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Jimm Juback's DANIEL BOONE: A Bow and Arrow Made of Shticks

In almost all our film efforts we tried to work with a narrative of some type. And we weren’t uncomfortable with the idea of an audience.

by Mike Mosher

On April 24, 1971, the Peaceful Vietnam War Out Now rally was held on the Mall, Washington, D.C., with 200,000 demonstrators calling for an end to the Vietnam War. 150,000 participate in the largest demonstration so far on the West coast in San Francisco, and there were numerous rallies around the US in solidarity.

A rally was held in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, where the first US demonstration against the war held there six years before. Yet the date is remembered by teenaged Super 8mm film buffs there for another reason: DANIEL BOONE debuted in Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, directed by Jimm Juback, class of 1972. His forty-eight minute production, filmed in the summer and fall of 1970, was recalled by Juback nearly forty years later:

In teenage terms, this film took forever to make. I think the ideas and script writing began around February 1970, and I don’t think its Pioneer High Little Theatre debut screening happened until some Moratorium in the spring of 1971. And I think we had to rush to finish it up for show time. At the time, I think we were actually going for feature length, for whatever reason, the novelty and/or discipline of it (?), and it being collaboration.

That parenthetical question mark indicates his realization, in retrospect, that the movie’s length may have had the opposite effect from imposing discipline on the process.

Spending all the time and money shooting and processing, I didn’t feel comfortable throwing a lot of footage out.

Ann Arbor Pioneer High School was blessed with a Film class, taught by a succession of good teachers. The first was Ray Silverman, who established the course at the school, and the Pioneer Film society. Silverman left the school, disillusioned with its bureaucracy, and was succeeded by Allan Schreiber. Schreiber was the son of a long-serving high school principal, and increasingly involved in developing the alternative Pioneer II (later Earthworks) High School. Gwen Lagoe taught Film at Pioneer the year after Juback’s graduation.

The Pioneer Film Society, a nest of unconventional intellectuals, artsy-crafty types and cynics, flourished under Schreiber, and included Ken Burns and his younger brother Rick among its young college-bound creatives. Successful film, stage and television actor Zach Grenier was a member of the Film Society, and was in Juback’s graduating class, though in none of his films. Juback appeared in a bit part, with Grenier starring as Sir Toby Belch, in the Pioneer Theatre Guild production of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT in early 1972.

Pioneer Film Society member Joel Gurin, along with Harry Hammitt, involved Juback in the filming of their 1971 Gallup Park Sunday free rock concert Super 8mm documentary GALLUP NATION, which included footage of bands Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Earth Opera (featuring Steve McKay, later of the Stooges), and a brief recorded conversation with audience members David Peel and the Lower East Side, who was visiting Ann Arbor—“The Dope Capital of the Midwest” bragged t-shirts—from New York City. Documentary filmmaker Greta Schiller (BEFORE STONEWALL; PARIS WAS A WOMAN) attended Ann Arbor Huron High School, not far from the park where these concerts were held, in the 1973 graduating class.

George Manupelli, the founder of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, showed his own films in his DR. CHICAGO series, which displayed a broad, cornball stoner humor. Juback has expressed that Manupelli is not given the credit he is due as a groundbreaker, for making humorous narratives when no one else was. Pioneer teacher Allan Schrieber was one of Manupelli’s actors, playing the chauffer Schreiber in CRY, DR. CHICAGO. Yet humor was not absent from Pioneer High student productions. Peter Saulson made one short film of a girl sexily eating a chocolate rabbit, while Joel Gurin turned footage of the steam shovel demolishing the downtown Masonic Temple (a piece of fine Art Deco architecture that was soon missed) into THE MONSTER THAT ATE ANN ARBOR; Juback remembers this movie fondly.

Prior to DANIEL BOONE, Jimm Juback had made two previous films. The first was when he was in 9th grade, in St. Thomas School, filmed at a pro wrestling match at Cobo Hall with a school friend named Kresse. This creative experience prompted his parents to buy him a Kodak M14 Instamatic movie camera for Christmas, 1969. Was this camera named after the automatic rifle, or the freeway at the northwest corner of Ann Arbor passing by Wines Elementary School and the Water Treatment Plant’s sludge pond? Juback’s second movie shot was shot with his friend Gary (Stump) Malvin, using Dr. Malvin’s 8mm Bolex.

