In Fred Barney Taylor’s 2009 documentary The Polymath, about writer, filmmaker, and social historian Samuel R. “Chip” Delany, Jonathan Lethem explains, “He embraces the whole of intellectual curiosity while remaining committed to an artistic practice. He’s a philosophical, confessional, and fictional genius. How often is this encountered in American literature? I don’t know that there’s any precedent. Geniuses are usually monomaniacs; they do one thing to the utmost. Well, Chip does several things to the utmost.” Metrograph is honoring the seventy-seven-year-old Delany’s life and career with the three-day series “Delanymania,” featuring films by and about him or that made an impact on him. “They’re films I liked early, and they contributed to my own appreciation of science fiction, films, and writing (This Island Earth), and an appreciation of the cost of difference (The Boy with Green Hair, Touch of Evil), and what I wanted to do with the movement of bodies in The Orchid (Gold Diggers of 1937, The Seventh Seal),” he notes about the program. Delany, a New York City native and the author of such science-fiction tomes as Dhalgren and Babel-17, will be at Metrograph for several screenings, introducing shows and participating in Q&As for The Polymath with Taylor on May 17 at 6:00 and for “3 Films by Samuel R. Delany” on May 18 at 3:30. The latter consists of his only film as a director, the controversial 1971 experimental work The Orchid, and two extremely low-budget DIY shorts by his then-partner, Frank Romeo, Bye, Bye Love and The Aunts.
The Orchid is Delany’s Un Chien Andalou, a bizarre, surreal, delightfully amateurish tale of a businessman with a thing for protractors and other basic mathematical equipment who has strange encounters on the streets of New York City with a little boy, a man carrying a microphone, and members of a cultlike group than don bizarre masks, take off their clothes, and take part in odd rituals. Produced by Barbara Wise, the film features a playful score by John Herbert McDowell; Adolfas Mekas, brother of Jonas, was the production coordinator. Writing as K. Leslie Steiner, Delany opined that when the film “primiered [sic] at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago that September (Delany himself was not present), it caused a riot. Outraged fans tried to shout the film off and even pulled down the screen.” Chip Delany is credited as script boy for Bye, Bye Love, in which two brothers (Frank De Fay and Martin Zone) from upstate head to the Big Apple to become famous by recording their version of the Everly Brothers classic “Bye Bye Love,” and The Aunts, in which a group of women (Cass Morgan, Katie McDonough, Mayda Sharrow, and Pat Tortorici) gossip away in a small kitchen as a young girl (Jocelyn Mason) listens in from her bedroom. Delany’s father was an undertaker and his mother was a library clerk, which explains a lot. In conjunction with “Delanymania” and other cinematic literary events, Metrograph is hosting a Spring Film Book Fair on May 18 and 19 from 11:00 to 6:00, promising “thousands of rare, vintage, and out of print items, including biographies, monographs, hundreds of periodicals, plus memorabilia, scripts, novelizations, and other extraordinary pieces of ephemera.”