BEAT MEMOIR #7 : GINSEY, BUK, GREGORY, HARVEY MILK & NICK RAY by Marc Olmsted

In the autumn following the trip to Naropa, Allen breezed through San Francisco once again in a few months and offered to take me to see a video work-in-progress of Kaddish.  I wrangled an invitation for my friends- there were four of us crammed into the back seat, me, Ginsey, Peter Marti and Mort Shapiro (still two years away from his debut as front man for the band Invertebrates) – the other two people, one behind the wheel, I don’t recall at all.

We arrived at a loft space South of Market.  I was dressed in my black raincoat with broadbrim Shadow hat and Allen introduced me as “famous Italian film maker Marc Olmsted,” longhaired Fellini kid I guess.  The director, whose name I can’t remember (and not sure he even finished the film), predictably reacted like “Maybe he is.”  I do remember what we saw was not particularly successful, and Allen asked my opinion when the director was out of the room.  I told him and the director entered in the middle of it, eyeballs full of death rays.  He demanded I start my opinion from the beginning.  So I did.  He was not pleased.  Then we left.

Allen had been invited to check out the Poetry Center archives at San Francisco State University.  I invited Allen to come to the undergraduate film class I’d been teaching.  I didn’t tell the kids.  We screened Breathing Together, an excellent documentary on late 60’s phenomena by Morley Markson.  There seems no way to see it on VHS or DVD, although parts were edited into Markson’s later (and considerably less interesting) Growing Up in America.  Breathing Together is shot in black and white 16mm, and includes a great reading Allen gave of Howl sitting in the snow, very likely at his Cherry Valley farm in upstate New York.  When the lights came up, there was Allen himself.  I really enjoyed that one.  The kids were blown out.  Allen was very self-effacing, referring to his pre-Trungpa remarks in the 1971 film as “vanity.”  Then we watched my Burroughs on Bowery.  Again, the lights came up, and Allen asked me if I’d “explained the Cut-Up” to the class, Burroughs’ technique of chopping up his own and others’ texts to get surreal phrases like “dead fingers talk.”  It was, of course, completely pertinent to the way I’d used the collage of found footage and rephotography.  Afterwards, a girl student came up to me and said, “When I first saw your movie, I thought it was shit.  But after Ginsberg talked, I thought it was great.”  I could have used Allen during the Film Finals.  I asked him privately if he’d liked the movie.  “Yeah.  Kinda fuzzy though.  But I guess it’s supposed to be like that.”  One of the beefs at the Film Finals had been that I hadn’t focused the camera, which wasn’t true.  The rephotography had so denigrated the images that they began to blur.  To this day I prefer it to be seen on a TV where no one needs to wonder if the projector is focused or not.  I left the class with another girl student and ran into openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, who waved hello.  He had celebrity status in town at this point and the student turned and said, “You know everybody.”  The truth was I had tried to get a job in his camera store on Castro Street only a year or so earlier.

Charles Bukowski came to town, and Neeli Cherkovski was one of his closest friends and soon-to-be-biographers (Hank).  I had seen Bukowski read first at UC Santa Cruz 1972 in a tiny lounge to maybe 20 or 30 people.  My brother had turned me on to his Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window chapbook in 1968 when I was 14.  I loved his work immediately.  By 1978, the crowds at his readings were huge, and would get larger.  Neeli had me over at a party for Bukowski, but the only contact I had with Buk was when he came staggering into the packed kitchen.  He looked at me and smiled through slitted eyes.  I thought, wow, maybe he remembers me from that UCSC reading.  Neeli walked up just then and said, “Hank, this is Marc Olmsted.”  Hank shook his head and said, “Jesus, I thought you were a woman.”

One of Allen’s most championed young protégées, Andy Clausen, threw a party in Berkeley.  It was a wild drunken binge, and finally I left with Claire in tow, only to run into Corso just coming in.  “Who is this angel?!” asked Gregory.  Claire smiled, quite flattered. Gregory had not a word for me.  I thought I better get her out of there fast.

But Claire was already reconsidering her options with me.  What was good for the goose, etc. etc.   I went to see Nick Ray, director of Rebel Without a Cause among many other great films, speak at Pacific Film Archive, and Claire came along with one of my better friends, musician Michael.  Little did I know she’d already slept with Michael.  She asked Ray which film he had the “most fun on.”  He leered at her looking a little boozy even behind his eyepatch, and said “I’ve had a ball, baby.”  Everyone laughed and Claire blushed.  Years later it came out that he had been fucking teenager Natalie Wood on the Rebel set, and I remembered that look he gave Claire.

 Picture by Chris Felver,  1989

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