Filmograph by Harrie Verstappen based on the strip by Victor Moscoso
In 1970 or so, my then friend Ira Moore dropped in with the news that Olaf Stoop of the Real Free Press, Amsterdam, wanted to produce a short movie based on a comic strip. Olaf needed a budget.
Olaf gave us a choice of four strips and Cosmic Comics obviously was the one to go for. Small wonder: later, it turned out Victor Moscoso had originally designed the strip as the storyboard for a never-produced animated cartoon; it was then published in strip format. Which was the first underground strip in full color. The title, now, without anybody knowing where it originated, is all over the place - just check any search engine
The strip Cosmic Comics has to be seen to be believed. It is a trip through the book, taking you from the front cover in and out of several dimensions, to arrive right back on that same cover. A typical product of the acid-filled 1960-70s, it could have put M.C. Escher to shame. After you have finished reading it, you can re-read it right away, following a different route. A real masterpiece of comic-book art.
well-known optical illusion
the movie If there is one thing wrong with it, I will grudgingly admit that it makes it too easy on the audience, taking away all the joy of finding your own way through the strip. It should maybe have been multiplaned, but as it's a film of a (flat) strip, to keep in style camera movements even start and stop without any acceleration or deceleration. However, it is very amusing, seems over in a flash (always a good thing) and has a production value that's an involution of its actual cost. We are now trying to get it on DVD or CD; when this is ready it will be offered for sale here.
Now on DVD
It took some doing, and money, but it looks like Cosmic Comics has now been saved for perennial immortality.
Sparing no cost or expense, nor arms and legs, the film has been digitized. Looks good.
One thing left to do is some work on the sound track.
That was a bit premature. Alas, the digital copy was cropped much too close and what they did to the sound is just incomprehensible. However, the really good news is that, thanks to Ewald Rettich's efforts, the original 16mm A&B rolls complete with silver optical positive soundtrack, have now been found in the archives of EYE Amsterdam, where they ended up after the bankruptcy of Cineco Film Lab, wherein the original processor Haghefilm/Color Film Centre had been integrated. They are now being checked for damages and maybe then go back to Haghefilm, again up and running! for digitizing.
the production Olaf could have reprinted the strip for 5000 Dutch guilders, but thought he might do better using the money to produce a movie as a publicity gimmick. I figured we could turn it into a filmograph, where only the camera moves and the artwork is static, for less. I Was Right. The first budget estimate was less than half the price for a reprint. We did go over budget, but staid well within the originally set price limits, even if the production took two years start to end and Wim Verstappen found himself obliged to come up with a private subsidy of over a thousand guilders. The finished movie was 11'30" long in 16mm color. By the time it was ready, the original strip had been sold out long since and copies of it were selling for $5; 500% up in 2 years.
Arras takes a break
With the help of a lot of material, thrown in by Olaf for the good of the cause, I finished a storyboard in one week-end, and we went to work on the sound-track.
For this I called in the help of Arras, who was at that time heavily into electronic composition. Louis van Gasteren lent me his Kudelski Nagra IV, that marvelous machine, on which we did voice recordings. Willy, upstairs neighbor Lydia Corduroy, Arras and especially Ira Moore did fine jobs on the voices. Paul Walboom had the awesome task of hooking up our ReVoxes and other, not quite so high-class, equipment.
Paul and Arras at work in VistaFilm's magnificent
Scheveningen Sound Studios But that is the original priceless KusamaCat on the wall back there, in good company: Dimi low left (just a corner)
Voice recordings and music selection plus transfer of effects took us one week-end. Arras and I then set out to select electronic grunts, squeaks and toots from the tapes he had made at the Utrecht Institute of Sonology, and we went on to splice all that on four (as I remember it now - there may have been many more) reels of ¼" tape. This took us two to four weeks, who wants to remember? We took those along to the same Utrecht studio and made a master mix (we started at 10 in the morning and wrapped up at 4 next morning). Thanks, Arras! (who, incidentally illegally, had acquired a key to the premises).
