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The purpose of this page is to give you an idea of the typical programming of a ciné16 show, and to provide you with details on films and filmmakers we've showcased. The following 53 programs, encompassing 184 films, are chronicled from most recent 2001 show backward to the first of the calendar year.
2001 Highlights: Noted documentarian Richard Leacock presented his classroom academic films at ciné16 on March 1. Ottawa filmmaker Lois Siegel joined us in person for a two-evening retrospective on June 14 and 15, showing six of her short films, plus documentaries 'Lip Gloss' and 'Stunt People'. On August 9th and 10th, Anna West hosted a two-evening retrospective of the art films made by her 85 year old father, Clifford West, featuring now-rare films from West's own collection. The program is a direct result of a preservation project conducted by AFA, which catalogued West's films, and assisted Anna in her efforts to become her father's archivist.
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Thursday, December 27... Drama in Academic Film: Larry Yust’s ‘Long Christmas Dinner’ and Peter Werner’s ‘Barn Burning’
Films on literature were among the most important in the academic classroom genre, involving an amazing spectrum of talented actors, directors, and writers. Tonight, we feature films representing two series that set the standard for educational films on literary themes, those of Robert Geller’s ‘American Short Story’, and EB’s ‘Short Story Showcase’.
'Long Christmas Dinner' (1975) 38 m, dir. Larry Yust, from ‘Short Story Showcase’. In a remarkable adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Long Christmas Dinner (1975), Yust uses elements of Japanese Noh Theatre to represent the passage of life over a dinner that spans years and generations. Entrances are made through a bright doorway, while departures --- indicating death --- take place through a pall-shrouded portal. To assist the actors and crew with the continuity of this extremely powerful story, Yust shot it entirely in sequence. An extremely powerful - and unnerving - film starring David Soul.
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s twenty-film ‘Short Story Showcase’ was coordinated under Clifton Fadiman, with each film directed by Larry Yust, Bernard Wilets, David Deverell, or John Barnes. Ten of the films consisted of the stories themselves, and was augmented by a companion Discussion Of film, describing elements of the story, the philosophy of the writer, or cinematic facets. Fourteen of the films were directed by Larry Yust, maker of perhaps the finest body of literature films in the educational genre. Yust, whose father Walter was the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, was exposed to films (and filmmakers) at an early age, when his father took him to Hollywood on a business trip for the purpose of collecting data on the film industry for the encyclopaedia. Later attending Stanford University as a math major, Larry became involved with the theatre department, developing an interest in set design, lighting, and directing. After military duty (television programming with Walter Reed Army Hospital as part of the Signal Corps' Army Pictorial Service), Yust further developed his craft at other television stations, most notably XETV, the ABC outlet in Tijuana. His films are superbly directed, written and edited, with exceptional cinematography, in most cases by Isidore Mankofsky.
‘Barn Burning’ (1980) 55m, dir. Peter Werner, from ‘American Short Story’. Racism and domestic violence are treated graphically in Horton Foote’s tale, starring Tommy Lee Jones in a terrifying portrayal of an ignorant and frustrated man consumed by hatred. As is the case with most of the films in the series, the ending is bittersweet. Here, a son attempts to reconcile his own increasingly conscious sense of morality with the immoral deeds of his father. In the end, his choice of physical freedom over the comfort of the familiar produces more questions than answers.
A former literature teacher, producer Robert Geller wrote a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund a series of films based on great works of American literature in honor of the bicentennial. Eventually encompassing seventeen films of up to 55 minutes in length, each film in the ‘American Short Story’ series boasted exceptional acting, directing and script, with hosted introductions by alternately Colleen Dewhurst and Henry Fonda. Although featuring the talents of many well-known actors, each film in the series had a total budget of under $250,000. The films gained additional exposure when later telecast by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Geller later went on to teach screenwriting at Columbia University, then moved on to Antioch College as Chairman of the English department.
Also on the program:
‘Why Don't You Dance?’ (1990) 13m, dir. Steven Condiotti. From a story by Raymond Carver, filmed in El Cerrito. Here, a sad man puts his possessions on in his front yard to sell, and two strangers arrive as buyers. They remain, to become part of the tableau. A beautiful, touching film.
Thursday, December 20... Tribute to a Cad: an Evening with George Sanders
‘Death of a Scoundrel’ (1956) 119m. dir. Charles Martin.
The cad has been so long gone from the public scene that we barely know what the word implies anymore, but we can see just what we’re missing in viewing the films of the late George Sanders, who didn’t really have to act, just merely be himself. The affected humor, the sneer, impeccable dress, and high-class manners were all Sanders really needed to pack in the suitcase that accompanied him on the journey from his native St. Petersburg, Russia to Hollywood, by way of England. He collected women along the way, probably the most famous of whom was Zsa-Zsa Gabor, who he married, and started on her acting career in 'Scoundrel'. Ultimately, she realized she couldn’t afford him; this did not in any way offend Zsa-Zsa’s mother, who Sanders may have romanced as well, a tidbit around which he deftly tread in his autobiography, ‘Memoirs of a Professional Cad'. "I was beastly, but I was never course", he stated, "I was a high-class sort of heel".
It was his treatment of, and commentary on women that marked Sanders as a man for the ages. He spent $25 for the ceremony when he married Gabor in 1949, and spent his honeymoon night in a motel. He lived the next eight years in her Beverly Hills house, alternating his time with an apartment he stocked with a full-blown workshop (Sanders would take apart virtually every car he ever owned, and would modify the steering to suit his needs).
He reveled in his opinions, and enjoyed their shock value when they appeared in the press:
He detested going to films ("I’m not qualified to comment on films because I never see them. I loathe movies") and plays (…and I loathe the theatre… there is the type of applause that is given grudgingly, as a form or largesse, a condescending, sneering, yawn-accompanied, insufferably patronizing applause. It is the kind of applause that I give").
Tonight’s film contains enough of the "real" George Sanders to give ciné16 viewers a taste of what move patrons of the 1940s through 1960s came to expect from a Sanders performance. Early in the film, he casually watches Yvonne DeCarlo snatch a man’s dropped wallet off the floor as he goes through U.S. Customs. He follows her, introduces himself to her at a bar, invites himself to her place, and, while she changes to a more elagant dress for the dinner to which he’s invited her, he slips the wallet out of her coat and departs, as she unwittingly continues her chatter. Later, he meets her again, and when she once more falls under his spell, he remarks "take off 3 inches of paint and you'd be quite attractive".
Also appearing in the film was Zsa-Zsa, and scores of other women. Gabor was quite the bonne-vivante herself. In her book 'How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man', she describes her life with Sanders:
The relationship was mercurial, although this was marital bliss for Zsa-Zsa:
Eventually, they split up, although Zsa-Zsa continued to‘see’ him:
As for the film itself, the first three reels of 'Scoundrel' present a master at his craft, while the final reel descends to base moralizing. As is the case with other "scoundrel" films of the era, Hollywood wasn’t about to let the cad get away with it all, a shame, because in real life, he did.
When it came time to leave the world, George Sanders was as matter-of-fact in his departure as he was in life. In 1972, having swallowed five tubes of Nembutal and a proportionate amount of vodka, he ended his life, leaving two notes. One, addressed to his landlord, contained $1500, enough for expenses. The other, he addressed to the world: "I am leaving because I am bored… I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool --- good luck."
Thursday, December 13... A Tribute to Mordechai Richler
Somehow, 70 was too young an age for Mordechai Richler (rhymes with "mitch-ler") to die. I awoke one morning in July at an unfamiliar hotel, opened the New York Times that had been left outside the door, and found mention of his passing in the obituaries. Not surprisingly, mention of his passing didn’t strike the editors of our local San Jose paper as being worthy for publication, but it stuck a chord here at ciné16. Richler was far more than a chronicler of Jewish life in Montréal: he was a story-teller of the first rank, and a funny, insightful man with an infectious, impish sense of humor. His films have been favorites whenever we’ve shown them, but many of us haven’t taken the time to visit Richler in print. If we had, we might have found:
(on the Canadian "brain drain")
(on Britney Spears)
We’ve shown two Richler films here at ciné16, and tonight we’ll repeat them, along with a third. If you’re not familiar with his work, you should be, and tonight’s films will explain why.
'The Apprenticeship of Mordechai Richler’ (1986) 58m, dir. Alan Handel. The writer suffered no fool gladly, offending talk show hosts, fans, and fellow alumni from his old secondary school alike. We see film clips from screen adaptations of his best-known books, "Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (starring with Richard Dreyfus), and "Joshua Then & Now" (James Woods), both directed by Ted Kotcheff. At odds with many in the Canadian Jewish establishment, Richler’s works were universal in nature, and the man, who spent 20 years in London before returning to Montréal, is portrayed here as an individual spoiling for a good literary or verbal fight.
‘Bambinger’ (1984) 24m, dir. Douglas Jackson. Set in WWII Montréal, we can sympathize with Sammy, and adolescent forced by his parents to give up his room to a refugee boarder, who lectures him with straight-laced moral platitudes, forged by a bittersweet European Jewish perspective.
'The Street' (1976) 11m, dir. Caroline Leaf. A terrific transformational animated film based on a Richler story of passage, utilizing the media of colors and oil on glass. Winner of the Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival Awards, 1977.
Also on the program:
'Crayfish' (1986) 11m, uncredited producer. We are in the process of producing a future ciné16 program on animal films for very young children, made by Asian filmmakers (yes! the genre exists). This film is an example, made by Video Japonica, and shows a crayfish eating and giving birth in close-up cinematography so terrifying, that you'd swear the filmmaker was in training for 1950's Japanese sci-fi.
Thursday, December 6... Nargileh Night at ciné16: Five Films from the Middle East
It’s nargileh and middle-eastern hospitality night at ciné16! We invite all of you to bring your "equipment", whether you call it a nargileh, shisha, hubble-bubble, or water-pipe, your coals and Egyptian tobacco, and join us for an evening of middle-eastern culture (warning: get here early for best seating, because SJS middle eastern studies prof Mira Zussman is bringing her entire class for a fun end-of-semester evening). Not familiar with the nargileh? Visit http://www.geocities.com/enjabbour/lelias.htm and take a look… if you want to buy one before the show, there are plenty of local Arab and Persian shops that will sell you one. We’ve scheduled an evening of exciting films that represent the best of middle eastern academic cinema, as follows:
‘Jafar’s Blue Tiles’ (1978) 25m, dir. Deepa Saltzman. Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman crafted what are certainly the finest series of ethnographic films for adolescents ever made. Each film in his ‘World Culture & Youth’ series (known in Canada as ‘Spread Your Wings) was concerned with the transference of the arts and crafts of a particular culture from older to younger people. In making a film, Saltzman would travel to different countries, seeking young people who had already begun the process of learning the craft, and would film them at that particular stage in the process, at the same time documenting the older people from whom the legacy was being learned. In the final analysis, the filmmaker combined storytelling and ethnography in a beautifully photographed documentary-like pastiche that holds interest for adult viewers as well. For more information on this important filmmaker, please visit the Saltzman page on cine 16’s website: http://www.ciné16.com/saltzman.htm
‘Jafar’ was directed by Saltzman’s wife, who later achieved distinction as a feature filmmaker (‘Fire’, 1996) under her maiden name Deepa Mehta, this is the story of a boy involved with restoring the dome of a mosque in the Iranian town of Soltanieh. The firing and glazing of the tiles, as well as their application, is fascinating.
'Taleb & his Lamb' (1975) 16m, dir. Amiram Amitai. This wonderful film stars the young Taleb El-Oukhbi in a story of love and betrayal shot in the Negev desert. Hassan El-Afinish & family, also from the Bedouin Al-Rahmani tribe, appear as well. Exceptional music by Margalit Oved.
‘Family Life: A Kibbutz' (1970) 13m, dir. Yehuda Tarmu. The idea of one’s children being taken care of by non-family members has ever been a difficult one for most Americans to accept, yet the Israelis have been doing it for years without it, apparently, tearing apart the moral fibre of the youth. Tarmu’s interesting look into how it’s done combines interviews with birth-parents and descriptions of the processes that make a kibbutz viable, and is remarkably undated, although made over thirty years ago. This film may be pertinent in this country as well: as more American families adopt the two-parent income, we suspect the kibbutz model may indeed be re-investigated by many who may see the communal life as a welcome alternative to the challenges of traditional American child care.
‘Pioneers of Science’ (1978) 20m, dir. Richard Ashworth. In the U.S., it’s a shame that the Arabs never get their due as producing perhaps the intellectual light that shone brightest during what we refer to as the Dark Ages. These master scientists created magnificent devices such as wind towers that cooled whole cities, and subterranean water channels that stretched for miles under the scorching sands to bring life to otherwise remote cities. They still exist today, as evidenced by this terrific film from John Seabourne’s ‘Mideast’ series.
‘Bakhtiari Migration: The Sheep Must Live’ (1973) 27m, dir. Anthony Howarth. Here, we see 500,000 people and millions of animals on their twice yearly, 200 mile trek between summer and winter pastures. The Babadi clan faces six major challenges crossing the Zagros mountains from the Khuzestan Plain to Esfahan: among them are River Jobar and Monah mountain, 9000 feet high. in southern Iran. Persian folk-singer Shushu is featured.
Thursday, November 29... Bidniz as Usual
In Aleppo, Syria a few years back, I engaged a shopkeeper in a conversation. Discovering I was a Yank, he blurted out "John F. Kennedy, one of my two favorite people". "Who was the other?", I asked. "Adolf Hitler", was his response. Puzzled, I asked what the two had in common. He replied: "Both strong leaders".
This bizarre sense of duality may not be as strange as it seems. Take good old-fashioned business, for example. Here we have the magic of hand-worked manufacturing and artistic product and packaging design on one hand, and fraud, the cheating of employees, and rip-offs BY employees on the other. Part Upton Sinclair and part Zig Ziglar, the domestic business world is a minefield dispersing both piñata candies Ponzi schemes, that, when perfected, we export to our foreign friends, a practice as American as apple-flavored pie. I wouldn’t worry about our crazy business world doing damage to my Syrian friend, though. They’ve been diagnosing the issues for 3,000 years, through the fusillades of numerous Hitlers and Kennedys.
Speaking of hardhats, let’s grab the clipboard and the labcoat, crank up the old business engine and see what’s under the corporate hood. On tonight’s program:
‘Face Value’ (1965?) 20m, prod. Walter Landor & Associates. Landor was a legendary packaging designer born in Munich in 1913, and influenced by the Bauhaus. In 1941, he moved to San Francisco and founded his design firm, which was located, for a time, aboard the ferryboat "Klamath", moored at Pier 5. In the mid-1960s his firm accepted the job of re-branding Falstaff beer. Focus groups indicated the beer was perceived as having the characteristics of "cool refreshment, masculinity, tradition, contemporary". Unfortunately, the new Landor label wasn’t as classy as the previous one, and the contemporary design was tacky (did Landor also work on "Burgie" of the same era?) Judge for yourself: there are two commercials from the era in the film. Did people "buy" it? Falstaff went out of business soon thereafter. For more on Landor, visit: http://www.landor.com/company/index.cfm?action=showPage&storyid=39
‘Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design’ (1979) 15m. prod. Suzanne St. Pierre. From a ’60 Minutes’ piece hosted by Morley Safer, the famed 85 year old designer here goes to the hardware store, and rates the packaging of roach poison and batteries. You’ve seen Loewy’s autos in photographs, perhaps rode the Greyhound Scenic-Cruiser bus, shopped at Filene's Basement, and still see his Exxon, Coca-Cola, Shell, logos daily. http://www.raymondloewy.com/
‘Paper Bandits: Checks, Counterfeit, Credit Cards’ (1983) 14m, uncredited director. Here we get sucked in on con games, hosted by well-acted bad-check passers, short-change artists, counterfeit money folks, and credit card thieves.
‘Your Credit is Good’ (1972) 14m, prod. David Altschul. Some more good cons: a sleazy car salesman, and salescon lady at a health club, which shows ta go there ain’t nothin’ new, kid!
'Plant Pilferage' (1966) 30m, dir. Francis J. Rose. Boy, I sure wouldn't want to work at this factory! This film was meant to show 60's plant managers how to prevent employee theft. The plant is surrounded by barbed wire, and the good guys go around checking lunch pails (one of the employees is shown hiding a clothes iron in it beforehand). Right off the bat, you start pulling for the employees, taking glee in every theft. Terrible microphone placement is one of the hallmarks of this remarkable period piece on industrial-employee relations.
‘Cooperage’ (1975) 13m, dir. Phillip Borsos. This film draws rave reviews whenever we program it. The intricate craft of making of wooden-staved barrels at Sweeney’s Cooperage in British Columbia is shown in fascinating film made by a director whose feature film ‘Grey Fox’ is a landmark of Canadian cinema. Ars longa vita brevis: Sweeney’s has been demolished since the film was made, and in 1995, Borsos succumbed to HIV-related leukemia at the age of 41.
Thursday, November 15... High Art From Low Places: Three Artists from the Benelux
In this day and age, there is little as unfulfilling as a book on the art of painting, with reproductions in black-and-white. One is tempted to apply the same standard to art films, and yet each of the three non-color films on tonight’s program brings something exceptional to the understanding of the world of art. Two of them were made during an era in which color stock was either largely unavailable (Rubens), or not used within the medium (Huntley), while Escher’s work was made originally in b&w.
‘Rubens’ (1947) 45m, dir. Henri Storck Unable to portray Rubens’ great sense of color in this black and white film, the famed Belgian documentarian instead concentrates on form and creative camera work. In this multiple award-winner, he describes balance by outlining forms, and turning paintings upside-down, juxtaposes similar themes as treated by earlier artists, and uses cinematic conventions such as masks and spinning cutouts.
‘Chet Huntley… Reporting (Sotheby's)’ 30m, dir. George F. Murray. In 1959, Rubens' painting "Adoration of the Magi" was auctioned at Sotheby’s to pay death duties on the Grosvenor estate on behalf of the Duke of Westminster. You had to be there: Lady Churchill, Ari Onassis, and auctioneer Peter Wilson were, and so were lots of other exciting people you wish you knew. The result? The largest amount ever paid for a painting up to that that time, £275,000, or $770,000. This strangely unsettling film was aired on NBC’s "outlook" series on June 28, 1959.
‘Adventures in Perception (Escher)' (1971) 21m. dir. Han Van Gelder. A beautifully crafted film relying on the two-dimensional drawings of M.C. Escher, master of perspective. A favorite of art school students everywhere, our print is a bit hacked at the beginning before it settles into sprocket-arms of the mighty (but temperamental) Bell & Howell 552 for a gentle glide to finish. Of the numerous prints we’ve seen, this is the most watchable. An Oscar nominee in 1971 for Best Documentary short.
'Paul Delvaux dans son Atelier' (1978) 10m, dir. Henri Storck. A poetic film, again by Storck, who was born in 1907 and worked as an assistant for Jean Vigo during the filming of 'Zero for Conduct', and who critic Georges Sadoul cited as being the "best Belgian filmmaker" of the course of his long career. Here, he visits the well-known Belgian surrealist in his studio, with his nudes.
