Jose Rodriguez-Soltero passed away on May 22

From: Ronald Gregg (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Jun 19 2009 - 10:28:57 PDT

Dear all,

Sadly, I am writing to pass on the news that experimental filmmaker
Jose Rodriguez-Soltero passed away on May 22. To celebrate his work,
I'm attaching my introduction to the Anthology screening of his films
on June 18, 2008, but I invite others to expand on the facts of his
life and our understanding of his films. Best, Ron Gregg

Introductory remarks, June 18, 2008:
I’m very honored to introduce this evening of work by Jose Rodriguez-

Jose Rodriguez-Soltero was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1943. He
was an undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico and attended
San Francisco State College and the Film Institute at the College of
New York. During the 60s, he was the Editor-in-chief of the short-
lived film quarterly, MEDIUM and later taught film and video seminars
in NYC at Cooper Union College of the Arts and Sterling-Manhattan’s
Public Video Access Center. (Note: this background, illustrates the
importance of Puerto Rican migration, interest in art/new wave and
experimental film, and bridges film and video practice.)

While at the University of Puerto Rico, Rodriguez-Solterto made his
first film El Pecado Original in 1964, which he dedicated to Luis
Bunuel. Similar to Lupe, music is a key component of this early
film. (His use of music is similar to Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio
Rising, but JR-S cast a wider net, including music from the Latin
America diaspora.) Rodriguez-Soltero drew upon a range of both low
and high brow sources, including Mendelsohn, Charlie Mingus, Bach,
David Rose, music from Ophuls “Black Orpheus,” and the musical “Bye,
Bye, Birdie.” He cast the film with students from the University of
Puerto Rico and sent the film out to festivals, winning the Grand
Prize at the 1965 International Suncoast Film Festival in Florida.

Jerovi, his second film, was shot in 1965 in San Francisco. For
Jerovi, RS illustrates the erotic side to the myth of Narcissus,
marking a significant shift from the introspective and psychoanalytic
use of narcissism by previous experimental filmmakers, such as Curtis
Harrington, Willard Maas, and others. This Narcissus—Jerovi--comes
right out of the evolving sexual revolution of the 1960s, embracing
the sexual pleasure of self love without shame or inhibition—this
narcissus is clearly liberated and not in the least bit interested in
therapy. Like so much of the erotic work that was coming out of the
underground at this time—i.e. Flaming Creatures and Scorpio Rising,
Jerovi was censored. Along with Naomi Levine’s Jaremelu, Jerovi was
rejected by the 1965 Ann Arbor film festival because of its perceived
“pornography.” Filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos wrote in his notes on
the festival that “a part of the selection committee ran ‘Jerovi’ and
they were visibly shaken.”

Before discussing Lupe, I would like to briefly note R-S’s post-Lupe
filmmaking, which illustrates his interest in a radical political
cinema coming out of Latin American culture and politics. In 1968,
RS made the double screen Dialogue with Che. Dedicated to Berthold
Brecht and very much a film influenced by Brechtian techniques, the
film features actors from the NY Latin American theatrical scene,
including Venezuelan actor, producer, dancer Rolando Pena who plays
the title role of Che. The film is a meditation on the death of Che
Guevara and a critique of the Hollywood bio-pic Che’ starring Omar
Sharif that came out at that time. Rodriguez Soltero shifted to
video and continued to produce political work in the 1970s,
particularly of Puerto Rican political actions in NYC. Clearly, his
Puerto Rican upbringing and identification with the Latin American
diaspora influenced his aesthetics, choice of music and sensibility—I
would argue that this would include his portrait of the Mexican
actress Lupe Velez.

Although influenced by Anger’s campy, tabloid reporting in the book
Hollywood Babylon, in his version of Lupe, R-S and his star Mario
Montez do not center their focus on the sordid death of Lupe Velez.
Unlike its sister film made at the time--Warhol’s Lupe starring Edie
Sedgwick which does focus on the sad, lonely, sordid end of Lupe and
seemingly Sedgwick herself--Rodriguez Soltero and Montez celebrate
the successes and tragedies in the life of Lupe. She experiences,
chooses a life of excess and in her death, ascends body and soul to a
saintly, inspirational place for her admirers—in this case two Puerto
Ricans. Besides Anger, the other major influence upon the film, as
cited by RS, are the films of von Sternberg starring Marlene
Dietrich. Along with Montez, the film stars Charles Ludlam and other
actors from the Theatre of the Ridiculous with costumes by Montez
Creations. Unlike Warhol’s version, this LUPE is sumptuous--and the
style is a collage of the energy in theatre and film at the time and
emblematizes the excesses in Lupe’s life. For his approach to sound,
camera and editing, RS draws upon Sternberg and experimental and new
wave film—he veers between the camp theatrics of the Ridiculous and
the Brechtian. There is an exuberant explosion of color, amazing
superimpositions shot in the camera, and lavishness in Montez’s
costumes and makeup—much like the energy in the work of Jack Smith,
Ron Rice’s experimental film Chumlum and the Theatre of the
Ridiculous. Lupe illustrates the energy and collaboration between
various NYC avant-garde worlds with wide ranging interests in popular
and classical music, Hollywood gossip, Latin American culture,
Catholicism, experimental and popular theatre, television, and art
and underground cinema.

Again, it is my honor to be here tonight.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.