the AFA site
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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 52 programs, encompassing 171 films, are chronicled from most recent 2000 show backward to the first of the calendar year.
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Thursday, December 28... ‘Once in Paris’ (1979) 100m, dir. Frank D. Gilroy
I think we all have experienced films that have spoken to something inside of us, yet remain so personal that all but our very closest friends are unaware of their impact. Tonight’s film is that kind of a gem for me, in the ciné16 archives for years, yet one that I’ve never programmed because I lacked the background information that I somehow felt was necessary when presenting this rather unusual film. Three weeks ago, in a used bookstore in Portland, the data materialized in the form of a book I found written by Gilroy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter who made eleven independent films, each with an abysmally low budget. In addition to being a filmmaker, Gilroy is a diarist who chronicled four of his films in the book, ‘I Wake Up Screening!’, one of which is the film on tonight’s program.
The film concerns the story of three people caught in an unusual romantic web, each of whom, in the role of an anti-hero, falls into actions that defy purpose, and yet are the stuff of the human condition. Somehow, the unusual screenplay, strange casting, and decent directing combine in a film in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The major question raised by any initial viewer of the film is bound to surround the persona of actor Jack Lenoir, who plays the chauffeur. From his book, Gilroy writes:
Gilroy proceeded to cobble together this feature-length film for roughly $300,000, a fraction of the budget for motion pictures made by major studios. Eschewing the well-known stars who would have swallowed-up the meager budget, he instead cast Wayne Rogers and Gayle Hunnicutt as the leads. Not everything went well, as Gilroy reported in his diary, both Hunnicutt and Lenoir having experienced difficulty in separating art from reality:
Lenoir, as it turned out, was a major disturbance both in the making of the film, and afterward as well. Gilroy summed up the relationship with Lenoir, who achieved his fifteen minutes of fame shortly thereafter in a brief press tour through the U.S., by saying "It’s dangerous to make someone’s dreams come true, especially at an age when they’d abandoned them".
There are two bittersweet endings to this story. One concerns the ultimate fate of Lenoir, which I’ll save for the night we show the film. The other is about the actual 16mm print in the ciné16 archives. When I interviewed Gilroy, he was unaware that a 16mm print had been struck from his 35mm negative, and, as such, had received no royalties from its sale. He accepted my offer to get back to him with the distributor credits that one finds invariably either in the frame itself, or written on the leader. Nothing. The print, which contains a strange mixture of "letterbox" and standard 16mm aspect ratios, is probably a bootlegged one, unusual in that ‘Once in Paris’, while recouping Gilroy’s investment, was never an extremely popular picture, and certainly not one that bootleggers would consider a high-profit item. Was Lenoir, the consummate con man, able to engineer this as a means to funnel additional hidden revenue from the film into his own pockets?
This mystery is one that, in all probability, will never be solved. What remains is a very good independent film, its drama further embodied in ciné16’s print, reflecting the hidden machinations and intrigue of the netherworld of film distribution, coffined in its myriad shadows of profitability.
Also on the program:
'Christmas Customs Near and Far' (1954) 14m, uncredited director. Think I've been a bit too hard on Coronet Films, who I claim to have made more terrible films than any other film company? Then this one's for you! Maybe you'll agree with host Fran Allison, who, while standing in front of the well-designed Coronet Christmas set, consisting of a huge, auditorium sized curtain with cardboard windows stuck on it, proclaims "the piñata is the Christmas tree of Mexico!" Probably my favorite part is her discussion of how Christmas works in China, featuring Chinese kids in a nativity scene-tableau vivante, in front of --- you guessed it --- a cardboard pagoda. This bloody awful film is most definitely not about having a cool Yule...
Thursday, December 21... BlackDance
It doesn’t come as any great surprise that, in spite of the rich African and Caribbean influences that inspired much of it, Black performers and companies have continually struggled with performance and publicity issues in the American world of dance. We are continually amazed, admittedly allowing for the relatively cool sensibility of the new millennium, when reading dance reviews by white critics of the 1950s, who recognized that black folks, while having natural rhythm, weren’t suited for classical European dance. We’d love to show 16mm clippings of black pioneers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, but they’ve been impossible for us to find (and finding them, your ciné16 exchequer would probably be unable to afford them anyway). We are fortunate, though in having two films that showcase the talents of Arthur Mitchell and Judith Jamison, two of the finest black dancers of the 20th century, each of whom has contributed significantly to this important element of the history of dance in the United States. Tonight’s films are valuable documents, but sadly, these 16mm films are from original videotapes, in witness to the failure of film companies to recognize the value of recording these performances on the richer and more stable medium of film. Tonight’s films are:
‘Rhythmetron: Dance Theatre of Harlem with Arthur Mitchell’ (1973) 40m, dir. Michael Fruchtman. Arthur Mitchell joined the New York City ballet in 1955 at the age of 21, and soon Director George Balanchine was choreographing pieces specifically with Mitchell in mind, prompting racist letters complaining of the duets performed by the dancer and his white female counterparts. Recognizing that the racism evidenced in American dance was exacerbated by both lack of training facilities for black dancers as well as a dearth of performance venues, Mitchell in 1969 formed the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a project that attempted to provide solutions in both areas. In early 1971, the company made its debut at the Guggenheim Museum, and by 1976, DTH had 1,300 students and 27 company dancers. Mitchell steadfastly refused to integrate his company, stating that he’d do it only when a significant number of white companies made similar advances toward integration. In tonight’s film, we first visit with the effervescent Mitchell, teaching a group of young dancers in the Harlem church basement he used as a studio; he then demonstrates African movements relating to classical, neo-classical, and modern dance to a group of students in Philadelphia; finally, we witness excerpts from ‘Fête Noire’, ‘Biosfera’, and the third movement of his ballet ‘Rhythmetron’
‘Alvin Ailey: Memories and Visions’ (1974) 57m, dir. Stan Lathan. After joining several amateur dance groups, Alvin Ailey decided to formalize dance as a career choice after leaving San Francisco State College to join a touring group in 1951, and in 1954, began studies with Martha Graham. He formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1958, and in 1960, pioneered his masterwork ‘Revelations’. In 1962, he integrated his company, stating that he wanted his dancers to be recognized for their talent, not their color. His various troupes toured continuously, as funds allowed, but were occasionally stymied by occasional financial crises, which would temporarily cause his company to suspend operations. After his death in 1989, principal dancer Judith Jamison took responsibility for the company. In tonight’s film, we see excerpts from ‘Blues Suite’, ‘Lark Ascending’, ‘Cry’, ‘Revelations’, ‘Mary Lou’s Mass’ and, ‘A Song for You’.
‘9 Variations on a Dance Theme’ (1966) 13m, dir. Hilary Harris. The Honi Coles film we had originally scheduled for his date is too long for the program, so we'll reschedule it for later in the year. In its place, although not in the black dance genre, is this, one of the more exceptional dance films ever made, with nine increasingly difficult variations, equally challenging to the dancer, musicians, and film editor.
Thursday, December 14... Modern Art, 1966
In tonight’s program, we turn the wayback machine to the year 1966, in which cutting-edge art was being produced by the likes of Jasper Johns and Jim Dine, and progressive, low-budget television programming was being created at National Educational Television. In contrast to its successor PBS, NET’s programming was rarely slick, and, although often shaky technically, attempted to address topics out of the mainstream, demanding that its audience rise to the standards of the material presented. The NET of 1966 was not about Lawrence Welk fundraising marathons, as was its successor, which made the politically-expedient decision to dumb-down its programming to "serve" a larger audience. For NET, Lane Slate (who passed away in 1990) created the nine-part ‘USA: Artists’ series of films, profiling contemporary artists of the era. Tonight, we’ll show the following three films, starkly brilliant in black and white:
‘Jasper Johns’ (1966) 30m, dir. Lane Slate. Born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930, Johns moved to New York in 1951, soon met John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Leo Castelli, who arranged his first exhibition in 1957. Ultimately, Johns would become a major figure in the movement known as Pop Art, famous for his repetitive motifs and rich textures. Here, we visit with him at his Edisto Beach, South Carolina home, join him as he paints with pigment mixed with molten wax, and listen as noted gallery owner Leo Castelli discusses what he finds compelling in the work of the artist.
‘Jim Dine’ (1966) 30m, dir. Lane Slate. An abstract painter closely linked with the "Happenings" scene in New York, Dine ultimately became concerned by the connection between his artistic life and personal life, which led him to incorporate inanimate objects onto his canvases. Here, Dine (born in Cincinnati in 1935), clearly agitated for most of the film, chain-smokes, discusses the ugliness of his art, and talks about the importance of his children.
‘Jack Tworkov’ (1966) 30m, dir. Lane Slate. Tworkov (1900-1982) was an abstract expressionist whose work is less-known today than in his lifetime. From the luxury of looking thirty-five years in the past, we now see this film as a bittersweet reminder that significant numbers of artists managed to carve a niche for themselves without gaining the critical support needed to compel publishers of art books to include their work. For more on this artist, visit http://www.huntermuseum.org/jacktworkov.htm
Also on the program:
‘Kienholz on Exhibit’ (1969) 21m, dir. June Steel. Born in 1927 in the border area between Washington and Idaho, Kienholz moved to Los Angeles in 1953, where he began making a series of bas-reliefs with found material. Prior to his death in 1994, he was primarily known for his "Assembly Art sculptures, consisting of mannequins, stuffed animals, and pieces of clothing, focusing on subjects such as controversial as bordellos, back seat sex, and abortion. Steel’s extremely entertaining film consists of audience reactions to a Kienholz exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art, which includes his well-known pieces ‘"The Birthday’, ‘Back Seat Dodge’, and ‘Roxy's’.
Thursday, December 7... ‘Jules et Jim’ (1962) 100m, dir. François Truffaut
Actress Moreau had been an early supporter of Truffaut’s work, agreeing to a hastily improvised part in ‘400 Blows’. In ‘Jules et Jim’, which followed three years later, she becomes the lover of two best friends, both of whom are enamored of their warm yet emotionally distant muse. The story takes place in the years immediately preceding and following the first world war, an event that further complicates the lives of the German Jules (Oskar Werner) and Parisian Jim (Henri Serre), each of whom expresses fears of killing his best friend on the battlefield. Intertwined in this triangle are the vectors of additional lovers, as each of the individuals in the film --- including the sculptor whose passion for the face of a woman on a stone sculpture in a faraway land precluded the arrival of Moreau’s character --- attempts to find love and acceptance in a world of rapidly changing mores, its innocence shattered by the cataclysmic winds of international conflict and destruction.
Thursday, November 30... Two by Truffaut, Part I: ‘400 Blows’ (1959) 93m, dir. François Truffaut
Note: ciné16 is fortunate to have acquired two of the early films in the oeuvre of critic-turned-filmmaker François Truffaut. As one of the leaders of the ‘nouvelle vague’ movement, the filmmaker champions the anti-hero, in stories which are fascinating, and much like the Italian Neo-Realism films that influenced the New Wave, have no clearly defined ending. We are showing ‘400 Blows’ and ‘Jules et Jim’ in successive weeks in order to introduce the work of this important director to ciné16ers who may not have been fortunate enough to see Truffaut’s ‘Shoot the Piano Player’ when we screened it last year.
About ‘400 Blows’:
"Adolescence leaves pleasant memories only for adults who can’t remember" - Truffaut
François Truffaut’s first full-length feature film is not autobiographical, as many critics have suggested, but instead is a series of events that occurred in the lives of many people to whom the director spoke while in the process of writing the screenplay. It is the story of young Antoine Doinel, condemned to an existence spent partly in the home of unloving parents, and partly at a school which cannot remediate his alienation, which, in turn, causes further angst. The few brief moments of happiness experienced by the boy are all-too-soon clouded over as the screws continue to turn in his drab world, filmed by Truffaut in the oppressive Parisian winter devoid of sunlight.
Who here is the villain? It’s easy to condemn the parents, in this film in
which there are no heroes, but perhaps the most compelling, and complex
character is the mother. A shrewy, nagging individual who incessantly picks on
both husband and son, we soon see her in the arms of another man, as seen on the
street by her son, who’s been playing hooky yet again. Wanting to form an
alliance with Antoine in order to buy his silence, she engages him in a program
to reward him for applying himself better in school, at the same time cautioning
him that the meager living conditions of this small family are due to her own
lack of education, and that of his father. Later, Antoine, tells us, via a
dialogue with a school psychologist, that his mother had originally wanted an
abortion, but was convinced to have the child by her mother. Antoine’s
ineffectual "father" was the first nice guy who came along and marry
the mother. The final interaction between mother and son is a terrifying
monologue of liberation on the part of Antoine’s mother, who chooses to divest
herself of the child who has become her burden. We feel for Antoine, who,
although exacerbating his condition, didn’t bring himself into this
suffocatingly dark and dreary world; perhaps we revel with him in his quest to
find the great open expanse of the sea, where, in the final scene, Truffaut
reflects brilliant horizon in the face of the suddenly transfixed boy.
Also on the program:
'Frank Film' (1973) 9m, dir. Frank Mouris. In a dizzying array of 11,592 collage shots, Mouris utilizes multiple voices to summarize his life, an amazing film that challenges the visual and auditory senses to the extreme.
Friday, November 24... Poetry/Pandemonium
The best poetry, I find, is wild, unpredictable, uncontrollable, best when performed by poets themselves, in whatever state they find themselves in at the moment the camera arrives on the scene. Last year, we had the pleasure of introducing ciné16 audiences to Don Winkler’s terrific film on 77-year old Earle Birney; this evening, we revisit a film that probably captures the madness of the beat era better than any poetry film ever made, Peter Whitehead’s ‘Wholly Communion’.
‘Wholly Communion’ (1965) 35m, dir. Peter Whitehead. Let's take the wayback machine to London's Royal Albert Hall in 1965, for a poetry convention featuring Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Adrian Mitchell, and our personal favorite Ernst Jandl (whose wordless poetry brings down the house in a pandemonious riot). About halfway through the film, the poets start heckling and fighting each other, and it breaks down into a great anarchic mess. A lovely film, and a great document of the short era between "beat" and "hip".
‘In a Dark Time’ (1964) 30m, dir. David Myers. Theodore Roethke sits in corner wing chair, in shadows, or animated singing in front of fireplace, cigar in hand, Scottish brogue for an Irish song. Here he says: "the void is always there, immediate and terrifying"…
‘Gwendolyn Brooks’ (1967) 30m, dir. Aida Aronoff. Here, the 1950 Pulitzer Prize winner reveals the lighter and darker elements of the Black urban and suburban experience, and the differentiation between "loneliness" and "alone".
Also on the program: a "poet" of early TV, we run this short every year at this time. The star? Think rhinestones, and copious use of the letter "L"…
Thursday, 16 November... Masks, Marionettes, and Mudflats: Transforming Wood into Art
‘It's One Family: Knock on Wood’ (1982) 20m, dir. Tony DeNonno. Here is the story of Mike and Ida Manteo, who, between 1922 and 1981, made 500 marionettes, all 50-100 lbs. each. We see them in their tiny New York City workshop and theatre, owned and operated by members of their own family, as they talk about, and to, their wooden friends, then perform marionette plays in the original Italian.
‘Mudflat’ (1980) 30m, dir. Richard A. Reynolds. Years ago, artists would walk around the muck at the edge of the Bay in Emeryville, and build loads of sculpture out there on the flats, created from driftwood and found objects that drivers would enjoy as they motored south on the old Highway 17. Grabbing material off someone else’s work was considered fair game and part of the fun, and contributed a kinetic dynamic to the ongoing display. Now the place is a park, and the sculptures are gone, but you can see what it used to be like in this neat and funny documentary by Reynolds, augmented by Erich Seibert’s wonderful musique-concrète/time-lapse sequences.
‘Serama’s Mask’ (1979) 25m, dir. Paul Saltzman. Saltzman’s films, which depict the transfer of traditional crafts from one generation to another, are some of the finest art films ever made. Tonight, he investigates the mask-making culture in the village of Saba, Bali. For more on Saltzman, visit his AFA webpage at: Paul Saltzman
‘Steady As She Goes’ (1981) 30m, dir. Robert Fresco. George Fulfit puts his 136th ship into a bottle, with 107 toothpick men to help him.
November 9, 2000. Special note: please read! Not at the Agenda! Special outdoor RSVP event this week only.
At this time of year, the Agenda Lounge books the cellar speakeasy for parties, and we don’t therefore, have the speakeasy this week. The owner of a downtown SJ home has volunteered the use of his spacious backyard for this Thursday night’s event, which will be limited to thirty people. To see the show, please respond to this email with the number in your party. I will confirm your invitation by return email, along with the address.
Here are the rules of the engagement:
If all goes well at the Agenda, we’ll return on Thursday the 16th as usual. The show we'll present this week is as follows:
Thursday, 9 November... Lost in Nature: the films of Wilf Gray
Additional note, written December 30, 2005: We finally did find Wilf! Check out our Wilf Gray page...
Admittedly, the nature films of Canadian filmmaker Wilf Gray have grown on your ciné16 review committee. A recent film acquisition allowed us the luxury of seeing several additional titles made by Gray, and we’re now convinced that his almost reverential treatment of northern subjects creates a "personality" that is both identifiable and rare, refusing to attribute human characteristics to animals through actions or music. I wish we could tell you more about Gray, a little about his history, where he lived and grew up, how he started in film, his frustrations and joys as a filmmaker. Like several others we’ve tried to find, he’s dropped off the map, impossible to find on the internet, through distributors, or at his last known address. I suspect he’s holed up in a cabin somewhere in the Yukon, 16mm camera in hand, shooting footage that there’s no one left to develop, making a film for classrooms that no longer have projectors, and, like the Japanese war heroes who remain on their lonely island watches for decades after the end of the war, waiting for the long-gone bush pilot who, in dropping an expected parcel, will signal an end to the ordeal, or the beginning of another.
Unfortunately, as is the case with so many films that were distributed to classrooms, the color in Wolf Gray’s films has begun in inexorable shift to the red end of the spectrum, but the grandeur remains, and we insist on showing these films now, before the color becomes worse. Fittingly, fall and winter are the best times to see Gray’s nature films, as as Canadian in their austerity as Disney’s in their Yankee bombasticism.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Northwest: Mountains to the Sea’ (1977) 23m. Gray spends two weeks in the wilderness, filming (among other things) baby bears whose cries sound eerily like human babies.
‘Northern Lakes’ (1978) 14m. Canada Goose, owl, and beaver.
‘Voyage to the Arctic’ (1978) 25m. Retracing George Vancouver's trip through the Inside Passage, the trawler "Nathaniel Bowditch", churns into LeComte (sp?) Bay and next to the glacier, then Ketchikan.
Also on the program:
‘For Future Generations’ (1984) 54m, dir. Boyce Richardson. This hilarious but poignant history of the Canadian national park system utilizes lots of old promotional footage, originally produced to lure Canadians and Yank travelers. Not content to tell just another pretty story, Richardson also tells the sometimes sad and tragic tale of the people who were displaced when parks were established, and how updated philosophy has changed this policy. Parks Minister (and later Prime Minister) Jean Chrétien plays a prominent role...
Thursday, 2 November... Prairie Dramas
People who grow up on the west or east coasts rarely think about the mysteries of the prairie. It’s certainly not a place to vacation to, and its cities don’t pose much of an allure; its physical presence is bland in the face of mountains and waterways, not much more than a landscape flyover when taking northern air routes, barely worth a ho-hum peek before the windows are shuttered down for the beginning of yet another MegRyanGeorgeClooneyRobinWilliams cinematic insult from the airlines, who, in their desire to provide films that offend no one, incur the wrath instead of the intellectuals, creative types, and readers. Our senses dulled by rock-hard biscuits, packaged cheese, and peanuts, and we are graced with yet another who-cares drama about the guy in the coffee shop meeting the harried female Wall Street exec everything goes well until he realizes she has three kids and trust issues then they get married.
Instead, I like to take a look down there, and wonder what’s going on in those farms 35,000 feet below, or try to imagine a conversation taking place in that forlorn speck that may be a pickup truck, as it makes its solitary way down a lonely highway that doesn’t even have an end on my horizon, up here halfway between hell and the pearly gates. Their lives and concerns may be different, aggie stuff mostly, I figure: can we afford the new water tank this year, why is the cow sick, should we repair that tractor (again) or buy new? The human dramas that are played out in these places probably haven’t changed much in a few decades: young people forty miles from town still have to figure a way to meet their future relationships, harvest is one hand short, and it looks like a pretty big storm coming on. Both films on tonight’s program address themes such as these, feature striking cinematography, and are thought-provoking stories that left us pondering their conflicts and conclusions well into the next day.
‘The Pedlar’ (1982) 55m, dir. Allan Kroeker. A farmer tries to push his pregnant daughter onto a peddler, resplendent with tats, a magician, who wants to settle. From "A Place of One's Own", by W.D. Valgardson, with great Ukranian music by Bill Prokopchuk, Nick Kowalchuk, and Andy Yablonski.
‘Cornet at Night’ (1984) 25m, dir. Bruce Pittman. How old are we when we begin to dream of the great beyond, a place far from our parents, our home, our familiar surroundings? Instead of choosing a healthy hired hand to finish the harvest, our young protagonist rebels against his father and instead selects a consumptive pied piper. Can this story have a happy ending? And what’s happiness, anyway?
Thursday, 26 October... ciné16 Fourth Anniversary Show: Robin Hardy's 'Wicker Man'
‘Wicker Man’ (1975) 95m, dir. Robin Hardy.
Every anniversary here at ciné16, we attempt to throw something different at you that shocks sensibilities; one year it was graphic war footage from Viet Nam, another year it was WWII atrocities, this time it’s a feature film that is rarely shown, and contains both a sweetness and sadness that addresses some of the darker aspects of what falls into the blanket term of ‘spirituality’. Written by Anthony Shaffer, who also drafted Alfred Hitchcock's 'Frenzy' (1972), and the Michael Caine-Laurence Olivier classic 'Sleuth' (1972, dir. Joseph Mankiewicz), 'Wicker Man' stars Edward Woodward as a straight-laced policeman sent to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, to look into the disappearance of a young girl. He soon finds himself investigating the pagan culture of the island, whose Lord (Christopher Lee) delights in taunting the reserved, virginal officer. His investigation is confounded by the villagers, whose sexual and cultural mores perplex and ultimately transform him into a symbolic icon of his own faith. 'Wicker Man' is disturbing, yet compelling, and our guess is that, if introduced to theatres today, would provoke a religious backlash from church-based zealots. In an interesting side note, Rod Stewart at one time attempted to buy the negative of the film to prevent the public from seeing the sexual dance of his new wife, Britt Eklund who was pregnant during the filming.
Although I’m not in complete agreement with the writer's assessments, an interesting review of the film appears on "Traviscab"'s website at: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/8049/
Thursday, 19 October... Ethnography of New Guinea
We’ve attempted to show as many ethnographic films as possible here at ciné16, but the fact remains that elementary and secondary schools often preferred geographical overviews, rather than anthropological films, with the unfortunate result that anthro subjects are somewhat rare due to their relative lack of distribution through school libraries. Tonight, we celebrate our acquisition of a remarkable film made in the Trobriand islands, accompanied by a well-known Australian treatment exploring the exotic qualities of New Guinea country life.
‘Trobriand Cricket: an Ingenious Response to Colonialism’ (1975) 54m, dir. Jerry W. Leach. One of the more remarkable films ever to approach the subject of aboriginal adaptation of colonialist culture was this one, shot by cinematographer Gary Kildea. In the 1903, the English game of cricket was introduced to Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea, by European missionaries as a substitute for mortal combat. The islanders eventually took charge of the rule book, eschewing 12 man teams to allow for teams of unlimited size, allowing virtually every man in a given village to be a participant, as long as the number corresponded to a like number of men from the opposing village. Here, Leach focuses on a match occurring in the village of Kabwaku in September 1974, in which the visiting team engineers its own defeat to save face of host village. Elaborate victory dances take place with every score and out, accompanied by exhortation songs sometimes ribald, sometimes militant.
‘New Guinea Patrol’ (1958) 26m, dir. Peter Diamond. In this film produced by the Australian Dept. of the Interior, Jim Sinclair makes western civilization’s first contact with Papua New Guinea tribespeople.
Thursday, 12 October... Robert Emmett Presents 'ciné16 Classix'
Since ciné16's inception, KFJC's Robert Emmett has probably seen more of our shows than anyone except your ciné16 executive and janitorial staff. Robert's shows, therefore, represent mini-retrospectives of some of the more memorable films screened here. We especially encourage newer ciné16ers to attend this program as a means of seeing some of the best from the past. On tonight's program:
‘Bill Reid’ (1979) 28m, dir. Jack Long. British Columbia jeweler Bill Reid had a dream of carving totem poles as a means of replacing those in native villages that had fallen into an unrecoverable state of disrepair. This film shows how the pole is created, and includes the ceremony of raising it in Skidegate, Queen Charlotte Islands.
‘Ruth Stout’s Garden’ (1976) 20m, p. Arthur Mokin. The story is that Mokin’s wife read about the octogenarian gardener in the NY Times, and they all decided a visit would be in order. The visit produced a film, based on the life and philosophy of an iconoclast suffragette and political progressive, replete with tales of nude gardening. One finds it difficult not to mentally attempt to smooth old layers of skin to reveal the girl beneath. An outstanding film.
‘Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death’ (1975) 10 m,dir. John Barnes. Barnes made 14 films with the famous pantomime artist, all introduced verbally by Marceau, who tells why each of the subjects has personal importance for him. In this one, he interprets the chronology of life.
‘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 tonight's film, has a wonderful narrative describing its making, at www.iralatour.com/writings.cfm?action=show&id=9
Thursday, 5 October... Carmen Amaya's 'Los Tarantos'
Tonight, Barinda Samra presents 'ciné16 Classix', featuring one of the great films from our past. Originally shown on June 25, 1998, you can look at the original filmnotes by clicking here. Note: AFA director Geoff Alexander has published a short treatise of the art of Flamenco. Read it by clicking here.
Tonight’s program introduces the exceptional biology films made by Peter Boulton and family. The Boultons are notable in particular for several magnificent biology films produced in the 1980s in England, distributed in the US by Benchmark as part of its 'Modern Biology' series. As a family-run enterprise, each film typically would be produced and written by son David, with breathtakingly beautiful photography by his father, Peter, using slow-motion, time-lapse micro photography. Additional members of the multi-dimensional (cinematography, sound, and editing) crew included son-in-law Nigel Rea, and Rosemary Cizmowska, and graphic artist (and daughter) Anne Rea. The film company operates under the name Boulton-Hawker Films Ltd., and was originally founded in 1946 by Gilbert Hawker and Peter Boulton, who made their first film together in Cairo for the RAF. In 1956, Hawker left amicably to concentrate on sponsored commercial films, leaving Boulton to continue with his passion for educational film, specializing in science, zoology, and botany.
No longer making films, Boulton-Hawker has, since 1989, concentrated on distribution rather than film creation. Well written, beautifully photographed, and intellectually stimulating, the Boultons' films are among the finest biology films ever made, and a perfect introduction for people who consider science subjects generally boring.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Five-Kingdom Classification’ (1987) 23m. Everything you need to know about amoebas and amigas…
‘Fungi’ (1983) 15m. is full of attention-getters, including a close-up of a particularly virulent fungal growth on someone’s large toenail, and features an exciting keyboard soundtrack by Andrew Hellaby, reminiscent of Manfred Mann’s Earthband of the mid-1970s.
‘Protista: Protozoa & Algae’ (1981) 14m. Here we find more spectacular photography --- volvox, in particular, is breathtaking --- creative graphics and engaging narration.
Also on the program, these two science films by cinematographer extraordinaire Peter Matulavich:
‘The Microscope and Its Incredible World’ (1987) 21m, dir. Pete Matulavich. Ciné16ers know there’s nothin’ like a great microscope film, and, here, Matulavich take us to the intricate and beautiful world under the slide…
‘How We Know About the Ice Ages’ (1985) 20m, dir. Pete Matulavich. A very interesting film on moraines, glaciers, and erratics (large boulders).
Thursday, 21 September... John Barnes’ Odyssey, with Special Guest Joshua Barnes
In our continuing tribute to the work of John Barnes, we present his outstanding three-part series on Homer’s Odyssey. Joining us tonight is Joshua Barnes, John’s son and astrophysicist of note, who we’ll try to cajole into introducing to our audience the life and times of his father, who passed away this past June. For those interested in Joshua’s own work, please visit his home page at: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/cgi-bin/print_hit_bold.pl/faculty/barnes/barnes.html?Joshua+Barnes#first_hit
for a series of articles on his current work.
