“Barbara Rubin and the Exploding New York Underground” is a documentary for you if you are interested in film, photography, poetry, music and the “counterculture” of the 1960’s in The United States. Through most of the 1960’s she was a remarkable underground film cinematographer appreciated by some of the counterculture but seen with disdain and disgust by mainstream America as most of the counterculture was.
She was raised in a conservative Jewish middle-class family and was always pushing the limits so her parents eventually had her committed to a psychiatric institution where she gained in-depth experience with all sorts of illicit drugs. The institution released her if she could find a job and through her uncle she found a job with the influential photographer and cinematographer Jonas Mekas who acted as sort of a mentor of her throughout her brief career.
She joined the Cinematographic League of New York and never looked back. At 18 she released her first major film “Christmas on Earth” in 1963 which was closed down by the authorities as pornographic.
She met and influenced many artists such as Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg (whom she later entered a relationship with) and Andy Warhol.
There are numerous archival clips of all these people adding some historical interest to the film. Fantastic clips of Bob Dylan, Warhol and the Velvet Underground.
Then after being a darling of Andy Warhol’s Factory it seemed there was a bit of a misogynist turn there in 1996 and Rubin left attempting to promote her “Christmas on Earth” as a big screen production. It was going to be a huge project that might have involved The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman and the Hermits and countless other big music names. Marlon Brando, Walt Disney and Fellini were names bandied about with no success.
Then by 1967 as anti-war violence and discontent with the Vietnam War increased the avant-garde film community seemed to shrivel. She withdrew increasingly into drugs. Then she discovered the mysticism of the Jewish Kabballah (just like Madonna). She also had Ginsberg purchase a farmhouse two hours from New York City which was called The Committee on Poetry which was to be a centre for drugged up counterculture poets to clean them up.
It was thought that Rubin wanted to have children but that enthusiasm was not shared by Ginsberg who in August of 1968 after an argument called her a schizophrenic. After that while driving in rural New York she shouted to stop the car and ran up the stairs of an ultra orthodox orphanage in Sharon Springs New York and it was not much longer after that she became an Orthodox Jew in a very conservative sect. She married twice in the sect and on the birth of her fifth child in 1980 developed a pre-natal infection and died.
A bright light that burnt out quickly as far as cinematography but as to finding spirituality and happiness good for her. As a friend commented had she a proper support system she would have remained an artistic star.
The film shows on May 8th at Innis Hall and is part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. It is directed by Chuck Smith and is 78 minutes in length. To learn more about the film and see a trailer https://tjff.com/films/barbara-rubin-and-the-exploding-ny-underground/