Jerry Tartaglia is an experimental filmmaker and writer whose work in Experimental Film and Queer Cinema spans four decades. He studied at Albright College from 1968 to 1972, with the Abstract Expressionist Painter, Harry Koursaros, who introduced him to the work of Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas, and Gregory Markopoulos.
It was in that early environment that he formulated a non-narrative film practice, seeking to realize the other potentialities of Cinema using 16mm film, which was the predominant technology of that time.
In 1973 he assisted Tony Conrad in the manufacture and production of Conrad’s Yellow Movie and Yellow Movie Video Monitor series and there he learned the connecting link between painting and Cinema.
The following year, he co-founded Berks Filmmakers Inc. with filmmakers Gary Adlestein and Gerry Orr. Berks Filmmakers went on to become one of the longest surviving Micro-Cinema Showcases for Experimental Media Art in the U.S. After Tartaglia returned to New York City in 1976, Adlestein and Orr’s leadership of the group continued to nurture other emerging filmmakers including Buddy Kilchesty Caleb Smith, Kevin Vogrin, and Jamie Harrar.
In 1977 as a member of U-P, a Filmmaking Collective in NYC, he produced his lost feature film, Lawless with Warhol Factory star Pope Ondine who introduced him to James Broughton. The influence of these two artists shaped his belief in Gay consciousness, Culturally created identities, and the existence of a Hetero-Normative Social Value System that, by its nature, obstructs Queer Spirit in life and art.
He was the first to write about “the gay sensibility in American Avant-Garde film” and his 1977 article in The Millennium Film Journal is regarded a seminal statement on the subject. At a time when the LGBT culture was an underground subculture, it served as an inspiration for the founders of several LGBT Film Festivals. During this time, he worked as a manager at The Millennium Film Workshop in NYC.
The decade concluded with the premiere of his film Lambda Man (1980) at a Museum of Modern Art CineProbe. Shortly thereafter he embarked on an experiment in living, joining the Short Mountain Collective in Liberty, Tennessee, learning organic farming techniques and herbalism. Through the Radical Faery Gatherings he had contact with the ideas of Harry Hay.
“…The axiom was a simple one, as Harry Hay said. Although Straight people maintain that Queers and Straights are completely the same except for our sexual behavior, in truth we are completely different except for our sexual behavior…
It is this difference and its cultural manifestation that I am interested in exploring in my Cinema.” (JT)
His 1981 film Vocation was shot at the Short Mountain Collective and is an invocation of Pan, the horned God. He completed it while living in San Francisco.
“The first six years of life in San Francisco were a nightmarish eye-opening experience. My friends were dying from a disease about which people knew very little and understood less. The real face of America showed itself in the divide between those who spoke and acted out of fear and hatred, and those who lived their compassion and courage. My film See For Yourself documents the experience of watching and shepherding a friend to his death from A.I.D.S. related diseases.
I had little interest in filmmaking, though I did shoot some material and experimented with photography. I thought I would never make another film but James Broughton told me not to worry about it. He himself had once stopped making Cinema for a number of years. Everything about gay-identified culture seemed to be crumbling. In the face of the epidemic, there seemed to be no hope for a Queer, self-defined Cinema. Mainstream Media were filled with lies, bigotry, and hetero-centric analysis of A.I.D.S.
Then, in 1987, filmmaker Jim Hubbard and novelist Sarah Schulman founded The New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival (now called MIX NYC). They uncovered, promoted, and fostered films and videos that were politically daring and formally innovative. In showing my work from the 70s and early 80s at that first festival, I realized that there was, indeed an audience for non-narrative Queer Cinema, and have continued working ever since.” (JT)
Jerry Tartaglia’s A.I.D.S. Trilogy (A.I.D.S.C..R.E.A.M., Ecce Homo, and Final Solutions) were made during those early days of the epidemic in America. This experimental film trilogy broadly examines several issues surrounding the epidemic including the medicalization of morality, the policing of desire, and the management of the disease through cultural assimilation into the mainstream.
The work has been screened around the world and was included in the Century-end retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Art of the 20th Century."
Since 1990, seven of his films have been premiered at the Berlinale – The Berlin International Film Festival. Manfred Salzgeber, the founding force behind the Panorama Section of the festival, helped bring Tartaglia’s work to European audiences through exhibition and distribution.
In 1993 he was one of the twelve artists who created the Red Ribbon as a symbol of A.I.D.S. awareness through the Artists' Caucus of Visual AIDS in NYC, paving the way for awareness ribbons of all kinds.
That same year, he was approached by the custodians of Jack Smith’s Estate to begin work on restoring Smith’s film legacy. Thousands of feet of 16mm film in various states of viability were left behind upon Smith’s death in 1989 from A.I.D.S. related disease. Tartaglia’s connection to Jack Smith had come full circle, because, in 1977, while working at a film supply house in NY, he found and returned the lost camera original of Smith’s notorious Flaming Creatures.
The restoration work took place under the auspices of “The Plaster Foundation,” founded by Jim Hoberman and Penny Arcade. He reconstructed Smith's three feature films and eleven shorts for the Smith Estate. There was virtually no funding for the project and very little institutional support in America. Funds were raised through film shows and acquisitons of prints by museums and libraries. The former Donnell Library in NYC, The Pompideau Center, and the Osterreichesches Film Museum were among the earliest supporters.
The work was interrupted during 2007 and 2008 while the heir of the Estate resolved the legal question of ownership and enabled the Gladstone Gallery NY and Brussels to acquire the work and continue the restoration and preservation efforts. Since 2011 Tartaglia has uncovered previously unseen 16mm material in the Smith Archive and is working on the restoration for The Gladstone Gallery.
By the turn of the 21st Century, Tartaglia had made the transition to Digital Moving Image Production, though he did continue working with 16mm celluloid. He became increasingly interested in producing work that challenged the complacency of the screen/viewer relationship, and developed a series of “Live Film Action” works under the rubric The Way of the World.
In 2003 he became the custodian of the film works of the late Gary Goldberg, who is best known for a series of films starring Taylor Mead and Bill Rice.
In 2013 he completed a video that is a resetting of the 1933 film Das Blaue Licht by Leni Riefenstahl. A Short History of the Future examines the question of artistic neutrality in this age.
He is currently working on a feature length experimental film essay concerning the works of Jack Smith. Using audio tape recordings made by Smith, alond with Smith's film material and previously unseen visual art, Escape From Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith will explore Smith's own aesthetic principles and ideas using only his own work. It will premiere in 2017.
Tartaglia also teaches Cinema, writing, and media production and remains grateful to all of his own teachers and students from whom he continues to learn.
Photo by Annette Frick