Barbara Rubin was making groundbreaking art at the same time as Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Allen Ginsberg, but she and other creative women who played pivotal roles in New York City’s influential 1960s avant-garde scene have been largely written out of cultural history. The new documentary Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground by filmmaker Chuck Smith puts Rubin back in her rightful place.
Rubin became a collaborator with Warhol, Dylan, and Ginsberg, among many others, in the underground movement. Lou Reed called Rubin “fabulous” and “the glue that held us all together.”
Her 1963 film Christmas on Earth, made when she was just 18, was one of the first experimental films to explicitly show gay sex on-screen. Because of that, she often ran into trouble with police looking to enforce censorship regulations. She even carried her copy of the film on her person for a period to protect it. Despite backlash, her film stands as a queer and feminist classic. Her film made a major impact on the notable artists who attended the first screenings, including Ginsberg.
This clip from the documentary illustrates that Ginsberg was so taken by the raw ferocity, shamelessness, and power of Rubin's film that he initiated an affair with her.
Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground opens theatrically today at the IFC Center in New York, and June 14 at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles and Roxie in San Francisco. Other cities will follow.