Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground (Sydney Underground Film Festival)
Jonas Mekas, Amy Taubin, Richard Foreman, J. Hoberman
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…an object lesson in how to make a riveting documentary.
If ever – or at least at any time in the ’60s – there was a woman ahead of her time, it was Barbara Rubin. Her short 1963 film Christmas On Earth, for example, was very sexually explicit and technically adventurous in areas from multi-media to installation and performance art. Her story is in some ways a mindbogglingly improbable one, and it’s well told here.
One of the astonishing aspects of Rubin’s life is the number of important artistic figures she befriended, knew and influenced. This is the person who took Bob Dylan to Andy Warhol’s Factory, and who introduced Warhol himself to the Velvet Underground (at the Cafe Bizarre). She then went on to create the visuals at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable… But she’s not well known. Amazing really! Oh, and she was a close friend of (and in love with) the great poet Allen Ginsberg. And then there is the big sudden change in her life which left her friends stunned and initially disbelieving. Mum’s the word about that, but it’s safe to say you’ll be taken aback too.
As if all the above were not intriguing enough, there’s a mother lode of terrific archival material in this film, notably rare footage of the Velvets. The interviews with her surviving friends and collaborators are all interesting, best of all being the recollections of venerable filmmaker and writer Jonas Mekas, still kicking and still sharp at 95. The use of period music on the soundtrack is sublime.
Not only is the subject matter of Barbara Rubin… absolutely fascinating, but the treatment is something of an object lesson in how to make a riveting documentary.