Interview with Claire Carter, Curator of the Paolo Soleri: Mesa City to Arcosanti Show at SMoCA

I met Claire Carter in 2015 at Arcosanti, in the cafe, while having lunch with Jeff Stein. She told me about an exhibit she was curating about Soleri — which was going up in what seemed like the way, way, WAY distant future. I put forth the idea of doing an interview for the blog, and she agreed to do it when the exhibit opened. Lo! It has opened!   You can see Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) from now until January 28, 2018.

How did you come to be a curator, and specifically, work with Soleri artifacts?

In the 1980s, the city of Scottsdale commissioned a bridge design from Soleri. Due to political roadblocks, it was delayed until 2011. When the project was revitalized in the 2000s, Scottsdale Public Art, a sister institution to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where I am a curator, managed the construction of the bridge and installation of original artwork by Soleri. In the spirit of collaboration, the museum decided to present an exhibition of Soleri’s bridge designs. I was assigned by our (now former) director Timothy Rodgers to steward the project. Working in the archives was a revelation and both Dr. Rodgers and I proposed a three-exhibition series to the Foundation.

Claire Carter and Paolo Soleri (2011). Photo by Claire Warden

This isn’t the only Soleri exhibit you curated, is that right?

In 2013 SMoCA presented the exhibition Paolo Soleri: Mesa City to Arcosanti. The show focused on Soleri’s three largest conceptual cities—Mesa City, Macro-Cosanti and Arcosanti. It was structured around two large scrolls and an early model of Arcosanti made of acrylic. It also provided photographic documentation of the Silt Pile and Arcosanti workshops, as well as construction of Arcosanti from 1969 – today.

What can we expect to see in Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature?

I conceptualized this final exhibition in the series as a retrospective of Soleri’s work. I thought it was important to survey the variety of mediums Soleri explored: drawing, sculpture, carving, painting, ceramics, bronze and aluminum casting, earth cast concrete construction and silt cast slab construction, among others. I wanted to include his craft production as equal to his artwork, as he exhibited all media in international exhibitions. Another overlooked facet of Soleri’s history is how respected he was by his peers and contemporaries. In addition to rare drafts and first edition catalogues, the exhibition also presents a variety of ephemera, posters, fundraising materials, and media coverage including Harpers, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone and Vogue. I also wanted to reflect upon how public perception of Soleri began to shift in the mid-1970s after construction on Arcosanti was underway.

And now some photos from Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature at SMoCA. Photos by Chris Loomis.

Soleri was so prolific, how do you decide what to exhibit and what not to exhibit?

Truthfully, it is a really tough process. I have been studying Soleri’s artwork and archives for 8 years and I still question whether I made the right choices. The main problem for curators (usually) is the editing process. I would have happily made the exhibition twice as large. However, the key to a compelling exhibition is culling the extraneous and selecting only the objects that make unique arguments. The exhibition catalogue (essay, footnotes, annotated bibliography) is the place to provide the reader greater access to my research and provide a deeper analysis than is possible in gallery texts.

What are, for you, the stand out pieces of this show? Why?

I am very proud that we have on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York a model of Dome House Soleri constructed in 1951. It has never been exhibited in Arizona, despite the fact that Dome House was built here in the Phoenix valley and is still inhabited. My favorite scroll in the exhibition is from 1960 called History of Man .

From Soleri’s craft practice, we have almost twenty examples of very early ceramic bells on loan from private collectors. Last, I am very proud to display three bridge models misplaced in 1971 that we rediscovered during my research. The museum has since stored and conserved the models and after the exhibition they will return home to the foundation archives at Arcosanti.

Is there anything you’d like to have but can’t get your hands on?

Oh yes, so many things. I would love to have examples of the ceramic vases, lampshades and table legs Soleri made in the 1960s. There is a spectacular bronze lantern almost 20 inches high that appears in a photograph of Cosanti taken by Charles Eames dating from the early 1960s. I found it listed in an exhibition catalogue the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York titled Light Vase and documented in the American Craft Council archives. However, none of the publications include the owner, so I was unable to track it down. I also would have loved to present the massive cardboard model 3-D Jersey, a design for an integrated city/airport Soleri proposed in 1968. Unfortunately the model was destroyed sometime after the 1969 Corcoran exhibition, The Architectural Vision of Paolo Soleri.

Are there more Soleri shows to be put on?

Absolutely! Soleri worked prolifically for over 60 years—drawing, sculpting, drafting and writing. There is a wealth of material to exhume that I wasn’t able to include in our project. As for SMoCA, I doubt the museum will present another solo exhibition of Soleri. He is the only artist to whom we have devoted a multi-part exhibition series and I believe we feel like we successfully presented new research as well as helped conserve and preserve artworks key to Arizona’s artistic patrimony.

Thanks, Claire!

Claire C. Carter is Curator of Contemporary Art at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where she has curated visual art, architecture and design since 2007. Among her recent original exhibitions are Sama Alshaibi: Silsila (currently on view at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University); Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns; and The Five Senses: Janet Cardiff, Olafur Eliasson, Spencer Finch, Roelof Louw, Ernesto Neto. Her projects have been supported by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. She is an author of three internationally distributed books and has received awards from the American Alliance of Museums, the American Institute for Graphic Arts and the Association of Art Museum Curators. Her latest exhibition, Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature, runs from October 14, 2017 to January 28, 2018.

Why Crowd Funding Now?

Soleri bells

A Life’s Work is  midway through a 30-day crowd funding campaign via Indiegogo, which has partnered with the New York Foundation of the Arts. Here’s the pitch video.

I’ve written about crowd funding here before, and the take away is if you want to reach your goal, start early (check), don’t do it alone (check), be prepared to work hard (my pecs are primed), and set a realistic goal. (Is $30,000 realistic? Is the $40,000 stretch goal doable? Guess we’ll find out.) (No, and no.)

I’ve also strongly advised that people have a campaign either in the early stages of a project or the very late stage of a project. People are more inclined to support beginnings and endings. “I’ve got a film project in mind and I have great people excited to work on it and I need a little money to shoot a kick ass short film that could be made into a feature if it’s seen by the right people, whom I know!” Or “We’ve finished shooting, we’ve finished editing, the composer is lined up. What we need now are funds for things like color correcting, sound mixing, E&O insurance and all sorts of boring but expensive stuff like that.”

A Life’s Work
is in the latter category, and that’s why it’s up on Indiegogo now. Personally, I know I’m more apt to give money to projects during these phases, and of the two, more apt to help out a project that just needs a little help to become fully realized. Knowing that my contribution is going toward something that will soon be in the world excites me. I and a whole mess of other people recognized that there was something special going on. We decided we could help, we could be part of it, and gave a hand to the creator. I feel like a patron. I feel a sense of pride and something like ownership.

Support ALW via Indiegogo or buy 5 Starbucks ventis.Being the person I am, I quantify my contribution. Let’s say I gave $25. A Starbuck’s latte venti, costs $4.45 before tax and is 240 calories. My $25 dollars could buy me 5.61797733 lattes and contribute 1,348.31461 mostly unhealthy calories to my body.

Now, a ninety-minute film is 5,400 seconds. Let’s say this hypothetical film was shot on video at 29.97 fps (frames per second), we have 29.97 x 5,400 seconds or 131,838 frames. Now, let’s just say that that the total budget for this hypothetical film is $80,000, from soup to nuts. By dividing the  dollar amount by the number of frames, we can calculate how much each frame costs. Each dollar will buy 1.647976 frames, which means that my $25  bought 41.199375 frames, or about  1.5 seconds of the film . So, if you, Dear Reader, were to contribute $25 to such a film, you would be responsible for making those crucial 41.199375 frames possible. If you don’t think that’s a big deal consider a film that’s missing that number of frames here and there. It might look like this:

So, if you feel like owning a piece of A Life’s Work,  go over to the Indiegogo page and buy yourself some of the film.  You’ll also receive some cool rewards.

Thanks for your continued support.

The Probabilistic Universe: A Clip

The Probabilistic Universe

Here’s a clip I’ve been working on. As the title of this post suggests, it’s about how chance and the unexpected can play a major role in what we find ourselves doing, the discoveries we make, and the passions that fill us.


I’ve always thought of this clip as kind of the equivalent of a sidebar in a magazine article. Will it make it into the finished film? Don’t know. Some pertinent information is contained in it, but the whole thing? Maybe I’ll flip a coin to decide.

Another coin decision: When Tarter says “We … we? Jocelyn Bell and her thesis advisor….” Cut the “We… we”? Right now, I like it.

I’d really like to know what you think of this clip, since it’s quite different than the other clips up there. And please feel free to like it, share it, comment on it, etc.  You know I always love hearing from you.

You can help finish A Life’s Work. Yes, you! Donating to the film is easy and all amounts ($5-50,000) are welcome and appreciated.  More than $1,600 has been given to the film so far, and that without the big hyped up push of crowdfunding.

In addition to monetary help, there are many ways you can support A Life’s Work. Why not consider being a part of  the film’s growing community?

Soleri Bells

In case you don’t know, Arcosanti generates much of its income through the sale of wind bells designed by Paolo Soleri.

Soleri wind bells in the gift shop at Arcosanti.
Soleri wind bells in the gift shop at Arcosanti.

How did Soleri begin designing and selling bells?


And I’m now trying to incorporate a short and not so complicated version of that story into the film, with visuals we shot of the bronze bells being made in the foundry. It’s gorgeous footage. Hopefully I’ll have a little clip to show soon.

If you want to see some ceramic Soleri wind bells being made, just click here and prepare for your blood pressure to lower.

If you’re interested in buying a Soleri bell, visit Cosanti Originals. They make great presents, I’ve given several to friends.


Conversations with Friends, Part 1

I met G., a writer friend, at an artist residency in November 2012. At this residency I showed the 36-minute sample of A Life’s Work to G. and the other residents. G. said to me privately afterwards, I’d really like to speak about your film. It never happened at the residency, but a couple of weeks ago we met up for coffee, two years later.The film stayed with me, he said. We spoke about the gospel music in the film and somewhere in there the phrase “going home” was used. (“Gone home” is a common expression used in gospel music, a way of saying one went back to the Creator.) I told him since he saw the sample Paolo Soleri had died and it threw me into a depression. I don’t know you that well, he went on diplomatically, and I don’t know what inspired the film, and the film might have changed since I saw it, but I think that maybe what I  saw was too heavy on the grief and didn’t celebrate enough the joy of being part of continuum, which, not to be presumptuous, might be what you’re going for. This absolutely blew my mind. It was perhaps the single most insightful and useful criticism I’ve heard about the work-in-progress. I went home and edited one of the index cards on my cork board.

Paolo Soleri Goes Home
Paolo Soleri Goes Home

I’m not sure how Soleri, who was not what you’d call a religious man, would feel about this, he probably would not approve, but it comforted me some and the card is now a reminder to shift the focus a little bit. But this card also brings up an interesting question: If I put some transcendent gospel music over the bit of the film that deals with Soleri’s death, am I somehow betraying him? What do you think?

Filmmaker Clams


Years ago, a friend and I referred to running, inside  jokes, phrases, or expressions as “clams.” I’m not sure where this came from, but I use it to this day.

The process of filmmaking results in many clams. When I think about production of A Life’s Work, one clam comes immediately to mind.

Andy Bowley and I were in Hat Creek, CA, at the Allen Telescope Array shooting. Andy brought his camera and gear and I brought mine, including a tripod that I bought used from a cinematographer, let’s call her Jane Doe. New York being the small place it is, Andy knew and worked with Jane, and he had, in fact, seen my tripod action. My tripod became known as the Jane Doe Tripod.

The Jane Doe Tripod
The Jane Doe Tripod at the Allen Telescope Array.

It developed a personality and it spoke in a sad, pathetic voice. Andy took photos of it and sent it to Jane with messages like, “In California without you and having a GREAT time with David and Andy.” This joke went on and on, each of us riffing on it, and it never got old. At least not to me. Eventually, Andy just needed to say “The Jane Doe Tripod” and I’d crack up. I still chuckle thinking about it, but you probably had to be there…

Postproduction also has its clams.  But right now, there is no editor for me to crack jokes with, it’s just me. There are two clams I have adopted based on the material. One is Robert Darden’s line when he talks about a setback the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project endured and how this affected him. “Ok, I need more faith.” I say this about the film, but also many other aspects of my life right now.

Another clam I’ve picked up is an expression Paolo Soleri uses in the following clip, shot at his first commission, Dome House. Look for it at two minutes in.


I find use that same facial expression when someone says something to me that would warrant a verbal response such as “So it goes …” If I were working with an editor, the full clam might be this expression and “Yeah, you know, he liked the floor.” But as it is now,  people get it when I raise my eyebrows and smile faintly. As Soleri also says in the clip: It works.

An interesting pair, these two: “I need more faith,” and “So it goes…”

Is there a catchall expression you’re fond of? Care to share?



Six Questions for Jeff Stein, President of Cosanti

In July 2012  the Cosanti Foundation, the organization that oversees Arcosanti, announced Paolo Soleri’s retirement as President, and the appointment of his successor, Jeff Stein, I was quite surprised. I’m not an Arcosanti insider by any means, but still, I just couldn’t imagine Soleri handing over the reins. But he did.

Despite having declared the end of production for A Life’s Work, my instinct was to hop on a plane to Arizona and interview Soleri and Stein. I didn’t, for various reasons. But I was recently put in contact with Stein and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. But first, his bio.  

Jeff Stein, AIA and President, Cosanti Foundation

Award-winning architect, writer, educator, Jeff Stein, AIA, is president of Cosanti Foundation.  His first construction workshop at Arcosanti was in 1975. Since then he has spent time on the Cosanti staff; taught architecture in the Career Discovery program of the Harvard GSD; headed the department of architecture at Wentworth Institute in Boston; and was Dean of the Boston Architectural College for the past seven years. He has taught at architecture schools in the US and at the Technicum Winterthur, Zurich, and Ecole d’Architecture Languedoc-Rousillon, in Montpellier, France. Mr. Stein has written for Architecture Boston magazine and was for ten years architecture critic for the New England newspaper, Banker + Tradesman. He lectures widely about Arcosanti, energy and urban design, including at the recent Tel Aviv-Yafo Centennial Conference on Urban Sustainability, this past fall in Montreal at the 9th World EcoCities Congress and this spring at the Santa Fe Institute.

1.What’s your history with Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri?

Pretty much my entire adult life – for the past 35 years – is wrapped up with Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri. In 1974 I purchased the big black book, City in the Image of Man. MIT Press, its publisher, had a 50% sale, and when I received it in the mail, I opened it right up and spread it out – 4 feet long – across the conference table of the architecture firm where I was interning in the Midwest.  That first big white page with the single sentence, “This book is about miniaturization,” started it all.

I came to Arcosanti the next year on a construction workshop and stayed for 7 years as part of the staff of Cosanti Foundation. I worked in the drafting room, built 2SUNS arcology models, made drawings to illustrate Paolo’s books, helped to put together several exhibitions, including one that travelled to 42 colleges and universities in the early 1980’s. I also helped produce the Arcosanti Festivals and conferences, including Teilhard and Metamorphosis in 1981.


The ceramics apse.

At that event, the architect, writer and editor Peter Blake, spoke. Blake was an early proponent and publisher of Paolo’s work. After his talk he and I sat out on a rock by Arcosanti’s Foundry Apse and watched the Arizona sunset. “You’ll need to find your own voice in architecture, you know,” he said. “You should come to Boston, to the BAC/Boston Architectural College. We can propel you into the mainstream of architectural practice.” He was head of that venerable school at the time, and several people around Arcosanti had continued their careers in Boston through study at the BAC. I had graduated from a couple colleges by then, but had yet to finish architecture school.

So my wife, 2-year-old son, and I moved to Boston, and I became a student again for a time. I graduated, was licensed as an architect, worked for a couple firms, became a professor, headed Wentworth Institute’s architecture program, taught courses about arcology, started my own architectural practice, and for the past seven years I have served as dean of the BAC. I imagined that certain things had come full circle when this happened at BAC; but now that I’m back at Arcosanti, the circle is even more vivid.


2. As president of the Cosanti Foundation, what are your duties and goals?

The work is on several levels at once. Of course the main thing is to set a direction for Arcosanti’s continued development; and help to insure that we have resources and staff to pursue it. Parallel to that, we want to move ahead with the continued discussion of the idea of Arcology – architecture and ecology – at the highest levels nationally and internationally. The question out there, near the end of cheap fossil fuels and also, apparently, near the end of unprecedented personal wealth across a broad middle class in America and Europe, is, “How shall we live?” on the Earth. What pattern of development makes sense for humans and for millions of other species on the planet? The work that has gone on here at Arcosanti for more than a generation has important ideas to add to that discussion.  There is also the business of the Soleri windbells and magnificent original art works that Paolo has created, and work that our craftspeople at Cosanti and Arcosanti continue to produce. And on a more personal level, I am here to support Paolo Soleri as he continues to develop ideas and make his own transitions.

I live at Arcosanti, and travel about one week each month, speaking publicly, pursuing opportunities on behalf Arcosanti.  I am also helping to establish partnerships with institutions and governmental bodies to help foster Arcosanti’s growth as a resource for education and development globally.

I have been a member of Cosanti Foundation’s Board of Directors for the past several years, so I am current with the work that has been going on and with the issues that confront the Foundation as we move forward in a larger culture that is changing as we speak.

Arcosanti from the mesa across the way.

3. You’re filling some pretty big shoes. Was there a moment when you thought maybe you didn’t want to take this position?

When the Cosanti Foundation board suggested to me, last summer, that I was their pick, I was surprised(!), and I did indeed think twice about what it would mean. I telephoned my wife, Emilie, a painter and landscape designer in Boston. She said, “This will be important work. You need to do it. We’ll make our personal lives work out around it.” And that’s what we are doing.

Before taking the position, I spoke to Paolo Soleri at some length. When it became clear to me that he was comfortable with the idea, I agreed to it; and here I am, typing this from my apartment at Arcosanti, 10 months into the job. Carrying on this work is indeed important to me. I am doing it in a beautiful landscape, around terrific architecture, surrounded by a group of smart people, and visited on a daily basis by dozens of folks from around the globe who want to learn more about it. No more second thoughts required: we are moving ahead!

4. The times I’ve interviewed Soleri, he mentioned that he had hoped the pace of construction had been a little more rapid. At the same time, I feel like the construction of Arcosanti is very much about the journey and not the destination. Is there a way to move things along while keeping true to the idea that Arcosanti is a laboratory, a place that develops “organically.”

Arcosanti is more about process than product. It is important to the thousands of people who have helped build it so far because  – as you rightly point out – “the journey is more important than the destination.” We are indeed a laboratory, experimenting not just with building and urban form, but overlaying those forms with an understanding of “frugare” –frugality. The goal is not to build something that can gather the highest rents possible; rather it is to create architecture that produces energy and allows for a complex sociability that is accessible to all.

But a work of architecture is usually the most expensive thing anyone ever purchases: a family home, a corporate headquarters, a public government building, these things cost money. So does Arcosanti. And here we are attempting to demonstrate a way of organizing a new relationship with each other and with the earth, by means of constructing architecture rather than by just publishing books about it (though we are doing that, too – 3 new ones just this year, 2012.)

To do this costs money. Arcosanti has so far been self-funding; that is we have bootstrapped ourselves by tuition from our construction workshops, from the sale of books, from tourism, and – improbably – from the sale of the windbells. To build more, we remain interested in the prospects of serious philanthropy. And we are also interested in investors who can take on certain aspects of the project. And we are looking at our own capabilities: we are able to be design consultants to others who might be interested in this work: governments, trans-national corporations, outside interests who can already see that the ideas generated by the project could go a long way to solving serious issues of human habitat and land and energy use.

5. I’ve been struggling to find a way to phrase this question and the only way I seem to be able to do it is via an analogy. Medieval cathedrals that took generations to complete often deviated from the original plans. One can see newer elements of style and construction that were incorporated as the project progressed over the decades. Contrast this with Gaudi’s cathedral, which hasn’t deviated much from his original concept. Would you say Arcosanti leans in one of these directions more than another? (If the facts of my analogy are debatable, feel free to say so.)

I think Arcosanti leans in the in the direction of the Medieval Cathedral. You could even say it leans in the direction of a city, an entity that has a master plan, but also has plenty of room for others to add their understanding and design ideas to it over time. At Arcosanti we are constantly learning, and building as a result of that experience. And yet, the entire project is overlaid with frugality, exploring the power of architecture to perform. Here’s an example:

When tourists visit Arcosanti (and 30,000 people come here each year) among the first things they ask is, “Where are all the solar panels?” In part they ask this because the idea of making electricity from the sun is a good one on the face of it; and also because people are all using so much technology: for lighting, communications, air conditioning, entertainment, etc. that to use more of it in the form of solar panels just seems somehow natural. And while we do have some solar electricity production here, we don’t just rely on that. Instead we have tried to make our architecture work harder than yours does. The forms of our buildings are not just for beauty, though they are beautiful, too. They shade themselves in summer, and with large openings facing south, the connected buildings at Arcosanti gather light and heat in winter, when we need it the most.

We use about 1/6 the electricity of other institutions we have compared ourselves to. The needs are human comfort, light to work by, warmth in winter, cooler shade in summer. You can get that – pretty inefficiently, I must say – by making electricity; or as we do at Arcosanti, you can get it by giving buildings a form that displays itself to the sun in a way that really works.

Paolo Soleri laid the foundation for this work, this search; and he gave us the initial building forms to undertake it. As we live with these forms and learn more about how they actually work in this place, in this climate, there is a natural evolution to the architecture. New people will be able to add new discoveries to Arcosanti using new materials and techniques. But the basic ideas: architecture and ecology harnessed together, miniaturization and complexity at the heart of the urban experience, will remain the same.

What sunrise looks like at Arcosanti.

6. The question I have to ask: Do you think Arcosanti will be completed in your lifetime?

No, not in my lifetime. (And I plan to live for a long time, too!) Still, I don’t think Boston will be completed during my lifetime either, and it has been building for nearly 400 years. I do think Arcosanti, even in its current state – a fragment, really, of what it is meant to become – will begin to play a larger role in the International discussion of how we should live on the planet.

Arcosanti is here, it is not just an idea; it exists, you can visit it and stay overnight in its guestrooms, eat organic produce from its solar greenhouses, hike the high desert wilderness that it’s contained masterplan intends to preserve. And think about what its presence might mean for your own community, for your own life on Earth. Arcosanti’s presence poses some “What if?” questions:

What if we weren’t tied to cars as appliances? What if we could get to work, to school, to a grocery store without driving there, without spending that time and energy, without changing minerals into atmosphere by burning fossil fuels? Arcosanti means to demonstrate possibilities beyond the current culture; it means to allow humans to utilize space in a clearer more complex way. It means to show that, when we do reach the end of fossil fuels, when we do finally imagine that being separated as hermits in our single family houses is not the best way to live on the planet after all, that there is indeed a better, more sustainable, more fun alternative. Come visit us, I’ll show you.

Photographs courtesy of Jeff Stein.

Giant thanks to Jeff Stein for taking the time participate in this interview, special thanks to Sue Kirsch for making it happen.  

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

I Need More Archival Footage!

A little context: I’m working on a Soleri clip wherein he is critical of hyperconsumption and suburban sprawl — and how sprawl creates a reliance on cars. I’m using interview footage of Soleri and Jeff Stein, AIA, as well as a lecture we shot of Soleri speaking to an audience at the New School here in NYC.

