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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 50 programs, encompassing 181 films, are chronicled from most recent 1999 show backward to the first of the calendar year.
Highlights from 1999 include: ciné16 is invited by the Künstlerhaus in Stuttgart, Germany to provide a four evening retrospective of ciné16's work. We traveled there and presented four programs in late October; one evening each was dedicated to academic classroom films on history, science, the humanities, and animation. Filmmaker Bernard Wilets appeared at ciné16 on March 4.
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Thursday, 23 December... La Bonne Année (1973) 114m, dir. Claude Lelouch
People either love or hate the work of Lelouch, a brilliant writer, cinematographer, and director, whose romances are perceived at times a bit too cloying, and whose coincidences have been cited as stressing credibility to its limits. He is nevertheless a wonderful storyteller whose work nowadays probably doesn’t get the exposure it deserves, as evidenced by the too-rarely-shown ‘La Bonne Année’ (Happy New Year), featuring the marvelously versatile Lino Ventura and Françoise Fabian as two businesspeople at opposite ends of the cultural and criminal spectrum. ‘Année’ is equal parts crime and romance, with plenty of cynicism thrown in for good measure (describing to his lover his philosophy on relationships, Ventura states that marriage is for people who are afraid of "facing two fried eggs alone some night, with no TV and no life insurance"). It is also a film about relationships, and their conflict with, or compliment to duty, as embodied in the romance with shopkeeper Fabian, or the insightful and memorable partnership with Charles Gérard, in his fine supporting role as Ventura’s bemused and occasionally confused associate. With fresh memories of being roasted by the critics for his earlier film "A Man and a Woman", Lelouch opens this film with clips from the earlier one being shown to prison convicts, who whistle, jeer, and make comments about its lack of action. Particularly effective are the black and white ‘bookends’ which open and close this otherwise color film, symbolic of both the physical and mental prison which binds the protagonist, who continually insists on soaring above the mundane.
Like many of the films we’ve shown at ciné16, this, in its French version with English subtitles, has become rare (its dubbed English counterpart lacked the subtlety and wit which are such an important part of this film). Ordinarily, we eschew feature films, but ‘La Bonne Année’ has stayed with me ever since I first saw it in the year of its release; it remains an extremely well-crafted film with superior acting, direction, cinematography, and story line; unjustifiably ignored, it is far better than much of the feature production coming out of France (or Hollywood) today.
Thursday, 9 December... ‘Women of the Cloth'
Crafts films have always been a favorite here at ciné16, whether about building birch canoes, handmade books, or boats in bottles. Tonight we feature five films on the subject of transformed textiles, and the women who make them.
‘Homespun’ (1955) 20m, prod. Elmer Albinson/Harry Webb. Mandelina Oberg from Deerwood, Minnesota cuts, cards, spins, washes, dyes, and weaves wool from her Angoran goat, all of tools and looms handmade by her woodworking husband Robert. Why does she do this? "Swedes like to be busy", she says...
‘Quilts in Women’s Lives’ (1980) 30m, dir. Pat Ferraro. Here we visit with six quiltmakers of varying ages, with personalities larger than the quilts themselves.
‘Ñandutí: a Paraguayan Lace’ (1978) 20m, dir. Annick Sanjurjo/Albert Canciero. Meaning "cobweb" in the Guaraní tongue, what we have here is a beautiful woven form, accompanied by music from Juancito y Los Tricolores del Paraguay. Although the color of the film has badly shifted, we’re convinced that this is one of the few remaining prints of this film anywhere in existence.
‘Master Weavers of the Andes’ (1977) 20m, dir. Peter Pilafian. An ethnographic look at the weavers surrounding Lake Titicaca, Peru, accompanied by music by Uña Ramos, from Takie Island.
‘Sabina Sanchez: Artesana Bordadora’ (1976) 20m, dir. Judith Bronowski. Judith assisted several Mexican artisans by making exceptional films on their work, and the greater recognition that followed enabled them to charge a fairer price for their efforts. While not as well-known as Manuel Jiménez or the Linares family, this embroiderer from San Antonino, Oaxaca shows us how this ubiquitous and detailed work is made.
Thursday, 16 December... ‘The Institution Man’
Tonight ciné16 looks at prisons, mental hospitals, and private schools. Or perhaps, instead, we’re more interested in convicts, patients, and students. In either case, we think it’s all about "belonging", specifically wanting to, or in some cases being forced to join in collegial or fraternal organizations that to some of us seem odd. What’s not open to debate is that those members of these elite societies think those of us on the outside are unusual in ourselves, somehow just not measuring up. What struck us was how much the seemingly disparate institutions have in common; stealing the fruits of the other guy’s labor lands on fellow in jail and another in a mental hospital, while the Ridley upper classman’s insistence on the lower classman making his bed and sorting out his clothes now becomes "leadership".
‘Cell 16’ (1971) 14m, dir. Martin Duckworth. At Collins Bay Penitentiary, Kingston, Ontario, we experience convict Peter Madden’s bedlam in cinema verité...
‘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. Filmed in Montreal in 1961, we visit with a man whose crime was robbing a postal sub-station of stamps, and later, attempting to commit suicide, and threatening the life of the doctor who pumped his stomach. He can’t hold a job, reads voraciously, and writes well. Everyone who watches this film will form his or her own judgment as to whether our man is a future ax-murderer, or merely wants to be left alone. Along the way, we meet essential Canadian archetypes: Detective Gordon MacKenzie of the Montreal PD, a disgruntled counselor for the Catholic social service agency, a Scottish parole officer, and the jovial French-Canadian prison warden who enjoyed walking the grounds with the subject. While we’re not in complete agreement with the psychiatric assessment, we do understand why the principals are up in arms: our engaging patient just can’t keep the smirk off his face as his relates his escapades, and the troubled effect on his more traditionally educated adversaries obviously delights him no end...
‘Ridley: a Secret Garden’ (1981) 27m, dir. Robert Lang. I’m not sure what underclassmen making upperclassmen’s beds has to do with good education, that crew "makes them men", or that public schools offer "leeway, drug addiction, and smoking", but then again, I didn’t attend Ridley College. Located in St. Catharines, Ontario, Ridley has graduated several generations of ruling class Canadians, and, when this film was made, had just begun admitting young women, although the racial mix seemed to preclude non-Anglo Saxons, and French Canadians. It all flies under the union jack, with a kilt or two thrown in at ceremony time. A thought-provoking film, and one which drives to the very heart of what make English Canada english.
‘The Detour’ (1977) 20m, dir. Shelby Leverington. Executive Producer Barbara Bryant of Phoenix Films once told me that she never made a film that didn’t offend at leafs somebody, then pointed to ‘Detour’ as an example. The protagonist of this sociodrama is an bedridden patient warehoused in a hospital. We never see her directly, instead viewing the action from her eyes as she caustically interprets the actions of doctors, nurses, and chaplains. Communicating solely by means of a chalkboard and nearby objects, her pointed request to the chaplain has kept this film out of many school film libraries.
Thursday, 2 December... ‘Frozen Music: Architecture from Perspective to Preservation’
Goethe used the tern ‘frozen music’ to describe the art and craft of building, and we’ve got to say that in some cases, the icebergs are calving off the glaciers, as we found when we visited Wright’s Taliesen West down in Arizona. Noting that the outer wall surfaces were badly exfoliating, I asked the docent what steps were being taken to fix Wright’s work. "They’re NOT coming apart", she fumed, leading me to believe that our septuagenarian hostess may have had more to do personally with FLW than she wished to divulge. A cult certainly has formed around the mystique of the man, but then, the same can be said of Gaudí, who had a reputation of being a gentler soul, and whose building materials better stood the test of time (unlike Gaudí the man himself, who proved that when man and streetcar meet, metal is stronger than bone). Because architecture isn’t traditionally studied in high schools, films on buildings and the people who designed them were rarely shown. Tonight’s come from a number of different sources and perspectives.
‘Antonio Gaudí’ (1965) 30m, prod. Ira Latour. Back in 1976, the record store I founded with my friend Don had crumbled, and we sold the assets for $1000 or so, and, accepting the fact that I was going to have seven years of indebtedness in my future, decided to take my share of the $1000 and spend six weeks in Spain. Barcelona was a blip on the map, and I arrived after a twelve-hour second class standing-room only train ride, getting a cheap hostel and walking the Ramblas in a dazed state. A pretty girl motioned me over to her table, we talked a few minutes, and --- I kid you not --- within ten hours we decided we were going to live together. She had this apartment in an old building overlooking eight stories worth of Barcelona, and in the morning, when she asked me what I wanted to do in her city, I said "Gaudí". For years I’d been mystified at the man who’d created building based on vegetal forms and pottery, and now, seeing as though I’d be in town for awhile, I saw as much as I could: sneaking into the lobby of La Pedrera, walking up the towers of the never-to-be completed Sagrada Familia, marveling at the stairwell at Palacio Guell, just around the corner from my girlfriend’s parents. The girl and I lasted five years, through Spain, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and the U.S.; Gaudí remains, ars longa, vita brevis. Ira LaTour, who made this film, has a wonderful narrative regarding its making at www.iralatour.com/writings.cfm?action=show&id=9
‘Conversation with Frank Lloyd Wright’ (1953) 30m, prod. Ben Park. The 83 year old, cantankerous architect turns the tables on young interviewer Hugh Downs, who all of a sudden becomes the interviewed.
‘Caring for History’ (1975?) 30m, dir. Richard Bigham. How does one take a "crumbling pile", as Washington Irving would, one think, painfully say, and restore it with as much fidelity as possible, and yet make it absolutely clear to future historians as to the extent of the rework? Restoration work is shown here at Fountains Abbey, Hadrian's Wall, and Conway Castle. The film itself has begun its inexorable color-shift march toward red, making the subjects of the film appear to be in much better shape than the film itself...
‘John Ringling’s Ca D’Zan’ (1973) 30m, dir. Ann Zane Shanks. In Sarasota, Florida, one doesn’t soon forget the Xanadu-like fortress of the carnival king. In an age where a single person could own a circus, or baseball team, or railroad, he or she wouldn’t have arrived until a party would be hosted in the castle of dreams. Houses such as Vanderbilt’s Biltmore, Hearst’s San Simeon, and Isabella Stewart Gardener’s little Renaissance shack out at the edge of the Fens separated the players from the mortals, who ended up having the last laugh anyway when they all turned into museums. Although the film doesn’t show it, a visitor to Ca D’Zan finds it sad nowadays; without an endowment large enough to keep the house in grand style, and without a mission, it sits forelornly overlooking the water, waiting for a ship that has no captain, its empty sails devoid of the trade winds that gave it birth, life, and, for however short a time, a reason to exist.
Thursday, 18 November... ‘Theatre Four Ways’
Tonight, ciné16 focuses on four completely different way to threat a dramatic theme, from a stripped-down set-less dialogue, to a one-person tour-de-force, to a drama-within-a-drama, to providing an insight to the degree of the playwright’s involvement in the development of a performance. What is common to all four is their emphasis on staging, acting, and writing in non-changing sets, displaying an economy of form that separates these short but powerful films from their more lavish feature-length counterparts.
‘Gandhi: Profile in Power’ (1976) 15m, prod. Arly Paris. This is a startling dramatization of an after-death conversation between Louis Negin as the martyred philosopher and Patrick Watson as his questioner. The set is completely bare, with a background of hazy half-light, the camera hand-held as the actors walk together, discussing Gandhi’s sexuality, non-violent philosophy, relationship with colonialism, and death. The dialogue between the two actors was wholly improvised, buoyed by Negin’s stellar performance as he accelerates his tone in accusatory fashion to cover Watson’s momentary pauses. The constantly moving camera, changing dialogue, and characters in motion provide momentum to a film that triumphed over what could have been predictably austere, giving proof that amazing things can happen in the total absence of a set.
‘The Stronger’ (1969) 15m, dir. Jeffrey Young. A powerful adaptation of August Strindberg’s one-act play, featuring Viveca Lindfors in a dual role the as rejected wife, discussing her marital relationship with her mute rival. James Rieser’s well-crafted camerawork cleverly allows Lindfors to juxtapose a purely visual character with that of her verbose counterpart.
‘Tennessee Williams: Theatre in Process' (1976) 25m, dir. Richard Slote. The playwright oversees his "The Red Devil Battery Sign", engaging in a press conference, rehearsal, the opening, and --- you guessed it --- the rewrite. With Anthony Quinn, Claire Bloom, Katy Jurado, and Annette Codona (sp?)...
‘Burke & Paine on Revolution’ (1973) 30m, dir. Bernard Wilets. Wilets directed and wrote a number of outstanding dramas based on historical political figures in his Man and the State series, and this is perhaps our favorite, not only for the fine acting and writing, but also for the terrific surprise ending. Monarchist Edmund Burke and pamphleteer Thomas Paine here attend a dinner party at the home of playwright Richard Sheridan. In the middle of the dinner, the servants take over the house, and upon the threat of death, these friendly adversaries are forced to defend their philosophies.
Thursday, 11 November... ‘Coming Home’ (1973) 84m, dir. Bill Reid.
I don’t know about you, but not many of these "dysfunctional families" films I’ve seen in the past few years have hit home with me. Take ‘American Beauty’, for instance, with its ex-Marine, bitchy mom, lost daughter, and bored husband stereotypes, its story line thought-out so poorly that ending the poor guy’s life with a gunshot to the head saved the filmmaker from having to provide the audience with anything that could be perceived as being thought-provoking. Maybe you felt as I did, that when dad finally gets the girl's clothes off, it stretches our credulity just a bit too much to believe that the angel on his shoulder would suddenly appear to save her virginity, when in actuality, the recent censorship laws concerning showing a sex act with an actor depicting a minor are what really stopped him. The phony angst, the gratuitous emotion devoid of any deep intellectual content, and the utter ordinariness of these films, the fact that they're so formulaic and predictable is a shame, because there are some real communications issues that could be addressed if such films appealed to audiences that functioned at something above the sitcom and X-Files level. Hence our showing tonight of ‘Coming Home’, a largely forgotten documentary that is just as powerful today as when it was released, a sleeper that appeared one day in the ciné16 junk bin, and finally took two years for us get around to seeing.
Bill Reid was a thirty year old filmmaker, largely estranged from his parents, who still have Bill’s younger brother living at home. Bill hopped in his VW bus, picked up a hitchhiker along the way, then decided to pay them a visit and film the events surrounding it, from an interview held with them before his arrival, to the miscellaneous fights, disagreements, and discussions, to his departure. Along the way, the players lock into their roles: disapproving dad can’t seem to get beyond Bill’s long hair, and refuses to look him directly in the eye; mom parrots dad’s displeasure while at home, loosening up when Bill decides to go to the local barber and get a Bobby Goldsboro-like style-job in an attempt to ease the pain around the house; the younger brother does his best to initially mediate, then ultimately rebels himself against the tyrannical structure of the home. Of course, none of these people are actors. They’re real, sometimes playing to the camera, other times walking away from it. The power of the film derives from the fact that it works on two levels: on one hand, it’s indicative of hundreds of thousands of families that broke apart on generational lines during the Viet Nam era, and thus serves as one of the better historical film documents of the time; on the other, it addresses the issue that confronts each succeeding generation it terms of creating a "family" environment, namely the problem with individuals raising children who are expected to be exactly like themselves in dress, opinion, and desires. The conflict resulting from these selfish and unworkable expectations has rarely been exposed to such a cutting degree as this, done by a filmmaker who chose his own painful participation rather than safely play the voyeur.
There is no accompanying film appropriate to show in league with ‘Coming Home’. To a large extent we live with this family for 84 minutes, and their individual dramas become ours for a time, interweaving with our own histories, thoughts, and dreams. I imagine everyone walking away after tonight’s showing will have a different opinion about what’s really going on with these four people as they attempt to either expand or constrict the walls within which each chooses to live.
Thursday, 4 November... North American Artists: More Recent Acquisitions
I’ll spare the usual diatribe about the paucity of museums willing to extend the breadth of taste by showing films in addition to exhibiting art (we suspect that they don’t want patrons to actually develop critical opinions, as it would force these institutions to cater to something beyond the lowest common denominator). Take a look at what they’re missing...
‘Calder’s Circus’ (1963) 17m, dir. Carlos Vilardebo. Sometimes, fortune smiles inexplicably on ciné16. It’s inconceivable that any film library could have given this one up, where, from his home in Sache’ France, the gruff and funny Alexander Calder hosts, in French and English, a circus consisting of his small wire, cork, and cloth sculptures. They perform to the tune of Mrs. Luisa Calder’s Victrola, attended by a small-but raucous audience. This documents some of Calder’s finest work, which he stopped formally exhibiting "when it filled 5 valises".