DANIEL BOONE is a silent comedy, usually shown in person by Jimm Juback with a narration by him. One would be tempted to compare it to a work twenty years later by a Pioneer High student a year ahead of Juback, Ken Burns’ multi-part television series THE CIVIL WAR. Both projects are ambitious, historical, personalized. Yet Juback’s teenage parody is a lampoon, while Burns’ deep, mature work shows consistent respect for his material. If Burns was the good student, Juback was the class clown.

Cinematic shenanigans by visual artists are not rare in history. The photographer Robert Frank used poets as improvisational actors in PULL MY DAISY and artist Red Grooms also made short films of skits with his friends. Occasionally shown on the University of Michigan campus Rene Clair’s ENTR’ACTE was enjoyed by Juback and his circle, with its juxtapositions of eccentric camera angles, shots in negative, flying (on wires) derby blowler hats and acting by artists Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia and the like. My own role in DANIEL BOONE took shape when my 9th grade classmate Tony LaRocca—credited as co-Director on the film, though essentially cinematographer—introduced me to Juback. When it was discovered that this kid in Tony’s World History class could letter and draw in a credible imitation of White Panther Party (WPP) Minister of Propaganda (that is, poster-maker and graphic designer) Gary Grimshaw, I was given the role of Art Director. Grimshaw’s ornate but sturdy penwork was seen in concert posters around Ann Arbor, and in underground papers the WPP sold for a quarter at free summer rock concerts and in head shops.

Between summer 1970 filming and “Daniel Boone”, another creative interest began to blossom. Juback’s acoustic guitar playing, his (and most Ann Arbor teenagers’) introduction to country music via the local band Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, and a desire to write songs for the movie led to the forming of the Bison Boys. The group included Juback, classical guitar student Gary Malvin on a fine Ramirez nylon-string guitar and Mike Mosher on piano, sometimes percussion or recorder flute. Early songs based on episodes in “Daniel Boone” included “That’s My Cereal, Squirrely” and “Just a Pinch Newt”. Though the next dozen songs all featured bison themes, otherwise each genre-saturated song, whether classic country (“The Bison Didn’t Always Have It So Good”, 1930s jazz, Latin, rockabilly (“Truck-Drivin’ Bison Killer”), or fictional TV sitcom theme song (”Married Men and the A-Bomb”) was in effect is its own little movie. And after “Boone”, Juback turned his attention to a three-year string of short films.

In 1970, Ann Arbor was also blessed with numerous cinemas, whether film organizations or movie theaters. Juback recalled:

Beyond Pioneer Film class instruction and even the 16mm Ann Arbor Film Festival, I'd say a big influence in the day was all the groups/clubs that actively screened in town. At one point there was Cinema Guild, Cinema II, the Ann Arbor Film Co-op (Gerry Fialka’s outfit) and, I think, an Ann Arbor Film Society. If you added to that all the active theatres on campus—The State, The Michigan, The Campus (on South University across from Miller’s Ice Cream) that showed a lot of foreign and edgy stuff, and the 5th Forum on FifthStreet—where I sat for a couple of days viewing the Soviet made WAR AND PEACE in 1967—and that theatre that I can't remember the name of, on William Street where Mark’s Coffee House had been, where I saw PINK FLAMINGOES, THE HARDER THEY COME, and BARBARELLA—there was a lot going on. There was an 8mm Film Festival for a few years that Cary Loren and I both had entered. These places may have rarely shown local or student-made productions, but they did show a lot of independent, underground and inspiring stuff.

Standard 8mm film had been used by Stan Brakhage and George Kuchar in the 1960s, and Derek Jarman (1942-1994) made about fifty Super 8 films, before and after he began making 35mm features in 1976. Art student (and later Venice, California-based film curator and OTHERZINE contributor) Gerry Fialka was a founder of the Ann Arbor 8mm Film Festival (my entry HOW WARS BEGAN, a project for Gwen Lagoe’s Pioneer High Film class, was shown in the 1973 Festival). This cinema-saturated environment may be responsible for gags in DANIEL BOONE that reference the very creation and exhibition of films. The first several minutes include a mixed-up countdown, Juback’s sister in a swim suit holding a sign FOCUS, introduction of the creators (including “Antonioni” LaRocca) and cast—who played “Jethro McBone” “Orville Carwash” “Squirrely Rodent” “Belching Bunny” etc. At this relaxed pace, one gets the feeling they are in for a long night at the movies. Near the middle of the movie are “Coming Attractions” in the form of a few seconds of a Blackhawk Films black and white Super 8mm reel of Hanna-Barbera cartoon Peter Potamus. And while hunting, Boone knocks over the tripod holding a movie camera that—originally offscreen—was filming him.