Filmmaker John Barnes’ three 1/2 hour films on the Odyssey were --- in the Barnes tradition --- filmed in sumptuous surroundings, in this case the sound stage at Cinecittà in Rome (the storm scene, utilizing models of ships is especially worthy of note). Starring Simon Lack and Ann Moorish, this exciting rediscovery of Homer’s epic tale also features superior cinematography, exemplified by the opening scene in which the camera pans across a beach, stopping briefly at a hole cut into a cliff, fades to a similar cave in the studio, then reverse pans to host Gilbert Highet. 'Odyssey', like so many other of Barnes' films, attempts to carry the viewer on an often surprisingly deep emotional journey through its characters and events, and we encourage those unfamiliar with this filmmaker to visit our John Barnes pages (http://www.cine16.com/barnesbi.htm) for a biography and filmography, detailing the work of this most interesting of filmmakers. Filmed in 1965, our print is a bit on the magenta side, part of the terrible legacy of the poor quality print film sold by Eastman in the 50s through 70s. We are convinced, however, that you may find this annoyance a minor one, well worth ignoring in order to enjoy the rare experience of seeing this great body of work shown in serial format, in one evening.
Thursday, 14 September... ‘Knife In The Water’ (1962) 99m, dir. Roman Polanski.
Polanski’s first feature film, shot in Poland in a low-budget environment, is a well-crafted drama in which two men, a husband and a young hitch-hiker, battle for the attentions of the wife during a weekend on a yacht. When, after two days of sexual tension, the husband causes the hitchhiker to be swept overboard, he’s faced with the prospect of either having killed him, or being confronted with proof that his wife has had a sexual encounter with him. The camerawork by Jerzy Lipman is stunning, using the whites of the yacht to trans-sect the blacks of the lake in often fascinating geometrical patterns, difficult due to constantly changing weather conditions amidst a difficult shooting environment in which a dozen or so of the film crew were often strapped to safety harnesses, suspended over the water, behind the camera. Adding to the aggressive tension of the film is the terrific score by Krzysztof Komeda, Poland’s biggest jazz star, who was to die tragically several years later. Only three actors appear in the film, including Jolanta Umecka, a non-actor Polanski found lounging by a municipal swimming pool, and who proved to be as challenging as the shooting conditions themselves. The director soon discovered that she couldn’t swim, could not remember her lines, and began gaining weight as soon as shooting began, owing to her propensity for hoarding food under her bunk and eating between meals. The finished product is a masterpiece of psychological drama, an indictment of relationships, and an explosive exploration of generational conflict.
Thursday, 7 September... Exploring Moral Dilemma in Science and Medicine: Wolf Koenig’s ‘Discussions in Bioethics’ series
Tonight we feature a small portion of the remarkable body of films from Wolf Koenig, producer of 159 films for the National Film Board of Canada, and 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. Arriving at the Film Board’s prestigious Unit B film cooperative in the mid-1950s, he joined luminaries such as Roman Kroitor, Colin Low, and Stanley Jackson in making some of its most significant films. His work at the Board is catholic in scope and includes titles such as ‘Glenn Gould’ (On & Off the Record), ‘City of Gold’, ‘Corral’, and his technical acumen helped to pioneer the use of lightweight camera gear for his ‘Candid Eye’ series of television programs. No longer making films, Koenig today lives far enough from the city that an occasional bear will ring his doorbell ("After that, I’m not going out for walks alone much, these days"), and continues to frame his thoughts and musings in cinematic terms, producing continual ideas for short, poignant, powerful films:
Tonight’s films will introduce ciné16 viewers to an important producer, too little known here in the U.S., whose oeuvre consists of hard-hitting, challenging social films in the tradition of John Grierson, yet which bear the remarkable and recognizable stamp of Wolf Koenig. For a comprehensive look at his produced films, visit the following page at the National Film Board of Canada: http://www.nfb.ca:80/FMT/E/prod/K/Koenig_Wolf.html
For his directed films, 29 in all, visit: http://www.nfb.ca:80/FMT/E/real/K/Koenig_Wolf.html
Of particular interest to ciné16ers are two socio-dramatic series of films produced by Koenig, ‘Wednesday’s Children’ and ‘Discussions of Bioethics’, the latter of which is the subject of tonight’s program. Prior to the ‘Bioethics’ series, virtually all science films were largely about "doing", science, with very little about ethical issues inherent in their application. To this end, Koenig produced ‘Discussion of Bioethics’, a series of eight films dealing with ethical questions faced by scientists, biologists, and medical personnel, in which human life is, or could be, at stake. Each film was approximately 15 minutes long, in order to allow time for classroom discussion, was rehearsed and shot in four days, and edited in two weeks, for a budget of $100,000 Canadian per film. 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, were addressed by the series, but clear answers were never provided, as the end of each film could be "written" by anyone engaging in post-film discussions. Tonight’s films include:
‘Family Tree’ (1985) 13m, dir. Norma Bailey). Here, Cedric Smith and writer/former stripper Linda Lee Tracey are cast in a tale of an abusive mother, pregnant again. Her doctor agonizes about the future of the baby, and questions whether he should sterilize her without her consent.
‘Happy Birthday’ (1985) 15m, dir. Jefferson Lewis. The most poignant of the series, ‘Birthday’ is the story of a broke but fundamentally happy parents of a two year old, who stage a birthday party for her. Two older guests show up, an executive with a multi-national corporation, and wife, with good news about a job offering to the out-of-work chemist father: a job that pays well, working for a US company specializing in germ warfare. The conflict between success and perceived failure is told in the faces, words, and gestures of the husband and wife, as the grandfatherly exec dons a party hat and plays with the children.
‘Critical Choice’ (1985) 13m, dir. Gary Poole. A liver transplant is desperately needed by two people, only one of whom can afford it. As a medical professional, how would you choose?
‘If You Want a Girl Like Me’ (1985) 13m, dir. Sandra Huyke. Another choice: a baby born with a spina bifida and hydrocephalus condition... abortion or birth?
‘Old Person's Friend’ (1985) 13m, dir. Annie O’Donohue. An elderly woman refuses treatment... do we treat her against her will?
‘Chronic Problem’ (1985) 13m, dir. Cynthia Scott. The Oscar-winning director (‘Flamenco at 5:15’) introduces us to a bed-ridden, dying chronic patient, while a recovering patient desperately needs her bed, in this resource-depleted hospital… who has priority?
The subject matter of these films is played out daily in hospitals throughout the Bay Area. Watching these films causes us to reflect on our own mortality, and provides an insightful look at the realities behind the decisions made by medical personnel who treat our friends and relatives.
Thursday, 31 August... Exploring Our Problematic Past: a Selection of pre-1960 Educational Films
ciné16 is the first (and only) art institution in the United States to recognize and celebrate the artistic contribution to cinema made by the educational film community. In our early five years of existence, we’ve introduced --- or re-introduced --- hundreds of little-known films to our audiences, and have benefited from the appearance of many directors at our shows, including John Barnes, Gerald McDermott, Larry Yust, David Kennard, Bert Salzman, George Kaczender, and Bernard Wilets. Part of the reason that these filmmakers are relatively unknown, is that people otherwise well-versed in cinematic history fail to see that the huge infusion of government funding in the early 1960s created a climate that allowed hundreds of filmmakers to make films that were paid for by the public, creating, in essence, a socialist filmmaking movement not unlike WPA art and writers projects of the 1930s. Another reason film historians ignore educational films is that many of them were not very good, particularly prior to 1960. Tonight, we’ll show a selection of older films that will give you a sense for what it was like to see an educational film if you were a student in the old days, and allow you to juxtapose the difference in the craft of educational filmmaking between those times and now.
‘Killers of the Insect World’ (1939), 10m, prod. Woodard Production. Wildlife and nature subjects have always been included in elementary science curriculum. Pre-1960 films on animal subjects were often sensationalist, circus-like affairs, portraying subjects as deadly, anti-human, or bizarre. Here, we see insects as gladiators in a specially lit arena, spiders pitted spiders against scorpions, then scorpions against each other in a deadly match of titans disguised and promoted as educational fare.
‘Killer Gorilla’ (1952) 10m, prod. United World/Castle Films. Many nature treatments derived from notoriously inaccurate adventure travelogues. ‘Killer’ is a particularly odious example, focusing on a gorilla hunt culminating in the "killing" of an ape that had already been dead for several days, its belly ripped open from port to starboard. If its fly-encrusted mouth could have spoken, it might have told of the awful job its porters must have had, lugging its carcass from one spot to another for camera set-ups, as it heated up under the stifling Congo sun.
‘The Dodder’ (1931),10m, prod. EB Films.. Filmmakers working with plant subjects prior to 1960 must have known that students watching such films might have a short attention span, given the relative inactivity of the subject matter. Perhaps that’s the reason filmmakers enjoyed imparting an anthropomorphic element to the subject. In ‘Dodder’, amidst beautiful time-lapse cinematography, the plodding narrator insults this intelligent parasite with a fondness for the flax stem, calling it "this evildoer... truly a villain of the plant world which serves no useful purpose" as it merrily entwines itself, dancing ‘round its maypole of a host.
‘Canal Gypsies’ (1933) 10m, prod. M.J. Kandel. Filmmakers treating ethnographic and cultural subjects often destroyed the ambiance of a good story through inappropriate narration or music. Here’s a perfect example: the beautiful pastoral setting of England’s Grand Union Canal, the delicate barges plying their way leisurely through locks, drawn by draught horses, the traditional workers moving about the waters, timed only by hoofbeats in this clockless idyll… all to the Irish tune ‘Danny Boy’, played LOUDLY on the Hammond organ...
‘African Pygmy Thrills’ (1930?) 10m, prod. Eugene W. Castle. There were occasional surprises: Castle Films, whose series ‘The Adventure Parade’ resulted in a number of commercially exotic films on ethnic traditions and cultures, actually utilized authentic music in this film, instead of the boring orchestral scores that were more typical of the era. Although the continued use of the term "these little men", and the embarrassing attempt to comically portray an older member of the group as a cynic seems condescending to present-day sensibilities, the faithful recording of the building of a vine bridge 50 feet above the water is remarkable. Climbing 150 feet to the top of a riverside tree, a vine is fixed to an ingenious boatswain’s chair, and a member of the group is swung to a similar tree on the opposite side of the river. Over the next eight days, a complete bridge of several tons is built of vines, the crossing initiated by climbing either tree to the height of fifty feet. While such films represent proof that even sensationalist films of the era contained often superb ethnographic content, it also illustrates the frustration many of these cinematographers may have experienced in seeing their work dumbed-down for theatrical showing. Nevertheless, the documentary aspect of the footage is important, and represents an authentic, if somewhat clumsy attempt to portray significant elements of faraway cultures. ‘African Pygmy Thrills’ is historically significant for one other reason: feature filmmaker Werner Herzog has cited his viewing of this film, as a child, as the impetus for embarking on a career in film.
‘Blizzard on the Equator’ (1931?) 30m, unknown director. Unknown today, host Carveth Wells, was one of the most famous lecturers on the "expedition circuit", his fame being eclipsed perhaps by only Richard Halliburton and Lowell Thomas. Wells was also a prolific writer, and wrote a book about the filming of this Cudahay-Massee expedition to the Ruwenzori Mountains. This film was shot under trying conditions, and we believe these were the first moving pictures ever shot of the "Mountains of the Moon". Wells' narration style is dated and silly, which makes this film a real period piece, and a good example of the way students of another generation were introduced to cultures defined as "exotic", "primitive", or "curious".
Thursday, 24 August... Films from the Underground
Strange, ciné16 occupying a subterranean cinemaspace, and yet we’ve never broached the subject of our brethren (and sistren, in deference to our Marxist/Feminist attendees) who toil along with us, sharing the limestone drippings, old pipes, distant shufflings of overhead feet, and skitterings of nearby and little-seen animals. True, we experimented with outdoor cinema this past summer, making ciné16 theoretically more accessible to new viewers, but found that with people coming and going amidst the various street noises, we no longer had a cinema, but rather an event, a festival, in which the importance of the films took a back seat to the exigencies of the street. Like many of the people who appear in tonight’s films, our experiment caused us to reflect on the fact that we’re not really part of life on the street; our scene takes place in the caverns below, where the walls, sounds, smells, and ambience are, we think, almost locomotive-like, with the noisy B&H wood-burning projectors chugging away, the projectionist swearing at them as they chew up yet another piece of film leader, or inject a piece of dust into the gate, too minute to see by the naked eye, but as big as a basketball when projected onto the screen.
Tonight, we celebrate some elements of this netherworld we’ve called home, one night every week for almost five years…
‘Cave Community’ (1960) 13m, dir. Bert Van Bork. In another dangerous assignment that virtually any other filmmaker would refuse outright, Van Bork and his crew lower themselves into the Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee, to film salamanders and other cave life. Van Bork relates an interesting series of events surrounding the making of the film: arriving in McMinnville, the crew stopped at a hamburger stand for lunch. "Sorry, no more hamburgers", they were told, even though other patrons were eating. Suspicious that they were government agents looking for illegal stills, word had gotten around the small community that no one was to cooperate with Van Bork. Needing several local workers to assist in helping to carry, lower, and raise the equipment from the cave, the filmmaker was refused personnel by the local employment office, a problem Van Bork eventually overcame by hiring a team of black workers, disconnected from the community power structure. Upon emerging from the cave, Van Bork and the workers were pelted with stones from local peckerwoods. The filming itself was arduous, too: first, Van Bork lowered himself by rope so he could film the others descending, then he and the others crawled through passages so narrow they had to remove the belts and pants to get through. Electricity was cabled from the surface, enabling them to generate enough light to succeed with the slow ASA 10 movie film which was standard in 1960.
‘Wildcat’ (1959) 30m, dir. Dick McCutcheon. Here, we visit with the boys from the Big Chief Drilling Company in Garfield County, Oklahoma, as they take ‘er down 6,750 feet over 22 days to find out if there’s a drop down there.
‘Miner’ (1965) 19m, dir. Robin Spry. 4000 feet below the city of Sudbury, they’re a pickin’ and a haulin’, an environment in which the whole business of removing earth-laden materials has gone beyond the simple words found in a job description to instead define a culture in which its inhabitants spend at least one-half of their waking existence in the absence of sunshine.
‘Caverns & Geysers’ (1982) 13m, dir. Paul Burnford. The legendary Burnford, who died last year, had an amazing career that included editing Eisenstein’s ‘Que Viva Mexico’, serving as an unwitting spy in WWII, and founding Film Associates. Here, he takes us to sulphurous Yellowstone, and the Carlsbad caverns.
