Vintage Bissette Movie Poster Art
Blasts from the Past Courtesy of the Booz Art Gallery!
I’ve written at length in the past about my years at Johnson State College and my JSC pals, including Dave Booz. Dave and I have stayed in touch over the years, and Dave just this weekend emailed me these photos of some of the artwork he’s held on to since 1974-1976—artwork I did almost four decades ago!
I used to manage the film society at JSC (Spring semester 1975 thru the end of my summer tutoring stretch in the summer of 1976, before my departure from JSC and Vermont to attend the Joe Kubert School). I also created all the film promotional posters by hand, using magic markers and ball-point pens, and Dave, co-film-society-projectionist/organizer Terry Williams, and our (late) pal Mark “Sparky” Whitcomb held on to a number of those one-of-a-kind posters.
Alas, Mark lost track of his originals (he had my crude by atmospheric Carnival of Souls poster, which I wish I had a scan or photocopy of) throughout his various marriages and moves, but Dave, bless ‘im, has made a home gallery of sorts out of the posters he held on to.
Here’s a peek:
This is the one Dave apparently just found intact in his collection, and now it’s all nice and framed. The colors were done with Prismacolor colored pencils and markers, and they’re still pretty vivid.
I showed every Mario Bava movie that was available on 16mm rental, and structured an entire sophomore year independent study around Bava and those film showings, working with my advisor (and JSC Theater Department, Dibden Theater head tech and instructor Richard Emerson). Was this the first-ever Mario Bava revival series in America? I wonder…
Here’s two shots of the complete Booz Bissette home gallery, which includes the Sergio Leone retrospective series poster, the Paul Bartel Private Parts Halloween special event (that got me into a shitload of hot water when the Non-Violence class chose to protest a film they’d never heard of or seen by chaining the fucking Dibden Theater doors shut with the audience inside!), Gordon Hessler’s Scream and Scream Again, and a bit more Bava:
Artwork ©1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved. Photos ©2012 Dave Booz, posted with permission.
I’m still proud of the tagline I concocted for our showing of Mario Bava‘s 1970 giallo Il Rosso Segno Della Follia / Hatchet for the Honeymoon, “Someone is adding to the cleavage of the brides.”
I’ve since tracked down the (hideous) US presskit and promo materials, as well as some of the oversea ballyhoo, and—if I may be so bold as to say so—my tagline beat the shit out of anything actually used to sell the movie theatrically!
Big thanks to Dave (and Brenda) for sharing this oldie-moldy Bissette booty, and I’d love to get proper (printable) scans or color photocopies of this work some day, crude though it is.
Now, let me bore you with a bit more background and context and such.
Here’s what I posted back in March, 2009 about the JSC film series I managed:
* Sweetening the spring weather was a surprise discovery early this morning while unpacking the SpiderBaby Archives.
I found a stash of my old notebooks!
Among these was a little handbound journal I kept in 1976, jam-packed with diary items, dreams, my contact list for horror fanzine publishers I sent art and/or writing to for publication (Greg Shoemaker of Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, Gary Svehla of Gore Creatures, Ami Buchbinder of Fright & Fantasy, etc.), and the addresses for the then-vital-to-cartoonists “The Kit” (a Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth Illustrator’s kit provided free via the U.S. Auto Sales and Service public relations firm) and “Funny Face” (photo reference for illustrators of models making faces).
This journal bridged my two years at Johnson State College (1974-76) and first year at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, Inc. (1976-78), and it’s great to find it after all these years.
Among the items in the journal is a complete list of all the 16mm films I showed at Johnson State College.
My first semester at Johnson, as a lowly freshman, I joined the Student Film Committee and was mortified to find (a) they had tons of money but (b) they barely showed anything. I think a total of three or four films were shown that first semester, which drove me insane.
I aggressively pursued a more active programming plan, and did so by shamelessly taking over the whole operation as soon as I diplomatically could. My fellow Governor’s Hall ‘Subhuman’ compadre Terry Williams pitched in, as did my other friends as needed (Jack Venooker, Mark ‘Sparky’ Whitcomb, etc.), but I could count on Terry more than anyone in this capacity.
Johnson is a mighty isolated campus, away up in the hills of Johnson, VT. Our nearest movie theater at the time was the then-one-screen nabe the Bijou in Morrisville, VT (about 20 minutes away), or you could drive the 45-60 minutes+ to the Essex Jct. and Burlington area for movies.
JSC also had a terrific theater space in Dibden Theater, and after taking over operations I quickly discovered a previous Student Film committee had, at some point in time, invested in two anamorphic lenses — meaning we could show true widescreen films in Dibden!
Booking Dibden was always an uphill battle, as it was an incredibly vital and active theater.
We were seeking screen time not just between student productions (theater, dance, music, etc.), but also with professional acts that graced Dibden with surprising regularity. These included (during my two years at JSC) the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, Daniel Nagrin, Bread & Puppet Theater, Mumenshantz, Gary Burton and many, many more.
So, I began booking the lecture hall in the Bentley building, which indeed had a screen and a projection booth with two projectors (all this in the old days of 16mm projectors requiring careful attention to reel changes, pre-platter system most theaters use today). The sound wasn’t as good in Bentley and it seated far fewer people, so I created the weekend “Bentley B-Flicks” series — and used that to present a lot of great low-budget films that were available for as little as $10-20 rentals in 1976.
Alternating between Dibden (for the big movies) and Bentley (for the more modest titles), I was able to mount a pretty ambitious run of films.
I played it safe the first semester — take a look at the Spring 1975 lineup, first page, up above — but running Monty Python on campus was still a relative rarity at the time. I think Kelly’s Heroes was the film showing during which I discovered the anamorphic lenses.
