Peter Whitehead was born in 1937 in Liverpool, the son of a plumber. He was one of the first post-war scholarship boys sent to public school at the government's expense. After studying physics and crystallography at Cambridge University where he worked for Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA he won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art as a painter. Instead of painting, he chose the medium of film.
Peter took up filmmaking under the tutelage of director Thorold Dickinson. He became a newsreel cameraman for Italian television in 1964, and was asked by the Nuffield Foundation to make a half-hour science documentary called “The Perception of Life” which was shot almost entirely through a microscope.
Between 1965 and 1969 Whitehead made five movies, beginning with the documentary that effectively launched his film career : Wholly Communion, about a historic countercultural event in the Royal Albert Hall on June 11 1965 where an audience of 7,000 witnessed the first meeting of American and English Beat poets. Among the performers were Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Adrian Mitchell.
Whitehead himself considers The Fall to be his most important film. This is documentary shot behind the barricades, inside Columbia University during the 1968 student rebellion, which took place in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Fall includes intense scenes of protest from those times, not just at the University, but documentary coverage from all walks of life. New York, USA.
Wholly Communion won the Gold Medal at the Mannheim Documentary Film Festival. After seeing the film, Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, invited Whitehead to make a film of the Stones’ tour of Ireland. “Charlie is My Darling” was shot with one camera over two days in Dublin and Belfast. Distribution of the film was later blocked by Allen Klein when he took control of the group’s music rights.
Peter Whitehead created some of the first pop promos for Top of the Pops on British television and filmed bands like The Rolling Stones, The Dubliners, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Shadows and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Nico.
In 1966 Peter Whitehead was the first person to publish a Jean-Luc Godard script in English.
In the early 70s Whitehead quit filmmaking and spent ten years in North Africa, Pakistan and the Arctic as a falconer. The following decades were spent in Saudi Arabia where he built and ran the largest private falcon breeding center in the world, the Al Faisal Falcon Centre. He reared and released over 200 falcons back into the wild.
“I suddenly heard a noise behind me, a twittering and fluttering. It was like a Hitchcock film. Hundreds of birds were flying behind me. Then I heard a strange shuffling sound, and around the corner walking very slowly comes a little old man. He stops about three yards from me, pulls something out from his pocket and shouts. ‘Charlie! Where are you?’ Then I see a bird fly down, and the man takes his hand away saying, ‘Not you! You wait. Charlie!’ Charlie comes down, sits on his finger and eats. ‘Now you Rose. Where are you?’ And Rose flew down. He was there for half an hour, feeding all the birds, one by one, by name. I sat there, utterly stunned by what I was seeing. At that moment I realised I would sooner have this old man’s talent than the talent to make The Fall, so I quit filmmaking, bought my first falcon for £8 and spent twenty years living in some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.” Peter Whitehead.
This came to an abrupt end with the Gulf War of 1991. Since 1987 Whitehead has written many novels and produced the film - Terrorism Considered as One of the Fine Arts, Whitehead’s adaptation of his own Nohzone novels: Terrorism Considered as One of the Fine Arts, Nature’s Child, and Girl on the Train. A deconstructed, psychogeographical detective story shot on the streets of Vienna.
Volume 52 of Framework includes two full issues dedicated to filmmaker and artist Peter Whitehead.
Part 1 considers Whitehead's career through the release of his 1969 film The Fall.
Part 2 begins with Whitehead's 1970s film work Daddy and Fire in the Water and ends with the completion of his latest film, Terrorism Considered as One of the Fine Arts (UK, 2009).
Both issues features rare, full-color archival materials and exclusive interviews with Peter Whitehead.
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The Peter Whitehead Appreciation Society created by Nicole Brenez.