Camera-Free Moviemaking

by Dish Staff

Storm de Hirsch’s 1965 experimental short Peyote Queen is NSFW:

Amber Frost looks at De Hirsch’s legacy as “the woman who made movies without a camera:

De Hirsch was actually a published poet before transitioning to film, and as such didn’t have ready access to a camera early on. Her first improvisational techniques were innovative manipulations of whatever film was just lying around at the time, making her as much a “sculptor” of celluloid as a filmmaker. The results of her experiments are now recognized as foundational films in avant-garde cinema. In an interview with [filmmaker Jonas Mekas], she spoke of her early work, like Peyote Queen, saying:

I wanted badly to make an animated short, but I had no camera available. I did have some old, unused film stock and several rolls of 16mm sound tape. So I used that—plus a variety of discarded surgical instruments and the sharp edge of a screwdriver — by cutting, etching, and painting directly on both film and [sound] tape.

Andrew Rosinski concluded that “it’s quite apparent that De Hirsch was somewhat inebriated while filming the sequence”:

Eventually the images flicker to technicolored hieroglyphs and what appears to be tiger (or some other big cat) claw scratch patterns.  This is one of the strongest moments of the film; this queues spacey, reverb-drowned basement music.  Soon the technicolor tiger claw scratches melt into dancing, human-like lines, and this is intercut with the progressive symbolism of the glyphs — breasts, fish, water, stars, the moon, female lips, seemingly a sailboat — De Hirsch represents these prehistoric glyphs by painting directly on the film stock.  Unique, psychedelic motifs such as these certify Peyote Queen as an avant-garde gem.