Pablo who? You've seen his work. You've seen people ripping off his work. He's the artist / mastermind behind the Dr. Stranglove title sequence…you know that one, right? The one that visually summarizes the Cold War with a sexually suggestive mid-air refueling; an explicit casual encounter between two planes, if you will. Well, that's not Ferro's only foray into object fetishism…more on that one in a bit.
Ferro had some of the most interesting jobs in cinema, and is known among the hip and the technical for his decades of title sequences, his trailers and his commercial work in the 1960s. He's the artist that Robert Evans banned from his lots for being weird and the one that Jonathan Demme, Hal Ashby, and Stanley Kubrick all agreed is a genius. He is a master of quick-cut editing and very likely invented multiple-screen images for film and television.
Frankly, if you look at some of the films he had any part in — Bullitt, Citizens Band, Beetlejuice, To Live and Die in L.A. , Stop Making Sense, A Clockwork Orange, Zardoz, Harold and Maude, Bound For Glory, Being There, To Die For and Good Will Hunting — the list probably resembles your hipper-than-you friend's Netflix, err, Qwikster (what they're calling that DVD service now) queue.
Last night Cinefamily, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Film Forum, invited Ferro to chat and show some of the rarer reels from his own personal collection, including an extremely rare cut of his own short The Inflatable Doll.
Ferro, soft-spoken and in trademark red scarf, regaled a sold-out crowd with tales about working with film legends, the intricacies of his trademark techniques, and the pre-computer vagaries of buying fonts.
After watching a quick succession of Ferro's most-lauded trailers, for Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz, he answered the ages-old riddle, “How do you market a film like Zardoz?” “You market it,” he said. In addition to the famous title sequence, he also assembled Dr. Strangelove's trailer, one that Stanley Kubrick felt was better than the film itself. “It was only my interpretation of the movie,” he says, which is something he strives to do in all of his trailers.
Watching a string of Ferro's commercial work leaves us all wondering what people were thinking 40 years ago — in a good way. All of them had an air of whimsical psychedelia that would only resonate with medical marijuana patients. Imagine Don Hertzfeldt's “Rejected” cartoon, but actually showing on prime time television hawking the things you actually buy.
Ferro's ad for County Fair Bread might as well have been an inspiration to Hertzfeldt, with it's black line drawings on a white background and its batshit crazy sensibilities — a rapidly transmutating crazy hat? “How did those get made?” Ferro was asked. “They just told me what they wanted to sell and I made the ads,” he explained. “They liked it,” he continued, “and they kept asking for more.”
Ferro's Beechnut Gum multi-screen advertisement was the first of its kind — he employed simultaneous moving images as a composite in the same frame. He spoke about perfecting the technique for the polo scene in The Thomas Crown Affair, where he masterfully built the sequence using up to 66 simultaneous images per frame of film — creating a dizzying kaleidoscope effect.
Not everyone was enamored with his work. While working with Ashby, Ferro cut a trailer for Harold and Maude that included deleted scenes (another Ferro trademark).
“[Robert] Evans hated this one scene in the film,” Ferro said, “where Harold leans over and kisses Maude, bringing her down on the bed. Evans hated it, so I figured I'd use it in the trailer. I remember watching the trailer with Evans in the room…and I hear him choking…kind of like the priest in the movie. Jeeze, didn't he read the script? It's a love story!” After that, Evans threw him off the set. He was subsequently banned “for being weird” from all of Evans' sets.
The crowd at Cinefamily thinned-out before the best part of the evening — Ferro's own short The Inflatable Doll. Rarely seen anywhere outside of his own home now, the 1969 short depicts B-movie star Don Calfa and his insane interactions with…you guessed it…an inflatable plastic doll.
In blurbs for the film Ringo Starr wrote “Yesss!” and singer Harry Nilsson wrote “I agree with Ringo.” After the film ended, Ferro explained, “That was edgy stuff back then…now, that's pretty common.” We're not so sure…Calfa's use of the term “Gook c*nt” in the short still made some folks squeamish. Either way, it still feels delightfully bizarre. We agree with Ringo, too.
How did Ferro get his start? He drew a comic as a teen. The comic depicted a bowling-obsessed husband squaring off with his jilted, knife-wielding wife…resulting in his wife discovering the joys of bowling…with her husband's head and severed limbs. Rad.