Brand X, 1969
Much of the creative richness that swamped the New York art scene in the 1960s came from a dizzying combination of cheap rent, tranquilizers and minimal police presence. Described by Jonas Mekas as "propaganda for the politics of joy and disorder", Wynn Chamberlain's Brand X is an exuberant testament to both the playfully political approach of the underground and its interface with an increasingly voracious mass media. Starring a glittering array of celebrities, the film skewers the political sphere and the media through a series of faux TV skits inspired by a snowbound weekend spent watching television.
A cinematic masterpiece of 1960s counterculture, Brand X was almost lost until Chamberlain recently recovered the last surviving print. A special screening of the film at Tate Modern on 20 June 2012 was followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Wynn Chamberlain, actor Taylor Mead, cultural historian Steven Watson and Tate curator Stuart Comer.
Stuart Comer: We're really pleased that Wynn Chamberlain could join us tonight, who is the director of Brand X but probably better known as a pop artist and painter. And it's an incredible privilege to have him joined by one of the stars of the film, Taylor Mead, who will of course be known to you both as a poet, but also as one of the first stars of Andy Warhol's films. Steven Watson is also joining us and I'd really recommend any of his books, in particular Strange Bedfellows, but he has written about the Harlem Renaissance, the birth of the Beat generation, Warhol... and he has a recent book called Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism. Now, Brand X has nothing to do with American Modernism, as Wynn can assure you, it's quite the opposite...
Wynn Chamberlain: The one thing that still puzzles me... on the back of this poster, we'd printed part of a review by Jonas Mekas in 1970 and at the end he says: "Brand X is propaganda for the politics of joy and disorder; Brand X shines like gold." And of course you have to remember in the middle of all that disorder, the whole IT thing – the Internet and everything – was all being thought up. It was total disorder, it was like the Renaissance. Then there's another review from two years ago by a man called Duncan Ward, he's a producer/director here in London, and he said: "Wynn Chamberlain's Brand X deserves to join the ranks of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Fritz Lang's Metropolis as one of the great subversive films of all time". So, on the one hand it's "subversive" and on the other hand it's "politics of joy and disorder", and I like both, but it's an interesting dichotomy to think about when you're watching the film. It helps to explain some of the mystery and there is a lot of mystery in this film, believe it or not!
SC: So, basically, somewhere between Charles Ludlam, Saturday Night Live and the two of you, this film makes a lot of sense. Let's start with Charles Ludlam, because you actually produced his first play. Maybe we can start there in terms of the mindset of this kind of performance.
WC: I've always thought the whole idea of nothingness was very important. I guess it's almost a Buddhist idea. And actually Charles wasn't writing anything really "new", he was using the cut-up method, which was sort of invented by Gertrude Stein, but I've been going back to reading some of these marvellous new translations of Sanskrit that are coming out. In 3000 BC, the Vedic people were doing the same thing with their poetry; they were chopping it up, and making mantras out of it.
SC: In 1970 we weren't really channel surfing the way we are now. How did you come up with the structure for switching back and forth between programmes and between television channels?
WC: I was just using television as a frame for Taylor's talent. He called me up and said, "Andy hasn't paid me anything," and I said, "Well, you know Andy never pays anyone anything."
Taylor Mead: Andy Warhol, his nickname was Drella, a combination of Dracula and Cinderella! And if anyone asks me what Andy was like... he's a fucking genius! Who knows... I miss him very much... but he was, uh, parsimonious.
WC: So, I said to Taylor, "OK, well, give me a little while." Then I called up these two friends of mine and they said right away, "Oh, there's nothing we'd rather do than lose money on Taylor Mead."
TM: I never heard that!
WC: Yes, not only that, but they were from the Astor family of New York. So they gave the first money to us and the first thing we did was sort of an exercise. Then we showed that to two composers – the most remarkable composers – who composed almost all the black music: Leiber and Stoller.
TM: Leiber, he wrote 'Blue Suede Shoes'.
WC: 'Stand By Me', he wrote that and all those things. And they came and they saw it. They never invested, but they told everybody else that they should invest. They loved the film.
SC: How did you two first meet?
