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Robert Nelson (left) and William Wiley (right) filming The Great Blondino. Photo: Jack Fulton.

What’s It All Mean: Films by William T. Wiley and Friends

Sunday, April 11, 2010
3:00 p.m. Films by Wiley and Robert Nelson
(U.S., 1967–74)

William T. Wiley in Person


Wiley and Nelson’s ambitious The Great Blondino used props built by Wiley and drew inspiration directly from his paintings and constructions. The title refers to Blondin, a daring nineteenth-century tightrope artist who crossed Niagara Falls with a wheelbarrow. Played by Wiley’s brother Chuck, Blondino is transplanted to the sixties—a “misfit out of step” who is haunted by dreams. The film is dedicated “To Tightrope Walkers Everywhere,” and Wiley has described Blondino’s tightrope act as a metaphor for artists trying to make their way in the world. Deep Westurn also plays with problems of balance, and features Wiley, Nelson, William Geis, and Robert Hudson toppling over. According to Nelson, the film was made as a tribute to one Dr. Samuel West, a collector and supporter of the arts who had passed away a short time before. The wonderful, deadpan The Off-Handed Jape “came from the funky things we did while we were just hanging out and having fun at (Wiley’s) place” (Nelson). Also presented is an excerpt from a video spoof on talk shows, What Do You Talk About, that Wiley made with Robert Nelson for the Dilexi series. It features the Beat poet Lew Welch, who also had a role in The Great Blondino.

—Kathy Geritz

Deep Westurn (Robert Nelson, William T. Wiley, Mike Henderson, 1974, With Nelson, Wiley, Henderson, William Geis, 5 mins, Color/B&W, From Academy Film Archive). What Do You Talk About (Robert Nelson, William T. Wiley, 1969, c. 15 mins excerpt, Color, Video, PFA Collection). The Off-Handed Jape…& How to Pull It Off (Robert Nelson, William T. Wiley, 1967, Soundtrack by Nelson, Wiley, 9 mins, Color, From Academy Film Archive). The Great Blondino (Robert Nelson, William T. Wiley, 1967, With Chuck Wiley, Lew Welch, Sandra Juste, 42 mins, Color/B&W, PFA Collection)

• (Total running time: 75 mins, 16mm)