Colin Still – Optic Nerve

Colin Still

Colin Still and Optic Nerve‘s poetic documentation and extraordinary achievement needs to be sung. So we’re singing it today here.

By now, perhaps, many of you will have already seen, and be familiar with, this footage (Colin’s footage) – the legendary pairing – Allen Ginsberg accompanied by Paul McCartneyat the Royal Albert Hall in London, in October of 1995 – “The Ballad of The Skeletons”

From the same occasion – “After Lalon”

but that event and that footage, extraordinary though it is, is only the very tip of the iceberg.
Colin has shot full-length films on William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara,  Amiri BarakaMichael McClure,and… Allen  (The Windows of The Skull  (later to be re-titled “No More to Say And Nothing To Weep For“)

Colin, (from an interview in the upcoming Beat Scene), takes up the story:

After much deliberation I decided to make.. [a film] on Allen Ginsberg, with whom I’d developed a good rapport… The film..which was originally called The Windows of the Skull, was quite a challenge. For a start, this was only a couple of years after Jerry Aronson had released his film The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, and, whilst I’d liked what Jerry had done, I obviously wanted to do something different. There was also the question of how you treat on film – particularly a film destined for the classroom – a poem like “Howl” This remains an issue, even when one’s working with fewer restraints. Do you, for example, dramatise the poem in some way? Do you show the text on screen? Do you show images which in one way or another resonate with the text without literally illustrating it? If the poem is a long one do you feature an excerpt from it? What assumptions, if any, can you make about your audience? There are all kinds of issues like this. My principles on these and on subsequent films were, even if the film had a biographical and chronological structure, to feature a small number of poems and to have these read by several different interviewees, and quite often to have the readings spliced together, in a ‘pass the parcel’ fashion, generally with lines being repeated, playing against one another the different intonations and cadences of the readers…

With the Ginsberg film, thanks in part to Bob Rosenthal and Peter Hale of what was to become the Allen Ginsberg Trust, I was able to enlist a stellar team of interviewees, including Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder,  Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Ann Charters, Philip Glass, Gelek Rinpoche, Peter Orlovsky and Ed Sanders
With so much material it was difficult to condense it into a 28-minute film.”

Anna (Price) and I were editing the (film) when it became clear that Allen’s health was fast declining. When he died, in April 1997, I was in London. Among the many people who visited him in his final hours was the film-maker Jonas Mekas, who brought a video camera with him, on which he shot images of Allen on his deathbed and (also) a short interview with Peter Orlovsky. This is the footage which, with Jonas’s permission, appears in my film. On learning of Allen’s death, the Commissioning Editor for Arts at Channel 4 contacted me and asked whether it might be possible to make an hour-long version of The Windows of the Skull for prime-time transmission. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity, and the extended version, rapidly re-edited and renamed “No More to Say and Nothing to Weep For”, was broadcast a few weeks later. This, I have to say, was the only occasion on which one of my poetry films has ever had a major TV slot.”

The good news is that Colin is focusing on refurbishing his website. Again from the Beat Scene interview:

“The website ( includes clips from my Williams, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Baraka and McClure films, plus unseen out-takes from them all. It has the opening sections of most of the poems featured in Arrows of Desire(a modular educational project, 48 films, each dealing with a single poem, “from Sir Thomas Wyatt to Lawrence Ferlinghetti“..) Brakhage on Brakhage, and a fair amount of contemporary music, including a recording I made with the saxophonist Lol Coxhill shortly before he died….I plan to update it fairly regularly, with the aim of doubling its size during the coming months. What I’m particularly keen to do is make available footage from my (currently) uncompleted films on Jerome Rothenberg  (“Vot Am I Doink Here?”) and Robert Creeley (provisional title – “Shall We & Why Not?”). These are two projects on which I’ve shot an enormous amount of material, and which, if I could raise the money, I’d like to see completed by the end of the year….

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