Remembering Jose Rodriguez Soltero

From: Juan Antonio Suarez Sanchez (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Jun 20 2009 - 10:55:57 PDT

At the risk of some overlap with Ron Gregg?s informative notice on
Rodriguez Soltero, let me post this sketch which I wrote for this
distribution list and had just finished when I saw Ron?s message.


Retired from the art world for decades, Jose Rodriguez Soltero had
been a significant figure in the New York downtown art community
during the mid-1960s and early 1970s. His films were frequently
included in Filmmakers' Cinematheque programs, he was featured in Film
Culture, written up in Jonas Mekas's "Movie Journal" column, and was
the friend, collaborator, and occasional roomate of Mario Montez,
Charles Ludlam, and Jack Smith, among others. José?s strangely
forgotten _Lupe_ is an underground classic of the stature of _Scorpio
Rising_, _Flaming Creatures_, _Hold Me While I'm Naked_, or _Chelsea

Since the early 1970s, José worked for the Social Servicies of New
York City. He was amused by the fact that his position was at the
Office for Disability Determination, or ODD??where else?, he would
often say?

José was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1943, and studied at the
University of Puerto Rico, at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and later on at
San Francisco State University, before moving to New York in 1965. He
first became known in experimental film circles for his early titles
_El Pecado Original_ (1964) and _Jerovi_ (1965), a film portrait of
his friend Jeroví Sansón Carrasco, who commissioned and financed the

His main achievement was probably the luscious _Life, Death and
Assumption of Lupe Velez_ (aka _Lupe_), a poignant and hilarious
recreation of the life of the Mexican spitfire in a style that recalls
the Kuchar brothers and Kenneth Anger, yet still manages to be
uniquely personal. The film stars Mario Montez (it was Mario's
favourite film and José, Mario?s favourite director) and the
performers of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Charles Ludlman plays
a predatory lesbian out to get Lupe; Lola Pashalinski is Lupe's maid;
and Bill Vehr is occasionally visible in the background of the action.

After Lupe, José's work took a political direction. This turn was
foreshadowed by a political happening titled _LBJ_ that he put on at
The Bridge, an experimental theater on St. Mark?s Place, in the spring
of 1966. During the performance he famously burned an American flag,
creating widespread scandal and bringing about the closing of the venue.

Late in 1967, José made _Dialogue with Ché_ (1968) a two-screen film
essay on the significance of the Latin American revolutionary starring
Venezuelan artist Roland Peña as Ché and Taylor Mead as a highly
improbable CIA agent. The film was partly underwritten by Andy Warhol,
who gave José a check to cover lab fees. _Dialogue_ was seldom shown
in the States?it is entirely in Spanish--but had some life in the
European screens. It had a modest run at the Cinematheque Francaise,
where it was championed by Marie Meerson and Henri Langlois, and
played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1969.

After _Dialogue_, José made newsreels with the Puerto Rican collective
Young Lords (he titled them _Young Lords Bulletins_) and some video
(_Despierta Boricua!_) for the United Nations Committee on
Decolonization. Then, in the early 1970s, he seemed to withdraw from
the art and film communities.

His 1960s work was occasionally shown by Anthology during the 1980s
and 1990s, and has experienced a revival of sorts in the last few
years, featured in programs at the Center Pompidou (2004), the
University of Chicago (2006), the George Eastman House (2006),
Dia:Beacon (2006) and at Anthology Film Archives (2008), which
recently preserved Lupe. In the United States, Ron Gregg and Douglas
Crimp (who showed his work at the George Eastman House and included
him in the program "The Lives of Performers," at Dia:Beacon (2006)
have been largely responsible for bringing him back. José's work has
also garnered some scholarly attention but still deserves much more.
(See Juan Suárez, "The Puerto Rican Lower East Side and the Queer
Underground," Grey Room 32 (Summer 2008): 1-36).

Many of José's titles are available from the Film-Makers' Cooperative.
One can only hope that his extraordinary work will become better known
with time. This would only be fair. He wrote an important page in
experimental film history but, due to the vagaries of popularity and
to the fact that, taken as a whole his output remains provocatively
difficult to classify, he remains a strangely forgotten precursor.
Whether they know it or not, filmmakers such as Pedro Almodóvar,
Vivienne Dick, or Bruce LaBruce, among many others, have a grandfather
in José Rodríguez Soltero.

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