A man with an unkempt beard and torn clothing arranges his books in a small alcove near the West 4th Street subway entrance in 1988 Manhattan. Many of the man’s belongings are neatly displayed in this alcove: rugs, bookcases, mattresses, and boxes filled with possessions. It was as if he was sitting in his living room and not on a dirty New York curb. Footage shows the man mumble and laugh to himself, tell off-color jokes and ramble about philosophy and religion.
The man is Piero Heliczer, a beat poet, experimental filmmaker, and absent father. Directed by his daughter, Thérèse Heliczer, The Invisible Father is a documentary that explores the peaks and valleys of Piero Heliczer’s familial and creative life, and his struggle to balance both, from the perspective of his family members and friends.
“All these other people are saying he’s brilliant and he’s an artist and he’s a poet. But I didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense to me.”
The film interviews several members of Piero’s family and creative milieu, including curators, poets, illustrators, playwrights, editors, writers, and musicians. John Cale of The Velvet Underground refers to Piero as a spooky “will-o’-the-wisp.” Another writer laughs about the magazine cutouts of womens’ eyes that Piero had pasted over the walls of his room. Curators pour over flyers and posters and messy handwritten collages showcasing Piero’s involvement in the bohemian New York counterculture movement of the 60s.
Anne Waldman, American poet and friend of Piero, reflects on his legacy in between reading passages from his book. While Waldman reads Piero’s poetic toast to the joyless chaos of modern urban society, experimental film footage flashes across the screen, quick and overlapping, messy and stylistic: a man drinks from his chalice, wartime nurses treat patients, a globe spins, starving New Yorkers rattle chain link fences. The poem and footage operate in tandem, the artistic forms complementing one another.
THE INVISIBLE FATHER Explores the Unusual Facts and Fantasies of Piero Heliczer
We come to know Piero Heliczer in this film as someone who existed at the nexus of many creative forefronts; he linked disciplines, art forms, and people. Vintage archival footage and photographs populate the film, all in reference to the iconic art that influenced Piero. Piero’s journey of promise and peril was set to his art, to the clicking of typewriter keys. He lived and died by poetry and romance.
Piero’s family members read his old letters and watch old footage, cry bittersweet tears, and reflect on the life of a man they never knew. From both those who knew him and those who wish they had, we come to appreciate that his art proves he is more than a footnote in history.
In this writer’s opinion, The Invisible Father would most interest those with an appreciation for beat poetry and 1960s counterculture.
For more information and screenings details visit The Invisible Father website.
Images courtesy of The Invisible Father.
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About the Author: Holly Fontanetta
Holly Fontanetta is inspired by narratives that capture the idiosyncrasies of human experience. She has driven absurd distances on a whim in search of character, including two road trips from New York to California. Holly spends her free time hanging out with cats (her own or strays - either is fine) and swimming in the ocean (Atlantic or Pacific - either is fine). Her favorite stories to read and write feature women overcoming extraordinary circumstances. Currently, Holly is learning to paint and filling her walls with strange art.