‘Fire Under the Sea: Origin of Pillow Lava’ (1971) 14m, dir. Lee Tepley. Tepley and fellow diver-cinematographer Gene Rugroeden dive into exploding and imploding underwater lava, poking it with hammers and spears, as it tumbles up, down and sideways.
Thursday, 17 August... PSSC Science Films
Tonight, ciné16 shows three films in tribute to a series that dramatically changed the manner in which physics was taught in the American classroom. Rarely seen today, the OSSC series is not only interesting from a cinematic perspective, but an historical one as well, featuring some of the more prominent professors of the time in their laboratories. Filmmakers on tonight’s program include documentarist Richard Leacock, who studied physics at MIT prior to becoming one of the developers of "direct cinema", and Larry Yust, whose later dramatical films would be among the finest ever made in the educational framework.
PSSC was one of the programs funded by curriculum grants to educational institutions through organizations such as the National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation, and acts of Congress such as the National Defense Education Act (NDEA, 1958) and the Environmental Education Act (1970). Due to this influx of money, educational film companies found a ready-made, enthusiastic, and lucrative market, increasingly fueled by the federal government’s desire to achieve, then maintain perceived primacy over the Soviet Union in the fields of science and engineering. While the successful launching of Sputnik in late 1957 set the wheels in motion for much of the publicly-sponsored windfall, the surge to improve science education in secondary schools actually began in the early 1950s. One of the first advances in the new science curricula, was achieved in 1956 when a group of MIT scientists under the leadership of physicist Jerrold Zacharias formed the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC), which, as part of its charter, developed a series of approximately 17 films on the physical sciences. Although a good portion of these were unable to rise beyond the level of the earlier didacticism, several of them were interesting to general audiences as well as the science crowd. Tonight’s films represent a good cross-section of PSSC films, each of them having the cognitive element of good information, and the affective value of interesting presentation.
‘Frames of Reference’ (1960) 26m, dir. Richard Leacock. Utilizing a fascinating set consisting of a rotating table and furniture occupying surprisingly unpredictable spots within the viewing area, Frames of Reference (1960), features fine cinematography by Abraham Morochnik, and funny narration by University of Toronto professors Donald Ivey and Patterson Hume in a wonderful example of the fun a creative team of filmmakers can have with a subject that other, less imaginative types might find pedestrian.
‘Coulomb's Law’ (1959) 25m, dir. Richard Leacock. Here, manic Princeton professor Eric Rogers hosts, continually removing and replacing his eyeglasses, ordering around lab assistants --- he forcefully breaks a glass test tube in the hands of an assistant to demonstrate the unelasticity of water --- and furiously pounds equations on a blackboard (Leacock says the scribblings must have lasted 45 minutes, in what must be one of the more necessary cuts in the history of educational film). Rogers finally conducts an experiment with a young girl, placing her in a metal cage, which he then charges with electricity, demonstrating through the inverse square law that his assistant (Leacock’s trusting daughter Elspeth) is not harmed by the charge.
‘Long Time Intervals' (1960) 30m, dir. Larry Yust. In addition to the funny moments noted by Leacock, at least one other filmmaker working within the PSSC framework would also use humor. Here, noted dramatic director Larry Yust finds the gleeful host joyfully breaking apart rock samples with a sledge hammer as he feeds the mass spectrometer; this one’s all about uranium dating, U235 & 238, and lead 206 & 207, proving once and for all that T-Rex, Adam & Eve, and Moses all lived together 6,000 years ago, just the way the bible sez. Fine cinematography by Archer Goodwin.
Thursday, 10 August... A Most Dangerous Game
I’m writing this sitting in a commercial jet, somewhere over Arkansas. In the seat behind me, a woman with a terrible lung condition alternately coughs, hawks, and spits, and we’re two hours out of DC, two hours from LA, and I’m dwelling on the recirculated air that will turn this airplane into a flying ambulance before we reach LAX. The guy sitting next to her isn’t happy, and I can’t tell if it’s because he’s coming down with something, or because he’s married to her… I ‘m starting to suspect the latter, as they haven’t said a word to each other all journey. Since I’m consumed with the idea that I’m locked into a toxic situation for the next two hours, I guess I’m in fine fettle to write about this week’s show, which focuses on other worldly dangers, inspired as they are by the gurgling and other consumptive noises coming from my neighbor’s mucous membranes, so reminiscent of the vocal manifestations of the grizzly bear in tonight’s first film…
Tonight, a look at deadly things people do for sport, work, or folly:
‘Grizzly Bears: A Case Study in Field Research’ (1967) 18m, dir. Irwin Rosten. John & Frank Craighead catch, tag, and observe bears in Yellowstone. In this one, a subject awakes early from the tranquilizer, and attacks their car.
‘High Wire’ (1984) 30m, dir. Sandi Sissel. Philippe Petit walks a high wire suspended between the towers at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the high-rise building across the street. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the film involves the complex rigging necessary in the preparation. In his vertiginous walk, Petit cautiously tests for wind direction, then daringly kneels and lifts one leg above the wire, high over the street below.
‘60 Cycles’ (1965) 17m, dir. Jean-Claude Labrecque. Bicyclists with meager protection plunge head first at high speeds into the competitive Tour du St-Laurent, a grueling race of 2400 kilometers in 12 days in the Gaspé. One slip and it’s ambulance time, for both the lead rider and the others that follow.
‘Man Who Skied Antarctica’ (1980), 18m, dir. Eric Perlman/Dewitt Jones. Yuichiro Miura is another in the line of crazy Japanese adventurers. It’s in the blood, Ill tell you: one day, I and a bunch of Australians went to Nemrut Dagi, a mountain in Turkey well-known for its foul summit weather. 200 feet from the top, we were caught in a hailstorm, but managed to huddle inside a hut, resolved to drink tea until it let up. Someone noticed that one of our Japanese companions was missing. He’d left… we looked out the door, zero visibility, as fog had crept in to accompany the hail. Twenty minutes later we heard a cry: "Australians! Australians!" We yelled back, in case he was attempting to gauge direction by sound. There he was, materialized out of thin air, on the doorstep. I swear to you: he was stripped down to his underwear, covered with hail, shivering like mad, but with this weird, exhilarating, crazy smile on his face, because he’d made it to the summit, against the desire of the elements. The subject of tonight’s film, famed as the ‘Man Who Skied Down Everest’, is just as nuts as our companion, tackling an 8000 foot, 60 degree slope, causing an avalanche, skiing through it, then, tumbling end-over-end, somehow riding it out at the bottom, still on two legs. It’s gotta be the sushi.
‘Venomous Snakes’ (1974) 25m, prod. Ivan Tors. Jack Seale's Snake Farm near Pretoria, South Africa, is extreme even by African standards. Herpetologists consider him amateurish, risky, and unacademic, and Searles has been bitten a few times to prove it. Here, Jack goes-a-snake hunting in the bush, and meets up with mambas and other nasty critters.
Thursday, 3 August... Robert Emmett presents: 'The Last Laugh' (Der letze mann) (1924), 73m, dir. F. W. Murnau
(the following film notes are by tonight's host, KFJC's Robert Emmett)
F. W. Murnau was a brilliant director. His Nosferatu film is a stylized retelling of Dracula, that is still popular today. His films don't get the same exposure as other great classic film directors. The Last Laugh is a wonderful film about life and work. Tonight's ciné16 play tribute to F. W. Murnau and the power of filmmaking. In the spirit of educational films, 'The Last Laugh' takes the power and the passion of the human experience and presents it in an universal language. This film also displays the talent of Karl Freund, one of the cameramen, who became a director himself., and who finished his career as Director of Photography for the 'I Love Lucy' television series. Edgar Ulmer, who is also revered as a director of unusual and noir films, is the Assistant Director on 'The Last Laugh'. You may not have many opportunities to see a great film like The Last Laugh. Don't miss tonight's show.
Thursday, 27 July, 2002... Uncovered Images: The Hidden Genius of Animator Philip Stapp
Philip Stapp is one of the most significant animators working in the academic film genre. Although his work spans several decades, his aversion to publicity and his natural reclusiveness have done much to keep him out of the public eye. Two years ago, a ciné16 interview and visit produced an unpredictable result: Stapp donated his personal film library, as well as several of his large two-dimensional works of art to us (this represents something of a coup for us, as Stapp had earlier discussions with New York's Museum of Modern Art on the subject) . This donation is significant, as all of his films are out of circulation, and several of his films were lab prints with color that cannot be found in used prints. Originally, I had wanted to present Stapp's films and two-dimensional art in a museum setting in San Jose, but have to date been unable to generate interest in San Jose's provincial art climate. Instead, we're presenting his films tonight at ciné16, and we'll hold off on showing his two dimensional art until our local art world catches up, or, as is usually the case in our town, some other city recognizes the work of Stapp, and exhibits his work first. The following essay is from the ciné16 website, and I encourage you to visit it to see photos of his art, as well as the furniture he designed for the viewing of his unique scrolls: http://www.cine16.com/stapp.htm
- Geoff Alexander
One of the most original and creative animators ever to work in the educational genre, Stapp was born in Madison, Indiana on 13 April, 1908. After studying music and fine arts, he was awarded a traveling scholarship for European study by the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts. While in Europe, he worked briefly with designer Jules Bouy. In the 1930s, he began teaching art at the prestigious Greenwich (CT.) Country Day School, where he remembers making a small, hand-drawn picture book of Chaucer's Tales for a little boy who had fallen ill (that boy, future president George Bush, still has the book). Stapp then evidenced an avocation in furniture design, contributing drawings for an international competition in Germany in the early 1930s, resulting in the crafting of several pieces which were displayed as part of the exhibition (in 1987, Stapp would design a table and chair made specifically to view his scrolls).
In the 1940s, Stapp worked briefly at Bennington College, Vermont, with dancer Martha Graham, where he designed the set for her "Every Soul is a Circus" performance. In 1946, Stapp, increasingly drawn to film, free-lanced at Julien Bryan's International Film Foundation, where he made his first film, Boundary Lines, an abstract study of the physical and cultural limitations placed on individuals by political and social forces. Stapp's contribution to animated film involved designing "a consecutive flow of drawn images calculated to be photographed in strict counterpoint to musical score", often contributed by composer Gene Forrell. Such films, with assistance from Alfred Barr of New York's Museum of Modern Art, and dancer Graham, helped Stapp win a Guggenheim fellowship, and he was later invited to join the Information Division of the Marshall Plan Organization to supervise animation films in Western Europe from his office in Paris. In 1953, he contributed animation to the John Halas/Joy Batchelor award-winning film version of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Returning to the States in 1956, he would, over the next two decades, contribute finely-crafted elements to many films in the IFF catalogue, from illustrated maps and titles to more complex animated sequences, thereby setting the standard for creativity in animating the educational film. Stapp, whose importance as an animator is underestimated due to both his relatively low film output, as well as school, rather than commercial distribution, was influenced by elements as disparate as the work of Scot-Canadian animator Norman McLaren, Japanese Ukiyo-e "floating world" paintings, and dancers such as Graham. As opposed to the static animation style inherent in many contemporary educational films, Stapp’s figures instead float, split apart, dissolve, spin, and vaporize in a constant state of metamorphosis. In addition to animating the films of others, he also occasionally directed films, and his First Americans: Some Indians of the Southlands (1976) is a good indicator of his highly stylized technique, resplendent with oriental/geometrical elements (Stapp’s most inventive film may have been his abstract-yet-geometrical Symmetry, distributed in 1966 by Contemporary Films).
In addition to his film work, Stapp's graphic output included a series of five three-part panels defining musical structure as embodied by abstract dancing figures representing melody, harmony, and meter. The figures evolve, diminish, and soar in a "milky-way" like background; as opposed to being seen from a distance as individual large pieces, the works are meant to be seen as the viewer, barely two feet away from the panels, tracks the movement horizontally, moving from left-to-right. Created painstakingly on transparent paper and transferred via a reversal charcoal process, they are precursors to the more intimate scrolls made by Stapp in the 1980s, and were generously donated to ciné16, which hopes to display them publicly in a future gallery program dedicated to the films and graphic work of the artist.
Today, we can see two distinct phases to Stapp's style. In the Representational phase, lasting until roughly 1960, Stapp's figures are often highly stylized, but still retain recognizable human facial characteristics. They often exist on Tanguy-like watercolor-washed plains containing surrealistic elements, changing states through shifting line, color, and shape. In the Abstract style occurring from approximately 1960 onward, Stapp's characters are anthropomorphic dance-like figures, often pointillist, as are the seas and spaces through which they float, dance, and cavort. Unlike the figures of the earlier era, Stapp's images are now in a constant state of transformation, whether lying in a stationary plane, or evolving through forward movement. Inspired by dance and music, these latter figures often climb and descend contrapuntally, often splitting into several figures to represent various voices in the musical score itself.
As of this writing (2000), the 92- year old Stapp has been in the process of designing mammoth scrolls based on geometrical abstracts and musical structures, such as the 30-foot long scroll "Homage to Matthew Shepard", and a 70-foot scroll displayed at New York's Cathedral of St. John. Intensely personal in nature, the scrolls are designed to be seen by one viewer at a time, the "action" unfolding, then disappearing in segments approximately 18 inches in length. Stapp designed a specialized table (see his page on the ciné16 website) on which to view the scrolls, and has dedicated the last several years to this vision of a very personal art which, through its slow unfolding in the hands of the viewer, can truly be experienced to its greatest extent solely by the person engaged in unrolling the artifact.
Tonight's program consists of the following films:
‘First Americans & Their Gods’ (1969) 11m, dir. Philip Stapp. Utilizing pointillist, abstract, and multiplanar split-image figures, Stapp describes Mayan and Aztec cultures, unfolding in codex-like form, accompanied by ethno-concrète music by Thomas Wagner & Arthur Burrows.
‘A Game of Chance’ (1979?) 10m. We’re not sure what we liked best, the big floating pointillist steak and egg platter, or the galaxy-like arteries collecting all that cholesterol. In this animated ode to heart disease produced by the American Heart Association, Stapp takes us on a dizzying ride through the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, stopping briefly for cigarette, ice-cream, and fatty meat breaks. The ill-advised footage of a doctor’s monologue during the last 30 seconds or so of this fine animated film gave us more heartburn than all the cigars, filets mignon, and alcohol we’ve ingested in the past decade...
