Thursday, April 7, 2011

Film: San Francisco's Wild History Groove

Film Title: San Francisco's Wild History Groove

Award Designation: Love Unlimited Film Festival & Art Exhibition Award Winner.

Director: Mary Kerr

Country: USA

Category: Feature Documentary

Short Synopsis: Rebels from the status quo consumer culture of the 50s, avant-garde California artists and poets turned their backs on pursuit of money and embraced a new expression of freedom. These innovative voices speak directly about their experiences, what motivated their creativity and how it was to 'swing' in the underground--in the shadows of American culture.

Detailed Synopsis: San Francisco's Wild History Groove is direct from the source--avant-garde artists and poets who pursued new artistic expressions during the 50s and early 60s in California. These mavericks valued their freedom above all else. This aesthetic contributed to a distinct change in California art; giving it a spirit enduring to the present. Yet just how this came about is little known or understood. In the 1950s, while most Americans were striving for success, money, and all the material goods available after the end of the war, these artists and poets took a different path. Theirs was a philosophy contrary to the average person. Money and the trappings of success were not important; dedication to their work was the goal. If this meant living a life of 'voluntary poverty,' so be it. They struggled with the lack of money but still had good times together. Being outrageous and unconventional in their personal lives was the norm. Security didn't matter. They took risks with how they chose to live and weren't cautious or timid with their work. It was a diverse group coming from all segments of American life. Many had blue-collar backgrounds with no encouragement to pursue artistic endeavors. Each added an energetic element to a mix of very different types, who came together and influenced one another during this unique time. Moving back and forth between Los Angeles and San Francisco, producing work in both environments; they opened these cities to new art, poetry and another way to live. In Northern California, new and unusual artwork and poetry were seen and heard around coffee houses and bars in San Francisco's North Beach as well as warehouse spaces and old Victorians throughout the city where artists lived and had studios. Also, they opened their own storefront galleries to put up their work. A hip crowd came to see the art, performances and hear the poetry. The documentary begins in the 50s when Wally Hedrick left Southern California and his hot-rodding days to come to San Francisco to be an artist. A couple of friends rode up the coast with him in his souped-up Model A Ford. They began taking classes at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He and his artist friends soon became part of the vibrant underground art scene, hanging out and showing their work in 'The Place' and other bars in North BeachOne of his friends was artist, Deborah Remington; who, along with Wally and four others, started the 6 Gallery in San Francisco's Cow Hollow district. This space on Fillmore Street near Union had previously been the King Ubu Gallery run by poet Robert Duncan and artist Jess Collins. As Wally said no one was interested in showing their work so they opened up their own cooperative gallery. The poet, Jack Spicer was one of the original members and brought in other poets. The art shows became events with poetry and performance. Eventually, it led to the famous reading of 'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg with Jack Kerouac among others on the scene that night in October 1955. Another great place during this period was the four-flat building at 2222-2330 Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights where so many artists lived during the 50s and 60s. Wally and his wife at the time, artist, Jay DeFeo lived and worked in two of the flats. Other artists moved in and out of the other spaces. It was an incredible scene--a wonderful place to see first-rate art and to socialize. The parties were frequent and legendary.My late husband, artist, Les Kerr who first showed his work in the underground galleries of Los Angeles in the 50s, moved to San Francisco into one of those flats at 2330 Fillmore. I lived there with him after we were married. Meeting these artists and seeing their work opened this world to me During this time another unusual gallery--the Batman, opened up down the street at 2022 Fillmore. From its beginning the Batman was distinctive with black walls instead of the usual white-painted gallery walls. It was also a performance place in the tradition of the 6 Gallery. Their shows and openings were events not to be missed by those who knew about the underground scene. Unfortunately, it was short-lived as the owner, William (Billy Batman) Jahrmarkt was a drug addict. Another owner took over the space but the Batman Gallery's momentum had dissipated. The Dilexi Gallery had a much longer run. Its first location was above the Jazz Workshop in North Beach, moving to 1858 Union Street, not far from the former storefront galleries. The Dilexi was privately owned but its stable of artists had a distinct influence on the direction and success of the operation. The quality of art and excellent shows began to attract national and international attention. This setting was more professional than the previous avant-garde galleries, reflecting the changing art scene. The artists' work began to achieve more recognition. By the middle of the 1960s, the entire national art world became more commercial. It was now a lucrative enterprise that changed motivations and expectations. California was outside of the main action, centered in New York, but felt the effect. The Dilexi Gallery closed by the end of the decade. San Francisco's Wild History Groove is not a sanitized version of how and why these individuals went full-tilt for the muse. Some lives were cut short. Their unconventional lifestyle, often fueled by alcohol and drugs, was too extreme to last into old age. But the survivors overcame difficulties and continue on their aesthetic path, determined as they were in their youth not to 'sell out. 'Today, with commercialism invading every part of our lives including the arts; it's illuminating to realize that these particular artists and poets in California rejected the idea of compromising and playing it safe to have a lucrative career; yet, left a legacy of work that has an enduring life--a vital contribution to American culture.

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