The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is paying a visit to the 1950s / early 1960s Beat Generation era with a program on March 30 and 31 called “Movies and The Beats.” The March 30 program includes two shorts, The Beat, and The Beat From Within: Reflections of a Beatnik, both filmed in Venice. The evening’s feature will be the 1961 film Night Tide, which was shot in Santa Monica and Venice Beach and makes use of the Santa Monica Pier Carousel as a location.
In Night Tide, Dennis Hopper plays a sailor who encounters a beautiful young woman and falls under her spell. She plays a mermaid in the Pier’s carnival show – and the sailor comes to believe that she may be the real thing – a mythical sea nymph who lures men to their deaths.
Shot in black and white, Night Tide has an otherworldly quality in which the beach area seems perpetually enrobed in fog and the old buildings and landmarks of Venice (among them the canals and the former Venice Police Station, now SPARC) suggest a ghost town. The Beat scene flourishing at that time is represented by Hopper’s character visiting a basement coffeehouse, complete with live jazz, that appears to be in Santa Monica but was actually filmed, according to Night Tide’s director Curtis Harrington, at a coffeehouse on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.
Veteran director Harrington – whose credits include numerous TV shows and movies such as the cult horror favorites Who Slew Auntie Roo and What’s The Matter With Helen? – spent time with alternative filmmakers like Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger. At a screening of some of his experimental films, Harrington met Dennis Hopper, who agreed to appear in Night Tide, based on an unpublished short story by Harrington.
For the locations, Harrington says, “I had a production manager who did all the location scouting for me. I would just say I’d like to shoot there and he’d make a deal with whoever owned the property.”
“The Carousel was used as the setting for that film with Paul Newman [The Sting] subsequently. But as far as I know mine was the first film to use it. I just thought it was a very colorful setting and I integrated it with my story line.”
Prior to the screening of Night Tide, Dominic Priore and Brian Chidester, authors of the book Beatsville, will do a presentation with a slide show based on their book, showing the “beat” coffeehouses of the era, including some based in Santa Monica and Venice.
Priore points out that Venice Beach was where the Beat coffeehouse scene really started, as a natural part of the art scene and Bohemian flavor of the area. “That spread out to Hollywood where you had the Unicorn on the Sunset Strip and in Hollywood, Cosmo’s Alley. It stretched to Malibu where you had Positano’s and down to Laguna Beach where it was Café Frankenstein.”
Priore also observes that Beat artists such as John Altoon and Burt Shonberg contributed to the décor of the coffeehouses, both interior and exterior, and were also hired to paint sets and create original artwork for some of the otherwise tacky exploitation films about the Beats. As a consequence, says Priore, “There’s a lot of eye candy in those films that makes up for the lack of quality.”
An example of that exploitation type of Beat film, The Beat Generation, will screen on the series’ concluding night March 31, along with Shirley Clark’s The Connection.