Sunday, September 22, 2013

1987/88 Last Dance – the super 8’s

in which I talk about my last bursts of creativity in New York city, before I move on...

Working at Bandito's as nighmanager was very intense and eventually lead to burnout. Chris and I also came to an end and I went through another rough period, working in a couple more restaurants. One night hanging out with friends I got lightly pushed and shattered my left elbow on the concrete sidewalk. I got very lucky. With surgery and steel pins and wires from my elbow to my wrist I am ok with some restrictions. After a relatively fast recovery, during which I went swimming in a public pool on the lower East Side every day, I begun working as bike messenger. How crazy can you be? 

The writer working as bike messenger, Manhattan, 1987
This was a bike (above) I had already when I started messengering at a small East Village service. It got stolen. That's when I bought a used Panasonic track frame and build a fixie, which was called track bike back then. I also switched to a big messenger service called Light Speed, where I made good money and hardly ever slowed down during lunch or other slow periods. You could do well as bike messenger  when you worked every day and where fast and reliable, then the dispatcher gave you the longer runs, oversizes and rush jobs  It was to be my last job in the city. I wasn't writing any new songs. Pain of Love and November 18th were the last ones and already recorded. So, my final burst of creativity in the city was put into videos. The four I describe below and another lost one.

Besides mourning the videos that I have no copies of and consider lost, some live videos frozen in formats no longer used, and attacked by bugs and moisture, I am happy that these four black and white videos, all shot in 1987 and 88 in super 8 film stock, look as good or almost better now and constitute a unit in time and aesthetics, capturing a city open to creativity and low budgets, that is completely lost now. They are dance videos, the dance of love, danced by Chris Kaufman and Margret Whaley and the writer dancing on his fixie.

Step into the Fire, 1986
Step Into The Fire. 1986. B/W super 8, edited on Video, transferred to DVD in 2005.

Step into the Fire - Dieter Osten – East of Eden, Moon Records 1986
Concept Collin Gillis/Michael Stiller, Direction/Camera Gillis/Stiller, edit William Kelly
With Chris Kaufman, Dieter Osten, Joe Drake, Michal Stiller, Vinnie Signorelli, Ivan Julian, Mark Jeffrey.

Step into the Fire still, Chris Kaufman.

Step into the Fire still, Dieter Osten.

Step into the Fire still, Marc Jeffrey, Ivan Julian.

          Collin Gillis was a New York club doorman and aspiring screen-play writer friend of mine and Michael Stiller an actor/waiter colleague from Bandito’s  The video follows Joe and me around on 10th St and on 2nd Ave, some shots of the band rehearsing with Ivan, Marc, Joe and me, and a shot of Joe, Vinnie and me at a café on 1st Ave and 7th St. 

Step into the Fire still, Dieter Osten, Joe Drake, Vinnie Signorelli. 

The other locale was under the Manhattan Bridge where I play the song on acoustic guitar and Chris dances amongst wrecked cars with the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, and then some shots of us rehearsing in a tiny East Village studio. It also has an intro of Chris wishing me good luck for my record release gig at the Pyramid club left on my answering machine and me saying something about the song, while the band is making noise rehearsing the song. The band in the video is not the band on the soundtrack except during the intro. After the shooting Michael got busy with other projects and looking for somebody to edit I met William Kelly who edited the raw super 8 footage on video. William and I would continue to collaborate on the Pain of Love/ Nov 18th videos.

Step into the Fire still, Dieter Osten.

Step into the Fire still, Chris Kaufman.

          Somehow, the feel, the look, the loose cooperation amongst all the players, works and the video still looks fresh 20 years later. To remember, this is the heyday of early MTV. Most established bands make lavishly produced, colorful studio videos many of which look pretty goofy, forced and fake by now (They already did then).

Step into the Fire still, Dieter Osten.

