Over the sum­mer of 2014, Lon­don’s South­bank Cen­tre held a Fes­ti­val of Love, exhibit­ing pieces of hip­py iconog­ra­phy which remained dot­ted around the com­plex long after the event. They cre­at­ed a suit­ably fit­ting por­tal to one par­tic­u­lar event: an evening of psy­che­del­ic films at the BFI called 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.

Antho­ny Stern was a man of many guis­es: a film mak­er in the 1960s and edi­tor who sub­se­quent­ly  turned to glass mak­ing, through which he achieved world­wide suc­cess. Stern him­self said that these two medi­ums pos­sess sim­i­lar­i­ties. He exper­i­ment­ed with film in the ’60s as the assis­tant to Peter White­head and was friends with the mem­bers of Pink Floyd. Fas­ci­nat­ed with, and inspired by psy­che­delia and the light shows of the time, he envi­sioned 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 Iggy, at one time the girl­friend of Syd Bar­rett. Anoth­er is set to a unique live record­ing of Inter­stel­lar Over­drive

Flower Children, Swinging London

The evening at the BFI was intro­duced by Nicole Brenez, Cura­tor of Avant Garde Film at the Cin­e­mateque Fran­caise, Paris; she was clear­ly enchant­ed by and pas­sion­ate about Antho­ny’s work as a film mak­er of this peri­od, more­over she sug­gests that he is some­what over­looked here in the UK.

His first film was shown, 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. As Antho­ny Stern has said, this piece sets the tone for all his lat­er works. The 16mm work is about com­ing to terms with father­hood, look­ing back over those ear­ly days of courtship, jeal­ousy and sex­u­al desire, and sub­se­quent­ly accept­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty of cre­at­ing a new life. It is beau­ti­ful­ly paced with plen­ty of ’60s iconog­ra­phy and fash­ion to enjoy – mini dress­es with match­ing bak­er boy caps and ubiq­ui­tous cig­a­rette smoking.

With a sound­track of See Emi­ly Play the sec­ond film men­tioned above is intro­duced: Iggy the Eski­mo Girl, made in 1966. It could osten­si­bly be described as an ear­ly music video. The film stars Syd Bar­ret­t’s girl­friend, the cap­ti­vat­ing and beau­ti­ful Iggy Rose 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 and trips along bare­foot through leaves as the sun glints down, framed by the bus­es and trees around Rus­sell Square. She embod­ies the idea of the 1960s free spirit.

The film 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 mid-way mark, fea­tures tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of the dis­arm­ing­ly youth­ful Pink Floyd mem­bers 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. 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 as Canned Heat On the Road Again and For What It’s Worth by Buf­fa­lo Springfield.

Flower Chil­dren in the Blind­ing Light: The 60s films of Antho­ny Stern, BFI, South­Bank Lon­don
Sep­tem­ber 16, 2014

Antho­ny Stern died on 10th Feb­ru­ary 2022. 

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