Thomas White’s lost-and-found avant-lulu Who’s Crazy? pulses with the newly possible. Shot in Belgium in 1966 and boasting a vigorously inventive score from Ornette Coleman’s great trio, White’s film depicts and exemplifies collective creation as play, whether what’s being brought into the world is a new mode of living (as in the film’s loose story) or a freewheeling (even slapstick) approach to narrative cinema. Who’s Crazy? opens with a busload of youngish mental patients (played by members of New York’s experimental Living Theater) en route to an institution; circumstances soon liberate them, and, free from the joyous skronking of Coleman’s alto, they storm a nearby farmhouse, conveniently empty.
There they ditch their jumpsuits for a farm family’s duds and launch into an extended improvisation seemingly based upon the idea of a communal society: They cook, some crushing eggs in their hands and letting the yolk ooze through their fingers; they perform a mock courtroom scene, negotiating not just the rule of law but who will play which role; they eventually scrap together a wedding ceremony that proves as thrilling in its conviction as it is chintzy in its conjuring. Coleman’s own improvisations (occasionally supplemented by a small rock combo and Marianne Faithful, who sings Coleman’s “Sadness”) often take the place of dialogue; the patients chant and sometimes shout, but they don’t really speak until some 40 minutes in. That leaves us to groove along with three layers of liberated artistry: the Living Theater company, led by White, exploring every possibility of this farmhouse exercise; the restless, open-for-suggestions camerawork and editing (Bernard Daillencourt served as cinematographer; Denise de Casabianca edited); and then Coleman and company, watching the film White made and laying their genius upon it. John Klacsmann, archivist at the Anthology Archives, repaired the rediscovered print; FSLC is screening it through DCP.
Directed by Thomas White
Opens March 10, Film Society of Lincoln Center