Monday, March 23, 2009

What Makes New York, New York

Spring is damn close in New York. Playing sports in Central Park 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
March 23, 2009. Sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny weekend in New York. Brisk and fresh.

An Artist’s Life. My friend Harry Stendhal was telling me about the new exhibition he’s organized and produced at the Maya Stendhal Gallery that is a comprehensive retrospective on Anthology Film Archives (actually it opened ten days ago).

He asked me if I’d write something about it. I told him I didn’t know anything about the history of film-making other than the pop stuff. He said he thought I’d be particularly interested in a figure named Jerome Hill who was a co-founder and longtime supporter of the archive and who, according to Harry, came from a “famous railroad family.”

I hadn’t heard of Jerome Hill although I’d heard of James Jerome Hill who founded the Great Northern Railroad in the last quarter of the 19th century. Headquartered in St. Paul Minnesota, Hill was one of the great American railroad barons. He was known as the “Empire Builder” in his day because he built much of the railroads and acquired vast tracts of the lands that covered the then still undeveloped the Pacific Northwest including Canada. Hill and his wife had ten children, nine of whom lived to maturity. One of them was Louis, father of Jerome.
Jerome Hill preparing a banner for Anthology Film Archives opening, December 1, 1970. Photo: Michael Chikiris. Jerome Hill and Albert Schweitzer.
Jerome with camera.
The James J. Hill family grew up in a big brick mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Summit Avenue was where F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up and developed his perception of great wealth and how “the rich” were “different.”

Jerome Hill, born about fifteen years after Fitzgerald, was one of many Hill grandchildren. He was brought up in a big house next door to his grandfather’s on Summit Avenue. (A well-known cousin of Hill’s is photographer/artist Peter Beard whose grandmother was a daughter of James J. Hill.)

In a documentary that Hill made in 1971 of his own life, titled Film Portrait, the viewer gets a look at that kind of life of Midwestern American wealth in the early part of the century because Hill’s father Louis Hill was already a film camera buff and he was forever recording.
Jerome Hill, Portrait sketch of Albert Schweitzer. Graphite on paper, 1952. Jerome Hill, Portrait of a man. Ink on paper.
Jerome Hill, Storyboard for "Sandcastle." Graphite, ink, and water color on paper.
Jerome Hill, opening shot of Scene, 27, "Sandcastle." Graphite, ink, and water color on paper.
By the nineteen-teens, the film camera was still a developing technology, and the home movie camera was then a rich man’s hobby, an enormously expensive item, as was the film’s processing. This was the beginning of Kodak’s great assent along with the burgeoning film industry.

Louis Hill, judging from his son’s documentary memoir, was obsessed with the home movie camera. You see how easily it rubbed off on his boy (the second of three sons). After Yale, Jerome Hill traveled to Europe which was at the height of what his St. Paul neighbor Fitzgerald had dubbed as the Jazz Age, to pursue a life as an artist.

He was a Renaissance man of many interests: a filmmaker, a painter, a collector of information, and curious. He thoroughly exemplified the famous Fitzgerald/ Hemingway exchange about the rich. His money gave him independence as well as social privilege and access. His genes gave him an artistic sensibility, which was nourished by his financials.
Jerome Hill and Jonas Mekas.
Jonas Mekas, Collection of 40 Film Stills, Birth of a Nation (Jerome Hill). Cibachrome print, 2008. Edition of 3. Artist proof: 1.
His success was not, in the conventional sense, a great success as artists and filmmakers go. He was dedicated, however, and productive all his life. But his great achievement besides his generosity with his fellows, is realized in his legacy, the creation and initial funding of the Anthology Film Archives.

Jonas Mekas, the filmmaker who knew Jerome Hill for many years, describes him as naturally generous. Mekas met him for the first time after Hill had won an Academy Award for his documentary on Dr. Albert Schweitzer. He wanted Hill to write an article about it for his Film Culture magazine. Hill, he recalled, had an office at 61st and Broadway. Mekas describes it:

His office was a combination of a library, editing room, and Japanese style tearoom. The tea table, situated in a nice corner space with flowers all around it and a window view, was the most important part of the “office.” That’s where all “business” took place as we sipped our teas. In all my fifteen years of doing “business” with Jerome everything with him had to be light, unbusinesslike, a tea table situation.