And, our special 'Holiday with Lee' film, with Mr. Showmanship, the amazing Liberace himself, and a special turkey guest (circa 1955).
Thursday, November 8... Robert Emmett Presents: Quilts, Canoes, Books, and Circuses.
(notes by Robert) Tonight, ciné16 looks at a variety of handiwork. The
distinction between art and crafts has always been a fuzzy one, as Art is
usually defined as what one finds at a museum, while Crafts are what one finds
at home. We all know that the celebration of human expression can hardly be
limited that way. The individuals featured in tonight's program show how
ingenious simple things can be, or become.
'Calder's Circus' (1963) 17m, dir. Carlos Vilardebo. From his home in Saché France, the gruff and funny Alexander Calder hosts, in French and English, a circus consisting of his small wire, cork, and cloth sculptures. They perform to the tune of Mrs. Luisa Calder's Victrola, attended by a small-but raucous audience of friends. This documents some of Calder's finest work, which he stopped formally exhibiting "when it filled 5 valises".
Thursday, November 1... Our 5 year anniversary party: John Huston's 'Fat City'
‘Fat City’ (1972) 93m, dir. John Huston. Perhaps Roy Blount Jr., in the February 14, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated characterized it best:
"The Civic Auditorium in Stockton, Calif., where fight scenes were being filmed for the forthcoming movie ‘Fat City’, was one atmospheric arena. The on-camera seats were
filled with about six ethnic strains of scroungy-to-genteel Stockton extras, and the air was heavy with fumes: fake smoke, from a machine that blows mineral oil over dry ice, and real smoke, from the Don Diego Dunhill Selección Supremas Director John Huston handed out to front-row spectators when he felt the air was getting too clear around them."
We’ve chosen Huston’s epic film of a washed-up fighter as our 5th anniversary show, as a tribute to the California that’s slowly dying, plowed under by soulless tract homes and whitewashed outlet malls. Time was, you could go to San Jose’s Civic Auditorium, watch a card of wrestlers who never traveled east of Denver, and order a "big beer", which was served in an oversized popcorn tub. On another night roller derby would come into town, and Charlie O’Connell, Tony Roman, Ann Calvello, and Joan Weston would ply their trade on taped-up skates, flying through the mist of heavy cigar smoke like the spectral, tattered crew of the lost Flying Dutchman, rising and falling on waves forged from plywood and steel.
You might meet a girl from Modesto or Turlock there, and the next day, drive into the central valley to pick her up at home, where you’d meet dad, sitting in a rocker in the wood-paneled living room, puffing on a pipe, reading the "Shotgun News". He wouldn’t say a word about your long hair, long ago having decided "live-and-let-live" was a pretty good policy, knowing his girl was old enough to make her own decisions. Ten minutes and five miles out of town later you and your girl were in a corn field, backseating it on a moonlit night, then suddenly, jarringly wondering how the hell the farmer on his tractor, headlights a-blazing, knew a red VW bug has snuck its way in between the rows. And you learned that you really could handle clutch, brake, and gas pedals with your pants tight around your ankles, butt-naked, as your girl screamed in fear and delight as you raced the damn tractor on a track where deep, mushy earth polished your hubcaps and sullied your brakeshoes.
For a moment, I awaken from this reverie just long enough to reflect on this long gone world: the small-town arenas are pretty much boarded up or demolished, replaced by airplane hangar-sized structures where front-row seats require binoculars, and high-security hidden doors keep exiting performers safely away from their fans; a modern version of the carpetbagger has come into town, knocked down skid row, put up a parking lot and a convenience store, taxed the farmers into selling their property, and built tracts and freeways; smoking, guns, and big beers have been killed, or pretty near so, by something a friend once called "liberal fundamentalism"; the girl in the cornfield no longer serves midnight coffee down at the café on main street, she works at Wal-mart.
Which, I guess, brings us back to the film. I’ll make it brief: Stacey Keach and Jeff Bridges mix it up on the mat, Susan Tyrrell learns ya how not to drink, and veteran boxers Curtis Cokes and Art Aragon add a well-lived-in verisimilitude to their roles as trainers and hangers-on. Probably my favorite is the character of Lucero, who arrives on the Greyhound for his bout, coughs up some blood the evening before, then leaves the shut-down arena after his victorious match alone, single bag in hand, to board the midnight bus back to L.A. or Tijuana.
This is a film about a world that, in every way, no longer exists. Are we truly better for it?
Blount’s article, describing the people and personalities surrounding the making of this film, really is terrific. Read it at: http://cnnsi.ch/features/2001/movies/reviews/fat_city/
Thursday, October 25... ...but is it "art"? Part II
‘New York School’ (1975) 55 m, dir. Michael Blackwood. Blackwood has an extremely impressive body of film work in the arts, specializing in the work of non-representational artists. What is most impressive about Blackwood’s films is their lack of pretense. The art world has long been cluttered with artbabble spoken among people having advanced art degrees who, unable to communicate ideas to the intelligent public simply, clearly, and evocatively, write to each other instead in code, through museum catalogues and wall placards. Blackwood’s got it right. The artists mostly care about conveying an emotional feeling on the canvas, and are quite capable of discussing the means of employing the medium, their influences, and how and why they paint the way they do. The filmmaker captures all that here in encyclopedic fashion, unfolding a world that evolved from surrealism (Bréton called Gorky "the last surrealist", while others credited him as the first abstract expressionist) to action painting, and beyond. In this film, we see an animated Jackson Pollock changing to his paint-encrusted work shoes, mad-scrambling over floored paintings, then peering through a clear horizontal "canvas" of Lucite, attacking the camera with a machine-gun of black paint. We hear the only recording of his voice ever made, and visit with his wife, friends, enemies, and unknowns: painters Adolph Gottlieb, Jack Tworkov, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Al Held, Lee Krasner, Willem DeKooning, Joan Mitchell, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt. Critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg describe the history and impact of the movement, including the importance of departed artists such as Franz Kline and Hans Hoffmann, and patrons such as Peggy Guggenheim. Crossing disciplines, composer Morton Feldman discusses his contribution to Mark Rothko’s chapel in Houston.
The film is an important one, providing a historical context to the "big" paintings seen in every museum of modern art today, and saving the viewer from having to hack through interminable art treatises written by those who didn’t make the cut.
‘Look of a Lithographer’ (1966) 45m, dir. Jules Engel. How are lithographic prints made? Here we see the process of preparing the limestone, scrubbing, grinding, and polishing the surface, followed by the elaborate procedure involved in inking the leather roller. Artist Louise Nevelson is profiled here, ready to work the stone and supervise the making of a print, all the while batting her spider-like false eyelashes at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop staff.
Thursday, October 18... Pelé!
Now, I’m gonna tell you how really REALLY different ciné16 is from every other film venue in the U.S. Film programmers, as a lot, don’t want to take risks. They don’t mind showing campy hygiene films from the 50s, because everybody from the Eisenhower years looks funny (will they say the same about us tatooers & piercers when we’re in our 80s?). They won’t, however, take the risk of showing John Barnes’ Shakespearean films, because they’d have to make take the affirmative position that an "educational" film can be good education. They’ll show 8mm home movies taken by a doctor on vacation in Zamboanga, or out-of-focus "experimental" films by Famous Experimental Filmmakers, showing their infants rolling around the floor crying: after all, genius is... simply genius! Here at ciné16, we pride ourselves on showing films that are remarkable in their own right, and cut against the politico-cinematic grain; we revel in showing the little-known treasures that seem to escape everyone’s notice.
This week, I bought a few films that, frankly, I thought would be good to sell through our ‘Museum’ site. There are lots of sports nuts out there who will buy just about anything with favorite stars, our projectors are getting long-in-the-tooth, and I can sense more large repair bills… time to be revenuin’. I bought, therefore, five films on Pelé, the soccer king, and hold onto your hats because they’re so damn good, WE’RE SHOWIN’ ‘EM!
This week’s show:
'Pelé: the Master & His Method' (1973) 60m, dir. Sal Lanza. Sports instructional films tend to be awful. The music always seems dated, even when the film is only a few months old, the athlete rarely ever appears to be having a good time, and there’s never a social context beyond athletics for athletics sake. This series of films, for a change, breaks all the rules. They are the greatest sports instructional films we’ve ever seen, rising above the mundane with terrific close-ups of Pelé’s techniques, followed by actual clips, many of them from World Cup matches, showing the technique applied in an actual game. Miss it? Now we get it returned, in slow-motion. The marvelous soundtrack is performed by the legendary Sivuça, complete with birimbau, accordion, flute, and percussion. What made these films truly extraordinary, though, are the charming, non-cloying scenes showing the great star playing with a rag-tag group of ordinary kids on the beach in Río, or in a bare-dirt country soccer field fronted by simple wooden homes. In one of these films, the point is made that Edson Arantes do Nascimento grew up just like these kids, with as little predictable opportunity. We suspect these films were made originally by an uncredited Brazilian filmmaker, with titular director Lanza reformatting these for North American audiences. We feel that the affective success of these films is largely due to the original filmmaker quickly reaching a sense of simpatico with Pelé, who seems to be authentically enjoying every moment. In terms of music alone, the choice of Sivuça proves there’s a Brazilian filmmaker behind this series, without a doubt; a Yank would have chosen the Tijuana Brass.
Beyond being a series of instructional films, these episodes are historical documents indicating a ballet-like quality to the man who played for Futebol Club Santos from 1956-1971. The five 12 minute films that make up this segment of tonight’s show are: ‘Ball-juggling & Dribbling’ (he "juggles" a grapefruit in the air with his feet), ‘Shooting’ (the bicycle kick is remarkable), ‘Trapping & Heading’, ‘Passing’, and ‘Physical Preparation’.
Also on the program:
‘Raft’ (1974) 30m, dir. George Sluizer. Now a noted feature filmmaker, Sluizer made memorable documentaries throughout the 1970s. Filmed in state of Maranhão, the caboclos of NE Brazil build raft of 8000 logs of balsa wood, then take it down the Balsas River. This 36x18 foot raft contains no nails, and becomes a floating compound, complete with livestock, for the workers and their families. They travel 700 miles in three weeks to the city of Teresina, to sell the wood which makes up the raft, as well as their animals, for under $20.
‘Brazil: People of the Highlands’ (1956) 17m, prod. John Bobbitt. From the naïve days of pre-1960 academic film. Here we wind back the time machine: old cars, buses of the cities, beautiful shots of the coffee and cotton fazendas, purchases made in the country store. Not much said about agrarian reform, the politics of the company store, or the conditions for workers in the mine. Beautifully shot.
Thursday, October 11... Barinda Samra Presents ciné16 Classics (great programs from our archives of previous shows)
Tonight: Dueling Diaspora --- 'House on Chlouch Street'
Thursday, October 4... The Great American War Machine
Tonight, we present two of the finer documentaries we’ve seen on the subject of war. The first film describes some of the processes the military has historically put in place to "sell" the public on defense spending, while the second is a sobering reflection of what combat is really like for the men and women on the front lines.
‘The Selling of the Pentagon’ (1971) 50m, prod. Peter Davis. This well-known documentary is reportedly the one that pushed the Nixon White House over the edge in calling for a full-scale investigation into the alleged subversiveness of the media, and served as a springboard for catapulting Spiro Agnew into the spotlight as public inquisitor. Here, CBS News' Roger Mudd accompanies a group of conservative taxpayers on an Army-sponsored field trip to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, where their visit culminates in a "mad minute" consisting of a blistering salvo of light arms fire. The manager of a shopping mall in Minnesota describes the military’s successful appeal to place marketing materials in a kiosk, just one of the many PR strategies divulged by Peter Davis and team, one of which involved the use of actors such as Jack Webb and John Wayne. Our favorite part of the documentary is a blistering tirade by USMC General Louis Walt, clearly angered by what he perceived as a lack of patriotism on the home front. Today, we see military PR as a given, its sales tactics as American as the Nash Metropolitan, and it may be difficult to see just what the military was so upset about. The military response to the film, however, was forceful: F. Edward Hebert, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, filed a formal protest with the FCC, and eventually CBS News was subpoenaed to deliver all documentation surrounding the film. Eventually, CBS News was spared going through court proceedings, as the Senate carefully evaluated the investigation’s overall impact on First Amendment.
‘A Face of War’ (1967) 70m, dir. Eugene S. Jones. Let’s follow Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment on a search-and-kill mission. 'Face' is filmed without commentary, and constitutes what is possibly the most sobering and powerful example of war as it existed in Vietnam, complete with terrifying night firefights, medivac ops, and quiet walks through the village. This is an exceedingly rare showing of one of the finest documentaries ever filmed, undoubtedly among the most dangerous missions ever taken by a civilian camera crew.
Thursday, September 27... ...but is it "art"? Part I
No doubt about it, we don’t get to see enough art films. To develop an appreciation for the art of today, it’s important to understand where we were in the past, which enables us to put the unfamiliar in context. Without the historical background, we become the symphony goers who insist on Beethoven’s Fifth, the dance aficionados who are confused at anything beyond the ‘Nutcracker’, the museumers who cry for yet more Pierre-Auguste Renoir. As arts organizations race to lower their shows to lowest common denominator levels in order, as they say, to "attract new people", one wonders how, without educational programs to raise the bar, arts organizations will succeed in elevating their attendees to the point to where they will realistically be capable of appreciating cutting-edge anything. As an example of the kinds of films that both educate and enlighten, visit our little museum under the streets to try these two on for size:
‘American Art in the '60s’ (1971) 57m, dir. Michael Blackwood. Don’t you wish that a documentarian had been around to conduct face-to-face interviews with all the impressionist painters you know & love, showing them at work in their studios, and discussing their influences? Fortunately, Blackwood did it here, with the leading lights of the movement in art that immediately followed abstract expressionism, encompassing Pop Art, Minimalism, color-field painting, hard-edged abstraction, and "happenings", drawing a basic division between the east coast and est coast scenes. Hold your breath, as I’m going to run through the chronological order of artists (and others ) interviewed her: Bob Rauschenberg, John Cage, Leo Castelli, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, Claes Oldenberg, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, critic Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Ron Davis, Sam Francis, Robert Irwin, Ken Tyler of Gemini, and Andy Warhol. Whew…
‘Running Fence’ (1977) 58m, dir. David/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin. It was a year after the used record store I started closed down, after the megastore opened down the street and, in offering whole catalogues of the same records we sold, managed to sell them for less money new, than we could used. Such is life. Somehow, some way, I’d cobbled enough money from selling our depleted stock, to go to Spain for 6 weeks, where I met the girl from Barcelona who soon moved back with me to California. I landed a job in a special ed classroom, working with children having communication disorders. The freewheeling days of doing anything I wanted, any time I wanted, had pretty much come to an end, I thought. Christo (in collaboration with his wife, Jeanne-Claude) was in the news: he wanted to put up a 24 mile running fence through ranchlands in Sonoma and Marin counties. 18 feet high and made of nylon, he’d won the battle with individual ranchers, battled coastal commissions, and now the damn thing was going up. I’ll admit, I couldn’t quite grasp the "art" element in all this, but I was willing to go along (after all, I grew up in dada, and believed that, just by calling it "art", you made it so). It would only be up for two weeks, and I took my beat-up red VW bug up there to see the fence. It was beautiful, in a way that was absolutely unimaginable unless you were actually there, and could get out of the car, and see this shining, translucent ribbon brilliantly outlining the breathtaking landscape.
Fortunately, the Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin were there too, and their film, consisting of all of the arguments, meetings, and alliances, that made the fence as much performance art as monumental sculpture, is magnificent, historical, and as Californian as can be. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website is a kick (http://www.christojeanneclaude.net ), if a bit tricky to navigate. Here’s what I found, and liked:
Thursday, September 20... The Spoken Word Respoken
If you don't think the value of the spoken word has been diminished in this society, try walking into any bar in the western hemisphere after 10 pm on a weekend night. There, instead of being able to engage in conversation and intelligent discourse, the sheer volume of the music forces patrons to communicate by guttural grunts, yells, and war-whoops. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, as each individual theoretically makes his or her own entertainment choices. Today, however, establishments serving alcohol do not attempt to cultivate a clientele of people whose main objective is to discuss arts, letters, the human condition, romance, and those strange coffee beans that emanate from the intestinal tracts of Micronesian monkeys and command top dollar in the best dining establishments in Europe. Here in San Jose, with the departure of institutions such as Howard Buzick's Cafe Babylon, or Bob Mello & Joel Tansey's Upstairs at the Eulipia, there is no drinking establishment catering to the wild & barely manageable art and literature crowd that makes up a significant part of the night scene in any major, sophisticated city. It's tempting to say that people in the loud-volume bars of today have nothing to say anyway. But face it, unless they have an opportunity to practice the ancient, venerated, and nearly lost art of verbal communication, and thereby, in doing so, engage in the free exchange of ideas that is part and parcel to becoming an informed participant in an enlightened society, they'll forever continue falling into yet more insipid social fads, like drinking coffee mined from the bowels of primates. Which, when it occurs, will only drive up the price for the rest of us.
Tonight, we revel in a program that elevates the spoken word to an art form, even if, in the case of 'Speak White', non-francophones will have to relate to it on passion alone.
‘A Visit with Carl Sandburg’ (1953) 30m, dir. Martin Hoade. Between 1952 and 1956, NBC embarked on a wonderful series of interviews with aging giants of the art world, called ‘Conversations with Elder Wise Men’ (ciné16 has already programmed two of these, Frank Lloyd Wright and Wanda Landowska). Here, the animated, 75 year old poet waxes profoundly on Republicans and hangings, discusses his arrest for riding the rails, reads from "Phizzog" "A Couple", and Sliphorn Jazz", plays guitar & sings "The State of El-a-noy" and "Before I’d Be a Slave". His sincerest passion, however is for Abraham Lincoln, as he discusses his life, and the joys of writing the biography of his beloved president.
‘Deserted Village’ (1970) 17m, dir. Howard Jensen. In 18th century England, common farmlands were ripped away from farmers who had diligently worked the land for generations, and given whole-hog to large landowners, leaving the small farmers destitute, and, to a large extent, indentured servants to the new landowners. Whole villages were plowed under in order to extend the fields of the very rich, destroying tradition and culture. Those who refused to works on lands they formerly tilled often went to large cities, where, unskilled, they were thrown into the maw of the excesses of the industrial revolution. "Sweet Auburn", the village of which Oliver Goldsmith writes in his epic poem, is the home of "the sheltered cot, the cultivated farm, the never-failing brook, the busy mill, the decent church that topped the neighboring hill", all of which were torn apart and plundered by the wealthy, emboldened by these Special Acts of Parliament. Goldsmith’s powerful poem turns excessively grim, as he tells the tale of a displaced people. The narrative is accompanied by enchanting watercolors from the brush of fabled set designer Walter Hodges.
‘Speak White’ (1980) 10m, dir. Pierre Falardeau/Julien Poulin. Michèle Lalonde's acerbic French poem attacks the KKK, wars, protests, and poverty. Brilliantly read by Marie Eykel, accompanied by Julien Poulin’s neat musique-concrète score. Proof that the power of the forceful spoken word, accompanied by pictures, can overcome one’s inability to fully comprehend an unfamiliar tongue.
‘John Jacob Niles’ (1976) 30m, dir. William Richardson. The noted composer ("I Wonder As I Wander," "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair") and collector of folksongs here demonstrates his performance in high falsetto, and, more impressively, his extremely strange acting-out of lyrics. Although I wouldn’t except him to be performing in bib overalls, his insistence on black-tie is just plain bizarre. Niles (b. April 28, 1892, d. 1980) is an icon too revered for anyone but your review team at ciné16 to question, as you can see for yourself by visiting the moderately informative website at: http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NilesCenter/jjn.html
'W.B. Yeats: a Tribute' (1950) 22m, dir. George Fleischmann/John D. Sheridan. His coffin rides on bow of ship, returning to Ireland. This beautiful, brooding film is a fairylike visit to Yeats' Irish haunts punctuated by examples of his prose & poetry, read in a wonderful lilting manner. Aye, there's a visit to his grave, too, with the poet's (1865-1939) epitaph carved into the cold marble: "Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by."
Thursday, September 13... International Avant-Garde Filmmakers of the 1920s, Part III: Absurdist Ballet in the House of Usher
‘Entr’acte’ (1924) 15m, dir. René Clair. The film was commissioned by Les Ballets Suédois de Rolf De Maré to appear between two acts of the Dada ballet ‘Relâche’, with music by Eric Satie (who also wrote the film score to ‘Entr’acte’, unhappily not part of our print). The film is a loose collaboration between many of the leading lights of the Dada set, including Satie, Man Ray, Georges Auric, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia, the latter of whom Clair considers to be the genius behind the film, and who characterized the film by stating that it "respects nothing except the right to roar with laughter". Here, everything is absurd, from the camel-led funeral, to the chess players (Ray and Duchamp) being doused with water, to what is certainly one of the most marvelous endings in film history, disputed by one emphatic member of the cast.
‘La chute de la maison Usher’ (1928) 55m, dir. Jean Epstein. Epstein’s version of Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher’ also contained elements of the same author’s ‘The Oval Portrait’. Our print is completely silent, and all titles are in French, a fact which diminishes the value of the film very little for discerning Anglophone audiences. Perhaps Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française described this film best: "The cinematic equivalent of Debussy. An absolute mastery of editing and rhythm in which slow motion, superimpressions, moving camera shots, and the mobile camera combine to play a totally ungratuitous role. The lighting of the sets transforms them and imparts a sense of mystery. The actors were merely objects." The assistant director was Luis Buñuel.
‘Rain’ (1929) 13m, dir. Mannus Franken & Joris Ivens. An impressionist view of Amsterdam before, during, and after the rain, filmed over four months, utilizing a hand-held camera.
Thursday, September 6... International Avant-Garde Filmmakers of the 1920s, Part II: Ménilmontant to Chien Andalou
‘Ménilmontant’ (1924) 30m, dir. Dimitri Kirsanov. This marvelous film anticipates the work of Italian neo-realism by twenty years, and cinéma vérité by thirty, in a story that is told completely without titles of any kind. Here, two sisters from the country find city life to be challenging, as one becomes pregnant by a lover who pointedly casts her away, while the other works as a prostitute. Kirsanov’s rapid cutting is especially forceful in the fight scene toward the end of the film, as the moving camera, in close-up, darts acrobatically back and forth across the flying bodies. What we liked best was his emphasis on showing action and chaos though shots of rapidly moving feet, the wheels of autos and trains, and tracking over pavement.
‘Symphonie Diagonale’ (1924) 5m, dir. Viking Eggeling. Born in Sweden but of German ancestry, Eggeling moved to Germany at the age of 17, became a bookkeeper, and studied art. He moved to Paris, then Switzerland for the duration of the Great War, where he was introduced to the Dada movement, meeting Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, and filmmaker Hans Richter. After the war, he returned to Germany, bought a camera in 1922, and finished ‘Symphonie’ in 1924. Here, paper cut-outs and tin foil figures are shot frame-by-frame, utilizing pixillated animation. The non-representational art deco/cubist images are rhythmically erased whole or in part, a precursor to the syncopated editing used by Norman McLaren a generation later (whether McLaren ever saw Eggeling’s film is another matter). The public debut of ‘Symphonie Diagonale’ in 1925 might have launched a brilliant career for the filmmaker, but he lived only sixteen more days, dying in Berlin at the age of 45, from complications derived from syphilis.
‘Ballet méchanique’ (1924) 10m, dir. Ferdinand Léger. The famed Cubist painter and technical associate Dudley Murphy utilized drawn, painted, and photographed forms, rhythmically producing a film of seemingly disparate objects and themes, some of which re-occur in continuous loops; the film is completely silent, without sound accompaniment.
‘Surrealism’ (1972) 24m, dir. Egons Tomsons. The surrealist movement in art wove threads of its psycho-mystical tapestry through virtually all avant-garde narrative films of the 1920s. Here, we provide a historical perspective on the movement as a preface to ‘Chien Andalou’. Tomsons’ fast-paced overview begins with the forerunners: Bosch, Breugel, Ensor Redon, Rousseau, De Chirico, and Chagall, who influenced Arp, Duchamp, Klee, Miró, Tanguy, Magritte, Dalí, and Delvaux. A bit too "catalogy" for our tastes, but a fine retrospective on the movement nonetheless.
‘Un Chien Andalou’ (The Andalusian Dog) (1928) 16m, dir. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. The quintessential surrealist film, ‘Chien’ was made by these two young Spanish iconoclasts as a means to shock viewers. By now, many of us are familiar with the eyeball-slitting scene; my own favorite has a woman nervously searching under her arm for hair that had mysteriously transposed itself onto a man’s face to become a beard. Of the film, Dalí suggested that it "ruined in a single evening 10 years of pseudo-intellectual post-war advance-guardism." (Pronounce that word "suedo", buster!)
Thursday, August 30... International Avant-Garde Filmmakers of the 1920s, Part I: Caligari and ‘Fièvre’
The new wave of filmmakers whose iconoclastic films swept over Europe in the 1920s were a group whose previous successes had been achieved primarily in other art forms, from painting to collage, photography to literary criticism. The new films would eventually be classified under such disparate terms as Impressionism (completely unrelated to the painting movement of the same name from the late 19th century), Dada, Surrealism, and Expressionism. What they all had in common, regardless of stylistic differences, was a sense that what had, heretofore, been "cinema" was hackneyed and predictable; it needed change in order to progress, whether it be toward the non-representational, the absurd, the abstract, or, as was the case with Impressionist film, a shift in thematic direction toward the perspective of the working class, where leisure was anathema, and tales did not always result in happy endings. For the next three weeks, ciné16 will explore these significant and little-shown films, whose influence helped to chart the direction of world cinema for the following three decades.
A note about the prints: the films in this series are from the silent era; some of them have recorded orchestral soundtracks, but most of them have no sound whatsoever. Several of them have very little in the way of titles (one is completely in French), frustrating for some viewers, but rewarding to the astute filmgoer, who, free of the burden of words and music, will revel in the artistry of a filmmaker who tells a story through cinematography and editing alone. We invite you to share in these treasures of our cinematic past, and perhaps enjoy a new perspective and approach to viewing a film.
‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (1920) 53m, dir. Robert Wiene. Originally inspired by the case of a brutal sex slaying in Hamburg, the film was first offered by producer Erich Pommer to Fritz Lang (‘M’, "Metropolis’), who turned down the directing job due to a scheduling conflict, leaving the job to Robert Wiene, whose expressionist credentials would, after ‘Caligari’, be further enhanced by his 1923 film ‘Raskolnikov’. Often cited as the foremost example of Expressionist cinema, ‘Caligari’ is the tale of a mad carnival somnambulist, and takes place in a small German town of fantastically angled streets and buildings, cast in stark, diagonal shadows. Frankly, the story of a murdering sleepwalker (here played by Conrad Veidt, Major Strasser of ‘Casablanca’ fame), and real, or imagined madness, is not the strong point of the film. Rather, the sets themselves, created by artists Hermann Warm, Walter Röhrig, and Walter Reimann, built to mirror the terror and psychological distortion of the characters, described by historian David Cook as "exaggerated dimensions and deranged spatial relationships --- an unnatural, sunless place in which buildings pile on top of one another at impossible angles, jagged chimneys reach insanely into the sky" are the film’s strong point. To increase the netherworldly appearance of the characters, a thick impasto of makeup, scored by heavy black greasepaint, was applied to the faces of the cast, to purposeful excess on Veidt and Werner Krauss (as Caligari). ‘Caligari’ is mentioned in every standard text on film history, and is a must-see for everyone with an interest in Weimar cinema and/or German Expressionism.
‘Fièvre’ (1921) 30m, dir. Louis Delluc. French Impressionism, from a film perspective, revolved around writer, critic, and filmmaker Louis Delluc, who, in rejecting previous French films as being too melodramatic, advocated films dealing with earthy subject material. French Impressionist film also utilized working class surroundings, such as docks, whore bars, and street culture; its thematic material was based on stories about common people, their daily lives and tragedies. The loose-knit group, which included Jean Epstein and Abel Gance among its members, was considered to be the first French "avant-garde" film movement, sowing the seeds for the next wave of French filmmakers such as René Clair, who, inspired by dadaism and surrealism, began making their mark in the latter half of the jazz decade.
Can a silent film, through superior acting, directing, and editing, convey a viable plot even though the subtitles are lost to time? The Museum of Modern Art thought so when it acquired this print of ‘Fièvre’ from actor Léon Moussinac, and tonight, you can be the judge. Delluc’s tale, which takes place in a Marseilles waterfront bar of easy virtue, concerns the emotional conflict surrounding a sailor and two women, which eventually involves the entire bar. The tight editing and amazing characters (we liked the pipe-smoking prostitute) are infinitely more memorable than the over-reliance on iris shots, which Delluc uses early-on to annoying excess. There apparently was more "atmosphere" in an original version, which, according to critic Georges Sadoul, Delluc wanted to call ‘La Boue’ (‘The Filth’), before French censors forced him to change the title and several scenes.
Thursday, August 23... ‘The General’ (1926) 75m, dir. Buster Keaton/Clyde Bruckman
Joseph Frank Keaton VI (1895-1966), who first appeared onstage at the age of three in his parents’ vaudeville act, is considered by film historian David Cook to be Charlie Chaplin’s equal as an actor, and superior to him as a director. His first films were made in 1917 as a supporting actor in Fatty Arbuckle’s Comicque Studios, and in 1919, producer Joseph Schenck formed Buster Keaton Productions, which resulted in twenty short films made between 1920 and 1923, considered classics in the slapstick genre. Believing that verisimilitude was an essential element of comedy, Keaton took pride in ensuring that his plots flowed logically and his characters were believable. His trademark deadpan facial expression was perhaps the most immediately recognizable facet of an actor who conveyed great emotion and performed all of his own stunts. His sequences were elaborately planned, and frequently dangerous; one of his best known was the spectacular plunge of a stream locomotive off a thirty foot bridge in the film that is the focus of tonight’s program.
‘The General’, was his sixth feature film, a Civil War dramatic comedy filmed on the picturesque, narrow-gauge railroads of Oregon, in which Keaton plays the part of a Southern locomotive engineer unjustly accused of cowardice by friends eagerly enlisting as soldiers in the war against the North. Much of the action takes place on his engine, "The General", as he attempts to shepherd it back through Northern lines after it had been highjacked by Union troops. Keaton’s timing is superb, and the film is edited so well that the directors used only 50 title cards in the finished print. Considered by critics to be the thirty-year-old Keaton’s best film, it has been suggested that this film, along with Chaplin’s ‘Gold Rush’, is one of the two greatest comedies of the Silent era.
Two years after the film was made, in what would ultimately be a disastrous career move, he agreed to sell his company to the MGM Studios, where he became increasingly frustrated by the disbursal of his crew throughout the studio to work on the projects of others. His subsequent talking films were mostly unsuccessful, and he began a period of heavy drinking and spotty professionalism. He continued performing sporadically for the next two decades, but his career entered a resurgent phase after James Agee’s ‘Life’ magazine cover story on him ran in 1949.
Also on the program:
‘The Railrodder’ (1965) 25m, dir. Gerald Potterton. This National Film Board of Canada production appears to be a thinly-disguised promotion of the Canadian rail system, featuring Keaton in a starring role, a year before his death. The film has some merit as a historical document, although the usually-reliable Eldon Rathburn’s hokey musical score is a thorn in the side that many viewers will find annoying. We feel the film lacks the logical plot development and cohesiveness for which he had become justifiably famous, but serves as an interesting programming counterpoint to ‘The General’.
Thursday, August 16... Weimar Revisited, Part II: Josef von Sternberg’s ‘Blue Angel’ (1930) 94m.
Born Jonas Stern in Vienna, Sternberg began his cinematic career making training films with the US Army Signal Corps in WWI. He was invited to Germany by producer Erich Pommer to make this, Emil Jannings’ first talking picture, in which the actor played the part of a strict school teacher who falls in love with cabaret dancer Lola-Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich, a little-known actress who Sternberg chose for the part. Here, Jannings’ Professor Rath leaves his career to become the husband and servant to his younger wife, and is shamed into performing in her show as a clown. Eventually, the traveling show returns to his city, where Rath is encouraged to crow like a rooster while his wife visibly engages another man in the stage wings. ‘Angel’, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the cabaret life of 1920s Berlin, is a story of sexual domination, greed, and humiliation, the latter characteristic played to extremes by Jannings, who insisted that the egg broken over his head in the final sequence be an authentically rotten one.
After 'Angel', Sternberg returned to the U.S. along with Dietrich, where they collaborated on several more films, elevating the androgynous Dietrich to star status.
Also on the program:
'Lion's Den' (Dr. Doolittle) (1928) 10m, dir. Lotte Reiniger. Jean Renoir’s chief assistant on his classic ‘Rules of the Game' was Carl Koch, whose wife, Lotte Reiniger, was one of the early giants of animation. Her style consisted of elaborately staged silhouettes, and ‘Lion’s Den’ is a ten-minute excerpt from her 65-minute ‘Dr. Doolittle’, which she edited for the school market in the early 1950s. For more on this outstanding animator, read William Moritz’ bio and filmography at: http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.3/articles/moritz1.3.html
Thursday, August 9, and Friday, August 10... The Florentine Films of Clifford West, with Anna West in Attendance
Note: this week, visitors to ciné16 will not only see some interesting films, they will become participants in a film preservation project. The films of Clifford West are being given their first retrospective in the United States, and many are seeing "the light of day" for the first time in years. They are all from the original collection of the filmmaker, who has graciously donated them to ciné16. This has been a challenging, difficult, interesting, and rewarding program to develop; you might enjoy reading the story of how it came about, and why we’re so happy to have Anna West, Clifford’s daughter, as your co-host this week.
The Story Behind This Weekend’s Program and Preservation Project
My discovery of Clifford West’s films was accidentally borne out of a desire to get to the farthest corner of the U.S, away from films, so I could concentrate instead on writing my book, a project which has taken a good chunk out of my life for the past six years. I picked Enfield, New Hampshire, a tiny town on the edge of Lake Mascoma, where an abandoned Shaker village has been taken over by a small local company that has turned the Shaker meeting house into an austere inn. Every room has Shaker furniture, no pictures on the walls, no television; it’s the perfect writer’s hideaway.
Early one afternoon, I decided to take a break and drive to Lebanon, a few miles away from Enfield, to get a cup of coffee. An art gallery appeared on the town square, and I stopped to take a look. The woman who ran it was friendly, she asked what I was doing in town, and after telling her about my project, she announced: "oh, my husband was a maker of educational art films, and his name is Clifford West". After admitting I’d never heard of him, she suggested I meet him. "He’s on the third floor, you can walk up there right now." Thus began a three year involvement with Clifford West, wife and Edvard Munch scholar Bente Torjusen, and their family. Increasingly, as my travels took me to Boston, I’d make the three-hour drive to Enfield, watch a few films with Clifford and Bente, and continue my writing.
The Clifford West Archival Project
Clifford West made a number of outstanding films, focusing primarily on Florentine art of the Renaissance, but also creating gems such as his kinetically powerful tribute to the work of his good friend, sculptor Harry Bertoia. Although his films never achieved the distribution they deserved, they are important historical documents, and, with their "camera-as-paintbrush" moving camera technique, are unique. West, who is now 85 years old, had a desire to preserve his films for future historians, but did not have a record as to whether he actually owned prints of each of his own films (in some cases, if so, possibly the only prints in existence), among the hundreds of reels, film cans, and boxes scattered over two floors of a three-story gallery/warehouse in New Hampshire. Among West’s wishes were to develop a means of keying filmed outtakes of important Florentine art works (many of which were destroyed in the 1966 flood) to specific films, a project he wanted to supervise himself, negating the possibility his donating his films and outtakes to us here on the West Coast. We played with a number of ideas; I suggest he contact nearby Dartmouth College, develop a relationship with a scholar there, and arrange a donation that would result in a renewed research on his work. Dartmouth wasn’t interested, the standard state of affairs, unfortunately, when it comes to the fortunes of classroom academic films. One day, Bente mentioned to me that Anna, one of the two West daughters, would shortly be returning from college in Boulder, Colorado. Would she, I asked, be interested in becoming a film archivist? A conversation with her confirmed it: she was excited at the prospect of seeing her father’s films, and desperately wanted them preserved.
I suggested that on my next trip, we attempt to document and catalogue as much as possible. I developed a matrix that Clifford could use to list his film properties, then together, worked with the West family to identify and document all of his existing prints, outtakes, and miscellaneous rolls of film, which involved carrying many decaying, dusty boxes up three flights of stairs before the important work began. Over two days, we meticulously catalogued, viewed, and repacked films for more effective preservation. We found a total of 50 usable prints, and Clifford suddenly had a clear picture of his life’s work in film. Among the boxes of film, Anna, a photographer herself, discovered old picture albums she’d never seen before, chronicling her father’s life as a young man. Our showing that night was a bit more emotional than usual, as doors from the distant past were suddenly, and occasionally jarringly, unlocked.
I found Anna to have superior organizational skills, and her background in photography has given her a keen interest in the minutiae of preservation. We welcome her to the world of film preservation, delighted that Clifford West’s important films will not vanish from the scene. A recent photograph she took of her father is on ciné16’s Clifford West webpage; for a filmography, pictures, and brief explanation of his work, visit: http://www.cine16.com/west1.htm
My own philosophy with ciné16, and our new Academic Film Archive of North America is to, when possible, keep the work of filmmakers in the hands of passionate and interested family members who wish to become archivists of the work, but aren’t necessarily sure where to begin. We are convinced that donations to universities aren’t always the best thing; given the overall lack of appreciation for academic film shown by the scholarly community at large, I believe that, in most cases, trusting the work of academic filmmakers to the caprices of university storage processes leaves them at best open to abuse, at worst, to discarding, and loss. It is apparent that new archivist Anna West will contribute significantly to the knowledge and understanding of her father’s work over the next several decades.
Anna will join us for two nights, Thursday, August 9, and Friday, August 10. Both shows start at 6:30, in order for her to describe some of the events surrounding the films, and to answer your questions. Thursday will focus on films of the Renaissance, Friday on more modern work. Please note: the program might change slightly, as I will be reviewing more Clifford West films this week. I will email the final, exact schedule next Wednesday.
- Geoff Alexander
The program for Thursday, August 9 at 6:30 pm:
‘Michelangelo and the Medici Chapel' (1964) 22m, dir. Clifford B. West. In 1519, Pope Leo X authorized the 44 year old sculptor to begin a series of seven funerary statues in the Medici Chapel, adjacent to the Church of San Lorenzo. In 1534 he left angrily, and never returned to completely finish them. West’s camera caresses these forms, examining hands, faces, folds in clothing, first looking at one sculpture, then another, then returning again, mirroring the way many of us look at these sculptures when we visit the Medici chapel, back, forth, sideways, backwards, settling for a few moments on one element, while another across the room beckons.
‘Basilica of San Lorenzo’ (1964) 25m, dir. Clifford B. West. Here, in the edifice built by Brunelleschi as the Medicis’ parish church, we explore the work of Donatello, from his bronze pulpit, to his massive doors of the sacristy.
‘Romanesque Churches in Northern Italy’ (1970) 27m. dir. Clifford B. West. A breathtakingly beautiful film, focusing on Sant' Atimo, near Siena, and San Mineato al Monte in Florence, marred somewhat by the didactic, halting narration of Gilian Ford Shallcross.
The program for Friday, August 10 at 6:30 pm:
‘Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture’ (1965) 23m, dir. Clifford B. West. Born in Italy in 1915, Bertoia eventually moved to Michigan, attended Cass Technical High School, where he was introduced to metals, and moved on to the Cranbrook Academy, where he met fellow student Clifford West. Shortly after his marriage in 1943 (West was his best man), Bertoia moved to California at the behest of his friend Charles Eames, and collaborated on the design of the famous ‘Eames Chair’ produced by Knoll Associates. In the 1950s, he set up his own studio in Bally, Pennsylvania, where he designed the well-known ‘Bertoia Chair’, also for Knoll. Soon, he was experimenting with sculptures of different alloys and patinas, and would create ‘musique concrète’ soundscapes utilizing his sculptures. He died in 1978, a victim, says West, of heavy metal poisoning, acquired as a result of his constant proximity to metals and chemicals.
‘Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture’ is, from a cinemagraphic and sound perspective, West’s most progressive film, as abstract in filmmaking technique as the sculptures themselves. Opening with the camera slowly moving over what appears to be the surface of the moon, it suddenly falls back to reveal instead the texture of a sculpture. The film is one of constant motion, resulting from the vertiginous movements of West’s camera, or the movement built into the sculptures themselves. The music, played by Bertoia, utilizing various objects alternately hammering or caressing his sculptures, is reminiscent of the work of Xenakis. From the perspective of West’s career, the film marked the beginning of a new, bolder approach to camera movement, as seen in later films such as ‘Bronze: River of Metal’ (1972), and ‘The Art of Rolf Nesch: Material Pictures’ (1972). Visit http://skybusiness.com/bertoia2/index.html for additional information on the sculptor.
‘Bronze: River of Metal’ (1972) 25m, dir. Clifford B. West. Here, West looks at the art of casting Renaissance bronzes as a historian, appreciator, critic, and craftsman. The film begins with historian Bruno Bearzi showing Donatello's modifications, and his 14 separate castings, on the colossal bronze of St. Louis of Toulouse at the Museo dell'Opera. Then, a visit to the Hades-like Fonderia Ferdinando Marinelli, where four workers prepare casts for the lost-wax process, then laboriously hoist the heavy, molten bronze crucible, and carefully pour off its terrible contents, to a soundtrack of ambient noise made by sculptor Harry Bertoia. Finally, the director turns to the past, through the doors of Ghiberti in the Baptistry of Florence.
‘Edvard Munch: Graphics, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture’ (1968) 27m, dir. Clifford B. West. Born in 1863, the Norwegian artist watched his mother and sister succumb to tuberculosis by the time he was fourteen, leaving him with a deep foreboding of death, which colored his early canvases and works on paper. Munch was also haunted by the spectre of beautiful women, who he portrayed as vampires or dominant sexual forces, and characterized his perspective on new artistic technology by stating: "The camera cannot compete with the brush and the palette so long as it cannot be used in heaven or hell." Here, West looks at drypoints, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and woodcuts, providing examples from the artist’s oeuvre, and, just as importantly from the perspective of the learner, explains how, mechanically, these works are created. Most impressive are the woodcuts, and the four-stone, four color lithographs. Of the 700 or so graphic images created in the artist’s lifetime, we explore some of the more significant, including ‘The Scream’, ‘ Madonna’, ‘Three Stages of Women’, and ‘Vampire’; West juxtaposes different versions of the work, often transposing one version over another. During the making of this film, West was guided by Munch scholar Bente Torjusen, who collaborated with him on the making of several other films, as well as two daughters. For further information on the artist, and for a preview of some of the images central to the film, visit http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/litho/index.htm
'The Art of Rolf Nesch: Material Pictures' (1972) 20m, dir. Clifford B. West. Rolf (Emil Rudolf) Nesch was born in Germany in 1893, but fled to Norway in 1933 as a result of Nazi persecution, remaining there until his death in 1975. In this film, one of a trilogy of films made by West on the artist, we see Nesch's work evolve from welding ribbons of material onto metal plates, resulting in bas-relief prints, to the integration of three-dimensional forms of ceramic, glass, and metal with paint, to form a "material picture". West's camerawork on the massive 'Herring Catch' is a tour-de-force of art-vérité, climbing in, out, over, and around the picture, dizzying and electrifying. For more on the artist, visit: http://www.norwaypost.no/NP/culture/musnesch.html
Saturday, August 4... ciné16 in San Francisco: 'George Bernard Shaw' and the 3 part 'Shaw vs. Shakespeare' by John Barnes. Sorry, this evening is sold out.
Thursday, August 2... Weimar Revisited, Part I: Fritz Lang’s ‘M’
Perhaps Otto Friedrich, author of ‘Before the Deluge’, said it best: "Berlin in the 1920s represented a state of mind, a sense of freedom and exhilaration. And because it was so utterly destroyed after a flowering of less than fifteen years, it has become a kind of mystical city, a lost paradise." It sung, for a brief time between the wars, the siren song of art, literature, film, sexuality, and some might say decadence. Certainly the latter was the word the brown-shirts would use as they began a systematic march to destroy it in the first of its long line of prohibitions, persecutions, and assorted horrors. The excitement of those pre-Nazi days has left a legacy of exceptional writings and powerful films that remains undiminished, and, in fact, probably has become greatly magnified in what may be the strongest element of German culture of the 20th century. For two of the next three weeks, ciné16 conducts a cinematic tribute to those years with two films that helped to define the extravagant beauties and gut-wrenching excesses of the Germany ruled by the ill-fated Weimar Republic. If you have seen Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ and Sternberg’s ‘Blue Angel’, we invite you to revisit and re-evaluate these films; if you haven’t, you must take advantage of the opportunity of seeing two films rarely screened in San Jose, and among the best examples of German cinema ever made
‘M’ (Murderer Among Us) (1931) 90m, dir. Fritz Lang. Lang’s film was based on the real-life case of child-killer Peter Kürten, the "monster of Düsseldorf," whose crime spree of 1930 resulted in near mass-hysteria in which the police followed up on over 12,000 leads, and over 200 people turned themselves over to the police, bragging to be the killer.
Kürten attacked 41 people, 9 of which died, and bragged about his crimes in two letters to local newspapers which prompted additional copy-cat letters to newspapers, further confounding the police. Witnesses described him as well-dressed, friendly, and, from appearances, trustworthy. He was finally arrested on May 24, 1930, and executed July 2, 1931 in Cologne. When word of Lang’s film reached the public, he received a series of threatening letters from individuals concerned that the film would provoke others to commit similar murders.
‘M’ presents Peter Lorre as the murderer who prefaces each crime with an eerie whistling of a well-known tune from Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’ (the bug-eyed, hang-dog look exacted by Lorre was later used by the Nazis in a poster describing the look of "typical Jews"). The quiet, unassuming Lorre proves difficult to apprehend, and eventually, frustrated by their inability to solve the series of crimes, the police bring pressure upon the underworld, who, spurred onward by the twin reflexes of self-preservation and loathing for those who would harm children, sets about finding the killer, to bring the individual to summary justice. Lang chooses to juxtapose the similarities of the police and criminal worlds through an often dizzying display of intercutting between the two, and in doing so, provides an intriguing insight into the power structure of a citywide crime network
Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ was a favorite of Hitler, and after ‘M’ was released, Goebbels offered the director a lofty position within his new film organization. Responding that, being partly Jewish, he would be ineligible, Goebbels replied that his excellent WWI military record would solve the problem, and Lang asked for 24 hours to consider. He then arranged for a ticket on the Paris overnight train under an assumed name, and left Germany before the 24 hours had elapsed. His wife Thea von Harbou, who wrote the script for ‘M’, was a staunch Nazi supporter and elected to stay in Germany, where she was appointed an official scriptwriter for the party. Lang eventually ended up in the States, divorced his wife, and made several more films, among them ‘Fury’ (1936), based on the Hart lynching in San José’s St. James Park.
Also on the program:
‘Rennsymphonie’ (1928) 5m, dir. Hans Richter. This well-known edited trailer for Richter's feature ‘Ariadne in Hoppegarten’ is a finely edited film in its own right, detailing the events surrounding the day of a horse race.
Thursday, July 26... Focus on Wayne Mitchell, part II: Eastern Hemisphere
Tonight, we offer the second in a two-part retrospective highlighting the work of Wayne Mitchell, maker of over 80 social science films over the past 45 years. For a complete biography/filmography, visit his AFA page: Wayne Mitchell
‘Early Civilizations’ (1979) 20m. A history film, describing early communities and cultures from the Tigris to the Mediterranean.
‘Japanese Handicrafts’ (1967) 11m. How objects of beauty are made from straw, pottery, paper, and other materials.
‘Food, Clothing, and Shelter in Three Environments’ (1989) 20m. People from the mountains of Japan, tropics of Samoa, and desert of Pakistan are juxtaposed.
‘Food of Southeast Asia’ (1966) 20m. A fascinating look at the Thai fishing culture, focusing on canal life, and traditional meals of rice, fish, and vegetables.
‘Slums in the Third World’ (1983) 20m. Mitchell battled with film company executives over the use of the word "slums", which he felt provided a non-glossy description of life as it was. Here, in a film that has a UNICEF-like perspective on social conditions, we examine living conditions in the Philippines.
Thursday, July 19... Focus on Wayne Mitchell, part I: Western Hemisphere
Tonight, we offer the first in a two-part series highlighting the work of Wayne Mitchell, maker of over 80 social science films over the past 45 years.
Born in Detroit, Michigan on 5 April, 1926, the young Mitchell had set his sights on becoming a park ranger, eventually becoming one in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. Soon, he embarked on a career as a successful still photographer of wildlife and nature subjects. Eventually, he pursued cinematic studies at the University of Southern California, which led to his first film National Park Rangers, in 1955. In 1959, together with sound technician Sven Walnum, he followed candidate John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail, where his footage was used for election promotional spots. He also found work as a cinematographer in the Indo-Pakistani and Viet Nam wars, taught photography for two years at Miami University, and worked briefly in the feature film world. Beginning his educational film work in 1961, Mitchell specialized in international, ethnographic, arts, and economics films, made primarily in South America, Africa, and Asia. While in Japan, he married his Japanese interpreter, Yasuko Hanada, resulting in fourteen films on Japan, and two sons.
Mitchell, an auteur who wrote his own narration, selected his own shots, and chose music and voiceovers, compiled an extensive library of ethnic music on ¼" reels, yet didn’t shirk from occasionally beating a drum, chanting, or playing an ocarina as musical accompaniment to his films. He eschewed strict anthropological interpretations of his subject matter, and thus, knowing that elementary schools were not about to adopt films containing images of bare-breasted women, he provided Choco Indian women subjects with wraps. He is extremely opinionated as to the impact of imported ideas, from technology, to the dubious value of many of the missionaries plying their trade in developing nations:
As of this writing (2001), Mitchell, who has won numerous festival awards, is one of the few educational filmmakers still working in 16mm, carrying a customized portable sound and editing unit to remote locations. A multifaceted individual who now makes his home in New Zealand, Mitchell lives in a Japanese-inspired house he designed and built, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The two evenings of films will be divided according to hemisphere.
Program I: Western Hemisphere
‘Eskimos: a Changing Culture’ (1971) 17m. A fine exploration of new cultural realities for the villagers in Mekoyuk, Nunivak Island, Bering Sea.
‘Rainforest Family’ (1971) 17m. The Choco people who live in the Darien rainforest along the Panama-Colombia border are isolated from markets and transportation. Here, children are taught the skills necessary for survival.
‘Archaeologists At Work’ (1962) 13m. Mitchell shows the process by which archaeologists search for Basketmaker artifacts along San Juan River, New Mexico.
‘Central America: History & Heritage’ (1985) 20m. All too often, academic school films described Central America as little more than a series of banana republics, happily contributing exported goods to the United States. One of the first films to address the concerns of these nations as separate from those of the large neighbor to the north was this, describing the merits of imported Cuban teachers, the goals of the Sandinistas, land reform issues, the role of reformers within Catholic church, and the presence and danger of right wing death squads.
‘Central America: an Introduction’ (1989) 20m. A good, post-Somoza, digest of the culture and geography of the region.
‘Cuna Indians: Island Exiles’ (1983) 20m. On the island of Achutupu in the San Blás group off the Panamanian mainland, live a group of people traditionally suspicious of others. Since their island contains no food, drinking water, or soil, they canoe it from mainland, one mile away.
Thursday, July 12... Eric Sjostrom Presents ciné16 Classics: Three Who Dared: Burke, Wills, and Amundsen
Tonight, Camera Cinemas' Eric Sjostrom presents two of his favorite films from ciné16's past. Again, for those who are new to ciné16, please consider joining us for this show, which originally screened March 23 of last year.
The BBC and Westdeutscher Rundfunk co-funded producer Michael Latham’s series ‘Ten Who Dared’ (1976, distributed in the U.S. by Time-Life, known as "The Explorers" in the U.K.), consisting of ten dramatized adventures of various explorers dating from Columbus to Amundsen, each approximately 50 minutes in duration. Characterized by outstanding location cinematography using hand-held cameras, ethnographic elements, and narration based on actual diaries, the series consisted of a chronicle of travels in difficult-to-film areas on several continents. ‘Ten Who Dared’ stories rarely have happy endings, as evidenced by the death of the protagonists in the desolate and beautiful ‘Burke and Wills’, and the series is far better, in both cognitive and affective senses, than many other historical ed films of the period. Unlike many films available for distribution to schools, ‘Ten Who Dared’ was originally developed for prime-time British audiences, and indeed, at a budget of roughly $10 million, was the most expensive series produced at the BBC at its inception. And then, there is Anthony Quinn. In the original British version, David Attenborough served as the host, happily ensconced in a set consisting of rich, walnut bookcases amidst leather-bound tomes. But Attenborough was, at the time,. little known in the U.S., and therefore Mobil Oil, who had licensed the series for its "Mobil Showcase" television program, scouted about for a more familiar face. In addition, the luxurious library set was also canned, Mobil feeling that American taste would be offending by such highbrow leanings. Quinn as host, directed in these new sequences by David Hoffman and Harry Wiland, projects his larger-than-life persona whether putting on a tie for "the lady" (‘Mary Kingsley’) or gesticulating wildly while describing the wanderings of ‘Charles Doughty’. Rather than detracting from the Latham-produced films, Quinn’s introductions are an entertaining foil that essentially make each work two films in one. A year ago, almost to the date, we showed David McCallum’s ‘Charles Doughty’ and ‘Alexander Von Humboldt’ directed by Fred Burnley, who died from a lung disorder caused by exposure to bat guano in an enclosed cave while making the film. Tonight’s film were made, again, under trying circumstances.
‘Burke and Wells --- 1860’ (1976) 50m, dir. Tony Snowdon. Erstwhile stills photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones, and lately husband of Princess Margaret was also a filmmaker, and here, teamed with master cinematographer Gary Hansen, he captures the fanciful and awful story of these two legendary Australian explorers on their ill-fated expedition from Cooper's Creek to northern ocean, filmed in the glorious outback. Starring Martin Shaw as Robert O'Hara Burke, John Bell as William John Wells.
‘Roald Amundsen --- 1911’ (1978) 52m, dir. David Cobham. Damn cold, and striking, with Per Theodor Haugen (speaking Norwegian much of the time) as the explorer.
Thursday, July 5... Robert Emmett Presents ciné16 Classics: one of the Stuttgart series, 'History as Interpreted by the Educational Film'
Join KFJC's Robert Emmett this week as he selects a program from ciné16s repertory. This show was one of four programmed for Stuttgart's Küenstlerhaus in November of 1999, and represents what I thought were among the best historical films ever made. If you're a recent convert to ciné16, we encourage you to be here tonight to get a taste of one of our more popular programs.
Between 1900 and 1990, approximately 103,000 educational films were distributed in the United States. A great number of these were based on historical subjects. Tonight, we’ll investigate different approaches, themes, and genres of the historical film.
Choice of films: An effective educational film must contain two elements, superior cognitive content (information that includes facts, as well as the reasoning behind the facts), and affective value (in which the learner adopts new attitudes and motivation in relation to the content). Thus, the viewer learns something, and at the same time is motivated to continue his or her studies by individual learning, whether by choosing to read more on the subject, visiting a museum, or traveling to a destination relating to the subject material. An important characteristic of affective presence is entertainment value; each film on tonight’s program is a rich example of how content and cinematic quality work together to produce an outstanding example of the educational film experience.
‘Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities’ (1975) 14m, prod. Bert Van Bork. Few could argue that this film sets the standard for historical films based on the Anasazi (an ancient Indian culture of the southwest U.S.) Flying within impossibly narrow canyons to achieve dizzying shots of cliff-dwellings, Van Bork burned through two pilots, one of whom quit in the middle of the shooting out of fear for his life. Van Bork’s masterful shots were accomplished by removing the helicopter door, mounting the camera on a fixed mount, then directing the pilot through headphone microphone to fly in various trajectories. As if the breathtaking displays of the terrain and dwellings aren’t enough, Van Bork also begins some pan shots with abstract architectural designs abruptly jutting out from behind incomplete shadowy formations, resembling more a German expressionist painting than an ancient, deserted town built into the rock. The filmmaker tells an interesting story about the narrator of the film, Jack Palance. Contacting the actor by telephone, Palance agreed to do the narration provided the script was acceptable, and, after reviewing it, suggested they meet at one of Hollywood’s finest restaurants to discuss the project: Bob’s Big Boy (the MacDonald’s of its day). With Palance’s dramatic interpretation of the text accompanied by the haunting percussion ensemble musical score by Hans Wurman, the film transcends the didactic historical and dry anthropological, and transfixes the viewer instead by offering an in-motion armchair view of the extreme location these long-forgotten people chose as home.
Van Bork’s personal history is amazing as well: Born in 1928 in Augustusburg, Germany, his art studies included stints in the Academies of Fine Arts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden. He soon began producing stark two-dimensional woodcuts, often made from the pine remains of destroyed buildings and old furniture, of intense and terrifying beauty, depicting a Berlin struggling with an uncertain future. In 1954, he moved to Chicago by way of New York, working in oil on canvas as well as drypoint, displaying an influence of German expressionism in his portrayals of the landscapes of the American Southwest, and cityscapes of Chicago. By this time, Van Bork had become an accomplished stills photographer as well, and received the National Award for Outstanding Photography in Germany in 1954. In 1957, Van Bork was hired to produce films for Encyclopaedia Britannica, and soon became famous for both his stunning geological studies, and infamous for his daring in obtaining footage under extremely arduous volcanic conditions.
‘Face of Lincoln’ (1955) 20m, dir. Edward Freed. Abraham Lincoln is considered by many Americans to be its greatest historical figure, and every visitor to the U.S. who carries a penny or ten dollar bill carries a picture of Lincoln with them wherever they go. Lincoln, who was born in a frontier log cabin and was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre, was President of the United States during the Civil War in the mid-1800s, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed the ownership of slaves. The decade of the 1950s was a dismal one for historical films, but one of the few gems was this exceptional film, which features sculptor/professor Merrill Gage creating a clay bust of Lincoln, evolving the sculpture to age with the events of the life of the president, which he narrates. This film is an example of the "host-scholar" being the focal point of the film, generally unsuccessful if the host is boring or speaks in monotone. Gage, who had performed this lecture many times to students at the University of Southern California, is funny and engaging, as he slaps the ears on the head with abandon, changes hair styles with a flourish, and merrily adjusts the tie. The filming took place over three weeks, in which the crew was continually challenged by the hardening of the clay.
'Centinelas del Silencio' (1971) 18 m, dir. Robert Amram. The real star here is the late aerial photographer James Freeman, whose breathtaking helicopter shots of Mayan and Aztec ruins at sunrise and sunset won an Academy Award for this film in 1971. Although the English version was narrated by Orson Welles, the Spanish version we’ll show tonight features narration by Ricardo Montalban, is in better keeping with the ethnic aspect of the film, and no knowledge of Spanish is needed to appreciate his dramatic impact. Don’t be put off by the heroic musical score: this film is memorable, the last word on spectacular ruin cinematography.
‘Taxes: the Outcome of Income’ (1975) 10m, dir. Veronika Soul. Is it possible to make an interesting, funny, yet informative film about the history of a tax bureau, and the minutiae surrounding the manner in which it collects taxes? Soul’s visually stimulating short about Revenue Canada makes the case that any subject can be entertaining in the hands of a motivated and creative filmmaker.
‘Middle Ages: A Wanderer’s Guide to Life & Letters’ (1973) 30m, dir. Piers Jessop. One method of presenting a historical period is to allow the information to be presented by a fictional, contemporary host. The quality of such films often rested on the shoulders of the host-actor, and perhaps the best of all was Nicholas Pennell’s ‘Robert’, a fun-loving, arty, bawdy, and roguish guide to the culture, politics, and mores of the year 1350. Athletic and erudite, Pennell stole kisses, ran from pursuers, and leapt obstacles as he engaged the viewer by proving that old times may not have been all that different from newer ones, as the human condition allows us to reward individuality while conversely at the same time striving to crush it. Pennell, who for the following twenty years would be one of the Stratford Theatre of Canada’s leading actors, was born in Devon, England in 1939, and died in 1995 in Ontario, writing a witty, touching, and wistful farewell letter (http://www.canadiantheatre.com/p/pennellletter.html) from his deathbed to his fellow Stratford actors, giving anyone having seen Wanderer’s Guide the impression that the character of Robert was, indeed, Pennell playing himself. He died two days after the letter was read to the company. One of the truly great educational films ever made, Wanderer’s Guide also features a magnificent reading of Chaucer’s "Wife of Bath" by Jessie Evans.
‘Gallery' (1971) 7m, dir. Ken Rudolph. Throw out your art history books: here’s the entire history of art in one painless lesson.
Thursday, June 28... American Gothic Revisited: Tom Smith's 'Farm Family' series
Tom Smith, who would later achieve his greatest critical success as the General Manager of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, was the creator of probably the most moving portrayal of American farm life in the classroom academic film genre, with his ‘Farm Family’ series of 1967-1968, comprising four films comparing the impact of seasonal changes upon the Red Markham farm and family of Whitewater, Wisconsin. Each film chronicles daily and seasonal life of the family and farm, contrasting the seeming simplicity of daily chores with the impact of major events, such the birth of a calf, the harvesting of a crop, or the coming of the summer county fair. With the exception of 'Summer', each film is narrated in first person by a different family member. We think these are important films that are almost ethnographic in their approach to documenting the life and work of a rural family unit, and present them here consecutively, in a unique viewing context (we're not sure these films have ever been screened together, in one sitting). The films are:
'Farm Family in Summer', the only film told in 3rd person narrative, offers a fascinating look at the rural county fair culture, from preparing exhibits to friendly country huckstering, to harness races, to carny rides. 'Farm Family in Autumn' is son Steve’s first-person story of going back to school, sneaking a taste of mom’s fresh-made jam, carving jack-o-lanterns, and the arrival of the tanker truck which collects the dairy farm’s output. 'Farm Family in Winter' is told by Grandpa, who wrestles the hard-starting, gas-powered "snow-buggy" into action, then fetches the vet, who is prevented from reaching the farm road due to adverse conditions, in order to doctor a sick calf. 'Farm Family in Spring', narrated by son Dale, describes a trip into town to buy feed in country store, and a LaGrange 4H club meeting in which the children discuss the progress of their respective projects. The affection that the filmmaker had for the family is apparent, and seems to be evident in the family’s approach to the filmmaker as well, who made four visits to the farm to make these films, and who remains in touch with Dale Markham. The easygoing attitude the family has toward the camera is largely responsible for the charm of this series, a fascinating and refreshing look at a subject that was all too often didactic in the hands of other filmmakers.
Tom wrote to us in early June, reminiscing about the events surrounding the making of these films:
Also on the program:
'The Golden Lizard: A Folktale from Mexico' (1977) 19m, dir. Tom Smith. The director also tried his hand at 'magic realism', in one of the more unusual films distributed by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films.
'The Story of Peter & the Potter' (1953) 20m, dir. Donald Peters. This is a beautiful, innocent film about a boy who buys a present for his mother, then goes to his potter neighbors, the Deichmanns for a bowl. The film is both a precautionary tale about the perils of running too fast, and a wonderful time-machine window to New Brunswick, 1953.
Thursday, June 21... 5 Films From Fine Photos
Tonight’s films share the common bond of telling stories through the use of individual photographs, involving alternately short and long chronological tales. Some use narration, others music; they are stark, fixed, or altered. They prove that film does not need moving images to create the mirage of movement, and tell the story of a genetic quest, a boastful exodus, the denouement of a family business.
‘La Jetée’ (1963) 29m, dir. Chris Marker. Told through still photos and narration, the story of a post-apocalyptic attempt to change the present by reworking the past. A remarkable and pensive film suggesting the folly of attempting to reorder the inevitable, and one which has influenced countless filmmakers.
‘Just A Lady’ (1980) 21m, dir. Susan Trow. ‘Just A Lady’ was one of the relatively few outstanding films made during the National Film Board of Canada’s Kathleen Shannon era, and here Susan Trow, product of an upper-class matrilineal family that extends 150 years into the past, investigates the changing social mores and attitudes of women in her family through old photographs. Occasionally skating on the edge of didacticism, the film isn’t perfect; we would have enjoyed the film better if the film had been without the Nordstrom-like piano soundtrack, and would have preferred Trow to speak the words of her ancestors, rather than leaving it to voice talent. Trow’s directorial skill in editing and shooting the photographs is superb, and her analysis of the forces determining the decisions of her previous counterparts seems dead-on. An ultimately satisfying work, her decision to break from tradition drives the film’s final moments, an important personal statement that provides the social and historical context to her chosen treatment.
‘Travel Log’ (1972) 10m, dir. Don Winkler. Cinematic poet Winkler, who donated this film to us earlier this year, here tells a bittersweet story of a lost love on the road, through a series of stills.
‘This is a Photograph’ (1971) 10m, dir. Albert Kish. Hungarian expat Kish here offers mocked-up snapshots of an immigrant's first years in Canada, juxtaposing the uneasy reality with the fakery of sending photos of alleged pieces of personal and real property to friends and relatives in "the old country".
'Ted Baryluk's Grocery' (1982) 10m, dir. John Paskievich/Michael Mirus. From his grocery in northern Winnipeg, Baryluk speaks, through black and white still photos and his own words, about the tremendous diversity in his small store's patrons, and his sorrow that his daughter doesn't want to run the store upon his retirement.
Also on the program:
‘Le Paysagiste’ (Mindscape) (1976) 8m, dir. Jacques Drouin. Alexandre Alexeieff, one of the best-known early animators, was the developer of the pinscreen technique, in which, like those toys you see at museum shops, each image was formed by the manipulation of pins. The National Film Board of Canada eventually acquired Alexeieff’s pinscreen, which was used by Drouin in this beautiful but haunting story of an artist who climbs over his easel and into the landscape he has just pained, and begins his three-dimensional journey through a self-realized two-dimensional world. Rather than utilizing a photograph, Drouin uses animation in a similar fashion to the photographic work created by the other filmmakers on the program, as a means of conveying the transparency of an otherwise fixed medium.
‘Faces’ (1976) 6m, dir. Lois. Siegel. In case you missed Siegel's appearance here last week, we're showing this film again, thematically appropriate for this evening's program. Composed of interlaced portraits, 'Faces' is a haunting series of images reminiscent of the work of Diane Arbus, reminding the viewer that the soul of the subject remains under strong scrutiny when confronted by the dispassionate technology of the lens.
Thursday, June 14 and Friday, June 15... ‘Dangerous Lipstick: Two Consecutive Evenings with filmmaker Lois Siegel’
Last year, Ottawa filmmaker Lois Siegel began a wild and woolly correspondence with ciné16, consisting of bizarre stories of fractured filmmaking at the National Film Board of Canada, crazed, 1970s-style events and happenings, and often funny chronicles of her early films. Along the way, Lois was responsible for introducing Don Winkler to us, resulting in a significant donation of Don’s films, Siegel’s donation of her own films, and an upcoming donation of a number of her still photographs, documenting an era at the Film Board long past. She’s been an important benefactor to us, even though she’s never met us face to face, and has only spoken to us once on the telephone. Now she’s coming out to meet us. Lois has been making films under her own name since 1971, and covers a broad range from experimental, to sports, to stunt driving, to transgender issues.
"I started with photography and when a friend of mine was kicked out of film school, he came over and gave me his camera and said ‘You be the filmmaker and I'll be the Star’. That was it. We went out and I started filming. He read the light meter for me, because I had no idea how to do that. After using a still camera, a movie camera was amazing because there was movement. It was a completely different approach.
"I bought my first Super 8 camera from Rick Wallace, who used to direct ‘Hill St. Blues’ and was producer of ‘L.A. Law’ and creative producer on ‘The Pretender’. I continued working/experimenting with the Bolex. The I moved to Canada and discovered the NFB... Eventually, I bought my own Bolex, then a Beaulieu, then an Eclair NPR."
Lois’ latest film, ‘Baseball Girls’, has been purchased by Oxygen, the new women’s TV network in the States. She teaches film production at two universities, and plays the fiddle in a Celtic band. She obviously has so much energy that we invited her here for two consecutive evenings to show some of her films and meet the ciné16 audience. We have booked Thursday, June 14 and Friday, June 15, and both evenings will begin at 6:30pm, one half –hour earlier than usual, in order to allow time for you to meet her and ask questions.
IN ADDITION: we support filmmakers who distribute their own work, and encourage them to sell videos directly to their audience. We’ve therefore asked Lois to bring videos of her own work to sell, and if you like what’s on the program, you can support her future endeavors by buying a tape from her (she’ll even autograph the cellophane!). All proceeds go directly to her. Check out Lois’ website at: http://www.siegelproductions.ca/index.html
Now for the programs:
Thursday, June 14... First Nite with filmmaker Lois Siegel
‘Lip Gloss’ (1993) 75m. A fun-to-bittersweet story of disco female impersonators, featuring the late Yvan Guilda, Candy Stevens, Armand Emond, and more stars of Montréal's Club 1681. "For one scene, I picked up two of my featured 'transvestites' and let them off in the red light district of Montréal... my cameraman and I set up a tripod down the street and the transvestites 'set up shop' at a corner a block away. We shot telephoto ...and at one point changed angles ...and suddenly our 'stars' disappeared. We looked at each other puzzled, and then we realized what had happened. They were 'working' - and got picked up. End of story...end of shoot."
‘Spectrum in White’ (1971) 11m. In her first film, Siegel creates graphical images by scratching them directly onto the film, then applying color. Accompanied by the music of Terry Riley, ‘Spectrum’ is a fine abstract film clearly indicative of a young filmmaker beginning to find her own direction. Lois told ciné16:
Friday, June 15... Second Night with filmmaker Lois Siegel
‘Stunt People’ (1989) 48m. Marcel Fournier and four generations of ‘Les Frères Cascadeurs’; smashing cars, catching fire, falling off buildings are their specialties. Lois takes us behind the scenes, showing us how it's done, accompanied by a terrific soundtrack by André Vincelli (the film won the 1990 Genie Award: Best Short Documentary from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television).
‘Paralysis’ (1972) 8m. Siegel’s second film, made in conjunction with Ray Jurgens, continues her flirtation with the abstract. Here, she filmed the original image from the screen of an oscilloscope, transferred it to a high-contrast black and white copy, superimposed the internegatives, then completed the film by "re-filming the edited version on a rear-projection screen while using colored gels". A hypnotic film, with music by Terry Riley.
‘Painting with Light’ (1974) 3m. An experiment in capturing moving light sources, Siegel uses the optical printer to manipulate images in a brilliant short film that is, in essence, a moving piece of abstract art.
‘Faces’ (1976) 6m. Siegel is also an accomplished still photographer. In this film, composed of interlaced portraits, she has developed a haunting series of images reminiscent of the work of Diane Arbus, reminding the viewer that the soul of the subject remains under strong scrutiny when confronted by the dispassionate technology of the lens.
‘Solitude’ (1978) 10m. Against a decayed Palladian façade, a sepia-toned dancer is a tiny player in a rapidly-moving, surreal world. This film has equal contributions from dance, poetry, and music, a "breakout" film for Siegel, who characterizes it as a film about "the interior of being alone". She writes: "It has more structure to it as a film than the others before it, which were basically experiments. Edouard Lock, who did the choreography and introduced me to the dancer, has become famous since then. He originated ‘La, La Human Steps’ - a dance group that has performed all over the world. He's worked with David Bowie and other well-known people. I met Edouard as a student... in my Film Production class at Concordia University…"
‘Arena’ (1979) 8m. A pastiche of airbrushed photos dissolve into one another, reflecting the silent, visual world of a hearing-impaired boy. Exceptional soundtrack by Jeffrey Bihr.
Thursday, June 7... Geost Geoff: Oddities and Amusements from the 16mm Film World
Some of you have asked "Hey Geoff, when you go home at night and want to kick back and relax, what do YOU watch?" Well, folks, I’ve never owned a TV, so I’ve gotta depend on 16mm for real, down-home partying. Tonight, I’m gonna figuratively invite you to "my place"… pretend you’re my guest (or even worse, my date) and kick off your shoes, grab a glass of wine and a bowl (tobackee, that is), sit a spell, and fasten your seat belt for a gnarly ride through my cinematic midway.
‘A Different Approach’ (1978) 20m, dir. Fern Field. A hilarious take on PWD films, a very young Michael Keaton plays the part of a director who makes an innovative film about hiring the disabled, featuring a choreographed, wheelchair riding chorus line, singing about the joys and rewards of including the handicapped in the personnel mix. If you think this is in bad taste, join Keaton’s boss, who thinks he’s plumb gone off his rocker. Carol O'Connor, Jim Nabors, Martin Mull, Ed Asner, and Norman Lear make guest appearances.
‘Abdominoperineal Resection & Management of Colostomy’ (1962) 42m, dir. No doubt about it: ciné16 is the only cinematic venue in the U.S. brave enough to show a film like this to an audience. Why? Nasty stuff is all we have to say, but if you’re interested in what happens when your terrestrial host breaks down, ya better check this one out. A hint: the easiest part to get through is when the doc sticks his scope up 10 centimeters of rectum to discover a "bleeding, fungal mass"; the rest is all downhill from there. The abstract says it best: "Emphasizes the role of a surgeon in the care of a patient with rectal cancer. Shows preoperative examination, operative procedure, patient training in management of the colostomy, a technique of abdominoperineal resection, standard enema irrigation and an improved method of irrigation using a bulb - syringe." Be sure to have dinner before the show.
‘Gardiner's Island’ (1978) 30m, dir. Jon Hubeth/Robie Hubley. The
16th Lord of the manor, 11th generation, owner Robert David Lion Gardiner takes
us on a tour of his privately-owned island (7 miles long, sitting in the jaws of
Long Island) bought from Indians in 1639, and granted to the original Lord
Gardiner by Charles I. The effusive but affected host tells you everything you
wanted to know about living on a royal estate, from buried treasure ("you
didn't fool around with Captain Kidd!") to pregnant deer ("the doe
knows nothing about the Pill, you see"). All in all, Gardiner’s happiest
in the cemetery, discussing past and future occupants.
'An Autumn Story - Mrs Pennypacker's Package' (1967) 11m. dir. Maclovia Rodriguez. What could be so strange about a simple story involving a woman who carries a dog around inside a box? Ms. Rodriguez, who we interviewed earlier this year, meant this to be a simple story about life in New York City, introducing children to city services. I’m convinced there’s something darker here. You be the judge.
Thursday, May 31... Shuttered Hopes and Shattered Dreams: Naim and Jabar in Afghanistan
‘Naim and Jabar’ (1974) 50m, dir. David Hancock and Herbert di Gioia. Occasionally I come across a film so powerful that the immediacy of putting it on a ciné16 program accelerates past the point of taking the time to carefully choose the right turn of phrase in our weekly filmnotes; such a film is this one, which I consider a masterpiece of ethnographic documentary. Essentially the story of a deep friendship between two adolescent youths, ‘Naim and Jabar’ captures the hopes of parents wishing to see their sons escape the misery of a meager Afghan village existence, as Naim and his father cultivate only heat and dust in their sharecropped field that, only in the best of times, would bear wheat. It’s rare to find an ethnographic documentary that feels more like a drama than a social treatise, yet that’s what Hancock and di Gioia have provided, focusing on Naim’s wisecracking braggadocio as he boasts about leaving the Tajik village of Aq Kupruk behind, and going to the "big city" of Mazar-I-Sharif for formal schooling, or Kabul for military cadet training. Naim laughs at the tears of Jabar, who cries at the prospect of losing the easy proximity of his lifelong friend. Overall, the dark cloud of fate casts shadows only occasionally broken by rays of optimism, in a film more reminiscent of the dramas of Satyajit Ray than the formal ethnographic documentaries for which this film company (American Universities Field Staff) was best known.
Also on the program:
‘Farm Song’ (1978) 55m, dir. John Nathan. A phenomenal film focusing on the Kato extended family, living in northeastern Japan. Wonderful scenes include drunken singing, new wives running away from mother-in-law tyranny, and an old man continually praying his son won't be killed in an auto accident. Great traditional songs, mixed with modern music by Toru Takemitsu.
Thursday, May 24... Skid Row Chautaqua
Catharsis time again: Call me insensitive, but my sympathy with real or imagined homeless issues pretty much went down the drain when the three-story kitchenette-cum-tenement that was my home in Boston was nearly burned to the ground one day by a bum who broke into the basement, got cold, lit a fire, and passed out. My wife at the time came home from work at 3 am to find smoke pouring out of the basement windows, nary a fire truck in sight because the landlord never bothered to install a smoke alarm. She bursts into the room: "we’re burning, we’re burning!", later telling me she ran into the smoke-filled building with a rag over her mouth to get me outta there. We ran all over hell trying to get everyone out of the building. If my wife hadn’t had an exotic job, we all might not be enjoying smokes and drinks at ciné16 (your subterranean cinema). We sure as hell weren’t rich: the kitchen was a two burner stove in an old closet, shoulder-to-shoulder with a civil war-era sink that provided a nightly lesson in the immortality of hard-shell entomological species; we couldn’t afford a phone, so had to use the nasty pay thing down on the street, where I carried a baseball bat to fend off the Norway rats that feasted on the high-grade feed at the police stables around the corner, then ambled, Edward G. Robinson-like, through gutter and sidewalk, past telephones, storefronts, and dumpsters ("use the phone my way, see?!").
Once the fire trucks arrived, hoses turned on, and the place sorta rebuilt, we made damn sure no freeloader ever made it past the front doors of THAT place again, to be sure; to this day, as a west-coaster, I always applaud mayor Willie Brown’s gift shopping cart ideas as a way of attracting apartment burners in the northerly direction away from San Jose. Between you and me, I’d have been a lot happier if Montréal’s Station 10 had controlled my precinct, now and in the past, and I question: Is the world really better off, now that Skid Rows have become "neighborhoods in transition", Rescue Missions "urban ministries", and Film Noir cops like Captain Jacques Cinq-Mars are no longer welcome on the beat?
Now that I've offended half my audience, let’s see, where was I going with this...? Oh yeah, here are ciné16’s filmic answers to tonight’s burning (ahem) social issue:
‘Station 10’ (1973) 58m, dir. Michael Scott. If Weegee -- the prototype crime photographer of the post-war years --- had a movie camera, the finished product might have looked like this, taken from Scott’s two months at Montréal PD’s downtown precinct, Station 10. Whether it be the discovery of a week-old suicide by rifle, the death of a fellow cop, an illegal arrest, or abuse hurled at the cameramen by those being arrested, the action is shot without the benefit of opinion or apology. The dull, matter-of-fact narration, spoken by a tired Captain Jacques Cinq-Mars, speaks as much about life in Montréal’s demimonde as does the film, Scott’s precursor to ‘Whistling Smith’, itself a perennial favorite at ‘ciné16’
‘The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan’ (1978) 27m, prod. Janice H. Brown/Robert Duncan/Andy Thomson. A favorite of Geoff Alexander’s living room, this film depicts the journey of one of the 5,000 people in Montréal’s skid row; much of this isn’t pretty, what with inner-city rescue missions, petty boozer jealousies, etc. Some of this is really funny: in one sequence, the cameraman approached a beat up hulk of a car sitting on blocks in a vacant lot; the doors open and four classic bums offer the crew a drink and begin a rousing drunk-song of booze and forgotten loves. Anyone caught NOT drinking during this film will be ejected from the premises…
‘Mr. Nobody’ (1987) 30m, dir. Lyn Wright. Every now and then a story crops up in the paper about some nutty person who’s filled a house full of newspaper stacks, old toast, and five years’ worth of garbage. He or she usually owns a few hundred cats, rats, and rabbits as well. Well, meet Jack Huggins, a compulsive hoarder who admits to having "a bit of a problem, nothing unusual, really..." Until the new neighbors moved in, that is, and began noticing the aroma wafting toward their dream home. In this film, the municipal government attempts to fix the house and yard, while the department of social services tries to fix Jack; he finally gets those maggots cleaned out of that quarter-sized hole in his leg, although the act of opening the refrigerator door nearly kills the social worker first. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Huggins is lucid, aware that he’s got a problem, but together enough to have buried 75 cats in his backyard, as opposed to leaving their carcasses lying around. A thought provoking film, ‘Mr. Nobody’ eschews the black and white of the mentally ill and lives squarely in the hazy gray.
Thursday, May 17... Voice of the Convict
The United States does a better job of putting people in prison than any other western nation. When we don’t get ‘em on violent crimes, we nab them on consensual drugs and sex. We enthusiastically come up with new laws to jail people, as evidenced by the recent Texas incident in which a woman was arrested and locked up solely for the crime of not wearing a seat belt, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn. While conservative elements blame welfare cheaters for stealing our tax dollars, we (those of us who aren’t currently "guests" behind locked doors, that is) are dunned to the tune of some $35,000 per year, per convict. Our thriving $37.5 billion dollar-a-year security-industrial complex is driven by construction interests, the prison guard lobby, contractors for ancillary materials (fences, etc.) and even telecom companies, who charge their captive audiences whatever they damn well please to the tune of $1 billion per year.
Tonight’s films are over thirty years old, but are they irrelevant? Since they were made, the U.S. prison system has grown tenfold, and now 2 million of our citizens are behind bars in any given day. These films not only offer a broad perspective on life behind bars, but provide an insight as to some of the historical reasons we are where we are today. For media historians, they also are representational of an era in which forces within NBC News made a valiant attempt to offer intellectually stimulating fare against the onslaught of light entertainment programs carrying heavier advertising revenues.
‘Voices Inside’ (1969) 30m, prod. Tom Pettit. This hard-hitting segment of NBC News ‘First Tuesday’ program describes the seamier aspects of incarceration, as described by the convicts themselves: rapes, punks, and bad food are three recurrent themes.
‘This Child is Rated X’ (1971) 55m. dir. Martin Carr. From NBC News’ ‘White Paper’, Here, Edwin Newman delivers a scathing report on the juvenile justice system, reporting that half the crimes committed by youth (such as running away to get married) would not have been considered offenses if committed by adults. While many of the specific issues in the film have been rectified, the question of police action selectively enforced against those least able to speak out in their own behalf remains, to a large extent, unaddressed. This documentary asks whether less draconian measures against non-violent statute violators may have value, adding a provocative element to the discourse over incarceration that is as vital today as it was thirty years ago.
‘Cell 16’ (1971) 14m, dir. Martin Duckworth. At Collins Bay Penitentiary, Kingston, Ontario, we experience convict-screenwriter Peter Madden’s bedlam in cinema vérité...
Thursday, May 10... Exiled to the Future: Foundations of the Czech New Wave
It’s all too easy to forget about the aborted Czech cultural revolution that terminated with the Soviet invasion of 1968. Czech filmmakers, who from 1963 to 1968 had brought the cinema of their nation to international prominence, however, were in the forefront of the social, political, and cultural changes that eventually moved reactionary forces to action, and tonight we focus on their contribution to the free expression of ideas that led to their banishment from the state-sponsored cinema.. Their dispersal, while enriching the countries to which they fled, leaves us today to wonder how the cinematic fortunes of the Czech Republic may have evolved differently had they stayed.
‘FAMU’ (1968?) 55m, dir. Haro Senft. The story of these cinéastes begins at FAMU, the Czech national film school, here documented by a German filmmaker, in an undated film we believe must have been released at roughly the time of the Soviet invasion. Senft interviewed virtually all the leading lights of Czech cinema, including: Milos Forman (Black Peter, Loves of a Blonde), Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1967), Elmar Klos (The Shop on Main Street), and Jan Nemec (A Report on the Party and the Guests). Anarchistic, subversive, anti-authoritarian, the avowed purpose of these filmmakers was to alert their fellow-citizens to the system of incompetence and oppression under which they served, and the costs of continuing to operate within that social and political framework. This film, complete with clips of many of the most significant Czech films of the era, is both a fascinating historical document of the school itself, and an important series of portraits of the people whose work created images powerful enough to be considered treasonous by the new Soviet-centered régime of 1968.
Also on the program:
‘Gene Deitch: the Picture Book Animated’ (1977) 25m, dir. Gene Deitch. While Prague was under siege, Deitch (creator of the Mr. Magoo and Tom Terrific animated characters) and wife and colleague, Zdenka Deitchova, director of animation at Kratky Film, continued to turn out films based on children’s books, under the watchful eyes of the Soviet-controlled government. In tonight’s film, the engaging Deitch describes the painstaking process of animating a picture book for film, a delightful treasure on the art of filmmaking. Deitch, incidentally, has written a book called "For the Love of Prague" which chronicles his career and his relationship with Zdenka Deitchova, his wife and colleague, and offers a sobering glimpse at the 1968 takeover. We’d like to suggest that you visit his site and consider ordering this fascinating book from him at http://www.fortheloveofprague.com/frameset.html
‘Magic World of Karel Zeman’ (1969) 16m, dir. Zdenek Roskopo. Czech special effects master Zeman was held the same high regard in Europe as Ray Harryhausen was in the U.S. Here, he invites us to his cinematic laboratory where he shows us how it's done, magnificent with trickery and deceit.
Thursday, May 3... Jazz Classics Known and Unknown
The majority of tonight’s films were salvaged from the parking lot dumpster at BFA Films during the 1970s by filmmaker Wayne Mitchell, who donated them to us last week. By and large, they are cuts from television shows and lack credits, but nevertheless cover some of the better-known jazz musicians of the 1940s and 1950s. I’ve done my best to guess who some of the sidemen are, but if you’re familiar with this era, we invite you to take a look and help us to fill out the rosters.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Shelly Manne’ (1959?) 15m, uncredited director. Drummer Manne created some of the more progressive music emanating from the LA post-bop jazz scene in the 1950s. Here, we see outtakes from an unnamed television show which I suspect was called "Take Another Look". His sidemen include tpt. Conte Candoli, tnr. Richie Kamuca, p. Russ Freeman, and b. Monty Budwig.
‘Four by Basie’ (1950) 20m, uncredited director. Poor Buddy De Franco. Probably the greatest clarinet player who ever lived, as creative, articulate, and vibrant today as he was in these pieces from the early days of television, the ascendancy of his musicianship unfortunately paralleled the demise of the popularity of his instrument. We see and hear him here, a young guy in his early twenties, accompanied by the great bandleader on piano, and vocalist Helen Humes, and (we think) tpt. Buck Clayton, g. Freddie Greene, b. Walter Page, and d. Jo Jones. These four wonderful short films also feature an unnamed young tenor player who we suspect is Don Byas, integrating bop phrasing into the otherwise swing-oriented sextet.
‘Wingy Manone's Mardi Gras Band’ (1944) 10m, uncredited director. Trumpeter Manone lost most of his right arm in a trolley accident, covered his prosthesis with a gnarly black glove, and took special care to expose only his left profile to the camera. Although focusing on hackneyed tunes likes "Saints", his band included a terrific uncredited clarinetist, along with Manone’s spirited playing and hokum.
‘Chicago and All That Jazz’ (1961) 20m, dir. James Elson. NEVER EVER use the term "all that jazz" when writing about jazz, please, a phrase used only by squares! Chicago Jazz was an amalgam of late New Orleans styles and young white guys emulating what they’d heard on 78s. This film, a ½ hour edited version of a one-hour long "DuPont Show of the Week", features good performances by musicians such as d. Gene Krupa, tpt. Red Allen, g. Eddie Condon, tnr. Bud Freeman, cl. Pee Wee Russell, b. Bob Haggart, p. Joe Sullivan, and tbn. Jack Teagarden, but our favorite is the 60 second appearance by boogie piano master Meade "Lux" Lewis. In addition, Lindy Hop giants Leon James and Al Minns demonstrate the artistry that put them at the top of the jazz dance world of the 1940s.
‘Duke Ellington Swings through Japan’ (1964) 26m, dir. Peter Poor. Here, CBS’ ‘20th Century’ team follows the noted bandleader on a three-week tour through Japan. Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Cat Anderson, Russell Procope, Sam Woodyard, Lawrence Brown, et. al.
Thursday, April 26... Robert Emmett Presents the Science Films of Richard Leacock
Those of you who attended our March 1st show with Richard Leacock in attendance missed out on seeing 'Frames of Reference,' due to Ricky bringing his own copy of 'Hickory Hill', which we substituted for 'Frames' at the last minute. Here's your chance to see that films, as well as two others from the fabled PSSC series. A must for hard-core science buffs, as well as a strong reminder that the filmmaker did, indeed, read physics at Harvard!
‘Frames of Reference’ (1960) 26m, dir. Richard Leacock. This film utilizes a fascinating set consisting of a rotating table and furniture occupying surprisingly unpredictable spots within the viewing area. The fine cinematography by Abraham Morochnik, and funny narration by University of Toronto professors Donald Ivey and Patterson Hume is a wonderful example of the fun a creative team of filmmakers can have with a subject that other, less imaginative types might find pedestrian.
‘Coulomb's Law’ (1959) 25m, dir. Richard Leacock. Here, manic Princeton professor Eric Rogers hosts, continually removing and replacing his eyeglasses, ordering around lab assistants --- he forcefully breaks a glass test tube in the hands of an assistant to demonstrate the inelasticity of water --- and furiously pounds equations on a blackboard (Leacock says the scribblings must have lasted 45 minutes, in what must be one of the more necessary cuts in the history of educational film). Rogers finally conducts an experiment with a young girl, placing her in a metal cage, which he then charges with electricity, demonstrating through the inverse square law that his assistant (Leacock’s trusting daughter Elspeth) is not harmed by the charge.
'Crystals' (1958) 25m, dir. Richard Leacock. Here, noted physicist Alan Holden of Bell Labs grows his favorite crystals, infusing his witty, dry humor into nearly every process.
Thursday, April 19... CityScapes
The urban scene portrayed in feature films never quite meshes with the reality of day-to-day existence, where people are more concerned with getting their clothes washed and stoop swept than running a drug deal for the ‘bad lieutenant’. OK, so there are exceptions: in St. Louis’ Gaslight Square, where I lived for a time in 1971, we used to sit on the second story verandah, listening to the police radio to the tune of gunshots a block or so away. It was hilarious, because the dispatcher would plead for the boys in black to show up to a fracas, repeatedly-repeatedly, while it was apparent to those of us behind triple-locked doors that the doughnut shop beat was probably heavily covered. Tonight, we look at four urban environments, in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland, to see how they dealt with their blights, citizens, and infrastructures; in one of them, we see what really went on in that dimly-lit room above the pizza joint...
‘Super Cop’ (1970) 30m, dir. Gerald Polikoff. A couple of years ago, I read an article about the vast collection of cigars once owned by Frank Rizzo, now being auctioned for top dollar. Along the way, the writer talked about what a lovable guy ol’ Frank was. Unless, of course, you were black, politically progressive, or looked different, something that the writer didn’t bother bringing up. Of course, Rizzo was a caricature: a staunchly conservative anti-intellectual who represented the worst in municipal police policy, the antithesis of what we today call community policing. The ‘us vs. them’ philosophy espoused by Rizzo and his ilk resulted in much of the tension, burnings, and riots in the late 60s/early 70s. Back when NBC could still show a controversial documentary, Polikoff created a fine one on this archetype, as witnessed by Rizzo’s sympathizing with police officers, up for charges of beating up suspects in their custody.
‘The Living City’ (1953) 20m, dir. John Barnes. Barnes, who would later become noted for his films on literature and the humanities, won early recognition for this film, describing the causes of, and solutions to, blighted urban neighborhoods in Baltimore, New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh (nominated for an the Academy Award for best documentary of 1953).
‘Riches of a City’ (1970?) 30m, dir. eight directors. As jumbled as any film made by eight different cooks would be, this film none-the-less is a fascinating look at the Portland riverfront revitalization project, centered on Skidmore Fountain area. San Jose take note: good urban sculpture can be a reality, and saving important buildings can become the standard course of business, as witnessed here by the Portland Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture.
‘The Tenement’ (1967) 40m. prod. Jay McMullen. We’ve long lauded the important work done by Fred W. Friendly’s ‘CBS Reports’ team; here, hard-hitting Jay McMullen takes us to the run-down, blighted building at 3823 So. Ellis Ave, Chicago, in the summer of 1966.
Thursday, April 12... Black Ink
In the literature classes of my high school, literary work by African-American writers was virtually ignored, unless it was politically topical; one brave teacher brought in Eldridge Cleaver’s ‘Soul On Ice’, and was rewarded by a visitation by the conservative principal, who audited her classroom to find out how the book was being taught to impressionable minds. My school was not an anomaly, as evidenced by the relatively small number of films made on the subject of this important group of writers. Tonight, we present three fascinating films that present the rage, beauty, and power embodied in the work of a trio of important chroniclers of 20th century America.
‘Gwendolyn Brooks’ (1967) 30m, dir. Aida Aronoff. Here, the 1950 Pulitzer Prize winner reveals the lighter and darker elements of the Black urban and suburban experience, describing her relationship to kitchenette apartments, and reading from powerful pieces such as ‘The Ballad of Rudolph Reed’. Brooks, who passed away late last year, adds an insightful perspective on the differentiation between "loneliness" and "alone". A fine overview of her work can be found at: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/brooks/brooks.htm
‘James Baldwin's Harlem’ (1964) 72m, dir. Don Horan. One of the two films in producer Arthur Barron’s ‘My Childhood’ series, Baldwin (1924-1987) here describes a bleak childhood, an unresponsive father, and his equal uneasiness with American blacks and whites. For more information on this important and influential writer, visit: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm
‘Sky Is Grey’ (1980) 47m, dir. Stan Lathan. Written by Ernest J. Gaines, whose best-known work may be ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’, ‘Sky’ involves a mother and son going to town, and encountering a friendly woman running a small store, who understands the place and value of pride, and stars Olivia Cole and Clevon Little. Gaines, born in Louisiana in 1933, won a writing fellowship to Stanford University, and published his first short story in 1956. For more on the author, visit: http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/read/lesson/gaines.html
This film marks the ciné16 debut of Robert Geller’s ‘American Short Story’ films, a remarkable series set the standard for the dramatized academic film in the classroom. A former literature teacher, Geller wrote a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund a series of films based on great works of American literature in honor of the bicentennial. Eventually encompassing seventeen films of up to 55 minutes in length, each film boasted exceptional acting, directing and script, with hosted introductions by alternately Colleen Dewhurst and Henry Fonda. Although featuring the talents of many well-known actors, each film in the series had a total budget of under $250,000. The films gained additional exposure when later telecast by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Geller later went on to teach screenwriting at Columbia University, then moved on to Antioch College as Chairman of the English department.
