In the mid 1960s, Edward Owens (1949-2009) was an African-American teenager attending the Art Institute of Chicago when Gregory Markopoulos arrived to found the school’s film program. Owens, who was then studying painting and sculpture, had already been making 8mm movies for a few years; impressed by the maturity of his work, Markopoulos encouraged him to move to New York. Over the next four years, Owens created a cluster of films that display an increasing mastery of form, inspired by Markopoulos’s style but transformed into something purely his own.
Tomorrow’s Promise shows the particular influence of his mentor’s Twice a Man, telling the elliptical tale of a broken romance between a man and a woman through strobing edits, layered images, and dramatically lit nudes. The sophistication of the film is all the more impressive when one considers that Owens was only eighteen years old when he made it. But the true breakthrough in his work can be seen in his following two films, Remembrance: A Portrait Study and Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts. Both were both shot in Chicago, and bring his formidable repertoire of techniques to bear upon nonfictional subject matter: his own family and their circle. Remembrance pictures his mother, Mildered Owens, and her friends Irene Collins and Nettie Thomas. The women are shown drinking, smoking, and hanging out, their faces lit like 17th-century paintings, set to a soundtrack of pop songs. Originally titled Mildered Owens: Toward Fiction, the achingly silent Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts focuses more directly on his mother, setting her regal depiction amidst delicate pulses of editing and oblique superimpositions, evoking the gap between the homebound realities of life and desires for far-off luxury and refinement. In spite of praise by the likes of Parker Tyler and Jonas Mekas, Owens’s filmmaking career tragically ended when he was only twenty years old. (Ed Halter)
“Edward Owens may well be one of the few for whom ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ need have no significance whatsoever: true to his own native talents, with grim determination uncanny, whether the mind in the arts is for or against beauty or its opposite twin, chaos. So that with each subsequent struggle to complete a film he will leave us breathless with anticipation for his next work.” — Gregory Markopoulos
New digital preservations by The Film-Makers’ Cooperative.
Collaboration: Courtisane Festival
- Tomorrow’s Promise (Edward Owens, 1967, 16mm, colour, 45')
Edward Owens has achieved in Tomorrow’s Promise a quality so exceedingly high that one is forced to term certain moments of the film bad only because they are surrounded by such rich nuance. Tomorrow’s Promise deals with complex, intellectually exciting subject matter yet remains unobscure. The nudity of the film is handled in a fresh and climactic way. Tomorrow’s Promise contains almost separate films and Mr. Owens has successfully assembled them toward one goal: vacantness. Mr. Owens appears to be a classicist adhering to his own valid principles of excellence in the arts … there will be no limit to the amount of beauty and excoriation he may choose to show us.(Gregory Battcock)
- Remembrance - A Portrait Study (Edward Owens, 1967, 16mm, colour, 6')
“The music is by Marilyn Monroe singing Running Wild from Some Like It Hot, because it’s a film portrait of Nettie Thomas. She did floors in white women’s homes, like black women did to support their families in the olden days. My mother is sitting in a wicker chair with an ostrich feather boa, a grey worsted wool skirt, a silk belt. For her portrait, I used All Cried Out by Dusty Springfield... I was advised by Gregory Markopoulos not to play the music. Because Gregory didn’t think it was proper.” (Edward Owens)
- Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts (Edward Owens, 1970, 16mm, 12')
“A montage of still and moving images, mixing and alternating black people and white people, fantasy and reality, a presidential suite and a mother’s kitchen: a sensitive, poetic evocation in the manner of the filmmaker’s Remembrance. Brilliantly colored and nostalgic, it comprises a magical transformation of painterly collage and still photographic sensibility into filmic time and space.” (Charles Boultenhouse)