'Grant Woods' America' (1983) 30m, dir. Catherine Allen. We confess: having seen Woods’ ‘American Gothic’ several times too many, we were willing to write off the film, but, as with any work we haven’t seen, we saw it just in case. Good thing too, as Woods’ work was interesting and varied, and worth seeing.
‘Dong Kingman’ (1954) 20m, dir. James Wong Howe. This exceptional film shows Kingman at work in New York’s Chinatown.
‘Michael Jean Cooper: Sculptor’ (1979) 25m, dir. Robert L. Burrill. The beauty of Cooper’s elaborately carved, shaped, and polished work initially seems more craft than art, but beyond the wooden motorcycles and pistols lies a subtle sense for erotic humor, and a crazy belief that his handmade vehicle will actually be roadworthy.
‘Tops’ (1973) 8m, dir. Charles & Ray Eames. One of a series of short films done by the noted designers, this one on the subject of spinning devices.
Thursday, 28 October... The Transformation Process: From Rehearsal to Performance
The complex set of factors that must come into play before a performance has jelled has as much to do with chemistry as hard work, as performers discover the challenges and joys of interacting with peers as well as the director, conductor, or choreographer. The transformations in tonight’s program are both human and ethereal, as Houseman interprets a Shakespearean legend, and a written composition becomes music.
‘Houseman Directs Lear’ (1975) 55m, dir. Amanda C. Pope. How strange that the co-founder (along with Orson Welles) of the Mercury Theatre and one of the great actors of our time would become better known as the spokesperson for a commercial enterprise (as they say at Vienna’s Bestattungs funeral museum, "he urned it"). Houseman was a wonderful director, as witnessed by the painstaking approach he takes to blocking the action, initial and dress rehearsals, and final performance.
‘Mme. Rosina Lhevinne: Pianist & Master’ (1964) 40m, dir. Mark McCarty. Back in the music school days, we non-pianists were fascinated by the tales fellow students told us about taking piano lessons from the famed Madame Chaloff at her home. Apparently from the time her son, the famous jazz baritone sax player, Serge, died, she kept her curtains permanently closed, casting her home in a lingering, deathly pall. A famed taskmistress, we wonder if she was as strict as the subject of tonight’s film, Madame Lhevinne, who cajoles, threatens, and entreats UCLA master students like Jeff Siegel, who, in particular, seems to have enjoyed the lash enough to produce a stellar performance of a piece by Samuel Barber.
Thursday, 21 October... ‘Hamlet’ (1959) 120m, dir. John Barnes
This, the first series produced and directed by Barnes for the Massachusetts Council for the Humanities, was hosted by Yale scholar Maynard Mack, with actors directed for the stage by Douglas Campbell of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Company of Canada.. Peter Donat as Hamlet is outstanding, his performance rapier-sharp and riveting as the increasingly vicious and tormented protagonist. This film is composed of four one-half hour segments, each treating a different aspect of the play, with commentary and analysis by Mack, illustrated by acted sequences. Part One, ‘The Age of Elizabeth’ describes characteristics of Elizabethan age, offers a brief biography of the playwright, discusses the Globe Theatre, and as a prelude to the first few lines of the play, features Donat’s "To be or not to be" soliloquy. In ‘What Happens in Hamlet’ Mack posits that this is first a ghost story, then a detective story, then a revenge story, with examples from the cast, with Barnes making use of Spartan sets, primarily concentrating instead on blocking and camera position. ‘The Poisoned Kingdom’ is a brilliant essay by Mack describing the symbolic nature of the fact that poison, the principal cause of death among the characters, was indicative of their moral state as well. Your "Neither a borrower nor a lender be", and "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I" headquarters, are here in episode Three, while those bumper stickers you’ve been seeing stating "Get thee to a nunnery" and "Alas poor Yorick" had their origins in the final segment, ‘The Readiness is All’, Peter Donat’s tour de force.
If your own personal history with Shakespearean films has been limited to full-length features, we invite you to try this, Barnes’ critical-essay-in-motion and one of his three Shakesperean epics, as a sample of how great writing, acting, directing, and analysis can meld into a superior intellectual and educational experience that has rarely been equaled in the forty years since this film was made.
Thursday, 14 October... Stuttgart Series IV: Animation in the Educational Film
Animated subjects were a staple in North American classroom films, ranging from pure "art" films (‘Fiddle De-Dee’), to those illustrating literary subjects (‘The Street’), to "how to" titles (Gene Deitch). While the work of animators Norman McLaren and Ray Harryhausen is well-known, the fine work of Philip Stapp and Gerald McDermott, the two greatest animators to specialize in the educational film, is today little-known and under-appreciated. Tonight’s program is a cross-section of artists, techniques, and subjects that represents a very small glimpse at the large body of work of animators in the educational film.
‘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 Paul 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.
‘Mother Goose Stories’ (1946) 15m, dir. Ray Harryhausen. Four fairy tales are presented in a magnificent puppet film by this master of special effects.
‘Dinosaurs: Terrible Lizards’ (1971) 10m, dir. Wah Chang. Here, dangerous prehistoric animals are produced by clay animation, especially impressive when projected on the side of a building...
‘Fable of He and She’ (1974), 10m, dir. Eliot Noyes. Noyes’ abstract and inventive use of clay is especially effective in this fanciful tale which pokes fun at traditional gender-based roles.
‘Le Paysagiste’ (Mindscape) (1976) 8m, dir. Jacques Drouin. Alexandre Alexeieff, one of the best-known early animators, was the developer of the pinscreen technique, in which, like those toys you see at museum shops, each image was formed by the manipulation of pins. The National Film Board of Canada eventually acquired Alexeieff’s pinscreen, which was used by Drouin in this beautiful but haunting story of an artist who wanders three-dimensionally through his two-dimensional world.
‘Symmetry’ (1966) 10m, dir. Philip Stapp. Stapp was one of the greatest animators working in the 1950-1975 era, using stylized, often pointillist abstract imagery, in a floating world sometimes surrealist, at other times reminiscent of Japanese "ukiyo-e" illustration. His spectacular ‘Symmetry’ is his greatest film, a fantasy of dancing images breaking apart, spinning, and converging.
‘Stonecutter’ (1960) 6m, dir. Gerald McDermott. McDermott made this, his first commercial film at the age of 19, an extremely complex animation short featuring approximately 2000 animation cels presented in six minutes. Influenced by Klee and Matisse, McDermott used silk-screen as well as traditional painting techniques in crafting ethnographic folk tale animation shorts. With films that are startling in intensity, and majestic in execution, McDermott is clearly one of the outstanding animators of his generation, despite having an output consisting solely of only five films, all of which are under 12 minutes in length. After retiring from film animation at the age of 32, McDermott began producing animated children’s books, eventually becoming one of the world’s best-known authors of books for young readers, winning numerous awards in the process.
‘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.
'The Street' (1976) 11m, dir. Caroline Leaf. A terrific transformational animated film based on a Mordechai Richler story, animated by oil on glass.
‘Fiddle De Dee’ (1947) 3m, dir. Norman McLaren. McLaren created the animation group at the National Film Board of Canada, and served as its director until his death in 1984. Whether painting directly on film, experimenting with slo-mo multiple images, or pixillation, he championed high-art animation in a financially austere environment. Incredibly, his entire output consists of under three total hours of film. This one’s a riot of hand-painted color on film set to Quebecois fiddle music.
Thursday, 7 October... Stuttgart Series III: Astounding Films of Science
The most significant era of the American educational film, from a cinematic perspective, began with the Soviet launching of Sputnik in 1957. This event caused massive ripples throughout Washington, as the need to overcome the Communists’ perceived superiority in math and science forced the U.S. government to begin funding educational programs that would, it was hoped, soon give the United States a competitive edge educationally and militarily. Billions of dollars were given to schools for the purpose of educational materials, much of which ended up in the coffers of educational film companies, allowing the to produce a much more refined product for distribution to an increasingly wealthy customer base. Although all educational film genres experienced growth due to this largesse, the Science realm was the initial driving force. Tonight, we’ll investigate some of the better science films that made their way to the American classroom, from roughly 1960 to 1985, when videotape technology began replacing film.
‘Volcanoes: Exploring the Restless Earth’ (1973) 18m, prod. Bert Van Bork. In addition to being perhaps the most daring cinematographer ever to work in educational film, Van Bork also probably burned through the most shoes, having melted two pair alone while getting too close to lava while filming volcanoes in Hawaii. Van Bork’s volcano films are some of the most outstanding geological titles ever produced, including this one, in which, from Vesuvius to the newly-formed Surtsey, Van Bork takes us on an increasingly terrifying and beautiful excursion to lava streams, fountains, and fumaroles.
'Carnivorous Plants’ (1979) 10m, dir. Thomas Stanton. This insidious film was made by cinematographer Ken Middleham, who causes us to stop and wonder what’s going on at our windowsills while we’re asleep at night...
‘A Magnet Laboratory' (1960) 21m, dir. Richard Leacock. In the hands of another director, the inner-workings of a magnet laboratory could have caused a whole classroom to fall asleep of boredom. No so when this master of cinema-verite was hired to produce this twenty-minute version of lab mayhem. Try this: six researchers in a lab at MIT in the 50's show how powerful electro-magnets are, and in the process set the experiment on fire. Or this: half way through the film the phone rings off screen, and host Francis Bitter says "tell 'em I'll call 'em back later" while he's looking at the camera, discussing bus bars. Leacock’s fleshed out all the personalities here, from "Beans", the improbable name of the guy who gets to crank up the generator to nearly explosive proportions, to the mysterious Chinese scientist who barely peeks over his shoulder at us, whether in mockery, disdain, or curiosity.
'Imaging the Hidden World: the Light Microscope' (1984) 20m, dir. Bruce Russell. To say Russell makes films on biology is sort of like saying Rodin threw some clay on a table and a few minutes later came up with a figure representative of a human. 'Light Microscope' starts out didactically (Russell was a former K-12 biology teacher) in instructing the student on proper microscope technique, then goes off into the hyperspace of lighting techniques, using light and colored filters, that make otherwise difficult-to-see phenomena visible. This film, frankly, borders on psychedelia, and shows the technology Russell himself uses to make his visually arresting films.
‘Ostrich’ (1984) 12m, dir. Peter Chermayeff. We figure there are several schools of zoological films. There are the ‘animals sure are silly, gosh darn it’ people, who coordinate stupid music (bassoons for lumbering beasts, flutes for birds) with movement, as epitomized by Walt Disney. Then there are the Jane Goodalls and Jacques Cousteaus of the world, who attempt to attribute human characteristics to the animals in order to impart a dramatic effect to a story. There are the old-world academics, who either torment or program animals in order to get a reaction, like our old imprinting buddy Konrad Lorenz. Some of our favorites are people such as Peter Chermayeff, whose films are almost ethnographic in their non-narrated, completed-action approach. Making two expeditions to Kenya’s Ngorongoro Carter (1971, 1984), the filmmaker returned with difficult-to-shoot footage of a host of fauna, and chose as sound accompaniment nothing more than a solo guitar, which, at least initially, seems somewhat out of place. Interestingly, it fades in and out at will, and by the end of each film is barely noticeable. The films themselves are wonderful works of art, simple, yet powerful. This one features the eating habits, dancing, and mating rituals of the ostrich. And unlike many of the ‘ciné16’ filmmakers we’ve showcased, Chermayeff is still in the public eye... as perhaps the world’s best-known architect of municipal aquariums (aquaria?), including those of Lisbon, Boston, and Baltimore.
'Congruent Triangles' (1976) 7m, dir. Bruce & Katharine Cornwell. What’s the best way to describe geometrical concepts in a film? How about abstract design, third stream jazz, and Klee-like animation, in which the Cornwells make a showpiece out of a seemingly mundane subject. For more on these outstanding filmmakers, visit their AFA page here.
'Bate's Car: Sweet as a Nut' (1974) 15m, dir. Tony Ianzelo. Harold Bate is an eccentric British inventor whose old car runs on 'the material', which we soon find to be chicken droppings (the engine compartment is full of weird gauges, hoses, and pumps invented by him, and the damn thing actually runs...) Bate also showcases his perpetual-motion bicycle, which the assistant cameraman rides but cannot stop (oops, Bate forgot to install brakes). Ianzelo’s portrayal of this brilliant and ultimately odd inventor, which was shot in one day as a vignette while the crew was engaged in working on another film deemed more important, is funny, whimsical, and intelligent, and one of the more memorable films ever produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
Thursday, 30 September 1999... (A preview of one of the shows we'll be presenting in Stuttgart, Germany in late October) Stuttgart Series II: The Humanities and the Educational Film
If any one sub-species of the animal called educational film can be considered to be the fittest, from a longevity perspective, it would have to be the Humanities film. Working within the subject areas of literature, philosophy, and the Arts, many of the films are masterworks that stand the test of time, and will, we feel, be revived and appreciated to a greater extent than ever before, within our lifetimes. Today, they are hidden at best, and at their worst, forgotten and undistributed. The films on tonight’s program share the traits of being both great and disturbing, illustrating that beauty and terror are commonly two sides of the same coin. More than any other program in this year’s ‘ciné16 Roadshow;’ the individual films presented tonight may be extremely difficult for the viewer to forget.
‘Discussions in Bioethics: Happy Birthday’ (1985) 14m, dir. Jefferson Lewis. Producer of remarkable body of work consisting of 159 films for the National Film Board of Canada, Wolf Koenig was described by filmmaker John Spotten as "the most brilliant mind at the Film Board, who could have more original film ideas in thirty seconds than others might have in years". Koenig was born in Dresden in 1927, but his parents moved to Canada in 1937 when it became apparent that life would be unbearable in Nazi Germany. Joining the prestigious Unit B film cooperative in the mid-1950s, he joined with Film Board luminaries such as Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, and Stanley Jackson to participate in some of its most significant films. His work at the Board is catholic in scope and includes involvement in titles such as ‘Glenn Gould’ (On & Off the Record), ‘City of Gold’, ‘Corral’, and his pioneering use of lightweight camera gear for his ‘Candid Eye’ series of television programs. Koenig’s ‘Discussion of Bioethics’ is a series of eight films dealing with ethical questions faced by scientists, biologists, and medical personnel, as they face situations in which human life is, or could be, at stake. We assume to know the easy answers to issues such as a patient’s right to die, abortion, biological warfare, and deciding which of two ill patients will get the one hospital bed, but Koenig’s eight directors challenge our beliefs, as we question our formerly smug definition of what social responsibility really is. Director Jefferson Lewis’ ‘Happy Birthday’ is a remarkable drama: broke but happy, the parents of a two year old stage a party. Two older guests show up, with good news about a job offering to the out-of-work chemist father: a job that pays well, working for Uncle Sam. Not a very happy birthday any more, as mom confronts the truth of her husband’s lucrative-but-discomforting career path...
‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’ (1966) 15m, dir. Gene Kearney. Alienation, angst, and schizophrenia are the themes addressed subtly and powerfully by Kearney in this subtle and unfortunately forgotten masterpiece. From a story by Conrad Aiken story.
‘Canaries to Clydesdales’ (1977) 28m, dir. Eugene Boyko. We agonized over this choice, as it meant supplanting two other films that were very good in themselves. Ultimately, this film, which is at the same time a vocational film, a Western film, and a business film, was so powerful that it couldn’t be ignored. An award winner at two festivals, ‘Canaries’ is a "day-in-the-life" visit with country veterinarians Vic Demetrick & Reg Maidment as they make their appointed rounds. Think you’ve seen everything? 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, not the least of which is the playful personal interaction between these old friends at work.
'Iran' (1971) 18m, dir. Claude Lelouch. Far more than a travelogue with pretty pictures, this little-known film is among the best of its type ever made. 'Iran' consists of spectacular geographical and archaeological footage interspersed with "slice of life"' shots, with the best juxtapositional editing we've ever seen. So who paid for the film? We suspect the Shah was involved, judging by the heroic equestrian footage toward the end of the film; one could guess that international dissatisfaction with the excesses of the Pahlevi regime negatively affected the distribution of the film, a shame, because few films treating similar themes are its equal. The musical score by Francis Lai is priceless, with heavy early-70s euro-pop wah-wah guitar. An intriguing, beautifully crafted, and dynamic film, surprisingly moving as well...
