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Festival Program

The Fox Venice

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Tale of the Fox
by Wendy Reeves

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Call Someplace

Ghost Town

Kinney's Folly

Pat Hartman

A Venice Wedding

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30 Years Ago in

Murder of
Sarai Ribicoff

Visions of Venice

To See Venice
Is To Live

Venice's True Sister City


Venice - the Safest Beach



The 1978 Venice Festival
at the Fox Venice Theater

The first thing we encounter, in the window where Venice memorabilia are displayed, is the first edition, dated September 1974, of a magazine. On the cover Dick Drake, whose look could be described as Intelligent Caveman, smiles with a rose in his teeth.

I had sent him a Christmas card from all of us, and yesterday one came back from him: an old-time black and white photo of a Santa Claus with a huge beard, flanked by two very serious looking police officers. On the ground are several bags filled with kilos of pot.

Back to "Venice Night" - a few minutes later Carla spots Drake himself on the other side of the crowd. Then I see Joan Silverthorn, the dancer, writer and sex surrogate, who makes her home in one of the boardwalk apartment buildings, in conversation with three or four men. A searchlight is in operation out front of the theater, and someone releases giant bubbles into its beam.

In the display window is a well-preserved poster with a gal in an old-time tank bathing suit with a striped umbrella. "Venice," it says, "the safest beach." That was a long time ago. Another item is a page from the Santa Monica Evening Outlook (or Outhouse as it's more commonly known) about a former festival. The headline reads "Chaos Rules Venice Show." That year it took place in the Pavilion.

In the crowd outside we stand near a woman with a pseudo-punk hair style, who desperately and repeatedly embraces a man with blond hair and a bright red beard. Her eyes have that certain look that says "zonked on acid." She stays glued to the guy, never lets go for a minute. I've met her, as a patient in the group practice office. She had uterine cancer and was waiting to find out whether it had metastasized. Maybe that's why she clings so desperately to her man, because they just got either some very good or very bad news.

I eavesdrop on conversations between others waiting for the lobby to open. Tweed-wearing pipe smokers are one-upping each other with their knowledge of Venice history and lore. After an ungodly long wait out front, Carla and I finally enter the theater with the crowd and buy our popcorn. Venice insider phrases float through the air: "Is that the Bubble Man?" and "He's an old friend of mine from the Canals" and "Where's the Swami?" Inside we see the fabled boardwalk character Jingles. He has a big bell appliqued to his clothing, and so many bells attached to his body that one more couldn't possibly fit. Formerly of New York City, Jingles sings and plays guitar. In April, he organized a free four-hour concert with about a dozen prominent street performers. He says the street performers have an organization that is both a non-profit union and an entertainment co-op. They have a lawyer and dues, $20 to join plus $10 a year. The eight-point charter includes many goals. They want to take their music into hospitals and jails, and to apply for grants from the government and private foundations. Venice Precision Roller Works already gave them $125 to rent a sound system for the concert. That kind of generosity is not typical of the merchants, who mostly say the buskers hurt business.

The law says they can put out a box or something to catch money, but aren't allowed to ask for it. In all of Los Angeles, Venice is, not surprisingly, the community most favorable to street performers, though Hollywood is interested. The group is asking for a city ordinance like the one in San Francisco, where you pay for a permit and don't get arrested. It seems strange that such an anarchistic group as street performers should ask the government to make a law. They want to feel secure and be protected from competition, like hairdressers or plumbers. It's a bummer that they want money from the government. By coincidence, I'm sure, the buskers' concert was on the 15th, income tax day, as if to say, "Here's what you'll get for the part of your taxes that comes to us."

We are given a ballot to vote for our favorite community service groups, which are competing for the money from this benefit. Candidates are the Boys and Girls Club (sports, arts and crafts, tutoring and counseling), the Beachhead, Madres Unidas (a dance troupe), Native Visions, the Oakwood Wesley House (low-income housing, Christmas food baskets, the Police Practices Complaint Center) and the Venice Town Council.

In the auditorium a large bloc of seats in the center is roped off, reserved for the press and contributing artists. "Soft Parade" plays over the PA system. The side walls, down front near the screen, are an impromptu art gallery. An artist drives more nails into the wall to hold more paintings. They are wonderful mood pieces of Venice locales, mostly nighttime scenes, paintings I would want to own. One is of the Gas House, a legendary Beat hangout on the boardwalk. All that remains of it now is an iron post. Supposedly part of the Roger Corman movie Bucket of Blood was filmed there in 1959. The paintings are by Bob Farrington. "His images chronicle the beat infusion from 1950 until the Gas House closed in 1962 and he painted 'every house and oil well....' "

Someone makes an announcement: "Tonight, because of the nature of the event, there will be no smoking in the theater." Most of the audience applauds. The program begins with the Harbinger Dance Theatre performing the Roller Skate Dance, in which they impersonate skaters, cops and old folks trying to get out of the way. The first film, from maybe the 20s, shows fireworks and midway lights and, on the canals, Italian gondoliers imported from New York. It extols the wonders of a large hotel with "hot salt water in every room as a therapeutic bonus." It characterizes Venice as the hoped-for birthplace of the American Renaissance.

My notes are a mess, and it's hard to remember what scenes were in which films. There was a documentary called Canals, Calliopes, and Chaos by Tom Moran and Tom Sewall. Tom Moran, the program says, "has written numerous pieces about Venice for local publications and is now preparing a book on Venice history." I met him at the "Mensas in the Movies" get-together in Beverly Hills; he mentioned writing for New West. That was the same event where I met Sid Garfein, author, dentist to the stars, etc. whom I see quite often shambling along the boardwalk.

Peace Press did the printing for the affair - an interesting outfit that was reported on in the Times some weeks back - socialistic I guess you'd call it.

Brucemas is about a transvestite named Jimmy. One film was called Hey Mama and I think it's the one with a shot of the same fellow with blond hair and red beard I saw caressing the lost-looking woman in the lobby. In the movie he was riding a bicycle down by the beach with a poodle in the front basket. In this film also are the Bubble Man, Francesco (without the Beam) and Swami X, who says, "If elected I will pass a bill changing the 'no-knock' law to 'come back next Thursday, mother-fucker'."

It was the world premiere of Feeding the Sparrows by Feeding the Horses by Moritz Borman. He's in the States for a while free-lancing for German television. According to the press release, it's about "the struggle of a heterogeneous community to maintain its social, ethnic and geographical integrity." That's us.

Excerpted from Call Someplace Paradise copyright 2000 by Pat Hartman












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