A little discarded history:
in 1967, in my case about 9 months after I'd been released from a
27 month residence in Federal custody for refusal to serve in the
US military, I and Peter Kuttner and Kurt Heyl formed in Chicago a
politically oriented filmmaking coop. That was sometime around Oct-Nov
1967. In December we went to NYC and met up with Newsreel and "joined
up" and became Chicago Newsreel. In the next months we showed Newsreel
films, plus some of ours - Peter, Kurt and myself all had films of
political content which we screened where possible, though as it turned
out they didn't much fit the Newsreel style. I worked out of the Mobe
office, at the time living with SDSer Marilyn Katz (who remains a
good friend and where I stayed on a recent quick US tour, having a
nice breakfast at her home with Peter and another prison-met friend
of mine in the brief slice of time available), and living Uptown with
the police parked out front as we were "organizing" and hence, Red
In April there was a post-MLK assassination demonstration at the Federal Plaza which turned into a police-riot. I wasn't there, but Peter was, and there were some others who shot stills and some film. We were asked, I forget by whom but know it was some comfortable suburban "communist" to make this into a film, which I organised, edited, did some voice over for (all, typically to my experience, unpaid for by the champions of the working classes...) using the material Peter and others had made. As a "Newsreel" film it was perhaps a bit too sophisticated, not abiding by the lower east side anti-Hwd aesthetic that seemed the ideologically OK way to work coming out of the NY section.
In summer of 68 the New York contingent of Newsreel barged in, to make their Convention film. I use "barged in" because it accurately describes the arrogant pushy manner in which they behaved, certainly regarding we Chicagoans as "second city" (or worse). Kurt and I were the first busts of the convention, a few weeks before it even started. He and I had gone down to the Stockyards to shoot the little White House portico they were building onto the convention building. On returning to his little VW, 6 police cars swooped down on us, and arrested us.
We looked like raving hippies, long hair, beards, shabby summer shorts and t-shirts, with a Bolex and tripod. We were interrogated by the precinct guys, the Red Squad, the FBI and the Secret Service (interest diminishing as we went up the totem pole of power and they understood we weren't the would-be assassins of Mayor Daley's finest's imaginations). I got released after 8 hours, and Kurt got out later that night sprung by his wife. He'd been held over owing to some automotive infraction. We reported this to the Mobe, which might have clued them, and all of us, into the impending events, but it was glided over. I do recall talking with Tom Hayden, who noting my 2+ years in prison, said he didn't think he could (or would) be able to do such. It didn't set well with me later on when a horde of Mobe folks went down the streets chanting "Free Tom Hayden" when he was busted and spent the night in the joint. Quivering Tom.
Meantime the NY contingent basically walked over we Chicagoans, busy making their film, using and abusing. This too didn't set well, though it meshed with their performance before, and alas, ever since. I believe some of the footage our group shot was incorporated into one or several NY Newsreel films, though to my recollection with no notice. You know, all the "collective" stuff.
During the Convention I recall being in Grant Park, surrounded by National Guardsmen and police, while the masses of people who had materialized after the police had gone berserk were led with chants by the slumming big names who showed up to grab the spotlight: Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Jean Genet and others. Those masses hadn't shown up owing to the labors of the Mobe which had failed dismally to get the 100,000 they were looking for (about 10K showed up thanks to the Mobe's efforts), but were first mostly local kids looking for some action, later joined by others from around the nation, all thanks to the over-reactions of Mayor Daley's guys in blue. Politically the Mobe had been a failure and was only rescued by the worst failure of the city managers.
At the end of the Convention Marilyn and I were riding out to some farmers place, west of the city, invited for a picknic to take a break after the mayhem of the week. I was sitting beside Rennie Davis, who was wearing his head bandage, a little blood on it. He looked at Marilyn and I, and lifting it off, said "I guess I don't need this anymore." My sense of comradery shrank to nothing: the "leaders" were just like the folks on the other side - manipulative people who would fake for advantage, who couldn't do time. The subsequent stories of Rennie and Tom (and Rubin) tells all too much of what it was really like.
And history makes clear that the entire "Movement" was a failure - America, conned by Nixon, lurched to the right, and basically kept on going there. The Vietnam war dragged out with another 25,000 US dead, and a million or two Vietnamese (and Cambodians and Laotians) left dead as well. The 60's overall proved little more than a short-term fashion, the folks wearing bell-bottoms shifting easily from Yippie to Yuppie, like Rubin, ready to follow the Dylan line ironically another way "don't need a weatherman...." and the wind was blowing from the Right, and money became fashionable, and here decades later $4 cups of fancy-ass coffee is the norm.
