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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G.
Chapter 33 – “Professor G.”
That chapter heading is a lie. I was never a Professor but I did teach college for a few semesters, and students don’t say, “Guest Lecturer G, I have a question about the reading list.” Instead, they throw in “the P word,” and after the first few times, you stop correcting them because it’s a pain to keep on doing so and because it’s a pleasure to hear the term.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you saying. “You taught in college? How the hell did that happen?”
Excellent questions! You are clearly an alert and charming reader. And that’s a nice outfit you’re wearing.
(Pause to consider if I have slathered enough flattery on you for the moment.)
You’re also very attractive!
(Okay, that’s sufficient.)
I ended up teaching because of many things: because of my MFA degree; and because I applied for the position; and because, when I applied, I somehow managed to fill out the forms properly; and because my faculty advisor had some pull with the university; and because of several other strokes of good fortune like being in the right place at the right time. My guess is that someone a lot more qualified did not get hired. Sorry about that.
Making a Flim
The university’s first announcement about my class in filmmaking misspelled the word “film.” Well, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a typo. In any case, when I proposed the idea of the class to the Art Department, I was surprised at how fast they came back with a “Yes” vote. Normally these decisions are made at a speed rivaling that of the continental drift.
What I did not know or failed to notice was that a power struggle had arisen over the teaching of filmmaking. This was totally unexpected because at first, no one wanted anything to do with a film course. Or even a flim course. “USC and UCLA teach film,” I was told. “You’ll never compete with them.”
“I don’t want to compete with them,” I replied. “I just want to teach one class on the art of film communication.”
“Film students don’t enroll here,” they told me.
“Someone could take the course without any intention of ever making a movie. The same way you might take an art appreciation class but don’t intend to become a painter.”
My logic was unassailable but all it got me was a shrug of the shoulders. So while I didn’t expect a rapid response, I put in my request to the good folks in the extreme exalted executive headquarters of the Art Department. And suddenly, everybody wanted to support my little class. Wanted it, needed it, couldn’t live without it.
“When can we start offering the class?” one of the administrators asked me.
“How does the coming semester sound?” was my reply. Here’s how I figured it: I knew the topic, had written the course outline, and was eager to begin, so I said something flippant about beginning in the next semester, which was only a week away, not nearly enough time to get things printed in the listing of course offerings.
So I was shocked when they immediately came back with: “Sounds fine. We’ll print up a handout and put a stack of them at registration.”
Why were they being so good to me? Ah, well, money. Students pay by the unit to attend classes. The Art Department wanted their share of that money.
And so did the Communications Division of the university’s English Department.
And so did the newly-formed Cinema Arts section of the university’s Theater Arts Department.
I had stepped into the middle of a three-sided jurisdictional battle for the forthcoming Division of Motion Picture, Television, Radio, Interpretive Dance, and Semi-Related Communication Arts and/or Sciences or whatever it would eventually be called.
While the college administrators were sorting out who would win this dispute, I got to teach my little class. The first semester was all business and I stuck to the course outline. The second semester loosened up a bit, mainly because the students wanted more hands-on filmmaking to balance out the theory. This was fine with me. Having new student films to screen each week, especially ones made by people who were obviously not too strung out on drugs, was a nice addition to the class. In fact, I wrote this into the course outline (without mentioning the drugs specifically).
By the time of my third semester of teaching rolled around, the word from the administrators was that Theater Arts was out in front in the race to grab “sin-uh-muh” and give it a home in a whole new group of classes, or perhaps even an actual new department.
“Maybe you can emphasize the art aspect of the class,” they suggested to me.
“I can do that,” I told them. “Do you want more theoretical art or more participation art?”
“Well, probably both. And maybe you can come up with something that makes the art department’s offering more evident on campus.”
“Be as conspicuous as possible,” I was told.
Out loud, I said, “Okay.” In my head, I said, “Goody!”
Thus I fell back on something I had done earlier in my life: the strategic employment of kaleidoscopic principles as applied to the artistic design and manipulation of the natural agent that stimulates sight. Which is to say electromagnetic radiation that travels 300,000 kilometers per second in a vacuum and resides in the visible spectrum of approximately 400-700 nanometers in wavelength.
Or: light shows.
My interest in working with light began with photography and proceeded to filmmaking, but the idea of using light to create an environment was thanks to the Nazis.
For those of you who just choked on your coffee or nearly knocked your tablet off your lap, let me explain. In Germany during the 1930s, there was a horrible architect named Speer. I’m talking about Hitler’s “git-er-done” guy, Albert Speer, a logistics expert who often worked on a huge scale. For the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Speer designed night rallies in an open-air parade ground encircled by anti-aircraft searchlights.
This was a big event. The concave mirror in each searchlight was sixty inches in diameter and weighed 180 pounds. Every searchlight was mounted on its own mobile platform and was powered by its own generator. Speer used one hundred thirty of them. To see the result, use your favorite search engine to find images of Speer’s “Cathedral of Light.” (For those who are into film history, the view is better in Festliches Nurnberg than in Triumph of the Will.)
I wasn’t alive for Speer’s dazzle-eyed genocide-lover’s nighttime office party, but I was in attendance when Broadway lighting director Jules Fisher used the same idea at the end of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour when it played the then open-air Universal Amphitheater. Being anywhere near a light sculpture of that size is a fantastic experience, so I wanted to create something powerful like that.
But a look through my garage revealed the fact that I didn’t have any anti-aircraft searchlights. Not even one; forget about finding 130 of them. It turns out that I did have several sealed-beam flashlights, which operate on kinda-sorta the same principle, and I discovered you could create breathtakingly beautiful light patterns if you aimed the light beams through thick pieces of glass. In particular, the old-style Sparkletts Water bottles worked great for this purpose.
So I wrote up an artsy-fartsy Manifesto of Light or some such and began infiltrating the art world. My pitch was to hold a “trip the light fantastic” walk-inside-the-living-lightworks-of-art thing.
One gallery showing of my work was notable. Perhaps not for my art, but for the party in the offices behind the gallery space, primarily because we had filled a Sparkletts water cooler with red wine and attendees were drinking the alcohol like, well, like water.
While we offered signed photo prints of some cool light patterns, we didn’t sell too many at the event, primarily because you could take your own photos while standing in the middle of the exhibit. But I had a lot of fun during the run of that show.
Single Wing Turquoise Bird
A friend of a friend got me a one-night gig with a then legendary rock ‘n’ roll light show troupe called Single Wing Turquoise Bird. While perhaps not quite as famous as Headlights, Joshua/Joe’s Lights, or the Brotherhood of Light, the SWTB group was one of the great ones. No less an author than Anais Nin wrote this about their shows: “Like a thousand modern paintings flowing and sparkling, alive and dynamic, of incredible richness.”
For my part in the SWTB event, I was told to “bring your loops, your films, and a 16mm projector and meet us in the parking lot of the Shrine.” By which they meant the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles. Fortunately, I was living in Los Angeles at the time.
As for “loops,” I had been experimenting with taking a sequence of 16mm film and splicing the end to the beginning and threading it into the projector. When viewed, the action repeated indefinitely. Not a new idea, but if you keep making enough loops, you eventually find sequences where the splice is almost invisible. So the action (Mae West blowing a kiss, for example) repeats on screen forever or until you fade it out and move to the next loop. Very hypnotic, especially in the middle of a huge screen full of super-colored liquid phantasmagoric shapes and forms and bubbles and blobs and paisley patterns.
If you’ve ever been given a Rorschach test (the inkblot test), just imagine one that moves and occupies a CinemaScope-size screen behind a rock group playing at 100 decibels.
We entered the Shrine as the bands were going through sound check. The promoters had erected scaffolding running across the middle of the venue. It was free-standing; that is, it was not connected to the sides or balcony of the auditorium. You either climbed the metal framework or walked a wooden plank that they would slide from the scaffolding to the balcony railing. Dizzying, either way.
For the three hour concert, I became one of SWTB’s nearly two dozen “shape-shifting artistes” (or “weird hippie freaks,” if you prefer). We operated our equipment while swaying gently back and forth high above the crowd, projecting art in the form of light. Our creations traveled amidst beams of electric solarized color.
SWTB didn’t do their thing between the acts, but I didn’t see any reason to stop, so I would aim my projector at anyone in the crowd who was wearing white. A guy in the audience might be talking, enjoying a drink, whatever, and then suddenly notice that Betty Boop was dancing on his girlfriend’s blouse. Or it might be Ronald Reagan giving a speech. Or a yo-yo champion displaying his prowess. Or a guy being shot out of a cannon.
Some people figured out what was happening and turned to look up at me on the scaffolding. They’d wave or nod, then go back to their conversation. Other people, being perhaps a tad more stoned or inebriated, took it as a sign from the spirit world that the girlfriend’s blouse was haunted. Good fun no matter which way they reacted.
When the second-billed band began their set, no one in the SWTB made a move. No films, no slides, no overhead projectors, no nothing. I had threaded my most colorful film into my projector and was ready to go, but the big screen behind the band was blank. I looked at the guys on the scaffolding. Most were staring off into space, looking at their shoes, watching the crowd below us, etc. One of the SWTB guys met my gaze, shrugged and nodded. I nodded back and hit the switch on my projector.
About half of my ten-minute wild trippy-light movie played all by itself until one of the guys switched on his overhead projector and some of the psychedelic liquid display joined my motion picture epic up on the big screen. Then, one by one, everybody joined in and the SWTB was flying high as usual. After the hour-long set, I asked one of the guys, “What happened at the start?”
“Oh, that,” he said. “The band’s people said they would beat the shit out of us if we showed anything except black-and-white news footage while they played. We didn’t have anything like that. Then you started showing that freaky colored footage.”
“Jeeze, nobody told me.”
“Sorry, man. But when they didn’t come after you, we figured what-the-hell, y’know? It all worked out.”
Back on campus, I convinced the powers-that-be to hold an end-of-semester “Living Art” event in one of the lecture halls. Everybody in the class would show their films, slides, projections, and images all at the same time. We had a rehearsal and it turned out that you cannot run three dozen projectors using the electrical outlets in just one part of the campus. We blew out the power.
“Wow, that’s going to be a problem,” said one of the students.
“I know,” I said. But I knew of a good old-fashioned solution that would have made our pioneer ancestors proud. “We’re going to need a lot of very long extension cords.”
Which is exactly how the situation was resolved. Fifty foot extension cords. Seventy-five foot extension cords. One hundred. . . you get the idea. We had electrical cables snaking all over the building for the actual show.
Afterwards, I wrote up a description of the event and got it published in a small art magazine. I think the pen name I used was Bobette Bunson. As you might expect, Bobette composed a glowing rave review, full of understanding and appreciation for the artistic theories I had been discussing all semester.
That notoriety helped us get approval from the college administration to create another event the following semester to be held in a much larger space: the atrium of the brand new campus library. Little did the administrators know they were opening up the official doors for an event we called the . . .
Eye-Rape Waver Space
Yeah, we went a little overboard with that title. But it looked good on the posters. This was a bigger show than the last one: more films, more loops, more liquid projections. We added rotating polarized lenses in front of many of the slide projectors so that still images would change color and visual texture as you watched them. We also added something so silly and campy that it totally transformed the event into something that lived up to our outlandish title. We got dry ice.
Dry ice is just frozen carbon dioxide. It’s cool stuff, no pun intended, but it does have a couple of problems. You can’t touch it without getting a frostbite burn. And when you bring it up in temperature, the CO2 is released, which is called outgassing. Do enough outgassing in a confined space and the result is called asphyxiation. All of which meant that students needed to sign insurance wavers in order to participate in the event.
But here’s the neat thing: when you drop a brick of dry ice into a vat of warm water, you get fog. Not just normal fog, but moving, flowing, hug-the-ground fog. Fog that seems to lap at your feet and swirl around the corners and baseboards of the room.
One of the students had access to a firm that supplied refrigeration products to supermarkets and liquor stores and our little show ended up having several hundred pounds of dry ice delivered to us the night of the performance. Another student was adept at the principles of siphoning and she rigged up a series of hoses that brought warm water to our strategically placed containers of CO2 bricks and removed the chilled water. (Which flooded the courtyard garden of the library building, but we didn’t know about that until several days later.)
The fog poured itself up and over the rim of every container and then down to the floor. Any step you took inside the Waver Space event was like walking on a cloud, although it was the kind of cloud that had very hard floors underneath. You couldn’t see your feet as you moved around the exhibit. Very unsettling. Very eerie. Very close to the feeling of intoxication.
“Are you sure this is safe?” my girlfriend asked me. (Of course I had invited her. After all, somebody had to take photos to document this happening.)
“Safe?” I asked. “No, it’s not safe. Don’t get down on all fours and start breathing that stuff.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” she said. “People are holding onto each other as they walk.”
“Thank you, it’s just my part in bringing people closer together. Ow.” She punched me on the arm. “Besides, not everyone is grabbing onto their boyfriends like you are, just the frail and elderly. Ow. And some people are walking alone. See?”
“Sure,” she said, “but they’re kind of shuffling, not walking.”
“It’s that shuffling motion you use when moving through the house the night after your pet has delivered a litter so you avoid stepping on the kittens or puppies. Ow.”
We mingled among the students and guests. “This is like being inside of a Jackson Pollock painting and a Salvador Dali painting combined,” said one attendee.
“Thanks,” said one of my students. Made me grin.
The visuals were a fantastic conglomeration of shapes, colors, patterns, and textures. At any moment, you would be seeing modern art, ancient art, sculpture, and architecture; animals, minerals, fruits, and vegetables; abstractions, blobs, sketches, and non-objective figures; and clips from every genre of motion picture and television programming in the history of broadcasting.
Plus, the images were everywhere: walls, ceiling, and the fog-covered floors. One student placed his projector on the floor so she was projecting through the fog. That meant you were walking on the kind of clouds that had very hard floors underneath but were lit up like the fish tanks at the aquarium store.
Campus security guards made appearances from time to time. “We’re just checking things out,” one of them said to me. Some stayed for a minute or two. Some remained for a while. One accepted a student’s offer to help manipulate the liquid projections on one of the walls. “What if you put the projector on a lazy susan?” he asked.
“A what?” said the student.
“That’s a great idea!” I said. We quickly put the projector on a book cart and began rotating it.
“Now that’s too much,” said the guard.
“Too much is what we’re going for here,” the student told him.
He got that right.
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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011-2012 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten.