Herb Shellenberger

Ron Rice's The Queen of Sheba Meets Atom Man (1963/1981)
February 2, 2019
Lightbox Film Center
Philadelphia, PA, US

Part of Double Vision: Jean Vigo/Ron Rice

The Queen of Sheba Meets Atom Man was Ron Rice’s magnum opus, a film unfinished when he tragically died in Mexico in December 1964. After Beat poet Taylor Mead’s first starring role in Rice’s The Flower Thief in 1960, he became an in-demand actor, performing in films by Vernon Zimmerman, Robert Chatterton, Adolfas Mekas and—directly following the two-hour premiere of the unfinished Queen of Sheba in May 1963—a number of films by Andy Warhol.

The Queen of Sheba Meets Atom Man follows the two titular characters: Winifred Bryan is the lounging, sloth-like Queen of Sheba and Taylor Mead is the Atom Man, a quasi-reprisal of his persona from The Flower Thief with added Chaplin inflection. While much of the action of the film can be boiled down to goofin’ by the cast—mainly Bryan and Mead, but occasionally others like Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas, The Living Theatre’s Julian Beck and Judith Malina, and The Fugs’s Ed Sanders—the minimal action of the film becomes engrossing and affecting. The black and white silent footage was edited by Taylor Mead between 1979 and 82, working from the director’s notes and memory. Mead’s added score, plundered from cool jazz, honkytonk, ragtime and pop records, perfectly underlines the film’s many changing moods and atmospheres.

The Queen of Sheba Meets Atom Man, Ron Rice, 1963/1981, US, 16mm-to-35mm, 108’

Restored by Anthology Film Archives and The Film Foundation with funding provided by The George Lucas Family Foundation.