‘The Portable Phonograph’ (1977) 20 m, dir. John Barnes. With thousands and thousands of educational films filling the market between 1960 and 1985, it would be difficult to state authoritatively that find any one film that could be called the greatest educational film ever made, but so far this one is at the top of the list. Here, a vintage recording of Debussy's Nocturne played by Walter Gieseking becomes the vehicle by which four lovers of the humanities hover together in a cold post-apocalyptic shack of sandbags to mourn weekly over lost art and loves gone by. Barnes, who must be considered among the greatest filmmakers ever to work in the educational world, forcibly illustrates, through flashback sequences and close-up shots, how the humanities --- music, painting, literature, and theatre --- are perhaps the most enriching of all human endeavors. Their ultimate and devastating loss may have never before or since been shown with such terrifying passion. This, Barnes’ final film, would have benefited from general theatrical release; if it had, it certainly would have picked up some well-known awards. It one of the most powerful short films ever made, and one which bears as much, if not more, value for adults than children.
Thursday, 23 September 1999... (A preview of one of the shows we'll be presenting in Stuttgart, Germany in late October) Stuttgart Series I: History as Interpreted by the Educational Film
Between 1900 and 1990, approximately 103,000 educational films were distributed in the United States. A great number of these were based on historical subjects. Tonight, we’ll investigate different approaches, themes, and genres of the historical film.
Choice of films: An effective educational film must contain two elements, superior cognitive content (information that includes facts, as well as the reasoning behind the facts), and affective value (in which the learner adopts new attitudes and motivation in relation to the content). Thus, the viewer learns something, and at the same time is motivated to continue his or her studies by individual learning, whether by choosing to read more on the subject, visiting a museum, or traveling to a destination relating to the subject material. An important characteristic of affective presence is entertainment value; each film on tonight’s program is a rich example of how content and cinematic quality work together to produce an outstanding example of the educational film experience.
‘Mesa Verde: Mystery of the Silent Cities’ (1975) 14m, prod. Bert Van Bork. Few could argue that this film sets the standard for historical films based on the Anasazi (an ancient Indian culture of the southwest U.S.) Flying within impossibly narrow canyons to achieve dizzying shots of cliff-dwellings, Van Bork burned through two pilots, one of whom quit in the middle of the shooting out of fear for his life. Van Bork’s masterful shots were accomplished by removing the helicopter door, mounting the camera on a fixed mount, then directing the pilot through headphone microphone to fly in various trajectories. As if the breathtaking displays of the terrain and dwellings aren’t enough, Van Bork also begins some pan shots with abstract architectural designs abruptly jutting out from behind incomplete shadowy formations, resembling more a German expressionist painting than an ancient, deserted town built into the rock. The filmmaker tells an interesting story about the narrator of the film, Jack Palance. Contacting the actor by telephone, Palance agreed to do the narration provided the script was acceptable, and, after reviewing it, suggested they meet at one of Hollywood’s finest restaurants to discuss the project: Bob’s Big Boy (the MacDonald’s of its day). With Palance’s dramatic interpretation of the text accompanied by the haunting percussion ensemble musical score by Hans Wurman, the film transcends the didactic historical and dry anthropological, and transfixes the viewer instead by offering an in-motion armchair view of the extreme location these long-forgotten people chose as home.
Van Bork’s personal history is amazing as well: Born in 1928 in Augustusburg, Germany, his art studies included stints in the Academies of Fine Arts in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden. He soon began producing stark two-dimensional woodcuts, often made from the pine remains of destroyed buildings and old furniture, of intense and terrifying beauty, depicting a Berlin struggling with an uncertain future. In 1954, he moved to Chicago by way of New York, working in oil on canvas as well as drypoint, displaying an influence of German expressionism in his portrayals of the landscapes of the American Southwest, and cityscapes of Chicago. By this time, Van Bork had become an accomplished stills photographer as well, and received the National Award for Outstanding Photography in Germany in 1954. In 1957, Van Bork was hired to produce films for Encyclopaedia Britannica, and soon became famous for both his stunning geological studies, and infamous for his daring in obtaining footage under extremely arduous volcanic conditions.
‘Face of Lincoln’ (1955) 20m, dir. Edward Freed. Abraham Lincoln is considered by many Americans to be its greatest historical figure, and every visitor to the U.S. who carries a penny or ten dollar bill carries a picture of Lincoln with them wherever they go. Lincoln, who was born in a frontier log cabin and was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre, was President of the United States during the Civil War in the mid-1800s, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed the ownership of slaves. The decade of the 1950s was a dismal one for historical films, but one of the few gems was this exceptional film, which features sculptor/professor Merrill Gage creating a clay bust of Lincoln, evolving the sculpture to age with the events of the life of the president, which he narrates. This film is an example of the "host-scholar" being the focal point of the film, generally unsuccessful if the host is boring or speaks in monotone. Gage, who had performed this lecture many times to students at the University of Southern California, is funny and engaging, as he slaps the ears on the head with abandon, changes hair styles with a flourish, and merrily adjusts the tie. The filming took place over three weeks, in which the crew was continually challenged by the hardening of the clay.
'Centinelas del Silencio' (1971) 18 m, dir. Robert Amram. The real star here is the late aerial photographer James Freeman, whose breathtaking helicopter shots of Mayan and Aztec ruins at sunrise and sunset won an Academy Award for this film in 1971. Although the English version was narrated by Orson Welles, the Spanish version we’ll show tonight features narration by Ricardo Montalban, is in better keeping with the ethnic aspect of the film, and no knowledge of Spanish is needed to appreciate his dramatic impact. Don’t be put off by the heroic musical score: this film is memorable, the last word on spectacular ruin cinematography.
‘Taxes: the Outcome of Income’ (1975) 10m, dir. Veronika Soul. Is it possible to make an interesting, funny, yet informative film about the history of a tax bureau, and the minutiae surrounding the manner in which it collects taxes? Soul’s visually stimulating short about Revenue Canada makes the case that any subject can be entertaining in the hands of a motivated and creative filmmaker.
‘Middle Ages: A Wanderer’s Guide to Life & Letters’ (1973) 30m, dir. Piers Jessop. One method of presenting a historical period is to allow the information to be presented by a fictional, contemporary host. The quality of such films often rested on the shoulders of the host-actor, and perhaps the best of all was Nicholas Pennell’s ‘Robert’, a fun-loving, arty, bawdy, and roguish guide to the culture, politics, and mores of the year 1350. Athletic and erudite, Pennell stole kisses, ran from pursuers, and leapt obstacles as he engaged the viewer by proving that old times may not have been all that different from newer ones, as the human condition allows us to reward individuality while conversely at the same time striving to crush it. Pennell, who for the following twenty years would be one of the Stratford Theatre of Canada’s leading actors, was born in Devon, England in 1939, and died in 1995 in Ontario, writing a witty, touching, and wistful farewell letter (http://www.canadiantheatre.com/p/pennellletter.html) from his deathbed to his fellow Stratford actors, giving anyone having seen Wanderer’s Guide the impression that the character of Robert was, indeed, Pennell playing himself. He died two days after the letter was read to the company. One of the truly great educational films ever made, Wanderer’s Guide also features a magnificent reading of Chaucer’s "Wife of Bath" by Jessie Evans.
‘Gallery' (1971) 7m, dir. Ken Rudolph. Throw out your art history books: here’s the entire history of art in one painless lesson.
Thursday, 16 September 1999... Low Ridin' with Barinda
Our CTO just can't get enough of vatos, rucas, y ranflas, ¿y qué? Tonight it's cars and hot norteña music, to wit:
‘Low Rider’(1976) 20m, dir. Frank Lisciandro. A funny film made with the Imperials Car Club of Echo Park about the travails of drunk driving.
'Del Mero Corazon' (1979) 30m, dir. Les Blank
Thursday, 9 September 1999... Southern Sights and Sites: Four Folky Films from Below the Mason-Dixon
Tonight we present four short subjects treating elements common to the culture of the southern United States: its art, music, literature, and fast-growing vegetal life.
‘Old Dry Frye’ (1985) 25m, dir. Gary Moss. At first, we thought we were being dosed with a modern version of "Hee-Haw", and were ready to switch channels --- er, projectors. Just then, the thing started getting good, and we almost liked ‘ta die! Gary Moss is a master filmmaker who took an Appalachian folk tale about a preacher’s corpse, added very good actors and a string band musical score by Tomas Valenti, and came up with a film far better than Georgia State U, who produced it, probably thought it would get.
‘Sourwood Mountain Dulcimers’ (1975) 30m, dir. Gene DuBey. Here, old man I.D. Stamper of Thornton, Kentucky teaches young John McCutcheon of Dungannon, Virginia how to play the durn thang. 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.
‘Kudzu’ (1977) 15m, dir. Marjie Short. I once took a class at the Berklee College of Music that was taught by the guy who did the music for this film, and we spent so much time going over the damn thing that I never wanted to see it again. Having seen a few films in the intervening years, I can now look at ‘Kudzu’ with fresh eyes, and find it to be a well-done, droll film. Jimmy Carter and James Dickey are both interviewed on the subject of this plant which has enveloped much of the South, the latter calling it a "vegetal form of cancer".
‘Thomas Hart Benton's "Sources of Country Music" ’ (1976) 30m, dir. John Altman/Mary Nelson. In addition to being one of America’s better-known and respected painters, the cantankerous Benton was a major supporter of New England’s Mel Lyman Family, not as violent as the Mansons, but nevertheless having various members and hangers-on who did stir the pot occasionally (one, Mark Frechette, star of Antonioni’s ‘Zabriskie Point’, would rob a bank and be murdered in prison). "The Sources of Country Music" is a fine mural by Benton, commissioned by the Country Music Hall of Fame. He begins with a sketch, makes a high-relief clay model of the characters, then paints it, accompanied by banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and pangolins...
Thursday, 2 September 1999... Two Hot Docs: Sobering Stories from the Recent Past
Well-made documentaries share the characteristics of being powerful, moving, and timeless, and recently I’ve run across two that are a both a reminder of how good the documentary form can be, and also how difficult it is to get one of these things funded, due to the controversial nature of the subject material. Neither of the two films on this program would be easy to fund today, so tonight’s show is an especially poignant reminder of how few funding sources are willing to offend politicians, religions, and big business in order to produce a film that is socially progressive and intellectually stimulating. To wit:
‘Song of the Canary’ (1978) 55m, dir. Josh Hanig/David Davis. The title refers to caged canaries that were once used as toxic gas detectors in American mines: once they keeled over, the mine was deemed to be unsafe for miners. Today, the canaries are the workers themselves, especially those of Occidental Chemical’s fertilizer plant in Lathrop, CA. We’re not going to spill the beans here, but let’s just understate the case by saying the workers are pretty sick, while the PR flak from Occidental tries to pretend it isn’t happening. On the other hand, you might think that mills making cotton bedsheets are pretty harmless, but that’s because you didn’t work at one of them in Greenville, SC, where you and all your ancestors could boast of a healthy dose of brown lung disease. The filmmakers knew that the spokesman for the mill would verbally hang himself, and the resulting documentary is so strong that there are no funding credits other than a small PBS blurb. Outstanding work.
‘Abortion: Stories from North and South’ (1984) 55m, dir. Gail Singer. We briefly poked fun at Singer’s often bizarre breast-feeding film a while back, but she here produces a film that logically documents the challenges faced by women who attempt to exert control over their own reproductive systems in a world in which religion-based dogma increasingly takes precedence over health care. This fascinating film addresses the historical issues relating to religion versus abortion, visits a Peruvian prison and a Colombian death hospital, investigates Tahitian massage abortions, and journeys with Irish women as they travel to England to receive abortions. Singer effectively avoids the "preaching to the choir" smugness that often pervades both sides of this hot and polarizing issue. Although 15 years have passed since the making of this film, the point it makes is still valid: regardless of law or religion, women will continue to proactively make reproductive choices they feel are best suited to their individual economic and social situations; the question is whether this will be achieved in a clean, adequately supervised medical facility, or in a substandard environment in which the life of the woman is all-too-often placed in peril.
Thursday, 26 August 1999... Bullet Trains-to-Bushido... The U.S. Classroom Looks at Japan
If it hadn’t been for Japan’s insistence on competitively mass-producing small autos for an increasingly compact urban society, we’d still be driving gas-guzzlers that needed tune-ups every two months and had to be thrown away after 60,000 miles. Although classroom films were largely laudatory of the post-war Japanese economic miracle, a bit of the old yellow-peril fear would invariably surface in post-film discussions, as viewers considered whether "Buying American" would stop the onslaught of the suspected economic tsunami. Complimentary? Respectful? Racist? You be the judge: tonight’s films reflect a broad range of assessments and opinions on Japan, all of them thought-provoking and fascinating.
‘The Rice Ladle’ (1982) 30m, dir. Oliver Howes. In one of a series of documentaries from Film Australia, the older working woman of Japan is contrasted with rising pop star Fumiko Saweda, fresh out of the Watanabe Academy pop-mill. On the way, we meet department store greeters, flight attendants, and the less glamorous world of the server in a sushi establishment, as we’re serenaded with koto and gagaku. Seemingly the possessor of very little talent, Fumiko suddenly falls in with an ice-cream company, which produces her mega-hit commercial "Pop-Up Love Feelings". This annoying ditty will stay in your head for the whole evening if I make it the last film on the program, so I’ll give us all a break by showing it before 8:15 pm. A great film, certainly one of the more memorable ones you’ll see at ciné16...
‘The Kyocera Experiment’ (1981) 30m, dir. Wayne Smith. In San Diego, Kyocera Corporation has a facility charges with manufacturing ceramic chip carriers, and this film describes how the parent company attempts to integrate Japanese management styles to engender loyalty and better production. Does it work? The outcome is perhaps subjective, according to the philosophy of the viewer. Team building while drinking copious amounts of beer seems to have value, from our perspective, but we’re just not sure of the efficacy of whisking away evil spirits from the newly-received furnaces...
‘Japan Harvests the Sea’ (1958) 30m, prod. Ben Sharpsteen. Many Walt Disney documentaries were of dubious veracity, but we’ve always enjoyed this chronicle of twenty-four hours in the life of a Japanese fishing village, which features the Ama girls, pearl divers who harvest without the aid of breathing devices.
‘Canoes of the Ainu’ (1968) 20m, dir. Shinya Matsuoka. Here, the aboriginal citizens of the island of Hokkaido build boats carved from trees.
Thursday, 19 August 1999... Robert Emmett
Presents: A Lust for Life, Art in its many forms.
Thursday, 12 August 1999... Two Louisianas
If you add ‘em up, you’ll discover that tonight’s show runs one hour, fifty-eight minutes. That means that, with our two-hour time limit, there won’t be an intermission, and we’ll start at 7 pm sharp. That also means that you might want to grab two drinks at the bar upstairs, and bring them down to the speakeasy, unless you’re willing to miss some of the "thrilling action" of tonight’s exceptional films.
‘Louisiana Story’ (1948) 77m, dir. Robert Flaherty. Perhaps, in the light of oil-spills, artificially-induced price increases, and back-room political deals, our overall distrust of the oil industry has never been greater. That may also account for the relatively rare showings of this, the last film made by the father of the documentary narrative and creator of the seminal ‘Nanook of the North’, Robert Flaherty. On one level, it’s the simple tale of a boy, a raccoon, and an oil derrick. It’s also the story of a simpler time, of innocence lost --- and perhaps it’s our innocence as a people we’re talking about here --- where the languid waters of the bayou becoming stained with effluvium serve as a metaphor for what was soon to come to the recently-victorious United States: the McCarthy era, the Cold War, the threat of annihilation at the push of a button. Funded by the Standard Oil Company (and with nary a product placement), ‘Louisiana’ features the exceptional cinematography of Richard Leacock, whose early sequence paints an impressionistic back-lit fantasy of a boy and his boat gliding silently through the sun-dappled, moss-lined waters. The work of Flaherty, prominent in all written film histories, is too rarely shown today; with color 16mm film now more plentiful and less-expensive to develop than black and white stock, ciné16 is fortunate in having obtained a print that is a glowing example of how beautiful black and white cinema could be.
