Monday, March 13, 2017

This Year's Model: Genie Vincent Remembered


Charm City Cover Girl Eugenie Vincent (photo courtesy Mike Milstein)

A friend messaged me today via social media, asking if I recalled a record album that featured erstwhile Baltimorean and fashion model "Genie" Vincent (not to be confused with the crippled rockabilly legend, Gene "Don't Call Me Genie" Vincent), whom we knew from hanging out at Towson State University in the early 1980s. 


I didn't remember much about "Genie" (birth name Eugenie Vincent) other than she was extremely tall (5 foot 11?) and slender (hence the modeling career) and that my ex-wife and college bandmate Katie Glancy knew her from TSU. (Katie's convinced she appeared on some Steve Winwood record that I had, but I haven't been able to solve that mystery.) I only recall seeing Genie at Oddfellows Hall music shows, having graduated from TSU in 1980, though she was friends with a number of TSU undergrads like Leslie "Leigh" MillerMike Milstein (another college bandmate), Mindi Siegel and Marty Benson

Others knew her from her days at Baltimore's former hippie enclave, Baltimore Experimental High School (504 Cathedral Street, down the street from the First Unitarian Church). As Rafael Alvarez once described it in a 2013 City Paper profile, BEHS was known for turning out "some of the most creative, some of the most successful, and some of the most dysfunctional high school graduates in Baltimore." 

Genie was certainly one of the more successful grads and went on to work with a number of creative talents. She ended up crossing the pond to model in Europe, where Malcolm McLaren must have discovered her because the album she appeared on was none other than the former Sex Pistols manager and Sex boutique co-owner's 1984 opera-meets-R&B mashup, Fans. (Thanks go to the recollections of tattoo artist, music promoter and Waverly Brewing Company co-owner Bill Stevenson for remembering Genie's appearance on this record!)



Front cover of Malcolm McLaren's "Fans" LP (Charisma, 1984)



Genie Vincent (left) appeared on the back cover of  McLaren's "Fans" LP



According to her Internet Movie Database (IMDb) filmography, Genie later appeared in Mary Harron's 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, though local fanboy Robert J. ("Beefalo Bob") Friedman adds, "But if you blink, you'll miss her." She plays one of Warhol's Superstars and, though her role was fleeting, Bob insists, "She'll always be a superstar to me!"


"I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996)


Her IMDb credits also include the 1996-1997 television series The Anti-Gravity Room, 1998's Anarchy TV (which, in addition to Genie, featured another Baltimore actress, Mink Stole), and Zoltan (great name!) Alexander's 1993 film short, Skinned.


"Anarchy TV" (1998)

Genie also apparently collaborated a number of times with legendary former Baltimore artist-provocateur tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE and his Neoist cronies. (tENT briefly taught a "No No Umbrella Class" at Experimental High in the fall of 1981; perhaps that's where they met.)


The No No Umbrella Class outside Acme Food Market


In October 1981, Genie worked with tENT on two "events" at the Toronto Public Works Festival. First, there was the "Seatbelt Violation Public Works Promotion," which tENT described in "Mere Outline 1981" thusly:

Eugenie Vincent & I were tied to the roof of a rented car to attract attention to us while we drove around the city with signs advertising the festival we were to participate in & "HOMEX" - the magazine that 1 of the drivers, Ricki Kilreagan (the other driver being Sin-Dee Heidel), was editor of. After 20 minutes or so, we were stopped by a cop, who was eventually joined by 2 others. The cops tried to figure out what they could charge us with & eventually decided on "seatbelt violation" - much to the general amusement.


