Ron Rice Biography

Ron Rice was born in New York, NY in 1935. Rice was a drifter who dropped out of high school and by nature was very restless. This restlessness is how he initially made his way into film. Rice got his start by buying an 8mm Camera to record bicycle races in San Francisco. It was in San Francisco that he met Taylor Mead, which in turn led him to the production of his first film The Flower Thief (Arthouse Inc). The Flower Thief was finished in 1960 with the help of Taylor mead the offbeat hero the San Francisco and New York Beats (Sitney, 300). After the Success of The Flower Thief, Rice toyed with the idea of making some films right after the Flower Thief. Rice Started a film called The Dancing Master and another untitled film with his friend Jerry Joften, but lost interest in the films during their production (Sitney, 301). Rice made Senseless and that came out later that same year of 1962. Senseless came out of a film that he planned to make at Eric Nord's island. Rice knew Nord from The Flower Thief and He knew that Nord purchased an island from the Mexican government with the intent of making that island a Utopia. Unfortunately Nord forgot to find out if there was water on the island so when Rice arrived on the island to shoot his film, Nord and his crew realized the mistake they had made and had already cleared off the island (Sitney, 301). The only thing Ron Rice had left from his trip was some footage that he took on his way to the island to meet Nord (Sitney, 301).

When Rice got back from the trip and arrived in NewYork, he pooled together his research and the various episodes he had recorded. He divised a potpourri from what he recorded in Mexico and what he had on file and realized that the film would have no plot nor a continuity of a single mediator. Despite the incredible irony, the creation Senseless was completed in 1962. Rice gave credit to Jonas Mekas for the creation of Senseless, but ironically Senseless is thought of as Rice's most carefully organized formal film (Sitney, 301).

After Rice finished Senseless he bought together Taylor Mead and Winifred Bryan, to make a new film called The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man (Sitney, 302). Rice made rough-cuts of the idea to try to raise money for the film. The two scenes that were made were on Hamlet and Greg Markopoulos' Twice a Man. Rice got the funding that he was looking for and the intercutting and combination of characters brought by the Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man was a step closer to the synthetic process of the mythic film. Rice never finished the film; Mead finished it in 1982 (Sitney, 302).

Rice went on to another project called Chumlum. Chumlum was developed from the inspiration that Rice found on the occasions when he would assist Jack Smith with his productions. One production that specifically aided the inspiration that Rice would feel was Smith's film Normal Love. While they were filming each production Rice would go back to Smith's apartment, with the cast and crew and observe what everyone would do. He used these ideas to create Chumlum with the fragmenting of events and use of superimposition. The film was completed in 1964. Sadly at the end of that year he died of pneumonia while he was in Mexico. Rice's resume comes to six films and shows a great mind for film. He was truly an artistic genius who died too young.

--Cary Collins, 2003

From: "Barry Clark"
Subject: Ron Rice: American Psycho
Date: Wed, 3 Aug 2005 12:32:59 -0700

In the interest of expanding upon and clarifying some of the points covered in the otherwise informative section of the site devoted to Ron Rice, I'd like to offer the following:

I met Ron (known at the time as "Ronnie") at Playland Beach in San Francisco in the winter of 1959. He had recently moved to SF from New York (I thought) and I had recently moved there from Cambridge, Mass, after dropping out of graduate school (Chemical Physics) at Harvard. It was, as usual, a cold, overcast day and Ronnie was shooting sea gulls with an old 16mm Eastman Kodak camera with a fixed lens and I was shooting lonely people walking along the beach with a turret-mounted, hand-cranked 16mm Bolex that I had purchased in downtown SF that fall. I was working as a lab assistant at the Dept of Pharmacology at the University of California Medical Center in Haight-Ashbury and living at 1048 Union Street in North Beach, up the hill from the epicenter of the Beat Scene. Ronnie was living, hand-to-mouth, with his long-suffering girlfriend, Annie Fisher, at 129A Pfeiffer Street in SF. It was clear, within moments of meeting Ronnie, that he was a classic psychopath, a dangerous person who had nothing in common with the hordes of poseurs who thronged the North Beach cafes, desperate to pose as Beats.

