2002 Shows & Notes
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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 44 programs, encompassing 170 films, are chronicled from most recent 2002 show backward to the first of the calendar year.

2002 Highlights:  On May 18, we were pleased to host Brooklyn filmmaker Tony DeNonno, in a one-night retrospective of his films.  On June 20 and 27, we hosted a retrospective of some of the lesser-known (but, in our opinion, the best) films made by Weston Woods, in a program entitled 'Fifty Years of Picture Books: a Two-Part Tribute to Morton Schindel and Weston Woods'.  On October 3, we inaugurated our Partner Cities program by initiating a series of monthly programs in St. Louis, Missouri, co-curated by AFA officer Margie Newman and Marc Syp.  Held at the Mad Art Gallery, we're averaging more than 150 people per show.  In November, we gained national interest in our retrospective of the films of Bert Van Bork, which director Geoff Alexander presented at the Association of Moving Image Archivists conference in Boston.  Also in November, Geoff's 40 page monograph,  'An Academic Perspective: The Life and Times of John Barnes,' appeared in 'The Moving Image', the Journal of the  Association of Moving Image Archivists. To further our goal of increasing national awareness of our work, we introduced a new logo for the Academic Film Archive (below).  Although branding is not normally considered an element in the work of a non-profit organization, we see this as a major component in our marketing efforts, which we'll undertake to increase awareness locally and nationally, of our mission and programming.  The eventual objective is to secure funding for a permanent location for our archives and programs.

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 programs are chronicled from most recent 2002 show backward to the first of the year.

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Thursday, December 26, 2002... A Tribute to Frank Cole

Tonight’s program comes to us by way of Sanjay Mohanta and our friend Lois Siegel, who both insisted that I review Cole’s small but significant body of work. Cole, who died several years ago under circumstances that will probably never be fully known, made what is probably the most powerful ten minute short film I’ve ever seen, "A Documentary", which we’ll show tonight.

Cole’s small body of work was concerned mainly with the subject of death. In 1989, he carried the ashes of his grandfather into the Sahara, and filmed his own dance with death over the course of a year, traveling by camel, from Nema, Mauritania, to Sudan’s Red Sea (as the first documented crossing of the Sahara by camel, Cole’s trip would enter the Guinness Book of Records in 1996). The result was the autobiographically abstract ‘Life Without Death’ a 90 minute documentary created over ten years’ time. After finishing the film, he left details of screenings in the hands of others, preferring to return to the Sahara, rather than face questions from fans and critics. The Canadian Film Institute ran a retrospective of Cole’s work in November, 2000, but unbeknownst to all, Cole had perished a month earlier, bludgeoned by bandits in Mali. It would be four months before authorities would be able to positively identify the body as being his.

‘Life Without Death’ is perhaps overly long, and its precursor, ‘A Life’, is not as interesting, or powerful, as the two Cole films were showing tonight. In addition to these films, we’ll round out the program with work by two of Cole’s acquaintances, Ottawa filmmakers Lois Siegel and Dan Sokolowski.

Lois Siegel, Paulie, Frank Cole, Robin Black.  
Photo courtesy Lois Siegel.

Lois Siegel, who teaches film classes as well as being an outstanding filmmaker, recalls Cole’s particularities:

(June 17, 2002) ‘You must see "The Mountenay's" - It's my favorite, along with "A Documentary." Frank used to show these two films to my classes and talk about them and his work. I once stayed at his apartment in Ottawa when I was living in Montreal, but working on casting of a film in Ottawa. The only 'furniture' he had in his living room was a Steenbeck [a flatbed film editor]. There was a scorpion he had found in the desert in a glass jar. He lost another scorpion in a hotel room in Paris...’

(June 18, 2002) I wish you had met him.  This was a different experience. There was no one quite like Frank.  He spoke softly and slowly. He was always thinking.  If he wrote a note, it was usually one line, signed Frank. He was very to the point.

The last time he came to my class, he was questioning everything he had done.  I think he was very lonely at times.  He told my class that film was not the answer to everything, that it was important to have a life.  I think he wished he had a family. I knew one of his former girlfriends. That didn't work. He was still focused on making films and she wanted to have a baby. She left Canada and went back to Peru.

We would often to go see documentary films at the local repertory theatre.  He would only go to see documentaries, no fiction. The last film we saw was Dr. Death, by Errol Morris. Frank was obsessed with 'death.'

I met him in the early 80s at the Grierson Film Seminar in Niagara-on-the-Lake, near Niagara Falls. Those seminars were terrific in the early 80s. Filmmakers and librarians would come from all over Canada, with a few foreign invited guests.  We would stay in a big hotel... we were the only guests in November, off season.  There was a theatre in town. We'd see each other’s films all day, argue fiercely about them, and then continue discussions over meals and in the bar. I met wonderful people and it was the only way to see Canadian films from across the country.

On tonight’s show:

‘A Documentary’ (1979) 10m, dir. Frank Cole. This shocking film documents the final days of Cole’s grandparents. In the opening scene, Cole’s grandfather reminisces about the good looks and sparkling personality his wife, decades earlier. A series of overlapping stills then detail his morning awakening and dressing. He then walks out his door, into an elevator, ascends to the room of his wife, and we become aware that the activity takes place in a multistory institutional rest home, in which they are both entombed. Cole’s grandmother, as we soon see, is little more physically than a taught layer of skin stretched over a skeleton; she can no longer communicate. In a film loaded with poignancy, Cole’s grandfather discusses the prospects of his present life: "I like young people, but young people don’t like me… because I’m old, you see." And the future: "I’ll still be here, I guess, for life… life imprisonment."

‘The Mountenays: Family Pictures’ (1982) 20m, dir. Frank Cole. The Mountenays are an extended family living in the Ottawa Valley, near Perth, Ontario. Their house is a hodgepodge of add-ons, extensions, and reconstructions, seemingly built with found materials. On their property, we find a variety of farm animals, broken appliances, and several cars in varying states of disrepair, often reworked to provide icy joyrides. The Mountenays are people who are "off the grid", in terms of social acceptance and financial responsibilities. A female family member recalls with indignation the time a social worker threatened to remove the children from the home. While few of us would, if we were honest enough to admit it, want the Mountenays for next-door neighbors, there is a lesson here: the refusal of others to live like we do may not necessarily be a justification for removing children from their loving parents. Frank Cole chose to focus on the joy and heart of this family, while less prescient filmmakers may have chosen instead to dwell on sympathy, pity, or scorn.

Lois Siegel remembers:

(June 17, 2002) ‘There is a wonderful story about "The Mountenays" - a wonderful backwoods family.  The health department came and said they had to have cement floors, not dirt floors.  So the Mountenays hired a cement truck to come and pour cement on the floors of the house, but they didn't bother to take out the furniture first. The truck just pulled up and poured the cement in, regardless of the furniture that was still in the house.’

Also on the program:

Three exceptional short films by Cole’s friend, experimental filmmaker Dan Sokolowski, and three by our friend and colleague Lois Siegel:

‘Still Life’ (1994) 6m, dir. Dan Sokolowski. The beachhead evolution of dawn-to-dusk.

‘Fire and Ice’ (1998) 3m, dir. Dan Sokolowski. The bliss of freezing rain, captured on film.

‘Winter Time’ (2000) 6m, dir. Dan Sokolowski. Stills and animation with palette-knife painting, accompanied by the exceptional Peter Togni Trio, playing Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’.

‘Stunt People’ (1989) 48m, dir. Lois Siegel. An interesting counterpoint to the Mountenays: Marcel Fournier and four generations of ‘Les Frères Cascadeurs’, a family of people who make their living by smashing cars, catching fire, and falling off buildings. 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.

‘Faces’ (1976) 6m, dir. Lois Siegel. 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.


Thursday, December 19, 2002...  A Tribute to Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead is hardly a household name any more, but she was at the forefront of anthropological studies for much of the twentieth century. She lives now through her writings and several films, two of which we’ll show tonight.

Born in 1901, she earned a doctorate with Franz Boas while at Columbia, and began her first field work in Samoa in 1925, where her work focused on adolescent girls. Her landmark book "Coming of Age in Samoa" posited that sexual development was particular to cultural norms in a given society, and perhaps the western world had something valuable to learn from societies that were perceived to be less developed. A subsequent book, "Growing Up in New Guinea" (1929) focused on her field work on the island of Manus, where she further developed the idea that people considered to be "primitive" evidenced a sophistication in terms of cultural and social development that was equal to, if different from, that found in the west. Prior to this work, it was a given, even in scholarly circles, that the "childlike" behaviors of non-western peoples were evidence of arrested social development. Such views are apparent in ethnographic films of the day, in which on-screen narratives treated adults in such societies as little more than exotic caricatures.

Her work in the Pacific was delayed by World War II, but she returned to Manus in 1953 to write a new book "New Lives for Old", which discussed possibilities for social change within aboriginal society. She found a permanent position at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, continued writing (she authored over twenty books), lecturing, and traveling, and passed away in 1978.

Many of Mead’s ideas, considered radical for their time, are just as advanced today, as evidenced by the extreme difficulty many western scholars have in dispassionately addressing sexual mores in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. Such scholars continually attempt to influence western governments to coerce their eastern counterparts to bend to western standards. As Mead suggests, such meddling can ultimately have mixed results, at best.

Tonight’s films are a fascinating introduction to the work of Margaret Mead, and should not be missed by those interested in other world cultures, and what they have to offer us.

On the program:

‘Reflections: Margaret Mead’ (1976) 55m, dir. Tim White. Filmed three years prior to her death, we join Mead in an animated three day extended conversation, much of it held in her home in Hancock, NH.

‘Four Families’ (1959) 58m, prod. Ian MacNeill. A comparative study of family life in India, France, Japan and Canada. Here, Dr. Mead describes the national character of these countries, and relates the different ways children are raised in each of them.

For a biography of Margaret Mead, visit: www.webster.edu/~woolflm/margaretmead.html

Thursday, December 12, 2002...  Michael Selic presents ciné16 Klessix: Great Films from our Past

Tonight, our illustrious CFO presents his favorite ciné16 films on the subject of Winter (and one of summer, to keep us honest...)

‘Winter Prophesies’ (1988) 30m, dir. Donald Winkler. 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.

‘Snow War’ (1979) 25m, dir. Harold Tichenor. Avalanche, anyone? Not when these fellows are around, doing double duty at rescue and, in conjunction with Canadian Forces, shooting howitzers at mountainsides to create avalanches at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC.

Two from Tom Smith's 'Farm Family' series...

'Farm Family in Summer' (1968) 15m, dir. Tom Smith.  This 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 Winter' (1967) 15m, dir. Tom Smith.  Narrated 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.  

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.   These are important films that are almost ethnographic in their approach to documenting the life and work of a rural family unit.

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 June of 2001, reminiscing about the events surrounding the making of these films:

"The Farm Family films were planned as 2nd Editions. There had been a 'Farm Family...' series made in the 1940s in black and white. They were extremely didactic films guaranteed to put you to sleep as quickly as a stiff shot of pentothal. So I was asked to replace them with a new series in color. The first trick was to find a farm where I could film. Headquartered in Chicago, I set out to look in nearby Southern Wisconsin - a two hour drive from my home in Palatine, Illinois. I needed not only a good looking farm but one with kids in elementary school - the age of our target audience. It wasn't easy to find a combination of the two. I consulted with Farm Bureau Agents in several counties. I recall one farm we visited looked great from the outside. The Agent told me they had kids the right age. Then I met the farmer, a handsome, husky fellow - perfect type. We shook hands and it felt strange. Turned out he was missing two fingers on his right hand. I didn't want to have to explain the missing fingers in every film. I knew a lot of shots in the movies would be close-ups of the farmer's hands at work. So this farm was out.

"It took me weeks of looking. I drove past 100s farms of farms and visited more than 30. I ended up in Walworth county in southern Wisconsin, a country where I had lived for one year when I was a kid. As we drove up to the Markham dairy farm, it looked pretty good. I met farmer "Red" Markham and his wife. Red had all his digits, a good smile was a very tall and strong-looking fellow. His wife Eloise seemed to be all in one piece too. The kids were the perfect age but Red wasn't sure he trusted a city slicker like me promising to pay him some small fee to film his kids on his farm for a year. He had heard lots of sales pitches and figures this could be like one of those "free vacation" offers where they really only want to sell you a condo. We sat in his kitchen over coffee and I tried to persuade him but things weren't going well.

"To make a connection I mentioned that I lived in nearby Whitewater for one year when I was seven years old. That didn't make much of an impression on him. Then I added that my brother-in-law was from Whitewater too. Maybe he knew him - Bud Ardelt. Red put his cup down and broke into a smile. "Bud Ardelt is your brother-in-law?" Turned out that Red and Bud played for four years on the Whitewater football team together and in High School were buddies. He shook my hand - we had a deal. (Incidentally well-known historian Steven Ambrose was also on that same football team.)

"It was only my second year at EBEC and the four films were made while I continued to make other films on other subjects. I normally made about five or six, 12 to 18 minute films a year. We began filming with Fall. Then followed each season as it came along. Summer was the last. As you know from having seen the films, there was usually a thin plot running but what carried the show was showing the farming activities during that particular season. Fall was harvest, Winter not much happens but the kids have lots of fun in the snow and they cut their own Christmas tree. Spring is planting time and Summer there is the county fair. I don't recall why we didn't have a first person narration for the summer movie. No one in the films was an actor and to get someone to read a narration was very difficult. I had to do it line by line and often would not let them see the words but rather read it to them and have them repeat it...

"I've stayed in contact with the Markham family over the years. They have now retired from farming but the parents still live on the farm. The kids are all grown-up and most have kids of their own. None are farmers. As I mentioned "Red" was a big guy - over six foot- five inches tall. His sons grew to be taller than he. One of the boys seen in the film - Dale, went on to be a college football star and briefly played for a pro team. He is now in his 40s. I think he works for a seed company. Pam studied nursing but now is raising her own family. We get Christmas cards from them every year and ten or fifteen years ago I stopped at the farm, unannounced. They were just as friendly as they could be. We laughed and talked of the old days and funny things that happened during that year when I made the films.

"The film crew was normally about four or five people. I served as cameraman on a couple of the films but don't recall which ones. Arthur Bothham was the cameraman on the others including the "Fall" film. I second unit on all of them - running up to the farm to shoot one specific scene for a day with my Bolex and then returning home. There was no real "Grandpa" on the farm. The fellow who played "Grandpa" was actually our film's grip - Stanley Wallega. Stanley died about 15 years ago."


Thursday, December 5, 2002...  Barinda Samra presents ciné16 Klessix: Great Films from our Past.  Tonight: 

The Aesthetics of Ascetics: North American Communal Religions

Maybe your friendly neighborhood atheists at ciné16 just don’t get it: while everybody else seems to be going spiritual on us, we concentrate on eating pizza, watching films, and tightening the nuts & bolts on the old Land Rover. OK we admit it, if there IS a hereafter, we won’t be where everyone else is, anticipating being stuck forever for our disbelief inside a metal 16mm film can, to be released only when an equally disbelieving kid rubs our rusty home three times, releasing our magenta, vinegary essence and asking for a wish. As cynical as we are about the whole business, we have to admit the films on tonight’s program are interesting. We still wonder why people choose to give up sex and fast driving, or live so far away that neat things like art museums are off the map. In fact, I’ve got a cousin who has a farm in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and I once asked him if he wanted to visit San Francisco to see the sights. He kind of slowly looked around at the horizon and said "now, why would I want to do that, anyway?" If you’re like my cousin Brian (or if you’re curious like me about what’s going on in the minds of such folks) then by all means join us at ciné16 tonight while we all try to figure the damn thing out...

‘Shakers’ (1984) 60m, dir. Ken Burns/Amy Stechler Burns. Founded in 1774 by Ann Lee and eight followers, the Shakers grew to 6,000 people spread over 19 villages, consisting of people who embraced abstinence and a simple lifestyle. Because members couldn’t reproduce, the group had dwindled to 12 individuals in two villages by the time this film was made. A good film, too, with lots of information about their unique architecture, furniture, crafts, and songs. A poignant ending, too, with a chair going up at auction.

‘Hutterites’ (1964) 28m, dir. Colin Low. Any film by Colin Low is a treat, and this winner of the Blue Ribbon at the 1965 American Film Festival is no exception. It all takes place in Alberta, beautifully written and narrated by the late Stanley Jackson.

‘Amish: People of Preservation’ (1978) 29m, prod. John L. Ruth. We still don’t understand how two people named Stoltzfus can live five miles apart and not be related; maybe this film can help to elucidate the culture and philosophy of these seemingly otherworldly people.


Wednesday, November 27...  Reel Art :: Cinema    (to be held at Anno Domini)  

Note:  This is the first in a series of three of monthly programs held at Anno Domini, 150 South Montgomery Street Unit B, at Park Street, San Jose.  

On tonight's program:

‘New York School’ (1975) 55 m, dir. Michael Blackwood. Blackwood has an extremely impressive body of filmwork 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.

‘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:

"Most artists receive Grants, Foundation money and produce commissioned works of art for an Art Patron – the Christos do not accept those. They have never accepted sponsorship of any kind, they never will, because they value their Freedom most of all. Also their never create a work in collaboration with other artist, nor do they accept the ideas of others for the choice of a site for their work. The search for freedom is the reason why Christo escaped from his native country Bulgaria, at age 21, while it was under Communist rule. Christo and Jeanne-Claude will never allow any kind of "strings attached." They refuse all commercial involvement – at any price. They have refused a one Million dollars fee for a 60 second commercial on Japanese television, in 1988.