At Haghefilm this was transferred to 16mm perfo; Max came out to warn me that our master was heavily distorted by over modulation - I didn't have the heart to tell him that such was the general idea. Anyway, I took this to Louis van Gasteren's editing table to spot and time the shots on the storyboard. This was the easy part and all over and done with in a couple of hours.
We tried to shoot on Hans Moolenbel's Eumig camera. It just didn't work. Because the "originals" were so small, we had to use close-up lenses, which a friendly optician helped me out with. I still have the complete range, by one of those coincidences brand Vista-San. But it was just impossible to switch (as we had to do) from one lens to another during a track and keep the movement smooth. We had to go to a studio and have it done there. I ended up at Wim Gomes'; the catch was he asked for as much as we had spent up to that point. Meanwhile, I had other troubles as I had to eke out a living, in this particular period by working on Dakota and Olga Madsen's short Straf, Bear Award winner at the Berlin festival.
Olaf delivered materials all right, but had dried up as a money source. It was Wim Verstappen who, after having listened to the sound-track, pulling out his wallet simply asked: "How much do you need?" He had more than enough troubles of his own, too, at that point. And some others - long story - it's better if you know the guy - won't go into it right now.
"Django" is Django Reinhardt und der Hot Club de France; "Harpo" is Karl's brother.
Ira Landgarten did the titles and a very nice job it was, too; he also did much more work than we had asked for (to avoid using the words "bargained for"), such as figuring out how many frames a shot of so many seconds would last.
So Wim Gomes shot it and, with the help of Rob van Steensel, editor of many of Wim's films, we cut it down to size. We only had to settle with BUMA, the Dutch music copyright society, who asked, for the use of maybe 30 seconds of 25 years old recordings, more money than we had spent on the rest of the movie. May their souls burn in hell.
the release Olaf may have wanted a movie as a publicity stunt, but he never accomplished anything with it, except for an ad in his own paper. So I went out and tried to sell it, not what you'd call my forte. Dutch VPRO television's Jan Blokker had a look at the movie and, to quote The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse, 'shoved it back with a curt "It Stinks".' (You should have seen some of the stuff I worked on as a sound engineer for them; or HITWEEK Willem de Ridder's footage on USA underground strips they did find worth it to transmit. Nothing but sour grapes, this raving and ranting. Sure, sure.)
There was a Dutch 16mm distributing outfit I don't want to mention the name of; they did not much like the movie either and it's not surprising they never succeeded to book even a single rental. Canyon Cinema Coop, San Francisco USA, liked it and it was in their catalog for many years. At a certain point this just became ridiculous and I had it shipped back. Meanwhile, the movie was shown at the Grenoble Festival du Film de Court Métrage, 1974 (hors concours), the Atlanta Film Festival, 1974, and at the First Hollywood Erotic Film and Video Festival, 1984, where it won me an Honorable Mention. But Expanded Entertainment, the organizers, considered the combination of sex and violence bad box office, and did not include it in their compilation. (That's real bad B.O., mon.)
There's precious few of these things I have - to be proud of?
We did apply for a (really quite modest) Subsidy After the Accomplished Fact (always a hardship) with the Dutch Ministerie van Cultuur en Maatschappelijk Werk, but these guys were so paranoid that Victor Moscoso would start suing the Kingdom of the Netherlands for infringement of copyright that they would not touch it. I tried to explain what the Underground Press Syndicate was all about, but this was too far out for the hardened Dutchies to accept. Even though Victor Moscoso was on the list for X dollars; surely would have been a nice surprise for him. I can tell you this, if you want me to make a movie like that now, I would ask for $100K. Or €, it's all the same to me.
They did offer me a grant to make a trip to the States, by way of stimulus, but I was kind of sick of them by then and just let it slide past. Ass...
Victor has shaved since then, and so has Paul but Ira Landgarten has grown a moustache