David X. Young films, 1955-2007

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research. Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials may require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact Research Services...
More about accessing and using these materials...


Young, David X., 1930-2001
Collection consists of 8mm and 16mm films, videocassettes, compact discs, and audiocassettes, deriving from artist David X. Young's work in New York City, Cape Cod, and Haiti. His New York work includes films of W. Eugene Smith working in his loft studio in 1971, as well as experimental films dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. Homemade audiocassette mix tapes document Young's interest in jazz as well as his piano playing. Videocassettes consist of reference copies of several films and television programs on W. Eugene Smith. This collection is part of the Archive of Documentary Arts. Original recordings are closed to research access pending reformatting.
12.5 Linear Feet (Seven boxes of film reels, one box of video- and audio-cassettes, and one box of CDs and DVDs.)
Materials in English
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The David X. Young Films, 1955-2007, includes film reels, videocassettes, and audiocassettes produced primarily by artist David X. Young between 1955 and 1996, in New York City, Cape Cod, and Haiti. Although transferred to the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library in 2012, the collection was originally acquired from Young’s estate by the Center for Documentary Studies, for use by Sam Stephenson in his research on W. Eugene Smith for the book The Jazz Loft Project (2010). As a consequence, nearly half the collection is comprised of materials relating to Young’s involvement in the production of "Let Truth Be The Prejudice," a half-hour documentary on Smith produced by CBS in 1971, as part of its Lamp Unto My Feet series. These materials include a composite print of the final 28-minute program, un-synced picture and soundtrack reels not used in the final program, and videocassette and disc copies of the reels created by the Center for Documentary Studies in 2007.

The balance of the collection consists primarily of elements related to film projects created by Young between 1955 and 1986, including Klaximo, Seven Haitian Moods, Duck Season. Many of the elements in the collection, representing these and other projects, were spooled--put together on one reel--to facilitate video transfer previous to the films being acquired by the Center for Documentary Studies.

In addition to these films, the collection contains nine audiocassette tapes, including radio broadcasts of music and spoken-word material, as well as one recording of David X. Young playing piano, and four VHS videocassette tapes, from television broadcasts of programs on W. Eugene Smith.

Biographical / historical:

David Benton Young was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 15, 1930. Young’s father, a jazz musician, committed suicide days after his son’s birth, and Young was raised by his grandparents and mother on Cape Cod. As a child he became interested in art through Disney animation, particulary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), developing a talent that would lead him to attend the Massachusetts School of Art in Boston. While there he became immersed in the jazz scene, becoming acquainted with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and others, and saw early success when a number of his works were shown and sold at the Mortimer Levitt Gallery in New York City. Upon graduating in 1952, Young reportedly threw his diploma into the Charles River and determined to move to New York. It was there in 1953 that he fell into a group of artists -- Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko -- who congregated at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. According to Young's daughter, it was around this time that he changed his name to David X. Young, the "X" lending the artist a sense of mystery.

Cramped in the Village and needing room to paint, in 1954 Young rented a loft at 821 6th Avenue, along with musicians Hall Overton and Dick Carey. Outfitting the loft for plumbing and electricity, he used it illegally as a residence as well as a studio. Bringing in pianos and drum kits, the loft residents created an atmosphere amenable to musical creativity, and In the coming years the space would become known as the Jazz Loft, where top jazz musicians would come to jam after their club dates. During this period Young created cover art for a number of jazz albums for the Prestige record label, as well as hundreds of sketches and paintings of life in the Jazz Loft.

In 1955, with funding from a Fulbright Scholarship, Young began visiting Haiti, inspired by the work of Charlie Parker and troubled by Parker’s death. “I knew [Parker] quite well. Mingus was coming to my place a lot. Mingus and Bird were very close. We were all hoping that he'd show up one day. He died on March 12, 1955 and Mingus got very upset. I can't explain it, but I felt that I had to try to get to the heart of black culture. To do that, you would normally go to Africa. But Haiti was just down the street. It was French as well, and if you wanted to do anything with art, you'd go to France. That's originally why I went” (Szpunar and Dante, 2002). In 1957, when photographer W. Eugene Smith sublet half of Overton's loft space, Young became increasingly interested in the possibilities of film as a mode of expression. “I sort of absorbed photography through him. I got interested in film” (Szpunar and Dante, 2002). Young visited Haiti frequently for the rest of his life for inspiration, often with a 16mm camera, and in 1986 produced Seven Haitian Moods from the resulting footage.

In 1960, Young moved to a loft on Canal Street. In 1963, he made Klaximo, in response to “the conceit that technology and the artificial will someday replace the centrality of the human.” (http://davidxyoung.com/projects/index.html). Klaximo's central theme, developed through the depiction of a sexual relationship between a woman and a machine, was for Young the rejection of "industrial eroticism": "I made Klaximo as protest against that very notion. The idea that machines or computers could better the idiosyncrasies of the human psyche. The big problem was to convey the illusion convincingly, which of course meant erotically. And it was largely a mise en scene editing and rhythm problem. It was a challenge just like painting a leafy tree in certain lights is a challenge. No other difference. I don't see anything avant garde about it. I think it is too clear for that category" (Szpunar and Dante, 2002). Young had difficulty getting Klaximo shown, which he attributed to the rise of Pop Art and prevailing sentiments in the underground New York film scene.

In 1971, Young shot hours of footage of W. Eugene Smith working in his studio for the CBS documentary series Lamp Unto My Feet. The resulting half-hour documentary was produced in conjunction with The Jewish Museum in New York City, which was mounting the Smith retrospective, "Let Truth Be The Prejudice."

Young continued to paint and work with his over the following decades. In 2000, Jazz Magnet released a 2-CD box set of recordings, with extensive notes, that Young made at the Jazz Loft in the 1950s and 1960s.

David X. Young died in New York City on May 22, 2001.

Sources: Szpunar, John and Melanie Dante. "'There are pictures in your paintings!' An interview with David X. Young." http://bdc-lancaster.net/criticalWriting/Pictures_in_your_Paintings.html, accessed November 2012.

Martin, Douglas. "David Young Dies at 71; Painter and Friend to Jazz Artists." New York Times, June 3, 2001. Accessed November 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/03/nyregion/david-young-dies-at-71-painter-and-friend-to-jazz-artists.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.

David X. Young Website, Projects page. http://davidxyoung.com/projects/index.html. Accessed November 2012.

Acquisition information:
The David X. Young Films were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in July, 2012.
Processing information:

Processed by: Craig Breaden, September 2012

Accessions described in this finding aid: 2012-0130

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Use of these materials may require production of listening or viewing copies. Please contact Research Services before coming to use this collection.

The collection may contain materials to which the Acknowledgment of Legal Responsibilities and Privacy Rights form applies. Patrons must sign this form before using the collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48-hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], David X. Young films, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.