From: Michael Chaiken (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Jan 27 2006 - 03:54:53 PST
The Word and the Image
The Films of Peter Whitehead
A retrospective of the work of
British film director Peter Whitehead
Available for booking beginning in June 2006
Legendary filmmaker, author, lover of some of the world’s great beauties,
and falconer to Arab princes, Peter Whitehead was at the heart of Swinging
London and the counterculture of the 1960s. He filmed the Rolling Stones in drag,
Allen Ginsberg at Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s protest
against the Vietnam war, the Presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, and
the students of New York’s Columbia University occupying their campus. Taken
together, Whitehead’s films – many of which are directly related to the
United States (the Beat poets, Vietnam, student protest) – stand as an unrivaled
document of the era.
Marking the 40th anniversary of Peter Whitehead’s career in film,
Contemporary Films (UK), Reality Films (UK) and The Maysles Institute (US) are pleased
to present the first ever American retrospective of his work. An extension of
Marek Pytel’s London retrospective of 2002, The Word and the Image includes
rare and previously unseen material from Whitehead’s extensive archive and a
new interview/documentary produced especially for the occasion of this series.
For a more extensive biography of Peter Whitehead and full film descriptions
please see below.
The films in this series are presented in new BETA SP (NTSC) transfers:
The Perception of Life (1964, 30 mins)
Wholly Communion (1965, 33 mins)
Benefit of the Doubt (1967, 65 mins)
Peter Whitehead: Pop Films (1966-69,120 mins)
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London (1967, 70 mins)
Nothing to Do With Me (1968, dir. Anthony Sterne, 30 mins)
The Fall (1969, 120 mins)
Daddy (1973, 90 mins)
Fire in the Water (1977, 90 mins)
The Word and the Image: A Conversation with Peter Whitehead
(2006, dir. Paul Cronin, 90 minutes)
We feel these singular films will appeal to a wide variety of the public,
from ordinary moviegoers to enthusiasts of the pop-political counterculture of
the 1960s, fans of the British Free Cinema movement, as well as experimental
The entire program will be available to venues for the flat rental fee of
For more information or booking requests please contact
Phone: (212) 582-6050
E-Mail: email suppressed)
Additional materials, including screeners, stills and a bound 96-page
illustrated brochure about Whitehead’s life and career are available upon request.
Peter Whitehead’s website: _http://www.peterwhitehead.net_
For a selection of articles about Peter Whitehead and his work visit
For more information on the Contemporary Films distribution library and
documentary library visit:
For more information on Reality Films, including Marek Pytel’s ‘Peter
Whitehead: The Complete Retrospective 1964 – 69’, visit:
An unsung hero of British cinema, Peter Whitehead’s films represent an
extraordinary insight into counterculture movements of the late 1960s in both
London and New York.
Born in Liverpool in 1937, Whitehead studied physics and crystallography at
Cambridge University where he worked for Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA,
knew future British poet laureate Ted Hughes (who later dedicated his poem
The Risen to him) and Syd Barrett, later of Pink Floyd fame, and acted in the
theater alongside Ian McKellan and Peter Cook. He obtained a scholarship to
the Slade School of Art as a painter, but instead took up filmmaking under the
tutelage of director Thorold Dickinson. He became a newsreel cameraman for
Italian television in 1964, and was asked by the Nuffield Foundation to make a
half-hour science documentary called The Perception of Life which was shot
almost entirely through a microscope.
In 1965 he made Wholly Communion, the film of the International Poetry
Meeting in June 1965, which opened in London to great acclaim and later won the
Gold Medal at the Mannheim Documentary Film Festival. After seeing the film,
Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, invited Whitehead to make a
film of the Stones’ tour of Ireland. Charlie is My Darling was shot with one
camera over two days in Dublin and Belfast. Distribution of the film was
later blocked by Allen Klein when he took control of the group’s music rights.
In 1967 Whitehead made two films: Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, in
his words a ‘spoof of the London Scene’ (even if it remains the quintessential
filmic representation of Swingin’ London) and Benefit of the Doubt, which
documents the ground-breaking Royal Shakespeare Company’s London production US.
That same year Whitehead was hailed by influential British magazine Films
and Filming as ‘probably the most creative and original of the young British
film-makers. His approach and work could form the basis of a new independent
In September 1967 Whitehead presented Tonite and Benefit at the New York
Film Festival. While in the city he started shooting what was to become The
Fall, a two-hour film about the collapse of legal protest in America. Whitehead
captured the mood on the streets of New York in the immediate aftermath of
the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and spent several days inside the
occupied buildings of Columbia University, filming the police crashing
through the front door, and the subsequent mayhem and violence.
Whitehead’s work documenting the burgeoning rock and pop scene of the era is
equally important. He created some of the first pop promos for Top of the
Pops on British television, and filmed bands like The Rolling Stones, the
Dubliners, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Shadows and Jimmy James and the
Vagabonds, as well as Jimi Hendrix and Nico. In 1970 he photographed and edited Led
Zeppelin’s Live at the Albert Hall concert, recently released on DVD.
In the early 70s Whitehead quit filmmaking and spent ten years in North
Africa, Pakistan and the Arctic as a falconer. The following decade was spent
in Saudi Arabia where he built and ran the largest private falcon breeding
center in the world, the Al Faisal Falcon Centre. This came to an abrupt end
with the Gulf War of 1990. Since 1987 Whitehead has written several novels,
including Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London and The Risen.
Rarely seen – either in the 60s or more recently – and freshly rediscovered
by audiences and historians in Britain, Whitehead’s films have been the
subject of retrospectives and lectures across the country, and have been acquired
by the National Film and Television Archive in England.
The Perception of Life
An extraordinarily beautiful and simple science film about the history of
biological ideas which shows how they expanded as technology improved. Filmed
in museums and in the Cambridge University labs where Whitehead had been a
student, The Perception of Life was filmed through microscopes used by
scientists from the 17th to the 20th century, including the electron microscope in
the MRC unit where Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA.
The documentary that effectively launched Whitehead’s career, Wholly
Communion captures the historic event at the Royal Albert Hall on 11 June 1965 where
an audience of 7,000 witnessed the first meeting of American and English
Beat poets. Among the performers featured are Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Adrian Mitchell.
Benefit of the Doubt
Peter Brook directs the Royal Shakespeare Company in US, a semi-improvised
work protesting England’s unseen and unacknowledged role in the Vietnam War.
Containing sequences at public meetings and interviews with the actors
(including Glenda Jackson) and Brook himself, the film is an agit-prop time capsule
that has gone virtually unseen in this country since its premiere at the New
York Film Festival in 1967. Wrote Variety of the film, “…for Americans
interested in current theatrical trends it could be a must, since it’s their only
current opportunity to see one of the most adventuresome and controversial
stage productions of the last few years.”
Peter Whitehead: Pop Films
Whitehead’s work with The Dubliners, The Small Faces and, above all, The
Rolling Stones was the very inception of the artful, experimental and daring pop
promo. This program includes the films Whitehead made with The Jimi Hendrix
Experience (‘Hey Joe’), Nico (‘I’m Not Sayin’’), The Stones (‘We Love You’
), the first ever footage of Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett performing live and
in the studio, and some rare surprises from the director’s extensive
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London
One of the few film-makers trusted within the perfumed gardens of the 60s
rock illuminati, Whitehead was allowed unparalleled access into the centre of
the pop circle to capture the moment for his kaleidoscopic film. With
contributions from the likes of Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Lee
Marvin and David Hockney, Tonite presents a dazzling and intimate record from the
very core of the ‘in-crowd.’ With music by Pink Floyd, among many others. “
Not a documentary in any ordinary sense,” said Variety, “but rather an
impressionistic view of the ‘land of mod’ as seen by a sympathetic participant.”
Nothing to Do With Me
On 23 November 1968, several months after returning from the United States
where he had just completed shooting on his film The Fall, Whitehead
philosophises to camera in this remarkable autobiographical document.
Considered by Whitehead to be his most important film, The Fall is an
extraordinary piece of filmmaking, an extremely personal statement on violence,
revolution and the turbulence within late sixties America. Filmed entirely in
and around New York between October 1967 and June 1968, it features Robert
Kennedy, The Bread and Puppet Theater, Paul Auster (fresh-faced as a Columbia
student), Tom Hayden, Mark Rudd, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Arthur
Miller, Robert Lowell, Robert Rauschenberg and The Deconstructivists. Richard
Roud, co-director of the New York Film Festival wrote of the film, “…an attempt
to come to grips with today, both in terms of its content as well as of its
What began as a documentary about French sculptress Niki de St Phalle
finished up as a fantasy about a woman's attempts to exorcise the influence of her
sexually domineering father. Alternately gothic and surreal, de Saint Phalle
and Mia Martin are the two protagonists in a kind of ‘Let’s Get Daddy’
charade, acting out their fantasies on the poor unfortunate patriarch, as played
by Rainer Diez.
Fire in the Water
In this alchemical allegory, a filmmaker reviews his brief movie career in
the highlands of Scotland while his girlfriend explores the countryside alone.
With Nathalie Delon, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix,
David Hockney and John Lennon.
The Word and the Image: A Conversation with Peter Whitehead
A newly filmed interview with Whitehead, including clips from his films and
television appearances, and a wealth of still images.
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.