Okay, where to begin?

The first thing I did was set some parameters. What am I looking for? (Images that say suburbs and consumerism.) What decade am I looking for? (1950s and 1960s, this is when Soleri begins coming into his own as a thinker.) Black and white or color? (Both.) Commercials, industrials, home movies, b-movies, or something else? (Commercials and industrial.) I’m especially excited to use commercials. The hucksterism of commercials from that era makes us laugh now (and that’s welcome) but the message is the same. Buying stuff you don’t need or want will make you happy, successful, sexy, etc.

Great, I head over to the Internet Archive, and search “consumerism” and presto-change-o! An embarrassment of riches. Ads for appliances featuring ballroom dancers. Images from the 1950s of housewives in evening gowns. I like that, it echoes what Jill Tarter said about the gender bias she had to deal with growing up in the 50s and 60s. A nice layer. I’ll use some of that.

Search for “suburbia.” More goodies. Lots of white picket fences, middle class families, children playing in yards with trees. A really wonderful industrial made for Redbook is chockfull of images, including people shopping at malls. A banner that reads

Easy Living”! Good stuff in there.

Search for “car commercials.” And here, jackpot.

Take a look at this commercial (one and a half minutes). This suburban housewife felt like a prisoner in her home, until they bought a second car. Now her life is awesome!

The prisoner line and the “it’s a whole new way of life” are perfect.

I found another great industrial about the 1956’s new GM cars that will work nicely with Soleri’s riff on the American Dream, and other images of consumerism will be used, but this commercial will be the centerpiece of that section.

Now to edit it together and have it all make sense. That’s the really difficult part.

To see how editor Cabot Philbrick expertly did that in another clip, click here.

Conversation with Aimee Madsen, Director of “Paolo Soleri: Beyond Form”

Aimee Madsen's Beyond Form

In January 2012 I interviewed filmmaker Aimee Madsen for the blog. Aimee was conducting a Kickstarter campaign for her film, then titled Before Form. As she summarized it in that interview, “the film presents a fresh look at the legendary and multi-talented man Paolo Soleri, known as an artist, craftsman, architect, urban theorist, and finally a visionary, a term he’s not so fond of.  Although the philosophy behind Paolo’s work seem to be the driving force in his life, it will focus instead on Soleri as the form giver, rather than Soleri, the idea giver — hence the working title Before Form.” A lot has happened since 2012, including a title change. The film is now called Paolo Soleri: Beyond Form. Here ‘s our a follow-up conversation.

Last time we did this you were crowdfunding for post. How did that go?

We were successful, even with the cut-off date being near Christmas, I remember people were still wanting to donate up until the very end, that felt good! It was an excellent learning experience as far as making sure you budget your film to include all the facets of distribution, which we could have calculated a little better than we did, but it definitely helped us to finish the first cut and Iʼm grateful for that.

Beyond Form by Aimee MadsenSo the film is doing the festival rounds. You must be very pleased? Are you traveling with it?

Yes, itʼs been very encouraging to be able to show the film in Scottsdale AZ, Tucson, AZ, Florence, Italy, Bologna Italy, and making the selection for the very first Architectural Film Festival in Lisbon, Portugal was an exciting time. Our next screening will premiere in downtown LA at the Regal Theater for the La Femme Film Festival, Oct. 20th, 2013.

So in a sense Iʼm traveling with the film, itʼs going where people want it to go, without having to do much of the steering.

You left a Facebook comment that really struck a chord:

“It’s really a gift to have a chance to make a film that has another purpose, a larger purpose,larger than myself, larger than the filmmaker …”

Care to elaborate?

