Naomi Levine Interview by Jonas Mekas
The following interview appeared in The Village Voice, 24 December 1964:
Naomi Levine has many faces. There were times when Naomi was a troublemaker. She was protesting. Peace strike... closing of the Living Theatre... disarmament... movie censorship - she was there, ready for any cause.
At the same time Naomi was painting flowers. Huge, colorful, sad, almost tragic flowers. She still paints them. She paints flowers everywhere she goes.
Then there is Naomi, the underground movie star, the 'black lioness,' the 'Egyptian broad;' the voluptuous star of Andy Warhol's Tarzan and Jane, in which she took her 'famous' soap bubble bath and outdid Hedy Lamarr in the swimming scene, in a Hollywood pool. She descended down the spider webs in Jack Smith's Normal Love, in which she had six legs and looked ominously black; she was served on a late together with ripe autumn fruits, grapes, and bananas in Andy's Dracula movie; she appeared (incognito) in Barbara Rubin's Christmas on Earth; and she has been kissed and kissing endlessly and at sixteen frames per second in Andy Warhol's notorious Kiss movies.
Anyway, we know Naomi Levine as one of the ten great underground movies stars. (The ten: Taylor Mead, Beverly Grant, Empire State Building, Winifred Bryan, Jack Smith, Jerry Sims, Donna Kerness, Morio [sic] Montez, Jane Holzer, Joel Markman, Naomi Levine.)
Now Naomi has become a film-maker herself. Her two movies - Jaremelu and Yes - were shown on last Monday's program at the Film-Makers' Cinematheque. Since Yes is one of cinema's most beautiful pastorales and a manifesto of a desperately romantic soul, I thought the occasion was well worth an interview. So we had the following conversation:
JM: Who are you?
NL: Now I am a marshmallow.
JM: Why did you make Yes?
NL: Because I wanted to make something beautiful.
JM: Why 'something' beautiful? Why not something perceptive - or of social consequence - or sexy?
NL: Beauty is all of these things. You see, I went to Puerto Rico and made a demonstration at Rami Air Force Base - and fifteen people lost their jobs and were beaten up and their homes wrecked. So I realized that this was not the way. The way would be to make something, to give something tot my world more beautiful and of life than these armaments which are merely ugly and full of pain.
JM: Do you think you succeeded?
NL: That is impossible - maybe here and there - maybe a glimmer, an instant of what I would like to give, of all I experienced. So that I now know where to work from and toward, as a whole. I know - after working with five versions and many editing revisions, etc. - the world of Movie, the world of People, is the way for me to go.
JM: How do you make your movies?
NL: Anything that happens on a set happens - there is no 'acting,' no method to get what goes on. It's real and it has gone on for me forever. When I kiss I am kissed and I have kissed.
JM: Which film-makers do you like?
NL: Stan Brakhage. His best, most clear, and most resolved and most beautiful is Window Water Baby Moving. Even though the others are good. In Prelude and Dog Star Man, at times, the technique becomes too out of balance - that never happens in WWBM. This is all pretty superficial criticism - it's rather just a comment from me - maybe as I learn more and see more I will be able to say something more explicit. The only person who comes really close to what I want to do is Warhol - it's almost as if he is my machine, almost. Ken Jacobs is disturbing because he has picked two characters - stars - in Star Spangled to Death (Jack Smith and Jerry Sims) and been completely able to show their lives and existences for exactly what they were.
All in all, if I were to produce a movie, I would want Ken [Jacobs] for an assistant director; Jack [Smith] to make costumes; Andy [Warhol] to direct camera; Adolfas [Mekas] to write it; Ron [Rice] to make sets; Beverly Grant, Barbara [Rubin], and Frances [Stillman] for female leads; Richard Burton, Truffaut, and Ron Rice for male leads; Jonas for all around spiritual guidance and angel love.
JM: What you are doing now?
NL: I am working on Contact.
JM: What do you want to do?
NL: I would like to be queen of Channel 2 or Channel 4 - those are the biggest cinema theatres in the world - and I would like my favorite director-cameraman to eat me up.
JM: Who's that?
NL: He's a well-known flower maker.
JM: Do you have a lot more you would like to say?
NL: Yes, I wish I could be interviewed for hours - I love to be asked questions.
JM: If this weren't the end of your lunch hour, Miss Marshmallow, I would go on and on. But now I have to end it right here - Merry Christmas, in case I don't see you.