          There is no attempt at synchronization of the playing and singing with the soundtrack, in the  Step into The Fire video, yet all the playing/singing is real, and it works in the video, which shows the East Village and how we lived in it, some of us even within a few blocks of the 2nd Ave 10th corner. I worked at Bandito’s right across the street from the 2nd Ave Deli, nice pan from the Deli to the skeletons on 10th St., were we had played a couple of weeks before  for the Halloween block party put on by the Theatre for the New City. The long graffiti wall (10th St) covered the new digs of the theatre. I actually used to play that video game and that was the liquor store where I bought my wine. This video is not an enactment of the song just glimpses of the East Village and some of its inhabitants at work and play. Everything here is true. 

Step into the Fire still, skeletons on 10th St.

Step into the Fire still, Joe Drake, Dieter Osten.

I had written the song on the train from back from a meditation workshop near Boston inspired by the fire-walk I did during the retreat.

Step into the Fire still, Chris Kaufman.

While the videos for Mystik Mood and Step into the Fire basically have little relation to the original songs, Pain of Love and November 18th are tightly scripted interpretations of the songs by William Kelly, who also directed. They are short narrative movies. William's brother Donald Kelly handled the camera. There are several nods to the history of cinema, and both videos have great 360 degree shots. November 18th almost won a Long Island film festival 1st prize.

These were my most ambitious video projects, like the recording sessions for these songs. Margaret Whaley plays and dances in both videos. Everybody worked for free, and we shot guerrilla style without permits. Both videos have a film noirish look. There is also some implicated violence in Pain of Love, which does not reflect the lives of the real characters. This is drama. For details on the recording of the songs check last week’s blog. I just remember the awesome engagement of everyone involved, the cooperation and commitment under sometimes extremely difficult conditions, and like to thank everyone very much. I hope that the blog might pull some of you back into my life.

Pain of Love
Pain of Love. B/W super 8, Screen play, direction, edit William Kelly, edited in video, 1987/88
with: Margret Whaley, Dieter Osten
Song: Dieter Osten, 1987 unreleased.

Pain of Love still. Margret Whalen, Dieter Osten.
Pain of Love still. Margret Whalen.

The opening was shot late at night in the subway tunnel under Grand Central Station, were we also shot several other scenes. The clock with the bull is no longer there. Neither is the sign on the Pan Am building. The short live clip at the end of the guitar solo was shot at a gig at CBGB's. The interior scenes were shot at William's apartment on 12th St and Ave A. Another shot on Union Square looks up Park Ave south to Grand Central and the Pan Am building.

Pain of Love still. Dieter Osten.

Pain of Love, still, Dieter Osten, CBGB's.

In William Kelly’s words: “I kept a journal at the time but I don't have the time to look for it. It's stored in a safe place where I can not find it easily! So I've come up with the following which I hope will help: It was all a matter of no-budget Super 8  “guerrilla style”, “DIY” filmmaking,--the limitations of which forced you to find solutions to many problems. In Pain of Love, for example, the single shot in Grand Central Station when “The Guy” stands high above on the cat walk looking down and sees “The Girl” on the main floor below and then begins chasing her required some invention, much patience and a lot of luck. First of all, having no shooting permits and being where you’re not supposed to be--and in very prominent view--was pushing the envelope.  So, with  Margaret on the  main floor of Grand Central along with Don and his camera, and Dieter up on the cat walk with me and my camera, coordinating shooting was a challenge because of course we had no walkie-talkies (cell phones were still a long way off). Thus we had to commence shooting with a visual cue. Several times we started to shoot and then were told to leave by the police. We respectfully complied and began walking down the stairs, waited a few minutes and went right back up and started shooting again, knowing we had little time before we were spotted again. That patience and luck helped us to eventually get the shot."

We had  explored the  building and discovered by accidents that the large horizontal elements you see in the shot below were actual walkways. The second still is inside the walkway. It turned out to be a fantastic shot. X sees Y from above and starts running as the guitar takes off for the solo. The chase lasts as long as the solo when all the sudden color gets introduced.

Pain of Love, still, Dieter Osten, Grand Central Station.

Pain of Love, still, Dieter Osten, Grand Central Station.

