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John H. Dorr

Died: January 1, 1993

Defying a pre-Revolutionary Harvard family, John Dorr attended Yale, where he created an unrecognized film major by focusing every class on film, e.g. a sociology paper on Battleship Potemkin. With Gary Davis and other J.E. men, he started the Yale Film Society, building an archive and cadging equipment to make audiotapes and mini films.

From graduate work at UCLA, Dorr became a noted scholar of D.W. Griffith and published articles and reviews in The Hollywood Reporter, Film Comment, and the LA Times.

As industrial video technology arrived in the late 70s, Dorr envisioned artists making films without relying on studios or heavy funding. They would need public venues to exhibit and distribute their work. He founded one, EZTV.

Dorr began by testing his own hypothesis. In 1978 he borrowed a black and white surveillance camera and over two days shot a low-budget, high-camp satire of commercial success. The wacky Sudzall Does It All,” is the first known video feature. He followed it with The Case of the Missing Consciousness, a tongue-in-cheek science fiction feature, this time in color. Between 1980 and 1982, working only weekends, Dorr produced his masterwork, the feature-length depiction of writer Dorothy Parker’s troubled relationship with her bisexual husband Alan Campbell, Dorothy and Alan at Norma Place.

With its screening in1982, Dorr inaugurated EZTV. From his two-story, cluttered loft in West Hollywood, he directed a self-contained studio with room for filming, editing, and exhibiting. Prospective filmmakers just needed money for videotape and groceries for their casts, he boasted. EZTV was home for profiles, documentaries, video noirs and dark comedies. Both the work and the EZTV concept received rave reviews. A cooperative of artists and equipment formed around Dorr. In the ensuing years thousands of tapes were produced, post-produced, or exhibited through EZTV, as well as countless live and multimedia performances. John Dorr and EZTV became a fixture of the LA art scene.

As EZTV grew, Dorr focused increasingly on administration. He made only one more theatrical feature, the quasi-mystical Approaching Omega, and one feature-length documentary, the internationally acclaimed Luck, Trust and Ketchup, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. He also co-directed the extensive Lannan Literary Series. His earlier work was not forgotten, however. Director Alan Rudolph requested a screening copy of Dorothy and Alan before making Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Explaining EZTV’s vision, co-founder Michael J. Masucci stated, “We get criticized for too much diversity, but we take our cue from television: programming as opposed to curating.” Indeed, compared to other video venues, EZTV was a free-for-all (figuratively and literally). A 2014 exhibition EZTV: Video Transfer at the ONE Archives Gallery & Museum in West Hollywood recalled EZTV’s support for gay video, alternative video, performance, art, and community-building.

Masucci donated Dorr’s papers and the EZTV video collection to the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, the largest such archive in the world.

See Dorr’s work at

John Dorr died of AIDS in 1993, but not before reading some excellent poetry about it in front of a video camera.

“The Age of Aids: Sorrow and Hope,” LA Poetry Fest, October 19, 1991

The American Film Institute dedicated its 1993 video festival to his memory.

— Based on accounts by David Evans Frantz and Strawn Bovee.

Robert Randall remembers:
John Dorr, John King, and I were roommates all four years at Yale. Charlie Jester was our fourth roommate in our freshman year. My recollection was that John’s family lived near Worcester, MA. John was from one of the pre-Revolutionary New England families. His grandfather, Dudley Huntington Dorr, Sr. was a Harvard graduate and a founding partner of Hale and Dorr, a leading Boston law firm. His grandfather strongly objected to his attendance at Yale, particularly since John had been admitted to Harvard. He had prepped at the (then male) Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts as had many of his relatives and at least one of his siblings.

At Yale his initial focus was in the sciences; however, it was soon clear that art, the arts, and especially film, were his focus. His student job was in the Masters office where he was much involved in the various arts interests in J.E. Film was his greatest interest. He managed to create an unrecognized film major at Yale by making his focus in every class on how the subject matter applied to film. His sociology class paper was on the Battleship Potemkin.

He started the Yale Film Society (assisted by Gary Davis and other JE men) with special emphasis on building a library of film and the archive of old films. He managed to cadge equipment to make audio tapes and small cameras for mini films. Often there would be the audio tape of a film the society had shown (which he had pirated on a large reel to reel recorder) playing at volume — the dialog from North by Northwest, Psycho or One-Eyed Jacks. If the sound track of an iconic movie wasn’t playing, the the Red Sox game must be on.

After graduation, John attended my wedding and shortly thereafter moved to Los Angeles to begin film school at UCLA. He became involved in the creative culture and, as you discovered, became a pioneer in creating access for film makers and for small film releases. Early in his time in LA he wrote and acknowledged to me that he was gay. He was very much part of the gay scene for a while, enjoying the freedom he had not been able to enjoy to that point. He did find a partner, whom I never met, George LaFleur. I know John King was able to see John in California. Sadly, for me, I did not. John died of AIDS in 1993; and if I recall correctly, George died soon after.

Here is a link to his New York Times obit:

John King remembers:
John and George, his significant other, and my spouse Feather and I, visited a few times over the years. The fact that we were both on the west coast, John in Los Angeles and Feather and I in Oregon, helped make that possible.

Those of us who continue to live on have to normalize each day, but there was that time in our lives when the plague of HIV AIDS was taking the lives of many of our friends and colleagues. Both John and George were among the victims whose lives were cut short before the treatments now available were found.

John gave me a video he had made about poetry, and I will search in our storage to locate that, as it may also contain the George’s last name. John was also working on a film about Roger Altman, the director. I think he was filming Roger Altman as he directed one of his movies.

All this is consistent with John’s passion for films and film making. I think his senior thesis as a history of art major at Yale was on Roger Korman of horror movie fame. I remember that he went to the movies a lot while we were roommates; and that seemed to me, a person who was spending hours in the library, not unhappily, a particularly great way to be doing homework. I also was always happy to take tickets at John’s invitation and then enjoy the movies he organized on campus for the Film Society. His enthusiasm for film was contagious.

One of the great pleasures in John’s life was the fact that he and George lived in the former home of Dorothy Parker in Los Angeles. That Dorothy Parker was and is celebrated as an author, feminist, raconteur, and also a Hollywood screenwriter who had the distinction of being blacklisted during the McCarthy period all endeared her to John. I catch a sense of John’s wry humor and sharp eye for social criticism in his love for Dorothy Parker.

I couldn’t remember the prep school John attended but found it named in our class book – Governor Dummer Academy, South Byfield, MA.