Ron Rice (1935-1965): filmska polimorfna egzotika, kvazi-haremski kostimi i orgije, bizarna šminka, psihodelična montaža: odbijanje suvremenog svijeta i zafrkancija na račun toga.
The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (1963)
The Flower Thief (1960)
Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (1963)
Ron Rice's only color film, Chumlum depicts Jack Smith and some of his cast during the making of Normal Love, which includes Beverly Grant, Mario Montez, Francis Francine, and Tiny Tim. Rice offers glimpses of them in between set-ups at Normal Love's locations, as well as shots of the players lying in hammocks and rocking lazily after they were back in Rice's New York City loft. Throughout Chumlum, he utilizes superimpositions to turn his subjects into fields of texture, rhythm, and color. The title is derived from the score by composer/musician Angus MacLise, which he played on cembalo.
Ron Rice was born in New York, NY in 1935. Rice was a drifter who dropped out of high school and by nature was very restless. This restlessness is how he initially made his way into film. Rice got his start by buying an 8mm Camera to record bicycle races in San Francisco. It was in San Francisco that he met Taylor Mead, which in turn led him to the production of his first film The Flower Thief (Arthouse Inc). The Flower Thief was finished in 1960 with the help of Taylor mead the offbeat hero the San Francisco and New York Beats (Sitney, 300). After the Success of The Flower Thief, Rice toyed with the idea of making some films right after the Flower Thief. Rice Started a film called The Dancing Master and another untitled film with his friend Jerry Joften, but lost interest in the films during their production (Sitney, 301). Rice made Senseless and that came out later that same year of 1962. Senseless came out of a film that he planned to make at Eric Nord's island. Rice knew Nord from The Flower Thief and He knew that Nord purchased an island from the Mexican government with the intent of making that island a Utopia. Unfortunately Nord forgot to find out if there was water on the island so when Rice arrived on the island to shoot his film, Nord and his crew realized the mistake they had made and had already cleared off the island (Sitney, 301). The only thing Ron Rice had left from his trip was some footage that he took on his way to the island to meet Nord (Sitney, 301).
When Rice got back from the trip and arrived in NewYork, he pooled together his research and the various episodes he had recorded. He divised a potpourri from what he recorded in Mexico and what he had on file and realized that the film would have no plot nor a continuity of a single mediator. Despite the incredible irony, the creation Senseless was completed in 1962. Rice gave credit to Jonas Mekas for the creation of Senseless, but ironically Senseless is thought of as Rice's most carefully organized formal film (Sitney, 301).
After Rice finished Senseless he bought together Taylor Mead and Winifred Bryan, to make a new film called The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (Sitney, 302). Rice made rough-cuts of the idea to try to raise money for the film. The two scenes that were made were on Hamlet and Greg Markopoulos' Twice a Man. Rice got the funding that he was looking for and the intercutting and combination of characters brought by the Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man was a step closer to the synthetic process of the mythic film. Rice never finished the film; Mead finished it in 1982 (Sitney, 302).
Rice went on to another project called Chumlum. Chumlum was developed from the inspiration that Rice found on the occasions when he would assist Jack Smith with his productions. One production that specifically aided the inspiration that Rice would feel was Smith's film Normal Love. While they were filming each production Rice would go back to Smith's apartment, with the cast and crew and observe what everyone would do. He used these ideas to create Chumlum with the fragmenting of events and use of superimposition. The film was completed in 1964. Sadly at the end of that year he died of pneumonia while he was in Mexico. Rice's resume comes to six films and shows a great mind for film. He was truly an artistic genius who died too young. - Cary Collins, 2003
There are many artists that are responsible for the wonder that is avant-garde film. Many artists should be remembered as great filmmakers. One man that is definitely on that list is Ron Rice. Ron Rice in his career completed six films. He unfortunately died of pneumonia at the extremely early age of twenty-nine. Despite his short life he had the opportunity to put out six films in his short but celebrated career. Rice was a high school dropout who was considered as a genius of avant-garde film. Of all of his films one film that he has become well known for is The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man.
The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man is a film about protesting the industrial world and having fun doing it. Taylor Mead plays the hapless, possibly chaplinesque Atom Man, and Winifred Bryan plays the Queen. The film itself is a protest to the industrial society because its two main characters who come from different backgrounds act foolish and stupid enjoying the simple pleasures of life and doing what they want to do, not what others want them to do.
