Scen.: Thomas White. F.: Bernard Daillencourt. M.: Denise de Casabianca. Mus.: Ornette Coleman. Int.: The Living Theatre. Prod.: Thomas White, Allan Zion. DCP. D.: 73’. Bn.
It’s almost Dalí
The movie screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966, but it hasn’t been shown publicly since then and was widely believed to be lost. (Also, White never made another feature). In its absence, the movie was famous for its soundtrack – in particular, for its music score, by the central jazz modernist Ornette Coleman and his trio. […] Who’s Crazy? was filmed – in raw and bleak black-and-white – in rural Belgium and features members of the New York-based Living Theatre troupe (minus its founders, Judith Malina and Julian Beck), as inmates in a mental institution who are being transported by bus. When the bus breaks down in a lonely place in the wintry countryside, an inmate runs for it. When two guards hustle to recapture him, the rest of the patients all escape and elude the guards. Making their way to a desolate and abandoned brick farmhouse, the uniformed patients find a way in, take shelter, and construct, in isolation, an antic yet earnest domesticity that summons the Living Theatre troupe’s wide and wild range of improvisational inspirations. […] White’s direction may be loose, but its purpose is clear. As he merges the slapstick of silent comedy with landscape painting of a stark intensity that captures the spiritual striving of the Nordic strain of art cinema (including a wickedly funny parody of the ‘dance of death’ scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal), he makes clear that the transcendence of the new freedoms will be physical – a calculatedly exaggerated outpouring of song and dance freed from familiar forms and conventions, an urgent liberation of the body without which there’s no freeing of the soul. Who’s Crazy? seems made to propel viewers out of their seats to exult along with it in a state of cinematic possession, to break the contemplative boundaries of viewership and to break the bounds of the movie screen, in order to turn the movie theatre into an actual theatre in which exultant and frenzied viewers are integrated with the action of the Living Theatre itself.
Richard Brody, “The New Yorker”, 25 March 2016
White has shuttled a large cardboard box containing the only existing 35mm print of the film between apartments and houses; it most recently settled in for a long wait in his Connecticut garage. The film was considered lost by the Library of Congress and the few jazz-on-film experts who’d heard of it. Last October, after Ornette Coleman’s death, I tracked down the director and, with Anthology archivist John Klacsmann, retrieved the battered 35mm print, complete with burned-in French subtitles from its Cannes debut.
Restored in 2016 by Grand Motel Films in collaboration with Anthology Film Archives at Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland.
Original soundtrack performed by The Ornette Coleman Trio with Ornette Coleman (sax,) David Izenzon (bass), and Charles Moffett (drums). Sadness sung by Marianne Faithfull