Tuesday, December 02, 2008

1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto Update: Digitizing U-matic Tape

Michael Sedano

They Exist!

When I return to California from overseas in 1970, a friend tells me about a tiny bookstore over the hill in Monterey Park that sells "Chicano Literature." Well, obviously I knew "Chicano," a word taught me by my Dad from my earliest years. But when I'd left civilization for the US Army in 1969, I had no sense that we produced published literature. So I drive down from Temple City,  over Atlantic and down to the little nook where, after a fascinating conversation with the old guy who owned the place, I laid down $1.25, I think, for a copy of Abelardo's "25 Pieces of a Chicano Mind." With that, the abstraction of "Chicano Literature" began to take on substance for me. (I lent that small pamphlet to a person who kept it. Damn you, I hope you know who you are and gut-wrenching guilt drives you return it to me, along with my El Espejo.)

By 1973, after a couple years working for a living, I am in Grad School at the University of Southern California on the G.I. Bill. Having selected a dissertation topic centering around Chicano poetry, I am tickled brown to see that El Centro Chicano will host a half-week long Festival de Flor Y Canto. I am the Chief Photographer for The Daily Trojan, so I assign myself the joyful task of shooting the event. The DT doesn't send a reporter to cover the event.

As I've described earlier, when Oscar Zeta Acosta gets up to read, he pillories the video company for being a tool of the LAPD, and demands "turn the fucking cameras off". They apparently do so, as the camera operators leave the room. Too bad mine will provide the only record of Zeta's moving reading. That week, I happily fill roll after roll of 35mm film, and the next week I publish a double truck of images and poems in the DT.

Fast forward to Spring 2007. Someone Emails me a link to Acosta reading from Revolt of the Cockroach People. Click. I'm stunned to discover it's Acosta reading at USC! That sneaky Tom Reddin has had the last laugh after all. My appetite whetted, I want to see and hear the other poets and writers I have on Tri-X negatives and a few Ektachromes. Search USC library. Nothing; how surprising. Search UC's Melvyl. Better; the University of California Riverside has 41 videos of individual readers. My plan hatches: to unite my still photographs with the videos as a way to introduce visually, today's students to the history and growth of Chicano Literature. There is already a published anthology of El Festival, now out of print (ISBN: 978-0-88474-031-5 ISBN-10: 0-88474-031-5), and my plan expands to include this as a revised and expanded multimedia publication.

When February 2008 finally arrives, and it's my first month of retirement from the world of work, I call Billy Vela, who heads USC's El Centro Chicano, thinking Billy can help me locate the original tapes. No such luck. Billy has an inkling there was a festival but the institution has not kept records from that period. In fact, El Centro doesn't have a photograph of the original El Centro. Eventually I contact the University Archivist at Doheny Memorial Library and, after a protracted conversation with a variety of gente, in early November, the University grants me permission to digitize UCR's videos into DVDs and use these for my own noncommercial purposes. USC--Doheny Memorial Library and El Centro Chicano, of course, will get a complete set of the DVDs as well as streaming videos to deploy through the university's modern mutlimedia channels. 

Technology Issues

Sony's U-matic videocassette format was once a popular standard for recording and distributing professional video. A 3/4" wide length of metal oxide coated mylar film, U-matic was the cat's meow of television production in the 1960s and 70s. Now, it's all but disappeared.

Juan Felipe Herrera, poet and UCR profe, helps find UCR's only functioning U-matic cassette player. Jim Glenn, Director of the Media Center, dusts off the tapes and sets up a viewing room for me. Fabulous hospitality. Mejor, Jim has already adapted the BNC terminal to an RCA plug. That had loomed as a minor headache. A preliminary visit to UCR verifies everything works, and it's now full speed ahead. 

To make the dub I connect a three-way RCA-to-mini cable to the BNC/RCA adapter and the Left and Right audio outputs. The mini plug goes into a digital video camera's AV port. Now it's a simple matter of starting the camera, starting the U-matic, and letting the cassette play to the finish. Unfortunately, only the right audio channel excites the VU meters.

Most of the Festival de Flor Y Canto performances run ten to twenty minutes, so I can get three or more readers onto a one hour DV tape. Sony U-matic, meet Sony DV. There are glitches, sadly, in several tapes, but overall the video and audio quality are more than satisfying.

