Henry Hills

Experimental Filmmaker

Henry Hills

Notes on the Tzadik DVD


One of my favorite boyhood things (beside lying with my face in the cracks of the dock looking into the water at the fish or lying with my face in the grass looking into the dirt at the bugs) was spinning around until I fell over & then the world would spin in the opposite direction. “Guru-Guru Gatha,” written and performed by Jackson Mac Low, used courtesy of Anne Tardos.


Working in so photographed a city, a framing device was necessary, thus the diamond shaped power-grabbers on tops of moving trams (accidentally discovered). I love trams. A geographically-arranged line was modified into a color flow; then pointed-at sumptuous 19th century architecture counter-pointed by a Soviet ICBM, with international spy positioning on shortwave. A dance film.


The Bug House had burned down and the Screen House of the dream section is now long abandoned. The rotting boards of Caspar’s boathouse have become the ceiling of the Zen Porch, while my cousin has poisoned the water lilies.

LITTLE LIEUTENANT (1994) (choreographer Sally Silvers, co-director)

Zorn’s arrangement of the Brecht/Weill song changes every 4 measures and like so we storyboarded the film (in 30 parts). As a collaboration, Sally wanted it to look different from my other (all sunlight) films, so we shot in her loft in front of a translucent rear-screen loaned by Ken Jacobs with projected slides and loops of text-appropriate footage. Score used with permission of European-American Music representing the Kurt Weill Foundation. Thanks Hal Willner.


A paradise isle if there ever was one, I guess. Handmade in the extreme, I even cut the negative on this one (which took 3 painful weeks). Precisely structured to follow the transitions and repetitions of a Legong performance. Part 2 is being re-edited.

GOA LAWAH (1992)

This famous bat cave temple in Bali felt like an Hieronymous Bosch painting. Presented virtually as shot.

GOTHAM (1990)

Music video for the first Naked City album (Marty Ehrlich is the dead man). DigiBeta copy & rights courtesy of Bob Hurwitz at Nonesuch Records. Song: “Batman”.

SSS (1988)

Tom Cora, Christian Marclay, & Zeena Parkins improvised sound fragments for me at Kramer’s Noise New York, after I’d shot the first camera roll (Lee and Pooh’s final bump shot), then on sunny free days I would call available dancers (who I knew from their associations with either Sally Silvers or Pooh Kaye--this had begun as a collaboration between the three of us, which lasted about a week) to improvise movement on the rubble-strewn streets of the old East Village. Edited over 3 years (as I was renovating a fire-gutted tenement). Barbara Koppel loaned me the night shift on her Steenbeck. With Koosil-ja (then Kumiko Kimoto), Lee Katz, and Harry Shepperd. Also, Mark Dendy, David Zambrano, and others you may recognize.

MONEY (1984)

When I left San Francisco for New York, Larry Ochs told me I should look up this guy John Zorn. I was co-curating a series at Millennium called Last Tuesday combining poetry & film & “jazz” and invited Zorn to play. We had shown a rare Yvonne Rainer dance film (Trio A) and there were over 200 people there. Zorn came out and rolled up one pants leg and stuffed a tennis ball into his sax and began to blow and Polly Bradfield played electric violin with a toothbrush. Within 5 minutes they had cleared the house. I knew I would love this guy. Several times a week, I would wander over from Ludlow Street to Studio Henry, a basement rehearsal space at 1 Morton Street below a pet store where the new downtown musicians played improvised music free every night, often with more people on stage than in the audience (when the Stones weren’t there you knew you were at the wrong place), and listen for a hour or so, get inspired & go home and work to this film. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E scene was also beginning then and had a great Saturday reading series at the Ear Inn and we hung out for speech-charged listening hours from there. And Sally was turning me onto a lot of exciting dance. I wanted to draw on all this obscure exciting energy while adding to it. The Collective provided a forum. This is the early 80s when hedge funds and derivatives were invented, yet it still seemed that Reaganism of the soul could be defeated. I filmed with a retired television news camera (single system Frezzolini, sound recorded directly on mag stripe on 16mm reversal) rented from Rafik. A radical re-examination of montage.

Starring: Bruce Andrews, Derek Bailey, Charles Bernstein, Abigail Child, Yoshiko Chuma, Jack Collom, Tom Cora, Alan Davies, Fred Frith, Peter Hall, Pooh Kaye, Arto Lindsay, Christian Marclay, Mark Miller, David Moss, Charles Noyes, James Sherry, Ron Silliman, Sally Silvers, Susie Timmons, Carmen Vigil, Diane Ward, and John Zorn. So many friends so many of whom I haven’t seen for so long. Includes rare footage from the premieres of Zorn's CROQUET at Verna Gillis’ Soundscape and TRACK & FIELD at Roulette, the Toy Killers at Studio Henry, and early Skeleton Crew at the Public, plus Orchard Street & Canal Street before gentrification.

KINO DA! (1981)

There was still a Beat poetry scene in North Beach in the 70s, a real blast from the imaginary alternative 50’s. Bob Kaufman & Jack Micheline & sometimes Gregory Corso would be hanging out, drinking espressos at the Trieste or getting drunk at Spec’s. Jack Hirschman lived in one of the flop hotels on Columbus but spent most nights with his girlfriend who lived in the illegal backyard apartment next to mine. An outspokenly avowed Stalinist but also a sweetheart, Hirschman parked himself in one cafe after another writing poems all day, making endless posters, and giving them all away. He had recently finished editing the Artaud Anthology for City Lights and was gaunt like Artaud, living on a diet of coffee, cigarettes, & Hostess Twinkies, and gave remarkably impassioned readings. After years of refusing, one day out of the blue he agreed to make a film with me. On such short notice I was unable to get a sync rig from the Art Institute and shot it on my wind-up Bolex with a friend recording sound on a cassette recorder. The drift was such that it was impossible to keep picture and sound in sync for more than a few frames. But Jack had already agreed to let me cut it into small pieces anyway (“zaums”) and rearrange them rhythmically a la Klebnikov & the Soviet Futurists he was then translating. B&W Reversal was printed several generations to give it an old Russian movie quality.


The first film I made and called a film was called Porter Springs. I thought I would make one each summer throughout my career to gauge my progress...then I moved to New York. Porter Springs (where I have a log cabin and a studio by a lake in the foothills of the Appalachians and have spent every August since conception) is my escape and my renewal. PORTER SPRINGS 3 was my penultimate San Francisco film, a “summer of love” redux. I had been developing incredibly complex occult numerical schemes on my J-K optical printer, then I decided to go outside. The motto of this film is Hermes Tristmegistus’ maxim: “The Above is Equal to the Below.” It was followed by an urban exploration of even more complex single-frame patterning, NORTH BEACH (when I looked at this film on the rewinds recently and saw how remarkably different each frame was, I realized it would never do to present that 24fps work on NTSC at 30fps, so, though beloved, it is absent from this collection). Ultra-Brakhagite, this film has not only no sound, but even no titles (and the focus leader didn’t appear until the internegative was made years later).

--Henry Hills, November 2008

In Memory of my Mother who was always supportive of my work.