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Tarantula on Film

Tarantula on Film

To coincide with the exhibition Tarantula(s): Bob Dylan’s Novel Revisited at The Woody Guthrie Center, The Bob Dylan Archive will present a parallel series of films, including a rare public screening of Bob Dylan’s directorial debut Eat the Document (1972).

Attempting to capture the spirit, trace out the influences and provide insight into the writing of what is surely the most curious book ever written by a Nobel Prize winning writer, this series features short, experimental, works by the likes of Robert Frank, Red Grooms, Ken Jacobs, William S. Burroughs, readings by poets Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and unseen footage from The Bob Dylan Archive.

Program 1, June 24. 2 p.m. at the Woody Guthrie Center Theater. The program is included with paid admission to the Center.

Pull My Daisy

Dir. Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, 1959, 28 minutes

A counter culture classic and the directorial debut of Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. Described by its directors as “an accumulation of images rather than a selection”, Pull My Daisy is based around Jack Kerouac’s narration from the last section of his unproduced play “The Beat Generation”. As much a document of its own unraveling as it is footage of some of the most acclaimed writers and painters of its generation, the film features Allen Ginsberg, Sally Gross, Larry Rivers and Gregory Corso in a story revolving around a railway brakeman whose wife invites a respected bishop over for dinner. When the brakeman’s bohemian friends crash the party, comic mayhem ensues.

Bob Dylan Demonstrates “Cut-ups”

Dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1965, 3 minutes

Among the hours of outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Dont Look Back is an intriguing moment where Dylan discusses Tarantula with a reporter and demonstrates the “cut-up” writing technique invented by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The reporter looks skeptical, but the allusion here to Burroughs and the method he used to complete his 1964 “Nova Trilogy” offers a clue toward unpacking the surreal, elliptical, nature of Dylan’s own book.

Towers Open Fire

Dir. William S. Burroughs and Anthony Balch, 1963, 10 minutes

Burroughs and Balch’s first film collaboration concerns shadowy agents of a syndicate who control the media through witchcraft. Burroughs, who narrates the film, dispenses various strategies for combating their mind-control, including literary deconstruction, drugs that counter opiate addiction and “The Dreamachine”. When a commando raid on the syndicate ensues, Burroughs reappears as a military radio operator commanding “Towers open fire!”. For Burroughs, cinema held a liberating promise of multimedia cultural subversion, in his words “storming the reality studio.” Completely berserk in its time, the film remains oddly prescient.

The Cut Ups

Dir. William S. Burroughs and Anthony Balch, 1966, 20 minutes

Burrough’s best-known foray into experimental film, which he again made in collaboration with filmmaker Anthony Balch. Applying his “cut-up” theory of writing to film, this short features random, repetitive shots of Burroughs in New York, London and Tangiers spliced together in precise lengths but with little regard for the content of the image. The audio is a cut-up conversation that serves as a rigorous exploration of mind control, language and imagery. Appropriately described by Ira Cohen as “The Marx Brothers let loose in an alchemical factory”.

Wholly Communion

Dir. Peter Whitehead, 1965, 33 minutes

The documentary that effectively launched Peter Whitehead’s career, Wholly Communion captures the historic First International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall on June 11, 1965 where an audience of 7,000 witnessed the first meeting of American and English Beat poets. Among the performers featured are Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Alexander Trocchi. Whitehead shows as much interest in the audience as he does in the poets. Exotic spectators such as a girl who dances with a flower to the cadence of Ginsberg’s oratory appear just as significant as the central performances. A landmark film of British Direct Cinema.