‘Picture in Your Mind’ (1948) 20m, dir. Philip Stapp. Sent by the U.S. government as a participant in the Marshall Plan with a specific mission to assist the French in re-gearing their animation studios, Stapp discovered a Europe much-decimated by war, but in further danger of annihilation by nuclear weapons. Returning to the U.S., he produced this alarming-yet-hopeful film, replete with its lonely, Tanguy-inspired landscapes peopled with static figures casting long shadows across charcoal-colored plains. While taking the risk of leaning a bit toward didacticism, Stapp managed to urgently convey the thought that world destruction was not necessarily inevitable, provided that people embrace, rather than reject their cultural and racial differences. ‘Picture’ is a unique document resulting from the sometimes dreamy, sometimes nightmarish vision of the artist in a war-torn land, with the spectre of death hovering ever-so-slightly ahead...
‘Boundary Lines’ (1947) 10m, dir. Philip Stapp. In this, the first Stapp-produced film emerging from his European period, we see the emergence of two techniques that would come to fruition three decades later: the animated musical "line", and the evolving scroll. The former, consisting of an animated line that rises and falls in conjunction with musical pitch, suddenly bursts in accompaniment to composer Gene Forrell’s multiple voices. While never again appearing in Stapp’s films, this technique re-appeared in his two-dimensional multi-panel paintings of the 1970s, suggesting dance figures propelled by converging and diverging lines based on the structure of musical forms. In the latter, an arrow shot by a primordial hunter races across an animated continuum of time, changing its payload to represent the armament of choice throughout time, eventually ending as an atomic bomb, ready to descend on a city. ‘Boundary Lines’ refers to the imaginary lines of prejudice that separate individuals, races, and countries. Their legacy is represented by lynchings and concentration camps; Stapp’s statement is so powerful that we doubt that in our time, as we try to protect the kiddies from the naked bodies that might show up on library computer screens, this graphically arresting animated discourse on the bitter fruit of the tree of hate could easily be shown in the classrooms for which it was created.
‘Symmetry’ (1966) 10m. In perhaps his greatest film, Stapp's stylized and pointillist-inspired abstract images dance in a surrealist floating world reminiscent of Japanese "ukiyo-e" illustration, the "stage" seen from three perspectives (overhead, direct, and diagonal), the figures continually rotating, dividing, and converging.
‘Homage à François Couperin’ (1978) 2m. A very pretty Baroque poem, where cavorting butterflies and dragonflies dance to the Baroque composer’s "Les Papillons".
Also on the program:
‘The Eye Hears, the Ear Sees’ (1970), 55m, dir. Gavin Millar. Philip Stapp counts the late Canadian animator Norman McLaren as an important friend and colleague. Here, in the only interview/documentary ever done with McLaren, the BBC's Millar accompanies the filmmaker steering his VW beetle (missing a headlight) around Montréal, and visits his animation lab.
Read Richard von Busack's review of this show at: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/07.27.00/stapp-0030.html
Thursday, 20 July... Southern Sights and Sites: Four Folky Films from Below the Mason-Dixon
Tonight Barinda Samra presents a much-requested show we ran originally last September, 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, 13 July... ‘Stoked on Wipeouts: California Surf Culture of the 1960s’
‘Blue Surf-ari’ (1968) 100m, dir. Milton Blair. From the beaches of southern California to the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku competition at Sunset Beach, Oahu, we follow surfers John Teague, Ricky Grigg, Greg Noll, and others as they battle the elements with weapons such as Hawaii’s "Big Gun" longboards. This film was one of a genre of films made up of wipe-outs, goofy grins, bad puns, wipe-outs, bikinis, woodies, and wipe-outs... The surf film genre lasted roughly five years, the most famous of which was Bruce Brown’s ‘Endless Summer’, which still makes it around to festivals now and then. There’s been a resurgence of interest in older surf films of late, and ciné16 tonight will show one of the rarest. Although the weak dialogue and predictable story line, endemic to all surfing films, runs rampant through "Surf-ari", the film has value as a time-piece, an escapist dream that serves as both folly and therapy to a generation that was plunged board-first into a world requiring adult decisions with dire consequences in a far-off land in Southeast Asia. The strength of the film is in the music, performed by seminal surf band The Blazers, and cinematography, from a crack team including Jim Freeman (Sentinels of Silence) and Bud Browne, creator of the surf film genre.
Thursday, 6 July... Lorca's ‘Bodas de Sangre’ (Blood Wedding, 1981) 71m, dir. Carlos Saura
I’ll not belabor my ill-feeling toward what I call "tourist flamenco", that most egregious of the ethnoculture-lite dance derivations, and the one you’re surely bound to encounter whether here in San Jose, on a cruise ship in the Adriatic, or in the brothels of Manila. You’ll find it too, in Spain, although many of the practitioners of that particularly odious bastardization, particularly in the south, go to great lengths to hide their faces, names, and ancestry, lest some old flamenco absent-mindedly walk in the door, looking for a ‘xeres’, and, finding that poorly-conceived and performed art instead, flee in horror, proclaiming the crime to the alleys, latrines, and confessionals. "Tourist flamenco" is the "son-et-lumière" of the flamenco world, and, just like those godawful sound and light shows that destroy the nighttime nobility of ancient ruins worldwide, this obscenely maladapted attempt to inculcate appreciation of the great and terrible art of flamenco leaves the aficionado in dismay. But don’t get me started.
Fortunately, the film on tonight’s program, the first of Carlos Saura’s flamenco trilogy, contains a lot of what really great flamenco dance is all about. Like the two films (‘Carmen’ and ‘El Amor Brujo’) which follow it, this one features the exceptional dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades, who spent several years in the company of Carmen Amaya (he was featured in her ‘Los Tarantos’, which we showed on June 25, 1998.
‘Bodas de Sangre’ is, after the first ten minutes or so, free of dialogue. The troupe performs a danced interpretation of the story written by Federico García Lorca, and, because Gades’ mesmerizing troupe conveys the drama through dance, I’ll not spoil it for you by telling the story here. Gades’ interplay with partner Cristina Hoyos is vibrant, powerful, and --- at times --- painful, her tortured facial expression mirrored in the fluid yet contorted muscles, tendons, and veins built through years of exacting study, true to the traditions of the art form. When first approached by producer Emiliano Piedra, Saura claimed filming such a piece was impossible, but agreed to see a rehearsal. Gades himself directed the performance, alerting his counterpart to the advantages of filming the story in a bare studio, with handheld cameras. The piece was too short for a feature-length film, so Saura added some events leading up to the story-within-a-story: the cast arriving in the empty dressing rooms, setting up shop in front of their individual mirrors, putting on makeup and costumes, then a brief monologue by Gades describing his entry into the world of dance. This film is, unfortunately, too-rarely screened, probably because distributors shy away from 70-minute films without dialogue. I encourage you to take advantage of the fact that ciné16 was able to acquire a print of this wonderful film, due to one distributor’s "sleep of reason". For historical information on Gades, visit: http://flamenco-world.com/autores/autores.sql?idautor=137&apartado=Bailaores
Also on the program:
‘Whistling Smith’ (1976) 27m, dir. Michael Scott. Police films go with flamenco just like umm… umm… OK, I’ll leave the link up to you… I’ll admit, I’m showing this because I love this Oscar-nominated cinema vérité documentary walking beat of an officer working Vancouver's skid row, cussin’ out and befriending prostitutes, telling pimps to move along, and warning a ‘john’, "hey fella, you know that girl’s a prostitute?". Although citizens and Bernie Smith alike are, to a certain extent, playing for the camera, the proprietor of a Chinese restaurant is not, when he kicks out the entire film crew as well as Sergeant Smith for disturbing his customers.
Thursday, 29 June... Paved With Good Intentions: Industrial and Promotional Films From Detroit
The race I try to drive just about every year starts at 10 pm somewhere on the west coast, then runs on a tortured series of large loops 600 miles or so out in the desert, terminating in Las Vegas at eight in the morning. A strange mix of cars: Porsches, Thunderbirds, Cobras, and souped-up Miatas thunder through the desert at high speeds over sparsely-traveled roads, all within functional radio contact to divert the race at any given moment should the police make an unannounced appearance at an inopportune time (we’re "non-sanctioned", if you get my meaning). There are moments, while driving at 150 mph through the Mojave sunrise, that you swear you’ve never seen --- or felt --- anything finer, and are momentarily grateful to have conquered the fatigue to see the desert the way it should be seen, with fast-shifting panels of mountains sliding swiftly ahead and behind each other like windblown, two-dimensional ships. Most of us like racing our own cars, but the timid rent them from unsuspecting agencies, wanting to avoid the risk of damaging their own cars. They are, if you will, the pansies of the performance circuit, viewed disdainfully by other drivers who run the contest to enjoy the sound of their own engines and the snarl of the tarmac under its oil pan. One early morning, roughly seven hours into the race on an extremely dippy section of the Kelbaker Road, I began noticing an increasing amount of fresh oil topping the crests of the asphalt, causing me to move to the oncoming lane to avoid skidding. Two miles later, after the occasional splashes of oil had begun to look like a river, I understood why: lying flat, dead, bottomed out on the low-point of a dip was a brand-new rented Cadillac, oil pan sheared off, the victim of an armchair adventurer and his bizarre goal of racing in yacht-like comfort, its driver now up ahead somewhere in the distance, enjoying a brisk walk in the morning Mojave sunshine... Truth to tell, I've never come close to winning the damn thing, not being a precision driver, running on my $11 watch instead of the several thousand dollar computer-timed rigs that the serious guys use. I beat ‘em all on the straight-aways (there's a nice uphill road with 5 mile visability for that, where I get to 150 pretty quickly), but my precision leaves a little to be desired: the last time, I finished 63 out of a field of 64, and they didn’t even post my time, thinking that after all was said and done, nobody who was really trying could have finished that poorly.
Films? What films? Oh yeah, almost forgot: tonight’s films are about car culture, club racers to manufacturers, from the rallye in winter Québec that makes the rest of us look like pikers, to the interesting and rarely seen promotional films put out by the major auto companies.
‘Ford Flat Out’ (1969) 28m, unknown director. Early Petty, Andretti, and Ongais; funny cars, Indy, NASCAR. The objective of the film appears to be to position Ford as the performance leader, without spending much time, as you would suspect, on interior trim.
‘Pontiac Pours It On’ (1971) 20m, unknown director. The sand casting of blocks to robot assembly. The first Firebirds come off the line...
‘The Innovators’ (1975?) 30m, unknown director. Hot auto propaganda; taking Fisher Bodies from clay, to wood, to prototype, to assembly, via the IBM 370 mainframe.
‘Rallye des Neiges’ (1961) 30m, dir. Donald Wilder. A ciné16 classic! Crazy Québecois rallye in terrible winter conditions with old Volvos and VWs; lots of spinouts with a hot jazz track by Norman Bigras.
Thursday, 22 June... Four Films from Arne Sucksdorff
Although relatively unknown today, Swedish filmmaker Sucksdorff’s (b. 1917) well-made films on animal life were popular in both schools and theatres in the 1940s and 50s. Much of Sucksdorff’s childhood was spent in solitary journeys in the woods, and, while a youth, he developed an expertise in taming wild animals. He began making films in 1941 after achieving success as a still photographer. Refusing to hide the harsher aspects of nature, Sucksdorff was accused of deliberately creating events that led to predatory actions, the beneficiaries generally being his own "tamed" pets, or wild animals he had befriended through occasional feeding, such as the wild owl who, used to the presence of the filmmaker, hunted and devoured a mouse that the filmmaker than produced from his pocket and placed near the foot of a tree, "on cue". Sucksdorff viewed the elements of hunting as an essential part of nature, preferring to portray the realistic aspects of life and death. After WWII, the filmmaker concentrated on ethnographic and social subjects (in 1948 his ‘Rhythm of a City’ won the Oscar for best documentary short subject), and eventually moved to Brazil, directing a film school and showing increasing concern for the plight of indigenous rain forest people.
Tonight’s films suffer slightly from the juvenile narration added by Encyclopaedia Britannica, who distributed several of his films to classrooms in the 1950s, envisioning elementary, rather than secondary school markets for them. Nevertheless, with Sucksdorff’s exceptional camera work and superb editing, they are important films within both ethnographic and nature contexts, and are too rarely seen today.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Gray Gull the Hunter’ (1944) 14m. On the island of Karlsoarna, this dramatical interpretation of marauding sea gulls robbing the nests of murres to devour their young was noted by contemporary critics as symbolic of the Nazi plunder of Europe. Sucksdorff, denying that this had been his intention, refused to be offended by such theories, noting that only dead films lacked variation in interpretation.
‘Laplanders’ (1951) 10m. An ethnographic study narrated by John Barnes, with Sucksdorff accompanying these nomadic peoples as they drove, herded, and harvested their reindeer.
‘People of the Reindeer’ (Wind from the West) (1942) 20m. An earlier look at Laplanders; a neat children’s story, accompanied by a dated narrative celebrating stratified gender roles.
‘Adventures of a Baby Fox: a Story in Rhyme’ (1955) 14m. A rhymed adventure with fox, who eats bird eggs and many insects, in close-up. probably a variation of Sucksdorff’s ‘A Summer’s Tale’ (1941). Sucksdorff’s opening images are reminiscent of Monet’s impressionist waterscapes, juxtaposed later with an expressionist treatment of a derelict barn, whose decayed wood is broken by jagged shafts of sunlight.
Also on the program:
‘Beautiful Lennart Island’ (1977) 24m, dir. Beverly Shaffer. Ten year old Steven Thomas Holland’s "classroom" is the small island off the coast of British Columbia he shares with his sister and parents. This tribute to the resourcefulness of generations of lighthouse keepers is hosted by Holland, who guides us to his places of play and reflection.
Thursday, 15 June... Talking Black: Gil Noble on Adam Clayton Powell and Malcolm X
Tonight, we feature two films made by WABC’s Gil Noble, portrayals of individuals who generated much of the race-related press activity of the turbulent 1960s. Loved and vilified in their times, we now have the luxury of looking at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X through thirty-five years of accumulated history, finding them less shocking than in their own day, vindicated in their separate drives to aggressively right the ship of state before it capsized under the bloated weight of years of racial oppression. Powell and Malcolm struggled to communicate the idea that unless the economic pie is distributed a little more evenly, those who have nothing will rise to forcefully take from those who have. Tonight’s films address issues that will forever be at the forefront of social and political liberation, and their lessons still apply in our own day, though voiced perhaps less eloquently by their successors. Eloquent, witty, and more than occasionally brutal, their words often reflect on the brevity of life, spoken in the maelstrom driven by the winds of fear, ignorance, and oppression that sealed their words all too quickly in the silent sarcophagus of time.
