Registering the Registry 2021: Evergreen (1964)

Welcome back to Registering the Registry, where we consider and review the films inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry by merit of their cultural, historical, and aesthetic qualities! Today, we head back to the mid-60s and out west to the University of California, Los Angeles at their school of Theater, Film, and Television, to check out a work from one of their more famous alumni. Not the MOST famous of the persons in one Kevin Bacon degree from the piece, but a talented and cool guy all the same. From 1964, it’s Ray Manzarek’s student film Evergreen! Lay down the smooth jazz and let’s take a look!

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In case you don’t know the story: it’s the summer of 1965, and Ray has just earned himself a Master’s in the fine art of cinematography from UCLA’s film school. To this point in his life, Ray’s dabbled in jazz piano, studied economics at DePaul University, served as an army intelligence officer, joined his brothers’ bar band as keyboardist, and started a successful long-term relationship with his girlfriend Dorothy. Quite a bit of living under the belt for a man of twenty-five, but he’s not entirely sure where he’s gonna go next until he unexpectedly bumps into a fellow former student out on Venice Beach, undergrad Jim. Better suited to poetry and studying esoterica than making film, Jim’s best known amongst his peers at this stage for lazily editing his term film with single tape splices rather than the instructed sturdier double-side splice, resulting in a film Ray admired for its nonlinear expressive boldness falling apart inside the projector. To Ray’s knowledge, Jim was bound for New York to pursue his art after graduation, yet here he is still in California, talking about his recent efforts at writing poetry and how he’d like to spin his work into songs for a band. Ray asks Jim to show a few of his pieces, Jim sings a few out, and the two know then and there they’ve gotta seize on this opportunity. Within days Jim has moved in with Ray and properly joined his brothers’ group, Rick & the Ravens (having previously taken a one-night invite to sing with them a year back when he had much less confidence and skill). Founding members Jim and Rick Manzarek abandon the gig as a bad job a few months later following a failed demo, but by this time Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison have recruited John Densmore on drums, tapped Robby Krieger as guitarist, and changed their name to the moniker under which they’d rise to superstardom… The Doors.

That’s the big reason for discussing Evergreen, innit? Whatever I’d like to say about the virtues in the Library of Congress selecting notable student films for highlight and preservation towards a goal of encompassing the total body of what American film Is, you can’t get away from the top shelf immediately apparent draw of, “It’s a movie by one of the guys from The Doors before they were The Doors.” T’ain’t just my cynical streak acting up what makes me say so, neither; the film’s entry in the yearly press release announcing Registry inductees leads with the fact of Manzarek’s membership in the famous rock band and builds itself around a quote arguing the work’s importance in presaging the cinematic quality of their best-known work. When UCLA began a restoration fund for Evergreen and several other student films from Manzarek and Morrison, The Doors were right there in the section headers and tiered reward names, and YouTube uploads of the pictures from the college are quick to namedrop the group in the description. The official Ray Manzarek website (which doubles as an official Doors site) discusses the film entirely in the context of how it relates back to pieces of Doors trivium — which, for what it’s worth, are Neat enough I think a few bear relating here. Like how the female lead (Dorothy Fujikawa, Ray’s then-girlfriend and future wife until his 2013 death) at one point notes she’s reading Brecht’s Three Penny Opera and is later seen holding the book from whence originates “Alabama Song,” later a Doors piece. Or how Hank Olguin (here credited Henry Crismonde) takes the male lead and is also the guy who let the band practice at his place because he was the only person Ray knew with a decent piano. Or howzabout the Rick & the Ravens tune “Henrietta” playing during a montage containing a shot of the Whiskey a Go Go, the place where the Doors acted as house band early in their career and later lost that gig for the Exact Reasons You’d Expect when Morrison first improvised the Oedipal poetry bridge to “The End”? S’fun stuff to babble out for your audience, and I fully understand why the immediate impulse to talk about the film in the context of a band a great number of people still really like! It’s what I’m doing right now!

It cannot, however, encompass what we do here outside eye-catching and introductory matters. I like to believe the works we discuss on Registering the Registry speak to a quality deeper than who made them or how they are remembered by the culture writ large. These pieces often go heedlessly long precisely because I want to give every film its due, allow the art under consideration its chance to present and argue why it is important beyond the name above the title or the moments most remembered by the general public. If we keep harping on about The Doors as we go, then Evergreen is effectively famous for relation to a famous person, worthy for proximity to albums from a group widely agreed to have worth. The whole idea of 60s student films deserves a little better than navel-gazing about how Manzarek’s artistic choices here foreshadow the artistic choices he’d make during keyboard solos on “Light My Fire” and “Riders on the Storm,” so we’ll be expanding our scope a tad to give the form and films the credit they’re due. I’ll give a few paragraphs on Evergreen, then we’ll jump to Manzarek’s follow-up semi-sequel Induction, then some talk about Alex Prisadsky’s Five Situations for Camera, Recorder, and People (sound by Morrison) and Ron Raley’s Patient 411: A Progress Report (camera by Morrison). Though we’re sticking with Doors-associated films to keep the focus from expanding too broad (and because they’re easy to find on YouTube in forms I’m fairly certain I can link without worrying about deletion six months from now), the sampling should give us a decent overview of what the UCLA professors thought worth preservation from the cultural stew of the 64–65 period, a notion we’ll cycle back on when we’re through with the films.

(Note: This overview was to include Jose Luis Gonzalez’s short The Wino and the Blind Man featuring Manzarek as the Blind Man, but I cannot find it anywhere online for the life of me, and I’ve neither funds nor time to drive out for UCLA and request a private screening.)

Evergreen

Understand, these works aren’t just matters of personal expression under guided supervision, they’re culmination of extended study meant to demonstrate proficiency with matters of separately-synchronized sound, manual editing, non-static camerawork. Through this lens, Manzarek’s first student film represents perhaps the best marriage of technical skill and artistic intent of the selected bunch. A brief window into love life of a student couple played by Olguin and Fujikawa, Manzarek takes no small inspiration from the French New Wave movement in his exploration of a relationship on uncertain ground thanks to one party’s inability to commit. Neither Hank nor Dorothy ever speak to one another aloud on-camera, their conversations about jazz and reading habits and upcoming weddings relegated to an audio track over their separate morning routines, Hank fiddling with his saxophone and records, the pair going about their own business at a distance on the beach. Instances of the two sharing the same space are either post-coital or deliberately silent, mouths flapping as we hear the sound of ocean waves or a Rick & the Ravens song — in fact, the only two times when the audio conversations and visual intermingling find both Dorothy and Hank present simultaneously, it’s towards the end when Hank’s side of the talk fully reveals his his flakiness about the relationship. Rather reminds me of the sex scene from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now a decade later, the mind far adrift from what matters in the moment the way two people talk and think at a time when they ought be closest foreshadowing their breaking apart.

Taking Manzarek’s editing style as a reflection of Hank’s perspective, we can tell he likes his life much like he likes his jazz: fast, punchy, blaring. There’s some good quick match shots paired with a sudden uptick in the music as contrast to the longer scenes of Hank spending time with Dorothy, between the jump from him throwing the Evergreen counterculture mag onto a bed to the publication’s resting spot becoming the hole of his instrument, the couple rushing into a hug on the sidewalk three times over before a fourth shot slams us into them doing the same in the shower, and the sudden intrusion on a moment of bliss by shots of Hank running down an endless fallout shelter hallways with visions of Dorothy blasting through his head to the time of trumpet blares. He’s a soft-spoken, kinda mumble-mouthed guy, but the film flatters his wham-bam-thankya-ma’am perspective quite often, and in contrast to Dorothy he seems a little shallow. She offers so many avenues of conversation about her interests and makes concessions for his, invites him to a good number of events he brushes off, tries to deepen their talks again and again before he gives another half-hearted reply and we’re on to the next jazzy montage. While I can’t know whether Manzarek or his crew intended it at all, there’s a good sequence with the two driving in Hank’s car as the shadows of trees slide across the windscreen; where the patterns they form generate a forever-shifting mottle of sky and shade across Dorothy’s side of the car, Hank’s is only interrupted momentarily, remaining a pure reflection of the sky that coincidentally keeps our view on his face largely obfuscated. One’s a network of variation and perpetual change, the other’s comfortable in never-differing blocks, neither’s hard-spoken enough to give any indication of unhappiness.

It’s no wonder the film ends with Hank slinking out and away from a partner who seems to intimidate him for simpler climates, and similarly no wonder why Evergreen was honored with highlight and special preservation status. S’a solid example of a film student understanding the assignment, matching the measured criteria, and making a little something their own along the way without coloring too far outside the lines.

Induction

Here we see Manzarek tackle a classic genre of student film: the self-reflective meta work of semi-biography. In Induction, Ray plays his own struggling film student, this time dating Kathy Zeller as a theatre student who’s high energy but has increasingly little time for or interest in her boyfriend, leading him to Dorothy as a quieter but more caring artist studying sculpture. The film at first seems a duplication of Evergreen with Ray and Kathy walking through a marketplace as conversation plays out detached from their actions, until a few minutes in the sound synchronizes and remains synced until their breakup. For his part, Ray plays the same kind of role even meeker than Hank did, trying to take initiative when one girlfriend is overenthusiastic or the other hyperfocused, making not much headway one direction or the other for the first half. He gives much of the middle section over to an extended party sequence scored by covers of “Dancing in the Street” and “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as he wanders around trying to find Kathy before discovering her having done something with another guy upstairs, which comprises the best part of the picture as it finds him using Evergreen’s freer visual language to communicate the narrative sense of confusion. After Kathy breaks things off (with a fun cut from Ray saying, “Well, I hope this isn’t the end,” to a title card of “THE END” collapsing on burnt celluloid) the previous mode of conversation divorced from visuals reasserts during dates with Dorothy in a diner and the school’s art gallery, with only a brief return to Kathy that emphasizes the increased distance between the two by frequently placing obstacles between the two or positioning them at laughably large lengths apart.

Manzarek’s choice of conversational material here is interesting, since it illustrates both the increased ambition of the project and the reason I don’t find it works so well as his other student directorial effort. Time and again he talks to his partners about his film project, which is giving him some trouble — he’s not sure whether there’s enough narrative interest in two people just walking around in a relationship, he’s told he needs conflict like the lovers breaking up, advised the guy in the story should act more affected about the breakup or else his suddenly leaving to join the army at the end doesn’t ring true. At every turn, when someone challenges him on his perspective or makes a suggestion on how he might improve the work, he simply shrugs, tosses out a, “Well, I’ll find something eventually…” and moves on without further thought. Towards the end we see Ray and Dorothy watching Evergreen through a selection of scenes that match what he’s talked about throughout, but given Induction ends with Ray’s character suddenly joining the army without telling anyone for no discernable reason other than running away from commitment, it’s clear which film he’s actually talking about. It’s funny, for the texture on the characters seems richer here than the deliberately simple impressions of last time, yet the open admission of uncertainty and confluence in character and creator alike abandoning responsibility robs what is effectively the same ending from before some necessary kick. In stating loud and clear, “I don’t quite know where I’m going with this and haven’t figured a proper central idea, so I simply shan’t,” all I can think about is how sometimes saying less will get you so much more. Evergreen leaves some room to interpret whys and wherebys, where Induction calls direct attention to what Manzarek meant, and how he sorta copped out of saying anything.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still well-made and deserving high marks on the metric of doing what was necessary at baseline while throwing in a few grace notes to show off — particularly the party scene’s active camera and a nice shot of Ray and Dorothy making love from within a spinning paper lantern through its intricate cutout designs. I just think Manzarek’s first outing exudes better confidence in his ability to use these tools and skills for a larger purpose, a confidence eroded when asked to tell a firmer story… which, to briefly break with my self-imposed “no warbling on about The Doors” rule, might go some way to explaining why he shifted to a medium without so many opportunities for traditional theatrical narrative after school. Meta’s a tricky tact to pull off and only pays proper dividends if you stick the landing perfect, so it’s only natural so many film students take a swing its way, and almost as many come away with dissatisfactory results.

Five Situations for Camera, Recorder, and People

Per a self-published retrospective from Prisadsky, Morrison’s own student film had some influence on Five Situations. Prisadsky originally intended a short about a man who misses his bus and suddenly has to grok his surroundings, but working on a scene in Morrison’s film involving a bunch of people making shadow puppets before the light of a broken movie projector inspired Prisadsky to a new unstructured mediation on chaos, this batch’s symbolically representative mood piece, whose contents bear direct outlining. A group of young men walking in file to the beat of a marching band. One of the men (Ron Jamison) gets strikes at a bowling alley, the camera alternating between an interior shot of the pin refreshing mechanism and a close-up on his blank face, the soundscape littered with the crash of balls into lane and pins. Another man (Harlow Church) steps atop a car in an empty parking lot and begins systematically tossing bottles from a cardboard box to the ground, the sound of their shattering distorted and oddly disconnected from the actual moments of breakage as we cut between looking up at his exertion and down at the scattering glass. The whole group enters an already-occupied bathroom one at a time until it is overfull and they begin to fight, their voices and blows slow and heavy in contrast to the intensifying struggle amongst their number. A group of UCLA students partake in jubilant, destructive celebration as they build a garbage fire in the middle of the street, with serene music in the background. Then, the scenes mingle to the tune of whooping voices and pounding drums, the smasher, the bowler, the fire, the bottles, the balls, the crowd, clashing and building on their energy until we break and all is collective contemplation of the smoldering flame. Finally, the besuited men again, marching once more, accompanied by militaristic marching orders as they walk away towards who knows what.

A natural state of things, ordered and expected — a private, constructed expression of destruction — a public yet singularly unacceptable outburst — collective conflict starting at discomfort and escalating into violence — upheaval and disorder on a mass scale, encompassing all things until it collapses into appreciation for what exactly we have wrought in this moment. A hard break into resumption of the natural order, this time under martialed command. Dissatisfaction and unrest may be read from the word go in the too tight movements, the too ordered configuration, and it builds and builds and builds from personal expression to widespread jubilation at what flame can make in its unmaking, only for those in power to reassert as is their wont. The bubble is formed, grows, wavers, bursts, and evaporates upon the concrete. A commentary on generational agitation? A reflection of man’s inherent nature? A reaction to the then-upcoming rumblings of war? Simply a collection of images and sounds Prisadsky thought intriguing in combination coated by dedication to non-comment? To the viewer goes the decision!

I like this one quite a lot, case it t’weren’t obvious.

Patient 411: A Progress Report

For his part, Raley takes the route of affecting another mode of film entirely to transform the usual weaknesses of student filmmaking — less than convincing actors, limited and sparse locations, unsteady handheld camerawork, so on and so on — into features. In this case, he plays at producing a scientific record, a report drawn from the fictional California Institute of Neuropsychiatry, narrated by a terribly smug-sounding scientist outlining the details and procession of their latest experiment in reconditioning local hustlers. Roughness around the edges is expected from a government-funded work not interested in any artistic polish, after all! We watch and listen as he discusses the particulars of identifying good recruits for the project over footage of a young man’s recruitment, hear his prognosis of hale ’n’ hearty men defined by an obsessive self-image and social isolation as ideal test subjects, get an idea of the recruit’s personality when he haltingly reads aloud his personal details and the numerous disclaimers and waivers he must accept in order to participate (with his words out’ve sync from his mouth as a sound editing grace note). As to what they’re actually DOING in the Institute, Raley seems to have taken note from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, for the experiment involves strapping subjects into an electric shock mechanism, showing them films of themselves taken at an earlier stage in the process, and letting ’em have it any time they show a positive reaction to the sight. This proceeds on through films taken during their time at the Institute while repeating on the original films again and again until the hustler has learned to hate the sight and thought of himself alike, completely eradicating any healthy self-image.

There’s no direct indication why the Institute thinks this a worthwhile endeavor, and the most we get from inference is a distant distaste for the lifestyle, a superior notion those on the bottom rung of society must be Corrected until they’ve absolutely nothing to draw upon for happiness within their station. The detached cruelty evident when the narrator notes how they simply HAD to shock their subject when he noticed the camera towards the end points towards as much dehumanization. Placing the work in conversation with the three others we’ve seen today, however, lets us glean a little further insight into how this reflects on the culture of the day. Self-doubt and mistrust of otherwise functioning instincts seems in vogue at UCLA this semester, alongside a nagging sense systems and authorities one has been long conditioned to trust actually harboring little except a desire to see the status quo remains intact. Manzarek shows it in his closing uses of the army as willful lethe against unpleasant experiences and the reflexive tendency towards noncommitment, Prisadsky through his embrace of the chaotic in a cyclical pattern of malaise becoming outburst squashed by normalcy. All three efforts speak in their own small way towards the upcoming major culture shift of the mid-60s — not quite there in the spring of 1965, but building and obvious in the discontent of college film students asked to experiment with divorcing thought from the physical. All compliance and acceptance will get you is torn down and devalued, oft through the very mediums and media you use to define yourself. If we’re not quite to the point of revolution, we’re at the point where those a little older than the kids who would light the match can tell something’s screwy, and moreover tell those in charge sense a challenge to their positions of power a-comin’. Why else stamp the boot down on the hustlers?

Now, I’m sure there’s one pressing, burning question on everyone’s minds, since I’ve made mention of it a few times throughout this article: what about Jim Morrison’s term film? Well, it don’t exist no more. Not just because it fell to pieces mid-exhibition and earned him a rotten grade for failing to follow basic editing instructions, though this would’ve likely been enough to prevent its preservation; in large part because, per Manzarek’s recollections, the UCLA film faculty were disgusted by Morrison’s work, thought it perverted, needlessly deconstructive, packed with communist sympathies, outright fascist. This despite Manzarek himself considering Jim’s work rather brilliant in its own way, a non-linear exploration of what film could do as a form of visual expression, a minority perspective reportedly shared by instructor Edgar Brokaw, who’d chide Morrison’s physical filmmaking abilities but support the vision behind his clumsiness. Regardless, his film was not selected for exhibition at one of the many student film festivals around town, and at semester’s end it was thrown out alongside hundreds upon hundreds of other similarly unsuccessful student films. It is, in a way, understandable why UCLA would not consider these works at all worth the bother of long-term preservation. Physical space required to keep so many film reels only grows the more you retain, and the attached upkeep efforts and costs grow exponentially in turn. To keep any save the best of the best as an example of what the school can teach and produce at its finest is to create a needless burden on those involved in maintenance.

Oliver Stone did create an approximation of the short for his Jim Morrison biopic, but it’s ostensibly not a thing like what Jim actually made.

In another way, though, the loss of Jim Morrison’s student film alongside God knows how many others over the decades highlights the difficulty in preservation projects like the ones we overview. Collective agreement on a work’s inherent value is not the only nor the best means of determining whether a piece of art has succeeded or failed at its goals, and retrospective analysis of the choices to salvage or scrap leads us into a litany of little what ifs. If we can say, with nearly sixty years’ hindsight, a creative like Jim Morrison might’ve made something of interest or value during his days as a film student, who’s to say for certain someone else’s lacking rigor at a certain aspect of the academic process or vision misaligned with faculty sensibilities didn’t also create some now-lost small work of genius around the same time, or at least the germ of what could’ve been a fantastic career if it weren’t discouraged by disapproval at lacking first steps? Who’s to say there aren’t countless works actually in UCLA’s archives that deserve some reappraisal yet won’t get any because they weren’t made by somebody famous? Who’s to say these four Doors-affiliated films are most worth restoration and preservation simply because two of the guys who worked on them would make some really good albums a few years later? No matter the body, be it those grading the UCLA term films in the 60s or the Library of Congress selecting pictures for the National Film Registry now, this process of assessing merit and worth will inevitably fall victim to reflecting general consensus, and while we can readily tell ourselves if something survived the press of public opinion across so many years it MUST be worth something, the exceptions we find in these smaller amateur venues reveal there’ll always be some measure of doubt to the righteousness of our assumptions. As such, we must learn to guard ourselves against blindly following potentially bad paradigms, walk as carefully as we can in assessing value and worth, second-guess ourselves and look through different eyes whenever possible.

Both these student filmmakers and the Doors have the right idea of it sixty years ago. Y’gotta challenge your boundaries at all turns, question what the social order holds as sacred and worthy, take a chance with us and, meet me at the back of the blue bus, doin’a blue rug on a, blue bus, doin’a, blue rug, COME ON GIRL!

(Oh sue me for not resisting at the very end~)

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Hey, we’re actually in a place where everyone reading the article is guaranteed capable of watching the same things I did for once! What do you lot think, of Evergreen, the other student films, or Manzarek’s work both with and without the Doors? Light a lively debate a fire in the comments, and keep your eyes peeled for the next article two weeks hence! We’re sticking with UCLA alumni to look at David Garcia’s record of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium march against the Vietnam War in LA, and the respondent police brutality that took activist Ruben Salazar’s life. It’s Requiem 29, and you can find it here. See you next week!

Gargus may also be found on Letterboxd, tumblr, twitter, ko-fi.

Registering the Registry is sponsored by Adept7777 and Dan Stalcup on Patreon.

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I write on the National Film Registry. Articles appear biweekly. Any pronouns will do. Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/gargus

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Gargus

Gargus

I write on the National Film Registry. Articles appear biweekly. Any pronouns will do. Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/gargus

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