The film starts out with Mead(c)ös character (the Atom Man) playing around with things around the house and then cuts to The Queen lying around doing her thing and being pampered by her servant. Mead(c)ös character, theAtom Man is called that because he is like an insignificant speck in an industrial world. You can tell just by how the Atom Man acts that he doesn(c)öt get the world around him. The Atom Man does things like rub a box of cereal against himself and does the weirdest thing with any number of objects because those objects come from the industrial world that he doesn(c)öt get or want. The Atom Man acting stupid was a great Rice idea as well as the cuts from character to character. The film cuts from one character to another quite often and the cuts from each look clean. You could start with the Atom Man at one location and then cut and the Queen of Sheba is in another location. I like the part near the beginning where the Atom Man and the Queen are together and they start doing drugs. I think that part of the movie is definitely a sixties type of thing going on with the drugs and the rebellious behavior. I especially liked the look on his face when he was injecting not only himself but also when he was injecting the Queen with what looked to be the insanely long needle. The Queen fought him at first but eventually stuck her with it and then you saw complete insanity from both of them breaks out at this point. It definitely reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin like romp of insanity. There is a lot of give and take in this film; much of that give and take comes from the Atom Man and the Queen.
I believe that the give and take that come from the Atom Man and the Queen comes from the fact that the Queen herself comes from riches of the industrial society and the Atom Man is a poor guy fighting the industrial world. In the beginning of the film you see a shot of the Queen naked being given a drink by her servant, that alone gives you an idea that she comes from wealth. You can tell just by looking at her that she was Rice(c)ös way of mythically defining what the industrial well off upper class person should look like. The Queen was enormously fat, and very arrogant. Rice obviously believed in the myth that being rich and having lots of money she should have servants and therefore is very big and lazy.
Throughout the film Ron Rice has put in symbolism in right in front of our eyes and I have noticed a few things. Obviously the part of the film that shows the word "heroin" on the barrel that Mead(c)ös character is playing around with is very obvious, when you see the word "heroin" you know what he is getting into. It isn(c)öt the heroin as much as it is how he acts all the time while doing the heroin and not doing the heroin. I believe that the character himself is mocking industrialism in everything he does. There are a few times in the film that the Atom Man puts an antenna on his head and looks around goofily, and I believe his is mocking the way people are looking at the industrialization of the world as a good thing. I like the part where you see a little sculpted head of something edible I am not quite sure what it was made out of but you see him with his antenna on and he is eating the little sculpted head with the antenna on and rolling his eyes stupidly. The scene didn(c)öt make sense to me until you see a statue of a head later in the film that reads Edwin B. Wolfsan and says right under it, Builder and Originator. It then occurred to me that Rice was symbolizing how society and people were eating up industrialism and sitting there with a smile on their face looking very stupid for it. I thought that was a brilliant piece of symbolism used in the film. I also kind of liked some of the music that was picked to go with the action that was going on in the film. All of the film was silent so the music was a very important element of the film. The film was smooth although you had to pay attention in order to know what was going on. I have to believe that, that was Ron Rice(c)ös plan from the beginning so that we would have to pay attention to all the details in order to avoid getting lost during the movie and not know what was going on. Overall Ron Rice did a fantastic job with this film and no one can take that away from Rice. It is very unfortunate that the world wouldn(c)öt get the chance to see more works created and produced by Ron Rice. I would have loved to have met the man so I could have asked him about his work. The Queen of Sheba was a great piece of work even though the story wasn(c)öt to my taste. Despite my personal feelings towards it I would recommend it just to enlighten some people on Rice and the type of works that he did. - Cary Collins
Polymorphously exotic, Chumlum conjures a vision from the Arabian Nights. As the actors pose in harem costumes and bizarre makeup, Rice explores the allure of indolent women, diaphanous hangings, and swaying hammocks — stretching out the experience through colorful in-camera superimpositions. The psychedelic montage moves at a languorous pace far removed from the rush of modern life. Questions of motivation and plot are beside the point. (from Treasures IV DVD booklet)
“Her eye saw not just beauty but incredible, delirious, drug-like hallucinatory beauty.”
Jack Smith—creature on fire, ruler of lost Atlantis, and author of the bite-sized encomium to the “perfect filmic appositeness” of Maria Montez quoted above—looms before us in a column of late afternoon loft-light, head swaddled in toilet paper, face swallowed by fur. All of yesterday’s parties seem to have exploded in the air around him. Walls waft away into scarves, ceilings fester and drip with balloons, somnolent freaks fill a hammock, then two hammocks, then the frame itself, superimposed upon one another like gaily-painted ghouls rummaging through piles of von Sternberg’s old fishnets. We are watching Ron Rice’s breathtaking 1964 palimpsest of satin, greasepaint, and beads, Chumlum—a hallucinatory micro-epic filmed during lulls in the production of Smith’s Normal Love and one of the great “heroic doses” of ’60s underground cinema, a movie so sumptuously and serenely psychedelic it appears to have been printed entirely on gauze.
