Madeline

Friday, July 22, 2016

GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF YOKO ONO’S FILM - No. FOUR


By Madeline Bocaro

In 1967, a young Japanese artist turned the film world upside down with her strange movie.  After making several short films and as part of the Fluxus movement, Yoko Ono had yet another brilliant idea. Her script read, 'String bottoms together in place of signatures for petition for peace.'

Ono had also envisioned her film's future…
"In 50 years or so, which is like 10 centuries from now, people will look at the film of the 60's. They will probably comment on Ingmar Bergman as meaningfully meaningful film-maker Jean-Luc Godard as the meaningfully meaningless. Antonini as meaninglessly meaningful, etc, etc. Then they would come to the No. 4 film and see a sudden swarm of exposed bottoms that these bottoms, in fact belonged to people who represented the London scene. And I hope that they would see that the 60's was not only the age of achievements, but of laughter. This film, in fact, is like an aimless petition signed by people with their anuses. Next time we wish to make an appeal, we should send this film as the signature list." - Yoko Ono London '67

The seeds of the film FOUR (a.k.a. Bottoms) germinated in New York City in 1966. Two hours of film were shot in just two days at Ono's New York City apartment at 1 West 100th Street. The directors were Yoko's then husband, Tony Cox and Tony Perkins. The short five-minute, fifteen-seconds low budget silent version was titled FOUR (working title, Four Square) Four was a conceptual number, as Yoko had already made several other Fluxfilms. {FOUR was actually Fluxfilm No. 16.}

The film  featured tight close-up studies of fifteen bare male and female bottoms in motion, showing ten seconds of each, as they slowly walked on an unseen treadmill. The motion was rhythmically edited, not skipping a beat. It was later compared to the motion studies of Muybridge.

"For me, the film is less about bottoms than about a certain beat, a beat you didn't see in films, even in avant-garde films then. It was about movement. The beat in Film No 4 (Bottoms) is comparable to a rock beat. Even in the music world there wasn't that beat until rock came along. It's the closest thing to the heartbeat." – Yoko 1989

The short film features the bottoms of Susannah Campbell, Philip Corner, Anthony Cox, Bici Hendricks, Geoffrey Hendricks, Yoko Ono, Ben Patterson, Jeff Perkins, Susan Poland, Jerry Sablo, Carolee Schneeman, James Tenney, Pieter Vanderbeck and Verne Williams. It premiered at the Film-Maker's Cinematheque, New York on 6th February 1966.

(Yoko met John Lennon nine months later, just before her first London art exhibit, Unfinished Paintings, Nov. 8-18 1966 at the Indica gallery, co-owned by John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Barry Miles).

The second, now infamous eighty-minute version of FOUR was filmed in Swinging London in Yoko's friend Victor Musgrave's townhouse. It included many more famous and infamous bottoms (conceptually 365). The credits list many London scene-makers, including Richard Hamilton, who later designed The Beatles (white album) cover.

The film's casting quickly became an event by word of mouth and an advertisement in the influential English underground newspaper IT (International Times). Talk of Ono's film was a popular amusement in the press every day. Now, due to her colleagues' contributions, Ono could afford more sophisticated camera equipment. The close-ups, framing only the buttocks, are more controlled. It cost of 1,000 pounds to produce. Because she felt that the sequencing was very important, Yoko spent many hours editing the film in a studio that she was allowed to use for free, after midnight. 

FOUR has an amusing soundtrack consisting of shy giggling and commentary of the actual participants, intellectualizing the film's absurd concept in relation to the art world. The soundtrack also included audio from television news coverage, and Yoko voicing the concept of the film.

A cast of approximately one hundred men and women (Yoko's friends, artists and musicians) 'saints of our time' walked on the treadmill. Their bottoms were framed close-up, dividing the screen into four moving quadrants. There are conceptually 365 bottoms to coincide with each day of the calendar year. A humorous film trailer was produced, with the actual participants commenting about their own bottoms, about art, and shots of Yoko editing and filming.

In March 1967, plans for a Royal Albert Hall debut screening were disrupted. Yoko was surprised to learn that her film did not sit well with the film censors. It was deemed 'not suitable for public exhibition.'
The censorship caused sensational and valuable media coverage, especially by BBC newsmen, who were enamored by Yoko and her film. One television station actually showed three minutes of the banned film on the evening news, as part of the censorship story – the best advertisement of all!

