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Bill’s Hat
April 2014

Bill’s Hat was a live cinema event performed twice in 1967, once at the experimental Toronto film festival Cinethon at Cinecity on Yonge Street in August (which had commissioned the film with a $1,000 prize), and again at the Art Gallery of Ontario in November. As biographer Jane Lind describes,

Bill’s hat (Joyce Wieland, 1967) 47 minutes Unfinished film. Coll. Cinémathèque québécoise
“…This idyllic film was only a part of the whole performance of Bills’ Hat, which included an altar with a hundred candles and pots of flowers. From the ceiling hung a pillow shaped like a heart. A woman lay silently on top of a piano with the hat on her belly. Besides the 50-minute movie projected on a screen, four simultaneous slide show featured the “hundreds” of people wearing the hat, and some of those sitting in the audience had small hand-held projectors that projected images on the backs of others. Strobe lights did for the eyes what the sound did for the ears, music from two live bands, Stu Broomer’s Kinetic Ensemble and The 25th Hour, a rock band that included Joyce’s nephew, Keith Stewart.”
Jane Lind
Joyce Wieland: Artist on Fire (Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 2001), 167.

The press release from the AGO (imaged below), and Wieland’s conversation interview with journalist friend, Wendy Michener (from the CQ archives, below), give the clearest accounts of her performance and film, as Wieland describes how she filmed and photographed hundreds of people wearing her old raccoon hat, including Jackie Burroughs, Jack Bush, Jean Sutherland Boggs, Judy Lamarsh, A.Y. Jackson, Timothy Leary, and Graeme Ferguson, whose son, Munro appears as one of the idyllic children in the opening sequence.

Michener and Wieland talking about Bill’s Hat

(1/4 inch audio tape, Coll. Cinémathèque québécoise)

Brett Kashmere and Astria Suparak describe Bill’s Hat within a history of Canadian live cinema, referred to as ‘expanded’ cinema as coined by Gene Youngblood in 1970, and also linking it to Expo 67’s multi-screen event, Labryrinth.

“Despite a rich and varied tradition, the history of Canadian live cinema has gone largely undocumented. Early pioneers include the interdisciplinary artist Joyce Wieland, who designed a mixed media event in 1967 for Cinethon, a 45-hour festival of underground film in Toronto. Bill’s Hat, commissioned by the host venue Cinecity, “stretched one’s perceptions to just below the pain threshold” with its “writhing welter of sound,” stroboscopic lights, four slide shows, and a 50 minute movie. That same year, the government-sponsored, multi screen Labyrinth (Roman Kroitor, Hugh O’Connor, and Colin Low) was presented at Expo 67 in a custom-built, five-story pavilion. Wieland’s rowdy sound and light collage and the epic-scaled innovations that were developed for Montreal’s hugely successful World’s Fair thus initiated a homegrown expanded cinema in the late 1960s.”
Brett Kashmere and Astria Suparak
“In Pursuit of Northern Lights: Tracking Canada’s Live Cinema,” available at

Wieland Expanded Cinema : Pics of AGO Performance Copyright courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Photo credit : Denis Robinson

Wieland Expanded Cinema : Pics of AGO Performance Copyright courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Photo credit : Denis Robinson

Wieland describes in the AGO press release, “The whole film (and slides) are non-art portraits of people in which they do what they want with this hat – and therefore, act or stand in front of my camera. It’s only love: therefore it can’t harm you.” As described in her interview, which offers a complex portal into the cultural politics and lexicons of the 1960s, she observes that people’s personalities were revealed as they donned the hat, embracing and enacting completely new persona, or just sticking it on top of their heads without much reaction.

Image of Joyce Wieland wearing a fur hat (Professional portrait), n.d. York University Library, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Joyce Wieland fonds, ASC33281 Photo credit : CHUMMY

Film archives

Handbill programme from the Art Gallery of Ontario from 29 November 1967 regarding events for Wednesday Open Night items mentioned: Untitled Painting (Triptych) 1966 by John Meredith and Bill’s Hat film by Joyce Wieland; mentioned for the week after are Isaac Abrahamsz Massa by Frans Hals abd Goldwin Smith at The Grange by Elizabeth Wallace. York University Library, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Avrom Isaacs fonds, ASC33275 Copyright courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto