Thursday, December 22, 2011
Spotlight on Roberta Findlay
Roberta Findlay claims that her life has consisted of a series of random acts – and that she moved whichever way the wind happened to blow, without a specific direction in mind. It would be a challenge to attempt to contradict the dogged and refreshingly blunt Findlay, who happens to be the first female cinematographer in America – and maneuvered a 20 lb, 35 millimeter camera on her small frame to boot. Around age four, Roberta began to play classical piano which she continued to do over the next twelve years. Her father and mother had presumed their believed prodigy would surely gain fame and fortune as a world class concert pianist, but at age sixteen while attending New York City College in the mid-late 1960s, Roberta met her first husband, Michael Findlay, an avid movie buff and budding filmmaker. He was ten years her senior. After becoming Michael’s arranger and accompanist for his silent film screenings, the two soon took their act to local coffee houses in the East Village. Michael began directing cult sexploitation films that centered around rape, torture and bondage, and often featured Roberta in small acting roles. When Roberta left Michael in the mid-seventies for another man, she was considered a virtuoso camera operator with a flair for lighting technique, and accepted the capital offered to produce, direct and shoot her own films. Unflinchingly, Findlay speaks her mind with a sparkle in her eyes.
"Unfortunately, I was about fifteen when I finished high school, so at fifteen I entered The City College of New York, which, at that time, was a very good school -- not its Music Department, but it was considered a fine Engineering school. So I went to College and graduated from City at age nineteen – nineteen and a half."
"I met my husband [Michael Findlay] when I was at school, but I was too young to get married at sixteen, and then finally, we were married when I was eighteen. I was unconscious. I didn’t think. I’m not very emotionally grounded. I just do what comes along and I was sort of in love for a few weeks and he wanted to get married. His parents insisted and my parents thought the world had ended – that marriage would end my career. My career had ended long before that. So we got married and I was a teenage bride."
"I thought he was the only one who was that demented. He made about a dozen titles of that nature, but he was generally the director/cameraman. Somehow, through osmosis I learned how to shoot. I don’t know. He didn’t teach me and I wasn’t particularly interested, but when I started making really cheap movies in New York for distributors that were hardcore – actually they were soft core in the beginning – somehow I learned how to shoot and edit. I don’t know how. It was for money. I had no skills. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I should have gone to a normal type of job or something but I never did."
"As I said, he made a series of demented – crazy – they’re psychotic movies. I mean, they should have been locked up. He took out his frustrations or whatever in the films. He was a sweet gentle soul. I grew to hate him but it had nothing to do with the work. We were together for about seven years, I guess."
"I had no moral compunctions about any of this stuff, but I just found the whole thing disgusting – shooting sex scenes! I probably shot fifty hardcore films and we owned twenty six of them, but I was always disgusted by the sex scenes. So I’d say, ‘Okay, everybody screw.’ And that would be it. I directed the scenes through the camera. I wandered around holding a thirty-five millimeter camera. New York City Woman (1980) was my idea. It’s a free film. We’d shot Holmes probably in five pictures so we had a fair amount of outtakes, so I took all the outtakes -- there are a thousand cuts in that film, which is a lot. And we shot Holmes reading his memoirs in New York City Woman. Anyone but My Husband Tony Perez had been in which got busted, and I took all of the outtakes and put them in [New York City Woman]."
"Eric Edwards got incensed because we had a habit of saving money to shoot two or three films at the same time with different scripts, of course, but the location and the actors were there. So we’d use those actors in the same location for different films. Anyone but My Husband was busted all over the country."