TM: We had the greatest little restaurant – I give kudos to Mickey Ruskin who's long gone – on Park Avenue South at 17th Street. It was the focal point. Always, there's a great tavern for people, especially in Manhattan. At that time New York had, I'd say, fifty artists of any note, now there are fifty thousand. So, don't come to New York, you'll spend all your time paying for your apartment! You won't have time to buy anything, or have time to yourself. You have to go into banking on Wall Street, and Wall Street has come to the Village. New York University, the colleges are buying up everything, as if going to college means anything.
TM: Yes, his show of Elvis Presley silver paintings at Irving Blum's gallery. The next morning we were having breakfast and the LA newspapers wrote "wise-ass", "Campbell's Soup promoter", "leftover from advertising", "a terrible show", and Andy said, "Oh, they hate me, they hate me!", like a Cheshire cat. He was already making it anyway, he had his connections in New York. But going to LA, it was like the West Coast greeting Andy Warhol, because the motel signs and the advertising signs were almost like Andy's pop paintings, it was amazing. It was in the air, the whole Andy thing, or as Andy would say, "Oh, time is everything!" So many people are imitating Warhol, but he was the first. By taking that Campbell's Soup can and turning the spotlight which was on all of us peasants right back on to the corporations, saying, "this soup can won't cost you twenty-five cents, it'll cost you twenty-five thousand dollars"... and now it's twenty-five million, or two-hundred and fifty million.
SW: He had impeccable timing in the case of his film, because the reels of film you had purchased to make the film, he actually stole from you to make Sleep (1963), if I'm not mistaken.
WC: That's not exactly the way it was; Sally, my wife, got a camera from her father and she gave it to me. It was a 16mm Bolex or something like that.I couldn't see anything through the lens, so I gave it to Andy, because Jack Smith was shooting Normal Love at this farm I rented up in Connecticut. Jack called me up and said, "I understand you have a farm up there, do you think I can spray the cows pink?" I said, "Of course, yes!" So they all came up for a weekend. It was Gerard Maranga, I think, who'd urged Andy to come along. Andy wanted to make a film of Jack shooting his Normal Love, and he got three minutes, or eight minutes or something like that, and then he gave up. But somebody had called John Giorno, who at that point was a stock broker and used to come up from Wall Street to sort of chill out at my place. Andy discovered him asleep up in the bedroom and set up the tripod with the camera, and he just aimed it at John and used up all my film for that. Then he went down to New York to have it developed and this is where the film sort of started. The developer told him that he could have duplicates developed for practically nothing. So, he had seven or eight duplicates of each roll developed and he was thinking of his serialisation of things, which actually didn't come about as an artistic thing either. It came about because he was making these huge silk screens of Campbell's Soup cans and Coca Cola. Fine, but they were very expensive. So he discovered that if he made a small silk screen and juxtaposed it in serial fashion across the page, then he got something that was just unreal; a very surreal thing, great overtones of horror.
TM: But the Sleep film was not eight hours – this is part of why Andy was also a fraud! The Sleep film was an hour, more or less, repeated. I once saw him watching the film, and the people in front of him were drinking champagne and eating cake and talking, and he told them to be quiet and shut up! There was Andy and nothing else.
WC: I don't think that he really realised that when he put all these things together in a serial thing, that he would get silence. Like Empire, I think it's a fantastic film: it was the Empire State Building for two or three hours!
TM: Well, that was actually the sun coming up, that was not a fraud... sort of.
WC: No, but he would take a shot and then extend it by having the three minutes turned into thirty minutes. The interesting thing about Sleep was that every time John moved, it was like a volcano erupting. I think the ultimate place for those films is as DVDs, as a background for cocktail parties.
TM: A lot of it was filmed in his loft, at 222 Bowery, where William Burroughs lived, Wynn Chamberlain's apartment was there... and this is what's happened to the United States, it was once about one hundred a month for this two thousand square foot apartment, and it's now two apartments for fourteen thousand a month. Each! A month! That's New York though, that's all the big fucking cities.
WC: But this is happening in all the cities all over the world, because the people who are hoarding capital want to make the cities safe for themselves. In America, you can see it very clearly on a small scale, the people who used to live there couldn't afford it anymore. So, all the interesting people, who didn't have any money, have gone.
