Is it true that with the Brazos Films, Arhoolie has a soundtrack that accompanies each film? I know of one for Chulas Fronteras…
There are two for J’ai ete au bal [I Went to the Dance].
You’re more generous than most filmmakers to elevate the relationship of your co-conspirators in creating films by listing the films as a work by yourself and them. Your primary collaborator -- your sound-recordist, your producer, your editor -- often receives co-director credit [such as Gina Leibrecht on All in this Tea]. I was curious about your working relationship with Maureen Gosling, Chris Simon and others.
The first partnership was Flower Films, which I started with Skip [Gerson]. I have a fondness for flowers and, when I trained my eye to be a photographer, I shot a lot of flowers and found them endlessly fascinating. Our friendship and business partnership fell apart in 1972. Then, Maureen was an eager, bright-eyed anthropology graduate fresh out of University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. I met her in her senior year and, when she graduated, she asked if she could come to work for me. At that point, I had just broken up with my business partner and needed some help. I didn’t have any money to pay anybody and she was willing to do anything and go anywhere, so I took her to Louisiana. I didn’t know her at all. I taught her how to run the Nagra and she learned quickly in the field by making mistakes. We shot Dry Wood and Hot Pepper that way. She stuck around when I lived in Oklahoma for two years and proceeded as an assistant editor on Dry Wood… and the Leon Russell film. Then, I sort of bounced around for a while ‘til I got going on Chulas Fronteras and she came back to be my assistant on that. I did Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers in tandem. I edited most of the films myself, but she came on and I worked with her to finish them off and I gave her the editing credit. My co-filmmakers and I argue mostly over “film with” and “film by.” It was a fine line we tread and we fought about it constantly.
Two of the films you mentioned [and, later, Burden of Dreams] feature Werner Herzog. Obviously, both of those films involve, in some sense, Tom Luddy and Alice Waters. Was it yours or Tom’s or Alice’s suggestion to cook the shoe at Chez Panisse?
That was my suggestion. I knew Tom pre-PFA. He was showing the Lightnin’ film when he was booking the Telegraph Repertory Cinema. I believe the famous film reviewer from the New Yorker, [Pauline] Kael, was there writing notes for the programs. I’d actually gone to that theater when I was in my last period in Berkeley graduate school when she was programming and writing the notes. Then later, either that theater or one similar to it, Tom programmed the Lightnin’ Hopkins film. He invited me up to meet me and he was living with Alice at the time. She was teaching at the Montessori school but she’d already been to France on her junior year abroad and got hooked on French ways of cooking and food handling. I enjoyed the fruits of her learning and I enjoyed her. I was very fond of her as well! I hung out at Chez Panisse all I could.
The idea is taken from an offhanded comment that Werner made to Errol Morris. Were you already aware of this story long before the event?
I didn’t know much about Errol or the film. I just knew that Werner was on his way to Berkeley to eat his shoe. He claims he made a vow to Errol for the first time his film showed in Berkeley. The film got finished and was about to have its premiere at the UC Theater, which was the first theater in the Landmark chain co-founded by Gary Meyer. Tom suggested that I might want to do a film on it and Werner agreed to let it be done.
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