Chumlum is as close to cinematic mercury as aural-optical alchemy will allow: though hardly a “difficult” film, it’s extraordinarily elusive, almost impossible to keep in your cognitive or visual grasp. As it opens, someone seems to be frying ball-bearings in a velvet pan on the soundtrack: it’s future (and fleeting) Velvet Underground drummer Angus MacLise, assisted by recording engineer/minimalist-instrumentalist Tony Conrad, coaxing hypnotic shimmers from a hammered cimbalom. This roiling, panging sound seems immediately to trick time into vanishing: moments into the movie, we surrender to its synesthetic translucences, sounds within sounds, sight upon sights, no longer remembering when any of this began. The creator and “stars” of Normal Love (Smith, Mario Montez, Beverly Grant) laze around Rice’s loft, swaying, sashaying, but the more we attempt to distinguish what from who in each successive overlay of images interrupted by scrims and veils, the less distinguishable anything becomes. We might as well be thumbing through an oil-soaked stack of some hippie Scheherazade’s etchings: a thousand and one Lower East Side nights melting together in a cosmic slop of languid poses and limp half-dances, a smoke-fragile erotica that climaxes and dissolves the moment it hits your eye. “Toward the middle,” wrote P. Adams Sitney of Chumlum in his epochal Visionary Film, “[Rice] shows Jack Smith in an Arabian costume with a fake mustache, smoking hashish. The film becomes [Smith’s] reverie in which time is stretched or folded over itself.” Good shit, Sit, for indeed Chumlum does manage to capture with unnerving fidelity the murky glories, the sudden temps morts and temps mutant, not to mention the inevitable malaise of a rich but fading high.
Ron Rice was the great tragic figure of the ’60s underground film scene. Creator of the late-Beat, proto-slack, ultra-indie 1960 feature The Flower Thief—an improvised Taylor Mead romp across old San Francisco which inspired Smith to begin work on Flaming Creatures (1963)—and subsequent Smith-collaborator on the unfinished The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (1963), Rice died of pneumonia in Mexico in late 1964, at the age of 29. As J. Hoberman points out in his essential On Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures and Other Secret-Flix of Cinemaroc, 1964 was also an unusually fertile and collaborative time for Smith, who after completing Flaming Creatures appeared as one of Warhol’s 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities (1963-64) and in Warhol’s unfinished Batman/Dracula (1964), Gregory Markopolous’ Illiac Passion (1964-66), George Kuchar’s Lovers of Eternity (1964), and numerous other underground spectacles. But it was only in the crazy crucible of Chumlum that Smith’s frittering, flailing “play” out in front of the camera seemed to find a mostly-in-focus chemical twin behind the lens. And by pitting lushly overlaid and garishly “pasty” (as Smith preferred to describe Normal Love’s pale pink and green mise en scène) static tableaux against churning, heaving, altogether lysergic camera spin, Rice and Smith managed to fix the madness in its moment, but only for a moment, and then let it get away. - Chuck Stephens
Eye of Sound: Somewhat reminiscent of Cohen's Thunderbolt Pagoda, but more refrained, compounded and elegant, Chumlum was shot during the making of of Jack Smith's Normal Love and features such "stars" from the Factory/NYC underground as Beverly Grant, Mario Montez, Tiny Tim and Smith himself. As in Thunderbolt Pagoda, actors are depicted in pseudo-oriental costumes, engaging in orgiastic feasts and general dolce fare niente hammock ethics, in what seems to be an endless opium sea-trip under the signs of sensual imagery and gender ambiguity. Chumlum's forte is, as you may have guessed from the pictures, the constant superimposition of images, veiling each actor and scene behind another and fragmenting the screen's integrity to a point in which background and foreground are often no longer discernible. Limbs and faces pile up in disruptive forms, creating collages we thought possible only in animation films. Dimensions accumulate layer upon layer, and even individual layers often comprise several levels of visual depth, actions being constantly hidden behind a translucent object of some sort. This intensive nesting of dimensions could well be like a sea-sickening trip, and part of the reason why it isn't may be found in MacLise's soundtrack. Unlike his contribution for The Thunderbolt Pagoda, where more was thought to be more and the final result sounded like a huge soup bowl where any ingredient could be added without altering the global flavor, MacLise's journey into exotic tunings and instruments is here very focused and restrained. Played with cembalo (and barely audible tablas) under the musical direction of Tony Conrad, MacLise's Chumlum is a solid take on minimalism in which micro-change makes dissonance and consonance lose their significance. Strange as it may sound, it is perhaps MacLise's pattern-repetitions that hold Chumlum together and render its dangerously vertiginous multi-layered movements a soothing experience. -The Sound of Eye
"Ron Rice's Chumlum is one of those films in which the conditions of its construction are integral to the experience of watching it. It is a record of a cadre of creative people having fun on camera, playing dress-up, dancing, flirting, lazing around. The film's cast gathers together a roster of figures from the Warhol Factory and the underground arts and film scenes in New York: Beverly Grant, Francis Francine, Mario Montez (star of Warhol's infamous Mario Banana), Gerard Malanga, Joel Markman and filmmaker Jack Smith, whose film Normal Love was the inspiration for Chumlum (Rice made the short while working with Smith to assemble props for the latter's film). This ensemble cast is nothing unusual for the era, a sign of the film's emergence from this prolific and fertile period in 60s New York when seemingly everyone was working with everyone else.
