Thursday, December 24, 2015

JIM MORTON - from Incredibly Strange Films to East German Cinema from the days when there was a Wall . . .

Jim Morton at the San Francisco pubic library

Neil Martinson receives his certificate for attending the lecture

This post originally appeared in 2011 on another site.

I met Jim Morton, author of Incredibly Strange Films for Research Books, years ago in San Francisco. He is very nice man who never fails to surprise with his vast ranging knowledge of avant garde cinema but I was reminded of his entertaining wit about life in general when a friend of mine had aired her concerns about radiation from Japan floating over us in California and Jim wrote the following retort -

Stop worrying. You kids aren't exposed to nearly as much as we were. I used to stare into a fluoroscope at the bones in my feet at the local shoe store, play with the lead fishing weights at the surplus store, I grew up in a house with asbestos insulation, brushed my teeth with Hexachlorophene (Stripe toothpaste), and drank Funny Face with sodium cyclamate. For bread, there was one choice: Rainbo white, and all this was in Tucson, Arizona which was downwind from the outdoor A-tests in Nevada. And in spite of all that, I've still been on this planet longer than I had planned to be. Any piddly radiation that may end up in the rain is FAR less than you get every day when you walk out in the sun (which I also did a lot of in Tucson, too, come to think of it).

Recalling how funny Jim is motivated me to catch his last lecture on East German films at the San Francisco Public Library.  His series of talks has covered East German cinema from the 1970s and 1980s (before the Berlin wall fell!) Cal film professor and Voluptuous Panic author Mel Gordon joined me as we listened to Jim recount the difficulties filmmakers encountered while trying to shoot, show and distribute their cinematic creations back in the day. Turns out almost 1 in 10 of East Germany's citizens was a spy for the Stasi and people were constantly being snitched on for creating art that irked the East German government. But, before things turned too dreary Jim showed us a clip of a psychedelic, space age masterpiece replete with Barbarella-esque dancers draped in boa constrictors doing the freeze dance while a proto-Kraftwerk type guy tapped out strange tunes on a keyboard that appeared to be made out of christmas lites (almost as if a lite-brite toy were a keyboard). This must see East German masterpiece is called 'In the Dust of the Stars'.

Jim lectured about many other films including one called Ursula and another about cars called Auto Fairytale which Jim described as a film about an "east German wood nymph possessed with cars and speed." Other films discussed were Island of Swans and the Unknown Brother, a haunting film about Nazis but really symbolic of the East German government.

Artist Monte Cazzazza. Neil Martinson was sharply in a striped suit getting ready for his club hosting gig at Smile . . . we all received certificates for completing our participation in Jim Morton's film lecture series which he kindly put on for the San Francisco Free University. What a radical concept, free lectures on great films! Keep up the good work Jim.

Check out Jim Morton's blog

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