November 17, 1972
My mind is dancing with expectancy and glorious plans. I was so pleased to talk with you on the phone and to have your reassurances that the March seminar and the summer film project were both likelihoods. I enclose a copy of my Guggenheim proposal which might be of some use to you in promoting our joint production.
But first of all about the seminar March 12th through 16th. I am planning on five two hour evening meetings. What can we say about this that will garner a goodly number of paying audience?
What I am planning to do is present my adventures as a filmmaker in avant garde cinema during the last twenty-five years. I would trace my experiences and encounters from the time of my very first filming with Sidney Peterson, THE POTTED PSALM, up to my present attempt to synthesize my accumulated wisdoms about the art of cinema. It would also involve more serious explication of my own methods and intentions than I have ever previously revealed. As I told you,the illustrations would include all of my own work to date plus examples from my confreres in the whole development of independent film. You can call it, if you want to, Through a Peep-Hole Brightly: or The Confessions from Twenty-Five Years Underground, or whatever version of that you might think most apt or intriguing. At what date would we know whether this series would definitely have enough students? How soon do you want my rental list? If the lectures don't draw and I plan to come to visit you in any case that week in March, could some single showings of my new work be arranged, either there or nearby, like Philadelphia? I will have to cover the plane fare somehow, and since my time is limited I doubt that I could make an excursion to New York and New England colleges on this jaunt. I think it is essential that I have enough time in Pittsburgh to shape production plans and make connections with key persons.
For the big film we are all going to make the question arises, doesn't it, how and what students may be involved on some paying basis? This is tricky in one sense, because I presume one would have to use them in some capacity. On the other hand
in order that we come out with a production that will bring glory upon us all, I would want the key technicians to be persons as experienced as possible. Such essential co-workers as assistant cameramen, sound recordist, and those to be responsible for lighting, set design, continuity, costumes, still photography, a
batch of sturdy grips for moving equipment, operating reflectors, etc, etc., to say nothing of all the actors that will be required, plus that most important person of all ,the production manager,who has to coordinate all these preceding departments and deal with every emergency. Would you like to have in hand a list of such a desirable personnel? And how soon do you want it? I haven't time to work it out in detail today. I want to get this letter off to you right now. So as to get your immediate response to the situation for March.
Love to you dear Sally and all blessings,
Project for the Fellowship: TESTAMENT, a film
It's very simple. I want to make my most daring and complex film. I want to make a memoir, a confession, a lively legacy of my life. This would need to be a revelation and a distillation of what I value most and what I have not yet dared to express. This would have to be nothing less than a Testament of what I have learned of the human predicament and the cinematic art. Which isn't really simple at all. But what else is worth trying in one's maturity?
Impetus for this vision began in the autumn of 1971 when my collected poems were published under the title of A LONG UNDRESSING. I was struck by the possibility of shaping a comparable summation in cinema. Then I was invited to "come home" to my birthplace (Modesto, California) to present a program for the opening celebration of the new county library. Hearing of this, my students in film production decided to embellish the event.
They created a fanciful Homecoming Parade for me through the daytime streets of the town, costumed as personae from the world of my poetic imagination. This spectacle, which astonished the populace, culminated at the cemetery of my ancestors where I enacted a symbolic return to my roots. All of this was filmed as was the official library event that evening when I spoke of my childhood and read poems from my book.
Subsequently, asked to write some autobiography, I wondered if it could not be more vividly "written" as cinema.
And couldn't that fabulous cortege through the prosaic town provide a framework for the collected realities of my imagination? Within it couldn't I weave a sampler of my obsessions and delights, juxtaposing my plays and songs, my dreams and actualities, in a fresh and freely poetic use of the medium?
My own answer was Yes. Therefore I am proposing this TESTAMENT as an emblematic film memoir that can articulate all my areas of cinema in a new perspective and a total vision.
This in no sense means an anthology of excerpts or remakes. All material will be new. Having dealt with the days of Mother, the eternal child, the lyric Gardens of love, the Bed of the human comedy, the Dreamwood of man's inner journey, and the vaudeville of man's Positions, what I visualize now is a larger and more personal mosaic of all the themes that have concerned me, which includes much that has never taken form in my films.
Some sections planned include: The Ancestors, The Bath, Flowers of Friendship, Various Unicorns, Mad Jenny, Confessions of Narcissus, Tidings from the Sea, The Rites of Women, In the Labyrinth, and The Hermaphrodite. I will invoke direct confrontations and unclassifiable wonders, I will use the soundtrack to give the ear as much adventure as the eye, and I shall not be afraid to prod the mind.
So there it is. And certainly it will be an hour long, or even longer. Can it materialize as I imagine it: a Parade of Surprises with many shocks of recognition, a Testament to the parade of life itself as much as a vehicle for my own meanings? I hope your answer is also Yes.