I recall that our single most popular evening in Dibden that first semester was the Disney sf double-feature (The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber), which caught everyone by surprise. Man, you could sure smell the pot burning, even though it was a no-smoking zone…
I wonder, though, if the Bentley B-Flick retrospective of Mario Bava’s films (running January-May of 1975) was — maybe, just maybe — the very first American retrospective of its kind? Bava festivals and retrospectives have flourished since, but I think I may have been the first to put together such a comprehensive overview of his work.
I’m wary of calling anything a first in this milieu — but let me just put that out there, now that I’ve found the evidence in my old journals of what we showed and when.
I even scored a 3-credit independent study out of it, working with my mentor and advisor Dick Emerson, who watched (and, I dare say, suffered through) every one of the Bava films on my behalf. I indeed completed that thesis, and scored my credits. We showed every single film Bava directed that was available in 16mm, and just missed booking Twitch of the Death Nerve (which was announced for 16mm, then pulled), which would have been a coup to this diehard Bava fan.
16mm film rentals were far, far more popular and prevalent than today’s film scholars and historians imagine, and those who were around back then seem to actively dismiss the import of 16mm to how films were viewed and resurrected. I don’t know why this myopia is so pervasive; I’ve had what I would consider polite but assertive arguments with some of my esteemed friends who are now very prominent film scholars, writers and historians about this, and none of them take 16mm’s reign seriously (this includes my good friend Tim Lucas, with whom I argued twice for inclusion of 16mm into his definitive Bava biography, All the Colors of the Dark). 16mm had a longer lifespan than Beta and vhs, servicing all manner of public institutions (schools, colleges, churches, community organizations, etc.), and most of my childhood non-TV film discoveries were thanks to 16mm — matinees at the local libraries, fire stations, schools and/or American Legions.
From the early sound era through the early 1980s (the home video explosion killed the market), 16mm rental companies were everywhere. Rentals ranged from $5 and $10 to $150+, depending on the film, vintage, studio exclusivity of rental and how available a given title was. For instance, Disney and American-International Pictures (AIP) seemed to dominate almost every catalogue. These firms were all over the spectrum, ranging from studio operations (Universal and Warner Bros. had their own 16mm rental catalogues and divisions) to major firms like Films Inc. and Audio-Brandon Inc. to really eclectic, cheapjack operations like Budget Films and Select.
Once I was in charge of film bookings at Johnson State College, I combed all the catalogues, and ordered more — you never knew what curio or oddity might be buried in the lowest of the low fine print of the really obscure rental catalogues.
It was in the really thin, oddball catalogues and listings that I found $10 wonders like Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (its cult rep hadn’t emerged in ’76, and it had barely been written about anywhere), Don Siegel’s The Lineup and Richard Rush’s Hell’s Angels on Wheels. I particularly savored finding and screening The Female Trap aka The Name of the Game is Kill! on the big screen in Bentley. I still take particular pride in the fact we showed a double-bill of Paul Bartel’s Secret Cinema and Private Parts (in an evening that began with the JSC Non-Violence class chaining the theater doors shut in protest!) and the Vermont premiere of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (in an odd limbo period between Warner Bros.’s initial, botched release of the film — which is when I heard about it, via a review in Mark Frank’s terrific horror zine Photon — and Warner’s successful theatrical rerelease; we booked it in its first 16mm window, which was very short and ended as soon as WB decided to rerelease Cohen’s gem that same year).
Not a bad series of retrospectives, either! Sergio Leone (booked as soon as I discovered the anamorphic lenses in Dibden’s cabinets), Nicolas Roeg, Mario Bava, Paul Bartel — and I’m still amazed that we almost got away with showing The Best of the 2nd New York Erotic Film Festival (on Easter Sunday, due to a JSC administrative decision — which so incensed said administrators that they called for a Friday showing while I was away from campus, forcing Terry to show the film unannounced thinking that would terminate the Easter Show. Good Catholic lad that I was, I returned to JSC on Saturday AM to find all this out, track down and confront the administrator for showing the film illegally and on Good Friday — and we showed it on Easter Sunday to a packed house anyway).
Note in my hand-scrawled red pen mentions of the mishaps and mis-ships — films we didn’t show publicly, for a variety of reasons.
For instance, we promoted Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but the print was so butchered (every image of graphic violence had been hand-cut from the print, probably for some projectionists private stash of clips) that we complained vigorously to the rental firm and Films Inc. rushed us Death Race 2000 instead, in the first month of its 16mm availability.
Note, too, the live music played with the spring 1976 silent films — Hazel Carlson, who had played for silent movies in the 1920s as a young woman at the Bijou Theater in Morrisville, VT, provided a marvelous live piano score with Buster Keaton’s The General, and Jack Venooker’s band Teaser improvised an incredible live jazz score for The Lost World on Dibden stage. Ah, those were glorious evenings.
Well, I could go on and on, but most of all I wanted to share this with you — and post it here for my own handy reference.
For more on my JSC years, including published work from that time period, see:
I’ve also shared some of the comics and art publications/creations I had a hand in back at JSC, among other things,
- in this SpiderBaby Archives post,
- and this one,
- and this installment (that links back into Doc‘s and my theater experiences), which also includes and provides the back-story for
this great photo of Dave carrying Sparky on his back during Obysseus:
Mark ‘Sparky’ Whitcomb on the Dibden Stage — well, on the Dibden Stage atop the shoulders of unicyclist and fellow Subhuman Dave Booz! From the Johnson State College stage production Obysseus, a potpourri of theatrical oddities, performances, dance and music, 1976; photo compliments of Dave and Brenda Booz, ©1976, 2009 Dave Booz, posted with permission.
There’s more in the Myrant backlog, but that’s a wrap for today!