Sleep in a Nest
  of Flames
home page
table of contents


60's Pop, Ginsberg, Burroughs &

He Who Beat the Beats

Allen Ginsberg, still from interview, photo James Dowell

Charles Henri Ford has had a sense of perfect pitch for the ethos of each period in his long life. During the sixties he participated in the growing awareness of popular culture as a source for art. He had been involved with using vernacular material since the thirties, but the availability of new media and the growing prevalence of pop imagery made for a new point of view that he quickly embraced.

Ford became friends with Andy Warhol and took him to buy his first movie camera. In turn, Warhol made a screen test of Ford, a section of which is included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. He introduced Warhol to Gerard Malanga, who was to become Warhol's silk-screen assistant and a provocateur in his notorious factory. In his interview in our film Malanga gives his own view of these years and this is juxtaposed with footage he shot of Ford on the top of the Dakota apartments in New York in the 1960's. We also interviewed Paul Morrissey, the director of many of the films associated with Warhol. Through him and Malanga, we get a picture of life at the factory and how important connections of every kind were developed to help promote the various Warhol enterprises.

Ford's own filmmaking was one of the sources of entrée to the factory. His 1965 film Poem Posters is a kaleidoscopic vision of the opening of his Pop Art posters with poems at the Cordier-Eckstrom Gallery in New York City. We use a sample of this film to demonstrate the ambiance of the time and how Ford has been in tune with this as a filmmaker. Many of his artist friends appear, including Virgil Thompson, Claes Oldenberg, Ned Rorem, Frank O' Hara, Marisol and Marcel Duchamp. It was the only time William Burroughs ever met Jayne Mansfield.

Jack Smith, the performance artist and filmmaker was included in Poem Posters. Ford would return the compliment by appearing as Lady Dracula in Smith's own camp-inspired 1968 film No President. We include a section of Ford's performance in our own film.

We also include a section of Ford's most developed film, Johnny Minotaur. It was shot in Crete, one of his homes and is a contemporary retelling of the Minotaur myth. The film critic Elliott Stein places this film in context: "Kenneth Anger, who was perhaps is the only other filmmaker at that time to treat male sexuality so directly and so poetically." The film explores ritual and art making, but it is primarily a non-linear view of the erotic and the mysterious.

One of our many interviews that have become more precious over time is with Allen Ginsberg. This was conducted in an apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan with Ford and Ginsberg being amazingly candid in their discussion of aging, sex and emotional involvement. It is very much the old bohemian speaking to the older bohemian and we get a sense of the difficulties in aging, as well as that which can be maintained with the passage of time. This is one of Ginsberg's last interviews and preserves in an informal way his sense of continuity with Ford, the Puck-like sage.

The other major survivor of the Beat years was William Burroughs. We had written him and just days before he died he sent us his "Notes on Charles Henri Ford." In our film an actor reads these writings behind the colorful media-inspired layouts from Ford's book Spare Parts. Burroughs gives us a faceted portrait of Ford written in his inimitable manner. He does not shy away from the critical, but finally, he concludes that Ford has served a special function in the world; as Burroughs puts it, "he has the 'mark' about him. "

Charles Henri Ford presents Gerard Malanga

photobooth, NYC, 1960's, photo courtesy Gerard Malanga


home page
table of contents