On October 20, WORM, the Institute for Avant-gardistic Recreation, Boomgaardsstraat 71, Rotterdam, presents the film program “Flag of Ecsaty,” with films by Charles Henri Ford (1913-2002), selected by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Shown are two sixteen millimeter productions: the twenty-four minutes long “Poem Posters” from 1967 and eighty minutes long “Johnny Minotaur” from 1973.
Charles Henri Ford(1913-2002) was born in Mississippi in the United States and was a prolific artist, poet, editor, and film maker whose lifelong dedication to cultural experiment placed him at the heart of the most urgent literary and artistic circles throughout the twentieth century.
When Ford was still a teenager his first two poems were published in “The New Yorker.” After that his poems were included in several other magazines. By age sixteen he launched the bimonthly “Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms” (subtitled “A Bisexual Bimonthly”) together with Parker Tyler (1904-1974) and Kathleen Tankersley. After becoming a fixture in the expatriate literary community of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, in 1933 he and Tyler co-authored “The Young and Evil.”
This novel portrays a collection of young genderqueer artists in Greenwich Village as they write poems, have sex, move in and out of cheap rented rooms, and duck into the neighborhood’s many speakeasies. The characters’ gender and sexual identities are presented candidly; it was this candor which was the reason for its rejection by several American and British publishers. It was finally picked up by Obelisk Press in Paris.
Ford returned to New York City in 1934 and brought with him Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957), who was until his death Ford’s life partner. Between 1929 and 1939 Tchelitchew created a series of homoerotic drawings, in which he showed to be highly interested in the sleeping male nude. He also produced illustrations for “The Young and Evil,” which were included in a 1988 reprint of the novel. From 1940 to 1947, Ford joined forces again with Tyler to publish “View,” a key independent magazine whose contributors included major figures in surrealist literature and art. Ford continues to be considered America’s first Surrealist poet and a precursor of the New York School and the Beat movement.
“Flag of Ecstasy” presents Charles Henri Ford as a kindred spirit of AA Bronson and the artists in the exhibition “The Temptation of AA Bronson,” which is on show until the 5th of January at the Center for Contemporary Art Witte de With in Rotterdam. This exhibition is characterized by radical sexuality, fraternity between generations and innovative publications. The Canadian artist AA Bronson was once a participant in the famous collective General Idea (1967–1994), and was active in the punk and queer scene.
Ford became friends with AA Bronson in 1977 when General Idea rented an apartment in Manhattan across the street from the Dakota, where Ford resided. Their friendship was rooted in a mutual interest in magazine publishing (i.e. General Idea’s “FILE” and Ford and Tyler’s “View”). They shared many afternoon teas together looking at various esoteric chapbooks and other independent publications. Ford was featured in the New York issue of “FILE,” which General Idea was producing in the city at the time.
Ford’s first film, “Poem Posters” details the opening of his colorful graphic work at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in New York in 1965. The film documents the exhibition and the myriad personalities that attended the opening, including Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Gerard Malanga, Jonas Mekas, William Burroughs, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank O’Hara, Parker Tyler, Virgil Thomson and a show-stopping appearance by Jayne Mansfield. The work was filmed collaboratively and includes camera work by experimental film luminaries Andy Warhol, Marie Menken, Gregory Markopoulos, Willard Maas, Charles Boultenhouse, Robert Whitman, Buddy Wirtschafter and Stan Vanderbeek.
This screening also includes a newly restored print of Ford’s extremely rare film “Johnny Minotaur.” Shot during a sojourn on Crete, the film revives the Minotaur myth in modern times and includes appearances and footage by Allen Ginsberg, Warren Sonbert and other British and American artists and writers who had migrated to Crete during the 1960s. This homoerotic porn film (with mostly “soft” porn) might still raise some legal objections in some countries, as many of the cast, including the main subject, were under-age.
Many shots of young Greek men being affectionate with one another get worked into the story, as the middle-aged film maker explores his obsession with several of the island’s boys. Guy Trebay in the “Village Voice” commented, “Like his poetry the film is frank, American, homoerotic, mystically giddy and somewhat undervalued... As image poem, the film is inspired.” At the star-studded premiere of the film, the socialite Mrs. William F. Buckley, Jr. turned to the surrounding members of the New York underground and to Dotson Rader - a leading chronicler of the campus revolution movement of the 1960s and, by many accounts, a former male hustler. She proclaimed, “Darling, there’s one thing you should realize. When the Revolution comes, after they get me they’ll be coming for you.”