Rice uses these familiar faces and personae as fodder, as a kind of foundation from which he builds his densely layered compositions. The use of multiple overlays and superimpositions means that no image, no performer, stands on its own, no image exists in isolation. Instead, multiple images are used for their textural properties: a burst of color here, a fluid movement there, a flicker of reflected light there, and somewhere in the background the dull blue flicker of a nighttime horror scene, a mummy shambling after its intended victim through the somber dark. Furthermore, Rice frequently uses semi-transparent materials within the individual images, adding to the sense of fragile, gauzy overlays. The actors wrap themselves in shawls and sheets, the thin material acting in much the same way as Rice's superimpositions, rendering multiple layers within the image, creating compositions where one is always looking through something. A woven cot, with its honeycomb of empty spaces between its threads, is overlaid with a thin fabric sheet, and then incorporated as one onion-skin layer within Rice's dense overload.
This film is dazzling and sensual, reveling in the gender-ambiguous piles of flesh and translucent fabrics. At times, the frame becomes so cluttered, so dense with multiple layers, that it's nearly impossible to separate out the constituent parts from one another. The individual images are often blurred and swirled together into collages of stray limbs and colorful patterns, chaotic and beautiful pile-ups that completely confuse things. It's disorienting and reduces the human form to one more abstract component in Rice's hodge-podge compositions, which blend textures and exotic elements, throwing together Eastern garments and decorative flourishes of various origins. This catholicism is also reflected in the clanging, bell-like music by Angus MacLise, the onetime Velvet Underground drummer who left the group before they ever recorded their first album, and whose Oriental-influenced music, with its elements of repetition and minimalism, provides just the right soundtrack to Rice's fantasia: stripped-down and destabilizing, with a sound that just barely hints at exotic lands and foreign musics in its ringing tonalities.
Chumlum is a viscerally exciting, visually stimulating short that uses the formal properties of layering and multiple exposures to create a film in which multiple narratives seem to be happening at once, in which pirates and Middle Eastern belly dancers coexist within the same space as New York bohemians and cross-dressers. Rice co-opts the imagery and props of various genres and traditions, all of it accumulating into a multi-layered pastiche that suggests all stories without actually telling any of them." - Only the Cinema
Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (1963)
The Flower Thief
Director: Ron Rice
Starring: Taylor Mead, Barry Clark, Heinz Ellsworth, Linda Evanoff, Ella Henry, Bob Kaufman
Runtime: 70 mins.
In Ron Rice's baggy-pantsed beatnik artifact The Flower Thief (1960), Warhol superstar in training Taylor Mead traipses with elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafés, oceanside fairgrounds, and collapsed post-industrial ruins. Boinging along an improvised picaresque up and down the city's hills, Mead teases playground schoolkids, sniffs wildflowers, gets abducted by cowboys in the park, and has a tea party on a pile of rubble with a potbellied bathing beauty. Rice captures his antics on gravelly black-and-white 16mm (reportedly army surplus aerial-machine-gun camera stock), setting the near nonsensical whole to a serenade of classical kitsch. According to Anthology staffers, this print restores dialogue on the audio collage soundtrack that had long been muffled.
By all accounts a wild character himself, Rice died in Mexico at age 29, after completing a handful of underground movies with Mead and Jack Smith. For consummate subcult critic Parker Tyler, Rice's "dharma-bum films" work by discarding the distinctions between art and life. They "bear resemblance to the lunatic romps of the Marx Brothers, only now the actors are not in comic uniforms, as if the parody were part of real life, not a movie fiction." Today, Mead's Flower Thief uniform—tight hoodie, button-down shirt, three-stripe tennis shoes, and beat-up jeans—can be seen on many an L-train habitué, en route to neo-Bowery facsimilies of post-war cafés, and so the parody has been reversed; such are our own meticulous restorations of the fantasies of other people's youth. - ED HALTER