Saturday, January 27, 2024

John Hofsess - Palace of Pleasure (1967)

 Watch The Looking Cure -  a mini-doc about John Hofsess's Palace of Pleasure - made by Stephen Broomer.

See it and you’ll see a window on the future: a Joyce-Burroughs assemblage of bold, poetic surreal visions of physical love in every conceivable form." - Gene Youngblood

As Broomer writes in CineAction (the full essay reproduced here): 

Hamilton's McMaster University of the mid-1960s had a thriving campus art scene. The annual arts festival attracted prestigious and daring North American guests, such as Amiri Baraka, Cannonball Adderly, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, and Leslie Fiedler among others. In 1966, mature student John Hofsess, a frequent contributor to the campus newspaper, began to produce 8mm and then 16mm films. Hofsess founded an organization of student filmmakers called the McMaster Film Board (MFB), a group funded by the student union. Hofsess's interests in sexual revolution and American underground art made for a tense relationship between the McMaster Film Board and the student union. Through the McMaster Film Board, John Hofsess began Palace of Pleasure (1966/67), a series of experimental films. Intended as a trilogy, only two parts were completed.

The films were designed as showcases for Hofsess's concept of 'cinematherapy,  an experiment that combined ideas from contemporary media--from Warhol and McLuhan--with ideas gleaned from writings on psychoanalytic liberation. His project was similar, if more in spirit than practice, to Wilhelm Reich's orgasm theory, wherein the organism was freed from its neurosis through the total release of dammed-up orgastic energies. Reich envisioned a healthy and functional mankind that could build a sex-positive society away from the tyranny of repressive institutions. 

Hofsess saw his films operating in opposition to a filmmaker such as Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures), whose shocking work, in Hofsess's estimation, could only reinforce the alienation of the neurotic and their bond to the repressive institution. The ideas underlying the productions were Hofsess's own, but the first part (Redpath 25) was a collaboration between Hofsess, McMaster art community organizer Patricia Murphy, who starred in it, and Robin Hilborn, a science student who applied bleach effects during the film's processing.

 The second and more substantial part of the trilogy (Black Zero) was announced in the student press as being co-directed by McMaster Film Board president Peter Rowe, who was primarily responsible for the cinematography. Hofsess had also cast members of the McMaster Dramatic Society, specifically its director David Martin, who would go on to make a film with the McMaster Film Board titled To Paint the Park (1968), a single-screen experimental narrative that was heavily influenced by Hofsess's work. Martin's performance in Black Zero, according to Hofsess's model of therapeutic film form, was "flattened out" in editing. The film was presented in dual projection: tension would dissipate between the two screens. 

The film acts as a sensual experience by emancipating the viewer from the expectations placed on them by the narrative tradition, their view of the film disrupted by the intentional compromise of performance elements as well as frequent obstructions of kaleidoscopic psychedelic images and appropriated magazine advertisements. Palace of Pleasure is an auteur work, supported through a manifesto that Hofsess contributed to Take One Magazine that expressed his unique aesthetic perspective ("Toward a New Voluptuary: From the Black Zero Notebook"), but it was made with conscious attention to the participation of others, in the spirit of collaborative practice. Hofsess showed a dedication to filmmaking as a social experience, here as well as in his community work as founder of the McMaster Film Board.

Interesting case study in the meeting ground / overlap between the avant-garde and pornography (see the famous Sontag essay), between libidinal liberation and titillation. 

Broomer says that " Hofsess's film aesthetic had been informed by thinkers such as Wilhelm Reich, Carl Jung and Norman O. Brown, and by the literature that had been issuing from Grove Press through the 1960s...".

But one of his partners on his next project was Ivan Reitman, who would later make National Lampoon's Animal House

That next project was titled Columbus of Sex. The makers were prosecuted. Some portions of that film were then turned into the arty erotica film My Secret Life (based on the diary of an anonymous Victorian sex maniac) by another director.  Traces of it appear to be only findable on sites like xhamster.  

The story is rather convoluted but can be found in this essay by Stephen Broomer. 

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