Back in 2008, when Robert Nelson had just made some of his early films available again, most of them distributed by Canyon Cinema, REDCAT staged a mini-retrospective in Los Angeles: "Known for prankster experimentalism and on-the-spot invention, the films of San Francisco native Robert Nelson are among the defining landmarks of the post-Beat American underground of the 1960s and 70s. His free-spirited approach, sharp wit, and artistic rigor marked inspired collaborations with William T Wiley, William Allan, Steve Reich, and the Grateful Dead, and helped shape a language and style for the burgeoning psychedelic culture."
Yesterday, Mark Toscano of the Academy Film Archive posted the news that Nelson had passed away at the age of 81: "So many filmmakers are filmmakers in some way or other because of Bob (among them Peter Hutton, Fred Worden, Chris Langdon, Curt McDowell, Mike Henderson, numerous others). Peter once told me that when he saw Bob's films for the first time, his reaction was, "Wait, you can make movies like that?," and started making films himself. David Wilson (of Museum of Jurassic Technology fame) was deeply inspired by The Awful Backlash, and wasn't the only one to have that reaction…. When an artist dies, the inevitable retrospectives follow. But that's OK. Bob was happy to have his work rediscovered, and thrilled that anybody still found it entertaining, funny, enlightening, whatever. I already miss him deeply, but am excited that his films (and his spirit, a very palpable, inextricable part of them) are, and will continue to be, very much with us."
In 2008, the Viennale screened Nelson's 1974 short Special Warning.
Updates, 1/15: Jacob W presents an interview with Nelson from Scott MacDonald's "absolutely essential" A Critical Cinema series.
"His most notorious film was 1965's Oh Dem Watermelons, a parody of racist attitudes towards blacks that divided audiences with its shocking antics," writes Mike Everleth. "The film was originally commissioned and planned to be shown just as intermission entertainment during live shows performed by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, but its popularity turned it into a regularly programmed hit. Other films of note include his longest work The Great Blondino (1967), a 42-minute romp that features a curious young man exploring the beguiling world around him, and The Off-Handed Jape (1967), a film in which Nelson and his filmmaking partner William T Wiley perform facial contortions based on absurd suggestions shouted out by unseen agitators."