Bill Daniel's Sonic Orphans Screening at Churchill's Pub Tonight
The occasion: A screening of self-described film tramp Bill Daniel's Sonic Orphans: Lost and Found Music Films 1965-87. It's gonna be an experimental (and mostly silent) film night featuring strange and rediscovered cinematic scraps of bands like the Beatles, Butthole Surfers, and Sonic Youth.
Now if you don't know, Daniel is also the guy behind Who Is Bozo Texino?, an awesome documentary about hobo graffiti. See the cut for Crossfade's conversation with the wandering auteur and archivist.
Crossfade: Why screen at Churchill's? It's usually a setting for chaos, not cinema.
Bill Daniel: I've never been there. But it's totally legendary. Even in Portland, Oregon, you can't help but know about Churchill's.
On tour, I kind of avoid doing theatres and theatrical settings. I made this train film about hobo graffiti, Who Is Bozo Texino?, and I've been touring a ton over the last four or five years. I try to show it in clubs or DIY stations or art galleries or vacant lots or haunted houses, and generally avoid theatres just because I'm into the experience of seeing cinema in more of a communal setting.
What are the origins of the title, Sonic Orphans?
They're all kind of lost and found in one way or another: student films that were abandoned by their makers; a film of mine that was confiscated by this club and then later given back. So they all have these lost-and-found stories. Also, orphan is now an official term for film archivists, which means a film that has been separated from its copyright. But it also kind of means a film that's found in a vault and somebody didn't know what it is.
You mentioned your film was confiscated. What's the story there?
I was driving the tour bus for Butthole Surfers in 1987. And there was this big hall in Houston, like one of these giant, downtown, '20s-era theaters that were falling apart, plaster was falling off the walls and it had asbestos and all that. Well, back in the day, some scrappy promoter company was renting this thing out.
The Butthole Surfers' show was pretty outrageous and they had a naked lady dancer. The guys who ran the theater were [part of] a Muslim group that turned the theater into a church, but they were renting out to punk shows. Anyway, after the show, they freaked out and sent all the bouncers into the audience. They grabbed all the photographers, dragged us backstage, and made us give up the footage. There were a few still photographers who wound their film back and handed it over. And I pulled the reel out of my camera and put it in a can, taped it up, and gave it to them. Don't ever do that. But I did. I was scared shitless.
So I basically spent the next three months writing letters to the management company, saying, "Please give me my footage back. I promise not to sue. You're not going to get in trouble. Don't worry about it, you're not going to go to hell or whatever." And they would write me letters back saying, "No. We've destroyed the footage."
To cut to the chase, I got [Butthole Surfers frontman] Gibby [Haynes] to write them a letter, a really fucking hilarious letter. And for some reason, they mailed me back the film in the original can. I sent the film to be processed. And boom! That's what we'll see on Wednesday night.
Wow. How about the found or appropriated pieces of film? How did you come across those? Archives? Estate sales? Thrift stores?
Totally random crazy occurrences ... I was cleaning out a film lab and there was just a bunch of junk in there. And there were a bunch of empty boxes and one of the boxes actually had film in it. Turns out it was a Beatles film. Like unbelievable, raw camera footage. It's silent, but it's unreal. It's not like finding a Beatles film. It's footage.
A lot of the footage comes from a friend of mine Craig Baldwin who's a collector and filmmaker. He also has an amazing archive and I've worked with Craig for years. He's basically my mentor in experimental filmmaking. And it's me kind of trading for films with him, checking things out through his archives.
For example, the Avengers footage ended up in his collection because he lived in San Francisco for years and he knew the woman who shot the stuff in '77. I found it in his collection and I said, "Wow, Craig, what's this?" And he said, "Oh, it's some punk rock stuff." And I said, "Like, dude! This is the Avengers from 1977, man!"
Bill Daniel's Sonic Orphans: Lost and Found Music Films 1965-87. Wednesday, January 26. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The screening starts at 8 p.m. and admission costs $5. Call 305-757-1807 or visit churchillspub.com.
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