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. 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 is 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 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, 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 is introduced by Nicole Brenez, Curator of Avant Garde Film at the Cinemateque Francaise, Paris; she is 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 is 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 (as was captured so succinctly in 2007 TV series Mad Men).
With a soundtrack of See Emily Play is the second film mentioned above, Iggy the Eskimo Girl, made in 1966, which could ostensibly be described as an early music video. It stars Syd Barrett’s 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 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.
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. 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 and For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield.
THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: Flower Children in the Blinding Light: The 60s films of Anthony Stern
WHERE: BFI, SouthBank London
WHEN: September 16, 2014
For more about Anthony Stern and his glassmaking: Anthony Stern Glass
2017 update: Anthony Stern is leaving his studio in Battersea, where he has been since 1979 and is moving to Lewes. Please check his website for sale details.