1970s Ann Arbor was a realm of kids’ rebellion. In her memoir of days as a teenage White Panther Red Star Sister, Leslie Brody wrote “...We persisted in the delusion the world had already been remade, and we were its newest stewards.” Yet rebellion among youth was not only against their parents, but beginning to be against their older ‘60s siblings too. Juback recalls that DANIEL BOONE:

…was made during the full flowering of the hippie movement and it was really not in vogue to make movies that were not highly personal, experimental, minimal, abstract, overtly arty, didn’t require nudity or didn’t use animation or some form of rhythm edit. In almost all our film efforts we tried to work with a narrative of some type. And we weren’t uncomfortable with the idea of an audience. In retrospect I don’t think the hippie movement produced a lot of great narrative cinema.

I don't think we had even seen a John Waters movie yet.

Juback’s own ethnicity fed into his aesthetic. In the 1980s, his maternal ancestry inspired his march-like song, sung in a grim, almost growling voice, “Our Mothers are Italian American”. In the 1970s this group was publicly re-establishing its identity, questioning and protesting mainstream media images of organized crime figures they found defaming. The background of his father was Slovak, and the Juback family moved to Ann Arbor from the Pennsylvania mining and steel country around Emmaus. The parents were JFK Democrats, and during the 1972 Presidential campaign, Jimm described his father as a “Johnny Carson liberal. ”

My dad was always an interesting commentator/observer. In regards to a lot of what was in the air in Ann Arbor in the 1960’s and some of the culture I was adapting, he would describe as “Bohemian”. I always took it straightforwardly to mean “beatnik” or more currently hippie or hip. But I’ve gotten to thinking: why did he prefer such an outdated term? Most of the beatniks were in fact his age. Tuli Kupferberg is older. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, I’ll bet they were all born around or before 1929. I thought Bohemian was perhaps a Pre-War term.

And there was the added old world confusion because of my dad being—like fellow Western Pennsylvanian, Andy Warhol—second generation Slovak. And now I imaginatively wonder, did he use Bohemian to mean higher, dominant culture like the Prague of Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Dvorak and the Czech New Wave Cinema vs. the more folk traditional rural hillbilly culture of Slovakia? Probably not, but curious nonetheless. Was he so un-hip that word “beatnik” hadn’t entered his vocabulary yet? That’s hard to imagine.

Jimm Juback was raised in a large Catholic household, and Jimm and his siblings (three sisters and two brothers) were enrolled in St. Thomas School, Ann Arbor’s oldest Catholic educational institution a few blocks north of the UM campus. Among the Bison Boys—perhaps to the befuddlement of Gary Malvin, who was Jewish—he made jokes about oleo sanctus (holy oil), the ornately-bedecked statue of the Infant of Prague (which I mistakenly remembered as “the Infant of Pride”, so wrote a song by that title) found on display in some churches, and even brought contemporary folk-Mass songbooks to practice sessions to propose that “Crown Him with Many Crowns” be included in the band’s set list. Yet unlike many Catholic families—including my own Polish/Irish mother’s—there appears to have been no antisemitism in the Juback household.

In reflecting on his style of humor, Juback notes:

Los Angeles Cinefamily film series curator Hadrian Belove made a reference regarding some mid-‘60's black and white New York movies made by Robert Downey Sr., to “Jew humor”. I think Woody TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, George Kuchar, Mel Brooks’ THE CRITIC, and silly Roger Corman LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and BUCKET OF BLOOD were the kind of thing that we were aiming for; ergo, “Jew humor”. The notion of the Jew humor was specifically and historically relevant most heavily and perhaps only in regards to Boone. Robert Downey Sr. is most famous for PUTNEY SWOPE. PUTNEY SWOPE came out in 1969 and my parents saw it upon release in the theater, and returned home saying something like “That was a crazy movie, Jimm, we think you would really like it”. So it was their perception even before the inception of DANIEL BOONE or before they got me a camera and I was regularly making movies, that there was a weird type of movie that I liked. Mel Brooks worked with Downey on that picture. By that time (1969), the only movie that Allen made (besides the previously mentioned TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN as Director was WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY and pretty innovative. And Mel Brooks’ only major was THE PRODUCERS. So a lot of these guys we think of as old big cheese directors were—to use the Yiddish—just pishers as filmmakers.