"The Christos have lived at the same address since 1964 when they emigrated to the USA – Christo’s studio is on the 5th floor – there is no elevator – this is their one and only home. Christo never had an assistant, he works alone in his studio, he even does his own framing. Because the Christos work with so many hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at the sites of projects, Christo's studio is the only place where he can be by himself, so that he can create the drawings which show their ideas of what a project will look like.

"There are 3 things Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not do together:

bulletthey never fly in the same aircraft.
bulletJeanne-Claude does not make drawings, she was not trained for that. Christo puts their ideas on paper, he never had an assistant in his studio.
bulletChristo never had the pleasure of talking to their tax accountant."

'Frank Film' (1973) 9m, dir. Frank Mouris. In a dizzying array of 11,592 collage shots, Mouris utilizes multiple voices to summarize his life, an amazing film that challenges the visual and auditory senses to the extreme.


Thursday, November 21... Robert Emmett presents ciné16 Klessix: Dr. Frank Baxter and Andy Rooney on the English Language

Tonight's show is hosted by Robert Emmett, esteemed host of the "Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show", Saturday mornings from 9-12 on KFJC, 89.7.  Filmnotes were written by Geoff Alexander.

When ever I get into a discussion on the subject of educational film,somebody always asks: "hey, remember the bald guy who used to do science films?" He'd probably rather be known as Dr. Frank Baxter, the glib, bemused host (and wearer of the worst looking suit I've ever seen on film) of some of the best known ed films of the late 50s -early 60s. Well, recently I've been reviewing some of those films, like'Our Mr. Sun', 'Hemo the Magnificent', etc. And you know what? They contain some of the most blatant pro-religious propaganda this side of Gene Scott. And no wonder: they were directed by one of America's most beloved homophobic religious zealots --- oops, I mean directors --- Frank Capra (read his autobiography). We elementary school kids must have either missed the propaganda, or skipped critical thinking class that day: the films stand out in our minds as well-crafted and funny,but some come up short in the time test. Perhaps "someone upstairs"also sensed a church/state conflict: in the late 1950s responsibility for these Warner Bros. - made titles was transferred to Academy Award nominee Owen Crump, who produced terrific films such as "It's About Time", and tonight's film, 'Alphabet Conspiracy'.

'Alphabet Conspiracy' (1959) 55m, dir. Robert Sinclair. This is the only Bell Science film to explore a subject not specifically related to a traditional "hard science", the study of language. Frustrated by the ambiguity inherent in the English language, the Mad Hatter (Hans Conreid) and Jabberwock attempt destroy Language by lighting an explosive charge under the world's great literature. On a fantastic, enlarged cartoon library set designed by William Kuehl, they convinced a young girl to join their conspiracy, when Baxter as "Dr. Linguistics" arrives to illustrate the value of the written  and spoken word. Guests range from jazz trumpeter Shorty Rogers, who banters in beat phrases, to psychologist Keith Hayes, whose research on chimpanzee communication was made with chimp family member and guest Viki. 

'Strange Case of the English Language' (1968) 48m, prod. Andy Rooney.  While 'Alphabet Conspiracy' can be viewed as a great children's film that adults may like as well, 'Strange Case' is a funny, occasionally acerbic film for adults that also appeals to bright kids. Rooney's tenure as '60 Minutes' resident curmudgeon often masks the fact that he was a magnificently witty writer (e.g. his sobering 'Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed', shown earlier this year at ciné16). And how many reporters today are as adept at interpreting irony, amusement, and intellectual bewilderment as was the film's host, Harry Reasoner? But the real highlight of this film is an amazing interview with Peter Ustinov, who mimics American speech patterns.

Tonight's films are two of the finest documents on the English Language we've seen, and each of them represents a historically significant gathering of individuals who today are considered giants in their respective crafts. They may considered to be rare: 'Alphabet Conspiracy', like many of the films we show at ciné16, is never shown to adults, and the witty, understated 'Strange Case' is,  sadly to our knowledge, never shown anywhere.


Thursday, November 14, 2002...  From Cave Dwellers to Volcanic Destruction: the Academic Films of Bert Van Bork, part two of two

In the 1980s, Van Bork completed an important body of work focusing on photomicrographic explorations of tiny predatory animals, and their animal and vegetable victims. Here, we are exposed to fascinating forms, colors, and behaviors. The movement of amoeba may look familiar, mirroring the advance of pillow-lava in Van Bork’s volcanic films.

‘Plankton and the Open Sea’ (1986) 22m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Beginning with beautiful shots of phytoplankton, Van Bork explores dinoflagellates and diatoms, the latter of which leave remarkable skeletons scattered in their watery graves. Zooplanktons such as copepods, which consume up to 10,000 phytoplanktons a day, and the terrifying tomoperid worm, are their predators.

‘Protists: Form, Function, and Ecology’ (1986) 20m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Educator Benjamin Bloom, in discussing his three domains of learning, emphasized the value of the affective, which, to paraphrase, inculcates a stimulus that motivates the student to want to learn more about a given subject. In searching for superior academic films, one looks for affective triggers that induce interest, instead of sleep. Van Bork specialized in visually arresting images, intended to keep the student riveted on the film. Here, for example, he focuses on parasitic intestinal protists, the surprisingly sad death of a paramecium, and the contents found through a window in a steer’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. Worse for us: plasmodium, the cause of malaria, and the knowledge that protists have been around for 500 million years, 100 times longer than humankind.

‘Eyewitness’ (1999) 38m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Nominated for an Academy Award in 2000, the film examines paintings and sketches done by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Van Bork painstakingly traced the chronological paths of three artists, Jan Komski, Felix Nussbaum, and Dina Gottliebova, conducted interviews, and provides examples of art never before seen on film. Like much of Van Bork’s other work, light and shadow are dramatically juxtaposed. Here, the power, and occasional beauty of the art, are a prelude to the horrors surrounding their creation. In Gottliebova’s case, she was requested to paint eleven watercolor portraits of Gypsy prisoners, who became her friends. Upon completion of the final portrait, Mengele sent them to the gas chambers.

‘Eyewitness’, although thematically different than Van Bork’s earlier work, draws heavily on the stylistic elements perfected in his days as an academic filmmaker.

Also on the program:

'Geologic Time' (1986) 22m, dir. Bert Van Bork.  Beautifully filmed in the four corners area, this film describes several important methods of dating.


Thursday, November 7, 2002...  From Cave Dwellers to Volcanic Destruction: the Academic Films of Bert Van Bork, part one of two

I’m pleased to announce that we’ll be giving a one-night presentation of the films of Bert Van Bork at the Association of Moving Image Archivists conference in Boston, on November 21. This is not only a significant moment for the AFA, but it’s also the first time in 25 years, that, to our knowledge, a nationally-recognized retrospective has been held on the work of an academic filmmaker anywhere in the United States. This will be a two and a half hour presentation, and we’ll be previewing the program in San Jose as a precursor to the November event, in two evenings. The folowing notes were provided to AMIA for the evening’s program guide.

Tonight we present the first national retrospective of the work of one of the more daring cinematographer/producer to work in the 16mm educational genre, Bert Van Bork, whose stunning camera work is defined by superior color, design, and perspective. Van Bork’s story is a fascinating one, not only in terms of his own personal history, but of his multi-dimensional relationship to many different art forms as well. Born in 1928 in Augustusburg, Germany, he studied graphic art and painting in the Academies of Fine Arts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, leading him to produce stark two-dimensional woodcuts of intense and terrifying beauty. These were often made from the pine remains of destroyed buildings and old furniture, depicting a Berlin struggling with an uncertain future. In 1954, he moved to Chicago by way of New York, and continued working in oil on canvas and 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 1960, he wrote a book with photographs, ‘The Artist at Work: Jacques Lipchitz’.

In 1957, Van Bork was hired to produce films for Encyclopaedia Britannica, soon becoming noted for his stunning geological studies, and recognized for his daring in obtaining footage under extremely arduous volcanic conditions. Of all filmmakers working within the academic film framework, Van Bork may have been the most successful in terms of melding the art and science of filmmaking, blending artistic sensibility with exacting technical standards far superior to many of his contemporaries. His remarkable science films may be mistaken for art films: exploring nature’s forms, Van Bork is kin to Weston and Adams, supplanting their black and white with brilliant color, shot more than occasionally under arduous circumstances.

It is hoped this retrospective will encourage archivists not only to gain an appreciation for the work of one of academic film’s more prolific filmmakers, but to re-evaluate the potential for classroom academic films within their own collections.

Film program in San Jose, November 7, 2002

‘Cave Community’ (1960) 13m, dir. Bert Van Bork. In another dangerous assignment that virtually any other filmmaker would refuse outright, Van Bork and his crew lower themselves into the Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee, to film salamanders and other cave life. Van Bork relates an interesting series of events surrounding the making of the film: arriving in McMinnville, the crew stopped at a hamburger stand for lunch. "Sorry, no more hamburgers", they were told, even though other patrons were eating. Suspicious that the crew were government agents looking for illegal moonshine stills, word had gotten around the small community that no one was to cooperate with Van Bork. Needing several local workers to assist in helping to carry, lower, and raise the equipment from the cave, the filmmaker was refused personnel by the local employment office, a problem Van Bork eventually overcame by hiring a team of African-American workers, disconnected from the community power structure. Upon emerging from the cave, Van Bork and the workers were pelted with stones from angry locals. The filming itself was arduous, too: first, Van Bork lowered himself by rope so he could film the others descending, then he and the others crawled through passages so narrow that they had to remove the belts and pants to get through. Electricity was cabled from the surface, enabling them to generate enough light to succeed with the slow ASA 10 movie film which was standard in 1960.

Cave Community is a transitional film, containing elements of static 1950's-style educational filmmaking, including elementary graphics and a stilted narrative. It also includes sequences that are precursors to the more modern era of academic filmmaking that was to follow, exemplified by the closing shot, silhouetting the large, looming human shadow figures slowly walking off-frame, casting their spectres against the sides of the cavern, providing a German-Expressionist hue which seems more out of Fritz Lang’s M, than a biology series funded by EB.

‘Heartbeat of a Volcano’
(1970) 21m, prod. Bert Van Bork. This film is, we think, the granddaddy of all volcano films, a twenty-one minute trip to hell in the fast lane. Van Bork intended, in his visit to the big island, to film the sputtering Kilauhea, show the geologists using seismographs and geotometers, and maybe get a shot or two of the degassing process at the vents. Instead, as the ground base geologist yells into the short-wave: "she's going wild, she's going wild!", the volcano trembles furiously, dramatically erupting from a threatening lava vent.  The following sequence is perhaps unprecedented in academic film, roughly seventy seconds of non-narrated footage, accompanied only by natural sound.   These moments are filled with spectacular night shots of a giant firefall twice as high as Niagara Falls, glowing lava streams and tremendous explosions.  

Van Bork burned up two pair of shoes as he hung close to the carnage to film the greatest volcanic film we’ve seen. These spectacular shots were planned the day before the explosion, as Van Bork and assistant Ulf Backström reconnoitered the volcanic area, marking exit routes with reflective  tape, and noting the location of lava vents. In one scene, geologists are shown fleeing the approaching lava, but the camera remains (Van Bork, his eye glued to the camera, was prevented from pitching forward into vents and calderas by the steady hand of Backstrom, holding tightly to the back of his belt). The hand of the AGI's John Shelton is in fine evidence here on the soundtrack, which is resplendent with time signatures from radio station WWVH, and motor sounds from seismometers to the generators powering field geometers.

‘Fire in the Sea’ (1973) 10m, dir. Bert Van Bork. In contrast with the "hard-science" treatment in ‘Heartbeat of a Volcano’, this unnarrated film poetically conveys the exceptional forces at the nexus of land and sea.

‘Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities’ (1975) 14m, prod. Bert Van Bork. Few might argue the case that this film sets the standard for the Anasazi aesthetic in academic classroom film. Flying within impossibly narrow canyons to achieve dizzying shots of cliff-dwellings, Van Bork used two pilots during the filming, one of whom quit in the middle of the shooting out of fear for his life, reminding the filmmaker that he had children. Van Bork’s masterful shots were accomplished by removing the helicopter door, mounting the camera on a fixed mount, then directing the pilot through a headphone mic 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, Van Bork secured Palance’s agreement to do the narration provided the script was acceptable. After reviewing it, the actor suggested they meet at one of Hollywood’s finest restaurants to discuss the project: Bob’s Big Boy! 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 challenging location these long-forgotten people chose as home.

‘Richard Hunt: Sculptor’ (1978) 14m. dir. Bert Van Bork . Hunt, who welds junkyard materials into fantastic art forms, discusses his own history as a black sculptor. The filmmaker originally met Hunt at a museum opening, where the sculptor pointedly referred to himself as a sculptor first, and eschewed characterizing himself as a "black artist". His sculpture of John Jones, the first African-American elected to an Illinois public office, is reminiscent of Rodin's 'Balzac' in abstraction, though not in form. See the Smithsonian Institution’s oral history interview with him at: http://artarchives.si.edu/oralhist/hunt79.htm

Also on the program:

'Water Cycle' (1980) 14m, dir. Bert Van Bork.  "Painterly" is perhaps the best word to describe this beautiful film, describing geological weathering.


Thursday, October 31, 2002... Reintroducing our Past: Signature Films from Our Collection

Because this is an anniversary program, we want to emphasize the breadth of our archive by showing films that are among our most requested. For those of you who’ve attended our past programs, this program will allow you to see important films you’ve missed. For first-time viewers, tonight’s films will give you a sense of what AFA and ciné16 are all about. Remember that Miss ciné16 will be here tonight, to give you her personal thanks for supporting us.

On the show:

'Lee's Parasol' (1979) 25m, dir. Paul Saltzman. Beautifully painted parasols are a craft indigenous to the village of Bor Sang, near Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Lee's friends and family are involved in the entire process: cutting large bamboo stalks, trimming shoots for the intricate pieces, making dye for the paper. As in many of Saltzman's films, there is drama here as well, as Lee's boss is faced with the prospect of having to give away Lee's first creation to satisfy an important customer.

Lots of our viewers fell in love with Ladha "Lee" Nakhampa, who was 15 years old in 1977, when Saltzman made her the subject of this film. Earlier this year, I traveled to Bor Sang to meet Lee, who now has children of her own, and had taken a brief hiatus from making parasols due to a motorbike accident. Although everyone in the village knows about the film, it had been years since anyone had seen it, as Lee’s copy had somehow vanished over the years. We contacted Paul Saltzman, who sent Lee a new video copy, which provides the village with a fine documentary of its crafts and people. 

'American Shoeshine' (1976) 30m, dir. Sparky Greene. Nominated for an Academy Award in 1976, it's hard to see how this one could have missed the Oscar. A profoundly deep and entertaining introduction to the world of the black shoeshine artist, a dozen or so shoe shiners are featured, armed with hot-poppin’ rags and street-corner philosophy. Too rarely shown, this tribute to the rhythm and poetry of an important element of American life is one of the more important films documenting the life of the black worker in the U.S.  This out-of-distribution film is indicative of the types of films that the AFA is dedicated to saving.

‘African Pygmy Thrills’ (1930?) 10m, prod. Eugene W. Castle. Castle Films, whose series ‘The Adventure Parade’ resulted in a number of commercially exotic films on ethnic traditions and cultures, actually utilized authentic music in this film, instead of the boring orchestral scores that were more typical of the era. Although the continued use of the term "these little men", and the embarrassing attempt to comically portray an older member of the group as a cynic seems condescending to present-day sensibilities, the faithful recording of the building of a vine bridge 50 feet above the water is remarkable. Climbing 150 feet to the top of a riverside tree, a vine is fixed to an ingenious boatswain’s chair, and a member of the group is swung to a similar tree on the opposite side of the river. Over the next eight days, a complete bridge of several tons is built of vines, the crossing initiated by climbing either tree to the height of fifty feet. While such films represent proof that even sensationalist films of the era contained often superb ethnographic content, it also illustrates the frustration many of these cinematographers may have experienced in seeing their work dumbed-down for theatrical showing. Nevertheless, the documentary aspect of the footage is important, and represents an authentic, if somewhat clumsy attempt to portray significant elements of faraway cultures. ‘African Pygmy Thrills’ is historically significant for one other reason: feature filmmaker Werner Herzog has cited his viewing of this film, as a child, as the impetus for embarking on a career in film.

‘Marcelo Ramos: Artesano Pirotécnico’ (1980) 15m, dir. Judith Bronowski. This is the hands-down winner of the Most Subversive Film Ever-To-Be-Shown-To-Schoolchildren award. There’s no telling how many US schoolkids went home and started playing with matches, gasoline, and black powder after seeing the Ramos family from San Pedro Zumpango, Mexico build their mighty rockets for the La Purísima Concepción festival. Even grandma gets involved, weaving fuses, and the two-year olds are running around stuffing powder in tubes. My favorite? How about the wooden-barrel mixer, powered by a really sparky old electrical wire. Bronowski is probably the greatest of all the filmmakers who explored the Mexican artisan genre; this film explains why.

