Barbara was the moving force and coordinator between us all. – Lou Reed, December 2012
so i shoot & shoot & shoot & shreak up over slow & fast down & often all the way around & rewound many times the subject, what else could it be, was all about cocks & cunts & fantasies that freely expressed our sexual needs & dreaming beliefs painted on their nude bodies (...) so i spent 3 months chopping the hours of film up into a basket and then toss and toss flip and toss and one by one Absently enchantedly Destined to splice it together and separate on to two different reels and then project one reel half the size inside the other reel full screen size and then i showed it and someone tells me, ‘my what a good editing job that is indeed! - Barbara Rubin, from “A, P.S. to Christmas On Earth” (1966)
Boo-Hooray in co-operation with Jonas Mekas and Anthology Film Archives is staging an exhibition of still images and ephemera relating to Barbara Rubin’s landmark 1963 underground film Christmas On Earth.
The exhibition opens with a reception at Boo-Hooray from 6 to 9 PM Tuesday, December 18th and runs through Wednesday, January 16th. Festive seasonal sausages from Zum Stammtisch and pretzels by Keegan Cooke will be served up. Boo-Hooray is closed December 22nd through January 3rd 2012. In conjunction with the exhibition, a screening of Christmas On Earth and To Barbara Rubin With Love by Jonas Mekas is scheduled for Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 7:30 PM at Anthology Film Archives.
Boo-Hooray is also publishing a limited edition book of still images from Christmas On Earth. This book comes with an extended biographical essay and bibliography by art historian Daniel Belasco, alongside rare ephemera and correspondence. More information to follow.
Originally titled Cocks and Cunts, Christmas On Earth is a film of sexual tableaux vivants, gay and straight, where two separate reels of film are superimposed on each other, with additional light effects layered on these images, all accompanied by a contemporary rock radio soundtrack, as specified by Rubin.
The film was projected onto the performing Velvet Underground as a part of Andy Warhol Up-Tight, an early version of Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia performance, in February 1966 at the Filmmaker’s Cinematheque, in March of the same year at Rutgers University, and in April at the renamed Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances at the Dom in Manhattan.
Barbara Rubin (1945-1980) was a filmmaker, writer and scenester who started working for Jonas Mekas at the Filmmaker’s Cinematheque in 1963. This was the year she filmed Christmas On Earth in the Lower East Side apartment of Tony Conrad and John Cale at 56 Ludlow Street. This was also the future home of Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed, and where the first version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” was recorded in the summer of 1965.
Rubin introduced The Velvet Underground to Andy Warhol. A photograph exists of her filming The Velvet Underground performing at the Café Bizzare in December 1965. The footage she shot is lost. As a human link document, Rubin also introduced Bob Dylan to Allen Ginsberg, and according to John Cale, Edie Sedgwick to Andy Warhol. She left New York at the tail end of the 1960’s, became heavily involved in Orthodox Judaism, and died in childbirth in 1980 in France.
After a handful of screenings in the mid- to late- 1960’s, Christmas On Earth remained unseen for years as per Rubin’s instructions for the film to be destroyed. Luckily, Mekas did not follow through on Rubin’s request, as she later changed her mind and allowed him to screen and distribute the film. Since 1983, it has been screened regularly, and is slowly but steadily taking its place in the canon of 1960’s underground films and cultural milestones that unraveled American censorship law and opened the field for artistic studies of sexual narratives.
Hadn’t I once a youth that was lovely, heroic, fabulous, something to write down on pages of gold? – I was too lucky! Through what crime, by what fault did I deserve my present weakness? You who imagine that animals sob with sorrow, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try now to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better than the beggar wth his endless Aves and Pater Nosters. I no longer know how to talk!
And yet, today, I think I have finished this account of my Hell. And it was Hell; the old one, whose gates were opened by the Son of Man.
From the same desert, toward the same dark sky, my tired eyes forever open on the silver star, forever; but the three wise men never stir, the Kings of life, the heart, the soul, the mind. When will we go, over mountains and shores, to hail the birth of new labor, new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, – to be the first to adore! – Christmas on earth!
The song of the heavens, the marching of nations! We are slaves, let us not curse life! -Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Morning’ from A Season in Hell