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The Fleshtones rock out in ‘Soul City’ (co-written by a young Lou Reed)


 
Animator and all around 3-D mad scientist/genius M. Henry Jones has long been a fixture of the East Village. With his street level art studio allowing passersby to see his fantastic creations since 1992 (he’s recently had to move) the friendly Jones is one of the last bohemian artists still left in the neighborhood. Jones has also helped keep the work of his friend Harry Smith alive with “magic lantern” screenings of Smith’s animated films utilizing multiple projectors, mounted the world over with DJ Spooky.

During the late 1970s, while both were students at the School of Visual Arts, Jones became friends with Peter Zaremba, leader of garage rockers The Fleshtones (and later the host of MTV’s The Cutting Edge series) and they teamed up to make a music video marrying Jones’ strobelight animation technique to a number titled “Soul City” (a song originally recorded by the Hi Lifes and co-written by a young Lou Reed).
 

 
Marc H. Miller’s Gallery 98 is currently exhibiting ten hand-colored cutout photographs that M. Henry Jones created for the film:

The emergence of digital photography during the last decade has provided a new perspective on photographs from the pre-digital era. The photographs that M. Henry Jones created in the late 1970s for the animated film “Soul City” have a special place in this story of technological change.

Sometimes the urge to create precedes the technology that makes it practical. That was certainly true for Jones’ 2 ½-minute photo animation of a performance by the rock group Fleshtones, enhanced with stroboscopic effects. Created before the widespread use of computers, digitization, and tools like Photoshop (1988), Jones’ special effects were created solely through tedious analog techniques. It took nearly two years but there was an unexpected bonus: 1700 individually printed photographs, each hand-cut with an X-acto knife and then hand-colored. This was the raw material for the film, re-shot frame-by-frame with changing backgrounds. Today these photographs stand on their own both as beautiful objects and as an artistic record of the creative toils that preceded the digital revolution.

 

 
The making of this elaborate, time-consuming piece was apparently quite legendary at S.V.A. The exhibit also makes a bit clearer the connections between that school and not only the nascent East Village art scene, but also the punk and New Wave era in New York City as well. After all it was artists and art students who were the ones making the scene (man). Aside from Jones and Zaremba, S.V.A. counted among its students Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, John Sex, and for a short while, the great painter Joe Coleman, who left in disgust when one of the instructors told him that he was painting “wrong.”
 

 
As someone who has made my own share of work and time intensive low budget East Village music videos, I doff my hat to the maniac workaholic who put this puppy together…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment