“White Lies”: Marion Cajori’s experimental New Wave love story co-starred a young Willem Dafoe

By on June 20, 2017

One of the many reasons our full episodes on Night Flight Plus are proving to be so popular is that they’re practically the only place online where you can see some of the independent short features we originally aired on “Night Flight” during the 1980s.

This full episode (with commercials!) from August 24, 1984 featured director Marion Cajori’s strange experimental (and slightly NSFW) New Wave love story, White Lies, which co-starred a young Willem Dafoe in one of his very first film roles, as well as an intense synth-driven early ’80s soundtrack by Peter Gordon.

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You’ll note, by the way, that we covered up a timestamp at the bottom of the screen on this episode with our logo, and going forward we’ve decided we will keep the timestamp on the handful of these early episodes, instead of covering it up, so that we only will have the ghosted watermark of our Night Flight logo in the upper-left corner.

Many of these award-winning short features had only been screened at film festivals around the U.S., and “Night Flight” was the first to air many of them on our TV show, which was, of course, broadcast on the USA cable channel beginning in June of 1981, a little over thirty-six years ago.

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If you watched “Night Flight” during the 1980s, you may remember seeing some of them, including these: Junkers (1986), the debut film by the writing/directing team of Susan Flaherty and George Grubb; The Lessons (1984), Ian Snow Carpenter’s cosmic existential film — watch it now in our full episode from August 18, 1984, over on Night Flight Plus!; Tater Tomater (1990), Angus MacLachlan’s short film, which originally aired on “Night Flight” when it was still an NYU Film School senior project; Todd Coleman’s Living Dolls (1980); Eric Red’s Gunmen’s Blues (1981), and there were many, many others, not forgetting, of course, that several of Larry Hankin‘s original short comedy films (including one of our favorites, Frogs Never Lie) were also featured on “Night Flight.”

As for White Lies, the 35-minute experimental 16mm film deals with the theme of displacement, revealing how one woman (Ariel Bock) experiences intense feelings of jealousy before, during, and after a loft party she’s throwing her New York City apartment, which she shares with her boyfriend, who is played by Willem Dafoe.

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Willem Dafoe in White Lies

Time and space are both broken down in the film’s non-linear storyline, and lets us examine these feelings in an intimate and personal look at the post-breakup blues, with memories, and fantasies that revolve around the loft party, during which she observes her boyfriend becoming more and more distant.

White Lies features a lot of colorful early 80s-era optical effects and, as we mentioned above, a great soundtrack composed by experimental composer and musician Peter Gordon.

Gordon — who has subsequently composed numerous film and theatre scores — has also appeared on albums by Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega, David Johansen, Elliott Murphy, the Flying Lizards and many others.

His influential New York-based group, Love of Life Orchestra (LOLO), have released numerous recordings, and Gordon has also released numerous solo albums.

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Ariel Bock in White Lies

The film starred Ariel Bock, who is now an acting a voice teacher who has worked the faculties of Dartmouth College, Smith College and MIT, leading workshops both for professional and pre-professional actors and for those interested in Theater-in-Education.

She has been an actor, director and voice teacher at Shakespeare & Company for more than 20 years, and an Artistic Associate there since 1995.

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As we mentioned above, Marion Cajori’s White Lies is likely one of the first on-screen appearances by actor Willem Dafoe, a Night Flight favorite, particularly from some of the roles he played in the 1980s and ’90s.

Dafoe was seven of eight kids who grew up in the small paper-mill town of Appleton, Wisconsin, where he developed an interest in acting early on. He was once expelled from Appleton East high school for shooting a pornographic film.

He also acted in community theater before enrolling in drama classes at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

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To Live and Die in L.A.

After a few restless years, he quit UW to join a touring children’s theater, a gig that lasted just six months, performing at junior college auditoriums and theatres, and day-care center libraries.

Back in Milwaukee, he ended up joining a theatre collective Theatre X with some of his college friends.

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Dafoe performed with them for four years, and it was at a Theatre X performance in Baltimore where Dafoe — who from childhood had used the Dutch spelling of his birth name in ordere to stand out and because he did not want to be called “Bill” — met director Richard Schechner.