‘One Hundred Watts 120 Volts’ (1977) 10m, dir. Carson Davidson. The mechanized production of Duro-Test light bulbs is filmed as a dance to the tune of the Brandenburg, as choreographed filaments, glass, and metal combine in a dynamic finale.

'Lion's Den' (Dr. Doolittle) (1928) 10m, dir. Lotte Reiniger. Renoir’s chief assistant on ‘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 distributed 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, October 3, 2002... Extraordinary Lives: Barinda Samra presents ciné16 Klessix from Past Shows

Tonight, Barinda presents films from past ciné16 shows, documenting people who have walked slightly further off the beaten path than the rest of us. These are, historically, among our most-requested films.


'Nahanni' (1962) 15m, dir. Donald Wilder. "I'll be dead or drowned before I quit!" says ancient prospector Albert Faille, as he attempts to go upriver in the Yukon yet again in search for gold. In either a tribute to man's perseverance or his folly, Nahanni is one of the more unforgettable films ever produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

'The Cutting Edge' (1980) 18m, dir. Eric Perlman. Yuichiro Miura is famous as the man who skied down Everest, reportedly attaining speeds of over 100 mph down 45 degree slopes, stopping with a parachute. In tonight's film, he attempts to ski down an 8000 foot peak in Antarctica, gets buried by an avalanche, then does it again successfully the next day down slopes of 60 degrees. I'm not sure if he's a comic-book caricature of a 20th century samurai, or just plain nuts. Either way, he talks about the Zen of it all.

‘Ruth Stout’s Garden’ (1976) 20m, prod. Arthur Mokin. The story is that Mokin’s wife read about the octogenarian gardener in the NY Times, and they all decided a visit would be in order. The visit produced a film, based on the life and philosophy of an iconoclast suffragette and political progressive, replete with tales of nude gardening. One finds it difficult not to mentally attempt to smooth old layers of skin to reveal the girl beneath. An outstanding film.

‘Whistling Smith’ (1976) 27m, dir. Michael Scott. Sergeant Bernie Smith walks 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. If you (like us) feel that San Jose Police presence on First and San Salvador Streets after 11pm on weekends is overkill, take a look at how Vancouver utilizes community policing, and ask yourself which method you'd rather see for your tax dollars.


Thursday, September 26, 2002...  ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) 126m, dir. Charles Chaplin. 

Chaplin’s ‘Dictator’ isn’t seen very often today, and too bad. In addition to writing, directing, and producing the film, Chaplin plays dual roles, that of a Jewish barber confined to a ghetto, and Hynkel the Dictator, a caricature of Adolf Hitler. In the late 1930’s, when the film was under production, pacification of Hitler was still considered an option by many governments, and the actor-director’s stance against fascism was considered bold for the time. Chaplin’s early slapstick comedies always contained a social perspective, however subtle, but ‘Dictator’ is an extremely bold series of salvos against discrimination and ignorance. In the final sequence, the director, facing the camera, rails against the evils of fascism, in a tirade that some critics have called didactic. For the fifty-year old Chaplin, however, it was clearly a time to take a position.  

In 'My Autobiography', he wrote:

Halfway through making The Great Dictator I began receiving alarming messages from United Artists. They had been advised by the Hays Office that I would run into censorship trouble. Also the English office was very concerned about an anti-Hitler picture and doubted whether it could be shown in Britain. But I was determined to go ahead, for Hitler must be laughed at. Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator; I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis. However, I was determined to ridicule their mystic bilge about a pure-blooded race.

The story concerns a barber who goes to war, where he saves the life of a fellow soldier, who eventually becomes an officer under Hynkel’s command. The barber remembers none of this, having lost a large portion of his memory due to a war injury. Eventually returning to the ghetto, he naïvely sets up shop, ignorant of the reign of terror that has recently begun against his people. Eventually, his resemblance to Hynkel provides perhaps a too-predictable end to the film. Chaplin plays the dictator as a buffoon, who spends his days bouncing a beachball-sized globe in the air, as he plots world conquest.

Chaplin was nominated for best actor and writer of best original screenplay for the 1941 Academy Awards. Jack Oakie, who plays "Napolioni", was nominated for best supporting actor, while composer Meredith Willson received a nomination for best original score.

Film audiences today are relatively unfamiliar with Chaplin’s post 1930’s films, as programmers recognize the universal appeal of the early comedies, eschewing the darkness of ‘Dictator’ and ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ (1947), in which Chaplin portrays a dapper, charming murderer. At 126 minutes, this film runs beyond our standard two-hour running time, and we encourage you to see a film rarely screened, but still powerful in its conception and realization.


Thursday, September 19, 2002...  Tim Kordas presents ciné16 Klessix: great films from our archives.  

Tonight's films:

‘Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed’ (1968) 50m, prod. Andrew Rooney & Vern Diamond. Cosby begins his narration in a classroom, discussing little-known black inventors and the impact their creations had on America. The program becomes progressively more intense, and, to a certain degree, frustrating for the viewer as the breadth of discrimination becomes ever more apparent, as is the historical lack of understanding of the positive contributions made by black scholars, scientists, and artists. Written and produced by Andy Rooney, it is appropriate today as ever, a timeless film that, not surprisingly, demands to be seen today both in a historic as well as contemporary light.  Part of CBS News’ ‘Of Black America’ series.

‘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, September 12, 2002...  Michael Selic presents ciné16 Klessix: great films from our archives.  

‘Jules et Jim’ (1962) 100m, dir. François Truffaut

"I can say that my reading, in 1953, of Jules et Jim, the first novel by an old gentleman of seventy-four, once and for all settled my vocation as a filmmaker. I was twenty-one and was a film critic. It was love at first sight for that book and I thought, ‘If I ever succeed in making films I will film ‘Jules et Jim’." - François Truffaut

"In all my twenty years of cinema, the filming of ‘Jules et Jim’, thanks to Jeanne Moreau, remains a luminous memory, the most luminous." – Truffaut, 1979

Actress Moreau had been an early supporter of Truffaut’s work, agreeing to a hastily improvised part in ‘400 Blows’. In ‘Jules et Jim’, which followed three years later, she becomes the lover of two best friends, both of whom are enamored  of their warm yet emotionally distant muse. The story takes place in the years immediately preceding and following the first world war, an event that further complicates the lives of the German Jules (Oskar Werner) and Parisian Jim (Henri Serre), each of whom expresses fears of killing his best friend on the battlefield.  Intertwined in this triangle are the vectors of additional lovers, as each of the individuals in the film --- including the sculptor whose passion for the face of a woman on a stone sculpture in a faraway land precluded the arrival of Moreau’s character --- attempts to find love and acceptance in a world of rapidly changing mores, its innocence shattered by the cataclysmic winds of international conflict and destruction.


Thursday, September 5, 2002...  Robert Emmett presents ciné16 Klessix: great films from our archives.

'Shaw vs. Shakespeare' series (1970) 90m, dir. John Barnes. 

After reading the complete works of George Bernard Shaw, Barnes wrote, directed, and produced a series of three films narrated by Shaw (brilliantly portrayed by Donald Moffat), describing how parallel characters (e.g. Julius Caesar, played by Richard Kiley) are treated differently by the two playwrights. We feel this series is one of the highlights of educational  cinema: engaging, thoughtful, and intellectually stimulating. This is a rare opportunity to see these three half-hour films, produced in 1970, presented consecutively.


Thursday, August 29, 2002... Window on Time: EB’s American Geological Institute films

Part II: The Bill Matthews AGI Films (see introductory program notes for August 22, 2002)

‘Water Cycle’ (1980) 14m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Think a great film can’t be made on a seemingly mundane subject? Try this, one of Van Bork’s finest, with painterly cinematography, beautiful time-lapse clouds, great framing, referential to German Expressionism in its shadowplay.

‘Erosion and Weathering: Looking at the Land’ (1976) 17m, dir. Bert Van Bork. If you think San Francisco street parades when you think of the word "dike", think again: here are beautiful shots of Shiprock dike, and a nearby ghost town.

‘San Andreas Fault’ (1974), 17m, dir. Bert Van Bork. It all starts at the San Juan Bautista rodeo grounds, along the ol’ mission trail, podner. Find out why a building riding a faultline is a lot like a cowpuncher ridin’ a bull, ‘cept without the tabackee for a lubricant. Van Bork (again) at his stellar best.

‘Volcanoes: Exploring the Restless Earth’ (1973) 18m, dir. Bert Van Bork. Here you have them in spades: Paricutín, Vesuvius, Surtsey, and the horrifyingly buried town of Vestmanneyjar.

‘Storms: Relentless Atmosphere’ (1974) 22m, dir. William Kay. Big, wet fun: on thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and flying into the eye…

‘Daybreak’ (1975) 10m, prod. Bert Van Bork. While not an AGI film (and therefore, not one made under Matthews’ aegis, either), this film lends credence to the concept of geology as art and poetry. Van Bork was fond of shooting extra footage everywhere he went, then taking those outtakes, making a treatment for an almost-completed film, then pitching the finished product to EB. When the new treatment was accepted, he’d not only get paid for a film he’d already made, but get reimbursed for film expenses too, it a bit of financial legerdemain necessary for even an exceptional academic filmmaker to make ends meet. Good thing he did, for here we have a dramatic fly-over of the area surrounding Monument Valley, with helicopter-pilot David Jones at the rudder.


Thursday, August 22, 2002... Window on Time: EB’s American Geological Institute films, a Two-Part Series

Of all the series of science films made by Encyclopaedia Britannica, none were as spectacular, visually, as the forty-two part AGI Earth Science series, made in conjunction with the American Geological Institute as part of the EB’s Earth Science Curriculum Project. The series was actually made in two distinct yet interconnected parts, and featured different films crews, each working with a different geological advisor.

The initial series, made from approximately 1964 to 1973, was made in conjunction with geologist John Shelton. Many of these titles were filmed by Isidore Mankofsky, who noted that location shots were often selected during airplane rides taken with pilot Shelton (e.g. Beach: River of Sand, 1968, dir. Warren Brown). An ever-present element in the Shelton films is the occasional drone of a single-propeller aircraft, accompanying aerial shots of geological formations.

Shelton, who we interviewed at the age of 89, on August 18 of this year, received his PhD from Yale in 1947, and taught geology at Pomona State College.  His 'Geology Illustrated' was a standard textbook.  In the early 1960s, EB asked the American Geological Institute to invite several key geologists, one of whom was Shelton, to a two-week conference in Illinois, for the purpose of determining subject matter for a series of proposed films.  During the conference, Shelton compiled a list of ten guidelines for the production of a successful film, which included the eschewing of musical accompaniment in favor of natural ambient sounds.  As a result of the acceptance of these guidelines, he was elected by his colleagues to act as the liaison between the geologists and EB.  Soon thereafter, he signed a contract with EB to be the chief scientific advisor on the project.   In producing a film, Shelton would call on a colleague with expertise in a particular field (e.g. glaciology, tectonics), assist in writing the script, and pilot the rented Cessna 170, 180, or 210 high-wing aircraft for aerial shots.  In shooting, cameraman Isidore Mankofsky removed the front passenger's seat, and used a specially-made camera rig that was fixed to the sliders.  Shelton had designed a replacement door for the Cessna that would telescope outward, allowing Mankofsky's camera to shoot geological formations directly below the aircraft.  When the rough cut was finished, Shelton would convene geologists and EB executives to watch the film and suggest last-minute changes, the execution of which would often keep him up until the early hours of the morning.  "I put my heart and soul into those films", relates Shelton today.  In particular, he remembers how he and producer Stan Croner spent several frustrating hours trying to determine the proper narrative ending for 'Beach: River of Sand', in which the shooting script shows dredging taking place along urban beaches to remove sand which heretofore had been carried away by the longshore current:  "I woke up in the middle of the night, and remember scribbling down what would be the final line of the film, 'man now has to do what nature did before'."

The second series, produced roughly from 1968 to 1980, was made under the guidance of geologist William H. Matthews III. Probably the most spectacular of the AGI series were the subjects filmed by Bert Van Bork, whose sometimes taciturn, occasionally mercurial, and ultimately precise methodology and presence generated as much or more controversy within EB than any other filmmaker ever employed there. We are presenting these extraordinary films over a two week period.

Part I: The John Shelton AGI Films

‘Glacier on the Move’ (1973) 11m, dir. Richard Kucera. Here, University of British Columbia geologist Kucera introduces the Athabasca glacier in Canadian Rockies, through magnificent time-lapse cinematography.

‘What Makes Clouds’ (1965) 19m, dir. Warren Brown. Much of the success, camera-wise, of the 60s-70s era EB, was due to the extraordinary talent of Isidore Mankofsky, who delighted in the occasional cinematic trompe-l’oeil: here, he’s somewhere between Magritte and Dalí, with a clock reflected in dish, some time-lapse clouds, and a seemingly colossal droplet-covered pitcher of water standing, like an Oldenburg sculpture, against the deep azure sky.

‘Rocks That Originate Underground’ (1966) 20m, dir. Charles Finance. It’s tough to find pre-1970 EB films in color, since most were printed on unstable Eastman film stock, and have now color-shifted to bright red. We were fortunate to find this exception, a study of Metamorphic, plutonic, volcanic rocks, filmed by Mankofsky and Fred Goodich.

‘Beach: River of Sand’ (1968) 20m, dir. Warren Brown. Geologist, seemingly to a person, point to this film as a seminal film that grabbed their attention in elementary school, and subtly pointed them to the profession. Mankofsky is again having fun, this time with a seemingly larger-than-life hand on a beach, and the time-lapse disappearance of a sandcastle. Like every print we’ve seen of this remarkable film, our copy tonight has shifted to red.

‘Heartbeat of a Volcano’ (1970) 21m, prod. Bert Van Bork. This film is, we think, the granddaddy of all volcano films, a twenty-one minute trip to hell in the fast lane. Van Bork intended, in his visit to the big island, to film the sputtering Kilauhea, show the geologists using seismographs and geotometers, and maybe get a shot or two of the degassing process at the vents. Instead, as the ground base geologist yells into the short-wave: "she's going wild, she's going wild!", the volcano trembles furiously, dramatically erupting from a threatening lava vent.  With spectacular night shots of a giant firefall twice as high as Niagara Falls, glowing lava streams and tremendous explosions, Van Bork burned up two pair of shoes as he hung close to the carnage to film the greatest volcanic film we’ve seen. These spectacular shots were planned the day before the explosion, as Van Bork and assistant cameraman Ulf Backstrom reconnoitered the volcanic area, marking exit routes with white tape, and noting the location of lava vents. In one scene, geologists are shown fleeing the approaching lava, but the camera remains (Van Bork, his eye glued to the camera, was prevented from pitching forward into vents and calderas by the steady hand of Backstrom, holding tightly to the back of his belt).  The hand of the AGI's John Shelton is in fine evidence here on the soundtrack, which is respendent with time signatures from radio station WWVH, and motor sounds from seismometers to the generators powering field geometers.


Thursday, August 15, 2002...  Robert Emmett presents ciné16 Klessix: great films from our archives.  

San Jose Lost & Found: a Past Look at Our Present (KFJC's Robert Emmett presents a program we originally ran on March 28 of this year).  To wit:

‘Quicksilver’ (1967) 30m, dir. Alex Zanini. Produced at KNTV, this is a history of New Almaden, essential to the Gold Rush era, producing toxic cinnabar, a material which releases gold from its rocky prison. It ends in an odd, upbeat note: mining will soon return to New Almaden!

‘Valley of Heart's Delight’ (1948) 18m, unknown director. No no, not the pristine, black and white film from 1925 you may have seen before, but a spanking new version, touting Santa Clara Valley's Clapp's Baby Food factory, the American Can Company plant, FMC, San Jose Steel, and Moffett Field, all accessible via the old Monterey Highway, and the Coast Daylight locomotive-driven train.

‘San Jose 70/71’ (1971) 27m, unknown director. This defines the concept of ‘unknown film’. The credits having been stripped off somewhere in the distant past, no one seems to know who produced this film, but it’s brightly optimistic tone is indicative of the youthful energy of this city of only 500,000 people. Here we visit City Hall, with Ron James as mayor, the impossibly young future mayors Norman Mineta, and Janet Gray Hayes, and their Council counterparts Virginia Schaeffer, Joe Colla, Walter Hays, Kurt Gross, and the ever-testy Dave Goglio. A city with a future! The redevelopment agency is hard at work here, bringing you the spanking new Park Center Plaza development, and the highly touted, remarkable Performing Arts Center, just beginning construction, which will finally put San Jose on the cultural map of the nation.

‘Roads Across the Bay’ (1963) 30m, dir. Frank Robinson. Farther north, the crisis of moving people across the water is solved by the building of the Bay Bridge, bringing a welcome end to the slow-moving ferries, and the beginning of the end to inter-urban trains. This well-made documentary chronicles the building of the bridge through contemporary footage, with cursory mention of the GGB, and Richmond-San Rafael span.


