Image: 1966 Village Voice with film listings, provided by the artist
The Bird Film (ca1966) is an experimental B&W movie written and directed by Steve Poleskie, and filmed by Eddie Johnson, who is also credited as the producer. Johnson is the photographer who documented Elaine de Kooning when she painted her controversial portrait of President John F Kennedy just before he died. His series of photos appeared in LIFE magazine. The music for The Bird Film was done by John Herbert Mc Dowell, who, three years later, composed the music for The Wedding Party, Robert De Niro’s first film, also starring Jill Clayburgh and directed by Brian De Palma.
Poleskie recently discovered an old 16mm print of his film, which he had almost forgotten about, and has had it made into a DVD which he will be showing at Arcades Project on Friday, May 6th from 5-9pm at 135 The Commons. An advertisement for The Bird Film that ran in the Village Voice when it was first shown in NYC as part of an experimental film festival at The Bridge theater on St. Marks Place in Manhattan from December 24 to 30, 1966 describes the film as: “Four NY painters and a dancer cavort from tenement/loft rooftops to Elaine de Kooning’s farm in an allegorical slapstick.” Mrs. De Kooning (Willem de Kooning’s wife and a painter and art critic) is also credited as an executive producer. The film was shown numerous other times back in the 1960s, including at The Gate theater, where it opened for the cult classic Scorpio Rising and at the Yale Film Festival and on NPR. Poleskie also remembers showing it in Milan, Italy at Studio D’Ars in January of 1985.
Poleskie reports that he has been out of touch with Eddie Johnson since 1977, when he returned to Albuquerque, NM and dropped out of the art world and became a house painter. He made no other films after the one they did together. Most of the other people involved with the film have also disappeared. The female lead, Deborah Lee, who had also appeared in Andy Warhol movies, jumped off the roof of her East Village apartment building and was tragically killed, shortly after the film was completed.
The Bird Film itself is a black satire on “chase movies.” Filmed using high contrast reversal film to evoke the appearance in some scenes of early cinema, the movie has no dialogue and no plot. Actors, wearing masks and costumes, move back and forth between a real and an artificial landscape, created in a loft in downtown Manhattan, as the chase goes.