By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It occurs to me that the Infratab compound is Kaye's version of Xanadu, the San Simeon-like fortress of the newspaper tycoon in Citizen Kane. What would be Kaye's Rosebud — the carved-wood Chinese horse suspended from the ceiling above me? Or would it be In Pursuit of Treasure, the long-abandoned movie he's recently opened up about to me? Among all of my hosts' possessions in the big room, an Infratab visitor might stop on an old black-and-white photograph of a moody-looking young poet with untamed, curling locks — Stanton Kaye. Looking at the handsome 20-something in the picture, it's not difficult to imagine why so many women were attracted to him and how men could be seduced by his artistic vision.
"He was — oh, god, breathtaking!" says the film critic David Ehrenstein, remembering the first time he met Kaye, at Andy Warhol's Silver Factory in 1965. "I have no idea what he was doing there. Stanton was a very forthright and engaged personality. He had things to say and wanted to say them immediately."
Tom Luddy, a longtime executive at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studios and a co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, was immediately impressed by Kaye when the two met while Luddy was attending UC Berkeley.
"We all looked at him, in those days," Luddy says, "not as simply 'avant-garde' but as a huge talent who had the drive to do things, and was charismatic talking about literature and poetry and art. We thought he'd be the next Orson Welles — Francis Ford Coppola revered him."
Between the time he dropped out of high school in the early 1960s and his move to New York in 1965, Kaye had knocked around Los Angeles City College, UCLA and USC, sampling a palette of film and philosophy classes. In 1964 he made the first of two films, Georg, that would eventually catch the eye of the fledgling AFI. The 72-minute black-and-white feature, shot in Topanga Canyon, is the fragmented story of a sensitive German pacifist who comes to Los Angeles and lives in a mountain bunker — only to discover an Army missile launch pad is being constructed in the midst of his Thoreau-like paradise.
While Georg did not belong to the kind of non-narrative, abstract cinema being made by Stan Brakhage and Bruce Connor, it caused a splash in experimental-film circles and became a staple at avant-garde movie festivals. In 1965 the 22-year-old Kaye was living in New York and painting theater sets. He soon began his next film, Brandy in the Wilderness, a dolorous autobiographical account of making a movie with Brandon French, a 21-year-old woman and fellow Angeleno who was also living in Manhattan when they met.
"Stanton was a tzadik," says French, referring to the Hebrew term for a righteous person. "He was an evangelical but quixotic figure. He wandered around every place he went. His bizarre behavior has drawn so many people to him. Stanton once had this idea to walk through upscale places like Fifth Avenue and Sutton Place in a giant snail suit. 'I will sell three escargots in a cup,' he said, 'but I will pronounce it "ess-car-GOAT" so that people can feel superior to me.'"
Tzadik or not, Kaye at first turned off French with his antics.
"I've never been in anyone's home where he did not walk right into the kitchen and open the refrigerator," recalls French, who went on to write about feminist film (On the Verge of Revolt) and became a Los Angeles psychoanalyst. "I hated him so much I couldn't stop talking about him. I hated him until the moment I realized I loved him."
Kaye moved in with French and, she claims, initiated a combative love affair that was battered by his many side dalliances, most of which he didn't bother concealing from her. In the end it was the promise of a movie that bound them.
"We decided the only way we could justify living together," French says, "was to make a film. I had an advertising job and he didn't work. I probably financed two-thirds of the film and probably half of Max's Kansas City donated the rest."
Brandy, a playfully neurotic film full of inventive visual quirks and narrative ironies (Kaye's and French's alter egos are played by them), unwinds episodically and shows, mostly from Kaye's perspective but also from his co-writer French's, the vertiginous ups and downs of the couple's real-life, cross-country relationship, which began as a creative partnership and ended four years later with a completed film and a baby daughter. In perhaps the film's most prophetic line, Kaye says through his character, Simon Weiss, "When I was 19, I made a very successful film, but all that success just fucked me up. I got scared, I was afraid I couldn't do it again."
"Brandy comes out of the diary tradition," says director Paul Schrader, who wrote an admiring appraisal of the film in 1971 and remains a devoted fan. (He included Brandy in 2006's L'Etrange Festival in Paris.) "The form had been floating around in the underground for years, and its best-known example is Jim McBride's David Holzman's Diary. Stanton used the diary conceit and turned it into a terrific story."