appearing on Video, as he tells Mark Paytrees.
Peter Whitehead believes that TIME Magazine invented the concept of 'Swinging London' in order to reduce the power of British protest. 'Tonite Let's All Make Love in London', his 1967 'Pop Concerto for Film', might be regarded as the definitive movie document of the capital in full swing, yet it's as much an investigation as a celebration. It's a radical piece of film-making, as Whitehead - inspired by the French new wave and the cinema verite movement - fused rapid, Godard-like montage with the Brechtian device of dividing the material into chapter form. There was no narrative as such: "It was quite original at that time I think, to put together a documentary film that had no narration," he recalls. Instead Whitehead broke his material down into 'movements' - like Pop, Protest, Painting, Dolly Girls and Movie Stars - creating a cocktail of instant pleasures and political commitment, of blind adulation and steely money-making. His definition of 'Pop' is sufficiently wide, and his perspective penetrating enough, to create a document as pensive as it is voyeuristic.
That's typically Whitehead. Forever the aesthete, and still liable to break into Class of '68 political analysis, he's spent the past decade writing novels, and the decade before that breeding and training hunting falcons in the Middle East. His film-making career lasted for less than ten years. Like many Sixties activists, he beat a retreat in the face of the establishment's violent response to the ambitions of the counter-culture. One of his last films was the aptly titled 'The Fall', shot from behind the barricades during the occupation of Columbia University, New York. The police smashed their way in, and the film-maker only salvaged his footage by dropping it into some bushes outside the window and retrieving it later. After the violence and chaos. Thankfully, he also kept hold of his priceless pop footage shot, in the main, between 1965 and 1968. His just-released video of Pink Floyd in 1966 and 1967 is the tip of an iceberg which also includes the relatively little-known Rolling Stones 1965 Irish Tour film, 'Charlie is my Darling', and some invaluable footage from two Led Zeppelin concerts in 1970.
The Floyd video is a montage of material shot at their January 1967 Sound Techniques session, recording "Interstella Overdrive" and "Nick's Boogie", together with silent stock filmed at UFO and the '14-Hour Technicolor Dream' (with John Lennon, John Dunbar and Yoko Ono making cameos). Allen Ginsberg's words, "A new kind of man has come to his bliss", opens the film, and it's no secret that the new man in mind is Syd Barrett. Hunched over his infamous mirrored Telecaster, and completely lost to music, this was not the Barrett of "The Gnome" or "Bike", but the improvising wizard who was inventing space-rock long before the phrase had been patented. Whitehead's film, shifting from vivid colour to monochrome, from rapid-fire edits to slow-motion, provides a fitting visual accompaniment. Here, he recalls a few of those legendary names caught by the roving lens of his hand-held 16mm Eclair Camera.
Pink Floyd, Cambridge Mid '60s.
'I've joked that I really invented the Pink Floyd sound. I was living in this house where the band used to practise their music in the hall. And their music got louder and louder and my music - lots of Janacek and Bartok - got louder too. Poor old Syd was doing his Chuck Beryy and Little Richard and having to compete with my copy of 'Das Rheingold'.'
Pink Floyd London 1966/67.
'I got a scholarship to the Slade School of Art and moved to London. I first saw the Pink Floyd again at the Royal College of Art, and then caught them several times at UFO, because I was sharing a girl-friend with Syd at the time. Jenny Spires. I was fascianted with the music - but I didn't think they'd last! (Nor did she, alas!)
The Floyd were playing the perfect music for what was happening at that moment. People were going there, stoned out of their minds on acid, and that just changes your perception of time. You're not interested in songs that last for 2'37". There is no point. They were taking a number of basic elements from pop music, but Syd was pushing it into as many directions as he could away from all that. Roger was trying to hold that back. It was getting looser and looser, but the music would have held together and been successful if Syd had not, you know, simply gone on a 24-hour trip every day, every day. And that's what finally blew it. All the talent and originality, the best improvising, psychedelic thing, went with Syd, and the rest of them carried on with their less interesting mainstream, metaphysical science fiction music.
etc. To be continued.
Record Collector Magazine