‘Malcolm X: El Hajj Malik El Shabazz’ (1975) 58m, dir. Gil Noble. From an early life of petty crime taking him from pimping to prison, Malcolm X evolved to the point of being one of the more forceful voices of Black Nationalism prior to being killed during a speech at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. Here, Noble captures the rationalism and passion of a man who continually stated that his only goal was to see to it that the laws of the nation were enforced equally. "Pale folks" would occasionally wilt under the scrutiny of this man, who, convinced of his early death, refused to compromise or weaken his message; his fiery speeches have lost none of their power in the 30 or so years since his death. The film ends with Malcolm in an open coffin, eulogized by Ossie Davis.
‘Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: an Autobiographical Documentary’ (1977) 58m, dir. Gil Noble. It’s unfortunate that Powell, a larger-than-life figure who was responsible for much of the progressive legislation passed through congress in the 1960s, has been largely forgotten. Only the second Black person to be elected to the congress since Reconstruction, Powell had, since the age of 21, followed in his father’s footsteps as the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, the largest black church in the United States. A fascinating character who simultaneously worked backroom deals in congress and thumbed his nose at the white power structure, Powell’s political roller coaster ride included congressional censure, reinstatement by his constituents, and a final defeat by Charles Rangel in 1971, one year before his death. One of the most controversial figures of the 1960s, he was vilified for his widely-known appreciation for beautiful women, as well as his conciliatory attitude toward radical black leaders (he invited Malcolm X to speak at Abyssinian, and defended the latter’s insistence that black families acquire firearms with which to defend themselves). Noble’s film, consisting of interviews with both Powell --- filmed one year prior to his death --- and his second wife (of three), pianist Hazel Scott, displays both the charm and fiery rhetoric of a man who was to change the face of racial politics in Washington more than perhaps any person before or since.
Thursday, 8 June... The Other Side of the Mountain: Social Films From Perú
Last week, we featured films depicting the rich culture, history, and art of the Andean nation, but tonight we accompany some of the individuals who contribute to its economic wealth without, in most cases, the luxury of having benefited directly from its gains. Tonight’s films are sobering, and thought-provoking, and are among the finer social films we’ve seen.
‘Peruvian Plateau: Problem of Industry’ (1954) 12m, dir. Clifford Kamen. Although done in travelogue style, the photography in these weaving and smelting areas is wonderful, documenting the difficulty of transporting goods through Andean passes.
‘Highland Indians of Perú’ (1969) 15m, dir. Unknown. The other side to the coin of quaint Indians spinning yarn and weaving textiles. This extremely hard-hitting film asks the question: a life of toil in the mountains, or an unknown fate in the big city (Lima)? Here, we see tired faces, broken bodies, tortured souls. A great and terrifying film from Germany’s Institut fur Film und Bild.
‘South America: the Widening Gap’ (1975) 15m, dir. Andrew Nemes. Here’s the promised land… hillside barrios expand the limits of urban areas, creating their own commercial districts in the process. This is an important film that goes so far as to suggest some of the positive societal aspects of squatter housing.
‘Julia the Gourdcarver’ (1978) 25m, dir. Paul Saltzman. Saltzman specialized in making films showing children of different ethnicities learning the traditional arts and crafts of their regions, in this case, eleven year old Julia Sanabría, learning the art form from her Uncle Florencio. Unlike many other filmmakers, Saltzman refuses to gloss over the trying economic conditions experienced by the girl and her family, whether discussing their usual dinner of potatoes, or the fact that "my father left us when I was very young, and never came back". Without being cloying or pedantic, there are moral issues that are important to Julia, as she washes, pencils, and carves a gourd in time to sell it at the Sunday market in Huancayo, to buy a sweater for her grandfather. No mistaking: this is a children’s film, albeit an exceptional one, offering simple and, at times, innocent answers to some difficult questions.
‘So That Men Are Free’ (1963) 25m, dir. Willard Van Dyke. CBS News’ ‘20th Century’ series contracted with this noted documentarian to film this story of a ten-year old effort to provide 2,300 formerly feudal peasant farmers a stake in their own country. In spite of the fact that this print is filled with splices, and the orchestral musical score disconcerting, the film is compelling, especially with the testimony of former overseer Enrique Luna, who befriended and assisted the campesinos who were his former adversaries. Dr. Alan Holmberg of Cornell works here with Dr. Mario Vásquez, a local sociologist, to assist in the empowerment efforts. On 1 September 1962, their hard work pays off, as the farmers buy their village. Fore more of the story, as told by one of the participants, visit: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/report/news/november11/barnett1111.html
Thursday, 1 June... This Side of the Mountain: The History and Art of Perú
The ethnological and archaeological draw of this Andean nation resulted in some of the more fascinating films ever to appear in film libraries. This, the first of a two part series, focuses on the art, culture, and history of Perú. Next week we discover a more somber side, where most of the people live when the tourists are gone. All of tonight’s films feature exceptional cinematography, but differ from each other in subject matter and treatment.
‘Ancient Peruvian’ (1968) 26m, dir. James Sage. One of the first films in the educational historical genre to ascend beyond the didactic was James Sage’s Ancient Peruvian in which the architecture and archaeology of early empires was juxtaposed with the ethnographic elements of modern culture, interpreted by both the camera and Gerald McDermott’s stunning animation. In a departure from the tired orchestral arrangements, or alternately, inappropriate Flamenco guitar musical scores that were common to such films, Peruvian featured a stunning soundtrack by Thomas Wagner, consisting of a percussion ensemble augmented by flutes and various other wind instruments, particularly effective during the animated sequences. McDermott, who in addition to Philip Stapp, provided IFF with the most original and striking animation in the educational film world, was born in 1941, and began experimenting with film as an extracurricular activity while attending Detroit's Cass Technical High School. He made his first commercial film (Stonecutter, 1960, IFF) at the age of 19, an extremely complex animation short featuring 6000 animation cels presented in six minutes. Influenced by Klee and Matisse, McDermott used silk-screen and traditional painting techniques in crafting ethnographic folk tale animation shorts. Later travelling to Paris, he introduced himself to Henri Langlois at the Cinemathèque, who in turn sent him to Alexandre Alexieff, master of the 'pinscreen' (a frame holding thousands of retractable pins which, when struck perpendicular light from each side, would produce a three dimensional image based on the manner in which the pins were pushed from the opposite side of the viewer). Returning to the US, he the filmmaker attended Pratt Institute in New York, U.S. and began animating for the International Film Foundation. He went on to make four more films under his own name on themes of ethnic mythology, often accompanied by Wagner’s music, Sunflight (1966), Anansi the Spider (1969), The Magic Tree (1970), and Arrow to the Sun (1973). Leaving film, McDermott concentrated instead on children’s picture books, winning several Caldecott Awards for excellence in animation. As of this writing, McDermott continues writing an illustrating children’s books, and serves as Primary Education Program Director for the Joseph Campbell Foundation.
‘Family of the Mountains: Peruvian Village’ (1971) 12m, dir. Lee Bobker. This fascinating non-narrated film chronicles the daily tasks of gathering water & wood, cultivating land, and attending the local school.
‘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 in this series ran from the ridiculous to the sublime, but none was grander than this incredible trip through the Andes, by rail to Huancayo and Huancavelica, bus to Cusco, to our arrival at Machu 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, notably so in the sequences shot at Lake Titicaca; nor can we fail to mention the neat musical score by the late Tony Duhig and Jade Warrior.
‘Master Weavers of the Andes’ (1977) 20m, dir. Peter Pilafian. An ethnographic look at weavers in villages surrounding Lake Titicaca, including Isla Taquile, with music by the magnificent Uña Ramos.
Thursday, 25 May... Robert Emmett Presents, Part II: Man, Art, History, and Jacob Bronowski
(The following filmnotes were written by Robert Emmett)
Jacob Bronowski was a Cambridge scholar who taught mathematics. During World War II he used the mathematical theory he developed to increase aircraft's bombing effectiveness. After studying the effects of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, he gave up military research to concentrate on the ethics of science and life sciences. His last major project was to write and narrate 'The Ascent of Man' (1973). There was a time when a liberal arts education was a valued possession: the thought was to expose you to a wide variety of subjects and disciplines, to allow you to become a well rounded member of society. As important as this education still is today, rarely do liberal arts graduates become a Jacob Bronowski. This learned man shows us the joy of being familiar with a great number of subjects. Through lectures, books, and films he taught by incorporating diverse perspectives. By using great works of art and literature alongside science theorems, learning became multidimensional. He is the kind of person everyone always wants as his or her professor, someone who would not just educate, but inspire. In his last project, ‘The Ascent of Man’ series, he states: "Man ascends by discovering the fullness of his own gifts.. .what he creates on the way are monuments to the stages in his understanding of nature and of self."
‘Grain in the Stone’ (1974) 52m, dir. Mick Jackson. In this episode from ‘The Ascent of Man’ series, we see how to apply the concepts of architecture to the arts, to science, to history, and to civilization. "The tool that extends the human hand is also the instrument of vision. It reveals the structure of things and makes it possible to put them together in new, imaginative combinations." By skillfully weaving science, aesthetics, history and philosophy, exemplified by the Pueblos of Arizona, Grecian ruins, and the Watts Towers, Bronowski’s imagination and insight allows us to gain a better understanding of the Ascent of Man.
Also on the program,
‘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 renderings of Matisse’s paintings.
'Lion's Den' (Dr. Doolittle) (1928) 10m, dir. Lotte Reiniger. Renoir’s chief assistant on ‘Rules of the Game' was Carl Koch, whose wife, Lotte Reiniger, was one of the early giants of animation. Her style consisted of elaborately staged silhouettes, and ‘Lion’s Den’ is a ten-minute excerpt from her 65-minute ‘Dr. Doolittle’ which she distributed for the school market in the early 1950s. For more on this outstanding animator, read William Moritz’ bio and filmography at: http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.3/articles/moritz1.3.html
Thursday, 11 May... Barinda Samra presents 'GlassWorks', a reprise of our extremely popular Thursday, 9 March show
Thursday, 18 May... Robert Emmett Presents, Part I: A Tribute to Virgil Thomson
Tonight, Robert Emmett, host of KFJC's 'Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show' (which airs Saturday morning from 9 until noon at 89.7 FM) presents his first of two shows as your ciné16 guest host. His notes are as follows:
Tonight ciné16 pays tribute to American Composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989). This urbane, extroverted Midwesterner did not fit into that cliché of composer. He was a composer, a writer, and a critic. As a composer he collaborated with Gertrude Stein- Four Saints in 3 Acts was an opera staged in New York in 1934 with African Americans singing all the roles. As lead music critic for the New York Herald, (1940-1954), his fearless criticism was blunt, audacious, witty, and often rude. His writings on music championed new styles and frankly discussed the problems of business, politics, and aesthetics for the composer. He disliked the power of the media, conglomerates, and technological exploitation. With this pragmatic and no-nonsense attitude came remarkable insight, he said, "by using a carefully thought out and complex way, you produce by 30 a handful of unforgettable works. But by then you are a prisoner of your method...so you write less and less...without freedom, no one is a master." Tonight, two films featuring his music.
‘Louisiana Story’ (1948) 77m, dir. Robert Flaherty. This film has the distinction of having the only Pulitzer Prize awarded for a film score. Featuring the cinematography of Richard Leacock, this black and white film is just as glorious to watch as it is to hear. Director Robert Flaherty best known work is the documentary ‘Nanook of the North’. This film is not a documentary, it is tale about the coming of progress to the bayou. Progress, here, is represented by the oil company that wants to drill in this backwater. Today we judge progress, and oil companies, much differently, but this was made in a time more innocent.
‘The River’ (1937) 30m, dir. Pare Lorentz. How do you explain the issues and background of flood control? This movie takes a look at life along the river. For it's time, it is very straightforward about the environmental impact of our shortsighted actions. The solution for flooding is also very much of the time. Dams and levies today are seen more as problems, yet at that time they saved lives and introduced electricity to large areas of the South.
Thursday, 4 May... A Tribute to Amos Vogel and Cinema 16
Back in 1996, I put a lot of thought into what I would call the concept that would eventually become ciné16, and finally combined "16" for my love for 16mm film, which I had acquired when showing films to the special ed children I taught, with "ciné", from the French, dedicated to filmmakers such as Renoir, Carné, Truffaut, and Lelouch, who had taught me to see film in a new way. I had never heard of Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 a New York City film society which, beginning in late 1947, had lasted 16 years, showing 16mm experimental, documentary, and foreign titles to an audience composed of paid subscribers. Midway through our own first year, people who had discovered ciné16 through our website began making reference to Vogel’s institution, which died from lack of funds in 1963, well before I had even conceived such a thing as 16mm existed. Just the other day, I picked up a film journal in a used book store in Lexington, Mass. that focused on the programming work of Vogel, and, beyond being impressed with the scope of his film choices, I was touched by the poignancy of Cinema 16’s passing, Vogel's final pleas for $20,000 to keep the thing afloat, as well as the articles in the Village Voice attempting to rally New Yorkers to the defense of this small but influential institution, stating that in letting an important, iconoclastic, and innovative idea like Vogel’s pass away, perhaps Big Applers shouldn’t feel so smug after all. It’s sad: over the final three years of its existence, a debt of $20,000 had occurred. Vogel (who, with wife Marcia ran day-to-day operations) paid rent for space and fees for films, and the relatively high costs of advertising, mailings, and brochures had picked his bones clean. He had attempted to keep it above water by selling subscriptions and distributing film, but finally, it wouldn’t pay for itself.
Perhaps I’m a bit more cynical than Amos Vogel. I don’t figure anyone’s going to pay big money to see 16mm film, especially historical films like ours (kitsch, on the other hand, is a different story...), so ciné16 is privately funded. We figured we'd do it "on the cheap", so we'd have no bills exclusive of film acquiring and projector repair, which is one of the reasons the San Jose Mercury doesn’t print our schedules (sorry, no mailings, not even to the press). We'd have no permanent venue space rental fees, no office, no phone number. We’d do it on the fly, and see how long it lasted. Well, here we be, well into our fourth year, now, and this show will be our 169th. The story of Amos Vogel is interesting, and bears repeating here: each year, he’d host seven "events", consisting of a film program shown several times over the course of a month, in different theatres. In addition, he’d have special events, many of which included appearances by filmmakers discussing their work. To see his programs, one would pay a yearly fee (at the end, there were over 4,000 subscribers), but much of the costs of putting on the programs were offset by the stellar group of sponsors, which included many of the great lights of art, including John Grierson, Yehudi Menuhin, and Man Ray, allowing over 250 shows to be produced in its 16 years of existence.
While not being able to say ciné16 was inspired by Amos Vogel, we nevertheless appreciate a certain kinship of purpose, and believe that his efforts, given unselfishly and passionately in the desire to show important work, should not be forgotten. To have the fortitude to run an operation like Cinema 16 for as many years as he did, within the framework of increasingly diminished funding, is impressive in its allegiance to an art form to which he obviously felt an immense drive to sustain. Tonight’s films were all presented at one time or another at Cinema 16, and, we’re sure, much of their ultimate popularity in all the right circles in the United States was due to his support, enthusiasm, and advocacy for their creators. We show these films tonight to allow our viewers to travel back in time to the days of Amos and Marcia Vogel's Cinema 16, to see a show they might have programmed on a given evening, sometime in the late 1950s.
‘The Invader’ (1954) 30m, dir. George Stoney. Stoney’s most famous film was ‘All My Children’, which documented a childbirth. Here, he presents a surprisingly non-judgmental explanation of venereal disease, considering the year of its release and its sponsor (the Georgia Department of Public Health).
‘Crisis in Levittown’ (1957) 25m, dir. Lee Bobker/Lester Becker. The Black upper middle-class Myers family moves into all-white Levittown, PA in August, 1957, and are snubbed and mistreated, in this powerful landmark documentary showcasing racism in the United States.
‘Rival World’ (1955) 30m, dir. Bert Haanstra. Shell Oil produced a number of exciting films based on subjects near-close to the petroleum company’s heart, whether hunting for diamonds off the coast of Namibia (utilizing sonar technology) or this one, describing the impact of insects on the quality of human life (a special interest of Shell’s Chemical division, which created insecticides). Shell used great filmmakers like Haanstra and thus produced material far superior to that produced by Standard Oil, who typically used filmmakers less proficient in the craft. How about this film, in which a pilot purposely flies into a locust cloud 23 miles long by 5 miles wide. Only by reading Eric Barnouw’s fine book on documentary film do we find that the sound of locusts crashing on the windshield of the aircraft was made by the dropping of peas onto a plastic sheet lying atop the strings of a grand piano. Tonight’s film is the revised edition, updated in 1975.
‘One Potato Two Potato’ (1958) 15m, dir. Leslie Daiken. We’ve always enjoyed this somewhat uncomfortable film, consisting of children’s' rhymes and games in post-war England, looking more like 1945 than 1958. Daiken (1912-1964) was an expert of children’s games and toys, but the sadness of this film leaves us questioning whether he lived more in his past than is present. A fascinating website has been established, http://mahogany.lib.utexas.edu:1000/Libs/HRC/fa/daiken.html
‘Adventures of *’ (1957) 10m, dir. John Hubley. This animation short is a riot of abstract art, color, and post-bop jazz, describing the infancy, adolescence, and adulthood of an art form.
Thursday, 27 April... Beyond Belief: The Politics of Exclusion and Organized Religion
My uncle Pat was one of those Communist hunters of the 1950s and 1960s who traveled around the country, speaking to civic and church groups, talking Jesus, suggesting the presence and danger of communists in their communities, and convincing small-minded men and women that every progressive political idea was birthed in Moscow, suckled in Peking, and tutored in Hanoi. Years later, we found out that his claims to have been in military intelligence were fake, and the "Dr." he liked using in front of his name derived from a divinity school that cranked him out a sheepskin costing him six months of "study" and a few thousand dollars. Willing to ride along on the periphery, my dad would drive around with the radio tuned in to evangelists such as A.A. Allen, Katherine Kuhlman and Reverend Ike, while my well-meaning Scottish-Presbyterian mom did her best to corral the rest of us into a missionary-oriented church, where the good book was pronounced "BAH-bul", and the concept of masturbation was discovered through the fine efforts of the youth minister. If, in fact, there WAS a hell, the boy who would one day be your host at ciné16 was sure he was living in it, or perhaps, instead, just a temporary resident in this carnival-like atmosphere of nuts, nay-sayers, and nincompoops. And I’ll admit, that today, while not believing much of anything, I still love to hear great radio preachers like R.W. Schambach blister the airwaves with a unique form of American rhetoric that is as authentic as the Delta Blues, with specific phrases, cadences, and exhortations that cross state borders and racial barriers alike.
Tonight, ciné16 looks at three important groups that make up a significant percentage of those who identify themselves as members of an organized religion: the evangelicals, the bigoted, and the progressives. As we will discover, some of their harshest battles are not fought with the character they call Satan, but among themselves.
‘A Time For Burning’ (1966) 58m, dir. William C. Jersey/Barbara Connell. In this "direct cinema" style documentary, Pastor Bill Youngdahl of the Augustana Lutheran Church attempts to get other white churches in Omaha to agree to join him in a program to promote racial understanding that would, in cooperation with black churches, coordinate home visits between parishioners of different churches and races. Youngdahl’s efforts represented a small battle that turned into philosophical warfare between him and more conservative members of the white church council, who feared that blacks would then take the step of attending white churches, resulting in the loss of white members. In keeping with the tenor of the times, bigoted council members also feared that black attendance at white churches would lead them to living in white neighborhoods, where, with two families per house, they would erode property values "like the Mexicans". In addition to the fascinating view of the extreme conflicts to be found within religious institutions are the riveting characters, which, in addition to the compelling Youngdahl, include a white minister whose approach to the issue evolves during the filming, and the outspoken and insightful. From the black perspective, Connell and Jersey’s camera joins a group of men in a barber shop, one of whom, barber Ernest Chambers, provides an articulate, powerful, and poignant perspective throughout the film, as he questions whether black aggression against the Vietnamese would be as valuable to the black community as would armed action against the white ruling class in the United States, while a customer of his notes "a church isn't really a showcase for saints; it's a hospital for sinners". Youngdahl, for his part, continues to push for this small step of integration, hoping to forestall the potential violence he sees as a growing undercurrent in Omaha, but all does not end well for him. The otherwise thought-provoking ending of this film is almost destroyed by the insipid folk song (brought to you by the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert and songwriter Tom Paxton) that accompanies the final footage, a crime unfortunately prevalent in many social documentaries and peace gatherings of the era. Lest the viewer be too judgmental on the white Lutherans that make up some of the more conservative church people in the film, please note that it was produced and distributed by the Lutheran Film Association.
I talked to Youngdahl this week (he's retired and living in northern California), thirty or so years after this film was made, and he provided some fascinating information about the events that led up to the film being made, and the results of the aftermath. Youngdahl was the son of a three-term governor of Minnesota, and attended a seminary in New York, where he developed his ideas toward an "inclusive church". Sent to Omaha by the Lutheran Church, Bill was admonished by his dad not to preach his first six sermons on Civil Rights (Bill responded that he'd promise only to do three). The events shown in "Burning" led to his resignation from Omaha's Augustana Lutheran Church, and Bill eventually landed in Berkeley, California, where he continued his activist-spiritualist role as an advocate for Gay and Civil Rights within the Church. Barber Ernest Chambers went on to become a well-known State senator from Nebraska, still active as of today. Ray Christensen, the churchman whose opinion changes radically during the film, developed a passion for vérité film, formed his own film company in Minneapolis (Charthouse Learning), and has made several noted documentaries. Bill Jersey's Quest Films continues to produce documentaries in Berkeley, CA. The Augustana Lutheran Church, in the ensuing years, has become the progressive church Youngdahl was striving for, a leader in interracial spirituality. The goal of the Lutheran Church in the making of this film was to provide similar churches across the United States with a document that could be used to provoke discussion and spark dialogue within their own congregations as to the role of the individual church within a racially and socially diverse community. Thirty four years later, here in the year 2000, the film remains a powerful statement and an important reminder of the ignorance and fear that form the foundations of prejudice and bigotry.
‘With God on Our Side’ (1981) 55m, dir. Alexander Von Wetter. This important film traces the beginning of the evangelical movement, concentrating on some of the major names that, during the next twenty years, would change the public face of religion, and the money-making activities that would cause it to become a significant force in American politics and public policy. Von Wetter refuses to use cinematic tricks to poke fun of people such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Robert Schuller, and Reverend Ike, preferring instead to allow them to explain their grandiose schemes in their own words (the visit to Falwell’s money-counting office is memorable). The film also provides an even-handed look at evangelical rock, mass baptisms, drive-in churches.
Thursday, 20 April... Food Fights: Agribusiness and the American Breakfast Table
The last fifty years of educational film has produced damn few documentaries on the business of food, and no wonder: major television networks, the original producers of many of the films that, in edited versions, are distributed to schools, are reticent to bite the advertising hand that feeds them. The educational film companies themselves never had budgets that would allow them to do any degree of investigative reporting, so the end result is that many Americans are ignorant as to the machinations of major food producers and their cronies in the chemical industry. Canada’s National Film Board operated, to a great extent, free of these commercially-imposed restrictions, and often delighted in tweaking the corporate orientation of its southern neighbor. Tonight, we screen two Canadian films which investigate the before and after aspects of agribusiness, from seed selection, to growing, to harvest, to production, to marketing.
‘Fragile Harvest’ (1986) 49m, dir. Robert Lang. Did you know that the interdependency of wheat seed varieties was being threatened by family-owned seed companies being acquired by petrochemical companies? Until I saw this film, neither did I, nor did I understand some of the nuances of wheat seed particular to different areas of the world. The economic, cultural, and nutritional aspects to the weakening diversity of world wheat production are formidable, and something, perceptually, pretty far-removed from what most of us in the SV are thinking of on a daily basis. This fascinating film poses questions pertaining to the interrelated issues of culture, sustenance, and business, and how they join together to create the biography of the piece of bread which pops out of our toaster...
‘Taste of Tomorrow’ (1980) 56m, dir. William Canning. This film on food and eating trends in North America took a decided turn for me when, in a lab sequence, a man stuck his hand into the stomach of a living cow via a window cut into its side. I was so shocked, I wasn’t sure whether it was funny, sad, horrifying, or communist. There are also several appearances by the dry and witty Dr. Ross Hume Hall from McMaster U. who delights in spilling junk food on his desk before denigrating the contents, and a great sequence on tea testers (phtooey!)
Thursday, 13 April... A Jones for Stones & Bones: Three Anatomy Films
Each film on tonight’s program addresses a different level of student, from elementary, to secondary, to those attending medical school. The last time we programmed films on the human body (July 1998), we featured a film showing an endoscope threading its way into lung tissue. Tonight, we go one step beyond that, to invasive surgical procedures in a film that quite probably is being shown for the first time to a non-medical audience.
‘Visits in Urology: Surgery of Renal Calculi’ (1976) 45m, prod. Sidney Milstein. "What are you doing in stones, these days?" asks Dr. Ralph Straffon of genteel southern surgeon Boyce, from Wake Forest's Bowman Gray School of Medicine. Boyce thereupon takes out a few Lucite cube displays of kidney tissue, showing what he’s about to do, operate on two "multiple stone formers", patients with monstrous, branching kidney stones. Don’t let the title fool you: this medical training film, while heavy on the terminology, is fascinating for any layperson who’s wondered how a kidney is lifted out of the body, spliced open and sutured, then stuck back in under all that fat. Yep, better eat before, not after this film. A friend of mine who worked at a teaching hospital once told me how patients were lost all the time because the surgeons forgot to remove forceps, sponges, and clamps, before sewing ‘em up, but the gifted Boyce we visit here is clearly beyond those shenanigans. The catalogue reads: "Covers the use of the arterial segments of the kidney to develop anatrophic nephrotomies which provide access to any or all renal calyces. Demonstrates techniques to insure preservation of renal function and emphasizes plastic revision and reconstruction of the collecting system". For me and you, it’s a stunning, ring-side view into the "guts" of an operation, narrated by the surgeon.
‘Skin: Its Structure and Function’ (1983) 23m, prod. Bruce Hoffman. Hoffman, who self-effacingly credits his rise at Encyclopaedia Britannica Films to nepotism (his father was Don Hoffman, EB’s VP of International Sales), combined intellectual curiosity and humor in reworking many stale EB titles from the past, producing films that have an often-timeless quality. ‘Skin’ features exceptional animation by the team lead by David Alexovich, augmented by beautiful electron-microscopic close-ups and sight-gags that explain what makes some people smelly. Alexovich’s work is stunning in the EB series, both in his animated introductions (which feature a spine being stretched and plucked like a cello string), and is his use of the multi-plane animation stand, allowing the viewer the pleasure of wandering over, around, and inside of various structures.
‘I Am Joe’s Ear’ (1986) 25m, dir. Randy Wright. Anatomy films made for very young learners included the offbeat and interesting ‘I Am Joe’ series consisting of eleven very funny, yet extremely enlightening films on aspects of the human body. Based on a number of articles originally appearing in Reader’s Digest, they cleverly combined live action, two-dimensional animation and clay animation, in films such as this one, which illustrates the workings of the inner ear, with dad’s increasing deafness adding an element of human interest.
Thursday, 6 April... How We Won the Big One: Training and Motivational Films from WWII
Training millions of American men and women to engage in war required educational materials that would stress not only how to fight the war (which educator Benjamin Bloom would later term the cognitive domain of learning), but also inculcate the desire to fight (Bloom’s affective domain) by stressing the reasons that North American forces chose to engage in battle. Taking separate but similar paths, the U.S. and Canadian governments developed training and propaganda films for civilian and military personnel alike. In January, 1941, the U.S. Office of Education formed the Division of Visual Aids for War Training, chartered to develop instructional material for civilians, and led by Floyde E. Brooker, who had spent many years promoting educational film as associate director of the American Council on Education. In his new job, Brooker would advocate film as a preferred training tool, securing millions of federal dollars to train industrial workers to make and use war materiél. Two key elements in the treatment of many of these films were first-person narration and point-of-view camera shot from the perspective of the eyes of the learner (as opposed to the previously popular technique of tracking around and opposite the subject/object). Between its inception and June 1945, the Division alone made over 450 films.