Another shot from Pain of Love that required the same kind of determination and good fortune occurs on the NYC subway number 7 train. The idea was to alternate a kind of alternating superimposition of the image of “The Guy” over “The Girl” while both of them wait on opposite sides of the same train platform. This would be easy to do with compositing today but back then we had to adhere to the no-budget, in-camera aesthetic. We shot on a weekend so the trains arrived fifteen minutes apart. It took several trains to line up Dieter, Margaret, and the background graffiti with the camera. Then it became a matter of waiting for the right combination of the sun (it was cloudy that day) and an empty rear subway car. This did not happen right away; in fact, this necessary combination did not happen for a very long time, requiring much waiting (hours)  outside for other trains. It was cold that day but know that  during the waits we did give Margaret her jacket to wear. She was a real trooper. Once again, we managed eventually to get the shot.” 

Pain of Love still. Dieter Osten.

Pain of Love still , Margret Whaley.

Each time we took a take Margret had to ride to the next stop and come back. It took time. There was no car or catering. This scene took us about 6 months to shoot. There was some construction on the platform, so we had to delay. We started to shoot in March and finished in October, freezing and sweating, wearing the same clothes and paying attention to continuity of light, shadows etc. Watch the video:

 November 18th

November 18th  still, Margret Whalen.
November 18th  still, William Kelly.

November 18th  still, Dieter Osten, East Village street.

This video takes us into the war zone of the East Village all the way between Avenues C and D. Here is how Donald Kelly remembers shooting this video: "The neighborhood was a  lot different back then. The area East of First Avenue to the river was called "Alphabet City". At that time you just didn't go east of Avenue A, as it resembled Beirut. Gutted and burnt buildings everywhere. No one but homeless squatters and junkies in their shooting galleries. At one point we were setting up the tripod when we heard a gun shot or M-80, most likely intended for us. Drug dealers don't like cameras. We got out of there fast."

Somehow, I don’t remember this episode, but what I remember clearly from shooting the outside scenes is how incredibly cold it was, in the 20’s. Maybe that's why we were largely left alone. The inside dance scenes were shot in a loft on East Broadway (Chinatown). The empty apartment and the roof was on 9th St between B and C. Donald did another great 360 degree shot on the roof. 

November 18th still, Dieter Osten.

Watch the opening and closing scenes in November 18th  carefully. Both are mirror shots that mirror each other. They create a different reality and leave the interpretation of the action open to the viewer. Does X actually die or not?

November 18th still, Dieter Osten.

November 18th still, Margret Whalen, Donald Kelly.

November 18th still, Margret Whalen and crew.

November 18th still, William Kelly, Chew (?).

November 18th still, Margret Whalen, Donal Kelly.

November 18th still, Margret Whalen.

November 18th still, Dieter Osten.

The song itself came to me during an early morning dream and I wrote it down in its entirety when I woke up.

Dieter Osten - Mystic Mood (bike messenger movie)

Mystic Mood, 1987, b/w super 8. Edited in film, transferred to Umatic. Transferred to DVD in 2005.

Song: East Of Eden – Mystik Mood 7” 45 rpm 1985

Dieter Osten East of Eden 33” Moon Records 1986

The video played around the world during the International Bicycle Film Festival ca 2008 

Mystik Mood, International Bicycle Film Festival DVD cover.

          This one, I shot and edited on film. William lend me an old, small super 8 camera with the only control being the on/off switch. This was perfect for my exploration of the world of Manhattan bike messengers, my job for the last year and a half in New York. I was so excited about the project, that I only shot four roles of film. I edited on a hand cranked old school film editing machine, splicing the edits together with tape. I just discarded the clips I didn't like. To finish the film, I had to scramble on the floor to look for more shots. I was afraid that I didn’t have enough strong material for the last part, but meanwhile I think it works fine for what it is, and I think the ending, which gradually becomes darker and mellower goes along nicely with the fading day. Again, this film is not about the song, but the music nevertheless works for a short movie about A Day in the Life of a Bike Messenger

Mystik Mood still, bike delivery.

Mystik Mood still, oversize.

