The Trimbin Band Presents the Lost Films of Fred Engelberg

The Trimbin Band—Nick Hallett, Mikael Jorgensen, James Merle Thomas, and William Tyler—works with the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts to review, select, and score excerpts from Fred Engelberg’s motion picture and audio archives, now known as the Fred Engelberg Collection. Intended as part of a broader digital humanities initiative dedicated to the research and restoration of a body of work that has gone unseen for nearly forty years, their project draws from Engelberg’s own films and his extensive personal reserves of stock footage, which he used and repurposed throughout his career.

This program was performed in March 2016 at Kaufman Music Center as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival, and at Mass MoCA

A filmmaker, folk musician, poet, and playwright whose artwork touched on many aspects of the American postwar experience, Fred Engelberg (1929–2012) was a counterculture figure who contributed to diverse art, film, and music communities in New York and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. After releasing two Beat-inspired folk albums and relocating to LA in the early 1960s, Engelberg screened his short experimental films at the famous ‘Round Midnight Film Series, cavorted with Ferus Gallery artists Larry Bell and John Altoon, and regularly performed with Topanga Canyon folk singers at the legendary Unicorn Coffeehouse on Sunset Boulevard. In addition to collaborating with filmmakers and cultural figures Les Blank, Simon Wiesenthal, and Shel Silverstein (among many others), Engelberg worked closely with Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson, and Stephen Blauner, whose BBS production company (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show) ushered in a new era of independent cinema in the early 1970s. Tasked with directing BBS's documentary film division, Engelberg helped produce the Academy Award-winning film Hearts and Minds (1974) and completed, but never released, two feature-length films of his own. 

During this period Engelberg's experimental documentary films depicted the crisis in Vietnam, as well as domestic issues, including the civil rights movement, race riots, and protests led by university students and the Black Panthers, and explored fringe societal elements including American G.I.s seeking sanctuary in California's convents, the Hell’s Angels and the Ku Klux Klan. An artist whose principled aesthetic vision revealed the unrest—and poetics—of a nation in a period of dramatic transition, Engelberg and his diverse projects have remained until recently hidden from view, in part a consequence of his decision to relocate to the quiet of the southern California desert in the mid 1970s. Upon his death in 2012, Engelberg’s partner of over thirty years sought to place his life’s work with an institution that would assume the task of preserving and restoring his legacy.