‘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, 5 August 1999... Five Crafty Traditions
Back in the mid-1970s, educational film companies, realizing that many elements of traditional North American life were fast disappearing, began producing and distributing genre films, consisting mainly of older people showing how they carried-on their trade or craft. In addition to contributing to the cultural heritage of North America, they could be much more profitable for film companies, as a school could use them in art as well as history classes. ACI, run by the mercurial Stelios Roccos (who was to soon perish when, in flying his own plane, he refused to heed the warning of ground controllers who told him he had too much ice on the wing, and crashed somewhere in rural New Hampshire), distributed four of these in the ‘Today and Yesterday: American Lifestyles’ series. Unfortunately, they were all distributed on Eastman film, and have shifted to red. Fortunately, since we’re not like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, we’ll show ‘em anyway, because they’re damn fine films, and frankly, no one’s gonna take the time and expense to color-correct the negatives, wherever they may be. On the program:
‘Maple Sugar Farmer’ (1973) 25m, dir. Craig Hinde/Robert E. Davis. Did you know it takes 40 gallons of maple water to make one gallon of maple syrup, then 11 pounds of syrup to make 7 pounds of maple sugar? Neither did I, but then 72 year old Sherman Graff did, and proves it...
‘Birch Canoe Builder’ (1970) 30m, dir. Craig Hinde. Presents a study of the life of 80 year old Bill Hafeman, of Big Fork, MN, a woodsman and craftsman, who builds canoes from birch bark, cedar planks and spruce roots in the traditional Indian way, utilizing neither nails nor glue. Shows him constructing a canoe accompanied by his wife, Violet, as he describes his life in the forest environment and reflects on the importance of preserving ecological order.
‘Cider Maker’ (1975) 15m, dir. Philip & Gay Courter. Ellis & Ethel Apgar & family make the mash & drink it down.
‘Grist Miller’ (1975) 15m, dir. Philip & Gay Courter. A Stillwater, New Jersey family grinds & eats bread from their mill, built-to-last in 1844.
‘The Wheelwright’ (1975) 20m, dir. David Cons. Produced by "The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights", narrator Bernard Miles is a "Liveryman" of the company. The first part of film features K.G. Potter building a traditional wooden wheel, while the latter part shows the manufacture of steel industrial rims, spiders, and hub caps.
Thursday, 29 July 1999... John Barnes’ Macbeth Trilogy
‘Macbeth’ (1964) 90m, dir. Douglas Campbell & John Barnes.
One of the more fortuitous meetings ever to take place in the concept stage of the making of an educational film occurred when filmmaker John Barnes met theatrical director Douglas Campbell. In the late 1950s, the Massachusetts Council for the Humanities had just obtained a large amount of funding from a number of sources --- the Ford Foundation among them --- to make a series of films. Initially, the project was slated to include ‘Hamlet’, ‘Oedipus’, and Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’. With little of its own Shakespearean experience from which to draw, the Council initiated a series of meetings with various people in order to choose a filmmaking team. They contacted EB Films, who sent John Barnes, and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Company of Canada, who was represented by Campbell. From the beginning, Barnes and Campbell agreed on basic treatments, and decided to work together. In addition to ‘Hamlet’ (which ciné16 will screen in August) and ‘Macbeth’, their cooperative efforts produced Dickens’ two-part ‘Great Expectations’, the four-part ‘Oedipus’ series, and the half-hour ‘Greek Lyric Poetry’.
Macbeth comprises three short films, ‘Politics of Power’, ‘Themes of Macbeth’, and ‘The Secret'st Man’. Each half-hour film consists of a series of separate but eventually interconnected ideas, illustrated by acted sequences, and hosted by the erudite, engaging Campbell (born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1922). Barnes begins the first film with a stand-up introduction by Campbell, then pans to the soundstage, as a stagehand directs the carbon-dioxide canister toward the area that will be occupied by the three weird sisters. Later, host Campbell walks in front of the actors, who freeze in a 38-second tableau-vivant, and delivers information on what will shortly occur. The action resumes, only to stop again as the camera moves in a 90 degree arc, now following the host. As Macbeth devolves into despair, faces begin to appear to him as distorted spectres in fun-house mirrors. The cast is superb, featuring Michael Gwynn as Duncan, William Squire as Macbeth., Gudrun Ure as Lady Macbeth, George Hagan as Banquo, and Duncan Lamont as MacDuff. Throughout, the critical writing, a joint effort of Barnes and Campbell is intelligent, poignant, and direct; we understand a final reference to the tragic figure of Macbeth, this "prey to the restless scorpions of his own mind", was penned by Barnes. Campbell, incidentally, was a very good actor himself, playing Falstaff in Barnes’ Theatre: One of the Humanities (1959), in the ‘Our Town’ series.
Also on the program:
‘Borrowed Faces’ (1979) 30m, dir. Linda Moulton Howe. It’s the 1979 Colorado Shakespeare Festival, tryout time. Dozens of actors vie for roles in three plays, several of whom are the subjects of this engaging documentary, in which actors are interviewed before, during, and after their auditions. The most interesting portion of the film revolves around the round-table discussion between the three directors as they discuss the candidates, one of whom, one director suggests, may have to change careers due to her high cheekbones.
Thursday, 22 July 1999... Cold War on a Field Trip: The U.S. Classroom Looks at Russia
In choosing the name of the person most responsible for the exponential growth of the educational film during its heyday from 1960-1985, you’d have to select... Nikita Khrushchev. Yep, when Sputnik went up and the boot slammed down, the U.S. Senate promptly passed bills earmarking millions of dollars for schools to buy film to assist in the effort to educate American kids to be smarter and more productive than their Soviet counterparts. Hating the Soviet Union became a classroom pastime, triggered by beneath-the-desk nuclear drills, the word "Communism", and pictures of May Day parades in Red Square. It would have been far easier to demonize the Soviet people themselves had it not been for the small number of school films depicting Russian people, life, and customs, and these were not easy to produce, with or without the assistance of Soviet authorities. Bill Deneen, then of EB, remembers taking thousands of feet of footage in the presence, and with the cooperation of government officials, then having it taken away "for processing", never to see it again. A few people, nevertheless, completed films, and these rare instances provided some idea of what the enemy looked like, ate, drank, smoked, and did for holidays. The films on tonight’s program allow us to reflect on a bit of history that’s not so far in the past that we’re not forced to examine how our opinions of other peoples are addressed, and perhaps formed, by media.
‘People of the Cities’ (1979) 27m, dir. Arch Nicholson. Film Australia produced a comprehensive series of programs collectively called "The Russians", which was sold in episodes to U.S. film companies for school distribution. In this interesting film, we visit the family of a woman bus driver' in Moscow, a dock foreman's family in Odessa, and doctor's family in Soci on Black Sea coast. The venture was not without risk: despite the director’s care in filming, a drunk person appeared in the dailies, and the crew was threatened with expulsion.
‘Peoples of the Soviet Union’ (1952) 33m, prod. Julien Bryan. Julien Bryan was one of the few U.S. citizens allowed to film in the Soviet Union during the Stalin years, and most of this remarkable footage dates from 1930-1937, ranging from a visit with Pavlov, to fine ethnological footage taken in outlying republics. After the release of the film, Bryan received criticism at home for showing the abundance of the shelves in Soviet stores, allegedly filled by the government solely for the shooting of the film.
‘Soviet Union’ (1987) 24m, prod. Sauli Rantamaki. In the 60s and early 70s, National Geographic distributed a number of extremely pedestrian films to schools, as if its main function were to use classroom films to bore students sufficiently enough to drive them backwards to reading their magazines. Later, they straightened out and produced and distributed more interesting fare, among which was this film from Finland’s Sektor Filmi Oy, a trip through the Islamic Republics of the Soviet Union.
‘First Encounters: a Russian Journal’ (1978) 24m, dir. Laura Morgan. Morgan produced a simple, home-movie-like tour through Russia, apparently losing her InTourist shadows, thereby meeting some memorable and unrehearsed people.
Thursday, 15 July 1999... Focus on the North: Canadian Writers and Artists II
Sometimes I get asked why ciné16 seems to get on tangents, resulting in the three weeks worth of historical films we showed in the Spring, or our recent emphasis on Canadian authors. Here’s the answer: ciné16, in addition to showing important educational films, is also a research project that is documenting significant filmmakers and film movements within the genre of educational film in North America, the end result of which will be the first book ever written on the cinematic elements of educational film. In order to fairly compare and contrast different styles and filmmakers, we try to screen as many genre films as possible in within the shortest timeframe. Over the past few weeks, ciné16’s investigation into films on Canadian writers has been enormously gratifying, and I’ve become convinced that Film Board has done a better job documenting the craft of writing than any other entity of which I’m aware. The films themselves result in a body of work that is increasingly impressive. You, who come to our weekly shows, are the beneficiaries of what is, in essence, a cinemagraphic "lab", in which the results of our efforts become instantaneously available for screenings. This is also the reason, conversely, that we rarely show any film more than once: with over 80,000 educational films having been made --- in my best guess --- we’ve got a long way to go (ciné16 has screened roughly 300 in its almost three years of existence, out of the 3,000 or so I seen in that time).
This week’s films are exceptional in their treatment of individual personalities and the cultural milieu in which they thrive, and sometimes die. They are:
‘The Lonely Passion of Brian Moore’ (1986) 53m, dir. Alan Handel. An impressive film which serves as a bookend to Handel’s The Apprenticeship of Mordechai Richler (shown earlier this year at ciné16) The Lonely Passion of Brian Moore illustrates the fact that the Belfast-born writer of ‘Catholics’, ‘Black Robe’, and ‘The Luck of Ginger Coffey’ is as at-odds with the Catholic establishment as Richler is with its Jewish counterpart. Moore, who retained his Canadian citizenship despite having lived in Malibu for years, is an erudite and often dry humorist and observer; in this film, we travel with him to Belfast for a picketed book-signing (where he’s joined by his disapproving and humorless Catholic brother), he reads from his works, and relates tales of his working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock (for whom he wrote the screenplay for 'Torn Curtain'), all accompanied by a terrific jazzy score by Chris Crilly.
‘Alden Nowlan: an Introduction’ (1984) 29m, dir. Jon Pederson. Filmed shortly before his death, Nowlan recounts his boyhood of poverty in the Maritimes, his mis-placement in school as a retarded child, his father's shame at his book-reading son, and how all of it shaped his poetry. An extremely moving film about a man known as well for his plays, novels, and short stories.
‘Paul-Emile Borduas: 1905-1960’ (1963) 22m, dir. Jacques Godbout. The life of the Quebecois surrealist/expressionist is told in his own words, accompanied by a terrific flute/clarinet soundtrack by Maurice Blackburn. Borduas lived in Canada, France and New York, and died in his prime. Although the film has shifted to magenta, his engaging and powerful work remains fascinating and transcends the volatile nature of the medium.
Thursday, 8 July 1999... Translucent Canvases: The Art of Art on Film
It bears repeating: there are few art experiences as pleasurable as seeing the world’s great paintings blown up to room size on full-color 35 or 16mm film. The films on tonight’s program are exceptional examples, and one of them, in its superb color registration, almost defies description. With paintings gathered from numerous museums, each film allows the viewer the pleasure of getting to know a specific era of the artist’s work in detail that would be difficult to see except in the most accessible of viewing environments.
‘Memories of Monet’ (1984) 30m, prod. Meredith Martindale & Toby Molenaar. OK, I’ll say it: this film boasts the most breathtaking color of any film I’ve seen to date, to such a degree that I was curious to ask cinematographer Toby Molenaar how she did it. I found her at her Long Island hideaway, ready to leave for France where she’s restoring an old mill, and she gave us the secret: "Just pointed the camera and took a light reading", she said. Yeah, right... Born in Rotterdam, the maker of only one other film (but the author of numerous books of still photography), she somehow captured what every other filmmaker working in the color medium has tried to accomplish: bombastic colors with a translucency that seems more akin to stained glass than to traditional film. ‘Memories’ chronicles painter Lilla Cabot Sargent's years at Giverny, 1889-1909, in which her memoirs written in 1927 describe Monet, his garden, and fellow painters. Molenaar’s interpretation of Monet’s garden serves as evidence of the tremendous inspiration Monet derived from it; lulled by the beauty of the film, we found it difficult after a while to separate the outdoor shots from the canvases themselves. Filmmakers working in the color medium should not miss this film, as an example of how superb color timing and exceptional cinematography can work together to produce a magnificent print.
‘In a Brilliant Light: Van Gogh in Arles’ (1984) 60m, dir. Gene Searchinger. Searchinger is another exceptional cinematographer, who blows up Van Gogh’s brushstrokes to huge proportions, and, while maintaining the color, adds just enough shadow to highlight the relief, so thick that it looks like icing on a cake. Everyone’s favorite troubled artist painted over 200 paintings and 100 drawings in his 444 days in Arles, where the director takes a special joy in comparing the scenes in the paintings with their appearance today.
‘Matisse: a Sort of Paradise’ (1969) 30m, dir. Lawrence Gowing/John Jones. Directed by the noted historian Gowing, this film was particularly memorable to me as the document which finally put Matisse into sense, historically speaking. You can’t beat Aldo Ciccolini’s brilliant interpretations of Satie as a soundtrack, nor the gorgeous technicolor renditions of Matisse’s paintings.
Thursday, 1 July 1999... Four Absurdist Shorts
The philosophy of absurdism posits that the universe is irrational, and our attempt to provide order, in conflict with nature, only serves to provoke chaos. Along with surrealism, in which otherwise unrelated images, objects and ideas are juxtaposed and combined with each other, Absurdist film forged one of the two most powerful schools of fantastic cinema. We don’t pretend to understand everything the filmmaker is attempting to say in these films, and each has a meaning unique to every viewer. What can be said is that, as television and film become more formulaic, films such as those on tonight’s show, intellectually incomprehensible to many filmgoers, will become increasingly more difficult to access. Tonight’s films include:
‘Zero de conduite’ (Zero for Conduct) 1933, dir. Jean Vigo. At the same time surrealistic and Absurdist, Vigo’s tale of youthful revolt in a boarding school, with its humor, pathos, and anger, was ultimately banned from public showing by French authorities until 1944, eventually taking on added significance as a prime influence to Francois Truffaut’s epic film ‘400 Blows’. The film is autobiographical, as Vigo, the son of an anarchist who may have been murdered by French authorities, grew up in a stifling boarding school environment similar to this one, with its petty rules and ignorant administrators. While not a polished product, ‘Zero’ has several memorable scenes, among them the ballet-like slow-motion pillow flight, and the suddenly animated doodle occupying the page of a notebook. The twenty-eight year old director was to die a year later with a total output of just over three hours of viewing time, but this forty-five minute tour-de-force remains a powerful statement of the joys of rebellion and the abandon of anarchy.
‘Seven Authors in Search of a Reader’ (Un Zondag Op Het Eiland Van De Grande Jatte) (1965?) 20m, dir. Franz Weisz. Unfortunately we’ve been able to find nothing describing the philosophy of the filmmaker, who bases this non-narrated tale on a ‘tableau-vivant’ of Seurat’s impressionist masterpiece ‘La Grande Jatte’.
‘A Pinto for the Prince’ (1979) 17m, dir. Colin Low/John Spotton. How this for surrealism? Prince Charles finds himself on a Blood reservation in Alberta, where he gets painted, dances, receives a gift pinto (the horse, not the car), and receives a ceremonial headdress from Chief Jim Shot-Both-Sides, then zooms away to high tea in a helicopter. Intended to be a documentary. C’est absurd? You be the judge.
‘Rhinoceros’ (1965) 11m, dir. Jan Lenica. A animated
version of Ionesco’s tale, a play on the theme of conformity.
Thursday, 24 June 1999... ‘Roma, città aperta’ (Rome, Open City) 1945, 109m, dir. Roberto Rossellini. Many critics cite Italian neo-realism, with its emphasis on non-professional actors, unresolved endings, and on-location sets, as the single most influential movement contributing to the cinema of today. ‘Roma’, the first neo-realistic film to achieve international distribution, is the story of a cadre of workers in the resistance striving to avoid a Gestapo manhunt. Its planning began during the Nazi occupation, with actual shooting beginning two weeks after liberation. Due to the low quality of the film stock, much of the footage was mistaken by many for newsreel footage, its rawness serving to further blend the talents of the professional actors (Anna Magnani, et. al.) with their non-professional colleagues. While some critics faulted the melodramatic ending, others praised its portrayal of the minutiae of day-to-day existence in an occupied city. It has undoubtedly influenced virtually every subsequent film treatment on Nazi/Gestapo archetypes, from the lesbian she-wolf undercover agent to the drunken, guilt-ridden SS officer. Utilizing only two studio sets, with all voices dubbed in post-production, ‘Roma’ gathered numerous festival awards, and remains a landmark film in the genre.
