Beat and Beyond: Films by Alfred Leslie

These three films by painter-provocateur Alfred Leslie constitute a sort of healthy beatnik sandwich. The first bread slice is Pull My Daisy (1959, 29 min.), his legendary Lower East Side collaboration with Robert Frank (who shot and codirected), Jack Kerouac (the writer and narrator), Anita Ellis and David Amram (jazz vocalist and jazz composer respectively), and Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky (all silent actors here, along with Delphine Seyrig in her first film performance). The second slice is the lesser known Birth of a Nation 1965 (1997, 25 min.), a tantalizing fragment salvaged from a two-hour sound feature that was shot on 8-millimeter in the 60s and then largely lost in a fire. Goofy, funny, challenging, and unruly in the best sense, it's mainly a group grope with unrelated subtitles, plus a guest appearance by Willem de Kooning as Captain Nemo and the voice of Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade. Laid between these irresponsible and lighthearted works is The Last Clean Shirt (1964, 40 min.), a teasing bit of Zen minimalism and a prestructural-filmmaking prank that I hope won't drive the audience out of the theater. It runs us several times through the same uneventful car ride, timed by a clock that's mounted on the dashboard and accompanied on the sound track by the woman passenger's untranslated chatter in what sounds like an eastern European language; various sets of subtitles “translate” the chatter, reveal the black driver's thoughts, and creatively confuse us even further.

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