Terry Cannon, the founder of Pasadena Filmforum in 1975 (continuing as Los Angeles Filmforum, now in its 45th year) passed away from bile duct cancer on August 1, 2020. Terry wasn’t a filmmaker, but as much a creator, innovator, and spreader of joy as anyone, with a high-pitched voice and mischievous, story-telling personality, delighted to speak but always in service to bringing attention to other people and their accomplishments. He held an unassuming depth of knowledge and precise memory on whatever topics drew his fancy, but particularly baseball and jazz. Without ego, and with humor and grace, he enchanted students, retired baseball players, film artists, and grizzled greybeards alike.
The first time I visited Terry at his and his wife Mary’s home, when preparing for a series of screenings for Filmforum’s 30th Anniversary in 2006, I remember the delight of exploring what he had stored in a metal cabinet in his office: Prints that had been given to him by people such as Kurt Kren (who stayed on their couch for a couple of weeks when he tooled around the US, one of many filmmakers who stayed with the Cannons); the assembled “Show for the Eyes” prints, one of super 8mm, the other 16mm, the first mail-order film art project, made out of short pieces of film sent to him by makers around the world, assembled, screened twice each, and not seen since. (They are now in the Filmforum deposit at the Academy Film Archive, needing to have splices fixed so that we might view it again.) He still had the box holding “Films Found in a Box” which was literally a set of films Terry found in a box on the street one day, along with file drawers of calendars and programs from his years of running the organization, all safe and well-organized. He was an archivist at heart, but the kind who wanted to share the archived wonders with as many people as possible.
As Filmforum’s Executive Director through the end of 1983, Terry had to move Filmforum through several venues in Pasadena, ultimately finding longer-term homes in two different spaces in Old Town Pasadena, first in the back of the Aarnun Gallery, and later in the Bank Playhouse a block away. At that time, in the early 1980s, it was a run-down area, home to multiple artists’ spaces. Those spaces were adjacent to railroad tracks that had a regular 8 pm train on Monday nights, when they screened. The tradition quickly formed of placing a quarter on the tracks while the audience gathered nearby. The train would thunder by, the squashed coin would be given to the visiting artist, and the audience would head inside for the show. To many artists, Pasadena seemed off the beaten tracks, a lowly suburb to Los Angeles, which was home, in the 1970s, to the Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis and Encounter Cinema, with whom Terry would often coordinate guests. However, the vitality and thoughtful interest of the audiences, and the great care Terry provided to the filmmakers, soon made Filmforum its own destination.
Over eight years he hosted scores of filmmakers from throughout the country and world (many for their first Southern California appearances) including Barbara Hammer (who forever credited Terry with both her first shows in the experimental film world and also the first screening for which she was paid), Sara Kathryn Arledge, Les Blank, Bill Brand, Betzy Bromberg, Jim Broughton, Shirley Clarke, Fu-Ding Cheng, Tony Conrad, Neelon Crawford, Donna Deitch, Jules Engel, Roberta Friedman & Grahame Weinbren, Michael Guccione, Howard Guttenplan, Herbert Jean de Grasse, Vincent Grenier, Louis Hock, Jim Hubbard, Taka Iimura, Jon Jost Helene Kaplan, Marjorie Keller, Kurt Kren, Karl Krogstad, George & Mike Kuchar, George Landow, Standish Lawder, Tom Leeser, Lenny Lipton, Angela Ricci Lucchi & Yervant Gianikian, J.J. Murphy, Jenny Okun, Pat O’Neill, William Scaff, Paul Sharits, Chick Strand, Willie Varela, James Whitney, Bruce Wood, and Jud Yalkut. In this period he gave multiple filmmakers their first solo shows, and also gave Mark Cantor his first shows to present jazz films, which Cantor has continued to do to this day. Cannon also provided a space for an installation by David and Diana Wilson in 1980, “Tying Dogs’ Legs”, which helped inspire the development of the renowned Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. Cannon served as president of the board of the Jurassic for many years. By the end of 1983 Old Town Pasadena was destined for gentrification, and Terry was ready to move on. Trish Knodle became the new Executive Director, and relocated Filmforum to downtown Los Angeles. (For more on this, please see Terry’s oral history and the article by him about Filmforum’s early years at www.laternativeprojections.com )