‘DeFacto’ (1973) 10m, dir. Donio Donev. To a great extent, all wars are about scapegoats. This dark and funny animated short was made in Bulgaria, and makes a thinly-veiled reference to a large and many-tentacled neighbor.
Thursday, 17 June 1999... ‘Le jour se lève’ (Daybreak) 1939, 93m, dir. Marcel Carné
Fatalistic, pessimistic, and romantic, Carné’s heroes were criminals, fallen women, and artists. Fueled by the pen of poet Jacques Prevert, ‘Daybreak’ unfolds the story of a man (Jean Gabin) driven by jealousy and his own personal sense of justice, in what is called by historian David Cook "perhaps the most perfect flashback ever filmed". Ghostlike and disturbing, Gabin’s dark world is embodied by his day job as a sandblaster encased in mummy-like overalls amidst the hazy interior of a stifling foundry, and later by his claustrophobic room high above the street, which becomes ever smaller as he barricades himself against his pursuers. The sole joy in his world is his fleeting friendship with a young flower girl, soon sullied by the attentions of Jules Berry’s aging rake. Arletty’s role as Gabin’s jaded confidante, ever more cynical as her lover becomes more distant, foreshadows her most notable performance in the role of Garance, in Carné’s 1945 classic ‘Les enfants du paradis’. The brooding set, consisting of narrow passages and stark, looming facades, becomes a character itself, lending a presence of increasing desperation under which the fate of the two rivals painfully unfolds.
'Le plat du jour' (1972) 15m, dir. Georges Spicas. This is another of those brilliant, witty foreign shorts that is good enough that it has undoubtedly won prizes, yet appears neither in the best-known film histories and catalogues, nor on the internet. Same for the director. One of the funniest films I've seen all year, 'Plat' is a non-narrated series of vignettes taking place in a terrible French restaurant, starring the animated Max Durand.
Thursday, 10 June 1999... ‘La grande illusion’ (The Grand Illusion) 1937, 110m, dir. Jean Renoir.
Son of the impressionist painter, Renoir is considered by many critics to be cinema’s greatest director. In this exposure of the folly of war, the director makes extensive use of the long take, involving the viewer in real-time action and dialogue, depicting the class and cultural conflicts which are part and parcel to warfare, from both personal and national perspectives. Erich von Stroheim’s von Rauffenstein and Pierre Fresnay’s Boieldieu are two upper-class career officers brought together by the former’s capture of the latter in the waning days of the first World War. As a response to the passing of the last vestiges of the gentlemanly conduct of war, each commits symbolic suicide, Boieldieu by creating a diversion that frees two junior officers from imprisonment, Rauffenstein by killing his alter-ego. The beauty of much of this film lies in the wonderful acting of the entire cast, which includes Jean Gabin, and the richness of its symbolism, from the only living flower in the cold winter castle, plucked by the German officer to place on the corpse of his French counterpart, to the caged squirrel kept as a pet by the imprisoned flyers.
Also on the program:
'The Big If' (1981) 10m, dir Bratislav Pojar. What if ordnance suddenly turned into large, colorful, floating balloons? This remarkable Czech film explores a new fantasy of warfare.
Thursday, 3 June 1999... ‘La règle du jeu’ (Rules of the Game) 1939, 110m, dir. Jean Renoir.
This, along with Renoir's ‘Grand Illusion’, was voted among the best four French films made since the inception of the talking pictures era, by the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques in 1979. Considered by many to be Renoir’s greatest film, ‘Regle’ mercilessly questions the rules that govern upper-crust society and the ultimate destruction of those who would contradict them. Provoking political riots at its Paris premiere, it was banned by French military censors as well as Nazi occupational forces, and the original negative was destroyed by allied bombing in 1942. Fortunately, with the exception of a short scene, Renoir was able to reconstruct the film in 1956. In spite of the searing microscope under which Renoir views his characters, I find myself drawn to the supposedly dissolute Marquis Robert de la Chesnaye, played brilliantly by the underrated Marcel Dalio, the only character, despite his zest for folly, outlandish toys, and party stunts, who seems in control of his world. As the General states, he is part of a "vanishing breed" who considers the world his own private circus, refusing to take seriously himself or others, on their seemingly inexorable paths to self-destruction.
Also on the program:
'Lion's Den' (Dr. Doolittle) (1928) 10m, dir. Lotte Reiniger. Renoir’s chief assistant on ‘Rules’ 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 her biography by William Moritz at: http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.3/articles/moritz1.3.html
Thursday, 27 May 1999... Three African Films
‘Balloon Safari’ (1975) 55m, prod. Alan Root. For the past two years we’ve been marveling at Root’s African films, from ‘Kopjes’ to ‘Castles of Clay’ to ‘Mzima: Portrait of a Spring’. Until now 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.
‘The Afrikaaner Experience: Politics of Exclusion’ (1978) 30m, prod. Peter Davis. From 10,000 miles away, it’s easy to judge the Afrikaaners, erstwhile rulers of South Africa, and chief beneficiaries of apartheid politics. To a great extent, they’re now a people undergoing great change as they come to grips with a different truthset. Although an indictment of the apartheid regime, Davis’ fine film provides a historical background necessary to the understanding of the Afrikaaner philosophy, which does have its good points: no matter what godforsaken place you manage to get to in southern Africa, you’ll find a four wheel "bakkie", a flaming braai barbecue, and a husband and wife version of the old voertrekkers enjoying their Castle beers as they rejoice over the fact that they’ve just traveled through 1000 miles of arduous bush driving in order to enjoy the sunset. If you’re white, their hospitality is terrific, but as the "kaffir" jokes would indicate, it may take another generation to fully embrace the concept of biracial harmony.
‘Ancient Africans’ (1970) 25m, dir. Sam Bryan. Educational film was not particularly noted for having exceptional animation, but two of the best were Gerald McDermott (who was ciné16’s guest a while back) and Philip Stapp. While McDermott went on to a brilliant future as an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, Stapp fell into semi-obscurity. Fortunately, Stapp, who just celebrated his 91st birthday, has been continually involved in his own art projects since he left the film world in the mid-1970s, and has recently begun showing his mammoth scrolls (some 40 feet in length) in various venues. ‘Ancient Africans’, describing the ancient kingdoms of Africa, features wonderfully animated figures by Stapp, and serves as a good introduction to the work of a man who will be the subject of a ciné16 retrospective later this year. For more information on this important animator, visit his ciné16 webpage at: Philip Stapp
Thursday, 20 May 1999... The National Film Board on Writing and the Canadian Experience
Canada’s Film Board is justly famous for its animation and documentary productions, but less known is its significant body of work on Canadian authors. In fact, the U.S. has done poorly by comparison in documenting the people whose writings make our lives richer though fact, fiction, or fantasy. Living in the shadow of the giant to the south, many Canadian writers are unknown to us, although their appeal is universal (many of you will remember Donald Winkler’s terrific ‘Earle Birney: Portrait of a Poet’ which we showed last year, depicting the 77 year-old Birney reciting his ‘sound poetry’ and performing with a percussion ensemble). Perhaps the most amazing thing about these films is the force of the personalities of the subjects themselves, and our discovery of a persona that we might have never encountered without the mandate under which the Film Board was founded, to present Canadians to themselves and to the world at large. Tonight’s films are powerful portrayals of writers too little-known in the U.S. They are engaging, thought-provoking, fun, and perhaps, in their own fashion, a bit melancholy as well.
‘The Apprenticeship of Mordecai Richler’ (1986) 58m, dir. Alan Handel. One of Canada’s best-known writers, the acerbic Richler (rhymes with "mitch-ler") suffers no fool gladly, offending talk show hosts, fans, and fellow alumni from his old secondary school alike. We see film clips from screen adaptations of his best-know books, "Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" (starring with Richard Dreyfus), and "Joshua Then & Now" (James Woods), both directed by Ted Kotcheff. At odds with many in the Canadian Jewish establishment, Richler’s works are universal in nature, and the man, who spent 20 years in London before returning home, is clearly an individual always spoiling for a good fight.
'The Street' (1976) 11m, dir. Caroline Leaf. A terrific transformational animated film based on a Richler story of passage, utilizing the media of colors and oil on glass. Winner of the Blue Ribbon at the American Film Festival Awards, 1977.
‘Concert Stages of Europe’ (1985) 26m, dir. Giles Walker. Vancouver Island writer Jack Hodgins has been profiled in at least two Film Board titles, but tonight, instead, we present a dramatization of his devastatingly satirical look at the delusions of grandeur fostered by the unrealistic expectations of parents. Taking the "My child is student of the month at such-and-such a school" (a natural follow-on to "baby on board"?) nonsense to the next logical extreme, a mother browbeats her son into enlisting in a talent search, hosted by the greasiest host this side of the Fraser. With superb writing and directing, and an unpredictable ending, ‘Stages’ is a very funny, poignant film, especially valid in our own Silicon Valley, with its steroid-charged expectations for the early successes of youth.
Thursday, 13 May 1999... Let’s Get Scared!
The affective value of the films on tonight’s program is extreme. Whether by design or accident, each film boasts elements that we find alternately shocking, funny, thought-provoking, or nauseating. The gratuitous emotional content of tonight’s program is probably a reaction against all of the intellectual programming ciné16 has been doing in the past few months; better catch this program before we stick our nose back in the books again...
‘Red Asphalt II’ (1980) 15m, dir. Kent Milton/Bill Masters/Russell Turner. This banged-up CHP film has probably seen more than its share of high school driving classes, and judging by its splices, nicks, and tears, it was re-run many times in order to get a better view of the many broken bodies documented in the film. Here, various CHP officers take us on a wild ride through the land of fatalities, spiced with narrative gems such as "How can you get used to a person who's been decapitated?" or "I don't know a highway patrolman who wouldn't wear a seatbelt" (although none of the CHP officers shown driving their black and whites in the film, do). The last shot is a gurney-riding camera being wheeled into a morgue locker.
‘... And Then It Happened’ (1972) 20m, dir. George Starbecker. ciné16 CTO Samra tells us that this film haunted her all throughout elementary school, scaring her to such an extent that she refused to take the school bus... EVER! Last year, she began calling up bad memories of the film, and recently we obtained a copy, allowing her to re-visit traumatic times from her youth. In this dramatized bus epic, which we’re delighted to share with you, horseplay is the culprit that leads to the deaths of several children and a bus driver.
‘Doubletalk’ (1976) 10m, dir. Alan Beattie. Ever been scared to meet someone’s parents on a first date? Unless you’ve made it a point to concentrate on dating only people whose parents live overseas, you’ve been through the hell that Alan Beattie describes in this film, which records not only the spoken words, but the thoughts that occur simultaneously by those doing the speaking as well as those spoken to. The film is so quick and witty that it took us three screenings to get all of it. Possibly the funniest film we’ve ever shown at ciné16.
‘Vive Le Tour’ (1976) 20m, dir. Louis Malle. To a terrific music score by George Delerue, fast, out-of-control, crazy bicyclists compete in the annual madness known as the Tour de France. I’d probably be more scared of getting hit by the drugged-out Italian biker than by any of the juiced-up beaters in ‘Red Asphalt’; eventually he passes out, falling off his bike...
‘Take His Word’ (1970) 5m, dir. Umberto Bonsignori. A smarmy preacher invites you into his world of bible tracts and testimonials, fronted by a smile that could be a prototype for the grill of any Chrysler product of the mid-1950s. If you’re scared by religion already, this should ice it. If you’re not, would you want to be in heaven next to this guy?
‘Death in the West’ (1976/1983) 30m, dir. Martin Smith. This famous film details the deaths of people hooked by tobacco products, to the tune of spaghetti-western musical stylings, amidst visions of the lone cowboy. Soon after its initial showing in England, Phillip Morris’ lawyers forced the film to be taken out of distribution. Eventually, KRON TV had the courage to air it anyway. The whole story surrounding this fascinating film is told on http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/1996/03/deathwest79.jump.html
Thursday, 6 May 1999... Under the Microscope: Science at Work & Play with B.K. Samra
Long before she gained notoriety as your ciné16 Technical Officer, Barinda Samra worked in backroom laboratories investigating --- how shall we put this --- things that we spend hours creating, but can’t wait to be rid of (after a drink or two, ask her to tell ya’ about the worlds colliding in your bathing and drinking water). In fact, she’ll tell you that getting her mitts mixed up in a bunch of greasy old Bell & Howell gears in the smoky confines of the ciné16 speakeasy is less toxic, smells better, and the ball-bearings don’t look back at you, either. Tonight, for old-time’s sake, she’ll put on the lab coat, hoist the six-foot slide rule over the chalkboard, and promises a fully-lit a Bunsen burner on each and every table...
‘The World of Enrico Fermi’ (1970) 40m, prod. Gordon Burwash/John Kemeny. A fascinating treatment of the life and times of the noted physicist.
‘Herzberg’ (1979) 18m, dir. John McAulay. The Silicon Valley may be the only place in the U.S. in which there may be an SRO crowd for this neat film about spectroscopy expert and 1971 Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Herzberg.
‘Pioneers of Science’ (1978) 20m, dir. Richard Ashworth. In the U.S., it’s a shame that the Arabs never get their due as producing perhaps the intellectual light that shone brightest during what we refer to as the Dark Ages. These master scientists created magnificent devices such as wind towers that cooled whole cities, and subterranean water channels that stretched for miles under the scorching sands to bring life to otherwise remote cities. They still exist today, as evidenced by this terrific film from John Seabourne’s ‘Mideast’ series.
Thursday, 29 April 1999... Robert Emmett Presents
KFJC/89.7's Emmett, producer of the Monday 6-7 pm "Thoughtline" program, as well as Saturday morning's "Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show", has seen more ciné16 films than just about anyone. Tonight, he has selected some of his favorites from the over 300 films that have appeared on ciné16 programs. He writes:
"Tonight, four different views of the river, from Old Man River to an old man on the river. Water is important in our lives and in our modern world it is often easy to forget the significance of it in how and where we live. Oceans, seas, and rivers were essential for the development of cities and nations. They help with the pollination of commerce and culture. They necessitate planning and engineering to survive and prosper. They appeal to romance and poetry. I wish I could be as poetic about rivers as these movies are. From the idyllic boat ride down the Lievre to the long, hard journey upstream in Nahanni, rivers can be roads with no truckstops. We can commune with nature or struggle against it. Sometimes the struggle is to tame the river, as in Pare Lorentz' classic 'The River'. Other times our commune is the realization of communities connected as in 'People along the Mississippi'". Films on tonight's show include:
‘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 --- who produced all of the films in the retrospective --- and would have chosen a different narrator, ironic because the filmmaker, with his background in radio drama, would ultimately be 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.
‘Morning on the Lièvre’ (1961) 13m, dir. David Bairstow. The Canadians seem to have a lock on the concept of filmed poetry, often going beyond recitations accompanied by pretty pictures to the wonderful prosaic films narrated by Stanley Jackson. ‘Lièvre’ is of the former category, depicting, through the poems of Archibald Lampman, the languor of a September day, beginning with the foggy, leaf-strewn, half hidden banks of the Lievre River in Quebec.
‘The River’ (1937) 30m, dir. Pare Lorentz. Perhaps the most famous of all documentaries of the type, Lorentz takes us on a journey down the Mississippi, focusing on the might of the river itself: massive floods, the TVA project, soil conservation projects, all of them punctuated by the occasionally overbearing musical score by Virgil Thompson. In a treatment owing much to New-Deal politics, and with stunning camerawork by cinematographers such as Willard van Dyke, ‘The River’ is considered a classic by most cinema texts, all too rarely shown today.
'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. 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.
Thursday, 22 April 1999... CTO Samra on Writers, Part II
They say women love a man in uniform, but don’t tell that to ciné16’s renowned Chief Technical Officer who, next to her Bell & Howell 552 projector, seems to love the men o’ the parchment best. Tonight she serves up a palpitating portrait of the pen, starting with:
‘Conversation with W. Somerset Maugham’ (1960) 30m, dir. John Durst. Filmed five years before his death at age 95, poor Maugham can barely speak, he’s shaking so hard. In this interview hosted by friend and NY Herald-Tribute literary critic Alan Pryce-Jones (who calls him "Willie"), we visit the writer on the verandah of his Cape Ferrat home, discussing buddies Shaw, Kipling, Wells, and Sinclair Lewis.
