“Her sense of film is to, say, take an avocado, film it for six days and have, like, mosquitoes buzzing around in the background… I think she is probably my greatest influence, my favourite artist.”
– Sean Ono Lennon, 2006
Read my stories about Yoko’s films at the links below each description:
All stories by Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2019. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
“I was a movie buff… In prep school in Tokyo (in the late 1940s) you were supposed to go directly home after school. But most kids often went to the movies. We used to hide our school badges and sneak into the theatre… I mostly saw French films. There was a group of kids who like American films- Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby- and there was another crowd of girls who thought they were intellectuals, and went to French films. I was in the French film group. We would go to see The Children of Paradise (1945), that sort of thing. It was a very exciting time. I loved those films… I saw the surrealist films in the sixties in New York and Paris. The films I saw in high school that were closest to surrealism wee the Cocteau films, Beauty and the Beast and Orpheus (1950). Those films really gave me some ideas.
– Yoko, A Critical Cinema by Scott MacDonald: Yoko Ono May 1, 1989
Yoko Ono’s first conceptual filmic ideas were scripted in her 1964 book Grapefruit. Some of them became a reality. Films were also made of her performance art pieces such as the nine-minute Cut Piece (1965) and the twenty-minutes Wrapping Piece (1967).
Film No. 1 – A Walk To the Taj Mahal – 1964
Although the film was conceived in 1964 – the score appears in Grapefruit, it was made in 1966.
Film No. 1″ (a.k.a. A Walk To the Taj Mahal, a.k.a. Fluxfilm No. 14: One) takes the viewer on a trip through a snowstorm. The silent 5-minute movie feels as though we are not watching a film but that we are inside the action.
“There was a constant feeling of wanting to take an object that’s on the ground – not necessarily an object, could be a person – in fact the original idea was a drunken guy walking in a snowy field; you dn’t see the drunken guy, but the camera suggests that he’s drunk because of the way it moves. So he walks and sways, and finally the camera goes up in the sky…”
– Yoko, 1989 – A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers – Scott MacDonald
Smile – Chieko Shiomi
Yoko appears in a Flux film called Smile by Chieko Shiomi. It is Yoko’s smile in the film. Fluxus founder George Maciunas had gotten hold of a high-speed camera and asked for film ideas. Yoko had been wanting to make a smile film, but Shiomi had a different smile idea.
“Later I found out that her concept was totally different from what I wanted to do. Chieko Shioimi’s idea is beautiful; she catches the disappearance of a smile. At the time I didn’t know what her title was.”
– Yoko, 1989 – A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers – Scott MacDonald
Fluxfilm no. 14: One
Match striking fire…
Eye Blink – 1966
A short film of Yoko’s eye blinking in slow motion.
Getting to the Bottom of Film No. 4: Bottoms
In 1967, a young Japanese artist turned the film world upside down with her strange movie. After making several short films and as part of the Fluxus movement, Yoko Ono had yet another brilliant idea. Her script read, ‘String bottoms together in place of signatures for petition for peace…’
Yoko’s Trafalgar Square wrapping event in London (August 3, 1967) had political undertones. London police gave her permission to wrap a lion statue with drop-cloths only because Yoko gave them the pretense that she was making a film. Her then husband Tony Cox photographed the event. In 1967 Delia Derbyshire (known for the Doctor Who theme) created a soundtrack for the 20-minute film at Kaleidophon for Yoko Ono Productions. While it is rumored to exist, the soundtrack has not surfaced. The film was shown at the ICA in London in 2004 without a soundtrack.
Read more here:
Film No. 5: Smile
John and Yoko’s Film No. 5 (Smile) premiered at the Chicago Film Festival in 1968. The film is a very long close-up of John’s face shot in super slow motion, with film that is used for shooting footage of rockets. The only action is of John simply smiling. The actual time lapse is three minutes, elongated to 52 minutes. The effect is, as Yoko describes, having a light painting on the wall…
Two Virgins (filmed on the same day as Smile) is a moving portrait of John and Yoko in their garden at Kenwood in Weybridge. Their images separate and entwine until their faces become superimposed, separating and merging perfectly. They embrace and kiss in slow-motion, becoming one with the sky and clouds.
A John and Yoko home movie called Self Portrait was a slow-motion film of John’s semi-erect penis. The film was 42 minutes long. It premiered at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in September 1969. In 1971, John recalled the film on a BBC TV interview with Michael Parkinson; “That was a joke really. I made a film called ‘Self Portrait’, you know, and at that time I was a bit of a prick!”. Yoko had said “The critics wouldn’t touch it.” Self Portrait was partially inspired by Warhol’s film Sleep (see Erection below).
Despite its suggestive title, Erection (often mistaken for Self Portrait) is a 19-minute time-lapsed film of the construction of the International Hotel (147 Cromwell Road, London). A still camera was set up, shooting over the course of eighteen months. Yoko’s track ‘Airmale’ (from her album Fly) was the soundtrack for Erection (a reverse homage to Andy Warhol’s film Sleep, which features the close-up face of a man receiving a blow job). It also parodies the title of Andy Warhol’s film Empire, which consisted of nothing but the Empire State Building.
Clock is a one-hour close-up of a clock face shot at the St. Regis Hotel in New York in September 1971. Just having left England for the last time ever, John and Yoko stayed at the St. Regis for many months. John’s soundtrack included acoustic versions of Rock and Roll standards which he recorded on September 10th .
Film No. 7 – Tea Party (Conceptual)
by yoko ono, copyright 1968
1 ½ hr. Colour. Synchronized sound. Cast: a woman.
A woman is having a tea party in a room. We never see others except the woman. She says You weren’t listening, were you. After that she says nothing for the whole film.
The film is basically about a room with many different time worlds in it. A clock is going fast like crazy. A sugar in a glass melts spasmodically. The woman’s dress deteriorates very fast. A car passing in the street, which is reflected in the woman’s eyes, going ever so slowly. A chair melts away like something made out of dust, etc. In the end, the telephone is the only thing remaining in the room. Everything else disappears with its own time rhythm.
The woman will have to be a Japanese woman with very good breasts. The scene has a peculiar mixture of a Japanese tea ceremony and an English tea party.
– This Is Not Here exhibition catalog (Everson Museum, Syracuse NY 1971)
Yoko still had Tea Party on her mind in 1989
“I’m not getting that feeling like I gotta make a film- except for The Tea Party [the film script “Film No.7 (Tea Party)”]: for years I’ve been wanting to make that one, but because of the technical difficulties I don’t seem to be able to get it together. I think one of the reasons I’m not making more films is that I’ve done so many film scripts. I’d like to see one of them made by somebody else. Maybe one day out of the blue I’ll feel it so strongly that I’ll make a film myself again.”
– to Scott MacDonald: A Critical Cinema – May 1, 1989
The first version of Apotheosis was filmed in September 1969 from a helicopter. John and Yoko were unhappy with the first shot. A re-make was done in December along with BBC Television’s World of John & Yoko crew who had been filming the couple for a documentary. John and Yoko were driven through the snow-covered countryside to Lavenham, Suffolk. Wearing black capes and hoods, they peered out to watch a hot air balloon being inflated and launched from the Market square. Nick Knowland shot the footage, mostly of the sky.
In November 1968 work began on John & Yoko’s film Rape. The 77-minute film was shot in London for Austrian television and debuted on March 31, 1969. The script was conceptualized by Yoko in 1968 (as part of Thirteen Film Scores) and was shot according to Yoko’s written instructions:
“The cameraman will chase a girl on a street with a camera persistently until he corners her in an alley, and, if possible, until she is in a falling position…”
Freedom Films- 1971
Two one-minute films were shown at the 1971 Chicago Film Festival.
Freedom, shot in 1970 is a one-minute long close-up of Yoko’s hands trying to tear open her bra. The minimalist experimental soundtrack is by John Lennon on an electronic keyboard.
The second Freedom Film consisted of the word “Freedom”, which John had scratched on to a piece of film.
Up Your Legs Forever
This 80-minute film was shot in December 1970 in New York for a John and Yoko Film Festival organized by Jonas Mekas at the Elgin Theatre. They made two films – Up Your Legs and Fly. The film was made in two days. The camera individually pans upward on 300+ pairs of legs from the front – from the toes up to the top of the thighs. “We asked everybody to donate their legs for peace” – Yoko. Many celebrities obliged, including George Segal, Larry Rivers and filmmaker D.A Pennebaker. The film ends with two pair of legs filmed from behind – John and Yoko showing their bare bottoms. As with Film No. 4 (Bottoms) we ponder the difference in appearance of the legs in the film.
“… they’ll see that there’s no difference between famous and not-so-famous legs, intellectual and non-intellectual legs. When it comes to legs, titles or fame or power or money are of no importance because we’re all just very modest beings.”
– Yoko to Jonathan Cott, Days That I’ll Remember, 2013
The star of Yoko‘s film had many stand-ins. This was partly because the actor was incompetent, and mostly because it was an insect – a fly! There were actually a few hundred uncooperative little buggers on set. The naturally frantic flies had to be controlled for their performance…
The Museum Of Modern Art Show
This is a 7-minute film of Yoko’s conceptual exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (1971) in New York City. Yoko advertised her exhibition in The Village Voice. She also printed a catalogue in which Iain MacMillan photographed flies which were superimposed onto various New York locations. The film is comprised of interviews with people leaving the museum who are asked what they thought of the “show”. Staff who worked at the museum apparently knew nothing about it and were not amused.
John and Yoko – Free Time – PBS Television, May 1972
“I want to deal with the world that is in subconscious. Not the world in consciousness but underneath the consciousness. That is where I am.”
“I’ve never seen a TV show like this before. Maybe I’m on the wrong channel!”
Imagine – The Restoration (2017)
The new restoration is incredible! I attended the one night only showing on the big screen in NYC. Imagine is such a great video album – one of the earliest ever made. I have been watching various blurry versions of Imagine for decades, ever since John and Yoko premiered some clips on The Mike Douglas Show in 1971. I never thought it could look and sound so much more wonderful! The sound was in Dolby Atmos (whatever that is, it sounded amazing)!
Yoko Ono – Films and Talks -@ MoMA 2015
As part of the exhibit Yoko Ono: One Woman Show at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015 summer, Yoko also appeared for several events and concerts at the museum. Both nights of her film screenings with Q&As afterwards began with a wonderful montage of films, compiled by Yoko’s archivist. Yoko sat in the front row watching the films along with us…
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