Thursday, August 8, 2002...  Exiles on Main Street (corner of Third): the Native American Experience in the City of Angels

Special Note:  Programming films on Native Americans has been a real jinx for us.  Our lowest attendance ever was for the "ciné16 Pow-Wow" a few years back, when only two people showed up.  We arrived at Blake's to show this film on July 4th this year... and Blake's was closed!  I brought the two other people who showed up back to my house, and we showed anyway, had a few beers, and projected the film against the back wall of my house.  This film is great, and it must be shown again, so take advantage of tonight's reprise... here it is again:

‘The Exiles’ (1961) 72m,  dir. Kent Mackenzie.  In the years following WWII, many Native Americans left the reservation for the big city, searching for opportunities unavailable in rural areas. In the cites, they found themselves caught between two cultures, that of the non-Native mercantile establishment, and that of an increasingly disenfranchised Native group of émigrés. The action in ‘Exiles’ takes place over a twelve hour period, and focuses on a group of male friends who spend an anguished, but apparently typical evening fighting, gambling, drinking at skid row bars such as the Ritz Café at Third and Main Streets (heavy product-placement of Lucky Lager here), and drinking in cars barreling down Los Angeles streets. In one scene, two couples arrive at a gas station; when one of the women takes too long in the washroom, she is left behind. For the women who have children, their lot is to stay home, cook and care for the children. For entertainment, they might take in a movie, alone.

Mackenzie engaged the actors --- all of whom play themselves --- in improvising dialogue (on prison: "Time's just time to me. If I can do it outside, I can do it inside"), and suggesting scenarios. The final scene of the film is shot on a hill overlooking the lights of Los Angeles, where, after some cuffing around of the women, a woe-begotten pow-wow takes place, reminiscent of Goya’s ‘Romería’, where tortured souls serenade phantasms.

Cinematographer Sven Walnum was directly involved in much of the film, and told us a little about how the film was made:

Kent Mackenzie, the director and originator of the idea, was a mutual friend of us from USC Cinema Department. He got a job as an editor of commercials and the owner of the company was very impressed with Kent's ideas about this feature type documentary, so he would let us use his camera and light equipment. For film he gave us 35 mm shortends left over from shooting commercials. So whenever he had enough film, he got a bunch of us together (not always the same crew and we all pitched in and did everything). As a consequence the film was shot over a period of over 2 years. One of the lead girls in the film was pregnant with child when we started filming. She had the child and before we finished she was pregnant again which of course was very convenient since it matched with what we had shot a couple of years before.

The workprint was done on 16mm so we all helped editing different segments. I had a little editing bench set up in the little house I rented while going through a divorce. I edited 2 segments. One was the card game, and the other was… a sequence that took place in a gas station… Erik Daarstad was the main DP, (and) also John Morrill… did quite a bit of the photography. Erik lives, I believe, somewhere in Montana. He later made quite a name for himself as photographer for the National Geographic, of course quite some time ago. He may have gone back to Norway for all I know. Kent McKenzie died not too long after we finished the film as far as I know. He was a very talented guy and very sensitive person.

Walnum stated that Mackenize, who died of a heart attack while in his late 20s or early 30s, had wanted to make a film on Native Americans, traveled to a reservation, but found little inspiration there for his film vision. He connected with former reservation members living in downtown Los Angeles, who were excited about making the film, and were friendly toward the young crew, none of whom were being paid to make this low-budget film shot cinéma vérité style.

Although the scenes are at times uncomfortable to watch, one soon becomes aware that the film is only peripherally about Native Americans. All displaced young persons, separated from culture and community, and unable (or unwilling) to participate in the economic illusion that lured them to lands far away, could tell this tale. It’s undoubtedly been told many times over many generations, but rarely this poignantly.

Occasionally, one discovers films that contain so much raw power that adding another film to the program is pointless. This is such a film. ciné16 viewers will leave this show with visions of the cast lurking in the shadows, and may well wonder what eventually became of them, their girlfriends and wives, and their very young children.


Thursday, August 1, 2002... The Art of Dance, in Three Parts (Program III)

‘Martha Graham Dance Company’ (1976) 90m, dir. Merrill Broackway. This tour-de-force of modern dance is introduced by Gregory Peck (who danced under Graham, for a time), followed by Graham (1894-1991) herself, who addresses the camera in sideways-fashion, a skeletal éminence-grise of the dance world (for a concise biography, with early photos, visit: http://www.pitt.edu/%7Egillis/dance/martha.html ). Graham’s fame in dance was augmented by her costume designs, and choice of music and sets. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed nearly twenty sets for her (for his commentary, and pictures, visit: http://www.noguchi.org/graham.html ), and she utilized the music of such 20th century stalwarts as Louis Horst, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber. 

This film is a 16mm version of a videotaped performance shown on WNET television in 1976, and includes:  'Diversion of Angels', with music by Norman Dello Joio; 'Lamentations' danced by Peggy Lyman, music by Zoltán Kodály; 'Frontier', danced by Janet Eilber, music by Louis Horst; 'Adorations'; 'Medea's Dance of Vengeance' (from 'Cave of the Heart'), with music by Samuel Barber; Appalachian Spring', music by Aaron Copland, set by Isamu Noguchi.  'Medea's Dance' is, in our estimation, one of the most powerful performanaces we've ever seen in dance film.

Graham's life was legendary and often contradictory, as underscored by her commentary on her sexual philosophy from ‘Blood Memory’ her autobiography:

"In the early days when I still had an active night life I wouldn’t be caught dead in bed without a light makeup. But I was never promiscuous. I always had one boyfriend at a time. I didn’t have time for lovers or love affairs --- with some delightful exceptions. My philosophy of lovers and boyfriends? When I loved them I loved them. When I didn’t, I left. That simple. And I suppose I wasn’t always that nice at times… All of my life I’ve been a devotee of sex… fulfillment, as opposed to procreation…"

‘Merce Cunningham’ (1964) 20m, dir. Etienne Becker/Jacqueline Raynal/Patrice Wyers. A visit with the dancer/choreographer and company, with Robert Rauschenberg, costumes & lighting, and John Cage, music, filmed in France, on Cunningham’s world tour of 1964, in gorgeous black and white.


Thursday, July 25, 2002... The Art of Dance, in Three Parts (Program II)

‘Night Journey’ (1960) 30m, dir. Alexander Hammid. Featuring sets and costumes by Isamu Noguchi and the terrific music score by William Schuman, Martha Graham’s magnificent treatment of the Oedipus story as Jocasta, with Bertram Ross as son Oedipus, who falls in love with his mother, then blinds himself after discovering her true identity. The dance is one of both sexual and maternal symbolism, the "vaginal cry" as Graham has called it. Her description of Jocasta’s transition from queen to mother, taken from ‘Blood Memory’, is an insightful explanation of the philosophical drive behind the choreography:

…she drops the robe in front of her. All of her queenliness, all of her majesty goes down with that robe.

She steps across it, over to the rope that becomes the umbilical cord, raises it, stretches it out in her hands, looks at it with deep love, not hatred, but pity, affection, and the tragic awareness of what beauty and anguish it has brought her. She looks to the right side of the world --- there are buttercups there. The sky has clouds. She looks to the left side perhaps there are daffodils, the world is inflamed with the beauty of the flowers. It is flamed with her love of life. It is then, in this moment of smiling recognition that the umbilical cord is going to be her savior, her companion, her reason or the evidence for her passage into the world of death, of forgetfulness where memory exists no more and the terrors of memory have no place.

She turns to the back, pulls the cord around her neck. There is a moment of simulated strangling, and she does a back fall. She does not land in a position. She lands in a figureless sprawl, a blot on the ground, like one of' those Rorschach blots. She lies there in nothingness.

But her memory of that mark of her death to her life, to her body and the world, will defile every other being who steps into that matter of her being, and passes through with boots forever stained with the memory of happiness. I know I see her rushing down a corridor, a columned corridor, frantic with this umbilical cord in her hands, frantic knowing site can have no peace from the demands of the crime except to die. And it is that rush that carries her to the great doors at the beginning, causes her to thrust them open into the room of her destiny, to close them and proceed to the bed. It is from that moment that I have taken the dance.

‘Modern Ballet’ (1960) 30m, dir. Walter Strate. Martha Myer hosts a fascinating visit with choreographer Antony Tudor, with excerpts from 'Undertow', 'Romeo & Juliet', and 'Pillar of Fire' (music by Arnold Schönberg), danced by Nora Kaye and Hugh Laing. Tudor discusses Mickhail Fokine's influence on his work. Dancer Dick Andros’ biography of Tudor (born Michael Cook, 1908-1987) http://members.tripod.com/androsdance/biographies/tudor_anthony.htm is wonderful, and be sure to continue to the following story on the page for a funny anecdote on hairpieces in dance.

‘Moor's Pavanne: Variation on a Theme of Othello’ (1950) 20m, dir. Walter Strate. Another fine work choreographed by José Limón, with an unfortunate flaw in the optical soundtrack, diminishing somewhat the beauty of the music by Purcell.

‘9 Variations on a Dance Theme’ (1966) 13m, dir. Hilary Harris. This is one of the more exceptional dance films ever made, with nine increasingly difficult variations, equally challenging to the dancer, musicians, cinematographer, and film editor.


Thursday, July 18, 2002...   The Art of Dance, in Three Parts (Program I)

ciné16 is delighted to present three outstanding evenings dedicated to the art of Dance. Generally, we attempt to provide some historical perspective on the value of our shows, but feel, in the case of these three programs, that the visual splendor of what you’ll see on the screen makes words superfluous.  We recommend visiting http://www.myhistory.org/historytopics/articles/theatrical_dance.html , which provides a quick historical overview of the world of dance, valuable in describing the difference between classical ballet and modern dance. 

This week’s show:

‘Invention in Dance’ (1960) 30m, dir. Greg Harney. Do we ever like Martha Myers! Here, the assistant professor at Smith College, resplendently decked out by Filene’s, hosts one episode in the amazing ‘A Time To Dance’ series made by Boston’s WGBH for National Educational Television. Myers begins this program by introducing choreographer Alwin Nikolais, who presents excerpts from three of his pieces, 'When', 'Fixation', and ‘Disks’. The dances themselves, performed by Murray Louis, Arlene Laub, Phyllis Lamhut, Coral Martindale, Beverly Schmidt, and Dorothy Vislocky, are marvelously abstract, whether utilizing body-length fabrics to hide the physical form, or metal disks clamped on one foot to provide percussive ornamentation to the music. Myers also provides historical perspective on the evolution of Dance from the art of traditional Ballet, including film clips of Ruth St. Denis. Visit http://www.americandancefestival.org/01School/faculty.html for a biography on Myers.

‘Language of Dance’ (1960) 30m, dir. Greg Harney. Myers visits with José Limón (1908-1972) , who discusses emotion through body movement, with examples, followed by the television premiere of his 'There is a Time', danced by Pauline Koner, with music by Norman Dello Joio. Limón’s work was exceptional, and continues to be popular. Read his bio at: http://www.limon.org

‘Dancer’s World: Martha Graham’ (1957) 30m. dir. John Houseman. A terrific film hosted by Graham, an award winner at the‘57 Venice film festival. Here, she explains her philosophy of dance with examples from the repertoire, with superb cinematography by Peter Glushanok.

‘Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejías’ (1951) 18m, dir. Walter Strate. It doesn’t get better than this: Lorca’s tragic poem on the perils of fighting "at 5 in the afternoon", danced by Limón, with the remarkable Leticia Ide as "fate". The choreography is by Doris Humphrey, music by Norman Lloyd, costumes by Pauline Lawrence, and editing by Gil Margolis.


Thursday, July 11 2002... Guest Programmer Tim Kordas presents: ciné16 Klessix (past great films from our legendary vaults)

Neuroscience, Molecular Biology and Medicine Across Four Decades

Tim Kordas responded to our request for guest hosts and programmers recently, and came up with two fine programs, one of which he's hosting tonight.   Tom grew up in Livermore, California, got his undergrad degree in Cleveland, where he regularly visited John Ewing's Cleveland Cinemathèque.  Eventually, Tim made his way to graduate school in the neuroscience program at the University of Texas, Houston:  "While there I had the unfortunate opportunity to see (and TA a bit) at a medical school, which is part of the reason that I'm fascinated by medical training films."  Tim's program notes introduce his program for tonight:

"I'm always disappointed in the amount of real information about modern neuroscience available to the lay public. I find it bizarre that we live in a society where more than 90% of people believe in some kind of afterlife, some kind of 'self' outside of the purely biological brain; where at the same time everyone knows many people taking psychiatric medications. The movies this week illustrate some of the connections between the brain and the mind and from both to our culture."  - Tim Kordas

'Gateways to the Mind' (1958) 60m, dir. Owen Crump.  The soundstage and equipment are integrated into a description of brain function. The film's crew and a set of animated characters team up with Dr. Frank Baxter to explain the brain.  (From the 'Bell Science' series)

'Protein Synthesis: an Epic on the Cellular Level' (1971) 20m, dir. Gabriel Weiss.  After a quick introduction to the major components, 200 students fueled by complimentary wine illustrate protein synthesis with dance.  This film is not only highly entertaining, with its bright colors, movement and music, but also remains a very accurate portrayal of the protein synthesis model still taught today to biochemistry students around the world.

'Psychopath' (1961) 30m, prod. Robert Anderson. This film consists of interviews with the patient, his psychiatrist, his incarcerators, and others involved in the young man's life.


Thursday, July 4, 2002... Exiles on Main Street (corner of Third): the Native American Experience in the City of Angels

See notes (above) for August 8, 2002 show.


Thursday, June 20 and Thursday, June 27...  Fifty Years of Picture Books: a Two-Part Tribute to Morton Schindel and Weston Woods

The Academic Film Archive's Barinda Samra 
with Weston Woods' Mort Schindel, June, 2001

Founded by educator Morton Schindel in 1953, Weston Woods (named after the wooded area outside his home in Weston, Connecticut) specializes in animating children’s picture books on film. Schindel’s cinematic vision not only included making films of children’s picture books, but also interviews of the writers and filmmakers themselves. To our mind, this may be the richest element in Schindel’s legacy, an element unfortunately ignored by most people familiar with Weston Woods’ body of work.

For the next two weeks, ciné16 will present a series of films that, to our mind, represent some of the finest films in Weston Woods’ catalogue, and include several of the "artists and filmmakers" films. We invite you to join us for a rare opportunity to view a number of these films, concentrated over a two week period, reflecting a cohesive body of work easily identifiable as emanating from a common creative perspective.

Schindel’s own story is a fascinating one, and explains much about the philosophical approach taken by his company. Mort Schindel graduated from Columbia Teachers’ College in 1947, having taken audio-visual courses on subjects ranging from projection techniques to a Margaret Mead-taught course on propaganda and mass media. In 1948, he began working on films for Teaching Films Inc., which soon would declare bankruptcy. As part of the settlement, Schindel retained the rights to six of the films on which he’d worked, and formed his own company, Key Productions. Godfey Elliott’s Young America Films then contracted with Schindel to distribute Key films and make new films on standard topics (e.g. What Makes Things Float, 1951). The filmmaker meanwhile had noticed that children who read books in libraries rarely selected "Dick and Jane", but instead gravitated toward colorful picture books. He approached Elliott with the idea of animated picture book films as a new method of teaching reading, but was rebuffed. Schindel soon left for a two-year stint with the United States Information Service in Turkey, where he made films --- primarily on health and cultural issues --- and traveled by jeep as part of a mobile film presentation unit, equipped with generators to power projectors in the numerous villages without electricity. After returning to the United States, the filmmaker, in 1954, produced the first Weston Woods picture book film, and in 1964, made his first animated film, The Snowy Day. For the next several decades, Weston Woods would produce hundreds of titles, including works by authors such as Robert McCloskey (The Doughnuts from Robert McCloskey’s ‘Homer Price’), Tomi Ungerer (Beast of M. Racine, 1971, dir. Gene Deitch), and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, 1973, dir. Gene Deitch).

One of Weston Woods’ most memorable films was Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1962, dir. Edward English), in which artist Lisl Weil, fresh from her performance at Lincoln Center, drew larger-than-life characters in different colored chalks while aggressively dancing to the Paul Dukas score. Perhaps the strongest films produced by Schindel were the ‘Signature Series,’ in which the people involved in creating these films, from artists, to directors, to producers, were shown animating, reading, and discussing their works. In Morton Schindel: From Pages to Screen (1981), the producer discusses the painstaking steps of the picture book-to-film process, from selecting artists who stylistically mirror the original artwork, to the spoken aspect, including a scene showing author/illustrator/filmmaker Gerald McDermott narrating his Arrow to the Sun (1973, Texture Films). Possibly the most thought-provoking in all the series was the droll interview done by director Gene Deitch with children’s illustrator and author Tomi Ungerer (an exceptionally funny and poignant artist in the adult erotic genre as well) in which the artist conveys the joy children express in being scared, and the value of occasional childhood loneliness (Tomi Ungerer, Storyteller, 1981).

No commentary on Weston Woods can be complete without discussing the contributions of director Gene Deitch, who Schindel had met during the latter’s tenure with CBS as creative director of the "Tom Terrific" black and white minimalist cartoon episodes shown on the ‘Captain Kangaroo’ television series. Both Tom and wonderdog Manfred, were drawn with as little elaboration as possible, their occasionally transparency allowing the few scenic images in the image to show through their bodies. Deitch was never able to acquire the budget needed for producing the cartoon in color, and was unceremoniously dropped in 1958. In 1959, having been hired as an independent animation director for a studio located in Prague, he was hired by Schindel at Weston Woods to direct efforts utilizing Czech animators in the state-run Kratky studio, whose production manager, Zdenka Najmanová, Deitch would eventually marry. In Prague, Deitch fell in love his colleague and the city, and remained there, transforming over twenty picture books into film. Among them were Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1973), which took over five years to complete, featured a musique-concrète score by written and performed by Deitch himself.

