Robert Nelson

Film programme in the context of
Oberhausen on Tour 2007
From the Archive of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
14 April 2007, 8 pm

Mark Webber (Curator)

Laid-back, radical, legendary: Robert Nelson’s keenly observed, intuitive works always balance formal ingenuity and infectious humour. We experience a funny lesson in meaningless gestures and then witness a thoroughly irreverent cinematic wake for a friend. The rip-roaring Oh Dem Watermelons, long since a classic, points out the folly of racism by presenting absurdly exaggerated stereotypes mixed with found footage elements. The five films in the line-up give evidence of the leading role free spirit Robert Nelson played in the New American Cinema of the 1960s and 70s.


Plastic Haircut, 1963
The Off-Handed Jape, 1967
Deep Westurn, 1974
Oh dem Watermelons, 1965
Bleu Shut, 1970

Plastic Haircut USA 1963, 16mm, b/w, engOV, 16'

Dada-inspired performance in which absurd actions take place in an environment of strange symbols and graphic forms. (MW) ‘None of us knew anything about making movies at that time, but we all knew about art (namely, that it had something to do with having a good time).’ (Robert Nelson)

The Off-Handed Jape USA 1967, 16mm, Colour, engOV, 9'

A humorous lesson in gestural acting from Dr. Otis Bird and Butch Babad, demonstrating such useful phrases as ‘the verge of remembering’ and ‘letting your friend know he’s forgotten to zip up his pants.’ (MW) ‘This film can be of immeasurable aid to would-be actors who are weak in the jape.’ (William T. Wiley)

Deep Westurn USA 1974, 16mm, Colour, engOV, 6'

A ‘film wake’ for a friend who gave free dental care in exchange for artwork. (MW) ‘Though celebratory in mood, it has a mournful subtext ... death and dying. We dedicated it to Dr. Sam West, departed friend and patron of the arts, trusting that his ghost would approve our hijinx and seeming irreverence.’ (Robert Nelson)

Oh Dem Watermelons USA 1965, 16mm, Colour, engOV, 11'

Made for the Mime Troupe’s performance ‘A Minstrel Show (or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel)’, the film challenges racism by presenting absurdly exaggerated stereotypes. The hapless fruits are mindlessly pulped, before turning on their aggressors. Now, follow the bouncing watermelon … (MW) ‘Original idea and inspiration from La Course aux Potirons (1907) by Louis Feuillade.’ (Robert Nelson)

Bleu Shut USA 1970,  16mm, Colour, engOV, 33'

‘Even when we know the game is an illusion, the experience of Bleu Shut is entirely a pleasure: the “game” is fun, the Nelson/Wiley debates, infectiously funny; and Nelson’s choice of imagery, quirky and amusing. Bleu Shut reveals, and allows us to enjoy, our gullibility within the pervasive absurdity of modern life.’ (Scott Mac Donald)

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