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Piero Heliczer: L’Underground, c’est moi

This EYE on art programme, in collaboration with Piero Heliczer’s Amsterdam-born daughter, Wynn Heliczer, looks back on the audio visual legacy of the late filmmaker and poet.

Piero Heliczer (1937 - 1993) was a poet, publisher, actor and filmmaker associated with the 1960s American Experimental Cinema. He spent many years of his life travelling between America and Europe and gained notoriety as a poet and publisher. However, his work as a filmmaker has remained relatively unknown, despite his strong association with notable figures such as Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground and Jack Smith. This programme spans Heliczer’s career in film, taking a closer look at his influences and inspirations.

To frame the film screenings Wynn Heliczer will perform songs from her music-theatre performance, The Missing Beat, about her quest to unearth and understand the mysterious life of her father. Arend Niks will provide the musical beat accompaniment on drums.

Piero Heliczer’s works are “an important and too often forgotten part of 1960s experimental cinema.” (Wheeler W. Dixon, Film Historian)



Clip from Augusto Genina’s Bengasi, 1942, 4mins
Bengasi is an Italian propaganda war film directed by Augusto Genina. It is both curious and fascinating that Heliczer’s cinematic career can be traced back to his early appearance in this film, which won first prize at Venice International Film Festival in 1942.

Andy Warhol, Screen Test: Piero Heliczer, 1965, 4mins
To introduce the evening we will present Andy Warhol’s 4-minute Screen Test of the filmmaker and poet. Heliczer, like other regulars to Warhol’s Factory studio in New York City was asked to pose to be captured by Warhol’s stationary 16mm Bolex movie camera on silent, black and white film. The result is a revealing and captivating portrait.

Martin Scorsese, The Big Shave, 1967, 6mins
As well as Andy Warhol and Jack Smith, Martin Scorsese was also a contemporary of Heliczer. He too was directing and producing experimental films in, and about, 1960s New York. His film The Big Shave, or Viet ‘67 as it is sometimes known, depicts an individual man’s perilous attempt at shaving. The film stands as a metaphor for the self-destructive nature of the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam war. Originally, the film was made for the weeklong anti-Vietnam protest, ”The Angry Arts Against the War”, whereby New York artists expressed discontent surrounding the US policy in Vietnam through their art. Instead however, the six-minute picture premiered at Jacques Ledox's 1967 Festival of Experimental Cinema in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, where it won Le Prix de L'Age d'Or.

Piero Heliczer, Joan of Arc, 1967, 12mins
Similarly to Scorsese’s The Big Shave, Heliczer’s Joan of Arc also acts as a metaphor against US involvement in the Vietnam war. Heliczer presents the story of Joan of Arc through the revolution in the arts, applying the Gothic to the War. The film stars Jack Smith, Ira Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Angus Maclise, and Andy Warhol amongst others.

Both Scorsese and Heliczer, as artists working in New York in the 60s, used their own work in order to disassociate themselves from US involvement in the war. Joan of Arc, along with Scorsese’s The Big Shave, also screened at the 1967 Festival of Experimental Cinema in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium. Both films can be seen as representative film works of this period.

Piero Heliczer, Venus in Furs, 1968, 20 mins
In November, 1968 Heliczer filmed The Velvet Underground performing for his film Venus in Furs, an experimental film shot on 8mm. At one point in the film Heliczer himself is seen on camera playing the Saxophone with the band. The film was originally shown to “insider” audiences at The Bridge Theatre (also known as The New Bowery Theatre), St Mark’s Place, Manhattan. In the following year, 1969, the film was screened at the Eight and a ½ New York Film Festival, an event organised by Jonas Mekas at New York City’s Elgin Theatre. Mekas described Venus in furs as “ cheerfully anarchic…yet personal(ly) lyrical.”

Venus in Furs has been restored and digitised by the EYE film museum, Amsterdam.

Piero Heliczer/Walter Cronkite’s The Making Of An Underground Film, CBS News, 1965, 6mins
This newsreel, capturing the earliest known footage of the Velvet Underground, documents Heliczer
filming the footage used in Venus in Furs and his three-hour epic Dirt. It was broadcasted
on 31st December 1965. Featuring Jonas Mekas, Piero Heliczer, The Velvet Underground,

The film you are looking for was shown in EYE in a past programme.
Sorry we can’t help you out. But as a lover of classics, genre and arthouse film we invite you to have a look at what is on view now.
Program a-z