Recorded Interview

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Seth Widman and Michel Antoine Seurat about: 
A rainy day with George Cup in Easthampton, 1978
 
 audiofile recorded on WQXR on march 17. 2011

Michel Antoine Seurat, born in Paris in 1940, is a French film editor and lived from 1970 to 1980 in New York City. Today Seurat lives in Paris. 

 

In 1977 Seurat made a short film about George Cup in his studio in Easthampton. In February 2011 he discovered that the George Cup Research Center is bringing back the life and work of George Cup & Steve Elliott to public mind. The last existing copy of this film is now in possession of the Research Center and displayed to the public for the first time.

S.W. Mr. Seurat, when we learned you did a short film about George Cup & Steve Elliott in 1978 in their studio in Easthampton, the Stuff of the Research Center was surprised and glad about this discovery. Nobody had any knowledge about this film.

M.S. Maybe because it was never displayed in a Gallery or Museum. In fact I didnít wanted anyone to see this little film after what had happened during the recording in 1978 and by the consequences I had to follow by the orders of George Cup. So I simply forgot about it and remembered it, when I saw one of the animation films made by George & Steve Ė you can say it was Steve who did the work on that films Ė at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris in January this year. It was like an old door opens slowly to the past with a strange noise. You must know I left the States in 1980 and returned to Paris. And all my thoughts about being a filmmaker were left behind too. So I didnít follow the career of George Cup in the years after and I was surprised about what I learned when I started to research after seeing that animation film The connection between form and sound # 15 that is also made in 1978, if I am right. And itís a beautiful peace. I remember that in 1978 and the year before, when we met the first time, George  and Steve had been very busy, a lot of exhibitions and It was hard to catch them. Thatís one of the reasons why it took me nearly one year to get this meeting with him in Easthampton.

S.W. The private material of the life of George Cup & Steve Elliott has nearly vanished. For the Research Center the discovery of your film is very interesting and valuable. Also the form of the film is quite unique. There is no spoken comment, no original sound, except in the beginning on the drive to Long Island. Is that why you choose do start the film with three text frames Ė the preface by the director?

M.S. Yes, in the preface I explained why the film looks like it looks and the difficulties I had with George during the filming. He was very unpleasant in the beginning and at the end. In the middle he was quite different, you can see that when plays around with his own eight millimetre camera. So it all started strange. When we arrived he didnít wanted to let us in, cause he had forgotten our meeting. He just came out, said hello, Steve is not present and that he is working, so we had to wait or come back another day. It was really strange. But what could we do? So we went in the park behind the studio. A beautiful park with old trees and we started to make some shots. But it started to rain, slowly but than it turned into a little storm, and George still didnít wanted to let us in. So we took cover under an old tree and continued recording. It was somehow very beautiful too, but I was close to stop this whole undertaking. And then after the weather cleared up George was in a better mood. And he explained us the rules for his studio. No talking and all that stuff and I thought this isnít going to work, but my friend and assistant Pierre Moulin convinced me to stay. So we agreed.

You mentioned the form of the film and I want to say something about that. The music is from Bill Evans. Itís the LP From Left to Right from 1969. George gave it to me with the comment to use this only for the background sound. I wasnít allowed by his statement to use the original sound, which I hardly agreed to, but I gave in. In that time I didnít want to have any trouble with him, maybe cause of his temper, that was hardly to control. So I choose to give it a try and it fits in perfectly I think, today. He wasnít wrong in saying that the film should speak for itself. And if you follow the line of the film and what happened than the music really make sense. You can call it a happy accident.    

 

Filmstills from A rainy day with George Cup in Easthampton, 1978 by Michel Antoine Seurat 

 

S.W.  You marked out the temper of George Cup. During the film we can see how his mood changes. How was the day under that aspect?

M.S. Well it was unforeseeable how he would react on any issue. For example the moment when he played with his eight millimetre camera. It was after he made a pause and had coffee, that he suddenly took his camera and started to record us. I have never seen the results of that, maybe there wasnít even a film in the camera and he was making fun of us. Anyway, he really was joking around, following Pierre with his camera when suddenly he stopped it and changed in what I would say, a professional behaviour. Like he had realised that this is not an adequate thing to do with us Ė in his way of thinking.

S.W. It is very sad that this beautiful shots at the studio and in the park of Easthampton are in such sad condition. What happened to the original material? This is the last existing copy you said.

M.S. I am very sorry for that too. I really cant recall where I put the original material. I guess it stayed in New York when I left for Paris in 1980. Itís a miracle to me that I could found this copy that we can see now. Its low quality but as you said, itís the only existing copy that remains. To be honest, I hadnít thought of all this since the 1980īs, and I still wouldnít if I hadnít seen the animation film at the CGP.

S.W. You said you were surprised of what you learned about George Cup and Steve Elliott. So you had no idea of what had happened in 1986 when George was arrested for murder and in 2009 when George died?

M.S. No I had no idea. It really took me by surprise. Well we talked about his temper, so my first impression, when I learned that he was imprisoned for murdering Steve, I thought by myself that it would be possible. So itís a strange mixture of emotions I had, reading about what happened. Especially the fact that he was innocent and was released from prison in 2009 as a free man. That he was quiet about his innocence all the years is a miracle to me. I have no explanation. He (George) wasnít a bad person. He was just hard to take.  

  

Filmstills from A rainy day with George Cup in Easthampton, 1978 by Michel Antoine Seurat 

  

S.W. The object George is working on in your film is part of the Lightsquare series, it looks like the Lightsquare # 20 from 1970. Did George said anything about this peace?

M.S. (laughs) I thought the same when I saw what he was working on. And I asked him about it, but that was the only question I did asked him. He said that the Collector had brought it to him for restoration, and maybe that was also a reason for his bad mood, cause he was really pissed about it Ė sorry but there is no other word for a better description. He had to remove the whole front to put new neon lights in it, and I think he did the whole thing new. Thatís what it looked like to me. And he was a fast worker, really fast. But he wasnít satisfied with the result, maybe the bulbs or something else, the quality of the light was wrong, he showed us the door shortly after he had finished the work. That was the last time I saw him. We took our equipment and drove back to New York.  

S.W. In the end of the film there is a short passage where you are visible in front of the camera, shaking your head. Was this experience with George Cup one of the reasons for you to quit working as a film maker?

M.S. No. In the 1970īs I tried to make my own films and there are some interesting results, but in the end I realised that my work as a film editor was more rewarding for me. There is always a point in life where you have to make difficult decisions, that was a decision I  had to make in 1980 when I retuned to France. And I donít regret it.

S.W. Thank you for your time and this private look on the life of George Cup.

 

 
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