The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

VICTOR STOLOFF -- A MAN OF VISION

by Jack Brolly

It all began for me with Robert Niemi’s (as yet un-published) book entitled Wayfaring Stranger: A Biography Of Tim Buckley. It was in Doctor Robert’s detailed manuscript that I first learned of the existence of the movie Why?

My interest in seeing the movie Why? resurfaced after reading David Browne’s magnificent book Dream Brother…The Lives And Music Of Jeff And Tim Buckley.

I read that this movie was a project funded by Technicolor, an experiment to see how a movie shot on videotape and transferred to 35mm film would look on the big screen. The cameras were extremely cumbersome, so Technicolor built a set right next door to their headquarters for everyone’s convenience.

Future of Films
Stoloff biography

As producer, director, writer and editor, Victor Stoloff has actively engaged in producing feature motion pictures and television programs throughout the world...

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I began researching the author and I came up with an interesting discovery. In 1971 Stoloff made another psychodrama entitled The 300 Year Weekend for ABC pictures. The press release said that the movie was a gripping, emotional drama about ten people engaged in a grueling, three-day group therapy session.

It starred William Devane and a cast of actors that I had never seen before, or since. I bought the movie and low and behold, I found the prototype for the movie Why?. Now, I wanted to meet and interview Victor Stoloff.

So, in the Spring of 2001, I was very fortunate to have a lengthy telephone conversation with Victor about the movie. We also talked about Victor’s writing and directing career, which extended over six decades. Two weeks later, after a few more telephone conversations, Victor invited me to his west side apartment that overlooks the rooftops and glittering lights of Broadway in New York City.

We sat and talked for quite some time about an array of topics. I brought my notes and my camera along with me. Victor graciously reminisced about his collaborations with a number of the actors, actresses, directors and producers that he worked with throughout his career. We even talked about a little fling that Victor once had with Rita Hayworth, my favorite forties’ pin-up gal. I was simply in awe of this eighty-nine year old gentleman who exuded such a strong sense of being.

At the time of our chat, Victor was recuperating from a nasty spill that almost left him for dead. He told me that he was still involved in various projects and was even lecturing on a regular basis at Saint John’s University in New York just prior to his accident. It was a sheer delight chatting with Victor, especially when we got around to talking about Tim Buckley and the movie Why?.

To my disappointment, Victor explained that we would be unable to view the movie that afternoon because his VCR was not compatible with the one-inch master copy of the videotape that he had in his possession. So, we just continued to talk about Victor’s memories of the film, which he wrote and directed back in 1971.

He talked about the improvised script and the people in the cast. He told me the story about the time in which Tim curled up on the floor like a heroin addict in need of a fix. He thought it was for real, but I suggested that maybe Tim was improvising for him without Victor knowing it. To me, it would seem that improvisational acting would be right up Tim’s alley. Victor disagreed with my assessment.

Supposedly, a lot of what was said in the movie was true.
However, without talking to each person involved, it is impossible to know where the lines were drawn between fact and fiction...

I asked him why he didn’t have Tim sing the movie’s introductory song, and Victor just lifted his eyebrows as if to say: “Who knew?”. Victor did show me the record album that Tim had given to him. It was Tim’s first album. I bet that if Tim had given him a copy of Blue Afternoon, then perhaps Victor would have asked him to write and sing the introduction. A poor album choice on Tim’s part, I’d have to say.

During the movie, Linda Gillen mentions Tim’s/Glen’s Happy-Sad album and holds it in her hand for a brief moment. However, no one played that album for Victor to hear. Too bad.

Victor talked about Tim’s shyness at times. He pointed out how well Tim spoke to the camera, and how the camera loved him. He also talked about Tim’s timing and his body language.

In general, Victor is not happy with the movie. He finds the film a bit embarrassing to watch. I hadn’t seen the movie yet, so I couldn’t agree or disagree with Victor’s feelings.