Seat Belt Violation event, Toronto Public Works Festival


This was followed by a "Neiost Night" performance at Toronto's YYZ Gallery. As tENT describes it: 


As an impromptu contribution to the "Neoist" night at the Gallery, Eugenie Vincent stripped, with her face wrapped with toilet paper (so that no photographs could be used to incriminate her in case she were to run for political office later), & lay on the floor. Unwanted left-overs from a very authentic Chinese meal we'd had earlier (cow's lung or some such) was spread out on her chest & abdomen. The audience was told that whoever ate the most food off of Genie without using their hands would win a free Chinese dinner. Of course, we knew that it was unlikely that anyone would want to eat any more chinese food after undergoing this experience but we figured that at least a few people in the audience would want to eat this slop off of the naked girl. I, most likely, conceived of all this & acted as judge. Ricki Kilreagan attempted to play some sort of kitsch tv music. Sin-Dee Heidel probably assisted in some way or another. 2 or more guys from the audience tried to eat the food off of Eugenie. I think everybody but 1 guy dropped out repulsed by the food. The remaining one who would've won pulled out a pocket knife in a frenzy of sexual aggressiveness & started scooping up the food with it. He was disqualified as a result & no-one won. To top it off, a sleazy Yugoslavian Photographer chased Genie around, still naked with toilet paper wrapped around her face, photographing in an "artistic" frenzy. This same photographer documented Skin Transfer (#51) - telling us "I believe in you" but refusing to give us copies of the photos. Hhmmm..





Neoist Night antics, Toronto Public Works Festival


Genie's Chinese food leftovers modeling performance reminded me of my old band Thee Katatonix's first-ever show at Towson's Oddfellows Hall back on April 27, 1979. For our debut, frontman Adolf Kowalski convinced some young woman to lay prostate on the stage, covered with a garbage bag, while he showered her with the remnants of a dissected stuffed teddy bear doll (his version of a punk pinata?) and spat beer on her. I think the trade-off was she got in free and got some beers (besides the ones spat on her). Who knew then that Adolf's abusive antics were actually high-concept "performance art" that would have impressed Neoists in Toronto galleries?


Bag Lady suffers for art's sake at Thee Katatonix's debut gig, Oddfellows Hall, April 27, 1979

Adolf spays a stuffed animal

The audience was floored. Literally.



"Don't get up on my account"


But I digress...OK, back to Genie.

I think Genie also appeared in issue 2 of a art zine affiliated with British Neoist Stewart Home called SMILE. SMILE would later inspire tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE's film Transparent SMILE, which is part of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's 16mm film collection.



SMILE #2


We Dream of Genie

A number of people in the Marble Bar Facebook group remember her a lot better than me, and everyone agrees that she was a sweet soul, someone really worth knowing. Or, as Bob Richardson posted on The Marble Bar Facebook group page, "I remember her. How could one forget?"

More Genie Vincent recollections follow:

Robert J. ("Beefalo Bob") Friedman recalled: "I was extremely fond of her. A down to earth person for such a glamor-puss."

Marty Benson: "I remember her from before she went to Italy. She was a very sweet Experimental High School girl, or she hung out with that crew. Very friendly and down to earth."

Leslie Fuquinay Miller: "She and I were best friends for a year or so. We hung out in DC almost every night and slept on the second floor of the Union every morning. We used to get dressed up and eat at Au Pied De Cochon in DC. We saw The Circle Jerks and lots of other punk bands together. She was always such a sweetheart. I remember that she had to sneak into her going-out clothes at her mom's apartment or house. It's fuzzy. Lotta years gone by."

Mindi Siegel: "She taught me how to do the 'Huntington Beach' on the second floor of the [TSU] Student Union."

Amy Linthicum first met Genie when Leslie Miller brought her to a party at the Glen Burnie house where Null Set's Mark Harp and Lou Frisino lived with Marble Bar doorman Ron DeNunzio"I remember her wearing an earring made out of a bent fork, and a furry coat in an unnatural color." 

Lou Frisino: "Yes, she was at one of the wild parties there on Cody Drive. Genie kissed the wall in my foyer. That lipstick was on there for many years, lol!"

Alex Layne: "I remember a party out at her parents house in Timonium or someplace.. the Bludgeons played.. D.M. on drums.. I always thought she was hot, but she was a bit older, out of my league."

Robyn Webb recalled another Genie performance similar to the her Toronto Public Works Festival collaboration with tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE: "I remember when she and someone did some kind of performance at the 8x10...might have actually been part of a [Larry] Vega show...they were scantily clad, in just the most minimal lingerie, and Dickie [Gamerman] flipped out, in fear of his liquor license, as they were nearing titty bar territory in their gyrations and ministrations...I think Keith Wortz was there...or under a ladder, while Genie and someone (Jenny Beetz maybe?) did her thing while Keith read poetry..."


A "Larry Vega Show" at the 8x10 Club



Dave Sarfaty was at that 8x10 Larry Vega Show and added, "I think Dickie was more 'flipped out' that Keith was on stage than pretty girls in their underwear!"


Keith Wortz


Tom DiVenti suggested that 8x10 owner Dickie Gammerman was also "freaked because he thought they were underage."

***

Rumor has it that Genie moved back to Baltimore after living abroad and in Mendocino, California for many years. Those in the know, know. But if she hasn't made contact with her other former Baltimore friends in the social media age, then it's probably for a reason. Perhaps, like Garbo, she wishes to be alone. Maybe the former cover girl wishes to remain undercover. Respect. This has been merely a look back at a local gal made good.


***

S'more Pictures of Genie:


Cassandra (Julie von Rintein) and Genie Vincent (photo from Robert Friedman)


Genie Vincent models a feathery coat that Bjork would love

Genie Vincent glamour shot



Genie photo (courtesy Robert J. Friedman)



Genie, Martini & Rossi (photo courtesy Robert J. Friedman)



Genie black and blue (photo courtesy Robert J. Friedman)





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Thursday, March 09, 2017

China Girls On Film

Who Are the Mystery Girls?: Celebrating Countdown Reel Girls


Countdown to Ecstasy: China Girl on film leader

One of the thrills of being an audio-visual librarian at Enoch Pratt Free Library is working with 16mm films and spotting the occasional "China Girl" (or "LAD Lady," short for the "Laboratory Aim Density" industry standard created by Kodak's John P. Pytlak) on film countdown leaders. How these women got the sobriquet "China Girls" remains unknown; it's particularly unusual since most of the female subjects were white, not Asian. ("China Girls" might be a reference to the colorful flower print blouses Chinese girls wore at the turn of the 20th century, or to the "Shanghai Girls" advertising cards that came with Chinese cigarettes.) Needless to say, the term has nothing to do with the David Bowie (or Iggy Pop) song "China Girl."

Have your highlights lost their sparkle?And the midtones lost their scale?Are your shadows going smokey?And the colors turning stale?Have you lost a little business to labs whose pictures shine?Because to do it right – takes a lot of time.Well, here’s  a brand new system. It’s simple as can be!Its name is LAD – an acronym for Laboratory Aim Density.– John P. Pytlak

A recent article by Sarah Laskow ("The Forgotten 'China Girls' Hidden At the Beginning of Old Films," January 17, 2017) for the wonderful Atlas Obscura blog profiled these hidden faces that were never meant to be public and renewed my long-standing fascination with them. As Laskow writes:

Few people ever saw the images of China girls, although for decades they were ubiquitous in movie theaters. At the beginning of a reel of film, there would be a few frames of a woman's head. She might be dressed up; she might be scowling at the camera. She might blink or move her head. 
But if audiences saw her, it was only because there had been a mistake. These frames weren't meant for public consumption. The China girl was there to assist the lab technicians processing the film. Even though the same person's face might show up in reel after reel of film, her image would remain unknown to everyone except the technicians and projectionists. 
For many years photo labs would produce unique China girl images; around a couple hundred women, perhaps more, had their images hidden at the beginning of films. As movies have transitioned from analog to digital, though, China girls are disappearing.


Who are the Mystery Girls?

But not in Rockville, Maryland, where Colorlab is not only one of the last full-service film labs operating in the country, but has also revived the practice of making in-house China girls because there's no standardized "LAD lady" for the newest version of Kodak film.

