An Enigmatic Portrait

Having published on art history, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco is art historian, curator and filmmaker James Crump’s third feature film. His 2007 directorial debut Black White + Gray, which featured curator and collector Sam Wagstaff and artist Robert Mapplethorpe first saw this transition to filmmaking. Sex, Fashion & Disco tells the story of the most influential fashion illustrator of the 1970s, who discovered a multitude of talent, among them Pat Cleveland, Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Donna Jordan, Jane Forth and Jessica Lange.

ASFF: Was the driving force behind this film the ability of cinema to meaningfully articulate Antonio’s story?
JC: If you look at the projects I am interested in, the past ones I’ve completed and the ones I am working on now, the subjects are ones that gestate for a very long period of time. I became aware of Antonio via Interview Magazine when I was a very young teenager growing up in the US midwest, a very conservative cultural wasteland. So I learned about him superficially and then after finishing graduate school I met Antonio’s heir Paul Caranicas, who gave me carte blanche to go visit the archives. At that time the vision I had was to produce a monograph on Antonio, and for one reason or another that project kept being displaced by others. So it was later on after making some other films that I began to think about it as a motion picture.

It is a timely film because of where we are right now socio-politically, although I began the film well before the election cycle started with the current president. The film touches on things that are very important to what’s happening right now, for instance the notion of inclusivity on the runway, and ethnicity and race that are all aspects being discussed today in fashion, as well as just the battles being waged by minority groups for rights in the US and elsewhere. Antonio was advocating for change on the things the film touches on as early as the mid 1960s, and it was interesting that he was able to see what the future could possibly be – more a utopian vision of what the future might look like.

ASFF: Speaking with director James Erskine he commented: “…of course things move backwards and forward… What one hopes is that even for moments of regression there is further advancement.” If timely, your film reminds us of the cyclic pattern of progress and regression, an aspect of Antonio’s story as he relocates to Paris to find an openness to inclusivity and diversity.
JC: When I started going to the archives and just spending time with the materials, especially the instamatic photographs, interestingly there was this sense of happiness and joy, sheer pleasure and sexuality. It was also this mash up of creatives from all walks of life: The filmmakers, the architects, the writers, the poets and the choreographers, who were not working in silos as we do today. What was interesting to me about the early period of the 1970s was the sense of attainability, that after all the battles had been waged in the late 1960s, for instance civil rights, gay rights and feminism, and the protest against the Vietnam War, that anything could be possible.

There was this very narrow slither of time where all of it began to manifest and that’s what drew me to Antonio’s story to begin with, which is the perfect story to talk about that age. I wanted to create a kind of time capsule that would transport the viewer back in time to 1970 and make it an incredibly immersive experience, because I regret that I was born to late to indulge in that particular moment. As the film points out, we know retrospectively as the decade wore on how promiscuity, drug use, addiction and so forth, and the Aids crisis which is looming in the distance, would overcome the decade, turning it upside down and shattering that utopian moment.

ASFF: How did you approach the incorporation of Antonio’s art work through the rhythm of the edited montage sequences to faithfully capture his essence and spirituality?
JC: Firstly, I am interested in pacing and cinematic tension, and I want there to be pleasure in the cinema; I don’t want people looking at their watches. Practically speaking of the montage and the way that we utilised the drawings, and also the way we mixed music and sound effects in there, it was to make this connection between Antonio’s personal, sexual and erotic side with his drawing process. It is almost described as a kind of paranormality, of being able to look inside a person to perhaps see some sign or element that they cannot see within themselves, and to identify with and to use that as raw material he is receiving through his body.

The movement that is described through the dancing is very similar to me of the movement of the hands and the breathing, and to me that’s all of a piece where everything is morphing into one process of living, working, and pleasure seeking. So he’s receiving the information that is coming through his body and he is laying it down on the paper through his fingers, and it’s almost like a sexual climax. This was something I thought about as we were making the movie, but because I have such a respect for Antonio, for the process, we wanted a balance of movement and colours. So we sought to move away from static presentation of those drawings, so as to not overwhelm them because they speak for themselves.

ASFF: Personally, how did your perspective of Antonio change through the experience of making the film?
JC: Well, it was challenging to make the film in that I met so many people, I could have included many more. I was trying to avoid overlap, trying to get singular stories from each of the subjects, and the one thing everyone was recounting was their love for this person. Early on, some people who were looking at some of the short montages I would share asked: “How can anyone be so well loved? How come there is no one saying anything negative about Antonio?”

So the challenge was to try to elicit the most interesting singular stories, and people use the phrase “larger than life” a lot, which often times, is not used properly. In the instance of Antonio, he’s this larger than life character who left such an impression and vibration, to such an extent that people are still reeling from the exposure to his energy, his spiritual and sexual nature, and his love. In a way, this is a kind of a story about love.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Fashion, Sex and Disco is released theatrically and is available On Demand 6 April courtesy of Dogwoof. For more information, click here.

Paul Risker

1. Trailer, courtesy of Vimeo.