Morton Schindel sold Weston Woods Films to Scholastic Incorporated in 1996 to devote his time to the non-profit Weston Woods Institute which he founded in 1983 to promote innovative cultural education for children.  As of this writing, 16mm films are still being sold from the Scholastic Weston Woods catalogue. Gene Deitch and Zdenka Deitchova continue to work, play, and love, in Prague.


Thursday, June 27...  Weston Woods' 50th Anniversary, Part II

‘Morton Schindel: From Pages to Screen’ (1981) 27m, prod. Morton Schindel. Here, Schindel describes how a book is transformed into a film. In addition, we see Gerald McDermott, Caldecott winner and two-time ciné16 guest, reading from his wonderful ‘Arrow to the Sun’.

‘Tomi Ungerer: Storyteller’ (1981) 21m, dir. Gene Deitch. An engaging and funny man, Ungerer is one of the darkest of all writers of children’s books. He takes an absolute joy in being an iconoclast, discusses his fear of the dark, and how children enjoy the terror in his books.  He defends children's innate intelligence, and notes the harm in being overly protective.  Not a word is mentioned about the fact that he’s also one of the world’s most ribald adult cartoonists,  in this insightful and humorous interview, filmed in his Strasboug home, with cartoonist Gene Deitch.

‘Maurice Sendak’ (1965) 19m, prod. Morton Schindel. Sendak began his Caldecott-winning book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, in 1955, but it wasn’t completed until 1963. Upon seeing this film, it’s not difficult to see why it took so long. Sendak is a perfectionist, who built elaborate wooden toys as a child (he shows us a few of them, here), and counts Francisco Goya as one of his bigger influences.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (1976) 8m, dir. Gene Deitch. See notes above.

‘Gene Deitch: the Picture Book Animated’ (1977) 25m, dir. Gene Deitch. Creator of the Mr. Magoo and Tom Terrific animated characters, Deitch has spent the last several decades in Prague, directing films based on children’s picture books along with his wife and colleague, Zdenka Deitchova. In tonight’s film, the engaging Deitch describes the painstaking process of animating a picture book for film, one of the best examples of films-on-filmmaking-process we’ve ever seen.

‘Patrick’ (1973) 7m, dir. Gene Deitch. As he fiddles, magic passes in his wake, as fish fly, and cakes grow on trees.

‘Changes, Changes’ (1973) 6m, dir. Gene Deitch. Here, two wooden dolls come to live amidst an arsenal of wooden blocks. The wonderful soundtrack is played by Frantisek Belfin and his All Wooden Orchestra.


Thursday, June 20...  Weston Woods' 50th Anniversary, Part I

‘Lively Art of Picture Books’ (1964) 57m, dir. Joanna Foster Dougherty. This comprehensive film describes Weston Woods’ philosophy and books, as exemplified by Maurice Sendak, Robert McCloskey, and Barbara Cooney, who discuss --- and read from --- their own books.

‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (1962) 15m, dir. Edward English. Lisl Weil, a dancer who often performed in New York with friend Tommy Scherman and his Little Orchestra Society, was also a splendid charcoal artist. Here, accompanied by Sherman’s interpretation of Dukas, she soars across the screen, drawing imaginary characters on a massive blank board in a film that has tremendous affective value for both art and music students.

‘Ezra Jack Keats’ (1970) 17m, dir. Cynthia Freitag. Here, the noted children’s author is shown in his New York City studio, discussing his books, and his technique of collage mixed with painting. Additionally, Keats is shown making the paper he uses for some of his backgrounds, which he produces by introducing plain paper into a bath of water, in which oil paints have been introduced, but not mixed. The result is a mottled, swirling pastiche of color. Included as part of the film is his ‘A Letter to Amy’ (7m.).

‘Children of the Northlights: a Portrait of Ingri & Edgar D'Aulaire’ (1976) 20m, dir. Jane Morrison. This beautiful film focuses on the work of a fascinating and aged couple, the D’Aulaires, who created their images on massive, lithographic stones. This film may also contain one of the earliest uses of home movies in the academic genre, showing the younger couple with footage of their own children.

‘Smile for Auntie’ (1979) 7m, dir. Gene Deitch. From a story by Diane Paterson, this diabolical film pokes cynical fun at overbearing, insensitive adults.


Thursday, June 13...  Robert Emmett Presents ciné16 Klessix: Creatures Great and Small

Tonight, the host of KFJC's Saturday morning Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show presents three of his favorite films from ciné16's past, to wit:

'Canaries to Clydesdales' (1977) 28m, dir. Eugene Boyko. If we had to pick a handful of the finest documentaries we've seen, this would be in the bunch.  Here, we join BC country veterinarians Vic Demetrick and Reg Maidment on their appointed rounds, and trust me, you'll need a strong stomach for this one: castrating a sheep, sawing out a still-born calf, removing porcupine quills from a dog's muzzle, and sticking an arm up a cow's butt are all in a day's work for these two. A fascinating film, also focusing on the Alphonse-Gaston-like working relationship between Vic and Reg.

'Vampire' (1979) 30m, prod. Adrian Warren. The vampire bats of Trinidad approach their prey on wing and on foot, as graphically illustrated by the donkeys abused in the filming of this picture. Sneaking up behind and biting 'em on the heels, they then follow these tethered and tormented creatures as they wander in circles. The humans then work to catch the winged mammals, poison them, then go to their cave to collect the dead. This film really makes 'Dracula' seem pretty tame...

'Mzima: Portrait of a Spring' (1983) 29m, dir. Alan Root. The ecosystem of  body of water in Tsavo, where Root takes the camera to the underwater world of the hippo.


Thursday, June 6... From Inside the Time Tunnel: Four Films on Writing

Maybe you’ve been there yourself, maybe not. I was lying in bed next to my girlfriend, looking out the window, all I could see was beach, ocean, coconut palms on Ko Lanta, an island emerging from the crystal waters of the eastern Andaman Sea. Inside, we huddled under a mosquito net billowing back and forth, its breathing propelled by a sea breeze one way, a revolving fan the other. The bungalow was on stilts, no telephone nor TV in sight, but with plenty of cool fresh water for a hose-nozzle shower after a few hours lounging in the impossibly blue sea. Looking at my girlfriend asleep, lost in her dreams, I realized I’d never been happier, and wanted to take in every last second, remember every sight, sound, and touch. In three days, I’d be back in the U.S. alone, leaving my girlfriend 10,000 miles away. The moment would all-too-soon be lost, and things being what they are in this world, it might never, ever re-occur. I wanted it to last forever, and thought it too bad that we can’t stretch time when we want to prolong life’s great moments. I closed my eyes, and imagined myself back in San Jose, walking into my house, petting my cat, picking up the mail, opening up a can of tuna. No girl, nor coconut palms, nor tropical breeze. I let myself daydream that way for a few minutes, my eyes shut. In my reverie, I wished I were back on Ko Lanta. Moments later, when I opened my eyes again, and, back in our seacoast hideaway, realized that, by time-traveling a bit, I’d fooled myself into thinking I’d bought three more days, a solid rescue from the future. By moving forward in time, I’d somehow heightened my senses to that present; even today, three weeks later, back in SJ for real, I can "see" everything in our bungalow as if it were in front of me.

Dear me, where was I going with this? Oh yes, about film. In thinking about the time tunnel, I realized that, to a very large extent, I live in the past. The films I watch at home were all made between roughly 1960 and 1985, and I probably watch 3-5 films most nights. Since I’ve never owned a TV, the characters that occupy my mediated world are all roughly twenty years older in real time than my own time. They don’t walk around in stilted, pre-talky stickman style, of course, but when I see them in today’s newspapers or magazines they’re a lot grayer. I wonder what the hell happened to them.

These are the films we bring to you every week, and for the first time, I’m seeing time-tunnel value to them, realizing that ciné16 viewers have a film experience no one else in the U.S. has. We see compelling stories told in past-contemporary, and we live with the characters in 1960-1985 time. When the lights go out, we travel back in time each week to see how the protagonists --- and sometimes villains --- of yesterday’s documentary and academic world ate, drank, smoked, and talked. We become acutely aware of the cranky old wood-burning time machine whenever we use the internet to update the record, understanding suddenly, at times jarringly, what befell yesterday’s heroes as they stumbled and tripped forward over the threshold of time.

This week, it’s boxer Elvis Yero, a 19 year old wunderkind from Miami. Despite an arrest for assault, everyone agrees can’t miss as a future champion, in the sunny world of 1985. In Charlotte Zwerin’s ‘Telling an Old Story’, he dreams of owning a Camaro Z-28, and carrying the American flag in the Olympics, and is followed by an endless stream of screaming teenaged girls. Last night, while writing this week’s filmnotes and wondering what ever became of him, my Google search caught the following paragraph, written by Enrique Encinosa in ‘Wail!, The Cyber Boxing Zone Journal’:

He died on Saturday, October 13, 2001 --- of a crack overdose --- in room 212 of the Gold Dust Motel, a loud blue and white two-story structure on the edge of a harsh Miami ghetto, next door to a strip theater. Elvis Yero was thirty-six years old.

While most people agree that good documentaries are timeless, few venues in the United States are wont to show this world of ghosts, and frankly, old spectres don’t pay the bills. These films are vitally alive, as you and I know, locked in their time zone. Their characters beg to be released, like aging circus performers, needing to show their stuff so that future viewers might briefly see an act that will most probably not be passed down to future generations, and may eventually be lost forever.

Tonight, the Yero film is part of our focus on a series of three films made by New York’s WNET, describing the process by which newspaper writers craft a story. ‘Writers Writing’ was the collective name, produced Alice Trillin and Jane Garney. It was eventually picked up for schools distribution by Encyclopaedia Britannica films, and each film was accompanied by an extensive teacher’s guide for use in journalism classes. The films are fascinating, well-crafted glimpses into the minds and notebooks of three top-notch writers.

On tonight’s program:

‘Pieces of a Puzzle’ (1985) 29m, dir. Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. Here, reporter Courtland Milloy of the Washington Post and Lisa Couturier, a student in his journalism class at the University of Maryland, examine two sides of the urban eviction problem. Milloy and Couturier find themselves conflicted: poor people are unable to afford rent, but the landlords themselves are often middle class individuals struggling to improve neglected properties. Of particular interest are the people hired, under contract with U.S. marshals, to carry on the actual evictions, one of whom was, in the past, evicted herself.

‘Telling an Old Story’ (1985) 29m, dir. Charlotte Zwerin. The Miami Herald’s Madelaine Blais original story was supposed to focus on 87 year old philanthropist/activist Elizabeth Virrick, who, among other things, founded a gym to give at-risk youth a purpose, and perhaps, a future. Problem was, Virrick was such a good person, that Blais couldn’t find any conflict that would make her good newspaper copy. Instead, she focused on one of Virrick’s protégés, boxer Elvis Yero. The result was both a good human interest story, and a good boxing story. I suggest you visit http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/w12x-ee.htm after you’ve seen the film.

‘Before the First Word’ (1982) 29m, dir. Tom Simon. Here, the camera follows New York Times reporter Anna Quindlen and high school students, Maria Hampton and Wilmer Ortiz, as they write about life on Sullivan Street in New York City's Little Italy, during the annual Feast of St. Anthony. Everybody likes festivals, right? Wrong. Yuppies begin to gentrify the street, and are bothered by the smoke from the food concessions, wishing it would all go away.


‘Ernest Hemingway: Rough Diamond’ (1977) 29m, dir. Richard Marquand. Occasionally, we run into an exceptional film that seems to defy programming logic, and won’t fit easily into categories that film historians and scholars know and love. This film is one of those, and has been resting uneasily atop a shelf where I’ll always manage to see it, a constant reminder that this wonderful film has got to be shown. Part of the issue is that the writer is portrayed by an actor within a timeframe that wasn’t too far from the actual life of the Old Man, so it’s easy to compare the dramatic recreation with its larger-than-life subject. Lost in all this is a magnificent acting job by Larry Hoodekoff as the Hemingway of 1951 Cuba, in the process of writing "Old Man and the Sea". A large element of the power of this short film is in the unresolved sexual tension between the characters of Hoodekoff and Susannah Fellows who, as the Master's candidate, attempts to gain an interview with the irascible writer. After having seen this film three times, I’m convinced some of this must have carried on beyond the frame of the camera as well.


Thursday, May 30... Tales of Appalachia

It seems as though the words "poverty" and "Appalachia" are indelibly linked, underscored by the innumerable documentary films made on Appalachian people and subjects. Tonight, we’d like to look further into the social and cultural elements that bind the Appalachian community together. Tonight’s program does not ignore the valid economic hardships that continue to affect the quality of Appalachian life, but instead attempts to address many of the positive elements that serve as a cultural focal point for Appalachians who would prefer to stay, than leave for greener pastures.

‘Linda and Billy Ray from Appalachia’ (1970) 15m, dir. Maclovia Rodriguez. Expressing neither pity nor over-sentimentality, the director weaves the tale of two children who, with their parents, leave for the comparative riches of a blue-collar neighborhood in urban Cincinnati. Told in first person by the father, we experience the support of the extended family, as the newcomers gradually learn to cope and adjust in this new form of a hard-scrabble existence.

‘Todd: Growing Up in Appalachia’ (1970) 15m, dir. Herman J Engel. In this poignant sociodrama of poverty and morality, a hungry boy finds someone's food stamps, and is forced to make a choice. The schoolhouse scene is especially sobering: hand washing is done in a basin to illustrate the school’s sink no longer has running water, a teacher makes lunch for his students with government-issued canned food.

‘Aunt Arie’ (1975) 18m, dir. Steve Heiser. 86 year old Aunt Arie Carpenter from Coweeta Creek, North Carolina plants her sweet potatoes, bakes cornbread, cooks on her wood stove, and draws water from her well as she discusses life in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

‘Sourwood Mountain Dulcimers’ (1975) 30m, dir. Gene DuBey. This film was produced by Appalshop, a Whitesburg, Kentucky organization dedicated to showcasing the culture of Appalachia (take a look: http://ns.appalshop.org). Here, I.D. Stamper of Thornton, Kentucky teaches young John McCutcheon of Dungannon, Virginia how to play the mountain dulcimer. Stamper makes 'em, plays 'em, and talks about ‘em, and McCutcheon, who fooled us by playing real slowly at first, returns to play a hot hammered dulcimer by the end of the film.

‘Depressed Area, U.S.A.’ (1964) 30m, dir. Willard Van Dyke. Inspired by the book "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" by Harry Caudill, the CBS News ‘20th Century’ team visits the town of Manchester, Clay Co., Kentucky. There, 73% of the 20,000 people in county are under the poverty level. Those who do work are paid $50-60/day for dangerous work, while the TVA refuses to provide better wages. This fine social documentary was made by noted filmmaker and still photographer Van Dyke, who also was the director of the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art.


Thursday, May 23... Serials for the Serious: Introducing James Burke and David Attenborough

I stopped watching television sometime around the age of seventeen, sick and tired of commercial, crappy, "lowest common denominator" fare, and not much happier with what was passing for public television either. I don’t think I’ve missed much, judging by what I’ve heard, and read about. In other countries, I guess, things may have been different, especially in England, where the BBC was, while I slept, cranking out a series of interesting "themed" telecasts, hosted and produced by the likes of James Burke and David Attenborough. Fortunately, many of these were re-sold to educational film libraries in North America, and they’ve found their way to us. By now, a few years have gone by, and you either may have forgotten them, or, like me, never have seen them in the first place. Tonight, we’re bringing two of them to the ciné16 audience, illustrating just how good TV could be, if it wanted to.

‘The Long Chain’ (1979) 55m, prod. Mick Jackson/David Kennard. Judging by his breadth of knowledge on chronological eras, Writer and lecturer James Burke could easily be confused for a historical scholar, but his zany approach to subject matter and unconventional thought processes would probably give him away. Tonight’s film is one of a series of ten films in the ‘Connections’ series he made for the BBC. If you’re not familiar with Burke, grab a seat belt and hold onto your brain, as he tackles the following topics in order, and brilliantly fuses them together: the Boeing 747, 6th century Dutch "fluyt" ships, tar, slavery, coal gas, gas light, spices, mosquitoes, quinine, gin & tonic, artificial dye, fertilizer, acetylene, nylon, and plastics. The film team had a sense of humor out of place with today’s stodgy "young-fogeyism", ending the film with a shot taken of a young woman in a dress riding on a roller-coaster, the frame suddenly freezing on her thigh, half-clad in a nylon fishnet stocking. The real adventure in these films is seeing where Burke goes as he connects the dots, and attempting to keep up with him.

James Burke was born in Londonderry, Ireland, and received his M.A. in English from Oxford. He worked at the BBC as a documentary producer/writer beginning in 1966, and anchored the BBC’s coverage of the Apollo moon flights. ‘Connections’ was filmed in over 19 countries and 150 locations, and when shown in the United States on PBS, achieved the highest ratings ever for a documentary television series. He’s produced, written and hosted many films since that time, and is a traveling lecturer as well.