For years his main source of income was editing a car journal called Skinned Knuckles, working with his father. Creating new magazines was a regular outlet. In the mid-1970s Cannon, with Bill Scaff, founded Follies,“a new community journal” with the intention of providing “an alternative voice for its educators, students, and working people, as well as for its creative artists.” Cannon subsequently founded the arts publication Gosh! in 1978. The magazine’s legacy was publishing early work by a variety of writers, artists, and photographers who went on to considerable success in their respective fields, including Dennis Cooper, Michelle Huneven, Kirk Silsbee, Doug Humble, Jules Bates, Karla Karin, Sid Griffin, and Steve Escandon. Also included in the magazine were experimental film-related articles; punk, jazz, and alternative music reviews; and reproductions of original art, illustrations, comics, and photographs from many avant-garde contributors. After leaving Filmforum Cannon went on to found the experimental film journal Spiral in 1984, which over nine unique issues featured writing and artwork by artists including James Broughton, Willie Varela, Marjorie Keller, Pat O’Neill, Janis Lipzin, Kurt Kren, and Bruce Conner. One issue was a cassette tape with various audio recordings (recently reprinted by INCITE); another was made of postcards. Terry also edited a pair of issues of the San Francisco Cinematheque’s Cinemanews, one on super 8mm filmmaking, the other on the scene in Los Angeles.
In this period he befriended the artist and filmmaker Sara Kathryn Arledge, and eventually, after Arledge’s death, he and his wife Mary saved many of her paintings and her films and painted slides when they were on the verge of destruction. They formed the Sara Kathryn Arledge Memorial Trust, and were instrumental in the exhibition of Arledge’s work at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena in 2019 and the accompanying screening at Filmforum.
In 1996 Cannon founded the Baseball Reliquary, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history” Beginning in 1999 the Reliquary began honoring important figures from baseball’s history by adding them to its Shrine of the Eternals, designed to elect “individuals on merits other than statistics and playing ability … for a deeper understanding and appreciation of baseball than has heretofore been provided by “Halls of Fame” in the more traditional and conservative institutions.” The lauded tribute to the intersection of art and baseball functions as a traveling museum, bringing curiosities and wonders to sites throughout Southern California. The Reliquary’s collections now serve as the foundation for the Institute for Baseball Studies at Whittier College. The Reliquary also formed a collaborative effort with the John M. Pfau Library at California State University, San Bernardino, to create the Latino Baseball History Project, an ongoing multifaceted humanities-based project concerned with documenting and interpreting the historic role that baseball has played as a cohesive element and as a social and cultural force within the Latino, predominantly Mexican American, communities of Southern California.
In 2005 he sold Skinned Knuckles for one dollar, and took up library work for his remaining years, first as a library assistant at Altadena High School, then in the Pasadena City Library system. I think he had always been a librarian and archivist at heart, without a degree, but always thinking of preservation, of the written word, and of finding ways to bring historic objects to life for new generations. As part of Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980, we held a symposium at USC in November 2010, and Terry created a series of vitrines filled with objects, images, and paraphernalia from these years of experimental film, rounding up all the objects from many sources, creating the labels, and building the vitrines. He was a one-man museum maker.
As a lifelong creator of non-profit organizations, unusual magazines, and as a librarian, Cannon was committed to the unheralded and idiosyncratic, and to the regenerative and delightful possibilities of community and art that continue to inspire the organizations he founded and the people he touched.
An oral history with Terry Cannon, and an article by him on Filmforum’s Pasadena years can be found at www.alternativeprojections.com, and a more detailed discussion of Spiral at http://www.incite-online.net/spiral6.htm
Thank you to Mary Cannon.
Text by Adam Hyman, with Alison Kozberg