Remembering filmmaker Peter Mays 1

Turn, by Peter Mays, screening March 31

Peter Mays, a sweet soul who passed away on March 4, 2019, was a Los Angeles treasure. Peter grew up in Los Angeles and attended UCLA where he majored in painting and minored in mathematics. I had the pleasure of some holiday meals with him hosted by his good friend Paula Achter. So, adieu Peter.

Fascinated by what he read about underground films, he formed a screening society in the Art Department at UCLA to which he brought Jack Smith and other figures of the New York underground films scene.  He made his first experimental film while in graduate school, for which he constructed a printer and developing tank.  Pat O’Neill and Bob Abel were on a similar path in the design division.

Death of the Gorilla, Peter Mays, screening March 17

Mays made several experimental shorts in 16mm in the middle 60’s. Inspired by the emerging counter-culture, Mays directed a 16mm feature film, Sister Midnight, in 1967.  Influenced by Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, his movie made extensive use of intensely colored gels for lighting. It was structured as a mass dream.  

Aleph, Peter Mays, screening March 31

In 1968 Mays was a founding member of the Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show, which performed with 4 to 7 members until 1973.  The group re-formed in 2010 to create new live performances as well as museum installations and university residencies.

Mays took a new and unexpected path in the early 80s.  He wrote a program for the Atari microcomputer to portray large chapters of history through computer animation of geography, spending eight years on an interactive animated history of World War One.  Today he has four animated educational films distributed by Discovery Education.  During this time (the structuralist period in experimental film), he also made several long avant-garde films that gave greater weight to the sound track and “meaning.”  Perhaps the most important is Astral Man, an investigation into the past, shot in the 60s but completed in 2000.

In the 21st century Mays produced numerous digital shorts using the extensive effects available in After Effects, and based on the artifacts and symbols of ancient civilizations and esoteric mystical traditions, including those of the Vikings, Egypt, Hinduism Buddhism, alchemy, Tarot, Kabbalah and the works of Alistair Crowley.

Two separate tribute programs for Peter Mays are curated by David Lebrun and hosted by Los Angeles FilmForum. In the first, the focus is on film; the second on video.

text courtesy los angeles filmforum

Honoring Peter Mays, Los Angeles Treasure, part 1 | Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian | Sunday Mar 17, free but rsvp

Honoring Peter Mays, Los Angeles Treasure, part 2 | Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian | Sunday Mar 31, free but rsvp

One comment on “Remembering filmmaker Peter Mays

  1. Kirk Silsbee Mar 16,2019 7:00 pm

    The Single Wing Turquoise Bird Lights collective handled the light shows for the Pinnacle concerts at the Shrine Auditorium and the Shrine Exposition Hall in the late 1960s. The Shrine’s proximity to USC figured into this venture–both George Lucas and Caleb Deschanel were part of SWTBL. I saw one of the Shrine Expo shows (Mothers of Invention, December 1970, and it was the best and most expansive light show I ever saw. They truly did create what was referred to back in the ’60s as a “total environment.”

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