Over the summer, London’s Southbank Centre held a “Festival of Love”. It is over, but pieces of hippy iconography remain dotted around the complex. They fit well with last Tuesday night’s psychedelic films at the BFI, Flower Children in the Blinding Light: the 60s Films of Anthony Stern. For lovers of 60s imagery and music, Anthony Stern’s films give us a window back into that world, its innocence, energy, naivety and expressiveness. The evening is introduced by Nicole Brenez, Curator of Avant Garde Film at the Cinemateque Francaise, Paris, who is clearly enchanted by Anthony’s work, regarding him as an important film maker of this period, and suggests that he is somewhat overlooked here in the UK.
Anthony Stern is a man of many guises: a film maker and editor, who then turned to glass making, through which he has achieved worldwide success. He experimented with film in the 60s as the assistant to Peter Whitehead and was friends with Pink Floyd. Fascinated with and inspired by psychedelia and light shows of the time, he saw how music and image could create something “greater than the sum of their parts”. This idea resulted in the beautiful and exuberant early “music video” of See Emily Play starring the then girlfriend of Syd Barrett. Another is set to a unique live recording of Interstellar Overdrive.
The evening begins with his first film, a beautifully constructed piece entitled Baby Baby, shot in Cambridge, 1965. This simple black and white film is, for me, the most charming and the most personal. It does, as Anthony Stern has said, set the tone for all his later works. The 16mm piece is about coming to terms with fatherhood, looking back over those early days of courtship, jealousy, and sexual desire morph into the responsibility of creating a new life. It is beautifully paced with plenty of 60s style to enjoy – the mini dresses with matching baker boy caps, the ubiquitous smoking a la Mad Men.
With a soundtrack of See Emily Play is the second film Iggy the Eskimo Girl, made in 1966, which could ostensibly be described as an early music video. It stars Syd Barrett’s then girlfriend, the captivating and beautiful Iggy, who as the programme notes say “playfully cavorts round London”. Snapshots of her explode with a powerful energy as she poses and flirts with the camera, trips along barefoot through leaves as the sun glints down, framed by the buses and trees around Russell Square. She seems to embody the idea of the 60s free spirit.
San Francisco is a psychedelic explosion of iconic imagery seen from the perspective of an Englishman exploring a new, vibrant and, at the time, troubled, nation: anti-Vietnam protest rallies are an important part of the content, as are shots of the vibrant counterculture. Layer upon layer of images assault the eye. The soundtrack is a powerful, unreleased version of Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive and at around the half way mark, features tantalising glimpses of a disarmingly youthful Pink Floyd in performance. Earlier at the BFI I happened to meet the well-known film maker and critic Tony Sloman, who was involved in the editing of the original version of the film, and is credited in the programme notes as Assembly Editor, and it was fascinating to hear about his early work with Pink Floyd.
Anthony’s final film is a recent oeuvre, consisting of extra footage from San Francisco, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack – songs from the era such Canned Heat On the Road Again, and For What it’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield.
Currently on BBC4 is the series Oh! You Pretty Things – the Story of music and fashion, introduced by Lauren Laverne.