Oral Histories

This collection of oral histories offers an unprecedented trove of source material on individual filmmakers and programmers, and a fascinating perspective into the explosion in experimental and avant-garde film that took place in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s. The recordings give insight into an artist’s early interests, such as Pat O’Neill’s business restoring cars and Sky David’s years as a sniper in Vietnam, as well as into the creation of the vibrant scene of young artists and filmmakers. Some of our subjects were at the heart of the art scene, Jeffrey Perkins and Peter Mays, while others stayed on the periphery, or started their own scene. Groups emerged around various neighborhoods, institutions, and people – Topanga Canyon, CalArts, UCLA, and USC film schools, Bob Abel, Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis – but converged and collided, sharing new techniques and ideas at parties, be-ins, and Movies ‘Round Midnight screenings.

What is striking about these histories is the shared sense that the subjects were discovering and inventing the medium of film, and then video, as an art form. Subjects offer detailed descriptions of experiments with film stocks and optical effects, collaborating with sympathetic film industry colorists and timers, or inventing new ways to create multiple exposures and time lapses. A fascinating theme that runs through many of the histories is how these West Coast artists responded to the rise of 1970s structuralism and critical film theory that was coming out of New York. For some, they were forced out of any critical discourse because their work was too narrative or too aesthetically “easy,” as if the proximity to the Hollywood industry only hindered their work.  Others went through an artistic crisis, reformulating their work to incorporate the critical theory, and this need to respond is in some way what defined them as West Coast artists and filmmakers at that time.

Full transcripts and DVDs of the oral histories are available at Los Angeles Filmforum, the Getty Research Institute, Academy Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive, and Anthology Film Archive.