And now there's renewed interest in these mystery women thanks to Rebecca Lyon and the Chicago Film Society's Leader Ladies Project, which has collected and posted around 200 China girl images (including  rare ones showing men, mannequins and even people of color). Below is a picture from the Leader Ladies Project collection that actually shows an Asian woman in the film leader for Nagisa Oshima's 1968 film Death By Hanging. (Since it's a Japanese film, she's probably not literally a "China girl," but close enough!)

"Death By Hanging"'s Leader Lady

Then there's the 2008 short film by Julie Buck and Karin Segal called Girls On Film that reflects on the anonymity of the test subjects by using an old "making it in Hollywood" movie soundtrack.




Buck and Segal described their film as follows:
Girls on Film is about 70 unknown movie stars. Despite appearing in countless films, they were never actually meant to be seen by the movie-going public. In fact, these women are so enigmatic that in most cases we do not even know their names. This film is a tribute to these forgotten women.

Officially known as color-timing control strips, these anonymous female film studio workers were affectionately dubbed "china girls" by the industry. The images in this show were meant only for use by the processing lab to match color tones in the associated film. 

Initially heavily scratched and faded, each images has been enlarged, restored and edited until these unknown and formerly unseen women resemble publicity snapshots of well-known film stars.

Jean Bourbonnais, a former projectionist at the National Film Board of Canada, compiled the heads and tails of numerous 35mm international films into a 16-minute-plus montage called China Girls. Bourbonnais addressed the mystery of these unknown leader ladies with a decidedly feminist slant, calling them "the voiceless workers of a proto-sex industry, entertaining mostly male lab technicians over the course of the working hours, similar to the pin-ups or sexy girl calendars found in most car repair shops or other blue collar male-dominated fields of work, China Girls are there to brighten up a gloomy day."

Hmm...I never thought of China Girls as the equivalent of a Snap-on Tools calendar hung in a film lab technician's workshop, but Bourbonnais makes an interesting point.


A China Girl answers the Hot Line: "A call for President Trump? Please hold, Mr. Putin!"

Speaking of Girls On Film...Years ago, I discovered China Girls thanks to John Heyn (of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame). John also directed a short film called Girls On Film that celebrated these unknown women who appeared at the beginning of film reels and were used by lab technicians for color quality control. And it still holds a special place in my heart, no doubt because John used an obscure pop song by the Passions ("I'm in Love With a German Film Star") as his accompanying soundtrack.



Here's John Heyn's description of his film:

GIRLS ON FILM is an experimental film that captures the fleeting images from countdown leaders of old film prints. The "china girls" who appeared in these unseen film frames were posing for far less than aesthetic purposes and more for technical reasons. Their fleshtones and accompanying color-charts helped the film lab technicians calibrate the color-rendition of the film stock. The soundtrack is the 1981 new wave hit "I'm In Love with a German Film Star" by The Passions.

I recently discovered another China Girls montage set to an obscure pop soundtrack. Called "Lili On the Web" - in France, China Girls are called "Lili," perhaps after the traditional name for film slates used in Technicolor shoots -  it uses April March's song "Chick Habit" (itself an English cover of the Serge Gainsbourg composition "Laisse Tomber les Filles" - or, "Leave the Girls Alone" - which was originally sung by in 1964 by France Gall) as a musical backdrop. "Chick Habit" was also used in the film soundtracks of But I'm a Cheerleader and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.


lili on the web from BkTs on Vimeo.

And on that note, I bid thee farewell with this knowing wink (or is it a blink?) from a vintage China Girl:



Related Links:
Leader Ladies Project (Chicago Film Society web site)
Leader Lady Project (Facebook page)
The Forgotten "China Girls" Hidden At the Beginning of Old Film Reels (Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura)
Countdown To Ecstasy: China Girls (Accelerated Decrepitude)
China Girls, Redux (Accelerated Decrepitude)
16mm Leader China Girls (Brian Durham, YouTube)
China Girl (Jean Bourbonnais, YouTube)
Lili On the Web (Vimeo)


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