[Frameworks] Robert Nelson
dbaker1 at hvc.rr.com
Wed Jan 11 11:30:56 CST 2012
typo gremlin in transmission:
the plural, artists (not artist),
the artists who worked for Mad Magazine.
On Jan 11, 2012, at 12:11 PM, David Baker wrote:
> Robert Nelson's work is an abiding source of inspiration
> that never quits!
> I was sixteen; OH DEM WATERMELONS was the first
> film I ever saw. Many years later WATERMELONS still stands as a
> of achievement I may never equal but will always strive for.
> I knew about Duchamp, I knew about James Ensor,
> I knew about the artist who worked for Mad Magazine,
> but when I discovered Robert Nelson he sent me on my way.
> He was an architect of sublime mirth and pure pleasures I had not
> Off the wall or underwear,
> Robert Nelson carries in his art all that the
> counter culture should have been and then some.
> Mark, your shining words properly testify.
> Please bring his work to us on the god forsaken East Coast
> so that we may know and verily celebrate
> his vision.
> I am with the highest regard for he and you,
> David Baker
> On Jan 10, 2012, at 8:27 PM, Mark Toscano wrote:
>> Can't really express at all how very sad I am to report that Robert
>> Nelson has died. He was 81. He had been diagnosed with terminal
>> cancer about a year ago, and had decided to not receive treatment,
>> to go out in his own way, as he could only do, as Chick Strand had
>> decided to do before him.
>> All things considered, Bob was doing pretty well all year,
>> actually. He had moments, sometimes days, of fatigue and feeling
>> kind of lousy, but had plenty of good days too. I last spoke to
>> him about a week ago and we talked about meeting up soon. He
>> sounded great, and was as sharp as ever. So when I got the call
>> from Wiley today, the news was a bit of a shock to me, as Bob had
>> still seemed so vital and alive a week before.
>> He hadn’t been taking any medication or treatment beyond the herbal
>> kind, and had continued to live on his own in the mountains in the
>> small house he built in gorgeous Mendocino County. An inimitably
>> homespun and offhand philosopher, he would say things to me like,
>> “what the hell, I’ve had a good run.” I made him some CDs to check
>> out a few months ago, and after he’d listened to and enjoyed them a
>> few times he unexpectedly sent them back, saying “they were really
>> good, I just don’t want to accumulate any more shit.”
>> Bob has easily been one of the most important people in my life, a
>> massive source of influence, inspiration, support, friendship, and
>> good company for the past ten years. His films are still huge for
>> me. and will be til I die.
>> I sought him out in 2001 when I worked at Canyon Cinema. I had
>> seen Bleu Shut and Hot Leatherette, and they had both knocked me
>> out, especially Bleu Shut. At the time, my friend Martha was a
>> preservationist at the Academy Film Archive in L.A., and she and I
>> concocted a proposal for Bob and the Academy to start getting his
>> filmography preserved, film by film. After he answered my initial
>> letter, Bob and I had exchanged a few more letters (he was a great
>> letter-writer) without yet meeting. One day without warning, he
>> just strolled into the Canyon office on Third. Dominic hadn’t seen
>> him in a few years at least, and said, almost in shock, “…Well hi,
>> Bob!” Bob and I met, had lunch and talked about the archiving
>> thing, and a deal was hatched. He was still very skeptical about
>> the value of his work and his own desire for people to even see the
>> films, but a project at the Academy was worked out, and Martha
>> preserved The Off-Handed Jape and Deep Westurn right away, with Bob
>> still not really wanting the films to see the light of day. I took
>> over when I was hired to replace her in ’03, when she left to work
>> in Tanzania, and have worked on a bunch of ‘em since then.
>> Over the years, a certain visceral block about his films, a desire
>> to destroy many of them or at least keep them withdrawn from view,
>> loosened and relented, in some cases title by title. I worked on
>> him to do screenings, and though he wouldn’t initially appear in
>> person, he approved the occasional showing of individual films
>> starting in late 2003. In 2004, with Craig Baldwin’s help, we were
>> able to do a 3-day retrospective at Other Cinema, with Bob in
>> person, which marked a big change in his attitude about the work.
>> The voluminous positive feedback from audiences I was able to pass
>> on encouraged him more and more to lighten up about it all. He
>> started making appearances, including some brilliant ones at
>> Oberhausen, Vienna, and elsewhere. He even started working on
>> several new films (left uncompleted) in 2007 or so, one of which
>> was a collaboration we discussed at length, and which I hope I can
>> actually complete now.
>> I was always thrilled to pass word along to him about how much one
>> or more of his films had influenced someone I’d met, because by the
>> 1990s, he had gotten really apathetic about a lot of them. But the
>> interest in his films over the past ten years was something he
>> really enjoyed, and he came around to re-embracing many of his own
>> films. (Some of them remained to him nausea-inducing failures,
>> though. Mention What Do You Talk About? or The Beard, and he would
>> groan.) He was thrilled his work still resonated with people, or
>> just made them laugh. Sometimes younger filmmakers would track him
>> down and send him their work, and he always looked at it with a
>> fresh, critical gaze, responding with his genuine and thoughtful
>> reactions, which sometimes led to extended correspondences.
>> I always found him incredibly open, curious, wise, attentive,
>> interested. He was just so fucking great to hang out with. How
>> many people over 30 (let alone 80) still approach life,
>> conversation, questions, EVERYTHING, with a completely open,
>> curious mind, capable of considering and reconsidering, changing,
>> reorienting…? Even in screening Q&As, when asked a question about
>> Bleu Shut or Blondino that he’d probably been asked dozens of times
>> before, he would seriously consider the question and try to give a
>> unique, thoughtful answer. He was so full of consideration and
>> wisdom, always gave me (and others) great advice.
>> So many filmmakers are filmmakers in some way or other because of
>> Bob (among them Peter Hutton, Fred Worden, Chris Langdon, Curt
>> McDowell, Mike Henderson, numerous others). Peter once told me
>> that when he saw Bob’s films for the first time, his reaction was
>> “wait, you can make movies like that?”, and started making films
>> himself. David Wilson (of Museum of Jurassic Technology fame) was
>> deeply inspired by The Awful Backlash, and wasn’t the only one to
>> have that reaction. Bob named the classic film Near the Big
>> Chakra, with his gift for evocative titles. Bob could also be
>> burtally honest about someone’s work, because he felt a friend was
>> due that honesty and respect, even if it cost him a few
>> friendships. Bob was the person I was most nervous and yet most
>> eager to show my own films, and his positive, thoughtful reactions
>> meant something immeasurable to me, as did the criticism of one
>> film of mine he thought was a stinker.
>> When an artist dies, the inevitable retrospectives follow. But
>> that’s OK. Bob was happy to have his work rediscovered, and
>> thrilled that anybody still found it entertaining, funny,
>> enlightening, whatever. I already miss him deeply, but am excited
>> that his films (and his spirit, a very palpable, inextricable part
>> of them) are, and will continue to be, very much with us.
>> If anyone would like to send any thoughts, reminiscences,
>> testimonials, etc. about Bob or his work to me, I’d be happy to
>> share them with his family and friends.
>> I'm posting this text up at my blog too, with some photos of Bob
>> and images from his films:
>> All the best,
>> Mark Toscano
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>> FrameWorks at jonasmekasfilms.com
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