SW: Maybe Taylor should re-perform his performance as the computer programmer in the offices of Facebook – that might work!
TM: I didn't think computers were invented when we made the film. I'm so out of it... I don't remember a thing. It was all new to me. I was at the set, I was the featured actor, I didn't realise it was me on the screen until the end of the film.
WC: The fella who did the Dirt commercial was a senior executive at IBM, and the place where it was filmed was deeply underground. It was one of the most advanced computer installations in the world and all that machinery was one computer, if you can imagine. He was the son of a White Russian and the great-grandson of the general who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino, and after this film he went completely mad. He tried to become a Buddhist and went up to Vermont and studied, but that didn't work. Then he came to India and wanted our attention all the time. He came to this village where we were living and got down on his hands and knees and started crawling around barking like a dog. He thought that would upset the Brahmans, but of course nothing upsets Brahmans, they just laughed at him. There was this huge mountain behind the temple that people used to jump off of when they felt desperate and so he said, "I'm going to go up there and jump off that mountain." But they said, "Be our guest!" So he left India. He later wound up standing in front of Cody's bookstore in Berkeley, California, an urban monk begging for the next seven years or so... I mean he could still be there as far as I know. His name was Serge Bouterline.
SW: How did you start to assemble the cast? Was it spontaneous?
WC: I made the film for Taylor, of course. And then we had to have other people and some came from a group called La MaMa, like Frank and Sally Kirkland.
TM: Sally Kirkland was in a lot of Hollywood movies, very delightful. Her mother was the editor of Vogue. A lot of us were well connected, to say the least.
WC: He's right, it's true. Steven, what did you think of all this? Where does Brand X fit in?
SW: In terms of the performers, it's an incredibly rich time because there are a number of ensembles, including La MaMa, and especially the "Ridiculous" movement. And just to be clear, Charles's play Conquest of the Universe, which you produced, also caused the split of the group. Because Charles walked away from John Vaccaro, who was the initial director of the whole group and started what was called The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. So they became these two groups: Conquest of the Universe had Taylor in it, and Mary Woronov and a whole lot of people, and Charles Ludlam, Mario Montez and Lola Pashalinski were in a different group. But anyway, between that and the Warhol Factory, there was a really rich pool of people to draw from, who were all great at improvising. It wasn't like, here're your lines, learn 'em.
WC: No, and everybody in Brand X knew the structure of the thing. As Fellini said: "The important thing is not the script, it's the casting, the director, the location and everything... the director can just throw the lines." All the commercials were scripted basically, but not Taylor's sermon, he delivered it impromptu. There must have been a hundred people there watching you.
TM: No script!
WC: No script, no. It's a work of absolute genius.
TM: Oh, by the way, there's a film coming out called Brand X, a major Hollywood film. You gotta sue them!
WC: Oh really?
TM: It's coming out in a couple of weeks or so. We gotta sue them!
WC: Well, you can't copyright titles. You can only copyright a title if it's the name of your company, like Coca Cola. But that sermon at the end... if the movie was released publicly today, there are still an awful lot of people who would be offended by that.
TM: Oh, no.
WC: Yes, yes, what about all these born-again Christians in Missouri and Oklahoma?
TM: These people don't live in New York. By the way, I've been to London before, but all I saw was Earl's Court and Piccadilly – I could hardly wait to get to Paris. But now, I've been driving around with great taxi drivers and I must say I'm just blown away. I didn't know what it was like at all – it's incredible.
WC: This new building called the Shard is just incredible.
TM: Don't single out one building!
WC: No, but lots of them are awful, but the Shard is just amazing.
SW: You mentioned the script, or the lack of a script, and the improvisational theatre... and for one of your earliest painting shows, Ginsberg actually wrote something for the catalogue, or was it the invite?
WC: That was the invitation and the US Post Office tried to stop the mailout. But that wasn't my first show by any means. That was next to my last show.
SW: I think it's fascinating though how Taylor connects to the Beat movement very strongly and everything that was going on with the San Francisco Renaissance in the late fifties. Then he did The Flower Thief, which is one of the very, very early underground films, and he was really known as the first underground movie star. Taylor, you're probably tired of hearing that...