As the clock struck four in the afternoon, I realized that it was suddenly time to go. I thanked Victor for his hospitality and he told me that we could watch the movie together the next time we met.

The next day I called Victor to thank him again, and he told me that I could take the movie home with me to watch. We arranged to meet again the following morning.

It was approximately 11 a.m. when I arrived at Victor’s building and then sat anxiously in the lobby while awaiting his arrival. I was dying from the uncertain anticipation of what his response would be to the sixty-four thousand dollar question that I was about to ask, regarding the possibility of my copying the tape.

When the elevator door opened, Victor Stoloff stepped out and into the lobby wearing a trench coat and carrying the holy grail of cult videos in his left hand.

Now, the moment of truth had finally arrived. We exchanged pleasantries and he gave me the tape. I put the movie in my bag and took a deep breath and asked the magic question. “Would it be alright with you if I made a copy of the tape for the members of the Tim Buckley Discussion Forum?” “No”, Victor said. I immediately felt a sharp pain in the pit of my stomach. So, I took another deep breath and asked: “Would it be okay if I just used the Tim Buckley footage on my website?”

He looked deep into my eyes, as if he was looking into my soul, when he said: “Alright, you can use Tim’s and O.J.’s scenes, but please don’t circulate the movie.”

He said that there were legalities involved, and I accepted his explanation without question. I could have left Manhattan without his permission to copy the tape and I would have been devastated. It would have been a long, sad drive back to Long Island. But instead, it was a magnificent day for me, and all Buckley fans as well. Victor Stoloff really came through and he gave my spirits a major lift. I’ll never forget that morning.

When I arrived back at my photography studio, I immediately called my editor and told him that I was coming by his editing suite to make both a Digital Master and a VHS copy of the movie. After that, I went home and popped the VHS version into my VCR. The long wait was finally over.

The movie begins with six young people sitting around a table on someone’s patio, overlooking a lake with mountains in the background. The participants are discussing in character how they came to being involved in the ensuing group therapy sessions. For many of the people involved in the film, this was their first time before the camera in a full length movie for any extended period of time.

Victor told me that the participants were not actors per se, but just people discussing their problems. He told each of the people involved to “just open up” and tell the doctor what he wanted to know about their problems.


© Jack Brolly
Victor Stoloff holds the copy of Tim Buckley given to him by Tim in 1973

Supposedly, a lot of what was said in the movie was true. However, without talking to each person involved, it is impossible to know where the lines were drawn between fact and fiction. Therefore, it would be wrong for anyone to assume or conclude that Tim’s comments were factual.

Some of his statements may have been based on fact, but I don’t know for sure whether or not any of his remarks were autobiographical.

The characters include:
· Herb Goldberg, a real-life psycho analyst, who plays Dr. Peter Carlson the man who asks all the meaningful questions.
· Jeannie Berlin (the daughter of Elaine May) plays Gail, a young single mother of a black child born out of wedlock. She is tormented by her bigoted mother’s attitude toward her and the child.
· O.J. Simpson plays Bud, a professional football player who has issue problems with his conservative father, who coached Bud right into the pros.
· Cathy Bleich plays Jennifer, a pathological liar pretending to be a teacher who has problems with the hierarchy at her school.
· Linda Gillen plays Chris, a rich/spoiled brat who is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and is also addicted to heroin.
· Danny Goldman plays Bill, a homosexual, who starts off with attitude problems and then simmers down to tell his other tales of woe that came his way because he was gay.
· Tim Buckley plays Glen, a drummer who is upset about the break-up of his band.

The doctor asks the group to comment on the following questions:

Doctor Carlson: “Focus on a recent experience when you really got pissed off at somebody. Now, get that image clear in your head and think about what you did about it.”
Tim, as Glen, tells of how his wife reacted when he told her of his group’s demise. He feels bad because he wanted sympathy and she didn’t give it to him.

Later Doctor Carlson says: “ I want to try something with you. Close your eyes. Now, I’d like you to go way back to a time or any particular incident when you really felt that somebody cared for you. And, there’s something really beautiful going on right now. And, that beautiful thing is making you feel very, very warm. It’s making you very, very close and very, very loved.”

Glen then tells a story of how his father captured a thief who was stealing from all the track houses on his block. He came away from the experience with a feeling of admiration and respect for his father.

Throughout the movie, members of the group joust and jest as they tell some pretty insightful stories of their life experiences.

Eventually, Bill asks Glen why his band broke up. Glen proceeds to tell the reasons why, and he gets pretty emotional in the process.

Overall, I liked the movie. I thought that, considering the time period in which the movie was made, it isn’t as bad as Victor seems to think it is. The participants told some very interesting and thought provoking stories and the camera work was very good. Lee Garmes, an academy award winning photographer was one of the cameramen.

The movie was shot with two cameras; Victor controlled the other camera.

Tim Buckley fans would, I’m sure, cherish this movie. It’s a shame that the film cannot be copied or re-released until the proper authorities give the go-ahead. I think that Why?” will eventually be distributed to the general public because the film does have value and a degree of importance to some people. As I type this article, the powers that be are working toward that goal. I wish them luck.

If you would like to download some of Tim’s scenes from the movie then go to my Tim Buckley website and help yourself.


What follows is a letter of praise sent to Victor by the United States government


United States Information Agency
Washington D.C 20547

December 22, 1972

Dear Victor:

We thank you for your exciting film and for your presentation here at the U. S. Information Agency. We ran a week-long seminar on Contemporary American Affairs immediately after you left.
As you know, the Film and Television Service of the Agency was most enthusiastic about your use of video techniques in the “Why?” production. We asked attending producers, directors, technicians and element chiefs to give us an unsigned appraisal of your film and presentation. Here are some direct quotes. First, the comments on “Why?”.
· “Very Good and most interesting.”
· “ Excellent film. Well-done, although a bit too long for a general audience. Surroundings somewhat opulent.”
· “‘Why?’ was an interesting film from several points of view. Its technique of one setup shooting and certainly its economization were of great merit. Quality of this limited experiment was superb.”
· Absorbing film which effectively demonstrated the interesting possibilities of VTRs in “acted” pyscho-drama.”

Secondly, a few quotes on your own presentation.
· “Outstanding. An example of a mature man not afraid to experiment with new techniques.”
· “Excellent speaker. Hollywood is catching up with the changing times in new methods and equipment, and Mister Stolloff is a pioneer who is doing a good job.”
· “An excellent choice. I enjoyed his lecture very much and would rate him very highly.”
· “Outstanding speaker. Candid, frank and knowledgeable.”
· “Good explanation as a distinguished director. Experienced with videotape in relation to film.”

I hope this gives you and your colleagues in Hollywood some idea of the impact you made on us here with your visit. As you know, the agency is moving toward videography. Your work is the best example we have yet seen in this field. After our luncheon and telephone conversations, I am most hopeful that further direct cooperation can be affected between innovators like yourself and the USIA Television and Motion Picture Agency staff.

For the present, Victor, thank you again and best wishes in the New Year.

Sincerely,
Dick Ross
Career Management and
Training Division


Two weeks ago, Victor Stoloff came to our home on Long Island for lunch, and together we watched his first film entitled Desert Boy. If you read Victor’s resume, then you already know that this was the first sound movie ever made in Egypt.

It was shot in 1937 on location in the Oasis of Siwa. It was quite impressive. The camera work was excellent and the editing was seamless. Victor was only twenty years old when he made the movie and now, at the age of eighty-nine, he is still being asked to screen this groundbreaking film.

This past November, Victor was a guest at the Turin Film Festival in Italy. He dined with the ambassador of Egypt and presented Desert Boy to an enthusiastic audience of film makers. You can view Desert Boy yourself if you ever visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

© Jack Brolly - February 2002


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