Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fotos: When Zeta Read At Flor Y Canto

Michael Sedano
Fotos Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Click on an image for a richer visual experience.

In Saturday's guest column, "When Zeta Met Hunter and rascuache became gonzo," Gregg Barrios, conducts an arresting examination of the chicano originator of "Gonzo" journalism, Oscar "Zeta" Acosta and Zeta's friendship with Hunter S. Thompson, who took credit for Acosta's creation and vindicated himself by writing prolifically in the distinctive style.

Barrios refers to the first Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California, where Acosta read the autopsy chapter from his outstanding autobiograpical novel, Revolt of the Cockroach People. Click this link to view the thirty minute reading. Acosta's reading is doubly moving, first, because of its subject matter, and second because of Acosta's emotional response to his recounting an autopsy of a chicano murdered in jail by police. A perfect crime.

The first Festival de Flor Y Canto brought together a pantheon of notable literary giants. Subsequent festivals in New Mexico and Texas failed to equal the energy, breadth, and greatness of the California event, but all left behind published anthologies. At any rate, only the Los Angeles event left a videotaped record. Many of these writers now are dead. Acosta. Ricardo Sánchez. Abelardo Delgado. Tomás Rivera. raúlrsalinas. Omar Salinas. As this first generation of writers passes, the videos provide the only means to appreciate these writers in propria persona, in their own voice. Alarmingly, these videos may be endangered.

I was dumbfounded when I learned of the Google video of Acosta's reading. Ironically, this is currently the only publicly available video document of the festival, that I can locate. Not even the University of Southern California has copies of the videos. In California, only the University of California, Riverside library has them, some forty tapes in the obsolete U-Matic 3/4" cassette format. Even with top notch conservation, it's likely that these old tapes have begun to deteriorate. For this reason, I have recently begun a project to digitize these programs to DVD. 

If possible, the DVDs will include the outtakes. Working with USC's El Centro Chicano and the university archivist, Claude Zachary, the project targets a newly revised and updated edition of the published anthology, to feature diachronic exemplars from those writers, expanded to include new work from the present generation of writers. Included in the proposed anthology will be a multimedia component, including the videos, interviews with surviving artists and participants, and the still photos I shot during the 1973 conference.

Here is a suite of Zeta photos, along with other people Gregg Barrios mentions in his La Bloga guest column. (Remember to click on the small fotos for an enlarged image).

Acosta steps into the crowd milling about the artist entrance. A beautiful woman catches his eye. He wraps an arm tentatively around her shoulder. They are introduced and she smiles in joy as Acosta pulls her into his chest. Cherchez la femme, que no? The scene recalls the incident early in Revolt of the Cockroach People where Acosta's persona, the lecherous Brown Z. Buffalo, narrates fondling a pair of underage teenaged girls during a political protest.

Now Frank "Pancho del Rancho" Sifuentes, a key organizer of the festival, joins the waiting artists. All horniness aside, Zeta points angrily at the television production trucks. They proclaim the name of the company, "Tom Reddin Productions." Reddin, former chief of the LAPD, is a blood enemy to chicana, chicano and antiwar activists. Interesting sidenote: seen over Sifuentes' right shoulder is Juan Felipe Herrera, who has become one of today's more notable chicano poets.

Sifuentes' face shows his concern at Acosta's reluctance to take the stage. Poet Alurista stands at Acosta's right shoulder, his serious rostro mirroring Sifuentes' belief of Zeta's threat not to read, out of Acosta's ire at being co-opted into helping Reddin's company. The crisis seemingly averted, Acosta enters the hall and stands at the back to enjoy the program.

Acosta's straightforward outspokenness is one facet of rascuachismo, as Gregg Barrios quotes critic Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, who observes, It is a witty, irreverent, and impertinent posture. Here, Ybarra-Frausto chats with Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and Tomás Rivera.

When Acosta takes the stage, he's not mollified. Acosta pauses at the lectern then explodes. He  points angrily at the television cameras. "Turn those fucking things off!" Acosta shouts at full volume, then repeats himself, "Turn the fucking cameras off!" He accuses Reddin of being an enemy of the people--specifically a chicano killer. Acosta declares his complete unwillingness to do anything that would put money into the pig's pocket and refuses to begin the program until the cameras are turned off.

Acosta stands in silent rage awaiting the departure of Reddin's employees. Pianist Javier Pacheco doesn't know what to do. Pacheco's role is to time the speakers and play a few notes to signal the end of the speaker's segment. The anger of the moment probably won't be calmed even by Mozart, so Pacheco stares helplessly into the house. Listen to the Google video and near the start, and at the 18 minute mark, you'll hear Pacheco's tinkling notes, that Zeta ignores, since so much of his alloted time was consumed in the delay.

Finally, the camera operators get direction from the truck outside. They remove their headphones and slink out of the hall. What I didn't realize until last year when the Google video surfaced, Reddin's director pulled a slick move. The cameraman turned off the camera's red light but allowed the cameras to continue shooting. 

None of Acosta's outburst makes the video. The Google video begins just after Zeta removes his shirt to reveal the netted garment you view in the videotaped reading and these fotos.

The tryptych captures Acosta as he chokes up recounting how the coroner peels back the corpse's face and scalp to reveal the sand-filled cranium and the small bag holding Robert Fernandez' brain.

His reading winds to a close and Acosta has grown distraught. He grabs his clothing as he walks off stage. By the time he reaches the back of the hall he's broken down in tears. In the distance you see poet Roberto Vargas grimacing at the incident while poet raúlrsalinas wraps a comforting arm around the broken Oscar "Buffalo Z. Brown, Zeta" Acosta.

Published Anthologies
Festival I - Festival de flor y Canto : an anthology of Chicano literature / Editorial Committee, Alurista ... [et al.] ; publication arrangements. Silas Abrego, F. A. Cervantes, Mary Ann Pacheco. Los Angeles : University of Southern California Press, 1976.

Festival II and III - Festival flor y canto II : an anthology of Chicano literature from the festival held March 12-16, 1975, Austin, Texas. Albuquerque, N. M. : Pajarito Publications, (1979?)

Click here to conduct Melvyl search on "Festival de Flor Y Canto".

Gallery Prints
For information about gallery-quality prints of Zeta or other Flor Y Canto artists, visit readraza.com or email here.

That's August's second Tuesday. Remember, La Bloga welcomes your comments and inquiries on this and every column. To discuss or leave a comment, click on the Comments counter below. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists who have extended remarks, book or cultural reviews, or something interesting to add. If you'd like an invitation, click here.



Anonymous said...

Not-so-shameless plug:
Coincidentally, the short story "LAX Confidential" that was published in Bilingual Press's Latinos in Lotusland (Dan Olivas, edit.) is one fictional speculation on Zeta Acosta, gonzo and Thompson. I happen to be the author.

Manuel Ramos said...

Michael - your post immediately grabbed my attention; great stuff and well worth re-telling and preserving. What an intriguing and exciting event that Flor y Canto must have been. Without getting too carried away (I hope), the events of those days and the people who lived those days have achieved something near mythological status, but we need writers and artists to remind us that these were real people, who lived in amazing times for sure, but still very human. That may be another way of saying that there is always hope if we believe in ourselves.

Anonymous said...

The digitizing project you are undertaking is a noble act indeed. It will perpetuate the talents and pelotas of our Chicano Poetas. It's going to be a lot of work and I don't blame you for 'plugging' it. It will be great being able to view esos cochinos on dvd, not being worried about fending off their horny manos anymore.

I read my poetry with some of those guys on several occasions and had to remind them that my father had taught me how to box and street fight and that they better not try to grope me the way I had witnessed them pushing young girls up against the backstage walls in their 'poetic' bump and grind rituals that they thought they deserved. Most of them thought they were to be worshipped, as rock stars were then and basketball players are now.

The only gentlemen poets I ever ran into were Guadalupe De Saavedra and the young Alurista. They encouraged female poets to write and recite. The others just tried to use their hermanas like Mejicana revolutionary camp followers. Oh, well, as Manuel Ramos wrote, "They were real humans, who lived in amazing times." Unfortunately, they wrote for their own glorification and not for La Causa.

Norma Landa Flores

Anonymous said...

The continued conversation on Acosta – Thompson and the origins of Gonzo continue to be intriguing. As clear as it is that Thompson exploited Acosta as well as befriending him, it should be noted that the style known as Gonzo, forever linked with Thompson, did not result from his association with Acosta. He used this style in a piece about the 1970 Kentucky Derby for a long-since defunct magazine called “Scanlon’s.” Acosta may be credited with goosing Gonzo along, but then anyone who spends time with a writer influences his style.

Unknown said...

"I was dumbfounded when I learned of the Google video of Acosta's reading. Ironically, this is currently the only publicly available video document of the festival, that I can locate."

Just FYI: This video is included on the 'The Supplements' disc of the 2003 "The Criterion Collection" edition of (the film) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


Rebel Girl said...

