CHICK STRAND 1931-2009: A Memoir by Pat O'Neill

By O'Neill, Pat | Millennium Film Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

CHICK STRAND 1931-2009: A Memoir by Pat O'Neill


O'Neill, Pat, Millennium Film Journal


Chickie came to L.A. in 1966 when she entered graduate school in UCLA in Film. She came from Berkeley and Mendocino and Mexico. By then she had lived several complete lives, survived two unhappy marriages, had two children, and paired up with her life partner, Marty. In preceding years, she and Bruce Baillie had formed the beginnings of Canyon Cinema, a peripatetic screening venue for 16mm films. There weren't very many filmmakers then, but their work was becoming known, to one another at first, and then to an enthusiastic and growing public. San Francisco and Berkeley were the center of gravity, for the west coast, just as they were the epicenter of social activism, rock, acid, pot, poetry, and personal mythologies.

She had studied Anthropology as an undergraduate, learned basic film technique from Baillie, and then looked for a way to extend her skills and subsidize more ambitious projects. UCLA, a state university, was available to all who could meet its entrance requirements at the total cost of $40 a semester. Chick and Marty came to Los Angeles with some trepidation. They found a little house in a neighborhood east of Hollywood and Chick got part-time work typing transcripts for the county court. At the film school, she was an immediate hit. Her "Angel Blue Sweet Wings" was unlike anything anyone had seen, and she seemed to bring with her a little breeze of freedom, possibility, and gentle rebellion, and soon became one of a loyal band of cultural agitators.

Her apprenticeship in experimental film led her to an interest in the physical nature of film stocks, the limits to which they could be stretched, and the kind of results that might spring from the combination of images. This is where I came in, as I was trying to do some of the same things. I was teaching classes in photography in the Art School, a half block west of Film, and had set up a little 16mm film lab in one of the darkrooms. We could print and process black and white negative and positive. Only a handful of people knew about it. Chick showed up one night and introduced herself. She wondered if I could show her how to do lab work. I was delighted. She was tallish, with long black curly hair and an engaging smile. She carried a big, well-worn leather pouch, from which she would pull a cold bottle of Coca-Cola and her trusty opener. "Want one?" she would hold out the bottle. I showed her how to use the war-surplus Bell and Howell contact printer and the spiral developing tanks, and how to solarize a print using bleach and a light bulb. She was working on "Anselmo," which she and Marty had shot in Mexico. Soon there were new projects. We traded between our collections of found footage - Chick was particularly taken with a Busby Berkeley mid- 1 930 's musical ice-skating number called "By a Waterfall," which she dismantled and reconstituted. We were unconcerned with the complications of copyright law, and felt that Industrial films that had survived for thirty years probably belonged to everybody.

Marty and I began to work together on film projects. His professional name was Neon Park: he was a painter, largely self-taught, whose acute powers of observation and irony well overcame any shortcoming in his technique. …

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