I do a little work in Final Cut Pro, but use iMovieHD for the majority of my work. There are a few finer edits, and the creation of full quality and streaming QuickTime media. I use DVD Studio Pro to lay the files onto DVD.

Curiouser and Curiouser Issues

UCR's U-matic cassettes are at least two generations removed from the original programs. This is obvious when I observe some cassettes feature lead-in music, titles, and voice over introductions for two speakers, but only one speaker is on the cassette. Other performances begin with faint lead-in music and VO, a title slide, then the performer.

I remember the big semi-trailer production vans outside Town & Gown where the Festival was held (but didn't shoot them). Tom Reddin Productions would have recorded on 2" Ampex machines, in all likelihood. Where'd the originals disappear to? The gavel-to-gavel original tape is a national treasure. Is it sitting in some archive in New York City? Hollywood or the Valley? Or did Reddin burn off his 3/4" copies then erase the 2" tape--a standard practice of the day.

I contacted Silas Abrego, who headed El Centro Chicano back in 1973. Sy, recently retired from Cal State Fullerton, has no idea. I've had several Email conversations with Frank "Pancho del Rancho" Sifuentes, who stage managed the festival performers (and drove Zeta and Raúlrsalinas through the streets of greater El Lay in a guided tour of western Aztlán), and Frank has no idea (but he had a grand time).

Who sold what to whom? UCR and Texas A&M hold 3/4" videos. Sonoma State, Fullerton, Cal State Bakersfield, Arizona State and University of Arizona hold audiocassettes of the 1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto. The producers of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," who did the DVD of Zeta, acknowledge UCR's help in making their copy. Did USC/El Centro Chicano get royalties? According to Sifuentes, he signed a release, and, Benny Luna, Frank says, remembers getting a check one time.

Status Report

UCR's collection includes 41 titles. Sadly, two artist cassettes are lost; José Montoya and Roberto Vargas. Texas A&M Kingsville has Montoya but not Vargas. Barbara Robinson at USC will inter-library loan the Montoya. Interestingly, Barbara was the librarian then employed at UCR who purchased the Festival de Flor Y Canto materials for the library, named after then-Chancellor Tomás Rivera. Barbara has searched the USC campus from top to bottom seeking the original tapes.

I have recorded and created DVD-ready files of 33 performances, leaving six to complete at my next session. I've done the dubbing in catalog number sequence, so I have numbers 36 through 41 remaining. These include three teatro crews and writers Ricardo Sanchez, Estevan Arellano, and Oscar Acosta.

I've made only a few streaming QuickTime files. I'm pretty sure I'll have to edit the performances to individual snippets, to save on file space and "bandwidth," so the only way for you to view a writer's complete performance, or the complete Festival, will be to get the DVDs from USC.

USC has not decided on a distribution or marketing strategy for the DVDs. My motive when I began the process was to package the DVDs with a revised and expanded anthology, to afford the reader text to follow along with the reading. Just as some gente love to listen to symphonies while following the score, I love to hear a reading while following text. Such media would be beautiful for literacy and speech training, as well as the puro enjoyment of hearing an artist read her or his own work. My next project will be to pursue that out-of-print anthology, update it with work produced after 1973, and augment the collection with work from today's poets and writers. And to hold the 2010 Festival de Flor Y Canto at USC, videotape it, and add this to the record of Chicanarte. ¿Que no?

In Their Own Voice

Here, as promised last week, in appreciation for Karen (Harlow) McClintock's eulogy for her friend Omar Salinas, is Omar Salinas--¡Presente!-- reading Ass. In addition, rrsalinas--¡Presente!--reading a beautiful piece, Songs of Love.

These videos are copyright 1974 and 2008 by the University of Southern California. Please do not make copies of these.

 Omar Salinas


La Bloga welcomes your comments on this, and every column. Click on the Comments counter, below, to share your observations. When you have a more than a brief response, or a book or arts review, or an extended report on a cultural event, or a writer's own ruminations, remember, La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. Click here to begin the invitation process.


OBermeo said...

Congratulations on seeing this vital project come to digital life.

I am a fan of live poetry readings and their recordings so I'll be sure to look for these tapes when they are available.

