Remembering Luther Price
a personal statement by Steve Polta
photo by Gene Pittman
Luther Price, “Utopia” (2012)
Luther Price. One of the weirdest, most wonderful, most fascinating, most unique filmmakers (and humans) ever to live. A total inspiration to me personally and an artist with a long and intimate history with San Francisco Cinematheque. Speaking for myself, as an artist and human, I wish I could approach Luther’s bravery. Luther Price would just go for it—dive deep into his weirdness, his queerness, his obsessiveness—and grind out these insanely obsessive, freaked out, beautiful, violent films in which themes of personal/family life, sexuality, mortality and bodily experience screamed out like mutant screaming monstrosities, as if he were ripping bandages off of gnarly wounds. His films swirl in never-ending maelstroms of repetition and perpetuity and are the most intense, beautiful/ugly, most harrowing cathartic experiences ever to be had: insanely weird, funny, frightening, baffling, overwhelming…
His approach to filmmaking was almost entirely unique and obsessively hand-made. His Super-8mm films (as well as those of his previous incarnation Tom Rhoads)—most infamously Sodom but see also run, Green, Warm Broth and Bottle Can, etc.—revised home-movie aesthetics. His 16mm work in “found footage” (for example the Nice Biscuits series, Kitten Grow Up, The Mongrel Sister, etc. etc. etc.) was equally shocking, unique and defiant—who else would do this? The looping and repetition and aggressive physical confrontation?
In 2012, on the occasion of two in-person screenings Luther did with San Francisco Cinematheque, I wrote the following:
In pre-millennial times filmmaker Luther Price was infamous for deeply personal and aggressively visceral super-8 films (Sodom, Meat, Eruption Errection, Bottle Can) which enacted primal domestic psychodramas and/or probed the psychosexual extremes of physical experience. Moving ever onward, the 21st century 16mm films and dazzling hand-made slide work of the stridently defiant filmstrip fetishist continues to confront. Based on abjected found footage—variously looped (hideously), attacked (viciously), and over-painted (gloriously) to the point of delirium—Price’s works are dazzling bruised jewels, overwhelming to viewers in their brutal physicality, their profane beauty and their disjointed, almost limbic, narrative fragmentations.”
I got to know Luther over 20 years thanks to mutual friends, encounters at various film festival and frequent screenings at Cinematheque. We became close in a distanced way. He’d call sometimes, usually for some long involved conversation that mixed discussions of his work and planning screenings with all sorts or weird personal stories, complaints, observations, declarations of love etc. Like most friends I’ve had who embrace darkness, Luther was so kind, generous and attentive. He knew we were all surviving and close to the brink. He could look right at you and you felt he got you, like he knew if you were bullshitting him and that he expected honesty from you. His work always revolved around mortality—this obsession with bodies and meat and surgery and insects—and his health always seemed to be precarious (never mind he was shot and almost died and walked with a severe limp because of this) but I always thought he would—like the animals and insects in this films—survive us all, like a blessed beatific cockroach. I don’t know if that’s nice to say but Luther was a deep weird complicated person,one of the best of us. Personally I feel blessed to have known him and have been truly honored that, through Cinematheque I have been able to help share his work with the world.
REST IN PEACE LUTHER PRICE
— Steve Polta, June 17, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: In Defense of Sodom: A Gut Response by Michael Wallin
Originally, published 1994 in Cinematheque’s print journal Cinematograph (long our of print), this article can be downloaded here.
Beauty, pain, compassion, power, pathos, decay, tenderness… These words all come to mind trying to get a fix, as it were, on this super-8 film by Luther Price. It is elusive. Viewing Sodom is a visceral experience of such passion and intensity that coming to terms with it in words seems a futile exercise. Yet it’s a film so provocative and confrontational that it demands response. Already it has caused something of a stir in the normally complacent experimental film community. It has its champions and its detractors, few viewers seem to take a neutral stance. Some are awed by its power and beauty;· others abhor what they take to be its message.
Sodom, like the best art-making, is essentially ineffable. Its effect is visceral. It hits somewhere in the solar plexus, that nebulous area where emotional and physical sensations converge.