As is often the case, Bill Daniel is on the road. Crossing West Texas, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker and “confirmed tramp” has his ’65 Chevy pointed toward Miami, where he will screen his latest film, Sonic Orphans, a collection of lost-and-found clips of six bands, including the Beatles and Sonic Youth, on Jan. 25 at Churchill’s. Daniel also plans to show Who is Bozo Texino?, his “mostly-factual cinematic account of the epic search and unlikely discovery of hobohemia’s most legendary boxcar artist”, on Jan. 24 (venue tba). Earlier today, Daniel was kind enough to pull off to the side of the road to talk to me about his films, his preference for the shovel over the keyboard, and the end of American life as we know it.
You make films, you do photography, you wrote a book — when people ask you what you do, what do you tell them?
A lot of times I’ll just say filmmaker, or photographer. I do all kinds of stuff, but really I’m just an artist. But you know, I get pulled over a lot, because I drive like a beater old van, and, you know, sleep in it. So when a cop pulls you over, they always ask, “What do you do?” And if you say “artist”, then they search your van. Then they’re really pissed off. So I’m not really that comfortable with the word “artist”. I generally always did construction work, and things like that to make money, so I can easily tell you something respectable like “laborer”.
So, I took a chance the other day and called Blockbuster to see if they carried Bozo Texino.
My movies are not at Blockbuster [laughing]. My movies are not at Netflix. I’m definitely an underground artist, for sure, in the DIY tradition.
You’re underground, but you’ve received plenty of art world accolades, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 2008. How have you made your name?
Basically by this kind of ground-level work. I’ve always kept my distance from the art world, or maybe they’ve kept their distance from me. But I do gallery shows occasionally. I’m working at something at the MOCA in L.A. right now, and Bozo Texino is actually going to be shown at the freaking Museum of Modern Art in New York next month.