Remembrances floating between two dates – Walter E. Sear (1930 – 2010)




Walter E. Sear in “Lurkers” (Roberta Findlay, 1988)

    To the eternal love of Walter E. Sear and Roberta Findlay

Between the the 27th and 29th of April 2020 the footprint Walter E. Sear left in the world of music, filmmaking but more than that human interaction lingers on especially dominant before gradually retreating again to where all things now unliving and carried on by fond memories alone reside. For today is stuck precisely between what would have been his 90th birthday and what will be the 10th anniversary, the first real milestone, the harshest one for most bereaved, of his passing. Sear, a New Yorker since practically ever, his family moved to Queens when he was only one year old, and forever, was a pioneering recording engineer and tinkerer on all things emitting peculiar sounds, a musician and composer, he produced films, wrote, scored, directed and sold them as successfully as he sold instruments. And that’s only half it, a person like him can only ever be measured in half truths and thinly veiled wonder. He was a true powerhouse of creative thought. Thought that must have connected him easily and even in fleeting everyday passing to another powerhouse of imaginative ventures when they first ran past each other in the decidedly non-romantic offices their different yet closely entwined lines of work made them frequent. Walter E. Sear and Roberta Findlay met in 1976, petty circumstances, while visiting a fellow yet inconsequential for theirs connection and they grew inseparable soon after.

“For Walter there was something of beauty in everything.”, the latter once confessed to me while contrasting her own exclusive interest in classical music to the remarkable variety of music produced by the pair at Sear Sound, Walter’s studio in Hell’s Kitchen he founded nearly 60 years ago. Sonic Youth recorded “Sister” (1987), their first big step towards todays unbroken critical acclaim there, Paul McCartney and David Bowie paid their visits, as did Marianne Faithful and Liza Minelli, Elvin Jones played his drums while Björk’s vocals heaved the glaciers of Iceland closer to Central Park than physically possible – and amidst these expressions of shifting soundscapes of popular music Lang Lang made Roberta’s heart of stone melt. In the years since Walter’s passing his vision has never ceased to bloom further under the careful hands of “the world’s best receptionist”, as New Jerseyan underground filmmaking hellhound William “Bill Hellfire” Apriceno dubbed her once. Words that stick around at Sear Sound, that, in all their gentle tease and coming from an outsider to this cosmos, still manage to measure the essence of almost 35 years of collective enterprises more precisely than they should. An essence shrouded in mystery and amalgamation, not for a lack of distinctive qualities but one of big egos.

Roberta, the more serious and mostly in private uproariously funny Jewish kid from the Bronx, never cared much at all for pulling off comedy that’s not her uniquely obstinate self-deprecation shtick, so Walter directed most of the comedic features they produced hand in hand instead. “Dear Pam” (1976), “Sweet, Sweet Freedom” (1976), “Liquid A$$ets” (1982) – films still widely attributed to Findlay in most sources, simply because no one cared enough to claim the due fame. But also because their bond carried over into their work – there’s always a pronounced lover’s ghost beating its shackles in the other one’s work. Roberta’s autodidactic camera eye brought an undercurrent of sophisticated intellect and careful visual reflection to Walter’s over the top social satire romps and he did what he did best. Composing. That strong notion of lost innocence and sexual angst coupled with a more contemporary sex positivity present in Roberta Findlay’s work had finally found a second string instead of having to rely on the ones vibrated ever after by long-gone masters’ compositions. Pop tunes equal parts catchy and melancholic now established a somber mood right away in “From Holly With Love” (1978), “Justine – A Matter of Innocence” (1980) or “Shauna – Every Man’s Fantasy” (1985) while hard rhythmed rock music embodied the last remainder of social rebellion inherent in a gang of ultraviolent, gone to the rack thugs in “Tenement” (1985). Two of his soundtracks still stand tall among the most underappreciated approaches to film scoring of the 1980’s. Short circuiting a story about far away and yet undead childhood memories with anachronistic romanticist era chamber pieces sometimes, sometimes not infused by the intruding beats of lying in wait modernity wasting her breath in vain, “Lurkers” (1988), that seminal growing up in the Bronx film, grew into one of Roberta Findlay’s most personal (and underseen) films. “Mascara” (1983) on the other hand, a film fueled by countless interactions of the horizontal kind, painted them in a highly averse, still empathic light by force of elegant synth runs that never fully take off, can’t manage to push the entangled bodies to carnal euphoria. The perfect embodyment of Findlay’s two-edged takes on human sexuality, forged by a kindred spirit. In all their obvious differences there was encapsulated something that made their approaches to life and work gel completely, without much questioning to do.

Walter, a war kid raised at least partially, inevitably by international turmoil, was a man of staunch beliefs. Just like my own grandfather who shared his vintage and always kept wondering about “diese Amis” he remained on on one side of a wide schism that severed ties between some of the most exposed first world countries for decades. “Walter would not set foot in Germany.”, recalls Roberta – herself the pardoning child of dispelled Hungarian Jews – alongside vivid recollections of him throwing out that dastardly “nazi” Alois Brummer, the couple’s best and most faithful returning international distributor, time and time again before her more professional calm secured another deal. Instead Walter cultivated a strong trust in American ideals, that frequently evoked collective dream, individual strength and assertiveness. When arrested with lover and crew in tow for one part smut production and one part John Holmes’ antique pistol collection that the notoriously well-hung actor used to just drive around in his trunk, Walter insisted, fought, recalled virtues like a veritable lion … and was the only one not set free on bail eventually. “Liquid A$$ets”, the film most undoubtedly his among their collaborations, is a testament to his imperturbable optimism – for in this lighthearted take on American cultural, economical as well as judical systems, their dirty enmeshment and shortcomings, personal uprightness does always trump in the end. Even in the most corrupt of circumstances everything will turn out well when it all comes down to it.

These traits must have endeared him to the people around him even though he was, as Findlay dubs it, the “most unsatisfying, difficult, impossible person to fight with.” “Enough!”, was his universal imperative to prohibit any and all conflicts brewing on set before continuing to simply ignore a certain culprit. “That’s the most infuriating thing of all.”, she smiles coquettish. And yet his love and dedication could weigh it all up, walking around Sear Sound you can still feel it flowing back to him after all these years. He is everywhere, in the recording and business philosophies valued there, the never changing rooms clad in memorabilia, random chatter among longtime employees, even his vacant chair overlooking the office table just as if its former occupant could come back from a temporary hiatus any minute now.

There’s a little text message drafted in the quick-witted, precise and non-chatty manner so customary to Roberta Findlay that I will perhaps always remember in full detail. Overwhelmed by the touching array of lovers’ oaths engraved into countless Central Park benches, I had inquired about potential remembrances of their love, the existence of a final resting place and memorial. “No and no per his instructions.”, was the answer. Truly, someone like Walter E. Sear, his ethics, the love he shared with her and she shared with him can never fully be measured in terms like work, industriousness or societal declarations such as marriage, even in life lived – and most certainly not in death. It all boils down to something far more fundamental, perhaps kitschy, by all means touching and determined to survive at least another ten years, maybe for all eternity. To give the final word to the love of his life: “We were everything. We were bound together.”


Roberta Findlay in “Lusting Hours” (John & Lem Amero, 1967)

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Dienstag, April 28th, 2020 in den Kategorien André Malberg, Blog, Blogautoren, English, Essays, Filmschaffende, other languages veröffentlicht. Sie können alle Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag über den RSS 2.0 Feed verfolgen. Sie können diesen Beitrag kommentieren, oder einen Trackback von ihrer eigenen Seite setzen.

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