SW: But to my mind, this is the greatest Taylor Mead performance that exists. Because you really get to do a lot of things here, you don't just have to pull things out of your asshole like in Taylor Mead's Asshole by Warhol.
WC: If the government hadn't been so mean to us, we would have gone on and made four or five other films, because I always thought that Frank Cavestani was the perfect straight man for Taylor – I mean that in terms of comedy. There was one section of the movie that we shot but we didn't use it because we thought it would have made the movie too long. And it was a great mistake, I think, I had a big fight with the editor, but I lost. It was at the time of the moon landings and we got Taylor and Tally dressed up in silver lamé, skin-tight lamé, and we had that tin foil American flag that they set up. It was terribly funny and we should have dispersed it through the film, but... I must say, if I had the energy, I would make another film about Twittering and all this business that's going on. I think it's going to destroy language in twenty more years and everyone will be going, "ah, oh, uh."
SW: Wynn, I'm curious, were there many things that didn't make it to the final cut?
WC: Well, mainly that... and the peanut butter. We did a peanut butter commercial of Sam Shepard naked, covered with peanut butter and this girl licking it off. He had a great body, it was a fantastic thing. Two weeks after the film opened, which is the specified time according to American law... he asked for it to be removed. Sam had an agent, he was 25 years old, but he had an agent, who came to us and said that Sam would like it if we removed that scene, and we did. I don't know what happened to that outtake, we should have saved every single scrap, but it was such chaos in those days. Look at Jack Smith, he shot Normal Love and all this footage, he would just cut and cut and cut, until the whole bottom of his loft was filled with pieces of film.
TM: Jack Smith was impossible to work with. He put a little makeup on you, then an hour later he put a little more...
WC: Taylor was terrified of Jack. He thought he was going to murder him.
TM: I wasn't terrified, I despised the bastard! I'm terrified of nothing. I saved Andy's life once too. Gunmen came in to shoot up the factory and I jumped 'em. Everyone else just sat there like we were watching a movie.
WC: Well you've been through some heavy scenes in your life.
TM: I've been pronounced dead three or four times. I'm covered with stab wounds. God, are you there!?
SC: Well, I'm not sure that everybody here knows what the fate of this film was, so could you just tell that story as well? Why it was locked up for so long?
WC: Ben Barenholtz was the distributor, it was the first film he ever really distributed. I think his family owned the theatre of 7th Avenue. He had the film playing in California, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and we had lines around the block. Then it was also showing right across the White House in a movie theatre in Washington, again with lines around the block, and also in New York. I thought we were making sort of an art film that wouldn't go any further than that. But in fact, because the frame was television, the masses understood it, and they were flocking to see it. So, Richard Nixon was furious and he got in touch with his point man in Hollywood, Louis B. Meyer, who then sent the vice president over, who happened to be a woman and, of course, she hated it. So they started calling us. They said they wanted to buy the picture, and how wonderful it was, and so on. I sort of believed them because of all the people, Ahmet Ertegün, the president of Atlantic Records, said the same thing to me, that Warner Bros. wanted to do that. And considering Jack Warner, he probably might have. So, I said to Barenholtz, "Shall we do this?" That was two days before I was supposed to have a meeting with the much hated president of MGM in New York – I forgot his name – but they called me to say, "Listen, we understand you're going to open in Boston in about a week and since we're going to do all this for you, we're asking that you postpone this opening." I called Barenholtz and he agreed. Looking back – this just dawned on me about three or four years ago – I think he was probably harassed by the government already. The strange thing is that the lab that handled the thing, they're in denial about ever having touched it. Poor Sally Kirkland was put on a blacklist and couldn't perform in Hollywood for three years. So, then Barenholtz took me to Bob Shaye, who founded New Line Cinema in 1967 with his lawyer buddy, so nobody could sue him. Barenhotz said, "Bob is handling distribution to colleges and orphanages around the country," and I was so dumb, I believed all this. And so I agreed and signed a new contract with New Line, and I think for a couple of years they did show it.