If all art in Michigan around 1970 was impacted, shaped or distorted by racial politics, especially the tension following the 1967 Detroit riots or rebellion, then how does one site Juback’s DANIEL BOONE? Perhaps the Indians, looking just like “us”, like the white kids, except for flashier clothes and adornment, are an idealized version of our black classmates. Nowhere does Boone fight the Indians (his only fight is a sporting event, in the ring with Pa-pa Bear); instead he fraternizes with them, verbosely addresses a testimonial dinner where they fall asleep, and finally retires with them to their Fogey Home. When asked if Indians serve as a metaphor for hippie kids, in the vein of “Just Like an Aborigine” by Ann Arbor band The Up, Juback responded

That works in places, but I think everyone (Indians and Whites) was speared and no one spared.

The sign on the front porch reads “Redskin Fogey House”. Hey, I guess we were insensitive, (like Manupelli?) but I'm sure this was shot a little before Native Americans or Indigenous Peoples or many/any of the other names were in common usage. But I think we even thought then though that it was overdone and an example of a historical insensitivity and that's what made it funny—like when Will Farrell litters in a movie set in the 1970s. Today it strikes me as every bit as funny to have the sign read “Native American Fogey House”. I think that sign is an example of the film revealing its age—its own historical time—1970. Like seeing something unsettling in a Three Stooges movie.

Michigan’s bleak winters are counterbalanced with effusive, green summers, and various myths of the wilderness well up in each suburban real wild child. Bob Seger sung of its carnality in his sentimental rock ballad “Night Moves”. Yet we were never bored, for a group of boys and girls could always say, “Let’s make a movie! ” The University’s research area Saginaw Forest, or parks along the Huron River, or undeveloped land behind Newport Elementary School, could all be Temporary Autonomous Zones-of-Permission for Jimm Juback and a ragtag troupe of smart faculty brats to assemble and act out before the Super 8mm lens.

Like the Odyssey, or even James Joyce’s Ulysses, DANIEL BOONE is episodic. Boone falls into quicksand. Boone uses a t-square to calculate an arrow shot. Boone stalks a bear, then Boone is chased by the bear. Boone is given a drug by a medicine man that causes him to hallucinate.

There’s some beauty, perhaps inadvertent, as when Boone fights for a box of cereal in a field of St. Anne’s Lace, or bathes in the Huron River as afternoon sunlight dapples the summer foliage and river's surface.

Both directing and acting, Jimm Juback the enthusiastic traffic manager (the profession he’s maintained in the advertising industry for nearly three decades) spread his infectious joy, self-satisfied delight in his own, and his friends’ jokes, helming the genre- and TV-besotted biopic in which he yearned to star.

There’s a lot of rude-kid humor, bodily fluids, smells and noises. As the camera pans right, Boone pees in the woods, and the Indians try to ignore him. Boone repulses the Indians when he brings them a skunk, and gives one prune juice, prompting him to run to relieve himself. A bird turd hits an Indian taking a siesta. Boone uses his navel as a musical instrument. Boone mistakes a voting booth for an outhouse and defecates.

To critics, mostly girls our own age, who called Juback’s movies juvenile:

Certainly we had the right to juvenile humor, as we were authentic juveniles.

DANIEL BOONE in particular was shot at such a transitional childhood-to-something-closer-to-adult time. It is in no way “underground” and since it precedes interest in Dada and before we developed our nearly deconstructed quirky narrative style. It’s like it shows an earlier version of ourselves, before we found our voices. Or before our voices changed, ha ha.

Mike Mosher is Professor, Art/Communication & Digital Media at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. He wrote on Jimm Juback’s short Super 8mm films inOTHERZINE #23. Mike’s own videos and films in Super-8mm and 16mm were shown at Artists’ Televsion Access gallery in 1996.

All screenshots © Jimm Juback 2012. Thanks to Jimm Juback for email communications, here liberally quoted, in January and February, 2010, before the author's presentation “Bison Boys & Famous Monsters of Michigan: 1970s Super-8mm Films of Jimm Juback & Cary Loren’ at the Ann Arbor District Library, March 19, 2010.

Copyright © Mike Mosher. All rights reserved.