‘Man Blong Custom’ (1975) 52m, dir. Michael McIntyre. Legendary producer David Attenborough’s probably best introduced by visiting: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/programmes/who/david_attenborough.shtml  Some of the series he’s best known for are ‘Living Planet’, ‘Life on Earth’, and ‘Tribal Eye’, from which the film on tonight’s program comes. Here, Attenborough’s team travels to Melanesia, for a funerary ceremony in Malekula, New Hebrides, with ritual objects such as skulls with skin replicated by painted clay. He also explores the Solomon Islands leaf-hunting culture, and the religion of "Moro" of southern Guadalcanal.


Saturday, May 18... Special Event:  An Evening with Filmmaker Tony DeNonno

In 2000, ciné16 screened Tony DeNonno’s ‘It's One Family: Knock on Wood’, profiling the magnificent, large marionettes made by the Manteo Family of Brooklyn. Earlier this year, I contacted DeNonno to ask a few questions about the film, and found out that he was planning to make a swing through northern California. Tony graciously agreed to do a show at ciné16, and he’s bringing four other outstanding films to show you. While Tony’s cinematic focus is on the Italian-American experience in the United States, his themes are universal, and his films present a slice of life in the U.S. that is, in many cases, disappearing with the continued homogenization of our nation.

His first documentary, ‘It’s All in My Hands’, was made in 1975, while he was still a student at the New York Institute of Technology. From the perspective of technique, while displaying some of the static tracings commonly found in student films, ‘Hands’ displays much of the passion that is the hallmark of DeNonno’s subsequent work.  There is a chatty, informal, comfortable demeanor to his documentary work in which his subjects, while perhaps not as laid-back as those of Les Blank, seem somehow surprised that a filmmaker deems their work, and their lives, important enough to chronicle.

DeNonno's films have been broadcast on almost every television network, are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and have been opening and closing films at the Robert Flaherty Film Festival.  They have won Outstanding Film of the Year Awards at the New York London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Australian Film Festivals and have received a number of blue ribbons at the American Film Festival.  They have been praised by film critics such as Pauline Kael and the New York Times' Janet Maslin, who noted his "deft and impressive filmmaking... (he) is intuitively aware of the subject's uniqueness, individuality, and significance to society".

DeNonno's work is, unfortunately, unfamiliar to many of us in the West, and we encourage you to join him tonight for a rare opportunity to screen his films in glorious 16mm.   

In our ongoing effort to support filmmakers, we have asked Tony to bring along videotaped copies of his films, which he’ll sell for $19.95, with all proceeds going directly to the filmmaker. We encourage you to support his work by buying his films. In addition, Blake’s has a fixed-price ciné16 menu, which will allow you to order dinner at bargain prices before (starting at 5 pm) or after (last order before 10 pm) the show.

Tony’s ciné16 show (admission free of charge, as always) will focus on DeNonno’s important early documentary work; his latest film, ‘Heaven Touches Brooklyn in July’, will be shown the following day in a special dinner program sponsored by the Italian American Heritage Foundation in San Jose, in a Sunday afternoon program running from 2 pm through 7 pm. Prices are $20 for adults, $15 for students, and will include dinner and strolling accordion player. Please call the Foundation at 293-7122 for more details and tickets.

I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to see some of the exceptional documentary work done by a filmmaker who rarely makes a visit to the west coast. 

On tonight’s program:

‘It’s All in My Hands’ (1975) 7m. A shoemaker discusses his vocation and craft.

‘Part of Your Loving’ (1977) 10m. DeNonno focuses on baker Ben Togati, who describes his breadmaking technique, and philosophizes on the value of bread to a community.

‘One Generation is Not Enough’ (1979) 23m. There’s more than meets the eye, in Max Frirsz’s violin-making shop. Max, the last in a line of demanding Hungarian violin makers, is a tough task-master to 19 year old son Nicholas, who’s carving his fifth viola under the demanding eye of his father. We sense the pent-up frustration in the son, who seems to be reaching the end of his rope in dealing with a father raised in another world, who views the father-son relationship as one primarily of apprenticeship.

‘Dancing’s All of You’ (1981) 23m. This remarkable film takes us into the world of the aging-but-elegant Alfredo Gustar, tap-dancer extraordinaire. Gustar weaves stories of the heyday of tap, conducts his students through elemental dance, choreographs a new piece, and performs on a rooftop with the New York skyline as his backdrop, the ethereal orange sky provided courtesy of the eastward path of airborne ash from the recently-erupted Mount St. Helens.

‘It's One Family: Knock on Wood’ (1982) 20m. Here is the story of Mike & Ida Manteo, who, between 1922 and 1981, made 500 marionettes, all 50-100 lbs. each. We see them in their tiny New York City workshop and theatre, owned and operated by members of their own family, as they talk about, and to, their wooden friends, then perform marionette plays in the original Italian.

'Itzhak Perlman: In My Case Music' (1982) 10m.  Here, the noted violinist discusses his music, family, and his efforts to improve access for disabled people to public buildings.


Thursday, May 16... Exceptional Children’s Animal Films from Asia

Here at the Academic Film Archive, our major research focus has been on academic films from the period of 1960-1985. The dates are somewhat arbitrary, dating loosely from the U.S. government’s response to the launching of Sputnik to the advent of the video era, which effectively KO’d 16mm film. Some notable work was distributed post-1985, however, and tonight, we’ll show some of the terrific films on animals that were produced in Japan and China during the denouement of 16mm academic film.

Unfortunately, the Video Japonica filmmakers were not credited, so we don’t know he or she, or they, were. We do know that Deng Baochen was recently at Beijing’s CCTV, working in the ‘Science Education Programme’. All our attempts at reaching him for a bio/filmography failed, so we’ll just have to settle for enjoying his films, which are beautiful.

On tonight’s program:

‘Insects: Cycle of Life’ (1987) 20m, dir. Deng Baochen. Deng’s films are unfortunately graced with narration appropriate for young learners, but trust us, it’s worth plugging your ears, and luxuriating in his luminescent cinematography, concentrating on larva, pupa, and adult.

‘Insects: Defenses Against Enemies’ (1987) 20m, dir. Deng Baochen. Here we discover protective resemblance, protective coloration, and warning coloration, exemplified by the pocket caterpillar, the leaf-rolling caterpillar, and silk-spinning caterpillars that drop on the thread and play dead.

‘Swan’ (1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica. Here are enchanting slow motion landings and take-offs, a graceful film reminiscent of thematic material on Japanese screens.

‘Chicken’ (1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica. Exceptional cinematography of chick breaking out of its egg.

‘Turtle’ (1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica. Close-ups of a turtle digging a hole to bury eggs on the beach, followed by exceptional shots of baby turtles crawling to the sea.

In addition:

‘Firefly’ (1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica.
‘Praying Mantis’
(1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica.
(1986) 11m, Unknown director, produced by Video Japonica.


Thursday, May 9... Muckrakin’ Madness

It’s nobody’s business who I am and am not sleeping with, and that’s just one reason I’d never run for political office. I mean, I can’t believe there are people who actually care where B. Clinton put his cigar, as if such a thing would impede his decision-making capability on domestic and international matters. Presumably, this act was an indicator that he’d be partial to lifting the Cuban cigar embargo, but no such political peccadilloes derived from the sexual "pesadillas". We’re truly in the days of the "new moralism", and we’re no more "moral" than the last 160 generations (going back 4000 or so years). Hiding reflections of our real selves in the darker compartments of our computers, we delude ourselves into thinking the modern world today allows us to do a better job hiding what we really want from those from whom we wish to keep things hidden. And maybe it does. At least until the press finds out.

Sadly, the American obsession with titillating sex is far more excessive than its appetite for sniffing out crooked politicos, who loot the coffers of our country through back-room deals and pork-barrel legislation. Nowhere is this more egregious than in the drive to build more prisons, to house those who, consensually, imbibe in substances and engage in sex with their friends, to the horror of their enemies, who insist that everyone else live their way, and have the prisons to host those that don’t (one plain-speaking Louisiana politician joked recently that one-half of that state’s residents are on the payrolls to guard the other half).

Tonight, we’re looking again at journalist I.F. Stone, who didn’t give a fig about the sexual exploits of the rich-and-famous, but did care that they kept their hands out of the public cookie jar, and put his own time and money into making sure you and I damn well knew when they did. Take a deep, hard look at the film, and you’ll see why so few people like Stone exist today. The pay’s lousy, the rewards are few, and the great unwashed masses care more about affairs with interns, than internal affairs. Tonight’s about the steaming mess that boils in the cauldron of American politics, and the fires that feed it.

On the show:

‘I.F. Stone's Weekly’ (1973) 50m, dir. Jerry Bruck Jr. Isador Stone’s muckraking weekly newspaper was started on January 17, 1953, and lasted until December, 1971, when he closed shop, at the age of 64. Bruck’s remarkable portrayal of the iconoclastic journalist includes interviews with Stone and his wife, shows him performing the monumental task of putting together what was essentially a one-person newspaper, and being a royal pain-in-the-ass to the pompous, a host which, judging by the footage, may have included Walter Cronkite. After shutting the paper’s doors, Stone continued to write until his death on July 17, 1989. Stone is, unfortunately, a largely forgotten figure nowadays, and this film is a reminder of how important the I.F. Stones are to both our national character, and what remains of our collective political conscience. Several quotes form Stone are available at: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAstoneIF.htm

‘Feed’ (1992) 74m, dir. Kevin Rafferty/James Ridgeway. Oh, this one’s funny! Here are the 1992 New Hampshire Primary candidates on outtakes, many scenes captured before they knew cameras were rolling.  Maybe it’s too hard on Bush Sr.; Tsongas is funny, Jerry Brown is irritated with his tie and snorts decongestant, Gennifer Flowers revels in her 15 minutes of fame, and Arnold Schwarzenegger refers to democrats as "girlymen".  A reporter to Clinton: "Have you ever had an affair?" Bill: "If I had, I wouldn't tell you!"


Thursday, May 2... (Tonight's host will be KFJC's Robert Emmett, who wrote the following filmnotes)

In our present day, words like patriots or patriotism elicit a variety of images and symbols. One man who deeply believed in this country and the possibilities of an American way of life --- the one with Truth and Justice --- was Pare Lorentz (1905-1992). He was a writer and a film critic.  At a young age, he co-wrote "Censored- The Private Life of the Movies" (1929). In this book he criticized irresponsible censorship boards and Hollywood producers. Lorentz understood the enormous power of this new medium, film, and was concerned about controls and influences which could be a threat to our freedom of speech.  To give you an idea of the man who one fellow critic said was the only film critic in America "reckless enough to write what he thinks", here is an excerpt from his critique of F. W. Murnau's movie 'Sunrise':

"So far, most of the movies that have been made since Edison invented the 
moving picture have been a mongrel, illegitimate breed, a mechanical 
curiosity, with the less said about them the better. Regardless of the 
host of writers and playwrights who litter the Pacific Coast, there are 
but two or three men who have felt the real possibilities of the motion 
picture as a medium for expressing human emotions with photography and 
musical accompaniment. Therefore, there is no real precedent by which to 
judge the motion picture. There have been a barren dozen made in the 
manner in which a motion picture should be made, Fred W. Murnau...is one of 
the men who grasped the great possibilities of his craft".

In 1935 our government was wrestling with the Great Depression. Funding was provided to produce radio plays and have photographers document that time. It was decided to add movies to this list of government sponsored activities and Pare Lorentz was chosen to head this film unit. Pare Lorentz had never directed a film, until this point he merely critiqued movies. He did understand that this was the perfect way to reach large numbers of Americans. He wanted his films to explore social issues and give America the chance to see what was happening. Originally, his film group, Films of Merit, was planning the production of many films that would be shown like any commercially released films of the time. Politics, both from Congress and Hollywood, created a struggle 
from the very beginning and finally closed Films of Merit in 1940. Only a few films were made and tonight ciné16 shows the most famous of them.

'The Plow That Broke the Plains' (1936) 25m, dir. Pare Lorentz. The first film that Pare Lorenz made and established the essential themes of his 'Films of Merit: Free Access of Information, The Environment, and The Promise of America'. 'Plow' shows the problems of the Dust Bowl. Years of poor land management created giant problems during an extended drought. Farms failed, great clouds of dust blew up what little soil was left. 30,000 farmers and their families made up a great migration, forced to leave their land. The Resettlement Agency, later renamed the Farm Security Administration, helped to resettle 4500 people in new house on small farms in ten states. This is a movie about that story and resettlement.  Pare Lorentz reviewed his own release, in part writing:

" Thus with some outstanding photography and music, The Plow That Broke 
the Plains is an unusual motion picture which might have been a really 
great one had the story and construction been up to the rest of the 
workmanship. As it is, it tells the story of the Plains and it tells it 
with some emotional value- an emotion which springs out of the soil 
itself. Our heroine is the grass, our villain the sun and the wind, our 
players the actual farmers living in the Plains country. It is a 
melodrama of nature, the tragedy of turning grass into dust, a melodrama 
that only Carl Sandburg or Willa Cather perhaps could tell as it should 
be told." 

'The River' (1937) 30m, dir. Pare Lorentz. The people at the Resettlement Agency had wanted his first film to be about TVA --- the Tennessee Valley Authority. In his second film, Lorentz had learned from his experience making 'Plow'. He returned, making a film about the TVA and made perhaps the most famous of all documentaries of the type, 'The River'.  Lorentz takes us on a journey down the Mississippi, focusing on the might of the river itself: "But you can't plan for water unless you plan for land. But you cannot plan for water and land unless you plan for people." Again his theme of the environment comes to play in how the rush to harvest lumber for construction of cities created flooding problems. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created to build damns which in turn generated electricity for the populace. This certainly would fall in the category of propaganda for the TVA and the New Deal, an observation not lost on the opponents of Franklin Roosevelt and his "socialist" projects, who would take government funding away from Lorentz in 1940. 

The narration for The River was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1938. Virgil Thomson contributes another moving musical score. One of the cameramen on The River, Willard van Dyke, was greatly influenced by Lorentz style and would go on to make a documentary called 'The City' which has another great Americana score by Aaron Copland.  Pare Lorentz would make only two more documentaries for his 'Films of  Merit' series. 'Ecce Homo!' (1939) dealt with unemployment and specifically how machinery was replacing men and how mechanical training could give these unemployed new jobs and hope. 'Fight for Life' (1940) was a film about Public Health. Shot in the tenement sections of Chicago, it showed life, birth and death, as seen through the eyes of a tenement doctor. A few other projects were made through 'Films of Merit', including Robert Flaherty's 'The Land' (1942) which was finished after the funding was cut. Flaherty had to finish the film himself. It would be another 20 years before The Great Society, as seen by another administration, would provide the opportunity for educational films to have their true Golden 

The final film tonight has nothing to do with Pare Lorentz, (still looking for those other three films!). As someone who grew up near the great Mississippi River, I have a special fondness for this film. Below is Geoff Alexander's description.

'People Along the Mississippi' (1952) 20m, dir. Gordon Weisenborn, prod. John Barnes & Gordon Weisenborn. As far as we have been able to determine, this film is the first nationally distributed educational film to embrace the interaction of races and cultures in the United States.  Ostensibly a child's film, it's the story of a boy in Minnesota who builds a toy boat and sends it on a journey southward along the Mississippi River. Meandering through scenery beautifully photographed by Barnes, the boat serves as a metaphor for the integration of the American cultures; the boat is found by a Chippewa boy who sends it along its way now accompanied by a small totem pole, it sails along farmlands settled by Swedes, and in the most poignant moment of the film, falls into the hands of a young African-American boy in the deep south. He shows it to his white erstwhile playmate, who has grown to the stage of avoiding playing with blacks. They are brought together again through this new mutual interest, an event which, one imagines, must have prompted thousands of classroom discussions about the nature of race relations. The strengths of the film are in the mythic story line, the photography, and the inherent historical interest of a film which was the first to have made a statement which even now is powerful and important. The narration, we feel, could have been less of the omniscient variety, and is a holdover from traditional educational fare (Barnes tells us he was overruled at Encyclopaedia Britannica , and would have chosen a different narrator, ironic because the filmmaker, with his background in radio drama, was one of the most effective narrators in the genre.) 'Mississippi' remains a strangely moving and poignant film, effective cognitively as an educational tool for its geographical scope, and affectively for its affirmation of the multicultural mix that defines our nation.


Thursday, April 25... Hand-Made Watercraft: Michael Selic presents ciné16 Klessix

Our illustrious CFO Michael Selic herewith presents a series of superior films from ciné16's past shows.  The common thread?  Buildin' big boats witcher fingers...

On the show:

‘Raft’ (1974) 30m, dir. George Sluizer. Now a noted feature filmmaker, Sluizer made memorable documentaries throughout the 1970s. Although not properly considered part of "Latin America", the Brazil we visit here fits very well within the spirit. 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.

‘The Jean Richard’ (1963) 30m, dir. René Bonnière.  Every winter, the fishermen of Petite Rivières, Quebec, would gather together to built a vessel called a goélette. Hewn from trees growing on nearby hills, these large boats are built outdoors in extremely cold weather, using axes, adzes, and steamboxes to shape the timbers. When completed, these flat-bottomed craft trade along the St. Lawrence River, settling on silt at low tide in each village due to the lack of deepwater docking facilities. The film culminates in an all-night accordion party prior to the launching.

'Slima the Dhowmaker' (1978) 30m, dir. Paul Saltzman. 1978. In an interview with 'ciné16', Saltzman tells us that it took 3 1/2 hours over a rutty dirt road to reach the remote village (Ras Nungwi, Zanzibar) where "Slima" was filmed. In the best ethnic tradition, the film details the building of these boats, a traditional which has lasted probably thousands of years. The launching, carried out by what seems to be the entire village laboriously -- yet joyously --- pulling the boat overland by ropes is one of the most astounding bits of filmmaking we've seen.


Thursday, April 18... 360 in 120: Barinda Samra Presents ciné16 Klessix from Around the World

Tonight, our talented and beautiful Vice President presents great films from past ciné16 shows, as she travels around the world through the cranky, and occasionally hazy lenses of our old Bell & Howell 2592 war horses.

On tonight's program:

‘Balloon Safari’ (1975) 55m, prod. Alan Root. For the past few years we’ve been marveling at Root’s African films, from ‘Kopjes’ to ‘Castles of Clay’ to ‘Mzima: Portrait of a Spring’. Until we saw this film, we never knew how he got those shots. This film documents the sometimes hilarious steps Root took to buy and fly the conveyance that has allowed him to create such fascinating footage. Filmed at the Mara River & Game Reserve, Tsavo, and Amboseli, with his pet hippo, aardvark, and porcupine. A masterpiece on the craft of filmmaking in the bush.

‘Food, Clothing, and Shelter in Three Environments’ (1989) 20m, dir. Wayne Mitchell. People from the mountains of Japan, tropics of Samoa, and desert of Pakistan are juxtaposed.

‘Gopal’s Golden Pendant’ (1976) 25m, dir. Paul Saltzman. A fascinating glimpse of the jewelry-making craft in Jaipur, India.


Thursday, April 11... Projecting the Past through Educational Film

Realistically, 16mm educational film has been a thing of the past since roughly 1985, when film companies, recognizing that school districts were willy-nilly copying films onto video, elected, for the most part, not to sue their best customers, and instead, join the video bandwagon. Decisions were made to stop production of many titles, which were deemed to old to be of curricular value, cancel replacement footage orders, and aggressively promote new video catalogues. As of this year (2002), Phoenix Learning Corp. is the only firm of which I’m aware that continues selling 16mm prints, and even then, is selling only what’s left in the warehouse.

Tonight’s program celebrates the history of these 16mm films, and the educational movement behind them. Teaching was revolutionized through what was at one time known as "audio-visual", and tonight we’ll take a peek into the world of pedagogy as it was a few decades back, when A/V concepts were still considered leading-edge.

On tonight’s show:

‘Facts About Projection’ (1950) 10m, dir. Robert Edmonds. An old-timey set-up & projection techniques film, set in a school classroom. This film teaches the young projectionist how to put on a good show, and not trip over the cord while doing so.

‘Making Films That Teach’ (1954) 15m, prod. Hal Kopel. As we all know, not all educational films were exceptional, and some, like the shopworn "wigs-and-frock coats" historical films, could be oppressively boring. Here, a pipe-smoking producer shows us how to make one of these, getting welcome assistance from a historical figure who magically arrives on-set. The resulting film is made up of ho-hum actors and uninspired graphics, but neatly shifts from black and white to color as the film ends.

‘Unique Contribution’ (1959) 30m, uncredited director. Maurice Mitchell was a visionary president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, and the champion of exceptional filmmakers such as John Barnes. This film, which sums up his philosophy of academic film, features Mitchell, in what may be his only on-screen appearance. Here, he explains the value of films in terms of learning media, and offers examples from the work on several filmmakers, including Barnes and Roman Vishniac, the well-known photographer who, though few realize it today, was an important early contributor to the art of photomicrographic science films.

‘Project Discovery: a Demonstration in Education’ (1965) 30m, Irving Rusinow. This important film focuses on the experimental project most responsible for taking millions of public dollars away from textbook producers, and delivering it into the hands of educational film companies. The result? The blossoming of the academic film movement in the U.S., a filmmaking renaissance that changed the way curriculum was discussed and taught in North America.  Here we visit the classroom that toppled the textbook companies, at Mercer Elementary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Our host is Principal Alice Van Deusen, joined by teacher Mimi Weber. Weber illustrates the process of starting and stopping the projector during lessons, and instructs her students on the use of film and film strip projectors.

‘First Fifty: EBE's Golden Anniversary Retrospective’ (1978) 20m, prod. Don Hoffman. Frankly, Encyclopaedia Britannica made a lion’s share of the best academic films in the genre, and many of them are as timeless today as when they were made. This wonderful promotional film, we suspect, was used by EB salespeople as a gift for important customers, and also provides a good historical record of how EB saw itself as a contributor to the history of educational film. It’s narrated by Jim Brill, who narrated many of EB’s pre-1955 titles. Along the way, we’re treated to excerpts from some of EB’s best-selling titles, including some of its better films from the 1950s (nearly all of them by John Barnes).


Thursday, April 4... TrainTime

Everyone who’s spent time on trains has a story, some are about the machinery, others are steeped in romance. Here’s mine.  My undercapitalized record store/pinball arcade had gone out of business, the petty, provincial municipal government of Los Gatos having finally gotten under our skin (and into our wallets) enough that my partner Don and I decided to follow our fortunes elsewhere. We were just about the last hip, counterculture businesses in town, and after the dust had cleared, I had $600 from the sale of our remaining stock, and no job prospects. I took those 600 smackers and went to Portugal and Spain, and my roommate Pat tagged along. We were headed to Coimbra to enjoy the breeze and listen to the mournful fado, traveling in one of four ancient coach cars, led by a foul, smoky diesel engine incapable, it seemed, of even moderate speed. An hour into the trip, the conductor punched our tickets, said something that we couldn’t understand, and moved on. I went to the bathroom, opened the lid, and saw the track dancing merrily below. Guys come naturally equipped to play the game of "following the rail", which has resulted in the liquefying baptism of countless numbers of innocents who stood too close to a meandering train passing through a country station.

On exiting the bathroom, I noticed the car behind the bathroom had no passengers. "Great", I thought, "finally a place to stretch out". Pat and I grabbed our bags, went to the last car, and relaxed. Station after station went by, until we pulled into a small town to take on passengers. The wait started seeming long, so I walked outside to see what was holding the train up. No train, no locomotive, no people. Somehow, the thing had up and taken off, unhitched us silently, leaving two fools sitting in a coach car alone, finally and terribly realizing what the conductor had been trying to tell us.

Obviously we made it off that desolate platform, eventually, and I arrived at our present destination a couple of decades later, the Clouds Room station at First and San Salvador, just in time to present the following program.

‘Deccan’ (1980) 55m, dir. Gerry Troyna.  Brian Thompson, bemused at the south Indian rail system, and accompanied only by his ever-present pipe, here travels on the great and near-great railroads of Deccan India, and encounters nary a European traveler along the way.  From Madras to the 104-degree Pune, his hot, dusty, spicy itinerary winds him from Guntakal Junction, and finally to the comparative oasis of Cochin .

‘Go Slow on the Brighton Line’ (1955) 6m, dir. Donald Smith. Comprising two still shots taken every second, then compiled into a film, this fine documentary short is shot from the locomotive’s front window, chronicling the 51 mile rail trip from London to Brighton, at the apparent speed of 750 miles per hour.

‘Ohrid Express’ (1965) 12m, dir. Robert Legrande/Jean Dasque. We join the idyllic world of conductor Petra Mihalowski, whose slow, narrow-gauge Macedonian train was built in 1895, and runs from Presak to Orhid. Here are charming scenes of laundry washed by the lake, the soapy water heated in large copper kettles.

‘Putovanje’ (A Journey) (1972) 14m, dir. Bogdan Zizic. An experimental film shot on a moving train, in which all passengers eventually vanish into thin air.

Also on the show:

'Pysanka: the Ukranian Easter Egg' (1975) 14m, dir. Slavko Nowytski.  In this stunningly beautiful film, Luba Perchyshyn uses a wax-holding stylus and jars of dye to create designs on eggs.  Although today related to Easter, the tradition predates the Christian era.


Thursday, March 28, 2002... San Jose Lost & Found: a Past Look at Our Present

Lord knows (and this is coming from an atheist) I’ve tried to leave this place. A graduate --- barely --- of Leigh High School, I was a square artistic peg in a round hole of surfers, jocks, and greasers, bounced around to alternative radio (KTAO died here), owned a counter-culture record store/comix shop/pinball arcade (died in Los Gatos), taught special ed for two years, fled to Boston to music school, taxi cabs and the Combat Zone, and finally returned here, broke. In the early 80’s, I got caught up in X.25 internet stuff, rode the high tech wave, and, sometime in the early 90’s, came up with an idea that showing films would give me my artistic fix, and not charging for the experience would keep me in the odd sort of philosophical balance that keeps me comfortable. While ciné16’s got the best group of regulars imaginable, we’re anathema to a city that is cinematically unsupportive of fare other than "chick-flicks" and action movies. As a result, ciné16 came as close as you can get to moving to St. Louis last year, a city I liked, filled with people who, frankly, "got" what we were doing. Try as I might, the fates keep getting caught underfoot: I can’t seem to get --- and stay --- out of Dodge.

Our friends keep asking us to move to San Francisco, but much of the time it’s too cold, literally and emotionally, and trying to park my car(s), then avoiding dog-laid minefields, is always a challenge. I can complain about San Jose’s relative lack of support for the arts, but at least we’ve avoided the Cambodia-like environment of SF’s Market Street, where the detritus of panhandlers, misfits, and junkies vie for the attentions of passers-by, their anger fueled by a misplaced sense of entitlement, shopping cart-borne self-pity in the land of enchantment.

San Jose’s hard to pick on, because it’s a city with an indefinable character, a target so nebulous that critics tend to take random pot-shots at the problem du jour rather than attempting to analyze and define the elements that turn a large number of people in a cohesive geographical area into a "city". Where do you start with a city so wealthy, an ethnic mix so thorough, and weather so shrink-wrapped shiny? We don’t have an easily identifiable arts district, but our local arts organizations, who all too often prefer to fight among themselves over petty turf battles than to cooperate with each other, are as much to blame as anyone. An arts district has to be Bohemian, which means smoking, drinking, carousing, and occasional outrageousness are not only tolerated, but protected. None of that here, where the late Café Babylon was allowed to die a lingering death, to be replaced by… another tech firm? And try being Bohemian in the police state that exists late nights at First and San Salvador Streets. This gathering of patrol cars and spotlights is, believe me, the one thing about our culture that visitors from other cities really carry home with them. Invariably, they tell me we’re the only city of any size in the US with a pre-emptive and disruptive police presence smack-dab in the middle of the only music and arts area of the city. While one assumes our police authorities --- and the people to whom they supposedly answer --- haven’t been to New York, Chicago, Boston, or numerous other cities that have learned to soft-sell police visibility in order to present a more humanistic evening experience, one can take heart that San Jose’s nightly "show-of-force" allows us to better reflect on the constant police presence in the totalitarian countries we’ve visited, from late-70’s Guatemala, to Franco’s Spain, to today’s Kurdish Turkey.

Crabbing about our town is way too easy, and rather than join that Penderecki-like choir, I’d like to show you instead, what past glories were dreamed of this convoluted city, ever-trying to mature and grow into a capital, yet seemingly ignorant of its home-grown business and art talent. San Jose’s history seems to be one of boondoggles, from plowing down an architecturally beautiful downtown (thus giving rise to the beautiful Valley Fair and suburban lookalikes), to vainly hoping that wealthy carpetbaggers from other cities would ride to the rescue in the form of dazzling nightclubs, world-class restaurants, and an imported culture of international bon-vivants. In losing the Babylon, the Club Ibex, and countless other gems, San Jose is a city that continues to lose its heart, piece by piece. It’s a city that seems always to be in start-up mode.

And that’s what tonight’s show is all about. We’ll show a film that defines something of the city’s past (‘Quicksilver’), one that promotes its bright future (‘Valley of Heart’s Delight’), and another that reflects the progressive mood of the early 1970s (‘San Jose 70/71’). By looking into this crooked, cracked, bedeviled mirror to our past, we can judge not only how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.

On tonight’s program:

‘Quicksilver’ (1967) 30m, dir. Alex Zanini. Produced at KNTV, this is a history of New Almaden, essential to the Gold Rush era, producing toxic cinnabar, a material which releases gold from its rocky prison. It ends in an odd, upbeat note: mining will soon return to New Almaden!

‘Valley of Heart's Delight’ (1948) 18m, unknown director. No no, not the pristine, black and white film from 1925 you may have seen before, but a spanking new version, touting the glories of the Clapp's Baby Food factory, the American Can Company plant, FMC, San Jose Steel, and Moffett Field, all accessible via the old Monterey Highway, and the Coast Daylight locomotive.

‘San Jose 70/71’ (1971) 27m, unknown director. This defines the concept of ‘unknown film’. The credits having been stripped off somewhere in the distant past, no one seems to know who produced this film, but it’s brightly optimistic tone is indicative of the youthful energy of this city of only 500,000 people. Here we visit City Hall, with Ron James as mayor, the impossibly young future mayors Norman Mineta, and Janet Gray Hayes, and their Council counterparts Virginia Schaeffer, Joe Colla, Walter Hays, Kurt Gross, and the ever-testy Dave Goglio. A city with a future! The redevelopment agency is hard at work here, bringing you the spanking new Park Center Plaza development, and the highly touted, remarkable Performing Arts Center, just beginning construction, which will finally put San Jose on the cultural map of the nation.

‘Roads Across the Bay’ (1963) 30m, dir. Frank Robinson. Farther north, the crisis of moving people across the water is solved by the building of the Bay Bridge, bringing a welcome end to the slow-moving ferries, and the beginning of the end to inter-urban trains. This well-made documentary chronicles the building of the bridge through contemporary footage, with cursory mention of the GGB, and Richmond-San Rafael span.

Also on the program:

'Chicken Little' (1943) 7m, unknown director.  As opposed to the sappy, mindless material that made up much of the latter Disney animation work, 'Chicken' leans from the skeptical to the sarcastic.  Its uncharacteristically (for Disney, anyway) violent ending serves as a warning to people who cave in to peer pressure, instead of embracing logic.  


Thursday, March 21... Timerider!

‘Timerider: the Adventure of Lyle Swann’ (1982) 93m, dir. William Dear. OK, so I really REALLY like time travel films, but like ‘em kind of lean & mean, sorta like this low-budget film, in which the protagonist never ever realizes that he’s ridden his motorcross bike back into the old-west past. Critics of the film claim that Fred Ward’s moto guy must be dense not to realize what’s going on, but I think he fits the mold perfectly, a guy just out for a bike-ride who gets tossed on the winds of time. Meanwhile, we get prime-timers LQ Jones as the US Marshal, Peter Coyote as the bandit chief, and Belinda Bauer as the south of the border gun-moll. This 16mm print has the original black-humored ending to one of the bad boys, deleted from the DVD version now available.

This is a fun film that never quite made it to cult status, but one I loved so much that I’ve been looking for a print since 1982.  Last month, I found one.  With good acting, fine directing, and a rockin’ score by Mike Nesmith, this film's a great way to kick in our new venue before we get into the (ahem) serious stuff.

Also on the program:

'Harold and the Purple Crayon' (1967) 7m, dir. David Piel.  Unlike Lynn Swann,who travels by moto, Harold travels by crayon, searching for, then following, the moon.


Thursday, February 14... South Asian Sojourn, Part III: Law and Tradition

Tonight's program is the third of our three-part presentation of Elder's 'South Asian Documentary Film Series'.

‘Modern Brides: Arranged Marriages in South India’ (1985) 30m, dir. Happy Luchsinger. In Mysore, we meet two middle-class Brahmin families whose respective daughters, Vinuta and Geetha, are ready to be married. One marriage was completely arranged by the parents, who arranged for the introductions, while the other was initiated by the young people themselves, who informed their parents of their wishes. The film discuses the cultural aspects of the marriage system, and features interviews with various individuals describing the elements that make up a successful marriage.

‘Courts and Councils: Dispute Settlement in India’ (1979) 30m, dir. Ron Hess. A fascinating film which juxtaposes three systems of justice. The Nandiwalla is a tribal council held among the Telugu-speaking bull-traders in Maharashtra, in which shouting, crying, and cajoling are part of the process, with banishment the most forceful punishment, and fines by group consensus the norm. When the fine is paid, part goes to the Brahmin ‘guru’, who acts as ombudsman, the rest going to civic projects such as cleaning the village well. The nyava Punchayat is an informal court sanctioned by the government, suggesting compromise, rather than winner-take-all. Both seem preferable to the formal court system, a labyrinthine process that defies description.

‘Banaras’ (1970) 22m, dir. Michael Camerini. A wonderful ciné-poem in black and white, showing life (and death) on the ghats, in temples, in the marketplace., and on the streets. Music by Dr. Shymal Sinha.

Also on the program:

‘Indian Village Life: Two Villages in Orissa Province’ (1972) 16m, dir. Hermann Schlenker. An exceptional, non-narrated visit to farm and fishing communities.


Thursday, February 7... South Asian Sojourn, Part II: Give Me That (Extremely) Old Time Religion

Tonight's program is the second of our three-part presentation of Joseph Elder's 'South Asian Documentary Film Series'.  Incidentally, there is a significant Bay Area website for people interested in South Asian cinema in general, with lots of listings of current film shows with South Asian themes.  Visit EKTA Online at: http://www.ektaonline.org/tfsa2002.htm 

‘Four Holy Men: Renunciation in Hindu Society’ (1977) 37m, dir. Mina Reym Binford/Michael Camerini. Here we visit and travel with four 'sadhus’ who have left the secular world of marriage, employment, and family responsibilities in a quest to rid themselves of future reincarnation. They serve society by accepting alms, which allows givers to earn religious merit, and by dispensing "blessings".

