In Ron Rice’s baggy-pantsed beatnik artifact The Flower Thief (1960), Warhol superstar in training Taylor Mead traipses with elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafés, oceanside fairgrounds and collapsed post-industrial ruins. Boinging along an improvised picaresque up and down the city’s hills, Mead teases playground schoolkids, sniffs wildflowers, gets abducted by cowboys in the park, and has a tea party on a pile of rubble with a potbellied bathing beauty… For consummate subcult critic Parker Tyler, Rice’s “dharma-bum films” work by discarding the distinctions between art and life. They “bear resemblance to the lunatic romps of the Marx Brothers, only now the actors are not in comic uniforms, as if the parody were part of real life, not a movie fiction.” Today, Mead’s Flower Thief uniform—tight hoodie, button-down shirt, three-stripe tennis shoes, and beat-up jeans—can be seen on many an L-train habitué, en route to neo-Bowery facsimilies of post-war cafés, and so the parody has been reversed; such are our own meticulous restorations of the fantasies of other people’s youth. —Ed Halter
Ron Rice (1935, New York City – 1964, Mexico) was an American experimental filmmaker, whose freeform style influenced experimental filmmakers in New York and California during the early 1960s.
The Flower Thief
Rice twice collaborated with future Warhol star Taylor Mead, including Rice’s first and best-known film, The Flower Thief (1960). Created in 1959 for less than $1,000, it used World War II aerial gunnery 16mm film cartridges donated to Rice by Hollywood producer Sam Katzman. In 1962, it was seen by a large New York audience as a selection of Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16.
Rice commented on his inventive approach:
In the old Hollywood movie days, studios would keep a man on the set who, when all other sources of ideas failed (writers, directors), was called upon to ‘cook up’ something for filming. He was called the Wild Man. The Flower Thief has been put together in memory of all the dead wild men who died unnoticed in the field of stunt.
In 2005, after… read more