          I shot mostly from the bike riding one-handed and holding the camera with the other without ever looking through the view finder. The streets of Manhattan where much rougher than they are now, and I was only shooting when I was not going very fast and knew that the road was halfway decent. I love the looseness of the footage; even some of the jerkiness. Some of the long pans are energetic and work really well. There are two long wide pans, one going from right to left, echoed by another from left to right ending on the drunk guy with his hands raised up in the air. I love these, good luck combined with decent editing. 

Mystik Mood still, flat tire.

Mystik Mood still, messenger getting ticket.

The looks and movements of all the different bike messengers and other riders does give an accurate feel of the bike riders in the city, their different bikes, outfits and styles. Bike messengers did create a unique style that was often copied and integrated by designers. The tightness of the streets versus the more open avenues, the chaos of pedestrians jaywalking, bikes and cars intermingling, the elegant lady crossing the street, the cropping caused by just holding the camera, feeling how to point it, could have hardly worked any better, even if it was planned. As a bike messenger your focus has to be on all the time, or you get killed. If you ride a fixie, your whole body develops another lever of awareness. This all helped me tremendously shooting this video.

Mystik Mood still, tight spaces..

Mystik Mood still, woman jatwalking.

The incredible luck on my first day of shooting when I caught the fight between the cabbie and the bike messenger. I had film in the camera, but no battery yet when I was going down 5th Ave in the upper 40’s and  saw the bike messenger throw his bike onto the hood of a cab. The cab took off and the messenger grabbed the back window of the cab, which started to drag him down 5th Ave, his heels scraping the asphalt. I had to deliver a packet in a side street building on an upper floor and bought some batteries for the camera. This probably took close to ten minutes. When I turned back onto 5th Ave I got to shoot the scene in the video, which happened close to the entrance of the public library on 5th and 42nd St. Watch the outfit of the bike messenger, dressed up in suit and tie. He used to get dressed up in different getups everyday, for example as hockey player including a goalie’s mask. He was also a brilliant and crazy rider. The whole conflict could have been started by the rider, hanging on to the cab cruising down 5th Avenue.

Mystik Mood still, bike messenger vs cabdriver.
Mystik Mood still, rain.

The video:

 and the song on soundcloud for free download:

These videos and especially the last two recordings and the film collaborations with William Kelly constitute the end of my creative activities in New York. They anticipate and point towards broader, more creative and more intellectually stringent projects, but I also had hit a snag in my life, or you could say something entirely different inside was coming forth to manifest. During my last summer in New York I got involved in windsurfing and jumped at the opportunity to spend some time in the Caribbean, weary to ride my bike through another New York winter. I went for it. Donald Kelly, an avid surfer, and I moved to St Thomas initially just for the winter. Today, Donald and I both live on different Hawaiian Islands.
Got to Move On into the unknown.


My last gig with a full band n New York was in March 87 at the Palladium on 14th St, the place where Lou Reed recorded Rock'n Roll Animal when it was the Academy of Music. For this gig I was back on guitar and the lineup was, Marc Jeffrey, guit/voc, Joe Drake, bass, Vinnie Signorelli, drums, Dieter Osten guit/voc.

Palladium card, back, 1987

In 1987 I returned to Germany after 9 1/2 years in the city and saw my father for the last time. I did two shows with Fran Powers, guit,voc,  Madonna Powers, bass and Ernie, the singer from Rotz Kotz on drums in Berlin and Hannover. 

In the Frankfurt train station with first German beer

Then, in the spring of 1988 I visited a friend in Jamaica where I realized my awakening passion for windsurfing. 

This concludes my experiences in New York city from May 1978 to November 1988, some of the important people in my life, my creative endeavors, how I worked and lived, the streets and clubs. This was a defining time in my life and when I return to NY now, every other year or so, I still walk the same streets and often ask myself what it is that makes me return to them again and again. I have no desire to live there now, but I loved the city then and it is probably still the most important city in my life.

We will return again and go more deeply into a specific moment in 1978, when my friend Mattus visited and took many b/w pictures that I just scanned. We will take an intimate look at life at the NYN ranch as Aid Haid liked to call it, and also at the city scape around Greenwich and Canal streets. Until then enjoy and Aloha, dieter

and in Jamaica with canoe and bike messenger bag.

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