Thursday, August 23, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CLXXIII

by Bob Schulenberg

1970 — just beginning and quickly heating up!


The Woodstock neighbors of Max Yasgur on whose farm the music festival was held sued him for damages caused to their nearby properties by the overflowing festival crowd.  And a radical group called The Weather Underground aka “the Weathermen” started planting bombs under banks, government buildings and military establishments!  

They were a part of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society and had, as allies, the Black Panthers who had transformed into the Black Panther Party and also the recently formed Black Liberation Army!
The Weathermen would eventually declare a “State of War” against the US government with a goal of overthrowing imperialism!

Heady stuff!

The name Weathermen was appropriated from Bob Dylan’s lyric from 1965’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows and a wild wind indeed was blowing!  Their organizing and coming together in 1963, the unexpected ending of the Kennedy presidency!

Did optimism and hope die in 1963 also?
The Greenwich Village “bomb factory” where three Weather Underground member were accidentally killed in 1970. 
I wonder what the country would’ve been like during the Sixties and after if the Kennedys and Martin Luther King hadn’t been assassinated and if there’d been no war.  

So many achievements in art, music and civil rights had emerged in spite of all the tribulations!  Or did all of that develop out of and because of strife and opposing belief systems?  

We can’t know.  But we have to live it out.

I had no complaints professionally. I had all the work I could handle and it was all either national advertising or major national magazine commissions.

And life in the streets didn’t usually reflect the turbulence!
There was Larré’s french “style” restaurant on West 56th Street.  It was a Friday and Gary Van Kirk introduced me to a friend he’d met when he was living in Paris.  I say french “style” as the food was modified as if the chef had left France a long time before;  too long to remember exactly what true french cuisine was!
And the following Saturday Gary, Bill and I went to Phillipsburg, New Jersey to the little farmhouse we were renting from Connie Bartel.
Connie was glad to have us there; and we were glad to be there.
As we sat in her large living room before a fire in the fireplace she told us the details of how she’d had to restore the house.  She explained that the living room had originally been two smaller rooms and they’d had to install a gigantic beam under the second floor to support everything from caving in with the removal of the supporting wall!  It was done so seamlessly that it seemed that the vast room had always been like that.  But what a job she described. Someone with less courage would have left it as two small rooms. Connie was courageous about everything!

Since the tenant house was empty we stayed at Connie’s.

The house was so comfortable that I had to stop and wonder what it must have been like to live here 200+ years ago!  A large stone house with no plumbing and only fireplaces for heating! Unimaginable!  It was freezing outside but cozy and warm inside!
The weekend ended too quickly and Sunday night we were back in Manhattan but with a refreshed excitement to be back in the city!  I had taken my Persian cat Tybalt with me and he, the most mellow cat I’d ever known, took it all in his stride.  Connie adored animals so he was as welcome as we were!  He’d immediately adapted, no hiding under a bed — just a quiet dinner and then bedtime!

The next day, Paul Bartel invited me to go with him to the MGM Screening Room to see MGM’s much publicized and long awaited film, “Zabriskie Point,” directed by the great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni who had a great success with his first English language film, Blowup. This was his third and most expensive one in english and MGM had a lot riding on it!  It was said to have cost $7,000,000 to make — but I don’t know if that was true or publicity hype!
A scene from Zabriskie Point.
Paul and I had a quick lunch at the German bakery/restaurant on Second Avenue near my apartment and excitedly anticipating the movie, arrived at the Screening Room.

The studio had been promoting and publicizing the two unknown young stars of the movie, Daria Halprin, the daughter of the late famous landscape architect and teacher Lawrence Halprin (she is now a psychologist), and Mark Frechette, a 20-year-old carpenter from Massachusetts.
Halprin and Frechette were a gorgeously photogenic couple and after the end of the film were involved romantically;  she eventually was married to Dennis Hopper for a short time. Frechette had a short period of fame, appearing on the cover of LOOK magazine and resembling a mix of Montgomery Clift and Alain Delon was featured in a VOGUE fashion shoot.

He could have had a great career as a movie star but he was troubled.  As a child he’d been sexually abused by a priest and it had left its mark.  On August 29, 1973 he was arrested with two others while attempting to rob a bank.  He was 23 and sent to prison where 4 years later he died in a weight lifting bench press accident!
We saw the film and I was awed by it.  The story was negligible and impossible to describe but I’d felt that the imagery was the story.  Almost every frame had an image of conspicuous consumption, city (Los Angeles) congestion and anonymous crowding while the young actors were all depicted living a free-style “hippie” life in a back-to-nature desert wilderness environment.

The audience hated it!  There had been people walking out during the film and at the end, quite a few hisses, catcalls and boos!  Paul seemed to hate it even more than most.  He had such a strong sense of story and structure that seeing this untraditional unstructured visual work annoyed him — as much as it did most all of the audience!

And pretty much all of the critics!

The film was a bomb, some calling it the worst film ever made!  And if it really had cost $7,000,000 to make, its box office revenue was only $900,000. You can do the math!

I may have been the only person in New York (or possibly the whole US) who liked it!
We learned that in late January Dr. Timothy Leary, who’d been the avatar of LSD, had been arrested for having two marijuana cigarettes and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In February, attorney William Kunstler, who’d been the defense attorney for the Chicago Seven, was given a sentence of four years!  And we also learned that the US Army had been closely monitoring civilian political activity for four years!

In San Francisco, a bomb outside of a police station exploded killing one officer and wounding others.  It had been set by the Weather Underground!

The pace of change was quickening!
In mid-February the Chicago Seven defendants were declared innocent of the riot conspiracy charges during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  And Henry Kissinger was involved in peace talks with North Vietnam!

But in Manhattan life went on as it had ... or at least on the surface it seemed to.
And Bill Rilling, Gary Van Kirk and I had weekends near the Delaware River to look forward to!
Contact Bob here.
Click here for NYSD Contents