HAIGHT-ASHBURY QUARTET: Four art film compositions by Loren Sears: “Be-In”(1967, 16 mm, color/sound, 5.5 min.); “Tribal Home Movie #2” (1967, 16 mm, color/silent, 6.5 min.); “Connie Joy” (1971, 16 mm, color/sound, 3 min.); and “Sevin Goes to School” (1971, 16 mm, color/silent, 3 min.).
Loren Sears’ art-film bent developed in high school when he glimpsed his first foreign picture at the Mayflower movie palace in Eugene. During the late 1950s and ’60s, small-town American theaters showed subtitled films by world-class directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa, and lots of people loved them. Sears doesn’t recall the name of the film he walked in on, but seeing the possibilities of cinema on the screen for the first time helped shape his life’s work.
Sears studied physics and computer science at the UO, Syracuse University and University of Michigan, becoming a computer programmer and researcher. In San Francisco (1965-1971) he morphed into an independent filmmaker who created these “visually oriented, poetic films composed from documentary footage reworked with optical printer and other visual techniques.”
Sears restored and transferred to video disc these four non-narrative, historical art films and will show the work Friday night at DIVA. Additionally, Haight-Ashbury Quartet will be available at the Short Film trade fair to everyone attending the Cannes Film Festival in May 2007, which appropriately coincides with the 40th anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. (Note: OPB-TV’s “American Experience” is scheduled to show Gail Dolgin’s new film, “Summer of Love,” at 9 pm Monday, April 23.)
“Be-In,” Quartet’s first film, celebrates the original, legendary Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, January 14, 1967. If you never saw poet Allen Ginsberg doing his ecstatic Bosco Bear Dance in person, this marvelous sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Leary is there, the Grateful Dead and the Hell’s Angels, too. But mostly, the park overflows with dancing, happy people celebrating life.
While many people were still defined and limited by the dominant culture, “cultural confines blew apart” at happenings such as the Human Be-In, Sears said. “Acid blew apart [such limitations]. It was an absolutely unique time. You could redefine who you wanted to be and how you [and others] wanted to be together.”
Sears said all the work he’s produced since “Be-In” has been about community. “I’ve tried to picture community in my films and videos,” he said, “to mirror it, reinforce the consciousness of it, to reflect it. The work has to have that virtue in it. These are not documentaries meant to explain one culture to another but documents of our shared culture. I get to select and show back to you yourself within that context.”
Overlapping and following this period of his work, Sears worked as a video artist in residence for an experimental project at KQED-TV, San Francisco, 1967-1968. He directed a number of programs exploring illusion, vision and political theater through television’s artistic aspects. Also, from 1971-1974 he traveled in a van outfitted to record, edit and show independent videos called Tribal Vision Network Journals. “The aim was to tape … communities along the West Coast, edit and show the tapes back to those and other communities, acting as a poet/messenger reinforcing the process,” Sears wrote.
Sears counts Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner among his visual filmmaking influences. “Baillie began the practices that became Canyon Cinema in all its forms and expressions, and made lovely, sacred, touching movies,” Sears emailed. “Brakhage is beyond description. And Conner, a hold-over sculptor/painter from beatnik times, became (at least) the godfather of the music video.”
Sears also notes the social, political influence of the Diggers Emit Grogan, Peter Berg, Peter Coyote and “many, many others making theater of the communal grounds on which headliners [such as Leary, Garcia, Ginsberg and Brand] could be culturally serious. Sex, drugs and rock & roll were the icing on the cake,” he said. “The cake was cultural revolution.”
Filmmakers and others interested in the times will enjoy how Sears’ tribal home movies captured the spirit of West Coast urban and country communal life of the Sixties.
Loren Sears’ films will be shown twice at 7 pm on April 13 at DIVA. Between screenings Sears will talk about visual filmmaking and cultural revolution. $5, $3 students, members DIVA’s Second Friday Film Forum. (A 9 pm program may be added.)