Source: Anthology Film Archives newsletter, 1996
THE LEGENDS OF SAN FRANCISCO RETURN
THE ANGELS OF LIGHT
IN THE LEGENDARY
(1971-73) 100 minutes.Pickup's Tricks documents the hippie ideology and gay liberationist spirit of San Francisco' s preeminent Drag Theater from 1971-1973. The film spins around the antics of Hibiscus (George Harris), one of the pioneers of San Francisco's underground gay theater. The majority of characters in Pickup's Tricks were recruited from local communes, and in many ways Hibiscus' theater, known as " genderfuck, " grew from the commune culture. Shows were put on for free, anyone could participate, and everyone did everything. The theater was also fueled by the heady freedom of hedonistic and pansexual fantasies realized in public.
Hibiscus was a child actor prior to creating his first spontaneous San Francisco-based drag troupe in 1968. The Kitchen Sluts were a gaggle of like-minded performers who enriched their job of delivering vegetables to commune kitchens by wearing flowing robes and glitter, and performing numbers from old Broadway musicals.
Hibiscus was also a founding member of the Cockettes, a swarm of psychedelic drag queens who first performed their randy midnight musicals at San Francisco's Palace Theater in 1970. The Cockettes' free shows, a raucous mix of Thirties-style glamour and camp and "the detritus of American pop culture," according to the late Cockette, Martin Worman, were an underground sensation, famous as much for the audience they attracted a madly attired and furiously partying crowd--as for their theater. Hibiscus intended the audience be indistinguishable from the players: free food, wine and drugs were offered to the crowd, as well as makeup and costumes. Funded by welfare checks and donations, the ensemble represented what Gregory Pickup describes as the ecstatic politics of spiritual freedom. As the Cockettes gained notoriety, some members decided they wanted to charge admission and copyrighted the company's name. Hibiscus and a few other rebels split from the group in 1971, rather than succumb to capitalistic impulses. "Everything comes out all right when you do it for free, " Hibiscus told Rolling Stone that year. Hibiscus and his camp promptly formed the Angels of Light, a troupe which initially differed little from the original Cockettes and retained Hibiscus' egalitarian ethic.
Gregory Pickup was studying filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1971 when he met Hibiscus. He made Pickup 's Tricks as his undergraduate thesis project. "Tricks" is meant in the shamanistic sense of the word. "We were trying to conjure something of the spirit of a time which was liberating both sexually and philosophically," said Pickup. The film was produced by Gregory Sherman. Both men lived in a loft at 330 Grove Street, where many of the staged scenes and performances were filmed.
Gregory Pickup's film features members of both The Cockettes and The Angels of Light. The film is scored by Warren Leslie and Sam Andrew, remnants of super group, Big Brother. Country Joe McDonald wrote and performed the title track. The film features a series of performances by Hibiscus (as a crucified Jesus Christ, the target of a golden shower and a gay Bacchus-styled reveler). Other performances include poet Allen Ginsberg as a Yiddish Momma and a band of glittered, partially nude men and women with appropriately campy stage names, like Pristine Condition, Sandi Love and Fayetta Hausse.
Pickup's Tricks has never been shown in New York, nor has it ever received national critical attention. Critics who came to the film in its 1973 opening at the Palace Theater were attacked by screeching Angels of Light, who objected to the film being shown commercially.
Gregory Pickup is a Chicago-based artist. Hibiscus died of AIDS in 1981. 330 Grove Street is currently a parking lot for San Francisco's Civic Opera House.