TM: Oh, com'on, Barenholtz just ripped us off! Fucking show business!
WC: It's interesting that those two men became multi-multi-multi-millionaires. The government never ever disturbed them, they were just on the edge of sometimes controversial things until, one day, Shaye got in trouble with the Tolkein estate, because he really screwed them, and then Warner Bros. dumped them – they were part of Warner Bros. - so New Line sold out to...
TM: Well, I think Hollywood should pay the entire world's debt, actually.
WC: Absolutely right! They were the tigers at the door. Another interesting thing that nobody knows about is that just after we opened Conquest of the Universe, this son of a multi-millionaire in Chicago, Michael Butler, came to me and said, "I'm looking at Hair and I'm looking at Conquest of the Universe, but we really like Conquest of the Universe, but there's one thing: you have to fire all the actors, you have to fire the director, and then we'll take it to Broadway." And I said, "Are you crazy!? You couldn't fire these people."
SW: Well, which is what he did with Hair.
TM: You can't fire us, we're not working anyway!
WC: No, you were paid, com'on! So, things like that happened, and I wound up cleaning up the theatre myself. It was at the Bowery Lane Theatre, which is a beautiful Georgian landmark now, and the only person that helped me do that was Billy Name. He was the one who put tin foil all over Andy. So, Billy Name came down and he got stoned on speed and he cleaned that theatre inch by inch. I was there with him. It took two or three days because this awful woman who owned it was there, all the time, saying, "Cleaner! Cleaner!" So, between that and Brand X, I decided I should do something else. Just at that point, Robert Fraser, who was sort of the Castelli of London, called us up. He had gone to Madras in India to chill out and he said, "I think you better come here and bring the children, everybody in India loves children." So we did just that and we thought we would stay for maybe a month, but we ended up staying for the next twenty years. And I'm not sorry we did that, because there's something about India... it's so final, side by side, because of the structure of the society there. You see the best and the most elevated, next to the worst all the time.
SW: Sounds like Warhol's Factory.
WC: Well... a bit. But not really, because you didn't have any Brahman priests, you didn't have any Yogis, great holy men. I think it's changed now somewhat, because the governments are increasingly attacking the wandering aesthetics, it's too bad.
TM: Mahatma Gandhi, he helped throw India... he helped kill millions of people. Why do they make saints out of people who are consciously evil? He was for the separatism of Pakistan and India, and during that time millions of people died. And he's considered a saint! A vegetarian! I had bacon for breakfast and I'm a vegetarian, but I cheat!
WC: Doubleday commissioned me to write all these essays on India; I wrote one on Gandhi, that he was more or less a fraud, and I backed it up with all the communications between the British foreign office and Mr Gandhi. And in the end, he admitted that his whole position was caste. He didn't want to dissolve caste in India.
SW: I think you're wrong when you think of this as an art film. Because in terms of underground film, this is somewhere in between overground and underground and with most of the underground films, a lot of people would just say... watching them would be like eating your broccoli, it would not be an easy thing. Now that kind of changed with The Chelsea Girls in 1967 which suddenly reached out to a much larger audience. And about the same time as Brand X there was a movie called Putney Swope (1969) by Robert Downey Sr, which was also very funny and about advertising, satirical, low production value, and suddenly it became really possible to do this kind of thing.
TM: With the help of Jonas Mekas writing about us in The Village Voice, the director Ron Rice and I, we went to San Francisco in 1960, where we watched a Robert Frank film with Allen Ginsberg, Pull My Daisy (1959), and we thought we could do that. So went out and made a film with a handheld Bolex and a World War Two machine gun film which we got cheap. Ron kept writing cheques on his girlfriend, I had to spend a whole day with her to prevent her from putting him in jail. But when it came to making a film, nothing could stop him. Later I said to Robert or Allen, ''Pull My Daisy inspired us, a film that cheap, like five thousand bucks, or a couple of bucks or whatever..." and he said, "That film cost us fifty grand." If we'd known that, we might not have made our film. But we made it on stolen, borrowed money and everything.
SW: Did you have censorship problems because of nudity in the film? Was that an issue at that time?