Before the meeting was over Jerome Hill agreed to write the article for Jonas Mekas’ magazine but also learning that Film Culture was having a hard time paying its printer’s bill, Hill asked how much was owed to the printer. When Mekas told him, he immediately had his secretary write out a check to cover the printer’s bill.
Clockwise from far left: Anthology Film Archives admission ticket; Announcement for Fluxfilm Anthology, April 5, 80 Wooster Street Location; Pamphlet stating mission and history of Anthology Film Archives; First AFA newsletter, December 1982.
Clockwise from above: Program Schedule for 14th Cycle of the Essential Cinema Collection; Poster for Jack Smith retrospective; Poster for Kenneth Anger retrospective.
Film-makers' Cinematheque program schedule. Poster for Joseph Cornell retrospective.
Catalogue for In And Around Fluxus, September 19 - October 11, 1992. Catalogue for Swedish Avantgarde Film 1924 - 1990.
In those days Mekas was really struggling just to get by, living, as he put it on coffee and doughnuts. When Hill learned of his situation, Mekas recalled, “He arranged for me to eat at his favorite restaurant, a free table, whenever I needed.”

In the years that followed, Mekas said that whenever Film Culture couldn’t make the printers’ bill, Hill took care of it. He also rescued Cahiers du Cinema when it was about to go under financially by starting an American edition edited by Andrew Sarris.

In 1967, a friend of Hill’s, a man named Joe Martinson, who was Chairman of Joe Papp’s Public Theater, asked Hill if he’d like to do something for cinema in the newly renovated Public Theater building at 425 Lafayette Street. Hill, very excited, called Mekas and the two met for lunch at a place on Houston called Ballato. This was when SoHo was still referred to as “south of Houston” basically a residential border at the time. It was at that lunch that the two men hatched the idea for what became the Anthology Film Archives three years later.
Jonas Mekas at opening of Anthology Film Archives, 1970. Photo: Gretchen Berg.
Paul Morrissey, Michel Auder, and Andy Warhol at the opening of Anthology Film Archives, 1970. Photo: Gretchen Berg.
Theater at 80 Wooster Street. Seating designed by George Maciunas.
Jonas Mekas, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon at Invisible Cinema, Anthology Film Archives. Photo: Gretchen Berg.
Audience at Invisible Cinema.
Andy Warhol at Invisible Cinema. Peter Kubelka, Raimund Abraham, and Jonas Mekas at Anthology Film Archives.
Jerome Hill died of cancer at 67 too soon before he could see his ideas take real shape. His friend Jonas Mekas, now an avant garde filmmaker and pioneer, is a principal force in the Archives. The exhibit at the Maya Stendhal Gallery chronicles the organization’s work in the preservation, exhibition and study of film as art over the last forty years. The exhibit also highlights visions for the future of the Anthology Film Archives as the first museum wholly devoted to film as art.

The idea behind the mounting of this exhibition was to find ways to assist the development and support of the museum. Although Anthology is one of the most important repositories of avant-garde film, they nevertheless need to concentrate on providing support to fund the museum’s growth.

Also during the exhibition which runs through April 18th, a special selection of artworks will be on view in the gallery and are available for purchase. These are from Anthology Film Archives’ collection, consisting of works donated by the artists to help raise funds for Anthology’s operations, specific capital projects, and growth. Among the artists on view are Harry Smith, Alexander Calder, Peter Halley, Kiki Smith, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow, Jonas Mekas and Peter Beard.

Maya Stendhal Gallery is on 545 West 20th. You can also visit their site:
The Essential Cinema Committee: Ken Kelman, James Broughton, P. Adams Sitney, Jonas Mekas, and Peter Kubelka. Photo: Stephen Shore.
Vault at Anthology Film Archives.
Anthology Film Archives, architectural renovation of Second Avenue Courthouse.
Arthur Penn and Jonas Mekas at the Anthology Film Archives Preservation Honors Dinner 2008.
The opening reception for 'A Tribute Exhibition to Anthology Film Archives and and Jerome Hill' at Maya Stendhal Gallery. The exhibition runs through April 18th, 2009.
Maya Stendhal, Jonas Mekas, and Harry Stendhal Marco Revedin, Maya Stendhal, and Francesco Pansardi
Adolphous Mekas and Peggy Steffans Alina Ryk and Amanda Duch Kate Murphy and Robert Haller
Jillian Teta and Jannie Dunn MM Sera, Jonas Mekas, Maya Stendhal, and Elle Burchill
Clockwise from above: Jonas Mekas and Raimund Abraham; Mary Lee Kortes, Pat Duffy, Ana Costas, and Naima Charafi; Michel Auder, Peter Cramer, and Lucien Bahaj.
Jacqueline Piancentino and Timothy Fadek Bradley Eros and MM Sera Taylor Flemming and Peyman Umay
Tina Louise Harry Stendhal, Barbara Lambert, and Steven Lambert Stasys Gostalitas

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