In 1976, Schechner invited Dafoe to join the Performance Group, a New York City-based experimental theatre group who were notorious for putting on performances at The Kitchen, New York’s legendary avant-garde showcase, which featured nudity: you can find lots of full-frontal shots of Dafoe online from these early performances if you’ve got a good Google finger.

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Dafoe apprenticed under Richard Schechner, and when Schechner left the theatre company, avant-garde and experimental theatre director Elizabeth LeCompte became their new leader. The group’s name was changed to the Wooster Group under her leadership.

Despite being eleven years older than Dafoe, they fell in love and got married in 1977 (they also had a son, Jack, in 1982, and later divorced in 2004). LeCompte’s previous romantic partner had been Spalding Gray.

Dafoe became a cental figure in most of the SoHo-based Wooster Group’s original and often shocking theatrical pieces, now being staged at the Performing Garage in New York City, wre the actors could be seen pushing themselves to extreme limits.

Dafoe not only appeared fully nude on occasion, he also appeared in a Pigmeat Markham vaudeville routine in blackface, as well as performing in drag, as both a nun and a housewife, and you can even find footage online of him dancing the hula in nothing but a grass skirt (sometimes with his penis painted green).

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Platoon

Dafoe also began auditioning for parts in short and full-feature films around this time, which is likely how he ended up in Cajori’s short film White Lies (as well as other downtown NYC art film projects).

Speaking of which, if you look closely at the party scenes in White Lies, you’ll also see that one of the partygoers is actor Paul Lazar, who was also an associate member of the Wooster Group (he appeared in their performances of North Atlantic, Brace Up!, Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape).

Lazar would later go on to appear in dozens of film and TV roles, including Silence of the Lambs, Mickey Blue Eyes and much more. He’s now an instructor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has taught acting at Yale College, SUNY/Purchase and various other colleges and studios the Northeast, mostly in New York.

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Paul Lazar (right) in White Lies

Dafoe’s actual first acting performance in a nationally-distributed Hollywood movie, however, was as, in his words, a “glorified extra” on Michael Cimino’s critically-drubbed film Heaven’s Gate, which he filmed in 1980.

That role — he was an unscripted character who worked for local entrepreneur John L. Bridges, played by Jeff Bridges — provided three months of steady work.

Much to Dafoe’s delight, apparently, it was left on the cutting room floor.

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The Loveless

Dafoe’s actual movie debut seems to have been in Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut, a film originally titled Breakdown (it was even reviewed in Variety under that title on August 25, 1981) before it was re-titled The Loveless.

Bigelow had seen Dafoe’s performance as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Wooster Group’s “Point Judith,” and had called him the next day, offering him the part of Vance, the leader of a motorcycle gang who invade a small boring town in the South. Dafoe asked for, and was paid, $10,000 for the starring role in the film.

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Streets of Fire

Dafoe, of course, had his first major breakthrough a few years later with his Oscar nominated-role as the compassionate, pot-smoking Sergeant Elias in Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning 1986 film Platoon, before went on to play plenty of memorable roles in films like Street of Fire, The Last Temptation of Christ, To Live and Die in L.A., Born on the Fourth of July, Body of Evidence and many, many more film roles. Like we said, he’s one of our favorites.

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Marion Cajori

Over her career, Marion Cajori — who until her death lived in New York City and also in Setauket, in Suffolk County, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island, with her husband and two children — had worked as a director, producer, and writer, mostly chronicling the creative process in documentaries about artists, placing a special emphasis on some of the overlooked contemporary female artists that were largely being overlooked.

Cajori was the child of two painters, Charles Cajori and Anne Child, who were both involved in the Parisian art colony.

Although her parents separated when she was young, she nevertheless grew up in art circles in both New York and Paris, where both homes were frequented by members of the arts community, as well as playwrights and music composers.

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There was reportedly a lot of “partying” among her parents circle of creative friends and their entwined relationships, lots of passionate arguing and disagreements about art and politics, and Marion decided that one day she would escape all of their drama and discover and pursue her own creative interests.

At sixteen, she ended up attended a boarding school in New York, and before long, she ended up in New York City’s artist community, finding that she couldn’t fully escape the only world she really had known.

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In 1971, Carjori began attending New York City’s School of Visual Arts, where she was introduced by her instructors — including Sol Lewit, Jonathan Borofsky and others — to experimental filmmaking.

She proceeded to make mostly experimental short films, both abstract and narrative, including two films — Attica (1973, 9 minutes) and Sept. 11, 1972 (1973, 12 minutes) — which combined themes about both politics and art.

Sept. 11, 1972 — which she made with Joseph Kosuth — has been described as a “Minimalist portrait of sunlight in her studio.”

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In 1974, Carjoi graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and by then she was well-versed in the world of filmmaking, film festivals and arts programs across the country.

After receiving a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she made an hour-long experimental film Reflections (1977), which looked at the way women were being represented. Cajori was a member of the feminist editorial collective Heresies in the early ’70s, as well.

Her film White Lies was quite successful, screening at quite a lot of film festivals, and in 1982, the Athens (Ohio) International Film Festival were so impressed with the film — which had originally been entered in the festival’s short film category — that the contest judges were allowed to create a new prize category, “Experimental Narrative,” in order to award the unique film a special first prize award.

It aired on “Night Flight” in 1984.

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Cajori’s work from the 1980s onward chronicled the creative process in documentaries about creative artists, often collaborating with other filmmakers and artists — including video artist Joan Jonas and the director Lizzie Borden — on some of her projects.

She had difficulty getting grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was turned down numerous times, which made her angry and even more determined to make the films she wanted to make.

Being denied financial support to make films about female artists was also typical of the types of problems those artists were also facing.

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Joan Mitchell

Cajori eventually teamed up with another filmmaker, Christian Blackwood, to make Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter, an hour-long film about Joan Mitchell, an Abstract Expressionist painter who she first met when Cajori was nine and Mitchell was 33 years old.

Mitchell had made her home in France in 1959 after first being part of NYC’s artist colony, and she and Cajori became friends despite their difference in ages (Mitchell is also not to be confused with Joni Mitchell, the singer, who also paints).

That film, completed in 1992 and narrated by Joan Mitchell herself, documented nearly fifty years of Mitchell’s art and her relationship to her peers, mostly male artists, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

The New York Times review of the film said the film “presented an unusually intimate view of this famously private, intractable painter.”

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Louise Bourgeois

Its success led to her forming Christian Blackwood Productions with Blackwood, who has himself made over eighty films, many of them documentaries on artists like Christo and David Hockney, as well as the critically-acclaimed Thelonious Monk documentary, Straight, No Chaser (one of the best films about the jazz pianist you’re likely ever going to see).

In 1990, the partnership with Blackwood led to establishment of the Art Kaleidoscope Foundation.

Cajori ended up proposing a planned series of thirteen films about American female artists, to be called “American Women in Art: At the End of Our 20th Century.”

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She wanted to highlight artists who were strong and determined to create art while facing adversity and setbacks simply because they were women.

Her goal was to portray how a lot of modern 20th Century women artists were being overlooked despite creating some impressive work that deserved to be highlighted.

In 1998, the PBS network broadcast Ms. Cajori’s Emmy-nominated documentary special, Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress. Its success led to her working on a second full-length feature film about Close, focusing on some of the artists and curators whose portraits he painted.

Cajori died from complications with fighting cancer, on August 8, 2006. She was 56 years old.

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At the time, she had been working on a feature-length film about the sculptor Louise Bourgeois with the art critic Amei Wallach with the working title, Louise Bourgeois: The Spider and The Mistress.

A segment of the film — titled Louise Bourgeois: Art Is Sanity — was shown on the PBS program “Art: 21″ in 2002.

Watch this full episode (with commercials!) from August 24, 1984, featuring the late director Marion Cajori’s White Lies, and don’t forget to check out some of our other full episodes, many of which feature short films and independently-made featurettes you can’t see anywhere else! They’re streaming over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.