The Genesis Children (film)

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The Genesis Children (film)
The genesis children.jpg
Year Released: 1972
MPAA Rating (USA): X
Director: Anthony Aikman
Starring: Vincent Child
Greg Hill
Peter Glawson

David Johnson
Jack Good
Butch Burr
Max Adams
Bubba Collins
Mike Good


The Genesis Children (1972), a film directed by Anthony Aikman and produced by Billy Byars, Jr. of Lyric International, features eight of the Lyric boys. The film takes them on a surreal non-linear journey from an international school in Rome to a beach where they abandon the trappings of civilization, romping nude on the sand. The film marked the entry of Lyric into genuine Hollywood production, as it was a full-length 35mm movie, received an MPAA rating (of X due to the nudity), opened in a legitimate movie theater and played there for a month, and was reviewed in a major newspaper. However, mail-order vendors who later made it available on VHS and DVD suffered police and postal repression and attempts to entrap their customers.

Legitimate Movie with all the trappings

The plot of the film is apparently very much in tune with the 70s mentality, told in a non-linear fashion, with flashbacks and circularity. A group of boys in a boarding school in Rome answer an ad to "perform in a play before God"; a priest takes them to a beach (the Palinuro natural arch and its beach below Salerno)[1] and abandons them with a crate of food; they run about naked a lot; they crash then burn a Volkswagen minibus in a fit of fury; five dress and go home while three remain naked and stay. The Los Angeles Times review by Kevin Thomas said, "There's enough earnestness to 'The Genesis Children' (at the Encore) to allow for the possibility that its makers had something more in mind than an adolescent male nudie. But that is what it becomes by default, so murky is their philosophizing and vague are ..." [2] Filmed in 1970, copyright was registered (for a 91-minute version) on 26 October 1971.[3].

The movie opened on Friday, August 2, 1972 at the Encore Theater at Melrose-Van Ness in Hollywood, where it continued until September 10.[4] The Encore was "repertory house for old 30s-60s movies and foreign films".[5] In 1972, the Metropolitan Community Church, founded to minister to homosexuals, was holding Sunday services at the Encore.[6] A long interview with Mr. Byars by Violet Helgy Swisher appeared in the September, 1972 issue of After Dark magazine.[7] The magazine's public was closeted homosexuals.[8] An ad in alternate newspaper Los Angeles Free Press announces, "If beauty offends you, do not, do not, see this film - for here are naked young boys on an Italian beach, searching for the real meaning of life! Rated X. Now playing!"[9]

Controversy

The film received an X rating from the MPAA. "The Genesis Children is really a very benign film. It was only the cumulative amount of nudity and the closeup shots of the pelvic area that brought about the X decision. Even the violence of the scene in which the boys attack the bus is well within the R category," said Dr. Aaron Stern, director of MPAA's code and rating administration.[7] In the same article, where the subheadline “Director (sic) Billy Byars, Jr., rankles over the rating of his film”, Byars was quoted as saying, "You know, this is the most incredible thing [...] It's just unbelievable to me that the MPAA would comment to me that this film is dangerous, that it deserves an X. I think the MPAA has been the sole critic of my use of the young boys."[7] The Los Angeles Times's one-sentence summary of the film called it a "harmless allegory featuring naked adolescent romping on an Italian beach."[10]

However, The Genesis Children has turned up in both the Insider Video Club and Azov Films Prosecutions.

Crew of inexperienced expatriates

Sound man John Dulaney describes how he came to work on The Genesis Children,

"In Jan. 1970 my wife and son and I were traveling around Europe and in Rome I saw an ad in THE DAILY AMERICAN (now defunct newspaper in Rome) of a Hollywood film company looking for a sound man for a series of films they were going to do. I met Billy Byars, Jr. and he hired me. We travelled across Europe for 9 months making various films including THE GENESIS CHILDREN. I [...] had a wide variety of duties. [...] I was the sound man for all productions in Europe and also became chief purchasing agent [...] I haven't seen any of them since 1970."[11]

The Rome Daily American was CIA financed according to Carl Bernstein.[12] Libraries in Rome, Florence and Milan have copies for the year the ad would have run. [13]

Mr. Dulaney has had a variety of acting roles since then, and has been a director and producer and now has his own video production company, but has no other credit as a movie sound man, before or since.[14]

A posting based on an interview with director Anthony Aikman describes how he joined the project:

British citizen Anthony Aikman, who had also migrated to Italy, had heard from a friend who worked at the American Embassy that a young American film crew was in Italy and that the producer was looking for a writer/director to join the crew. Upon meeting Billy Byars, Aikman was told that the script needed work and that they also needed help directing the film. Aikman soon agreed to join the crew and together Byars and Aikman completed the script. [15]

Aikman has no other film directing credits, though he wrote a number of books, some available on his site.[16] The film includes one credited adult actor, Vincent Child, who plays multiple roles, which may reflect artistic vision as well as financial economy. His too has no other credits outside The Genesis Children.[17] Somewhat more experienced was Bill Dewar, brought from Los Angeles by Byars, credited as cinematographer, and on IMDB as production supervisor. “Bill Dewar was the cameraman and really the only person who had professional experience working on a film. He was described as a hard working man and talented filmographer.” [15] The film’s crew includes two who went on to long careers in Hollywood, film editor Jeremy Hoenack (see below) who later won an Emmy, and composer Jerry Styner, who had already in 1968 been nominated for a Golden Globe, and who has 75 IMDB credits over a 50-year career.[18] Hoenack however entered the project after filming was completed, and nothing indicates Styner participated in the European caravan of the Lyric troupe. Byars appears in the uncredited role of "Military Man with Bicycle" according to IMDB.[19]

With the professional crew assembled from English-speakers who happened to be at loose ends in Italy, it was time for locations and cast.

After finding a remote coastal location in Salerno, Italy and a home to rent, the Lyric Boys, many of whom by this time were under the legal foster care custody of Billy Byars Jr. , were brought over to Italy from the U.S.A. by Byars's longtime companion and photographer William Johnson. Among the boys was the model and soon to be actor known as "Peter Glawson" and his younger brother known as "Max" and the long time Lyric model known as "Billy Marshall" appearing as "Jack Good".
Aikmans' first and lasting impression of the boys were that they were ill mannered, illiterate and unintelligent. He remembers it was very difficult to get them to learn even the simplest of lines.[15]

The Palinuro natural arch and its beach are striking locations, but scarcely discovered by Lyric, as the locations had previously appeared in Jason and the Argonauts (1963)[20] The movie does have other locations besides the beach. IMDB and BFI lists credits for Rome and Palinuro production managers, and a field manager credit is given to Bill Johnson, presumably William Johnson, although Johnson is missing from the IMDB listing. All three have no other film credits on BFI or IMDB.[21] The list of those indicted in the 1973 Lyric scandal includes "William Johnson, 55, a Houston photographer."[22]

Editing confusion

The Genesis Children was edited by at least two teams, and exists or existed in three run times: 91 minutes, 85 in the re-edit, and 84 on DVD.

IMDB says that the film was edited by Jeremy Hoenack and runs 85 minutes, while director Anthony Aikman said he edited the film along with cameraman Bill Dewar. The film's 1971 copyright registration gives the film's run time as 91 minutes, and includes "Credits: Producer, Billy Byars; director, Anthony Aikman; writers, Anthony Aikman & Billy Byars; music, Jerry Styner; photographer & editor, Bill Dewar. © Lyric Films International & Billy Byars".[3] A Usenet post based on an interview with Aikman provides picaresque details:

Aikman and Dewar were sent back to Los Angeles to work on the editing of TGC while Byars, Johnson and the boys reportedly headed to Russia to scout locations for a future film. […] Aikman and Dewar arrived back in Los Angeles where Aikman was sent to stay at the house near Mulholland Drive. Aikman and Dewar worked on editing the film at the Lyric Studios located at The Crossroads of the World business complex in Hollywood. Aikman describes the studio as being in a building designed to look like Mothers Hubbard's shoe. Aikman says that as soon as the editing work had begun, it was discovered that Byars either hadn’t paid the rent for the editing space, or had made the landlord angry, as soon he and Dewar were locked out of the space and the air conditioner was removed.

The two ended up crawling through a "jimmied" window and working in sweltering heat.
[...]
After a few weeks of rest Byars rented a motor home and he and some of the boys reportedly left for Alaska while Dewar and Aikman remained behind to finish the film. At some point, Aikman reports that someone, possibly Jeremy Hoenack, appeared at the Lyric studios saying he was told to take over the editing. Dewar and Aikman were not about to turn over the project at this point and reportedly Dewar became so angry he had a bloody fistfight with the interloper. Dewar and Aikman prevailed but then a "lawyer type" who occupied an office next to their studios attempted to evict them from the premises. Despite all of this Dewar and Aikman finished the film and Aikman returned to Italy never to see Byars again.