Of myself, after the convention Marilyn and I went to California, where she (censored censored) and I hung around the edges of political actions around Berkeley, the smell of tear gas and helicopters overhead echoing the Chicago events. I checked in with Newsreel people there and checked out thanks to the doctrinaire leftism I found. Marilyn returned to Chicago and full-time political work; I - like many others - went rural. Oregon and Montana for 6 years. During which time I made Speaking Directly, which tried to survey the wreckage of America in a large ambitious film, made over a year, 16mm color, for $3000, while living in a no electricity, no running water, no heat shack, naturally with no money, 30 miles from Canada near Kalispell. Much to my amazement it went to festivals, and was bought and broadcast by the UK's Channel Four a decade later. They also funded its follow up, a 2 hour essay on America, PLAIN TALK & COMMON SENSE (1985) and showed it. It has a line in it, which was true then, and remains true, something like: "This is a film made by an American for Americans, which will never be shown in America." And it hasn't been.
I kept in vague touch with Newsreel and the people around it for years, watching it mutate, change its name with the convoluted internal politics which had made me quickly leave it. The same narrow doctrinaire behavior of most people involved in politics pushed out those of artistic inclination, those unwilling to swallow the latest turn on the day's political correctness. Thanks in part to this, Newsreel was a complete failure in real-world terms, though periodically it is romantically celebrated, as I suppose your current event will do. I was at such a celebration at the Yamagata festival a handful of years back (because one of my films was showing there), where a few old Newsreelers were feted, and no one mentioned the word "failed" but rather waxed dreamily about the revolutionary good old days.
Unlike many of my friends, I do not look back on the 60's or Chicago 68 with any nostalgia. It was, bluntly, a failure. We (all of us) were young and more or less stupid regarding the larger world. Idealistic maybe, but ignorant and easily taken by romantic notions. I recall my first introduction to Newsreel New York, going into an office where Robert Kramer played with his gun, and the girls were bossed around in the worst of sexist manners, but seemed themselves attracted by the macho Che posturing. Robert left Newsreel too, or maybe he was kicked out, though his ICE - a preposterous piece of fantasy in which Robert played heroic revolutionary of NYU - is periodically trotted out as a sterling example of the fervor of the times. Again, its infantile politics, (which Robert - whom I bumped into occasionally on the festival circuit before he died - continued to pursue to the end, always politically wrong, blinded with his phony Marxist BS, probably to counter his real world situation of being the son of a well-off doctor who never spent a day of real discomfort) were never mentioned, nor in the case of his other equally wrong-footed films. The last time I saw Robert he was still playing his role, the rich-kid revolutionary. But he was 60 and should have learned better.
Anyway time flies. Most of us are soon headed to the grave. In a few more days we'll see if the long drift to the right in the USA takes a turn, bottom of the pendulum, and the long overdue corrective commences. Rather late in the game, but unlike most of my left friends, who have for some time acted like whipped dogs, while acknowledging the grimness of the moment, I was optimistic that the shift would come, in terms most American and we can ride the gentle tide of history's wavelength up a bit. Along the way it's best to learn from one's mistakes and look the judgment of one's own history straight in the eyes. Newsreel, along with the overall left, whatever name you care to affix to it, has largely been a failure. We need only look around us to see it.
Last little note: Kurt Heyl lives in Brooklyn NY and Cerillos NM, painting, playing free improvised music; Peter Kuttner lives just outside Chicago, works as a camera assistant in Hwd type films, and is a union organizer in said business. Jon Jost obtained his first real job last year at 64 and went from college drop-out expellee (1962) to "Professor" in one rather long fell swoop. Now living in Korea with my wife, Marcella (Italian). I keep busy making films as an extremely bad habit, making them for a world in which, for some time, there has been absolutely no "market" for what I do, and frankly I don't give a damn. I think a bit after the political pendulum lumbers leftward, we'll see a cultural shift as well, as the public pukes up the "entertainments" of the corporate world, and a little cell here and there looks for other things. But, please, let's not do anything like a re-run of the 60's.
If interested in further information on yours truly, see the website and blog, (and also www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com).
Professor Jon Jost,
Graduate School of Communication and Arts
134 Shinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Seoul 120-749, Korea
??? ??? ??? 160-10 2? 201?
Gangseo-gu, Hwagok-dong, 160-10, 2fl 201
Seoul 157-010, South Korea
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