this dubious return, we were all packed up to make a grand tour of the existing family on both sides. And, this being the dreg end of the ‘50’s, we were not counseled to let it all hang out, but rather to button our lips and pretend nothing had happened. Show biz! While I think I had already been predisposed to dislike hypocrisy, the caravan of our family dropping by aunts and uncles putting on this charade was enough to see me, at the tender age of 17, decide that however unpleasant and hard, the truth was always preferable to what was unfolding before my youthful eyes. I have paid for it ever since. Happily so.

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At the conclusion of this family trip, I was left off in Chicago, to commence college, the first in the family to do so. The school was the Illinois Institute of Technology, buried in the black ghetto of the city’s Southside. I’d chosen it, rather than the Rhode Island School of Design or the University of Pennsylvania, which had both accepted me, for several reasons. The first was that it was in Chicago, and my itinerant Army brat life apparently prompted me to want to know something of the city I’d been born in. The other reason was that I’d applied for an alumni scholarship, and IIT, being what it is, had a rather moribund Wash DC alumni group, and I’d been the only person who applied. So I got it. Another early lesson in life – which certainly I’ve applied later on. I summarize it as “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” It applies to grants, to hustling for money, or just borrowing something you need. The trick is just keep your ego out of it – it has little to do with you, but with myriad other things. Just it won’t happen if you don’t ask. So I landed in IIT with a scholarship, and a large suitcase of very youthful naivete. Having cut the psychological family strings much earlier, something amplified by my father’s recent behavior, there was no shock, no longing for a non-existent home. Rather a great relief, and an immediate jumping into my new circumstances. It was, if not the beginning, at least then one of them. I was on my own.

1273693009-crownhallCrown Hall, IIT, Chicago