Len Lye

1901 (Christchurch, New Zealand) – 1980 (Warwick, N.Y.)

Lye was a pioneering artist obsessed with motion, too little known. He first encountered Flaherty when working in a shop in Samoa. Nicholson introduced the newcomer to Graves, who with Riding became a close friend and helped fund his first film. He met Richter (a long friendship ensued) and Eisenstein above a London bookshop. Cavalcanti urged him to meet Grierson, who drew him into the GPO Film Unit, where he met Jennings and especially McLaren (they were mutual admirers). He was given some antlers by O’Keeffe, toured with Cage and Creeley, and painted some over-convincing flame effects for Hitchcock.

Len Lye knew…

Derek Jarman

1942 (Northwood, England) – 1994 (London)

Jarman was an influential and in many ways radical film-maker, rather too easily pigeonholed by issues of sexuality. Russell, whose adventurous film-making was a formative influence on Jarman, employed him as a set-designer. Betjeman showed him around churches, Eno wrote soundtracks for him, and Houédard helped him get the Latin right for his first major film, Sebastiane. Bowie was a friend, Mapplethorpe briefly a lover (with much subsequent mutual rancour).

Derek Jarman knew…

Robert Frank

1924 (Zürich) –

One of the most significant 20th-century photographers, Frank revolutionised documentary photography, and played a considerable part in the U.S. independent scene. Evans regarded him as his protégé, played a huge part in getting him a Guggenheim grant to travel the country, and became a close friend. Frank stayed in Segal’s basement, collaborated with Kerouac (met on the sidewalk outside a party) and Leslie (though they fell out over credits), and explained to Jagger that he found Richards more interesting. Ginsberg was a lifelong friend. Eugene Smith, who knew him, called him the Franz Kafka of photography.

Robert Frank knew…

Stanley Kubrick

1928 (New York) – 1999 (Harpenden, England)

Kubrick had the rare knack of making cult films that were popular successes. As a young photographer, he posed Grosz on the sidewalk, while Arbus took him under her wing (and to charades parties in Greenwich Village). Even his close friend Herr said he was a terrible man to do business with. He accused Clark of reneging on an agreement, and fell out with Brando and Southern. He enticed Nabokov to Hollywood, had Burgess to dinner, and would telephone his affectionate friend Spielberg for hours. Sagan advised against depicting aliens, while Fellini sent a telegram expressing his emotions on seeing ‘2001’.

Stanley Kubrick knew…

Alain Robbe-Grillet

1922 (Brest, France) – 2008 (Caen)

Robbe-Grillet is associated with the ‘Nouveau Roman’ of the 1960’s, and known for his close collaboration with Resnais on the cult film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. Paulhan found him an apartment, while Sartre, de Beauvoir and Sarraute were fellow-members of a delegation to Russia, where he was dismissive of Ehrenburg. He knew Céline, and was best friends and publishing partner with Lindon (he was Lindon’s wife’s lover, while his own wife dressed like Lolita when Nabokov – admiring of Robbe-Grillet – came to call). He bonded with Antonioni, teased Barthes, had stormy relations with Butor, and was advised against psychoanalysis by Lacan.

Franciszka Themerson

1907 (Warsaw) – 1988 (London)

Someone described the Themersons — Franciszka and her husband Stefan — as an experimental orchestra of art-forms; her significance is as one half of that unique team, collaborating on films, on publishing, and on the offbeat expression of ideas. They met Lye, Grierson and Moholy-Nagy on a preliminary visit to London, and showed films of Lye’s and Moholy’s back in Warsaw. They moved to Paris (where they met Queneau, whose work they were later to publish), and finally settled in London, where Schwitters — almost unknown in Britain — visited them, and sent Christmas-cards.

Jonas Mekas

1922 (Semeniškiai, Lithuania) – 2019 (New York)

Mekas was both a prolific film-maker, and an energetic guiding spirit for the New York independent film scene (whence many of his extensive list of friends and accomplices — his ‘second family’). Maciunas was a lifelong friend from Lithuanian schooldays, Warhol another close associate — he credited Mekas for getting him filming. Among other friends were Vautier, Breer, Anger, Cassavetes, Frank, Brakhage (filmed making pancakes), Ginsberg (filmed singing an anti-war song), and Ono and Lennon (filmed in bed). Dalí sought him out, Polanski drove him around Paris. Pinter distracted customs officers so Mekas could sneak a banned film into the U.S.

Jonas Mekas knew…

Alfred Leslie

1927 (New York) –

Baziotes and Tony Smith taught him. De Kooning, Frankenthaler, Mitchell, Newman and David Smith were among the Cedar Bar crowd he particularly associated with, a number of whose conversations he transcribed for a film. Hartigan had a relationship and close friendship with him. He and Frank fell out over the directorial credits for the landmark film ‘Pull My Daisy’, featuring Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, Rivers and Neel. A studio fire destroyed several films he’d been working on with his close friend O’Hara. He’d arranged with another friend, Pollock, to fix his truck the day of Pollock’s fatal accident.

Claude Lanzmann

1925 (Paris) – 2018 (Paris)

Lanzmann was befriended by his elders Sartre and de Beauvoir, then started working on their review ‘Les Temps Modernes’ (which Lanzmann published after their demise). He had a long affair with de Beauvoir, staying close to her until her death: she worked with him on his landmark film ‘Shoah.’ He met Fanon in North Africa and acted as emissary between him and Sartre (his planned book about Fanon, following Fanon’s death, came to nothing). Lanzmann worked with Ophüls on his film about Klaus Barbie. Tournier and he had met as students from France in post-war Germany, studying philosophy in Tübingen.

Claude Lanzmann knew…

Paul Grimault

1905 (Neuilly, France) – 1994 (Yvelines)

Known primarily as an animator, Grimault was associated with the left-wing ‘October Group’ of the Prévert brothers and fellow cross-disciplinary creative spirits. He had met Jacques Prévert, with whom he had a deep affinity, while working for the same advertising agency: Anouilh was met the same way. He acted in classic live-action films made by Vigo and Renoir, though is not always credited. Prévert worked with Grimault on two of the films Grimault is best-known for — the collaboration has been described as ‘perfect.’ Reinhardt was a household visitor, and Demy a later collaborator.

Paul Grimault knew…