‘Being Muslim in India’ (1980) 40m, dir. James MacDonald. In the 1980 census, it was determined that 80 million Muslims lived in India, 11% of population, more than Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Turkey combined. This film explains how Islam arrived in India, and explores the madrasas (schools), in which neighborhood individuals contribute enough money each month to pay a teacher (mulvi, or mullah) to teach from the Qur’an. We also visit the home of Qasim, a middle-class Muslim in Lucknow, who, like many Indian Muslims, is a religious conservative and a social progressive (he encouraged his daughter to study clinical psychology, and supported her when he decided to emigrate to Canada. We also meet two of Qasim’s three wives, one of whom runs the family’s thriving tobacco business. To round it out, a rousing party is held, featuring Qawwali music.

‘Indian Pilgrimage: Ramdevra’ (1975) 25m, dir. Mina Reym Binford/Michael Camerini. The miracle cult of Ramdevra is based on Ramdev, a medieval military hero and saint, whose grave has become a focus of pilgrimage. The film focuses on Bombay pilgrims, one of whom enters a trance at the gravesite. In between, pilgrims shop and eat at the bazaar which has formed in the near vicinity to the shrine.


Thursday, January 31...  Keeping Ethnic Music Alive in the Valley: A Tribute to KKUP's Joe Sodja

Here at the ciné16, we’ve always encouraged people to keep tuned to our own Robert Emmett’s fine ‘Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show’, on KFJC from 9 am to 12 pm on Saturday mornings.

There’s another radio programmer with whom we’d like you to become familiar, KKUP’s Joe Sodja, who’s worked hard to keep ethnic music on the air in the Santa Clara Valley since the mid-1970s. In addition to his regular Wednesday evening program, airing on 91.5 FM from 9 pm to 12 am, Joe founded, and has dedicated countless hours over the years, to KKUP’s annual World Music Festival, running for five consecutive days during the Thanksgiving holiday. Joe’s taste has always leaned toward the pure folk and traditional music, and away from the schmaltz, and we feel Joe is a very important community resource who hasn’t been recognized as much as we’d like.   Joe's own personal history is yet another story underscoring the emancipation from childhood via the treasures acquired by paper route money:

I was born in Slovenia in the capital city of Ljubljana, and came to the U.S. in the mid-'50s at the age of 12, after living in Austria for a year. I grew up on Western European classical music. Much to the consternation of my father, in my teens I became moneyed enough from my newspaper route to buy my own records and pursue my fascination with jazz. This improvised music of surprise soon led me to discover the same element of excitement and spontaneity in that "other" music that no one seemed to be listening to at the time: the sometimes strange, and often compellingly beautiful, sounds - melodies, rhythms, and pulsations -from around the planet.

It was a lonely path at first, but the underground stream of aficionados grew stronger and stronger over the years, so that today ethnic music can be heard much more readily - including regular night club venues - and is being listened to by a growing number of people eager for sound adventure. I am grateful that through my weekly radio program, "The Ethnic Connection" - 25 years in the running now, and the annual World Music Festival over Thanksgiving week-end on KKUP, I have served in some small way to make that underground stream flow a little stronger.

Tonight, we’re inviting Joe to join us, to meet you, and enjoy a program of ethnic music films we’re showing in his honor. They include:

‘Anastenaria’ (1968) 20m, dir. Peter Haramis. Dionysian worship in modern Greece, with lyra, drum, and fire dancing. Anastenaria is a form of worship taking place on May 21, sanctioned by the Greek Orthodox Church. Here we experience the slaughter and communal eating of a calf, a procession and the final initiation dance.  Joe writes: "I recall featuring an LP of ritual music of Anastenaria back in the early days of "The Ethnic Connection" program in the late '70s...I'll have to dig it out again. Then - and still today - I have always been drawn to music that transcends, trance-inducing music - stuff that gets you out of your ordinary self...whether that be the Master Musicians of Joujouka and their mind-blowing ghaitas, the zurnas of Macedonia, or the shehnai of Bismillah Khan."

‘Alhaji Bai Konte’ (1978) 12m, dir. Oliver Franklin. Konte was the first Gambian kora player to tour the United States, and played at Woodstock. He played in the Casamance style, and died in 1986.  Joe is intimately familiar with the music of Alhaji:  "Alhaji Bai Konte's records were one of the first that turned me on to the griot/kora tradition of Gambia, and - indeed - led me down the primrose path of ethnic music pursuits...along with Hamza El Din, whose Nubian oud and singing totally mesmerized me at a concert in San Francisco back in '69 or '70..."

‘Ajuba Dance & Drama Company’ (1979) 20m, dir. Ron Hess. The artists can be of any caste or creed, and the troupe, under leader Bhaggal, performs Nautanki, plays based on everything from the traditional royal courts, to modern Bombay feature films. The Company originates in Benares, and performances feature comedy, dance, drama, accompanied by songs, and Dionysian music based on the shehnai. We visit the performers before the program as they rehearse and apply make-up, and join them for a portion of the show.

‘Dancing Lion: An African Folktale’ (1978) 10m, dir. Tommy McClelland. African cross-rhythms explained by fun-loving ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey.

‘Spend It All’ (1971) 41m, dir. Les Blank. With the Balfa Brothers, Nathan Abshire, and Marc Savoy whoopin’ it up and havin’ such a damn good time, it should be easy for vegetarian ciné16ers to overlook the extremely realistic (animals WERE harmed during the shooting of this film) hog-butchering sequence, but then again, we don’t think Cajun music is worth much, lessn’ it’s fueled by home-style bacon, eggs & links, or a side trip to the nearest Waffle House. Lost your appetite already? OK, then you can run ‘round the corner and join the guy pullin’ out his own tooth... Another fine film of music and culture by Les Blank.


Thursday, January 24... Confusion Cubed: Questionably Accessible Mathematics Films

Like Sunday School and cod liver oil, math was something that I always heard was good for you, but it was hell getting through it. I’m not talking rocket science here: even simple algebra and geometry would throw me into fits, and the fact that math classes always began the school day virtually wrecked my good attitude for all other classes that followed. It’s a strange twist of fate that I ended up in high tech, dealing with technologically-enriched material like in-circuit emulators and X.25 gateways. Such is life.

I still don’t "get" higher math, but I’m sure many of you do. That’s why I’m going to show some films that have two things in common: I don’t understand ‘em, and the people in the films are absolutely crazy about their subjects. There’s obviously gotta be something there, and in our geo area, there are thousands of people who can tell me why. Tonight, here’s a show for the rest of you. I’m gonna be unselfish, kick back, enjoy a smoke, and remain perplexed.

On the program:

‘Space-Filling Curves’ (1972) 30m, dir. William Hansard. Take a monster IBM360 located at MIT Lincoln Labs, add Bruce Cornwell to the computer-animation unit, and learn how a curve can be made to fill a solid body. They call it the method of successive approximation.

‘Isometries’ (1967) 30m, dir. Art Landy. From the College Geometry Project at the University of Minnesota. Here, Seymour Schuster and William Moser make a film. One tells the other to hurry up with the experiment, back away from blackboard, and yet, it doesn’t help, as the presenter continues to confound. There are ever-present dripping faucet noises, unexplained and bizarre. Even our board member Dave Peters, a guy who loves doing complex math problems for fun in his spare time, can’t figure out what these guys are up to.

‘Turning a Sphere Inside-Out’ (1976) 30m, dir. William Hansard. The MIT boys are back again, led by mathematician Charles Pugh. Again, with computer-generated design, a sphere turns inward without making holes or creases.

‘Time and Clocks’ (1960) 30m, dir. Milan Herzog.  MIT’s John King here explains the time-space continuum. Even I enjoy this one, because of the sequence with Harold "Doc" Edgerton, showing how he made those famous time-stopping strobe photographs.

To help you through the show's content, our old pal Tony Gualtieri has recommended that you visit http://www.britneyspears.ac/lasers.htm  Ms. Spears is an esteemed scholar in the field of semi-conductor physics, and addresses many of the topics on tonight's program, in layperson's terms.


Thursday, January 17...  South Asian Sojurn, Part I: Bangladesh and Uttar Pradesh

One of the more remarkable efforts in ethnographic filmmaking was undertaken by Joseph Elder, professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. The South Asian Documentary Film Series consists of 34 films detailing urban and rural life, primarily in northern and southern India. Although several of the films were made in conjunction with the BBC, the most fascinating of them were made by non-professional, student filmmakers such as Mira Reyn Binford, Michael Camerini, and Ron Hess, from Elder’s South Asian Studies department. Elder’s involvement with India began in 1951, when he began a two year stint teaching English there, under the auspices of Oberlin College. In 1961, he was hired to teach a Civilizations of India course at the University of Wisconsin, and soon, with $250,000 in annual funding, began the South Asian program. First year students in the program were required to take a language course in Hindi, Telugu, or Tamil, and complete a field studies program in India during their second year. For some time, Elder had felt that US-based students needed a visual curriculum to accompany texts, and therefore encouraged Michael Camerini to write a proposal for a film grant as his field study, which was eventually accepted by the US Department of Education, and resulted in the cinematically beautiful, largely-unnarrated film 'Banaras', which will be screened on February 14.  The successive films in the series are fascinating, non-judgmental documents of an often-misunderstood land.

We have chosen to present eight of these, in three programs over a six week period (in addition, the remarkable 'Ajuba Dance & Drama  Company', on the January 31 program, will be shown).   They represent what we feel are among the finest films ever made on the subject of the sub-continent, of equal interest to Indians and non-Indians alike, and are too-rarely shown.  They reflect a social structure rich in tradition and culture, but not unfamiliar with conflict, on both personal and societal levels.  On tonight's program:

‘Bangladesh Nationhood: Symbols and Shadows’ (1975) 49m, dir. Michael Camerini and Mira Reyn Binford. This film presents a fascinating look at the founding and early years of this Bengali nation east of India. In 1947, the British has partitioned West and East Pakistan away from India, primarily because the majority of the population was Islamic. The Easterners, though, were Bengali, and saw themselves as a separate culture from their western counterparts. Finally, in 1970, a bloody guerilla war broke out in East Pakistan, finally ending when Indian troops took over the nation in 1971. In December of that year, Bangladesh was declared a sovereign nation, led by Sheikh Mujib Rehman’s Awami League party. Mujib, considered by many to be the father of his country, had been imprisoned in West Pakistan, and returned home a hero. He defined a program, soon known as "Mujibism", which characterized the new country as being led by four principles: Nationalism, Socialism, Secularism, and Democracy. Was he successful? Interviews, which make up a good portion of the film, indicate varying opinions, but Mujib himself would never come to a definitive conclusion: he was assassinated several months after this film was made.

‘Village Man, City Man’ (1976) 38m, dir. Mina Reym Binford/Michael Camerini. Sirpal Saroj works in a Delhi textile mill, but returns home to a village in Uttar Pradesh to discuss life and fortune with old friends. He juxtaposes good and bad in city and village (we find out eventually that he left the village, he sez, because it took "too long to walk to take a s**t").

‘How Death Came to Earth’ (1971) 15m, dir. Ishu Patel. A raucous, colorful tale of the creation myth.  


Thursday, January 10... Wings to Adventure

Call me naïve. On one beautiful warm spring day in eastern Turkey, I spotted some gorgeous white beehives against a yellow field of wildflowers, rising to meet the most beautiful ASA 64 blue sky I’d ever seen. I pulled over, grabbed my old Nikon F Body, and crouched maybe 25 feet away to get The Shot of a Lifetime. And boy, did I ever. Before I knew what was happening, I was covered in a cloud of angry bees, getting the hell stung out of me, as I ran, flailing back to the car. I spent the next 60 seconds inside the car, slapping myself silly, trying to kill the things before they killed me. The situation finally under control, I sped away, realizing somewhat ruefully that yes, sometimes you have to call it from the car. Which is one reason I’m thrilled about showing the Phil Simon film tonight, a man who, I imagine, would have handled the whole thing more gracefully and successfully than I did.

Tonight, we present two exceptional films on flying insects that should prove to be as popular as our moth and vampire bat program of a few years back.  Believe me: I absolutely guarantee you’ll talk about at least a couple of scenes in tonight’s films over the water cooler tomorrow.

‘The Mysterious Bee’ (1981) 50m. dir. Phil Simon.  Phil Simon knows his bees. Clad only in shorts and sandals, Simon holds a clump of 10,000 bees in his hands, while others crawl up his legs, in search of their queen, who will lay 1500 eggs a day, more than her body weight. Later, he wants us to see how a bee goes about stinging, so he allows himself to be stung in close-up (body-piercing fans with an attitude, take note).

‘Butterflies in Perspective’ (1979) 50m, prod. Robin Crane. Just when you thought you knew everything: a search in Google reveals 2,960 entries on the Heliconius butterfly, which means that some of us have been asleep at the switch. Just for fun, we headed to entry #100, and found ourselves in the middle of a bunch of photos of Larry Gilbert, one of the researchers in tonight’s film, who’s studied, among other things, the capability of Heliconius to consume cyanide-containing plants as a way of warding off predators (http://www.utexas.edu/admin/opa/oncampus/00oc_issues/oc000727/oc_butterflies2.html). Heliconius also mates with pupas, shown dramatically in this film (ain’t there a law against that? I thought that’s what separates us from the animals…) This fascinating film also joins Lincoln Brower and his UMass Amherst group in Mexico, cataloguing the winter migration of Monarchs. Some 20-50 million of them arrive from as far north as Canada, and are found in amounts as many as 22,000 to a tree. This is everything a nature film should be: entertaining, informative, and bordering on the bizarre.

Also on the program:

‘Butterflies in Formation: an Introduction to Public Speaking’ (1982) 10m, dir. John Milestone. A funny clay animation film, about another kind of butterfly entirely.


Thursday, January 3...  Sol y Sombra: a Way of Life and Death

‘Arruza’ (1967) 75m, dir. Budd Boetticher

Director Oscar "Budd" Boetticher died last month, at the age of 85. Although renowned for his Westerns, his little-known profile of the bullfighter Carlos Arruza, a docu-drama distributed the year after Arruza’s death, occupies a singular corner in film history. By 1967, the glamour of bullfighting in non-Hispanic countries had waned, the books of Barnaby Conrad relegated to back shelves, the taurine writings of Lorca and Hemingway now viewed as artifacts particular to an era. The film got little distribution, and was quickly forgotten.

Boetticher himself was a bullfighter, and was one of the few Yank matadors accepted as accomplished in Mexican bullrings. His accomplishments brought him to Hollywood in 1941 as an advisor for a film called ‘Blood and Sand’, and he stayed on, saying that his years of facing angry bulls in the ring left him well-prepared for Hollywood producers. His ‘Bullfighter and the Lady’ was based on his early experiences, and won an Oscar nomination in 1951. Later, he bred Portuguese Lusitanos, and staged bullfighting on horseback exhibitions near his home.

Carlos Arruza was a natural subject for Boetticher.  Né Carlos Ruiz Camino, he was born on February 17, 1920 in Mexico City, took the "alernativa" in 1940, and made history in Madrid and Barcelona during the years of 1944 and 1945 in his classic appearances opposite Manolete. Upon the latter’s death in 1947, Arruza retired from the bullring, but returned in 1950, becoming the highest-paid matador in the world, making as much as $40,000 for a single fight. Like the world of flamenco, bullfighting has developed a language unto itself, describing everything from the movement of the bull to the elements of the fighter’s costume. Barnaby Conrad once described Arruza in the following terms: "Though mediocre with the verónica, his quites were varied and hair-raising. He is considered by many experts to be the greatest banderillero who ever lived. Masterful with the muleta, his inventions are the arrucina and the péndulo. He revised and popularized the teléfono… he was a deadly, if somewhat styleless killer".

Eventually, Arruza bought a ranch outside of Toluca, "Pastejé", in which he raised bulls and trained Portuguese Lusitanos. He became an expert rider, a "rejoneador" whose skill is dramatically shown in tonight’s film, which is narrated by Anthony Quinn. There are many stunning moments here, captured by a filmmaker who knew the turf, and separated the superfluous from the extraordinary. How ironic that Arruza, a man in total control in the ring of death, would meet his fate on May 20, 1966 in an auto accident, asleep in the passenger seat, with someone else at the wheel.

Also on the program:

'The Day Manolete Was Killed' (1965) 20m, dir. Dave Butler/Barnaby Conrad. The bull "Islero" meets Manuel Rodríguez y Sánchez in Linares, Spain, 28 August 1947. The most famous bullfighter of his day, "Manolete" had retired a year earlier, but decided to return for a last season. He killed the bull, but was fatally gored, dying the in the infirmary the following morning of traumatic shock and the loss of blood. This film consists of a collection of still photos narrated by aficionado Conrad, highly dramatic, and full of Andalucian culture and tradition.

‘Picasso: Le Romancero du Picador’ (1970?) 13m, dir. Jean Desvilles. Picasso's bullfight drawings with pen and brush, including the inevitable Bacchanalian revels, accompanied by guitarist Pepe Tovar, and cantaor, Niño de Ecija.


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