[Frameworks] Robert Nelson

David Baker dbaker1 at hvc.rr.com
Wed Jan 11 11:30:56 CST 2012


typo gremlin in transmission:
please substitute
the plural, artists (not artist),
the artists who worked for Mad Magazine.
gracias

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
> underground/experimental/avant-garde
> film I ever saw. Many years later WATERMELONS still stands as a  
> benchmark
> 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  
> imagined.
> 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:
>> http://preservationinsanity.blogspot.com/
>>
>> All the best,
>>
>> Mark Toscano
>>
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