WC: Well, we have to go back to 1963, when Barney Rosset had fought the fight to have the obscenity thing thrown out of the law, and he won at the Supreme Court – in terms of literature. But then the question was: What is free speech? Is it photography, is it movies, is it painting, is it theatre, is it opera? Finally, by 1969 – in America, of course, when a law like that is thrown out, it's up to the different states to confirm it – certain states had confirmed it, others hadn't. New York State didn't confirm nudity on film until just after they closed Andy's Blue Movie. And that was while we were shooting Brand X. I didn't know anything about this until just recently. The only place at that time was Massachusetts, which would have closed Brand X if we had opened in Boston.
SW: There's a huge file on Lonesome Cowboys.
TM: The film would have been closed if I had gone all the way with Joe Dallesandro! But I was too shy to unzip, and...
WC: Oh, yeah?
TM: Yeah, actually!
WC: But that's the way the government operated. At that time, they had enough on their hands, they didn't want to cause any ripples.
TM: That's why computers are such dangerous machines. I don't want to have one. I have a reputation anyway. But in terms of the government, if the Republicans get in, watch out! The government now is wishy-washy, but the Republicans, the Tea Party would kill us.
WC: I just don't think the governments should act as nannies. The world is on the edge because the distribution of money is too bad.
TM: We're on the eve of destruction... I love that song.
SW: I'm curious if there's anything going on now that you think is like Brand X?
TM: I think, selfishly of course, I'm doing a lot of interviews every couple of months or so for all kinds of people from all kinds of places and, to me, an interview is a movie. This is a movie right here. Since all the movies I made sort of didn't have a script or whatever. Just, you know... pills!
WC: Well, Sammy [Chamberlain's son] was in Norway with this film last weekend, and he brought back a catalogue of films and there are some that look very, very interesting to me. And being in Berlin, I thought there was a very healthy counterculture. I was very impressed. I know, Taylor, you didn't like Germany, but to me the feeling was like the good will of the 1950s. They have been through such hell, that I think they realise that people have to co-operate. And they believe in competition, because it lowers prices, but at the price of what? Like in America, they shipped out all the industry, all the clothes manufacturing and everything to countries that paid lower wages and look what happened. I think it was a huge mistake. I think people should be able to supply citizens with the basics, with shoes, fabric and so on.
SC: You don't have a computer, so you might not be able to comment, Taylor, but what do you think of things like YouTube, these platforms where anyone who makes a film now can broadcast it?
TM: It's so overwhelming, all these people with cameras. And then some genius editor puts it all together. It's just overwhelming. I don't know what's next.
WC: What's next may be that anything that is digital in the next twenty years may not be able to be played on the same machines that we have now.
TM: To me, it's already overwhelming. I can't even push a button anymore!
WC: I barely can, I have to say.
Question: Is this the original poster for the movie?
WC: No, that is not the original poster. There's the original poster, which has never been made a handout, then there's a facsimile of the original poster, which I did for the opening in New York, which has three subtle things that are different from the original, and then there's this one, which has less subtle changes. I know there are people on the internet advertising the original poster, but I would doubt that there are very many. Because a thing in the poster collection industry is: the more, the less. The more posters that are printed, the less survive, apparently. So no, that isn't the original, but it's better in some ways, because the actors' names are bigger, and the composer's name is bigger. We don't talk very much about him, but he's a very good friend of Bob Dylan, and he did an incredible job.
TM: Which composer?
WC: His name is Ken Louber.
TM: I have a composer anecdote! Once, Andy Warhol and I were visiting La Monte Young, who did things with sound, with computers, but this is thirty or fourty years ago. After half an hour, I just had to leave, it was so boring. But Andy stayed and later he used some of La Monte Young's things for his videos. When I went to the Factory the next day Andy said "Oh, Taylor, you always know when to leave!" But again, Andy would suck up to anybody that would be useful.
Q: I would like to know a bit more about the locations that you used in the film, like the big house. Were they friends' places?