‘Story of a Writer: Ray Bradbury’ (1963) 20m, dir. Terry Sanders. In his basement sanctum sanctorum, Bradbury shows off his extensive note files as he describes his even-more extensive work regimen.
‘Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: a Self-Portrait’ (1975) 30m, dir. Harold Mantell. The noted author of ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ and other favorites talks of his youth, literature, and life.
‘Carl Sandburg Discusses His Work’ (1961) 15m, unknown director. Edward R. Murrow, in his "See it Now" series, was much-maligned for his chatty, non-confrontational demeanor, but here it’s a positive, as the renowned poet hides none of his cantankerousness, milling about his disheveled office and rather seedy farm (goats were given a free-reign inside the house, but were apparently shooed out during the filming).
Thursday, 15 April 1999... The Meeting of the Irreverent Trinity: George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, & John Barnes
If you believe (as we do) that the work of John Barnes sets the standard for excellence in educational film, then you’d have to agree that his three-part ‘Shaw vs. Shakespeare’, a critical treatment of Shakespeare’s Caesar as Shaw himself might have written it, represents one of the finest pieces of episodic educational work ever produced. Barnes here established himself as a true auteur, producing a work rarely equaled in concept and execution in either the educational or high-budget, feature-film worlds. Being well-versed in the plays of both William Shakespeare (making earlier multi-part series on Hamlet and Macbeth) and George Bernard Shaw, Barnes wrote and directed this three-part series, hosted by Donald Moffat as the Irish playwright, in which Shaw blasts, excoriates, and chides Shakespeare for the way in which he handles the personality of Caesar. Unabashedly proclaiming his own brilliance, Barnes’ Shaw provides insightful and witty examples juxtaposing the imperious character of his Caesar with the seemingly ineffectual one written by his three-centuries old counterpart (Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" was written in 1598, and Shaw’s "Caesar and Cleopatra" in 1898). Even Barnes’ viewing audience is challenged by the acerbic Shaw, in the opening of the initial film:
Barnes’ film is alternately funny and intellectual, a brilliantly written tribute to two magnificent playwrights. The recently-deceased Richard Kiley is wonderfully multifaceted in his role as both Caesars, and Suzanne Grossman transitions well from the younger to the older Cleopatra. The sets are lavish, well beyond any that had ever before been utilized in an educational film (ed film budgets were rarely more than $50,000 for a 1200 foot, or one-half hour film, inclusive of salaries, sets, and production costs). The story of how the sets became available are a tribute to Barnes’ creativity as a producer: ‘Her First Roman’ was a Broadway play starring Kiley and Leslie Uggams that went belly-up after a few performances. Barnes, discovering that the expensive, elaborate sets were being warehoused and available for the asking, paid $3000 for them (the wigs alone had been sold to the original producers for $25,000, so a guess of up to several hundred thousand dollars for the entire set, which arrived in six moving trucks, would not be out of line). At the same time, he obtained the services of the suddenly out-of-work (and well-rehearsed) Kiley as well. Kiley and Suzanne Grossman, recruited from Douglas Campbell’s Stratford Festival Company in Canada, are exceptional. Both evidence humor and capriciousness while retaining the air of authority; and the supporting cast, most notably Frances Sternhagen as Ftatateeta and Donald Moffat in his other role as Cassius, are superb. In an interesting sidelight indicative of some of the stranger aspects of casting, a black actress refused ever to work with Barnes again, citing racism when he resisted specifically hiring a black actress to play the role of Cleopatra, although a quick trip to the history section of the local library would have confirmed to her that the Ptolemaic queen was in fact of Greek extraction.
Barnes’ films always appealed to the intellect, and the delight that the ruling body at EB Films expressed when shown a new Barnes film evoked jealousy among many of the other filmmakers, who felt that Barnes gained a bigger share of production money than he deserved. Additionally, he was often vilified because his films were often addressed to advanced learners, and thus were not the easiest to sell. Tonight’s films represent the pinnacle of the art of the educational film, and, due to their length and sophisticated subject matter, are rarely shown in schools. Tonight, as an introduction to George Bernard Shaw, we offer a biographical sketch to be shown prior to Barnes’ films. Tonight's films are:
‘George Bernard Shaw’ (1962) 30m, dir. Alan Landsburg. Born in Dublin on 26 July, 1856, the critic, novelist, and playwright was chastised, vilified, and ultimately revered before he died in 1950 at the age of 94. Although characterizing Shaw finally as a victim of his propensity to clown, this Wolper-produced "Biography" episode is notable for its footage of the man himself in action, allowing ciné16 viewers to judge for themselves how well Barnes captured his spirit and demeanor.
‘Shaw vs. Shakespeare I: The Character of Caesar’ (1970) 30m, dir. John Barnes. A fine introduction to Barnes as an insightful and witty interpreter of Shakespeare on film, the opening film of the triptych focuses on Shaw’s belief that, although Shakespeare’s play was superior to his own, the treatment of the character of Caesar was not. Shaw, as written by Barnes, prefers a Caesar whose strength-of-purpose is more in keeping with a conqueror, than Shakespeare’s pessimistic, indecisive leader.
‘Shaw vs. Shakespeare II: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar’ (1970) 30m, dir. John Barnes. In maintaining that Brutus was the least morally-reprehensible character in Shakespeare’s play, Shaw here plays the critic, offering analysis to the scenes played by Barnes’ remarkable cast.
‘Shaw vs. Shakespeare III: ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ (1970) 30m, dir. John Barnes. This passionate interplay between the girl-queen and the wily conqueror provides the groundwork for Shaw’s contention that there has been no social progress in the so-called Christian era, founded as it is upon judgment, guilt, and punishment, an era that can be characterized as "one of the bloodiest and most discreditable episodes" in the history of humankind.
Thursday, 8 April 1999... Exploring the Latin American Dynamic: Four Views
Getting a machine gun stuck in my ribs by a police offer while cashing a travelers check in Guatemala City’s largest bank certainly wasn’t my fondest traveling experience, but it did graphically illustrate the chaotic nature of that nation in the late 1970s. The U.S. government had already pumped millions of dollars into the hands of its banana republic leadership, and in those days it was readily apparent that if you were an intellectual or an Indian your time was running out, as the inmates, having taken over the asylum, cut a wide swathe of murder and terrorism over a defenseless population. Fleeing to the then-pirate enclave of Caye Caulker was, as we found out, equally dangerous, but at least your killers’ motivation was concrete: an uncomfortable choice, but better to be killed for your money than for looking like you might have read a book or two. For two centuries, people south of the border have justifiably looked at their big neighbor to the north with distrust, and clearly, we’ve got a lot of making up to do. Appreciating the difference in cultural and political dynamics is a start, and at ciné16, we’ve been quietly acquiring some terrific cinematic contributions that underscore the beauty, and occasionally the terror, inherent in the histories and cultures to the south. Tonight’s program includes:
‘Americas in Transition’ (1981) 29m, dir. Obie Benz. There may be few indictments of the Reagan-era Latin American foreign policy as powerful as Benz’ Oscar-nominee for Best Short Documentary. Providing a historical perspective on the successes of previous U.S. administrations in destroying democratic governments in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic, Benz’ film provides a scathing report on how the Reagan regime and CIA continued to support right-wing death squads and undemocratic, right-leaning governments. Augmented by interviews with experts such as Murat Williams (former US Ambassador to El Salvador) and writer Carlos Fuentes, it’s surprising that this film, deviating as it does from the conservative political perspective inherent in many U.S. school districts, made it into American classrooms at all.
‘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.
‘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.
‘La Plena’ (1966) 29m, dir. Amilcar Tirado. Born in 1922 in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Tirado has made more than 30 films, from features to documentaries. This rare film was made for the Puerto Rican government, and focuses on the "bomba" and "plena" song forms, and on the mountain jibaro culture in which they thrive. Get this: one guy (Sindo Mangual?) reads a paper, writes a song about the story he’s been reading, then his whole band sings it, with accordeon, guiro, y ritmo. Tirado also visits mural painter Rufino Tufino, who uses a 16mm film can as a palette, and a visit a cuatro maker's shop. En espanol, y inolvidable.
Thursday, 1 April 1999... Ghosts from our Not-So-Distant Past: Treasures from the Queens Borough Public Library
The people who created the significant film libraries in American libraries and educational institutions have been unfortunately under-appreciated and ignored, although the building of these collections can be perceived as works of art in themselves. Great film libraries not only reflected the communities in which they were established, but represented the goals of what the librarian hoped the community would become. ciné16 recently obtained a series of films that were recently housed in New York’s Queens Borough Public Library, and we were astounded as to the depth of the collection, as well as the relative rarity of many of the films themselves. This collection was clearly loved by its owners, as evidenced by the meticulous sprocket restoration performed on ‘Soweto’, which must have taken hours, and has saved what must surely be one of the few prints in existence. We called the library in an attempt to find out who the people were behind the development and care of the film library, and discovered that John Quinnam built it over a period of approximately 20 years. As is sadly the story with so many film libraries, new administrators made a decision to switch to videotape, resulting in the wholesale selling-off of their 16mm films (generally for pennies, incidentally, as wholesale buyers generally by the collection for a pittance, and pick up the shipping costs). Unfortunately, it appears that none of the films on our program are currently being distributed in any format.
Tonight’s program, full of often haunting static and moving images is dedicated to the work of people like Quinnam, and Robert Miller, who restored ‘Soweto’. Their unsung work benefited millions, and they, unfortunately, were never adequately thanked. The only positive element of the story is that New York’s loss is your gain, as you’ll see the following magnificent films that have probably never been screened in San Jose:
‘Visite à Picasso’ (1950) 20m, dir. Paul Haesaerts. A poetic treatment which includes the artist painting on glass while facing the camera, shot at Picasso’s home in Vallauris, accompanied by some fairly moody organ music in this very dark film.
‘Face of Lincoln’ (1955) 20m, dir. Edward Freed. The fifties were a dismal era for historical films, but one of the few gems was this exceptional film, which features sculptor Merrill Gage creating a clay bust of Lincoln, evolving the sculpture to age with the events of the life of the president, which he narrates. Gage is funny too, as he slaps the ears on the head with abandon, changes hair styles with a flourish, and merrily adjusts the tie.
'The Day Manolete Was Killed' (1965) 20m, dir. Dave Butler/Barnaby Conrad. The bull "Islero" meets Manolete in Linares, Spain, 28 August 1947. The collection of still photos narrated by aficionado Conrad is highly dramatic, and full of Andalucian culture and tradition.
‘City of Gold’ (1957) 20m, dir. Colin Low/Wolf Koenig. One of the first films to weave a historical perspective utilizing old photographs, the history of Dawson City, Yukon is told by Pierre Berton, who lived there. Especially effective is the juxtaposition of historical stills with contemporary footage.
‘Soweto’ (1976) 20m, dir. Burton K. Fox. This rare and sobering film was extensively restored by the team at the Queens Borough Public Library, and good thing: there is no film company listed, and even the curator of the recent David Goldblatt retrospective at New York’s MoMA was unaware of the film. Films such as this, describing the culture and conditions of Soweto through David Goldblatt’s powerful still photographs, never achieved much in the way of distribution. Accompanied by a soundtrack of bees and disparate voices, we learn that this area comprising one million people living in 27 towns was less than the panacea envisioned by its apartheid architects. Goldblatt is a major figure in South African photography, as evidenced by MoMA’s biography of him: http://www.moma.org/pressoffice/releases/1998/goldblatt.html or http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/goldblatt/
'Unicycle Race' (1975?) 10m, dir. Robert Swarthe. Painting his animated figures directly on film, Swarthe's figures dance, careen, and explode across the screen in this bizarre sporting event.
Thursday, 25 March 1999... 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, not to drive cars fast, 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 great, 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, but this film tells us why...
Thursday, 18 March 1999... From Literature to Film: Adapting the Great American Novel
Recently we wrote of the frustration of viewing numerous U.S. history films, most of which were boring, didactic, and derivative. On the opposite side, educational films based on adaptations of novels and short stories were often well-acted, engaging, and brilliantly written (in most cases, writers were mandated to convey plot and characters in a film of 1/2 hour in length). Over the next several months, ciné16 will be showcasing some of the best we’ve seen. Tonight we’ll feature the only two films in executive producer Perry Wolff’s startling "Great American Novel" series funded by CBS News.
‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1967) 30m, prod. Arthur Barron. Rather than follow the Steinbeck characters as they trek across the Southwest, cinematographer Walter Dombrow documents the migration of a real migrant family as they relocate from rural Tennessee to an uncertain future in Chicago. Terrific white country-preaching sequences punctuate this powerful film narrated by Richard ‘Paladin’ Boone.
‘Babbitt’ (1967) 30m, prod. Arthur Barron. Sinclair Lewis’ tale of an outwardly successful businessman is transformed by Barron into an investigation into the service club culture in Duluth, MN. Actor Pat Hingle recites a speech given in the book by businessman George Babbitt, rife with knee-jerk platitudes word-for-word to a group of businessmen who were told that they’d be listening to a fictional speech written by Lewis, to be filmed as part of a CBS News presentation. Not surprisingly, these business leaders embrace the speech with the same honest enthusiasm so derided by the author.
‘Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl’ (1988) 30m, dir. Gilbert Shilton. Robert Vaughn gives a convincing, joyously malevolent performance here as a man who has a surprise in store for a visitor who has come to kill him. Ray Bradbury hosts this twisted story somewhat reminiscent of Larry Olivier and Michael Caine’s ‘Sleuth’. Michael Ironside also stars.
‘The Lottery’ (1969) 20m, dir. Larry Yust. Today, Fellows, California lies forlornly somewhere along the two-lane meandering strip of decayed blacktop known as Highway 33. Just a few houses dot the sparse townscape in which remnants of foundations and iron-pipe fences are encased in many varieties of overgrown weeds. One of the few remaining residents eyes passing cars warily as he hoses down his pickup truck in the dying December light, curious as to what would bring anyone new to visit a town long past its glory, if in fact that word was ever used to describe Fellows. In 1969, however, it was a small town populated by agricultural and oil workers, who joined Yust’s crew as extras for a film that has become legendary as one of the best selling (and most controversial) ed films ever made, Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’. Jackson’s dark story was nearly kiboshed by ranking Encyclopaedia Britannica Films executives, who considered Yust’s adaptation a little too realistic for the classroom. With sterling performances by William Fawcett (as "Old Man Warner") and cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky (who managed to get the thing done in spite of uncooperative weather conditions), ‘Lottery’ remains one of the more memorable films of the era. Not everyone in the graphics department et EB felt the same way as a few on the executive board, however, as evidenced by a promotional photograph that had been heavily doctored to reveal the bloody end of the "winner", which ciné16 found hidden in the promo folder deep in the EB archives...
Thursday, 11 March 1999... Art We Missed: Beyond the Museum Miasma
Doesn’t there seem to be a sameness among urban museums these days? Like a recipe that has grown tired (try a dash of impressionism, two shakes of Jasper Johns, a few Walker Evans photos, and a bunch of minimal dirt inside a rectangle on the floor with a couple of sticks propped up in the middle) from being served three-times-a-day seven-days-a-week, the art enthusiast becomes more difficult to engage as museums lower the content and quality of technique to suit the lowest common denominator. It’s passé to knock San Jose, but really: two major shows in the past few months have consisted of dog photos and Elvis & Marilyn, and prior to that, a hotshot show of new Viet-American art got sideswiped by ignorant-but-vocal Viet-American right-wingers, who, incensed that symbols of communism were present in some of the art, demanded that it be withdrawn or they’d throw rocks at the museum. How did SJ respond? Instead of providing the protesters a good dose of the First Amendment, the director instead bowdlerized the show (along the way, someone forgot to tell the protesters that their side lost a war that over 50% of Americans thought should never have been fought in the first place).
Great art may abound, but we sure ain’t going to get lots of it here. What museums like our local could do is begin to increase the understanding --- and thereby the taste --- of museum-goers by hosting a general series of art history lectures and films, so that people who aren’t enrolled in college art history classes have access to art they might never otherwise see, and be able to place it in a historical context of sorts. We’ve learned that we can’t count on enlightened museum directors to separate the wheat from the chaff, nor do they seemingly want to provide visitors with ongoing, regular events that would enable the public to insist on better choices. Or maybe we’d better stop complaining: whether in New York, SF, or Paris, major museums in many cities are inundated with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, jostling for earphone-position, as the rest of us vainly attempt to stumble around baby strollers and clustered tour groups. Silence doesn’t really matter either, as a new type of museum-goer has entered the scene, the parent explaining the fine points of cubism in a loud voice to her toddler (preparing the infant for an adolescence of speaking loudly in movie theatres, no doubt). In these cities, museums are taking on the roles of mini-shopping malls, with more emphasis on ticket sales and museum store proceeds than on the quality of the art experience itself. In the meantime, in our smokin’/drinkin’/philosophizin’ bohemian venue, our clattering Bell & Howell 552’s will power this respite from both poor shows and large crowds. Tonight we’ll screen:
‘Georgia O’Keeffe’ (1977) 60m, dir. Perry Miller Adato. This magnificent film travels with the artist (1887-1986) as a young woman, to Stieglitz’ studio, to the southwest, and conversations with Juan Hamilton, and includes rare home movies. One of the more prominent American artists of the 20th century explains her philosophy on nature and painting, and her relationship with the equally interesting Alfred Stieglitz, a major force of 20th century photography.
‘Two Centuries of Black American Art’ (1976) 30m, dir. Carlton Moss. The L.A. County Museum of Art has long been an exponent of the black art experience. In this LACMA-produced film, we discover early artists such as Benjamin Banneker, through the Harlem Renaissance, to artists such as Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence.
‘Dawn Riders: Native American Artists’ (1976) 30m, dir. Donna & Bob DeWeese. Featuring Plains artists Woody Crumbo (Kiowa), Blackbear Bosin, and Dick West, who utilize pure color & line, eschewing shadows. Sociological and historical aspects of the art are discussed, with startling examples from the Philbrook Art Center and Gilcrease Museum collections of Tulsa.
Thursday, 4 March 1999... An Evening With Filmmaker Bernard Wilets: a Thirty Year Retrospective
Tonight ciné16 is honored to have one of the finest directors of the North American educational film, Bernard Wilets, as our guest. Working as an independent director/writer/producer, Wilets made several series of films over a thirty year period most commonly in the subject areas of history, literature, music, and individual rights. Wilets’ actors, recruited through southern California theatrical contacts, were superb, and some of the finest to appear in educational films of any kind. Wilets was an exceptional writer --- without a doubt the finest to ever write debate dialogue in an educational film --- who refused to take screen credit for writing or directing, preferring instead to let the end credit, "A Film by Bernard Wilets" speak for itself. We confess that we weren’t always this enthusiastic: having seen some of the extremely low-budgeted "Discovering Music" films, we were not initially impressed with the austere, almost monastic setting in which the music was performed. We could, therefore, not have been more shocked at the films in the ‘Man and the State’ series, all of which are among the finest academic films ever made. As more of this filmmaker’s titles have become available to us, it became apparent that Wilets’ work rivals that of John Barnes, Larry Yust, Bert Salzman, and a number of others who set the standard for cinematic quality in this as yet under-appreciated corner of the film world. For tonight’s retrospective, we have chosen four very good films that reflect the quality and breadth of the work of this important filmmaker. A quick reminder: we start tonight’s show at 7 pm to allow enough time to view the four films, and for Bernard Wilets to introduce his films and answer your questions. Please consider arriving early for best seating.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Machiavelli on Political Power’ (1972), 30m. A brilliantly directed and written debate between the political theorist and Lorenzo de Medici and his advisors. Jailed, tortured, and threatened with death, Machiavelli makes a superb defense of his teachings in a thought-provoking film that, affectively speaking, would be difficult to surpass in literary form.
‘The Lilith Summer’ (1985) 30m, dir. Diane Haak, Prod. Bernard Wilets. One of the more disturbing films in the educational genre, ‘Lilith’ is the story of the non-demonstrative nature of human relationships, and perhaps a moral tale of the value of reconciliation as well. The Hadley Irwin story is simple: a young girl is sent by her parents to care for an elderly neighbor, every day, for a whole summer. They soon realize they’ve both been set up: considered to be too troublesome for their families, they are paired together to absolve others of emotional responsibility. There are a lot of themes here, from loneliness to self-reliance, to the coming of age of an adolescent. Along with Bert Salzman’s ‘Shopping Bag Lady’, it is one of the two most powerful educational dramas ever made on the subject of older people and how we perceive them. For more on writer Lee Hadley, visit Lee Hadley's obit, or a remembrance at: http://www.daily.iastate.edu/volumes/Fall95/Dec-08-95/inmyview.html
‘Equal Opportunity’ (1969) 20m. Unlike John Barnes, who, in developing a treatment on the subject of the Bill of Rights would document the actual court case and participants, Bernard Wilets would instead create a fictitious event to illustrate the point. ‘Equal Opportunity’ is the story of two workers, one black and one white, who are attempting to gain promotion into the job of a shop supervisor. All else being relatively equal, one is promoted primarily for racial considerations, while the other takes the case to the arbitrator. As with several of the other eleven films in Wilets’ "Bill of Rights in Action" series, the filmmaker’s writing makes such powerful arguments that in debate, the viewer constantly seems to be switching sides. Educationally, the film is an exceptional example of illustrating the emotional --- rather than abstract --- impact that Bill of Rights issues have on the learner.
‘Discovering American Indian Music’ (1971) 30m. Wilets’ ‘Discovering Music’ series was not always as successful as the ‘Man and the State’ films (we’re gonna ask him why the sitarist plays "The First Noel" in the ‘India’ film), but some were quite good, and this one was the best of all, avoiding the one-dimensional, austere sets which characterize much of the rest of the series. Showing the music of nations such as the Ute, Seneca, and Navajo in traditional surroundings, the film is a great ethnographic and cultural document, especially in the incredible hoop dance by George Flying Eagle of Taos, and the fine modern percussion ensemble led by Louis Ballard, Cherokee.
Thursday, 25 February 1999... More Trouble Up North: Canadian Teen Angst
Growing up in the phony My Three Sons-Father Knows Best-Ozzie & Harriet-Leave It To Beaver America, I can’t tell you kow much I enjoy the refreshingly real films made by the National Film Board of Canada, portraying what life is really like for thousands of teens. But forget about television: what about the abdication of responsibility on the part of many educational film companies in the U.S., who seemingly joined in an agreement to not make films that would portray anything less than an ideal, loving home, supportive schools, and enthusiastically agreed-upon values. So what made Canada different? In noting the almost-universal involvement of the small-but influential coterie of Hungarian expatriates in these classic mid-60’s Canadian teen angst films (George Kaczender, John Kemeny, and Nicholas Balla come immediately to mind), we suspect there’s a bit of the frustration, horror, and hope experienced by many of those who fought and lost the 1956 battle against Soviet imperialism. The often raw and stark portrayal of these emotions, plus the not-so-hidden appreciation and advocacy of the underdog found its expressive vehicle in the small but important genre of teen angst films produced at the Film Board. Last year, we were delighted to host director George Kaczender as he introduced three of his films and met the ciné16 audience. Tonight we’ll show another of his films, a film from the same era by Mort Ransen, then jump ahead twenty years to see how a theme similar to Kaczender’s ‘Game’ was treated by a later filmmaker.
‘No Reason To Stay’ (1966) 28m, dir. Mort Ransen, prod. John Kemeny. Halting but sincere acting from Raymond Wray and Cathy Wiele adds verisimilitude to an adolescent’s tough decision on whether to drop out or stay in school. Writers Ransen and Christopher Nutter craft a story replete with the daydreams and hallucinations resulting from being taught and lectured by ineffectual teachers & counselors.
‘The Game’ (1966) 30m, dir. George Kaczender. Last year Kaczender joined ciné16 for a retrospective of his early films. Not shown was this very good treatment of boy/girl mating rituals, and the resulting peer pressure for a guy to conform and perform. Like other Kaczender films from this period, the cinematography is exceptional, utilizing geometric aspects of cityscapes as abstract sets, and the use of the wide-angle lens to emphasize isolation.
‘Thanks for the Ride’ (1983) 30m, dir. John Kent Harrison. Although later than ‘Reason’ and ‘Game’, this film is another thought-provoking treatment on a similar theme. An exceptional sociodrama from an Alice Munro short story, in which wealthy boys do some slumming with local girls in a resort town while on a summer vacation. A poignant tale of class & culture.
‘Diploma Dilemma’ (1987) 14m, dir. George Geertsen. Animated boy and girl are buffeted by adults, procedures, and conventions as they attempt to find their way to an unknown future. Exciting, scary, and honest.
Thursday, 18 February 1999... Some Weird Cin-ema II: More of the Strangest from the ciné16 Archives
Tonight’s another special event at ciné16, our answer to thousands of requests to host another evening of the worst films from the lower reaches of ciné16’s film archives. As if this isn’t tantalizing enough, the usual awful door prizes will be given away by our own beauty queen, MISS ciné16! Last time, she insisted on kissing all the prize-winners as well, demanding this extra bonus because of her inadequate financial compensation, based as it is on revenue generated from ‘ciné16’ ticket sales. She’s not the only one with a gripe, as the following conversation attests:
Psychiatrist: Well, Mr. Alexander, for someone who doesn’t seem to have much respect for psychiatry, you’ve certainly spent a lot of money on therapy the last few months.
Geoff: Well, doc, I guess the guilt about showing the films in this "Weird Cin-ema" series is really getting to me. I’m worried that the audience goodwill we’ve worked so hard to establish will be destroyed, and irreparable.
P: Why do you insist on showing it then?
G: Just this once, they’ve got to feel my pain. I spend so many hours reviewing films, our audience just has no comprehension of what I have to go through, seeing so many awful films just so they can view the good ones. Occasionally, I’ve just got to let the monster out of the closet.
P: You may be suffering from delusions... surely these films can’t be as offensive as you think!
G: Take "Moveable Feast", for instance. A film about breast-feeding that focuses on women experiencing orgasms from sucking babies is gonna get me in dutch with both the baby and the orgasm crowd, then women will denigrate me for seeing something overtly sexual in something that is supposed to be nurturing. And then, there’s this doctor who, in asking his female patient to describe the physiological changes during a breast-feeding session, spends much of his time leering at her chest. The doctors in the audience will be pissed, thinking I’m being a little bit too cynical about the alleged benefits of the doctor-patient relationship; for all I know, we’ll be picketed by the trans-gender community for pointing attention to the film’s emphasis on lacto-orgasm...
P: Geoff, I think you should more fully examine your own relationship with female breasts... which appears to me to be bordering on mania.
G: Actually, I refer all ciné16 personal questions to CTO Samra, who, in addition to crankin’ & fixin’ der Bell & Howell 552s, also keeps the press at bay.
P: So far, you haven’t made a very good argument for the alleged abuse you’ll be suffering at the hands of your audience... rather than delusions of grandeur, I’m seeing a bit of the persecution complex here.
G: It’s so difficult to have to see certain films three or four times just to make sure they’re bad enough for this show... take ‘Fife and Drum Corps’ for example; this Japanese guy back in the early 1960s stood in front of the black and white TV for a few hours with a camera, shooting a kinescope of the drum corps, tiny as they were, dwarfed by the huge baseball stadium, upon whose field they march. Fuzzy in picture and faint of sound, it’s little more than an amateurish editing exercise, including a Japanese newscaster interviewing someone in the stands --- in Japanese.
P: Big deal. A bit xenophobic, aren’t we?
G: Look, this film wasn’t acquired from Japan, it came to ciné16 via a nameless middleman who acquired it from the Oakland School District. How’s that for "quality" education? Not only that, there are three goddam reels! Now how is the ciné16 audience supposed to sit through that!?
P: I agree, it seems excessive.
G: Then, people in therapy will be horrified upon seeing all the nice doctors giving a patient electroshock therapy in ‘Abnormal Behavior’. Even though the guy’s lying down, he’s dancing around like he’s at the end of a noose, or something... our audience is gonna need a bicarb just to keep from being seasick!
P: I’ve got good people who are patients trying to regain control of their lives who will NOT be amused by any scare tactics from an old film. Psychiatry has made real leaps in the past few years, you know.
G: I’ve certainly got no complaints about you. Because you were able to identify my repressed memory syndrome, I believe my conflict over this show may have arisen from seeing a film when I was young called ‘Monkey & the Organ Grinder’, that I must show to our audience. The grinder’s obviously abusing his animals, and my guess is that the casual viewer may think that he’s sleeping with them as well.
P: Now I’m offended. You seem to want to roll back the ‘open sexuality’ clock to the Eisenhower era.
G: Well, you may have a point, and that’s why I’ll be showing a film from the Moody Science Institute on bees. All of the Moody science films made heavy reference to god, ahem, gawd, excuse me. Maybe if I can put a little bible back in cinema, I’ll maybe offend fewer people with this show. Whadya think, doc?
P: Just one thing bothers me. This ‘Mother Cat and her Baby Skunks’ film. Why are you always returning to cross-gender, cross-species, and cross-breeding?
G: Actually, mother cat suckles the baby skunks, too, so we’re back to breast-feeding again. Haven’t you been listening?
Seriously folks, the last time we ran a ‘bad film’ night, we were jam-packed with people, so get here early for a seat, or else it’s ‘festival seating’, just like at a Stevie Nicks show. Repeated Warning: there will de door prizes, given away by none other than our own ‘Miss ciné16’! On tonight’s program:
‘Breastfeeding: a Moveable Feast’ (1981) 30m, dir. Gail Singer. Usually, the National Film Board of Canada hits. This time it missed. Take your pick: the Irish nurse giving suckling instructions, the bad mid-60s-style pop music, the lousy acting, the self-indulgent mothers, or the leering doctor. The message here is that it’s OK to breast-feed, but the film is overdrawn and pedantic, making it an example of the worst sort of public health film. Dave Peters said he’d have preferred if the subjects were Playboy models., but they aren’t.
‘Abnormal Behavior: a Mental Hospital’ (1971) 30m, dir. Neil Reichline/Tom Lazarus. Here’s how to run a mental hospital: a "medicated" woman can't subtract from 100 when treated by a therapist; or better yet, the electro-convulsive treatment given to a man in order to foster a "a mental attitude that will make him more amenable to therapy". We like that the lead doc has dark bags under his eyes, evidence of too many late nights in the tower. Incredibly, the consultant on this film was doctor and author Michael Crichton.
‘Drum & Fife Bands in Fukuoka, Japan: 5th Annual Meeting’ (1965?) 10m. x 3. Without a doubt, one of the worst films ever to infest a school media library, replete with black and white grainy kinescope long shots of the drum corps, and interminably long Japanese interviews, which can be a minute or more in length, with the entire monologue translated as "Fukuoka is the most enthusiastic about the drum and fife band". The final sequence in reel three, in which 6,000 people play together, is surely one of the most horrible musical moments ever filmed.
‘Monkey & the Organ Grinder’ (1971) 10m, dir. Stanley Croner, et. al. As his de-fanged monkeys pass the hat, kindly Robert Jones gazes wistfully at his unpaid employees. This film is an example of the terrible animal exploitation films once though to be "cute". A most disturbing tribute to our nearest biological neighbors.
‘Language of the Bee: a Case History of the Scientific Method’ (1965) 15m. The Moody Science Institute distributed dozens of science titles to American classrooms in the 1960s and 1970s, featuring the same unnamed nasal-voiced narrator, unengaging graphics, and a heavy-handed religious "message" at the end of the film, linking the subject matter to a popular western deity. Insidiously, Moody film credits never referred to the company as being part of the Moody Bible Institute, thus masking the otherwise obvious violation of the establishment clause. Fortunately for those in favor of the Bill of Rights, Moody films have all turned to magenta, and have been smitten mightily from school film libraries nationwide. ‘Bee’ isn’t really all that bad to start off with, showing researcher Dr. Karl von Frisch at work studying the way in which bees use body language to direct other bees to food. Eventually, the film descends into dogma, and finished with an admonition to practice good moral behavior, while at the same time showing a primate whose skull has been wired to a machine, being forced to manipulate some strange testing device.
‘Mother Cat & Her Baby Skunks’ (1958) 10m, prod. Milan Herzog. OK, this film isn’t bad at all. It’s really cute, as the skunks follow around mom cat, then snuggle & snooze after a milk break.
Thursday, 11 February 1999... Two Who Dared: Charles Doughty and Alexander von Humboldt
The BBC and Westdeutscher Rundfunk co-funded producer Michael Latham’s series ‘Ten Who Dared’ (1976, distributed in the U.S. by Time-Life, known as "The Explorers" in the U.K.), consisting of ten dramatized adventures of various explorers dating from Columbus to Amundsen, each approximately 50 minutes in duration. Characterized by outstanding location cinematography using hand-held cameras, ethnographic elements, and narration based on actual diaries, the series consisted of a chronicle of travels in difficult-to-film areas on several continents. ‘Ten Who Dared’ stories rarely have happy endings, as evidenced by the death of the protagonists in the desolate and beautiful ‘Burke and Wills’, and the series is far better, in both cognitive and affective senses, than many other historical ed films of the period. Unlike many films available for distribution to schools, ‘Ten Who Dared’ was originally developed for prime-time British audiences, and indeed, at a budget of roughly $10 million, was the most expensive series produced at the BBC at its inception. And then, there is Anthony Quinn. In the original British version, David Attenborough served as the host, happily ensconced in a set consisting of rich, walnut bookcases amidst leather-bound tomes. But Attenborough was, at the time,. little known in the U.S., and therefore Mobil Oil, who had licensed the series for its "Mobil Showcase" television program, scouted about for a more familiar face. In addition, the luxurious library set was also canned, Mobil feeling that American taste would be offending by such highbrow leanings. Quinn as host, directed in these new sequences by David Hoffman and Harry Wiland, projects his larger-than-life persona whether putting on a tie for "the lady" (‘Mary Kingsley’) or gesticulating wildly while describing the wanderings of ‘Charles Doughty’. Rather than detracting from the Latham-produced films, Quinn’s introductions are an entertaining foil that essentially make each work two films in one. As you will see in each film shown by ciné16, Herculean efforts were the order of the day in getting the series filmed. Four of the series are exceptional, and we’ll be showing two more of them in a show a month or so down the road.
‘Charles Doughty --- 1877’ (1976) 50m, dir. David
McCallum. In this, perhaps the finest of the series, the noted Arabist travels
in a poetic haze of colors and cultures, accompanied by the singing, languages,
and sounds of the Maghreb. Director McCallum (about his only directing effort to
date) told ciné16 that the filming was done in the El Foud area of Morocco due
the fact that much of Doughty’s Arabia was engaged in military activity, and
that many of the region’s homeless were hired as extras. The idea of utilizing
McCallum as a director was suggested to the BBC by Latham, who had noticed that
the actor always took a keen interest in camera set-ups whenever he was not
‘Alexander von Humboldt --- 1799’ (1976) 50m, dir. Fred Burnley. Sadly, few today recognize the name of one of the most famous people of his era, the scientist/explorer/naturalist/writer whose name graces so many areas and institutions in the western hemisphere. Director Burnley and DP Peter Bartlett here travel through the Orinoco to document Humboldt and Aime' Bonpland as they collect 60,000 plants, chart 6,000 miles of terrain, and interact with the Yanomamo Indians. Earlier, we mentioned that filming conditions were arduous, and here that’s truly an understatement, as tragedy struck the film crew during the three-day filming of a sequence in a cave inhabited by guacharo birds. Massive clouds of guano dust caused by the disturbed guacharos was continually inhaled in close quarters, causing everyone to experience a high degree of lung distress. Director Fred Burnley, not yet 40 years of age, returned to the U.K., and, still complaining of breathing difficulties, checked into a hospital and died. While tissue samples were taken to determine cause of death, they shortly thereafter disappeared under mysterious circumstances, creating an as-yet unsolved mystery, and, it is rumored, preventing his survivors from being able to receive an insurance settlement from his employer after his death.
Thursday, 4 February 1999... Barinda’s Minstrel and Black Light Theatre Show
Barinda Samra’s back again with her cinematic carnival of performance art. This time, a forgotten art form from the past mixes with a company extremely non-traditional in content and performers.
‘Free Show Tonight’ (1984) 59m, dir. Paul Wagner/Steven Zeitlin. ciné16ers may remember seeing Wagner’s phenomenal film on the Black Pullman Porter’s Union, ‘Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle’, a while back. Tonight, he investigates the fast-dying world of the country traveling minstrel show. Featuring barker and medicine huckster Fred Foster "Doc" Bloodgood, "Diamond Tooth/Walking Mary" McClain, "Guitar Slim", fiddler Homer "Pappy" Sherill, Julian "Greasy" Medlin, and a cameo from Roy Acuff, who manage to put together one last performance in Bailey, NC. A poignant tale is revealed by a husband-and-wife minstrel team who used to perform in blackface, but discontinued the act after a large number of blacks walked-out on their performance one evening. "There's a good deal of America in the medicine show, and a good deal of the medicine show in America", states one performer, in what is sadly more an elegy than a promotional pitch.
‘A Little Like Magic’ (1984) 24m, prod. Peter Rosen. Boy, do we dislike 16mm films shot originally on video... the nasty, fuzzy quality of the image reminds us of big-screen TV sports, and, ‘twixt you & me, it takes a glass or two o’ the hard stuff before all the lines seem to look right. This film about an exceptional theatrical team is well worth seeing in spite of the image quality. Diane Dupuy directs Toronto's Famous People Players in a fluorescent, black-lit large stage featuring large puppet-caricatures of Liberace, Carol Channing, and other notables. Coincidentally, the performer/manipulators are all developmentally disabled people, cajoled, entreated, and occasionally blistered by taskmistress Dupuy in an extremely funny, thought-provoking, and emotional film. Their website’s a nice teaser: http://www.fpp.org/index.html
Thursday, 28 January 1999... Two Rails to Nowhere: Trains of Fact & Fantasy
Back in my early twenties, a buddy and I went to the Iberian peninsula, and did almost all of our traveling in second-class trains (the ‘Rapido’, which moved only slightly faster than donkeyback, was particularly odious, although many a young dude had fun like we did, "aiming" for the rail in plain sight though the bottom of the toilet). On one train in Portugal, the conductor made it a pointy of greeting us every time he walked though our car, saying a few words which we didn’t understand, then moving on down the car. After a while, Pat and I decided our car was too crowded, so we moved back a car to stretch our legs. The train pulls into a station, but 15 minutes later, we still hadn’t left, so I looked outside to see what the delay was. Our train was nowhere in sight, having silently unhitched from us sometime within waking memory, leaving our two travelers sadder, wiser, and after spending six hours at an out-of-the-way rail stop, better read as well.
The romance of the rail certainly can’t be found around here in SanJo. What can we make of this business of pushing double-decker passenger cars 60 miles up track, as Caltrain does to SF? Or the miserable 13-hour crawl from Santa Ana to San Jose? How much fun is it to stare longingly at FRED (the ‘fucking rear-end device’, as any trainman or ‘bo will tell you), which replaced all American cabooses a while back? We’ll save you a plane ticket: for overseas, one can still find charming trains dripping with old world charm, soot, and grease, and tonight’s show is about those trains, whether their treatments be idyllic, adventurous, or downright bizarre...
‘Three Miles High’ (1980) 55m, prod. Tony Morrison. Probably the greatest serial tribute to trains was the BBC’s "Great Railway Journeys of the World" series. Programs ran from the ridiculous to the sublime, but none was grander than this incredible trip through the Andes, by rail to Huancavelica, bus to Cuzco, to our arrival at Macchu Picchu. Inspired by trembling diesels and wheezing steam locomotives straining against the laws of nature, Nick Lera & John Howarth’s exceptional cinematography by has rarely been equaled in any travel film, particularly in the shots of Lake Titicaca. Nor can we fail to mention the neat musical score by the late Tony Duhig and Jade Warrior.
‘Ohrid Express’ (1965) 12m, dir. Robert Legrande/Jean Dasque. Petra Mihalowski considers himself to have a charmed life, being the conductor of the Macedonian narrow-gauge train, built in 1895, which runs from Presak to Ohrid. Its high-pitched, peaked wooden cars carry grain, its gondolas carry wood, and in the afternoon, passenger cars join up as well for the 3 hour, sixty kilometer trip. Along the way, women in traditional clothing heated lake water in large copper kettles to do the laundry on the shore. An idyllic film of a rapidly fading world...
‘A Journey’ (Putovanje’) (1972) 14m, dir. Bogdan Zizic. Who are these people, why are they laughing, and why do they disappear as the train descends into tunnels? A surrealistic film from Yugoslavia.
‘Third Avenue El’ (1955) 10m, dir. Carson Davidson. A crazy drama played out on New York’s Elevated, with music by Wanda Landowska.
Thursday, 21 January 1999... Barinda Samra Presents: Two Iconoclastic Journalists: Mencken & I.F. Stone
We shouldn’t forget the contributions made two of the greatest journalists of this century, the cynical H.L. Mencken, and the equally irascible I.F. Stone. Tonight, Barinda Samra takes the controls at the mighty --- and temperamental --- Bell & Howell 522 firebreathers to bring you two exciting films on these two unforgettable stalwarts of the medium.
‘Mencken's America’ (1964) 60m, dir. Jack Hunter. Born in 1880 into a loving, relatively wealthy family of cigar manufacturers, Mencken was one of the brightest stars of the journalistic scene, anti-religion, cynical of politics, and an abuser of medical quackery. Bellwether of responsible, if opinionated journalism, associate of George Jean Nathan, defender of Scopes (he recommended Clarence Darrow as the defense attorney at the famous evolution trial), and noted booster of the American form of English (contributing "Bible Belt" to the Lexicon), Mencken’s life is told chronologically in this film produced by WJZ/Baltimore, all the way up to his sad, tragic end in 1956
‘I.F. Stone's Weekly’ (1973) 55m, dir. Jerry Bruck, Jr. Once describing himself as a "Jeffersonian Marxist," Isidore Stone founded a bi-weekly newspaper in 1953, dedicated to weeding through the information ignored by major news media in order to report the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Federal government. Stone stepped on toes big and small, offending everyone from his printers, to Walter Cronkite (both chronicled "live" in this film), to LBJ, to Richard Nixon, to the National Press Club (where he was barred for inviting a Black journalist in 1941. Bruck’s fine film follows Stone as he goes about the daily task of reading news, putting together the paper, and performing mailing duties. His circulation director/wife Esther, and journalist Carl "Watergate" Bernstein provide candid views of Stone, who retired the Weekly in 1971. This film is a compelling tribute to a brilliant contributor to Progressive political thought, as well as an important reminder as to the value of a contrarian press.
Thursday, 14 January, 1999... Impeachment and the Presidency: Two Superior Perspectives on U.S. History
We at ciné16 have spent an inordinate amount of time recently, reviewing US and world history films. Most of them are pretty awful, ranging from didactic newsreeled chronologies to poorly acted, scripted, and directed interpretations of how the filmmaker guessed things really were. The music, too, was awful, whether in the form of endless fife-and-drum versions of Yankee Doodle Dandy in any film about revolutionary times, or the Pavlovian, sleep-inducing lavishness of the orchestral trappings of America the Beautiful, Battle Hymn of the Republic, or the Star Spangled Banner in Civil War films. Combing the usual public archives for file footage and still photographs, and smelling out canned music was a surefire way to make an educational film at very low cost in order to produce a very high profit, one of the reasons that very good historical films are so difficult to find.
Tonight’s films are very good examples of what did occasionally happen when superior filmmakers were allowed the artistic license. One, in particular is apropos to the events surrounding the capital, as we sit here in early 1999.
‘Edmund G. Ross’ (1964), 50m, dir. Gerald Mayer. It’s happened before, and was just as partisan in nature as it is today! Noted character actors Herschel Bernardi, Simon Oakland, and James Westerfield supplement Bradford Dillman’s thought-provoking portrayal of the senator from Kansas who cast the final vote against Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, going against Republican party lines, and losing his political career as a result. Superb directing and writing (Andy Lewis) make this 50 minute film seem much shorter, although one would have liked to have seen the role of the tarty landlady (Arlene Martel) spiced-up a bit. Producer Robert Saudek (1912?-1998) may be best known for his "Omnibus" television series bankrolled by the Ford Foundation, but also made his presence felt in the ed film world with his well-known "Profiles in Courage" series, consisting of twenty-six films based on the book by John F. Kennedy. While most of the "Profiles" films are artistically spotty, and intellectually uninspiring (e.g. President Grover Cleveland, George Mason, and Sen. Oscar Underwood), ‘Ross’ is exceptional, and a sober reminder that, as Santayana I believe said, "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it".
‘Power and the Presidency’ (1974) 30m, prod. Jack Willis. Another extremely good film treatment on a theme of U.S. history is this discussion of important aspects of the Washington, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt administrations. Narrated by George C. Scott, this film was originally broadcast by CBS News as part of an eleven-part series called ‘The American Parade’. What made ‘Power’ (in its 1/2 hour school version distributed by BFA) exceptional was its creative pastiche of still photography, cut-out animation, and live action sequences, done by the Cinema Fair company team led by animation director Stanley Smith and art director Joanne Mitchell. The events making up the drama of each administration are presented in such a way that the constantly shifting plains of animation seem to represent a stage of moving sets, constantly in motion, edited in a remarkable series of rhythms by Larry Plastrik and Todd Martin. To illustrate the tremendous toll in human lives that was necessary to secure additional land for the United States, stills of countryside are rapidly interspersed with those of dead soldiers lying on a battlefield, each image being shown several times in a sequence lasting several seconds.
Thursday, January 7... The Sadness of Paradise
One of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard was the ‘fado’ sung by Maria Armanda, down in the bottom of a candle-lit, stone-lined bodega in Lisboa’s Alfama, a few years back, and frankly, I felt like hitting the bottle and crying all over again after seeing the first of tonight’s films, then felt like joining the AA after seeing the other one. What struck me about each is that, after initially deciding it might not make the cut at ciné16, I couldn’t help but thinking about each of them the following day, and then again a week after. I’m sure each of these forgotten films had severely limited distribution before entering their burial chambers, but those who have come to expect the unusual, extreme, and hidden elements of the film world from ciné16 will find this program memorable, and, I’m betting, will find their themes and characters following them well into the days that follow.
‘Our Last Days Together... In Moscow’ (1987) 51m, dir. Martin Duckworth. As the film unfolds, the viewer so desperately wants to know more about pianists, lovers, and fellow travelers Pierre Jasmin and Kuo-Yen, as they end their personal and professional relationship as Kuo-Yen Lee competes for first prize in the 8th Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Told in the second person by the emotionally freefalling Jasmin, the story operates both as a love story and as a metaphor for the conflicting conditions of decay and rejuvenation in Russia as well. As for the romance, she’s obviously the one breaking it off, and we never know why, because the story’s told through the eyes and letters of the hopeful but myopic Jasmin. In the mean time, we see snapshots of their meeting years ago in Vienna, then vodka with friends; a visit to the home of a noted poet, more vodka with friends; a small gathering of piano players in a tiny Moscow apartment where they all play and drink. All the while, Kuo-Yen looks at Jasmin with boredom, joylessness, and reservation... that is, when she looks at him at all. The massages and bright eyes are for the husbands of the other women, and while we wonder just what the hell is going on with these two for the entire movie, we finally conclude that, just like most breakups (in contrast with the film world), words are left unspoken, neither party willing to articulate what body language has so nakedly shown to the camera. Amidst the frustrating yet exhilarating aura of one of the world’s great musical competitions, one asks if this relationship is going to right itself, or like yesterday’s political ideal, die as sure as a driverless car that listlessly and terminally, runs out of gas on the lonely, forgotten desert road of the heart...
‘La La: Making It in L.A.’ (1979) 55m, dir. Frank & Caroline Mouris. Are there any of us who don’t --- or didn’t --- know of at least one person who sold everything and moved to L.A., yearning for utopian riches, thespian fame, and a condo next door to OJ? Well step right up, friends, and meet your buddies, or at least those who eat, sleep, walk, talk, and bathe like them. Here, we meet twenty or so individuals who share their plans for succeeding, which involve everything from numerological reasons for choosing a stage name, to working in a restaurant just to get noticed. Frank Mouris told us that the film was originally intended to have performances, but the union said he'd have to pay daily scale, which was more than was budgeted for the picture. As a result, he made a "talking heads" picture, a statement which doesn't give enough credit to this interesting, quirky look at Hollywood. The Mourises did get by with a soundtrack from friends Gail Lopata and Clyde Lieberman, who were also interviewed in the film, but the music is, fankly, unimpressive (Lopata and Lieberman eventually broke up, and she married a brother to the Lennon Sisters. Living for a time in Branson, Missouri, she now tours nationally with three Lennon Brothers.)
Fact is, nobody's making it in L.A. The less-than-household names of some of the hopefuls who make this extraordinarily sobering film in 1979 tell the story, be they Nicholas Shaffer, Victoria Carol, or many, many others (one guy who did make it, for a time, was Philip Michael Thomas, of 'Miami Vice' fame).