Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


Q. Do you think that you can see this kind of change in the underground?

A. You can see it in the clothes worn, but this is everywhere. But the metro is just a metaphor in the end for many things. The “underground” in Poland was Solidarity. The underground cultural movement, which I became associated with there was another kind of an underground. There’s many ways that we can look at the idea of the underground. The metro becomes just a symbol of this. But changes are often dramatic and in other ways subtle. For example, in Paris I witnessed and added to the film short segments videotaped inside of a more recently completed futuristic metro line.

Q. Have you studied the histories of the metros and cities where you have filmed?

A. Not every time and not in an academic sense. Much of what I learned was by circumstance. For example, being taken on a tour of the underground in Warsaw. I didn’t choose to make this an academic exercise, but when something grabs me, is interesting to me and helps my own observation, much of it intuitive, then I make the most of it. I’ve read articles, magazines, I’ve studied the maps, I’ve written about them, but I do this as an artist with somewhat of a sociological perspective. I’ve learned a lot about different systems from living in them, dealing with the problems of life in each one. This became on-the-job training, from Los Angeles to New York, from Paris to Barcelona to Warsaw, all places which I came to know fairly well. Having experienced the transport systems in those cities, I can draw a lot of comparisons, just as I can from talking to people when riding in cars, buses and tramway systems, reading magazines, newspapers and books, and so on and so forth.

Q. I thought that maybe you made this film by love.

A. The whole film? Do you mean the film as an act of love?

Q. Yes.

A. Well, there’s certainly a lot of emotions in it, and yes, there’s a lot of love and a lot of compassion in it, but it is intellectual as well. The mind and body duality is central to the overall project. At the base of the entire concept is a denial of neither. The right and left minds do not necessarily function exclusively and I do not see any reason why conceptual art cannot simultaneously be emotionally expressive or vice versa. Likewise, there are many ways to look at, question and express beauty. Most certainly the film conveys a compassion for the condition of all of humanity, and primarily with focus on those who are less fortunate. At the same time, life in foreign lands has taught me some very unpleasant lessons about continuing biases and prejudices, which are based on cultural differences.

I suppose that if love is about acceptance and tolerance, this is a central theme of my film.

Dr Seuss

There is an interview at the film’s end of a one-legged man inside of the LA Metro, who called himself “Dr. Seuss.” He moved about in a wheel chair and explained to me that he created a percussion set in the place of his missing leg, which was amputated when he had cancer and developed gangrene. He explained that he ignored his doctor’s prescriptions for pain killers, went off on his own, made it his purpose to entertain people in public, while smiling everyday.

For whatever reason, I have always felt a sense of affinity for the underdog and from Antenna Man to Paquito to Dr. Seuss, I wished to bring to light an empathetic view of those fighting for their very survival, while some of them attempt to bring a bit of joy to the daily life of others.

So, sure love is a big part of it, but it’s a part of it.

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