Because not only is this the case when you make a documentary, hopefully, but because this film involves a high profile person, who has a huge message that was made years ago and is very timely now. It seems people are finally ready to listen, even eager to take a closer look at Paolo Soleri. Also there are many people that this subject has touched since 1946 that are still moved by his work to this day and want to see his ideas continue and go even further. Generally the nature of documentaries are to enlighten, teach, move and inspire others to act or create. At least thatʼs what motivates me to make a film and the story of Soleri is quite the challenge, because it includes many diverse audiences from all over the world to target, or maybe thatʼs the gift. I have a feeling this is something you might be able to relate to. Am I right?

Yep. It’s a great joy when you discover that your film is doing something you didn’t expect or plan it to do. While I was making  Tango Octogenario I kind of  knew that it would appeal to a certain demographic. It was a romantic film with a positive message about enduring love and the curative powers of art. But after one of the first screenings, I went out to dinner and the waitress recognized me from the q&a. She was sort of a hipster in her early twenties and she said that it reminded her of her grandparents who used to go dancing on the weekends, and how she could smell their perfume while watching the film. I was stunned speechless. And since that screening, many people have come up to me and told me the film reminded them of their grandparents. They’re moved by it, I’m moved that they’re moved. It’s a beautiful moment. 

 Paolo Soleri died in April 2013. I was hoping I’d be able to show him a finished version of A Life’s Work. I’m still processing his death and wrote about it here. Were you able to show him Beyond Form before he died, and what affect did his passing have on you? 

The edit was done and the film was ready to have its first screening one week before he died, so that was a very bittersweet moment. He only got to see the trailer. I think if I wasnʼt holding a camera and filming Paolo up until the end, it would have been harder on me, his death, if I didnʼt witness him aging through the lens first. When he realized he was never going to be able to get around as he used to, that was a turning point for me and of course for everyone close to him. Just as he worked the earth with grace, he aged the same way, very naturally. A day or so before he died, I did have the chance to tell him thank you for allowing me to photograph him all those years … so that was an emotional time, very bittersweet to say the least …

Thanks, Aimee.

Look for Paolo Soleri: Beyond Form at a film festival near you.

“I must have more shots of the military!”

I’ve been editing a section of A Life’s Work that relies on some archival footage, so I’ve been searching and watching and thinking and searching and watching and cutting. A new post about archival footage coming soon, but here’s one I wrote back in 2009. Think of it as Archival Part I.

[The title of this post if from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.]

Edward D. Wood, Junior
Edward D. Wood, Junior

I share with Ed Wood a fondness for stock footage. There, I hope, the similarities end. In fact, I don’t even like to call it stock footage. I prefer to call it “archival.”

I think it goes back to when I was in high school and my history teacher included some AV as part of a lesson on the Great Depression: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” Here was a voice singing about poverty and desperation, traveling over time and space, and punching me in the gut in 1978.

And that’s how I like to use archival. It’s evident in the SETI clip and the redwoods clip. That footage of redwoods being felled (from The Redwood Saga) looked a lot differently to people in 1940 when those images were first seen than it does to people now. Then it was a sign of progress: those trees were being used to build an America that was economically growing. Watching it now it seems like a mass execution. With the Soleri clip I posted I didn’t do that, not exactly. There I wanted to show Frank Lloyd Wright’s L A R G E presence; interviews you see or read with Soleri invariably begin with an introduction that includes his apprenticeship with Wright, and in Dome House you see Wright everywhere, except, as Soleri points out, in the table.  (In another Soleri section I use archival extensively to show the passing of time.)

I also have a feeling that when I’m using archival and home movies I’m working with found objects and incorporating them into a bigger canvas. I’m repurposing, in a sense, and I like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about archival these days because I’m about to edit some new footage–the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project sections of the sample. These sections will add about eight minutes to the sample, which will bring it in at 35 minutes. It is now beginning to look more like a film than a sample.

But how to use it to advance Robert Darden and the BGMRP’s stories, and of course A Life’s Work as a whole? What footage do I choose? Where do I place it? How much? If I use gospel performance footage, what performer(s), which song(s), from when during the golden age? Big questions. Some of them have obvious answers, others don’t.

But finding answers to those questions is an exciting part of the process, and I’m grateful that I’ll have a chunk of time to examine those questions.

More on that chunk of time in the next post.