Upon the release of the film Aikman read the reviews and was shocked. He couldn't understand why there was so much criticism about the film being so disjointed and not making any sense. Many years later he was able to obtain a copy of the film and discovered that the film had been re-edited. Jeremy Hoenack was listed as the editor and Aikman believes that this person basically ruined the film under the direction of Byars who was really only interested in displaying the naked boys. Aikman believes the Dewar/Aikman version must still exist somewhere today.[15]

Both IMDB and BFI give a run time of 85 minutes for the film, and give editing credit to Jeremy Hoenack. Hoenack was credited as Assistant Editor in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which premiered in early 1971 to unprecedented financial success for an independent film. That film includes a 3½ minute simulated sex scene by a 13-year-old boy and was initially rated "X", and also has confusing, non-linear editing. After editing four films, Hoenack specialized in sound, and area where IMDB shows 253 sound credits for him and an Emmy in 1975.[23].

Byars spoke of The Genesis Children as “this highly personal creation – my creation”, which would support Aikman’s contention that his was the guiding hand. [7] Mr. Hoenack may have been chosen to bring Sweet Sweetback's golden touch to Genesis Children, or his subsequent long career may indicate an ability to work well with others, following the dictates of those holding the purse strings.

In December 1972, Hoenack was editing one of Lyric's next, never-released films, "a reel of motorcycle adventures".

Mr. Hoenack, elected to a local school board in Arizona, suffered a failed attempt to recall him in 2022. The recall petition focused on his work on "Sweet Sweetback" and "The Genesis Children". Mr. Hoenack responded,

"Mr. Hoenack has an award winning film career with over 240 film credits with every major studio. He has never worked on a pornographic film or for a company that was producing pornography. Melvin Van Peebles “Sweet Sweet back” was designated by the Library of Congress for preservation as a Culturally Significant Film. “Genesis Children” was described as “benign” by the president of the Motion Picture Rating Association. Hoenack did limited film editing on both films when he was 21 years old, over 50 years ago."[24]

Personal Vision

Genesisad1.png

Billy Byars, Jr., was incensed with the X rating, but disillusioned by lack of public understanding and acceptance. While he complains of yes-men, he assume responsibility for the movie, and doesn’t blame anyone else:

"I discovered that one of the most valuable lessons any newcomer to film making can learn is this: the day of he yes-man is still with us. The people associated with the industry; the people working with producers, patting them on the back and saying, "What a work of art!" are not the same people who buy tickets, sit in the general audience; and make their own independent judgments.

"The making of a film becomes so personal, yet the mission of that film must be very public," he observed. "It's the man in the street who has final authority over whether this highly personal creation—my creation, in this instance—shall survive in the life-giving climate of public acceptance or die in the killing climate of public rejection." [7]

The After Dark interview would have seen print only a few days after the Los Angeles Times’ one-line summary that was perhaps the unkindest of all, dismissing the film as “harmless.”

VHS and DVD

The film was available on VHS and later DVD-R from mail-order vendor Insider Video Club in Los Angeles.[25] The DVD sold by Ivb affirms a run time of 84 minutes.

A version of the film enhanced with modern software to 1280 x 720 resolution was uploaded to the Internet in April, 2022, a considerable improvement from the standard VHS resolution of 640 x 480.

References

  1. Palinuro Beach on Google Maps
  2. Thomas, Kevin. "'The Genesis Children' a Gambol on the Beach". Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1972, p. B5
  3. 3.0 3.1 LOC copyright file card
  4. L.A. Times search at newspapers.com
  5. Encore on Cinema Treasures
  6. MCC held services at the Encore.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Swisher, Viola Hegyi. "Generating The Genesis Children". After Dark, September 1972, p. 18.
  8. Rizzo, Frank, "The Fabulous ’70s Decade of After Dark Magazine", Connecticut Voice, March 15, 2021
  9. Advertisement. "The Genesis Children" Los Angeles Free Press, Volume 9, issue 422, August 18-28, 1972 P.10
  10. L.A. Times search at newspapers.com
  11. YouTube comments on travel slides
  12. "The CIA and the media" "... the Rome Daily American, forty percent of which was owned by the CIA until the 1970s. "
  13. Rome Daily American in the central Italian card catalog.
  14. Delaney on British Film Institute site.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Usenet Post by Edward Bear on Genesis Children.
  16. Aikman books
  17. Vincent Child on BFI
  18. Jerry Styner on IMDB
  19. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0136217/characters/nm0125695
  20. Natural Arches at the Movies
  21. BFI listing
  22. Farr, William. "14 Men Indicted in Sex Movies Featuring Boys Ages 6 to 17". Los Angeles Times 27 Oct 1973, p. B1, B8
  23. Jeremy Hoenack on IMDB
  24. Ballotpedia.org reporting on failed recall petition.
  25. The GS1 database informs the barcode 736144000001 on the DVD cover is assigned to Ivb, Inc. one of Insider Video Club's names. The barcode on the VHS cover also starts with Ivb, Inc.'s assigned number 736144.


External links