Maybe USC would be open to the idea of sharing these videos on YouTube the same way UC Berkeley shares their Lunch Poems and Holloway Series readings?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you found your calling, Sedano, and it will no doubt turn out to be of great historical, literary value.


Unknown said...

First of all, felicidades for pursuing this bit of Chicano cultural history.

I didn't perform at the first Flor y Canto - or as my compa Ricardo Sanchez used to call it, "Flor y moco." However I performed at the Floricanto in Albur and Austin. Two of my plays were performed at each festival with my student actors from "Cristal" or Crystal City to those who don't know that history.

I appreciate your primer on the Sony U-Matic player. We had a video studio back then in Cristal and did live productions over the community cable channel. I still have tapes from that era and from the time we went to Cuba in the late 1960s.

However, it seems the audio is the only thing that survived since I never could make the video portion appear.

You say you are looking for the first volume of Floricanto that USC published. I have two copies of it. And will share one with you if you can't find it elsewhere.

I also have the published volumes of later Floricantos (in austin and albur). I do remember that those festivales were videotaped as well, but I don't know if they were done in 3/4 inch tape or in 1/2 inch tape. I do know that UT Austin has several U-Matic tapes of events in Cristal like Reyes Tijerina reading and testifying and Ricardo S. declamando.

I have also found a cache of photos that David Montejano used for his book on Oscar Zeta Acosta. They include pix of him with Cesar, Corky, etc. i will send them to you to post on La Bloga.

otra vez, dale gas, carnal.


PS During the reading of the raulsalinas poem, the camera focuses on two friends of mine from San Antonio Texas. They both live in California now and are married. I'll have them email you once they view your clip.

msedano said...

Gregg, thank you for your excellent news. By all means, yes, please send me that material. Email me at msedano@readraza.com for datos.

RudyG, I look to enjoy the doing. I agree the material has tremendous value. I talk to kids today and they do not know our poetry, our literature. This project will provide a wonderful foundation.

Oscar, oral performance is something I cherish. As i say USC doesn't yet have a distribution marketing plan for this. I hope to provide some direction.


Anonymous said...

Michael-- How wonderful to see Omar
so young and vital in a way I never saw before until today. I can't thank you enough for the
experience of seeing him recite his poem as a young man. I watched every frame with pride, awe, and joy. What a treasure to have this! This video of Omar is extreemly rare and precious.
Thank you.
-- Karen (Harlow) McClintock

Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

WOW! Fantastic.

Hey, if there's another Flor Y Canto, count me in.

Anonymous said...

I find this trail fascinating. I didn't get to the performance and didn't know of it til I was at Stanford. In a class on Chicano Lit, taught by Tomas Ybarra Frausto, I was first exposed to many of the works performed at the festival, including in class performances by Jose Montoya, raulsalinas, and Alurista. What a treasure!

Do I understand that you are looking for the anthology you mentioned? If you are, I have it and it is right next to me as I type this. I even checked the ISBN number to make sure it was the one you referred to. It's here. If you need it, let me know.

Muchisimas gracias for all this work. I can't wait for the finished product!

msedano said...

corina, thank you for the offer. i'm going to revise and expand that anthology. what i'm looking for are the videos of montoya and vargas. UCR's copies are missing. Texas A&M Kingsville has the Montoya. Who knows what happened to the Roberto Vargas tape. Blame it on reds, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post. I really enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post, Micheal. Gracias!

Mayra Lazara Dole

Michael Lopez said...


This is an amazing project that I'm sure many people, young and old will appreciate! I am currently doing some volunteer work at the Poets House, searching for new media along with publications of Chicano poets for their 2010 showcase. I wanted to know if you have already submitted some of these recording to the library--or if you know when this project will be complete for future inclusion in the Library.

I'm just trying to gauge what stage this project is at and inform you of the possibilities of sharing your work with the POETS HOUSE. if you haven't already.


msedano said...

Tocayo: I'd love to learn more about your project and Poets House. Doheny Library Special Collections has the DVDs, they've been indexed by writer and title. You can view the collection for now at USC. When we hold Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow at USC on September 15-17, the Dean will announce the public release via Digital Library Initiative and special order DVD sets.

Anonymous said...

It is great seeing Luis Omar Salinas on video. Thank you for this post.

Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal