BROOKLYN RAIL -- Ben Van Meter began making films and light shows in the mid-1960s in San Francisco and soon became a leading figure in Bay Area-underground filmmaking. His films, especially S.F. Trips Festival, An Opening (1966) and the epic Acid Mantra or Rebirth of a Nation (1968), are compelling attempts to visually and sonically inscribe psychedelia, as experience and philosophy, in the medium of film. Van Meter’s films were unavailable for many years, but their ongoing restoration by the Academy Film Archive and their inclusion in the de Young Museum’s 2017 exhibition, The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, has gained them a new audience.
“Well, my book describes my first film class at San Francisco State. The instructor laid down some rules. And one of them was, what you should never, ever do is multiple exposures in the camera, because you’re liable to get something weird and confusing,” Van Meter says. “When he said that, a light bulb went off in my head. ‘Weird and confusing’ sounded just like my life itself; it was exactly what I wanted to express in my films. So with the films and the light show, that’s what I was trying to do. I’m essentially, in my films, a documentary filmmaker, only on a different than purely physical level. I would describe it as ‘Stream of Subconsciousness Filmmaking.’”