The photographer, filmmaker and pop culture icon’s extraordinary slice of high-camp melodrama from 1967.
Steven Arnold seems to have somewhat slipped through the cracks of underground film appreciation, possibly because his career was more based around photography than movie-making, but as his 1967 masterpiece The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique shows, he deserves to be up there with the best.
Arnold, who was a prototype hippy in San Francisco, would pioneer the idea of the midnight movie in 1968, and later became a muse of Salvador Dali, who in turn influenced Arnold to be as artistic in life as he was in work. Like Andy Warhol, he attracted creatives and eccentrics alike around him, leading Holly Woodlawn to say that his circle in Los Angeles was the Versaille to Warhol’s Factory New York.
The Liberation of Mannique Mechanique – the story of a shop window dummy that comes to life and experiences a form of self-discovery and sexual fluidity, long before that became a fashionable cliché – was inspired by the film One Touch of Venus, and has the same sense of high camp, pop culture and provocatively subversive sexuality that contemporaries like Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, George Kuchar and Warhol were exploring. Starring Sonia Magill and Ruth Weiss, the film lifts Alfred Newman’s score from Biblical epic The Robe, ensuring that the film has a majestic and ultra-kitsch sense of grandeur that belies the black and white 16mm film that it was shot on.
You can find more about Arnold here: https://stevenarnoldarchive.com/