Because I had a job (of sorts), an apartment, and (most importantly) a better camera than he had, Ronnie proposed a collaboration. His plan was that we would make a feature film about the Beat Scene but he had no clear idea what kind of film it would be. We both, of course, had seen "Pull My Daisy" and we were awash in experimental film. So there was plenty of inspiration. San Francisco State College had a noon-hour series of experimental film screenings, and Ronnie and I often took the bus out there to watch the movies, including works by Stan Brackhage and (I believe) Evan Connell and others artists who had fled North Beach after the Beats became front-page news and were now safely settled in Sausalito. Motivated by these films and by Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali" (shown, with its reels out of order, at the first installment of the SF Film Festival at the Surf Theater (on a cold night, under a clinging fog), I had begun making abstract films by painting on white 16mm leader (in the manner of fellow Canadian Norman McLaren) and then on 16mm newsreels (purchased commercially), and finally on surplus WWII airplane gun B&W film stock, which I bought in 50 foot rolls from Freestyle Sales in Los Angeles. I had found, as well, that by sending the film back to Freestyle for processing (with out-of-date chemicals), I could achieve some surprising effects odd washes of color, wildly unpredictable exposures, and, in general, the appearance of serious weathering and physical abuse.

Physical abuse was something that Ronnie could relate to. Ask poor Annie, if she is still alive. To emphasize his points (e.g. when he needed to borrow my camera), Ronnie had a habit of swinging a hatchet which he carried around in his belt. (once, for effect, he buried the hatchet in my coffee table, and poor Annie commiserated with me that she feared that, in a psychotic rage, he would use it on her.

During that winter of 1959-60, Taylor Mead often read his scribbled poems at the Coffee Gallery on Grant Street, a hangout for the throngs of would-be Beats, plus such troubled and desperate poets as Bob Kaufman, a fixture on the scene with his pretty blonde wife and their kid. Anyone who wanted to read was welcome and Taylor would climb up on a table and pull out a tattered notebook and mumble his lispy poems amid the clatter of beer mugs and the mindless chatter of the crowd. Ronnie and I would also hang out there, planning the film. Ronnie thought Taylor was great. We knew he came from a wealthy family (we thought it was pharmaceuticals); but then, so did William S. Burroughs. What was evident was that Taylor was gifted (his poems were insightful, cutting, and sardonic) and also that he was crazy. An icon of the post-Beat milieu (not the joyful world of Kerouac, Orlovsky, and Cassidy, but a dark, desperate, dangerous milieu, with a lot of lost people hanging around, hoping for redemption and with no way (except through drugs) to achieve it. The full flower of the Hippy Revolution, with its giddy excitements, was three-four years away, but in North Beach in 1960 there were few signs of hope).

Lacking a car and driven by the kind of limitless energy that psychos seem to possess, Ronnie rambled the backstreets of North Beach and the nearby hills, shooting film and scouting for locations for his feature. On one of these journeys he happened upon the abandoned car barn of the SF cable car company a warehouse-like structure that was full of shadows, junk, and drifting dust. We snuck into the building one day and Ronnie declared that it would make a perfect studio. A few days later he had begun to shoot "Flower Thief," using the car barn as a set and following Taylor Mead around on the street. Because of the hatchet incidents and Ronnie's unpredictable temper, I had begun to avoid him whenever I could. But I let him use my camera to shoot the film, and I suspect that I agreed to (or was forced to) pay for the raw stock and processing.

I have no idea where Ronnie edited the film, but he probably did it at Annie's apartment, using a viewer and splicing tape. One of the interesting aspects of the gun film was that it came in 50 foot rolls, hot-spliced together by Freestyle into the 100 or 400-foot rolls that we used in the Bolex. That meant that there was no way to know when a scene would be interrupted by a splice (a characteristic of Ronnie's film that no doubt appealed to Warhol and others, who hailed it as a triumph of the unplanned work of art). At any rate, when the film was "finished" (or seemed to be complete), Ronnie showed it at the Coffee Gallery (in the spring of 1960), using my 16mm projector. I stood at the door, asking for donations, and passed the hat through the crowd. I don't recall any contributions, any applause, or any comments. The whole thing felt like a dismal failure, another sad emblem of a sad, lonely time. The artists were gone, the lunatics had taken over the asylum.

By June 1960 Ronnie was living with Marilyn Sorum in Room 82 at the Hotel Columbo in North Beach. My last record of him is dated April 1961, when he was living in Apt. 212 at 1617 Pine Street in North Beach. I left soon afterward for NYC and on to India. I heard nothing of Ronnie until some years later when I read in Cahiers du Cinema of his death in Mexico. I wasn't surprised that he died. I was shocked that he had lived so long.

I hope this may be of help. Feel free to contact me if you wish any more information about Ron Rice or this interesting transitional period in American pop culture.


Barry Clark

Ron Rice