TM: The locations were so important. For The Flower Thief in San Francisco they were tearing down a huge section of San Francisco with great old wooden mountains, and we used that enormously. Ron Rice, the director, had an eye for all that. Then a great fire house had been torn down, it was magnificent. And then things got crazy. It was the end of the Beat scene in North Beach, and we knew that it was all ending, that it was all going to shift to Hal Ashby. We had that sense that this was the last of North Beach. Ron Rice had Hollywood in mind. In fact, he threatened to burn The Flower Thief in a protest against Hollywood films. I had to literally, almost physically, fight him in order to preserve the film.
SW: What about the southern mansion?
WC: The southern mansion is actually a dormitory of a college. The inside scenes were shot in a gym. 222 Bowery was the first YMCA in New York, and the big loft, that was the gymnasium. And the first person to use that was Fernand Léger, when he fled Europe from the Nazis. He discovered that place, and then he handed it to Rothko, when he went back to Europe, then Rothko had it for a long time and when he died, Michael Goldberg took it over, another abstract painter. Then John Giorno discovered that, originally, there was a swimming pool that they had cemented over and put a basketball court on it. So underneath was this cave-like place that was part of the shower and locker room of the YMCA, and you could enter it from there. John started using it for his telephone poetry recordings because it was the quietest place in New York, and Bill Burroughs loved it, because it was so quiet; they called it "The Bunker". We shot almost all the inside scenes there apart from the ballroom scenes which we shot on a very grand estate that was given to us by the owner to do just that while she was up in Nantucket or something like that. She didn't care, but the butler was furious.
TM: I'm hungry!
Q: I'd love to hear more about the conditions of the production. How long were you shooting for? How many people were there? How fucked on drugs were they? Did you shoot consecutively, or did you stop and shoot things and come back? The film looks intentionally ramshackle, or were there a hundred people behind the camera that we didn't see? How haphazard was it?
WC: Well, believe it or not, nobody was on very many drugs. There were people like Taylor who is always taking Quaaludes, or some people who were stoned on marijuana… but the whole thing was too precise to get really stoned. If you remember that scene when Ultra Violet is coming on and someone is crawling on the floor, that man was Ron Stark, he was like a triple agent for the CIA. He was CIA, FBI and also allied with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. So, he was a very dangerous man and, eventually, he disappeared. He was arrested in Italy and two US government people showed up and said, "This is one of ours." And they took him away and then he died mysteriously. But when we met him, when the twins were born and Sammy fell off the loft, then this Ron Stark materialised and he took them up to New York Hospital and he donned this doctor's outfit – he was incredible.
Sally Chamberlain (in the audience): We first met him right after Sam and Sally were born. Michael Goldberg and Ron Stark came into my room and Ron was dressed in a doctor's outfit and a stethoscope around his neck and Michael said, "This is my friend Ron, who is one of the staff of New York Hospital and he helped me sneak in so I could see you and congratulate you on the twins." And they threw a great bunch of rose on my bed. So, I thought he was a doctor. A few months later when Sammy fell off the loft in our place in New York, there was Ron again. He rushed us up to New York Hospital and we got in immediately to see a doctor. And every time he appeared on the set of Brand X, he was very enthusiastic and he always had lovely wallets full of cash. At the end of the day when we were paying all the actors he'd say, "Oh, here, let me help out. I want to help out with the film."
WC: All the time, I think, he was reporting to the government what was going on.
SC: It was only years later, when we came back from India, somebody gave us a book called Acid Dreams and in there is this whole story that he was one of the greatest acid distributors in the world, that he was a triple agent for the CIA, MI5 and Mossad – I almost fainted, because I saw him as Dr. Ron Stark.
WC: I used him as a basis for a character in my first novel, Gates of Fire, which is about three Americans who take six million hits of acid to India, which actually happened, but what happens to the Americans in the story of the novel that's more or less fiction.
SC: Taylor, I know you are hungry. Do you have any departing words for us?
TM: As Ron Rice used to say... when people asked him all those questions like, "How do I do this? What's the technology of making a film?" Ron's answer was always: "Push the button!"
WC: What does that mean!?
TM: It means, don't think, just do. Like with Nietzsche: minimum of effort and maximum of error.
WC: Well, that's what the Buddha said.
TM: Maybe... maybe Nietzsche read books, I don't know.
 Brand X screened at the 62th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2012.