Amazing! I've been out of town and am just catching up - what a find. Thanks once again.

Anonymous said...

great! thanks very much for sharing

msedano said...

thanks to all who enjoyed the Zeta fotos. Richard, that's most interesting news about the commercial release of that Zeta segment. Thanks for the reference.


Unknown said...

Sure thing, Michael. Even with what little is known (to me) about Oscar, I have a deep respect for him. I found his reading one of the most moving pieces of video I've ever seen.

Also on that DVD are other (reportedly) rare photos of Oscar, the descriptions for which I'll be happy to type out for you if you're interested. As well, Hunter is heard on a recording he did in 2002, reading the introduction he wrote for Marco's 1989 re-issue of Brown Buffalo and Revolt, and in a way only Hunter could manage, he conveyed an even deeper respect for Oscar.

Oscar (as well as Hunter) was a beautiful personality, despite what his wild antics and pull-no-punches attitude would lead many people to believe.

Unknown said...

Hey guys, in the footnotes to my When Zeta Met Hunter printed last Saturday, I noted the commercial release of the Zeta reading:

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: The Criterion Collection DVD of Terry Gilliam’s film contains a supplementary disc that spotlights Acosta. Included are a short bio, photos, a 30-minute reading of Revolt by Acosta at the 1973 Floricanto Festival, and a recording of Thompson reading his gonzo obit for Acosta."

"Acosta’s gonzo reading from Revolt is also available online at: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4138728998208728904 "

Criterion gives copyright credit to USC Film Library. The photos on the disk however are substandard and nowhere near as good as Michael's.

Gregg B

Anonymous said...

While I am fascinated with these fotos of los veteranos, I am more interested in having our stories/poemas resonate through the generations. I am thankful for Norma Landa Flores's testimonio here. Especially since there are so few fotos and mentions of mujeres from the FyC days. I certainly hope we keep moving past the days of Chicano Literature = Patriarchal Privilege.
Un Vato C/S/R

msedano said...

Several women play major roles at this first Flor Y Canto. Mary Ann Pacheco, for example, co-edited the published anthology and introduced the guests and speakers. You will see my fotos of Mary Ann, as well as poets Veronica Cunningham, Dorinda Moreno, and critic Marcella Trujillo at http://readraza.com/73florycanto/index.htm.

I have a handful of fotos of other women artists at the festival, but I haven't been able to identify them yet. Anonymous, and others, if you are familiar with chicana chicano writers, and believe you can help ID these artists from 1973, email msedano@readraza.com and I'll send you links to the images I have yet to identify. I'd love to post those fotos but need to have names.

Gracias de antemano to all who can help me identify the faces in those images.

Kalimano said...

Good to hear the event is coming back. USC libraries will have the DVDs of the readings available in the Special Collections/Boeckmann Center. You may search Homer (USC library catalog) for the authors and under the name of the Festival. I've been watching the DVDs and enjoying them.

msedano said...

Kalman AKA Ivan: Such happy words to my eyes, that you have accessed those DVDs. May I urge you to encourage colleagues and students to follow your lead, maybe reading along from the anthology as you/they view the videos. Thank you for your comment.


Orale Productions said...

Some of the information on this blog comes directly from Sedano's imagination and bears no relation to the truth. I knew the Brown Buffalo (Zeta Acosta) a year before the event--we met in San Francisco, and he knew my girlfriend (the "pretty woman" he was trying to grope). Acosta asked me at the last minute to accompany his reading on piano. He wouldn't have done that if he didn't already know me. This, plus my own performance were the only times I was ever on the stage at the piano. It was not my "job" to tinkle the piano keys signaling that presenters were out of time. Also, Mr Sedano seems to know what I was thinking at the time, which is remarkable, but truth is, I was reacting to the F&C staff and their card cues. The F&C staff flashed cards to inform readers they had 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 1 minute remaining. I had a perplexed look because Zeta went well over his time and the F&C staffers had frustrated looks on their faces.
Javier Pacheco

Acuarela said...

Dear sir. I'm Javier Lucini, publisher of Acuarela Libros, a little publishing company from Madrid, Spain (http://acuarelalibros.blogspot.com.es/). Next month we are going to publish "The Revolt of the Cockroach People" by Oscar Zeta Acosta. We want to contact you for asking permission to use one of your Acosta pics as the author pic in his biography. Can you please write me to this email adress: lobolucini@yahoo.es

Thanks, and congratulations for your fantastic Blog.