John Fles

1936 Curator Artist

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John Fles was born in London in 1936. His father George Fles, a Dutch translator, died three years later in a Russian Prison despite his loyalty to the Communist Party. Fles arrived in Los Angeles in 1943 with his mother Pearl and enrolled at the Ojai Valley School in Ojai, CA.

During his childhood he often attended plays and went to the movies. Fles developed a fondness for American genre films and theaters such as the western-themed Hitching Post on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. As a teenager Fles attended Hollywood High and began, along with his friends, to attend film screenings at the Coronet Theatre and rhythm and blues concerts in East Los Angeles.

In 1956 he married and began studying philosophy at Los Angeles Community College. After finishing at LACC Fles attended the University of Chicago and became managing editor of the Chicago Review. As editor, Fles published the work of beat poets including Allen Ginsberg and William S. Borroughs.

In 1959 Fles began to live part-time in New York City's lower east side and attend programs by Jonas Mekas. From 1959 until 1963 he traveled between New York and Los Angeles and worked at the Unicorn Book Shop on the Sunset Strip while touring a small experimental film series to local coffee shops. A network of local support developed with Wallace Berman designing the postcards, Lawrence Lipton lending the projector and Bob Alexander doing the printing. In 1963 he met Mike Getz, the 24 year old manager of the Cinema Theater, and it was 'love at first sight.' The two men presented the inaugural screening of their new series Movies 'Round Midnight on Columbus Day 1963. The series invited viewers to 'Discover the New American Cinema' through experimental films by Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith and Gregory Markopoulos.

In conjunction with his film series Fles authored a curatorial manifesto entitled SEEING IS BELIEVING. Building upon D.W. Griffith's statement that 'The task I'm trying to achieve is above all to make you see' Fles described the potential for cinematic discovery and described himself as a film editor. Inspired by soviet montage, he believed in a curatorial strategy entitled 'dynamic programming' that juxtaposed strong film elements. Fles attended the Movies 'Round Midnight screenings each week and often greeted guests at the door as they filed into the large auditorium. Fles left Movies 'Round Midnight in 1965 to pursue collaborative performance in light shows, a project that eventually brought him to Israel. Fles eventually moved to Northern California.