Tom Reese introduced Avant Garde Film to Southern Florida.
Well into the mid-sixties, Beaux Arts was the place to go for art films. Many musicians who first played in public, mentioned the films as their first time experience. I discovered Chien Andalous and Black Orpheus when I went there. I couldn't say for sure which I liked best, the music or the films. I guess it depended on the night.
In 1952, after he returned from the Korean War duty, Tom established the Contemporary Art Gallery with a couple of partners. One of his first projects was turning the dining room into an Art Film Theater.
Before designing and building his hotel, Howard had traveled all over the Caribbean, and was immediately impressed by the cooling effect of the high ceilings in Havana. He had his architect put a twenty foot high ceiling in the dining room and hired an excellent cook to entice guests to indulge in fine dinning at his establishment. The citizens of St. Petersburg took the train to the Pinellas stop for a Royal Palm meal on the weekends. Tom learned a lot about satisfying clients from his Uncle.
When he took over the hotel and installed his art school and Gallery, he turned the dining room into a film screening room filled with funky old couches. It was an immediate hit. Tom's guests adored his art films, and loved the ambience of the dark room couch-filled room. Mother hovered around the perimeter, taking dollars at the door, making you feel special, like you were entering someone's private domain at their invitation.
In the 60's art films they were called 'underground films' and in the 70's 'experimental films'. There were very few distributors. First on the scene were the New York Filmmakers Coop in New York, Canyon Cinema in San Francisco, a distribution coop in Chicago called Chicago Filmmakers, Bob Pike's Creative Film Society in LA, a coop in Vancouver called Intermedia Film Coop.
Tom's Berkeley connections probably helped him with his film choices. There are a few old playbills around that list the films he screened and quite a few catalogues that he oreder from.
At some point, Tom started to produce his own films. When this was is hard to say, but on the weekend days, Tom shot films in the garden. When I was with Tom at the Beaux Arts on Central, he told me there were films I should look at, but he couldn't get to them. I had no idea there were so many or what he was talking about.
At some point these home movies ended up in the hands of collectors Chris Skillman and Gig Arendt, who contacted me. So, the films ended up as part of the story, as Tom intended.
There are a lot of films. It will take a while to go through them. If you are in any of the Beaux Arts films or know anyone who is, let us know. Send a picture and we'll be on the lookout for you.
We are going to concentrate on the films in 2007 and are looking for any more information and details on local film history, particularly other early art film houses in the Tampa Bay Area. We know tom worked at the infamous Sun Art Theater in St. Pete as a projectionist and assume that's where some of his more erotic films came from.
When Eric Beckus returned to Florida after his years in California in 1992, he shot some films of Tom and Beaux Arts, which is online at YouTube. (Films on YouTube).
Old Jim Morrison Films are popping up. The first confirmed footage was spotted by James Madden while he was sorting through some old footage from the University of Florida. Jaime, as he is known, is an Audio Archivist at State Library & Archives of Florida. I read about the discovery in a magazine and looked him up. (More about Jaime and his work).