Thursday, April 5... Deserts of the World Unite
The desertification of northern Africa? Expansion of the Kalahari? Global warming? Prejudice against our dry brothers and sisters has reached epidemic proportions, yet few are willing to defend them. Smug with our good jobs, award-winning kids, and dry shoes, we choose to defend people and causes rather than land formations and geological trends; we hug trees and praise Butterfly Hill while being taken aback at the triumph of the jumping cholla over the expired, but life-giving jackrabbit. Our senses dulled by good liquor and better tobacco, our intellect abraded by television and advertising, we ignore the injustices heaped upon the desiccated wilderness, perpetuating the myths that erode the majesty of talus slopes, salinated pools, and stinger-sheathed insects. To ignore the oversight is folly, to continue it is madness. As Goebbels (I believe it was) once said: who will be there when they come for us?
‘Great Mojave Desert’ (1971) 52m, dir. Nicholas Clapp. People who attended this year’s Cinequest festival returned raving (foaming at the moth, in some cases), about a film called ‘Amargosa’, describing dancer Marta Becket and her Amargosa Opera House, in Death Valley Junction, CA. We thought it a bit tedious when compared to this little-known earlier visit with Becket, and her then-husband as they set up shop in 1970. The Becket sequence is actually only a part of this fine film, which also contains the compelling sequences featuring Colin Fletcher walking across the desert, Basque desert shepherds, and small miners Bruce Menard at the "Silver Queen", and Billy Varga in Randsburg.
‘Baking Deserts’ (1984) 55m, prod. Andrew Neal. While ‘Great Mojave Desert’ is concerned with the people of the desert, this fascinating film tells us what’s on it, and under it. Here we see how plants, animals, and people obtain & retain water in the Sahara, Kalahari, and Sonora deserts, and, Peeping Tom-like, we’ll stop the projector momentarily to allow you to place your bets on the fight between black widow and the scorpion. Hosted by David Attenborough.
Thursday, March 29... Robert Emmett Presents ciné16 Classics: The Process of Art, Work, and Play.
(Tonight's filmnotes were written by your host, KFJC's Robert Emmett) If the world is but a stage and we all play a part, that part changes. Sometimes we are working and creating, sometimes we are relaxing and playing, and sometimes we observing and reflecting. Tonight's films are an example of capturing these experiences on film.
‘Thomas Hart Benton's "Sources of Country Music" ’ (1976) 30m, dir. John Altman/Mary Nelson. This film follows the process of creating. Thomas Hart Benton has to paint a commission for the Country Music Hall of Fame. We get to follow him, step by step, as he moves from concept to realization. A great look at a master painter and the unique approach he brought to painting.
‘Grain Elevator’ (1981) 16m, dir. Charles Konowal. Most people have no more idea of where corn chips come from, let alone whether or not that corn is genetically modified. This film shows just one of the steps of grain getting from the farm to your table.
'Grant Woods' America' (1983) 30m, dir. Catherine Allen. Andy Warhol may only be remembered for soup cans and the oft repeated 15 minutes of fame phrase. Grant Wood painted two stern looking people in front of an old white house and American Gothic has become an icon. This film gives you a context and a history of a great American painter. His life was not as dramatic as Jackson Pollack, but he was a popular artist in his time. A reminder that all fame is fleeting.
‘Tops’ (1973) 8m, dir. Charles & Ray Eames. Finally tonight, the pleasure of play. Over the centuries people have found delight in creating something that spins. There are all sorts of Tops, and you get to see them in this elegant film made by the brilliant design team of Charles and Ray Eames.
Thursday, March 22... no show tonight (another event is scheduled at the Agenda)
Thursday, March 15... Focusing on the Arts: Films by Don Winkler, part II
Tonight, we present a continuation of a two-part series on the work of filmmaker Donald Winkler. See last week’s filmnotes for a biographical sketch.
‘Earle Birney: Portrait of a Poet’ (1981) 53m. This exceptional film underscores the fact that had Birney been born in the U.S., he quite possibly would be considered by Yanks to be among the greatest poets of the century. Enthusiastic, charming, and iconoclastic, the poet takes us through several of his poems, describes his life, loves, and philosophy, recites some of his ‘sound poetry’, and performs on stage with the musical percussion group ‘Nexus’. This witty, hard-hitting film, devoid of sentimentality or pathos, includes a moving recitation of a portion of Birney’s epic ‘David’.
‘Winter Prophesies’ (1988) 30m. A warm portrait of poet Ralph Gustafson and his wife, a very pretty film made in Canada's eastern townships, perhaps as much about the chronicles of an enduring relationship as about the music and poetry that play so fundamental a part in their lives. Winkler's chiaroscuro treatment involves intensive use of shadows and light to augment the 'place' of the poet's writings.
'Bannerfilm' (1972) 10m. An amazing film featuring banner maker Norman Laliberté, drawing, cutting, and sewing his creations.
Thursday, March 8... Focusing on the Arts: Films by Don Winkler, part I
Donald Winkler was born in Winnipeg in 1940, graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1961. From 1967 to 1995 he was a film director and writer at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, and since the 1980s, a translator of Quebec literature. Winkler's films have dealt largely with the world of culture and the arts. His work has included short experimental films (‘Doodle Film’ and ‘Travel Log’), films on crafts and the graphic arts (‘In Praise of Hands’ and ‘Bannerfilm’), on the theatre (‘Breaking a Leg - Robert Lepage and the Echo Project’) on social history (‘The Summer of ’67’), and, most notably, a series of films on Canadian literary figures, collected under the overall title "Poets: A Sestet", which provide a film record of six cultural pioneers who helped lay the foundations for modern Canadian writing.
Winkler told us a fascinating story of his road to becoming a filmmaker:
Winkler's films capture both the richness of the art form, and the spirit and personality of its creator; intellectually stimulating and often funny, they thrive in a subject area vastly neglected by the film production community. ciné16 thanks the filmmaker for his generosity in donating films from his own collection, so that stateside viewers may have the pleasure of seeing these important films.
On tonight’s program:
‘Al Purdy: a Sensitive Man’ (1988) 55m. Poet Al Purdy, who passed away in the Spring of 2000, was is an irreverent Canadian original, as evidenced by his biographical poem, performed live, describing and decrying a husky's controversial eating habits during a human call of nature. Winkler explores Purdy’s past with old photos punctuated by the poet’s witticisms and observations.
‘In Praise of Hands’ (1974) 28m, dir. Donald Winkler. Writer Gary Evans credits Winkler with being one of the few Canadian filmmakers who embraced the idea of making educational films, but Winkler confided to us that he did this one because the Film Board offered to fly him around the world to make the film. This amazing non-narrated film documents craftspeople from the world over, including those who make the fascinating Ocumicho clay figures of Michoacán, the beadwork of the Huichol Indians, and Indian puppet shows from the sub-continent.
‘Doodle Film’ (1970) 10m. An experimental film, the quirky, fictional account of doodler David Watt. Winkler writes: "I once got a letter forwarded to me from a little old lady in New York City who found it obscene, never thought a Canadian would do anything like that, they have such lovely mountains and Niagara Falls... But my favorite story re: that film was relayed to me by the then NFB rep in Australia (they had them then), who went to a film with a friend, they were late for the showing, so went to another film instead, that was, well, porno. And showing with it... was 'Doodle Film'. The rep was kinda puzzled, until his Aussie friend, laughing, pointed to his crotch and said, 'That's your doodle, mate!' Never judge a film by its title."
Thursday, March 1... An Educational Evening with Richard Leacock, in person at ciné16
ciné16 is delighted to present documentary filmmaker, bon vivant, and raconteur Ricky Leacock on Thursday, March 1, at 7 pm. Noted for his innovative documentaries, Leacock also spent a memorable part of his career making classroom academic films, three of which we’ll showcase tonight. This is the first retrospective of Leacock’s educational work, and we expect this evening to be "sold" out (although we don’t charge admission), and we will certainly have to turn people away. We ask that you get there by 6 pm to get a seat.
Born in London, July 18, 1921, Leacock grew up on a banana plantation in the Canary Islands till shipped off to School in England. He attended Bedales, then Dartington Hall Schools from 1929 to 1938, where he helped form a student film unit, and made his first film, ‘Canary Bananas’, an eight minute silent film.
After working for years with cumbersome cameras and equipment, Leacock was among the early pioneers who utilized the first portable 16mm synchronous sound and film cameras. This development resulted in what came to be known as "direct cinema", a means of capturing action spontaneously as it unfolds. Sometimes known as "cinéma vérité" (although the latter is often differentiated by critics when the camera takes on the role of provocateur, rather than witness), Direct Cinema films have five essential characteristics: 1) real people are filmed, in uncontrolled (non-directed) situations; 2) events are not re-created; 3) people are not formally interviewed; 4) there is no "point of view" narration; 5) music is used sparingly, or preferably not at all.
His primary contribution to educational film in the United States is a series of four films made for the Physical Sciences Studies Committee (PSSC) in the late 1950s, ‘A Magnet Laboratory’, ‘Frames of Reference’, ‘Coulomb’s Law’, and ‘Crystals’. His documentary work also appeared in schools, as edited versions of films made originally for U.S. television networks. Through his teachings, he has influenced many filmmakers, and, from his farm in Sartilly, France continues to produce his own documentary work with his partner and colleague Valerie Lalonde.
A brilliant essayist and film theoretician, Leacock champions the right of the individual filmmaker to create and produce his or her own work on low budget, and insists on the necessity of retaining distribution rights as well. ciné16 encourages film enthusiasts to read Leacock’s essays, powerfully written, opinionated, and refreshingly non-stuffy, found at our webpage at: Leacock Essays
Ricky Leacock will introduce and discuss the following films:
‘A Magnet Laboratory' (1960) 21m, dir. Richard Leacock. In the hands of another director, the inner-workings of a magnet laboratory could have caused a whole classroom to fall asleep of boredom. No so when Leacock was hired to produce this twenty-minute version of lab mayhem. Try this: six researchers in a lab at MIT in the late 1950's show-off the power of electro-magnets, and in the process, accidentally set an experiment on fire. Or this: half way through the film the phone rings off screen, and host Francis Bitter says "tell 'em I'll call 'em back later" while he's looking at the camera, discussing bus bars. Leacock’s fleshed out all the personalities here, from "Beans" Bardo, who cranks up the generator to nearly explosive proportions, to the mysterious Mr. Lin, who barely peeks over his shoulder at us, seemingly in mockery, disdain, or curiosity. A PSSC classic.
‘Hickory Hill’ (1968) 18 m. dir. Richard Leacock.. With George Plimpton. A visit to a children's charity pet-show at the home of Robert Kennedy. Not an academic film, but a funny film brought by Ricky from his own archives.
‘Desert Nomads (French Morocco)’ (1949) 20m. dir. John Ferno. With cameraman extraordinaire Ricky Leacock, who sent the unedited negs back to NYC; wonderful ethnological shots, including the use of a water clock to determine when a farmer's allottment of water is up.
Thursday, February 22... Not A Love Story: the Odyssey of Linda Lee Tracey
‘Not A Love Story’ (1978) 69m, dir. Bonnie Sherr Klein. Controversial in its time, ‘Love Story’ is a chronicle of an odyssey of sorts for adult performer Lindalee Tracey, who tours through the netherworld of promoters and feminists, exploring her relationships with pornographers and women, the latter of whom mostly taking a dim view of what they perceive as an inherently exploitative business. Tracey is not the classic stripper: the act we witness is her comedic, nude Little Red Riding Hood, sticking her tongue out at patrons, playful, rather than erotic. Accompanied by the ever-present Klein, she visits peep booths, with writers Margaret Atwood, Kate Millet, and Robin Morgan and her somewhat shy husband as well. What we have here, among the "eroticism vs. pornography" debates, the myths, the "victims", the guilt, blame, tears, and hugs, is really seems to be the story of filmmaker Klein doing her best to subtly batter Tracey into agreeing that "the biz" ain’t all fun and games.
Oddly, the film was made in the days of relative innocence, when strip clubs still featured travelling "artistes" with thousands of dollars of costumes, when patrons knew the girls by their real first names, and where "floor workers," devoid of artistry, were not yet the norm. In spite of the fact that there’s far too much Klein on camera (a legacy of the Kathleen Shannon Studio D days at the Film Board), the film is a compelling period piece that will undoubtedly engage ciné16 couples in lively discussions on the drive home. Perhaps the most interesting characters in the film are the female photographer, Suze Randall, and the "love act" couple, who perform their act 12 times a day, on stage. After seeing the film, it will be up for the viewer to judge whether the women are being exploited, or vice-versa. Or instead, perhaps, is this really just a simple story of choices of occupations which, like cab driving or programming, offer plusses and minuses that one has to continually balance with the money received for their services?
Filmmaker Lois Siegel, who donated this film to us, tells some nice tales surrounding the fate of many of the prints of this film at the NFBC warehouse: "I knew all the guys who worked in "Stores" - the place where supplies were handed out at the NFB… I also knew everyone who worked in ‘Shipping’. They knew that I edited films and could lace up a Steenbeck. When ‘Not a Love Story’ by Bonnie Klein came out, they heard about some of the sleazier scenes in it. Word spread fast at the NFB. It was like a fish bowl. Everyone always knew what was going on everywhere. So copies of the film kept disappearing from the laboratory.
Since the making of the film, Tracey went on to become more involved with cinema as a writer and actor, and also wrote a book, "Growing Up Naked: my years in bump and grind." Klein, after suffering a devastating stroke, became a strong advocate for the rights of the disabled, becoming a noted author and lecturer. Her own book Slow Dance: A Story of Strokes, Love and Disability, details her struggles and successes in this new world.
Updated note: Lindalee Tracey died on October 19, 2006, at the age of 50.
Also on the program:
‘Whistling Smith’ (1976) 27m, dir. Michael Scott. If you're not sure that you care for Bonnie Sherr Klein's way of looking at adult entertainment, you might prefer the approach taken by Sergeant Bernie Smith walking his beat on Vancouver's skid row, cussin’ out and befriending prostitutes, telling pimps to move along, and warning a ‘john’, "hey fella, you know that girl’s a prostitute?". Although citizens and Smith alike are, to a certain extent, playing for the camera, the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant is not, when he kicks out the entire film crew as well as Sergeant Smith for disturbing his customers.
Thursday, February 15... Canadian Sunrise: A Tribute to Unit B, Week Two
‘Face of the High Arctic’ (1958) 13m, dir. Dalton Muir. A majestic fly-over visit to the remote Queen Elizabeth Islands. The terrifyingly lonely and beautiful desolation dramatically is captured by cameraman Muir, augmented by writer Strowan Robertson’s poetic description of the extreme land formations, and a wonderful music score by Robert Fleming.
‘Universe’ (1959) 30m, dir. Colin Low/Roman Kroitor. Poetically narrated by the great Stanley Jackson, this powerful interpretation of the great beyond was for years the Film Board’s biggest seller filmed in gorgeous black and white in the studio, with Colin Low’s hand-painted planets, and at David Dunlap Observatory, Richmond Hill, Ontario. The film opens with the astronomer preparing the observatory and telescope, and ends with him wiping his tired eyes, ready for home.
‘Fishermen’ (1959) 22m, dir. Guy Coté. So what’s the difference between single line vs. trawling fishing? Near Pennytoss and Petit-de-gras, Nova Scotia, we find out…
‘Sky’ (1962) 10m, dir. John Feeney. Lawdy, I hate that Eastman film! This beautiful series of time-lapse shots over desert terrain documents cloud movement, with a beautiful score by Eldon Rathburn. In full color it would be even better, but that’s what your imagination’s for!
‘Runner’ (1962) 11m, dir. Don Owen. Bruce Kidd, long distance runner from Toronto, trains. Not poetic enough? Howzabout the narration and writing, by W.H. Auden?
Thursday, February 8... Canadian Sunrise: A Tribute to Unit B, Week One
When considering the "look and feel" of films commonly distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, one generally thinks of a number of films made by a loosely-knit group of disparate individuals who came together in the early 1950s to form a group called "Unit B’, chartered with the making of cultural, scientific, animated, and sponsored films. ciné16 is honoring these groundbreaking documentarians with two shows focusing on some of the most signifiicant films made in the 20th century.
From its inception in 1948, Unit B was nominally headed by executive producer Tom Daly, who had arrived at the Film Board as a junior researcher, eventually becoming the associate producer of the war series ‘Canada Carries On’. By the mid-1950s, he had assembled a crew that included cameraman Wolf Koenig, Colin Low and Robert Verrall, who had originally been trained as animators, talented writer and narrator Stanley Jackson, and a newer recruit, Roman Kroitor. In addition, the ill-fated Hugh O’Connor arrived to head the science film subject group within the Unit. In its most productive period, from 1954 through its demise in 1964, this stellar group of contributors made over 100 films.
Things didn’t go smoothly at first, as Daly’s early management style tended toward gentle but emphatic criticism. An early attempt by Verrall, Low, Kroitor, and Koenig to have him removed failed, as Mulholland recognized the value of the team as a whole, which now included, informally, composer Eldon Rathburn.
The magic created by Unit B was due to its collaborative and insular nature:
Unit B’s City of Gold, the yesterday-today story of a small Klondike boom town, appears to be the first documentary made anywhere to make use of pans, zooms, and tilts across still photographs, due to a tracking device invented by Kroitor.
Daly’s discussion of the editing sequence in Gold describes not only the transition between live-action and still photography, but also something of the humanist element, an important aspect of each Unit B production:
Judging the Unit system to be a detriment to the esprit de corps of the Film Board in general, all of them, including Unit B, were disbanded by Director of English Production Grant McLean in early 1964, a crushing blow to Daly. Under the new "pool" system, however, filmmakers could now collaborate freely without being tied to a particular executive producer, which allowed Daly’s teaching to be appreciated by more filmmaker than ever before. His old "B" team, though, left for different pastures. Kroitor soon joined private industry to promote the IMAX technology that the Film Board had pioneered with the film Labyrinth (1967, dir. Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, Hugh O’Connor) at Expo 67 in Montréal. Verrall and Koenig returned to animation, and Low became a strong participant in the new ‘Challenge for Change’ series of social films.
This week at ciné16:
'City of Gold’ (1957) 20m, dir. Colin Low/Wolf Koenig. While this will have been ‘Gold’s third showing at ciné16, it bears reshowing again, now within a Unit B context. One of the first films to weave a historical perspective utilizing old photographs, the history of Dawson City, Yukon is told by Pierre Berton, who lived there. Especially effective is the juxtaposition of historical stills with contemporary footage.
‘Hutterites’ (1964) 28m, dir. Colin Low. Low, who grew up in Alberta as a member of the Mormon faith, won a Blue Ribbon at the 1965 American Film Festival for this remarkable document of a solitary people, beautifully written and narrated by the late Stanley Jackson.
‘Above the Horizon’ (1964) 21m, dir. Roman Kroitor/Hugh O'Connor. Through dramatic time-lapse photography and nerve-wracking stunts on the part of those being filmed (e.g. sitting in a glass ‘bubble’ while being exposed to lightning, or flying into the eye of a hurricane) the viewer is introduced to concepts such as cloud and geyser seeding. This film was produced by O’Connor, an unassuming man who would later be murdered in Jeremiah, Kentucky by a deranged septuagenarian landlord, angry that his shacks were being filmed for an NFBC documentary.
‘The Great Illusion’ (1954?) 3m, dir. Wolf Koenig. A remarkable piece of film history donated by Wolf Koenig to ciné16, this short film consists of Koenig, Roman Kroitor, and Stanley Jackson having some fun at animators Norman McLaren and Eve Lambart’s studio one day. The painter (Jackson) creates an abstract work that neither he nor the model (Kroitor) can figure out until they put on the magic glasses. Never released by the Film Board, this may be the only print in existence of these three talented, young, soon-to-be-famous filmmakers enjoying an afternoon of cinematic lunacy. We showed this film initially in 1998, the first time, from what we understand, it was ever shown to a public audience; our sincere thanks again to the generosity of Koenig for making this film available to our audience and archives.
Also on the program:
'Bannerfilm' (1972) 10m, dir. Donald Winkler. From a donation to ciné16 by filmmaker Winkler, here banner maker Norman Laliberté, cuts and sews his creations.
'Ted Baryluk's Grocery' (1982) 10m, dir. John Paskievich/Michael Mirus. From his grocery in northern Winnipeg, Baryluk speaks, through black and white still photos and his own words, about the tremendous diversity in his small store's patrons, and his sorrow that his daughter doesn't want to run the store upon his retirement.
Thursday, February 1... A Tribute to Budge and Judy Crawley, and Crawley Films, Ltd.
You’ll, have to forgive me, the filmnotes for this program are long, but the story is fascinating. Why honor a company dead for twelve years, principals dead for 15? Read ahead, and you’ll see why. If you don’t care to, I’ll give you the films right here, and you can skip the rest of the notes. Read ahead, though, and I think you’ll find it worth your while…
On tonight’s program:
‘The Jean Richard’ (1960) 30m, dir. René Bonnière. If I were to pick the fifty best educational films ever made, this would be on the list. Here, master ship builder Philippe Lavoie directs a team of approximately twenty other ship captains, gathered together in Petite Rivières, Québec, to built a vessel called a goélette. Hewed from trees growing on nearby hills, these large boats are built outdoors in extremely cold weather, their timbers formed by axes, adzes, and steamboxes. When completed, these flat-bottomed craft trade along the St. Lawrence River, settling on silt at low tide in each village when discharging cargo, due to the lack of deepwater docking facilities. The film culminates in an all-night accordion party prior to the launching.
‘The Loon's Necklace’ (1949) 10m, dir. F.R. Crawley. In spite of its didactic narration, this film has possibly won more awards than any other Canadian film, and has been seen by an estimated 33 million people. A native tale told through masks borrowed from the National Museum in Ottawa, the film has elements of Caligari, with ghost-like figures suddenly appearing against a set painted by cameraman Grant Crabtree, remniscent of the work of Charles Burchfield.
‘Legend of the Raven’ (1958) 15m, dir. Judith Crawley(?). From a story by Pitsulak, Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. The film is especially notable for its stone sculptures, all from the collection of historian James Houston, credited with developing the craft of stone carving among the Inuit. Here we have Raven by Putaguk (probably Tookikalook Pootoogook), woman by Oshawetuk (probably Peesee Oshuitoq), man by Akiaktashuk, all from Cape Dorset, plus a seagull by Isa Smiler, Port Harrison (Inukjua).
Also on tonight's program:
'Seaway to the Heartland' (1975) 30m, dir. Fred Groman (?). Further up the St. Lawrence, well beyond Petite Rivières, and into the lakes and canals, we voyage with Captain Bob Gardiner of the lake tanker 'Simcoe', as he describes the Welland Canal, and a history of locks and lakes, waterways and ports.
And now about Crawley Films:
Crawley Films Ltd., the quintessential private Canadian film companies, was initially funded in 1939 by a $3000 loan provided by the father of the legendary Frank Radford "Budge" Crawley (born in Ottawa, November 14, 1911), to Budge’s young wife Judith. Budge soon secured another $3000 from the bank, bought a station wagon, camera and equipment, and set the firm up in the attic of his parents’ house. Later that year, the National Film Board was created by an act of Parliament, and soon founder John Grierson was contracting with Crawley to make training films for the Canadian Forces. Shortly thereafter, Judith Crawley shot the first Canadian film ever produced in color, 'Four New Apple Dishes' (1945?) for the Film Board.
Budge Crawley’s eccentricities were established at an early age, and soon became the talk of the Canadian film world. Author Barbara Wade Rose has chronicled this, among many examples, of the filmmaker’s unconventional approach to making a film:
Crawley was a family company in which each family member played an integral role, although Budge’s cavalier use of his own children would be shocking in any era:
Getting slapped across the face, as it turns out, was child’s play:
Life at Crawley Films wasn’t all terror, though:
Although the Film Act of 1950 had decreed that all Canadian government films be made by the National Film Board, Crawley moved forward, undaunted, further into the industrial educational film world. By 1952, Crawley was producing 23% of all industrial films made in Canada, and had already begun having an impact on the academic film market as well, with its historically most significant film up to that point, The Loon’s Necklace (1948, dir. F.R. Crawley). In spite of its didactic narration, this film has possibly won more awards than any other Canadian film, and was estimated, in 1976, to have been seen by an estimated 53 million people. A native tale told through masks borrowed from the National Museum in Ottawa, the film in reminiscent of Caligari, with ghost-like figures suddenly appearing against a set painted by cameraman Grant Crabtree, reminiscent of the work of Charles Burchfield.
By 1958, when Crawley Films’ staff had expanded to roughly 150 Crawley made The Legend of the Raven (1958, dir. Judith Crawley?), based on an Inuit story from Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. The film is especially notable for its stone sculptures, all from the collection of historian James Houston, credited with developing the craft of stone carving among the Inuit. In the early 1960s, Crawley was beginning to have some success with the first Canadian television series to be exported, the 40-episode ‘Royal Canadian Mounted Police’ eventually syndicated in 100 U.S. cities, and several other foreign countries.
One of the highlights of Canadian documentary cinema, was the unforgettable The Jean-Richard (1963, dir. René Bonnière), the story of twenty men building who brave the fierce outdoor winter elements to build a wooden, flat-bottomed ‘goélette’ freighter in Petite Rivière, Québec, then hold an all-night dance prior to the morning of its launching.
By 1965, Crawley had made over 1500 films; six of them were features. The remaining years of Crawley film were highlighted by Crawley’s first successful feature film, Brian Moore’s The Luck of Ginger Coffey (dir. Irvin Kirshner), the documentary Janis (1974, dir. Howard Alk & Seaton Findlay) and the amazing story of Yuichiro Miura, The Man Who Skied Down Everest (dir. F.R. Crawley) for which Budge won the 1975 Oscar for best feature documentary film, but for which, friends and critics suggest, the long-suffering Judith Crawley deserved far more than Budge. For several years, Budge Crawley had been simultaneously married to, and living with or fooling around with Judith in Ottawa, and childhood sweetheart Lenore McVeety Crawley in Toronto (his lawyer referred to his lifestyle as a "Captain’s Paradise").
In 1979, Judith Crawley was appointed president of the Canadian Film Institute, coinciding with Budge’s disastrous investment in a million-dollar wind tunnel for a never-produced film called The Strange One. Soon, debt service on Crawley’s loans was estimated to be $80,000 per month, and in 1982, Crawley Films Ltd. was sold to former employee Bill Stevens for $2.00, who agreed to assume $1.2 million in debt, and sell Crawley’s film collection to the National Archives of Canada, including production files, correspondence, scripts, legal contracts, music and performance clearances, internal memoranda, and press releases. The initial Crawley collection, consisting of 4000 productions and approximately 30,000 cans of film, was received in two parts, initially in 1984, and the remainder when the company ceased operation in 1989.
Judith Crawley died on September 15, 1986 of a respiratory ailment, followed by Budge on May 13, 1987. In October of that year, the stock market fell dramatically, pitching Crawley Films into a financial spiral from which it would never recover.
In a charming sidelight particular to a smaller film company, Crawley occasionally placed its own revision of A. P. Hollis’ 1920 poem, ‘Film Prayer’, on the underside lid of its film cans:
THE FILM PRAYER
OTTAWA - TORONTO – MONTREAL
Thursday, January 25... Body Talking: part III of the Bell Science Series and Beyond
Films on the human body have been part of the educational film experience for over seventy years, and the breadth of treatments has been extraordinary. Tonight we’ll revisit the Bell Science approach, join a team of urologists in a medical training film, and finish with one of the better-known series of the 1970s.
‘Gateways to the Mind’ (1958) 60m, dir. Owen Crump. In addition to the ongoing formula of Dr. Baxter dialoguing with animated characters, Crump, aided by set director William Kuehl and animation director Chuck Jones, introduces the soundstage as a character in of itself. Here, we join cameramen, sound technicians, animators, and grips as they prepare to make a film with Baxter, amidst half-finished sets consisting of monster noses and mixing boards . Gaining ever-increasing interest in the subject matter, the crew relentlessly questions Baxter as to the functions of the five senses, which Baxter relates to their own equipment: the camera for the eyes, the mixing board for the ears.
‘Urinary Obstruction in the Elderly Man’ (1962) 30m, unknown director. OK guys, want to see a REAL horror film? Made for urologists and general practitioners, this films takes us on a voyage down the urethra, through the prostate, north through the bladder, then sideways into the kidneys. The goal of the mission? To diagnose conditions leading to uraemic poisoning, which you definitely don’t want, judging by the graphic close-up of the fellow on the deathbed ("his skin and breath smell of urine" --- thank gawd this isn’t a "scratch ‘n sniff" film). Miraculously, we see obstructions blasted away through laparoscopic surgery: 110 grams of material is removed to clear the path. Sobering elements of the film include a demonstration of digital-rectal prognosis (ouch!) and the statistic that 1/3 of all men over the age of sixty will run into similar problems. The film begins, oddly, with a silent sequence of men frequenting the sidewalk pissoirs of Paris, while another, waiting too-long for a companion, gazes anxiously at his watch.
‘I Am Joe’s Ear’ (1986) 25m, dir. Randy Wright. From the popular ‘I Am Joe’s…’ series, here we enjoy a superior affective model of educational filmmaking combining clay animation, standard animated characters, and the humor associated with dad's bad hearing.
Thursday, January 18... Microscopic Forms of Life: part II of the Bell Science Series and Beyond
Frank Capra left the Bell series after the fourth film, and production was then taken over by Jack Warner, who selected veteran producer/director Owen Crump (1904-1998) to supervise the next four films in the series. Crump and Warner were hardly strangers. Shortly before the Second World War, U.S. Army Public Relations had contracted with Warner Bros. to make a series of films acquainting the general population with different branches of the military, a project supervised directly by Warner himself. He soon brought along Crump, employed as a writer at the studio, to research and write what eventually became eight Technicolor shorts. After war broke out, Warner was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Force, chartered with organizing the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Force. Crump was commissioned a Captain, and soon was promoted to the Picture Unit’s production chief. Later, Crump would return to Warner Bros. as a director of documentary and feature films. From the perspective of cohesion, writing, and set design, Crump’s Bell series films are far superior to those of Capra. Additionally, Crump largely downplayed religious references, while upgrading the animated sequences in terms of detail and variation. Readers beware, if you dare: for an unbelievable story about a Crump Korean war film, visit Resa LaRu Kirkland's outrageous Korean Warrior site at: http://www.forgottenwarriorproject.com/ and click on FAQ. Tonight, ciné16 features:
‘The Thread of Life’ (1960) 60m, dir. Owen Crump. Former Mouseketeer Don Grady is just one of the talking heads occupying six contiguous television screens, whose personae fire a battery of questions to Frank Baxter, regarding the origin of life. With Capra finally removed from the project, religious messages were now supplanted by healthy skepticism; when asked when life begins, Baxter replies "We don’t know that!" a response that probably would not have been written into the script during the Capra days. While the subject matter in Thread consists of footage and discussion of genes, chromosomes, heredity, and DNA, the star of the show is, again, the dry and bemused Baxter, whose romantic side escapes momentarily when he responds "And very fashionable!" to a woman who has brought attention to her white forelock. Grady went on to a brief but recognizable career as ‘Robbie’, in the popular television show ‘My Three Sons’.
Also on the program:
‘Protein Synthesis: an Epic on the Cellular Level’ (1971) 20m, dir. Gabriel Weiss. Without a doubt, one of the strangest, fun, and perhaps most unforgettable films in the science genre was this, produced by University of California at San Diego chemistry professor Kent Wilson, and choreographed by director Weiss’ future wife and 1969 America’s Junior Miss, Jackie Benington. After a short description of the interaction between "stars" 30s Ribosome, mRNA, and Initiator Factor One by Stanford’s Paul Berg, the camera moves to an open field at Stanford University, where 200 students, fortified by complimentary wine, begin a Bacchanalian dance replicating the process of DNA formation. Benington kept some degree of order by making sure that each string of ‘processes’ was led by a student in the advanced modern dance program at he university, but clearly the dancers are barely controlled, spurred on the by a free-music band of musicians, who, clearly inspired by their philosophical and geographical proximity to both the Haight-Ashbury and the Merry Pranksters’ La Honda, perform a raucous piece called the ‘Protein Jive Sutra’. The film is, in addition to being a superior example of affective filmmaking, a landmark film defining the early 1970s San Francisco Bay Area art, performance, and alternative lifestyles culture. Weiss, a multifaceted individual who eventually became a doctor of internal medicine and led a twenty-piece jazz band, stated thirty years later that perhaps the most satisfying element about the film is how well the biological model presented in the film held up over the ensuing years
‘Protists: Form, Function, and Ecology’ (1986) 20m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Van Bork specialized in arresting images. Here, to ensure that students stayed awake, he focused on parasitic intestinal protists, the death of a paramecium, and the well-known window in a cow’s rumen, from which a researcher grabs a handful of partially digested cud, wraps the slop in a cheesecloth, then wrings it out to obtain protists for microscope slides. Whew…
Thursday, January 11... Weatherwatch: part I of the Bell Science Series and Beyond
(special note: over the next three weeks, ciné16 will present three films in the famous Bell Science series, hosted by Dr. Frank Baxter, and will juxtapose them with films made on similar subjects by other noted educational filmmakers. ciné16 audiences will thus have the advantage of being able to compare and contrast differing filmmaking techniques, philosophies, and approaches, within the context of three scientific sub-genres. This week, we’ll explore weather films, next week microscopic life forms, and the final week, films on the human body).
Overview: Frank Capra and the early Bell Science films
Whereas many educational series remain in the memories of only a small number of individuals, few can forget the ubiquitous Bell System Science Series. Beginning with Our Mr. Sun, originally telecast on CBS in 1956, this series consisted of eight one-hour programs followed by one of one-half hour in length; the final eight programs were broadcast on NBC. The first eight programs in the series were hosted by the best-remembered individual ever to appear in an educational film, the bald, bespectacled Dr. Frank Baxter (1896-1982) , professor of English literature at the University of Southern California. As well-known for his stiff, cardboard-like suits as he was for his glib persona, Baxter had previous on-screen experience as host of two earlier series, ‘Shakespeare on TV’ and ‘Now and Then’. The first four films in the series were produced by Frank Capra, who agreed to take the job with the stipulation, agreed upon by AT & T president Cleo F. Craig, that the renowned director would be allowed to embed religious messages in the films. In a posture completely at odds with the letter of the Establishment clause, and contrary to the objective sprit of the scientific process, Capra stated to Craig: "If I make a science film, I will have to say that scientific research is just another expression of the Holy Spirit... I will say that science, in essence, is just another facet of man’s quest for God". Capra’s religious messages, incongruous to the content of the films, and inappropriate for those who do not enthusiastically embrace theological dogma, pointedly admonish young viewers who would dare to question the causal relationship between solar energy and the divinity. Tonight:
‘Unchained Goddess’ (1958) 60m, dir. Richard Carlson, produced and written by Frank Capra. Here, we find Baxter, with director and veteran horror-film actor Carlson co-starring as the "Fiction Writer", and a host of well-known voices including Mel Blanc and Hans Conreid, depicting animated weather gods led by the sexy goddess ‘Meteora’, who ultimately throws a stormy "fit" when Baxter turns down her proposal for marriage at the end of the film. In Goddess, Baxter explains weather concepts through footage of meteorologists at work as well as the standard destructive tornado and hurricane shots. In addition to the typical Capra religious pitch (this time, quotations from the book of Job), the film introduces the viewer to bizarre concepts such as the possibility of "steering" hurricanes away from land by creating ocean borne oil-slicks and inducing oil-based ocean fires, about which Baxter notes: "the possibilities are endless, the unanswered questions fascinating! No wonder more and more young students are turning to meteorology."
Also on the Program:
‘What Makes Clouds’ (1965) 19m, dir. Warren Brown. Encyclopaedia Britannica Films was famous for exceptional cinematographers, including Bert Van Bork, and Isidore Mankofsky. In 'Clouds’, Mankofsky’s thought-provoking sequences include a time-clock reflected in dish to record elapsed time, time-lapse clouds formations, and a surrealist shot of a sweating pitcher of water against a cobalt-blue sky.
‘Violent Storms’ (1986) 14m, dir. Bruce Russell, and ‘Clouds and Precipitation’ (1986) 14m, dir. Bruce Russell. Russell is among the greatest filmmakers ever to work with scientific subject material. Influenced by early cinematographer-photographer Roman Vishniac, and extreme cinematographer Bert Van Bork, Russell here offers amazing time-lapse explanations of meteorological concepts, including a remarkable time-lapse lightning storm.
Thursday, January 4... Barinda Samra presents: Truffaut's 'Shoot the Piano Player'
Tonight, our illustrious CTO Samra will be your host at ciné16, presenting one of her favorites...
‘Shoot the Piano Player’ (1960) 85m, dir. Francois Truffaut. Truffaut had wanted to use singer Charles Aznavour in a film for some time, finally finding a suitable vehicle in what is mostly a parody of the classic film-noir. The highlight of the film for many is the naughty song performed by the bizarre Boby Lapointe, who bobs and weaves uncontrollably, performing for the camera the song which earned him notoriety at the club ‘Cheval d’Or'. Rules are broken: Aznavour never sings, the classical piano player only plays "cocktail", kidnappers converse with their victims on the virtues of women, the only logic seems to be that driven by survival, the only real freedom is that granted by death.