Then twenty-five year old Yoko Ono staged a peaceful protest at the British Board of Film Censors in the early morning, where reporters had already gathered. She handed out (conceptually 1,000) daffodils, supported by several of her 'cast'. They displayed photo stills from the film, with text asking 'What's wrong with this picture?' Headlines read, 'Fragrant Picket for Film Censor', and 'Yoko, the Girl BEHIND a Protest.' She told reporters, 'The whole idea of the film is one of peace. It's quite harmless. It is not in the least bit dirty or kinky. There's no murder or violence.'

When Yoko was invited to enter the censors' offices, she found that her daffodils were displayed on each desk. She had won them over. Bottoms was granted a Local X rating by London council and screened in cinemas. Now she was excited to begin her mooning of the art world!

(Filmmaker) Jonas Mekas once said that if the audience all walked out of your show, it meant that you were successful – or something to that effect. It was a sentiment shared by many of us in the avant-garde world at the time. It meant that you did not stoop so low as to try to entertain the audience but made a successful attempt in evoking strong emotions they were not ready to handle. It was Art vs. Entertainment. – Yoko 1988

The film premiered at the Jacey - Tatler Cinema on Charing Cross Road, 8th August 1967. After the movie, Yoko gave a short talk. She hugged and kissed each person as they left the theater, whether or not they stayed until the end.
Due to the attention that Ono was garnering (both good and bad), her avant-garde colleagues were not pleased, thinking that she had sold out.

"I found out much later that they were even giggling behind the iron curtain No wonder my artistic friends dropped me. It was a total antithesis to Art per se. But actually I was the ultimate snob. I was going "Up Yours!" to the whole world including the avant-garde. It was a great high but also a lonely one." – Yoko 1988
Although nudity was emergent in foreign films, No. 4 was released amongst early instances of nudity in Hollywood productions, such as The Graduate and Valley of the Dolls, which included brief, titillating scenes. Despite the nudity being constant and close-up, Ono's film was playful and thoughtful, not pornographic. Her films had more in common with Andy Warhol's avant garde factory movies. (Alternately and ironically, her next film titled Rape exhibited no nudity at all.)
It's a pretty interesting film really. It's like wine. Any film, any cheap film if you put it underground for 50 years, becomes interesting. You just take a shot of people walking and that's enough: the rate of history is so incredible.  – Yoko 1989

In 1996, the brand Swatch, in collaboration with Yoko Ono, designed a No. 4 watch. The advertisement read, "It has a celluloid quality, a strip of film taken right off the projector of a Manhattan art gallery."

Now, at age 84, Yoko petitions for peace with smiles.






Monday, July 04, 2016

NYC 1977



By Madeline Bocaro

Can you believe that 1977 was so long ago? I saw a great documentary on VH1 called NY 77 The Coolest Year In Hell, about the summer of '77.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFgyezfS6ik

It's amazing to see it all now in perspective. Elliot and I were two spoiled 17-year old kids who laughed about everything back then. We ventured into the city from our safe houses in the suburbs. We thought New York City was the greatest thing. Now, seeing this documentary about the extent of the decadence, murder, depravity and danger brings to light how scary it actually was. 

Elliot realized and appreciated the danger more than I did. I was too naive. It was the hottest summer on record. Bright flickering neon signs reflected in pools of scum on the streets, exactly as the city looked in the film Taxi Driver. Son of Sam – a real life Travis Bickle was on the loose. The President had forsaken the bankrupt New York City, denying federal assistance. A Daily News headline read, “Ford to City: Drop Dead”

We thought it was all a big laugh. Despite the peril, we loved going to the city; me for the music; Max’s and CBGB, and him for discos and turning tricks at the Playland arcade.

There was the infamous blackout in the hottest July on record. People went insane. They were coming out of stores with arms full of appliances or groceries. Vans pulled up to store fronts, hauling off washers and dryers. It was like scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean - looting and destruction - total chaos! The police (who were unarmed at the time but for night sticks) had no plan to handle anything of this caliber. The aftermath looked like scenes from Iraq! Burned buildings, trash everywhere, broken glass... New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens were ravaged by the blackout. In the South Bronx, slumlords had been paying heroin addicts to torch their buildings so they could collect the insurance money. On this night, everything was in flames for 24-hours with blaring sirens and fire alarms.

Alongside the decay and nihilism was exhilaration and cultural evolution. I remember Debbie Harry & Chris Stein of Blondie telling us at CBGB one night that we should join them uptown to these wild clubs where “It's like a party - people just talk in rhymes over the music - like stream of consciousness." I was sure they knew what was cool and it was probably legit, but I knew that it wouldn't be my scene - I was more of a Punk. Out of this came the Sugar Hill Gang with the very first use of music sampling, Chic’s ‘Good Times’ on the very first Hip-Hop song, ‘Rapper’s Delight’. 

There were other great stories about CBGB in the documentary. The most interesting one about the city was when rap artists spoke about the origins of scratching and Hip-Hop culture. I always wondered how they had those sound battles with turntables in the parks. Where did they get the electricity? They dismantled the bottom of street lamps, hooked up the electrical wires to several extension cords, snaking their way all the way into the park! The most cred was given to the guys with the LOUDEST sound. They battled, scratching and blasting Queen's song 'We Will Rock You' and blew each other out of the park!

Then, on the night of the historic blackout, all the poor ghetto kids who had their eye on the finest amps, speakers, and turntables in the windows of electronics stores looted and stole all the equipment they'd ever dreamed of having. It was like the best Christmas ever – in the middle of the hottest, most vicious summer. That was the night hip-hop was born! (And everyone got free sneakers!) Overnight, the sonic battles became bigger & louder. The contraband high-end equipment was extremely desirable, so each DJ had to guard all his stuff from rival rappers, each with their own posse of gunmen in the park. 

The documentary also illustrated graffiti artists' pride in their achievements in leaving their mark on the trains. They would steal spray-paint cans from the stores by pinning the sleeves of their denim jackets closed, putting 4 paint cans down each sleeve and slinging their jackets over their shoulders. The stealth artists descended into the tunnels at night to paint in the dark, after practicing their drawings for weeks, also in the dark for that sole purpose. They considered their paintings works of art, but the public viewed them as garbage. There were also segments on Discos like Studio 54, and Plato's retreat with their all-night orgies.

Elliot would always take me to Times Square late at night, where the most prominent letters in flashing lights on all the marquees was ‘XXX’. There was a huge poster store on a corner, which had rare British glam rock posters mixed in amongst thousands of movie star posters. I would spend hours in there looking through each and every poster, while Elliot said he was going to the disc-O-mat record store. Years later, he told me that he really went to 53rd & 3rd to turn tricks. A scene right out of the Ramones song 53rd & 3rd about a guy killing a trick due to his own shame. (Their debut album had been released six months prior). My mom thought I was 'safe' in the city going with a 'guy' to protect me! 

8th Avenue featured hundreds of peep shows, over a thousand hookers, and pimps in alcoves who whistled at me - oblivious to the danger in my glam outfits at eighteen. The 10-block stretch of 8th Avenue from Times Square and up was known as the ‘Minnesota Strip’ because teenage prostitutes flocked there by the busload when Minnesota toughened up its’ prostitution laws. There were some book stores where creepy, disgusting fat old cigar-smoking men sold dusty old movie posters and glamorous publicity photos of 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s movie stars. One shop sold back-issues of Circus Magazine with my favorite rock stars; Bowie, Iggy Pop or Mott The Hoople on the cover. I went there searching for these magazines. I would have paid $100 for this one Ziggy cover! When I asked the guy how much, he said 25 cents! I quickly handed him the quarter and got out of there quickly before he realized that he had just sold me the holy grail!!! He couldn’t care less.

Elliot and I would walk around Christopher Street at night, eat at Taco Rico, and watch the gay couples walk by, wearing leather or drag. I loved the queens and trannies - they were so committed to the art of being themselves! It was like all of the bizarre characters from a Lou Reed album converging in one place! One walked by dressed in a nurse’s uniform with blood all over, dragging a headless doll. We hadn't realized it was Halloween because people looked so weird and fabulous there every night!

In Greenwich Village, we’d run into the Ramones, Blondie or the New York Dolls buying boots or jeans at Trash & Vaudeville or Manic Panic. We literally bumped into Andy Warhol many times in Union Square…and Lou Reed during the Halloween parade on Christopher Street, way before it became commercialized!
We began to notice kids with Mohawk haircuts – another Travis Bickle reference. Now they are commonplace, but then it was scary to see this tribal / military cut that was traditionally ceremonial or the sign of a warrior on teenage kids.

Once I was in a NYC taxi with my innocent mom. She had escorted me from the suburbs to a concert in the city. Some women walked in front of the cab, and mom said, "Look at those girls - they're dressed like hookers!" Hey ma - they ARE hookers!! Those were the days!

In the late 70s, when NYC had been ‘cleaned up’, there was a billboard near Times Square advertising the Waterfront Crab House in Long Island City. It read, ‘The only place in the c