August 27, 2023
Working with composer-performer David Rosenboom on his archive, we discovered tapes for two little-known films of George Manupelli, the founder of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Before getting into the details of the films themselves, it is worth explaining how the films ended up with Rosenboom.
David Rosenboom (left) and George Manupelli. Credit: A. Schreiber.
Source: David Rosenboom Archive.
Both George Manupelli (b.1931) and David Rosenboom (b.1947) arrived at York University (Toronto, Ontario) in 1972 to teach at the newly founded and quite experimentally oriented institution but it was not until 1975 that the two began to collaborate actively. This creative collision was encouraged by a third figure in this narrative – Jacqueline Humbert (b. 1952), then an art student who traveled with her mentor (Manupelli) from the University of Michigan to Toronto. Soon after ending up at York, she began to collaborate with Rosenboom artistically, first on the biofeedback musical pieces and installations.
Inspired by ONCE Group history, Humbert initiated an art performance series at the farm on Maple St. The summer of 1975 was the beginning of the Maple Sugar (1975-79) art group. The core members of it were Humbert, Manupelli, and Rosenboom. But the performances featured many renowned experimental artists – William Winant, James Tenney, and others.
Maple Sugar collective at Music Gallery, Toronto, 1977. From left to right: Mary Moulton, David Rosenboom, Ann Holloway, George Manupelli, child (daughter of Tenney & Holloway), James Tenney, Jacqueline Humbert, Michael Byron. Credit: Ellen Band.
Almost Crying (1978)* was shot by Manupelli sometime between the 15th and 16th AAFFs, when Rosenboom was on sabbatical and traveled to the US with his partner (Humbert). In addition to touring in the US as the Maple Sugar collective and taking part in the festivals as performers,** Humbert and Rosenboom participated in the film shooting and production.
The plot of this 16 mm, 60-min long absurdist comedy unfolds in a mountain house inhabited by two lesbian lovers (Jacqueline Humbert and Frances Leeming) whose peaceful existence is suddenly disturbed by the appearance of a 400-years old wandering samurai (Harvey Chao). The male chauvinist caricature portrayed by Chao challenges the progressive views of these two women as they enter into something of a love triangle with him. The musical part of the film was composed by Rosenboom and Humbert. During the shooting in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Rosenboom made many field recordings that later were featured in compositions from Two Lines (1994) and other pieces.
This film production period also gave an impetus to Rosenboom’s work on Manupelli’s In the Beginning (1978-1981), a series of 8 pieces***. A very different spirit had the film co-produced by Manupelli (director) and Rosenboom (scenario/music). In the Beginning V: The Story, the last composition in the series, was shot in the fall of 1980 north of San Francisco at Point Reyes and was captured in photos by Alan Schreiber. Jacqueline Humbert, William Winant, and Jean Moncrieff played the three main characters. As William Winant recalls, the process of shooting was very challenging due to cold weather – exacerbated by the fact that the three actors were performing naked, fully covered with clay.
The Story was conceived as a narrative about human beings striving to double themselves, through religion and technology in particular. The narrative also discusses cosmological ideas, such as the process of emergence and the evolution of global consciousness, awakening through continuous perceptual differentiation embodied in concepts and beliefs.
Portrait of Jacqueline Humbert covered with clay. Credit: A. Schreiber. Source: David Rosenboom Archive.
Rosenboom describes The Story in an interview with Larry Polansky in 1983:
“The text depicts a scene in which three characters are talking, two of them are the spirit characters, which represent the polar opposites of humanity, the maleness/femaleness, the hard/soft, etc. These characters further represent the polar aspects of a single consciousness to which humans have evolved after some cataclysmic event be it natural or unnatural, we don't know but a sort of cusp in catastrophe theory terms. These creatures are waking up, the first waking forms of this new evolutionary form.”
An excerpt of the dialogue created for The Story is featured on Rosenboom’s Future Travel (1981) as the synthetic voice spoken by Humbert.
Almost Crying and In the Beginning are almost opposite in their genre and idea. One features well-developed characters while the other is somewhat abstract. One film has a very humorous light-minded spirit, and the other dives deep into metaphysical questions. One responds to the socio-cultural zeitgeist, and the other seems almost atemporal, dealing with eternal themes. Almost Crying and In the Beginning are of value (yet to be recognized), not only as historical documentation of the collaboration of experimental artists (Manupelli, Humbert, Rosenboom, and others) but also as films pondering the profound questions of human existence and illusions driving so many of our actions.
My best hope is that very soon the films will become the subject of due preservation efforts and will be ‘doubled’ in more up-to-date formats that can be shared with the public in forthcoming festivals.
Anastasia Chernysheva is a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
*The film was presented in 1979 at the 17th AAFF as suggested in the review authored by E. Daniels published in American Film magazine. The film was shown again in 2005 as the 43rd AAFF program suggests.
**Recordings that Rosenboom produced in collaboration – Suitable For Framing (1975) w/ J.B. Floyd and J. Jasmine: My New Music (1978) w/ J. Humbert – were presented as gifts to filmmakers in 1977 and 1978. The draft versions of the pieces included later in J Jasmine were performed for the 15th AAFF.
***Polansky, L., & Rosenboom, D. (1983). Interview with David Rosenboom. Computer Music Journal, 7(4), 40-44.