In terms of training films for the men and women serving in the armed forces, Training films had been used by the U.S. military as early as the first World War, and now, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, military authorities were quick to secure the services of Hollywood luminaries such as Lt. Colonel Darryl Zanuck and Major Frank Capra, charging them with directing film-based education efforts. Such films encompassed one or more of four main objectives:
1) To describe the moral purposes of the war, characteristics of allies and
enemies, and the part played by individual military components
By the end of WWII, over 9,000 training titles were made available to U.S. Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard personnel, and several thousand more used by the Army Air Force. Numerous prints were made of each military title, and during one two-year period, over four million showings were estimated to have occurred in the United States alone. Careful storage of film in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment was never a priority for the military, and as a result a great many of the WWII titles eventually became unusable due to a condition known as "vinegar syndrome", in which a chemical reaction separates the film base from the emulsion --- indicated by the telltale smell of acetic acid --- results in warpage, rendering the film unshowable. Because the acid becomes airborne, corroding adjacent metal reels and film cans, such prints must be immediately isolated from non-affected film. Unfortunately, much of the important legacy of U.S. military training films from World War II has been destroyed through ignorance or neglect, haven fallen victim to this condition. Tonight’s films are little-shown due to their rarity and condition (ciné16’s prints are stored in a refrigerator to neutralize the spread of acetic acid), and those of you sitting next to the projector will immediately understand why a strong stomach is required to show these films. You will, however, share in the experience of understanding what it may have been like to sit in a Quonset hut on a chilly winter night in 1944, watching the films that taught you how your government expected you to fight and think.
‘Castaway’ (1944) 50m, dir. Thomas Willard. This is a disaster recovery film made by Willard Pictures for the US Bureau of Aeronautics, a first-person drama portraying a flier shot down in the Pacific. Throughout the fifty-minute film, the unseen flier talks to himself, discovers the value of the inflatable life raft and ancillary items, and makes it to the shore of an island. Encountering a native in traditional dress, the flier stops himself from harming the individual by reminding himself that "remember, he’s just as scared of you as you are of him". Ultimately, the flier is rescued, but before he leaves, he makes a point of giving his knife to the native who befriended him, as a gesture of friendship. This not-so-subtle message of inter-cultural understanding was perhaps more progressive than contemporary school films on the subject of people in developing nations, which had up to that point tended to emphasize the exotic and primitive aspects of non-Western cultures, rather than in the similarities with our own. This begs the question as to whether the numbers of pacifists and conscientious objectors within film groups such as the U.S. Army Signal Corps may have lent a greater hand than one might suspect in creating pro multi-cultural messages in military training films. Then again, as was proved by the post-war work of General George Marshall, maybe that philosophy was there already to a certain extent, and was made more popular and acceptable through the use of such films as ‘Castaway’.
‘Flak’ (1944, 20m, unknown director). Your bomber is traversing enemy territory, hundreds of miles away from your payload’s destination, and suddenly you encounter ground-based anti-aircraft fire. Will you make it? If you saw this film, which shows you how to dodge radar-based fire by intelligently changing altitude in precise patterns, your chances may be measurably increased.
‘Tanks’ (1944?, 12m, unknown director). Host Orson Welles narrates the building and deploying of the M-3 medium tank. Made to lift the morale of war workers, films like this described the importance of the weapons they produced.
‘Guards of the North’ (1941) 10m, dir. Raymond Spottiswoode. There may never have been a more bombastic narrator than ‘Canada Carries On’ announcer Lorne Greene. Here, he describes how Canadian forces have locked up Iceland for the Allies. Greene became so identified with this famous series that he would find little work in Canada afterwards, but no matter, as he soon folded his tent and moved south, gaining fame as ‘Bonanza Ben’ Cartwright.
Thursday, 30 March... Four Stories from the American Civil War
What with all the hoopla surrounding Civil War reenactments, documentaries, dramas, stained-glass windows, and action figures, we at ciné16 figured we’d let it alone for awhile, as a subject that’s been done, well-done, and ultimately overcooked, as popular as Boston Pops muzak playing favorites from Handel's Messiah to a Christmas crowd at your favorite shopping mall. In other words, the schlockmeisters have done grabbed another historical event to trivialize in order to make the bread that feeds the baby of commerce (when requested to program some CW material once, we angrily took off a boot and banged it down on the table, wishing we knew how to properly pronounce "nyet!", before realizing that we’d gotten the wrong war). We therefore don’t revel in the glory of the Civil War tonight, thinking that, like most wars, it was mostly terror. Writer Ambrose Bierce, in particular, seemed to share this cynical sensibility, and three of tonight's films are based on his hard-hitting short stories. Before the next TV extravaganza ruins it for us, again, here is tonight’s black, blue, and gray program:
‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ (1962) 27m, dir. Robert Enrico. A spy about to be summarily executed breaks free from his constraints and flees home, to freedom, or death? Winner of an Oscar in 1963, this film, which explores travel through time and space, was undoubtedly one of the biggest selling titles in the history of educational film..
‘The Coup de Grâce’ (1978) 19m, dir. Jack Sanders. Like ‘Occurrence’, this film was based on a story by the brilliant and cynical Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce (1842-1914?). Without a doubt, this story of the complexities of friendship and family, is one of the more disturbing films we've ever shown at ciné16. There's no way I'll program this as the last film of the evening, and have you walk out with this one hanging out in your mind...
‘Time Out of War’ (1954) 22m, dir. Denis Sanders. Winner of the Oscar in 1954 in the Short Subject category. On a blistering hot day, two Union soldiers face off against a Confederate adversary across a river. Their bantering from hidden positions results in an agreement to a momentary truce, in which they trade tobacco for hard-tack, learn each others' names, and trade insults on the nuances of fishing. Their idyllic pause is broken by an unforeseen object caught on he fishing line, leading to a poignant and thought-provoking conclusion.
‘Parker Adderson, Philosopher’ (1977) 39m, dir. Arthur Barron. An acerbic spy taunts his judge-executioners, in a well-crafted film from Robert Geller's exceptional 'American Short Story' series. From the pen of --- you guessed it --- Ambrose Bierce.
Thursday, 23 March... Three Who Dared: Burke, Wills, and Amundsen
The BBC and Westdeutscher Rundfunk co-funded producer Michael Latham’s series ‘Ten Who Dared’ (1976, distributed in the U.S. by Time-Life, known as "The Explorers" in the U.K.), consisting of ten dramatized adventures of various explorers dating from Columbus to Amundsen, each approximately 50 minutes in duration. Characterized by outstanding location cinematography using hand-held cameras, ethnographic elements, and narration based on actual diaries, the series consisted of a chronicle of travels in difficult-to-film areas on several continents. ‘Ten Who Dared’ stories rarely have happy endings, as evidenced by the death of the protagonists in the desolate and beautiful ‘Burke and Wills’, and the series is far better, in both cognitive and affective senses, than many other historical ed films of the period. Unlike many films available for distribution to schools, ‘Ten Who Dared’ was originally developed for prime-time British audiences, and indeed, at a budget of roughly $10 million, was the most expensive series produced at the BBC at its inception. And then, there is Anthony Quinn. In the original British version, David Attenborough served as the host, happily ensconced in a set consisting of rich, walnut bookcases amidst leather-bound tomes. But Attenborough was, at the time,. little known in the U.S., and therefore Mobil Oil, who had licensed the series for its "Mobil Showcase" television program, scouted about for a more familiar face. In addition, the luxurious library set was also canned, Mobil feeling that American taste would be offending by such highbrow leanings. Quinn as host, directed in these new sequences by David Hoffman and Harry Wiland, projects his larger-than-life persona whether putting on a tie for "the lady" (‘Mary Kingsley’) or gesticulating wildly while describing the wanderings of ‘Charles Doughty’. Rather than detracting from the Latham-produced films, Quinn’s introductions are an entertaining foil that essentially make each work two films in one. A year ago, almost to the date, we showed David McCallum’s ‘Charles Doughty’ and ‘Alexander Von Humboldt’ directed by Fred Burnley, who died from a lung disorder caused by exposure to bat guano in an enclosed cave while making the film. Tonight’s film were made, again, under trying circumstances.
‘Burke and Wells --- 1860’ (1976) 50m, dir. Tony Snowdon. Erstwhile stills photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones, and lately husband of Princess Margaret was also a filmmaker, and here, teamed with master cinematographer Gary Hansen, he captures the fanciful and awful story of these two legendary Australian explorers on their ill-fated expedition from Cooper's Creek to northern ocean, filmed in the glorious outback. Starring Martin Shaw as Robert O'Hara Burke, John Bell as William John Wells.
‘Roald Amundsen --- 1911’ (1978) 52m, dir. David Cobham. Damn cold, and striking, with Per Theodor Haugen (speaking Norwegian much of the time) as the explorer.
Thursday, 16 March... Prairie Tales
Yes, there is a place called Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, because that’s where my mom was originally from. For years, we’d been hearing about the place, way out in the prairies of Canada, with relatives whose names we’d heard, but whose pictures we’d never seen. A few years back, someone decided to hold a family reunion of sorts, and I imagine they were as curious about these California people as we were of them. I suppose I wasn’t too surprised at how friendly people were, or that one of my cousins collected outhouses, and had fifteen or so vintage units rimming (if I may use that word) the back lawn on his farm. I’ll admit being impressed by the stark and beautiful two-dimensional landscape, how the deep gold of the grain rose to greet the luminous blue horizon, unbroken and on the same level, no matter how many times you spun around to try to find a hill out there somewhere, napping. Out in one of those fields, someone had built a little community meeting house, with a front room, a kitchen, and a bathroom (running water, but no electricity or gas --- who needed that anyway?), and one summer evening everyone gathered and met there. And now, here’s what I couldn’t have anticipated: someone sat down at the piano and played "God Save the Queen", just like in England, and suddenly the room was silent, and everyone stood up in unison, and I looked around the suddenly solemn room, and several people were in tears. What struck me about that moment was how little --- even for those of us who live in the U.S. and who, through chosen or familial relationships --- we know about those people in the north, how difficult it is for us to fathom words like English Canada and French Canada, how our word "Tory" is their word "loyalist", and that "southerners" (who live in Toronto or Montréal) will never know what real cold is. We in the U.S. are probably most familiar with BC, Banff, Toronto, Montréal, the Maritimes. We know enough about the Yukon through a Jack London tale or two, and have figured that Eskimos (or the eastern Inuit) probably don’t really live in igloos. What we don’t know much about is the prairie, that vast, flat expanse of land and sky that fits somewhere between the Rockies and the St. Lawrence. Tonight’s films take us there so we can see for ourselves something about the people who thrive and struggle, and live and die out there.
‘Margaret Laurence: First Lady of Manawaka’ (1978) 53m, dir. Robert Duncan. Writer of "Stone Angel" and "The Diviners", Laurence lost both parents by age 10, then lived with her 82-year old mortician grandfather, an experience which left her with a lifetime of nightmares. Duncan’s films on writers are insightful (his cinematic portraits of Hugh MacLennan and Jack Hodgins will be shown at ciné16 on a future date), and this one provides a glimpse of past and present prairie life, in visits to her childhood home of Neepawa, Manitoba.
‘Wood Mountain Poems’ (1978) 28m, dir. Harvey Spak. Poet Andrew Suknaski, from Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, writes about the loneliness of the prairie, and his friends slowly shake their heads, describing how he pursued a woman over hill and trail for months, and came back empty-handed. Spak's filmmaking is as poetic as the subject itself, documenting an ancient Rumanian ritual held each New Year's Eve, or visiting a gravesite marked by little more than a rough-hewn cross dangling from a barbed-wire fence to record the thoughts of a poet mourning a lost friend.
‘Grain Elevator’ (1981) 16m, dir. Charles Konowal. They dot the landscape like huge tin prairie dogs, the only things visible for miles. Occasionally one goes up like a rocket in a massive explosion that kills durn near everyone, and those of us who whoosh by on the highway seldom know why. This film takes us inside (to the one, in fact, shown by Harvey Spak in 'Wood Mountain Poems'), to the dust and the noise and the mystery, showing how a single operator uses a pulley-operated non-electric elevator to ascend to the top of the structure, and outside, where the same man singlehandedly moves a loaded boxcar solely with the aid of a modified crowbar...
Thursday, 9 March... GlassWorks
Tonight's five films share the common theme of glassmaking, from three perspectives: those of the ethnographic, industrial, and academic filmmaker. Haber and Erwitt's ethnographic approach suggests that the manufacturing of glass objects can be of cultural, as well as utilitarian value. Of the two industrial filmmakers, Haanstra pokes fun at automation while juxtaposing it with traditional techniques, while Davidson admires the beauty of robotics. Finally, Nassan and Durst offer a straightforward historical treatment, interesting nonetheless in showing age-old techniques applied today by contemporary glassmakers..
'Glassmakers of Herat' (1979) 30m, dir. Elliott Erwitt. This well-known still photographer provides a fascinating look at some of the oldest glassworks in existence in this film, featuring an Afghan family still making glass by crushing rock and vegetation, and blending them to make blue glass.
‘Genii of the Glass’ (1978) 30m, prod. Robert Haber. Muhamad Gazazz, glassmaker of Jerusalem, recycles auto gears for molds, old motor oil to fire his stove, old dirty bottles for glass, and lets nothing go to waste, using the glass furnace to heat his food as well. He discusses his hard childhood of servitute, and offers his hopes that his children will attend medical school to escape poverty and be able to care for their mother, while understanding the need to become versed in their father's craft as well.
‘Glass’ (1965) 10m, dir. Bert Haanstra. In perhaps the most famous documentary to come out of Holland, a hand-blower smoking a churchwarden represents the lasting quality of blown glass against the uniformity of the machine-made variety. As if that weren’t enough, it’s all to the tune of a neat Dutch jazz soundtrack with Theo Loevendie with the Quintete Piw Jacobs.
‘One Hundred Watts 120 Volts’ (1977) 10m, dir. Carson Davidson. The mechanized production of Duro-Test light bulbs is filmed as a dance to the tune of the Brandenburg, as choreographed filaments, glass, and metal combine in a dynamic finale.
‘Miracle of Glass’ (1975?) 30m, dir. Wilhelm Nassan & John Durst. A history of the art of glassmaking, from Etruscans to today. Especially interesting is the visit to a contempory millefiori shop, where the technique is demonstrated. Exceptional.
Thursday, 2 March... Four Photographers: My Tribute to Stephen Rose
Let me tell you about my buddy Stephen Rose. I arrived in Boston in the late 1970s in order to pursue music studies, and by that time, had developed a pretty good appreciation for late 19th and early 20th century photography. I’d seen a bunch of it in books, and the occasional museum show, but never been up close to the material, like I did when I visited Stephen Rose’s gallery at a warehouse on Minor Street, around the corner from Kenmore Square. I was pretty tentative at first. "Don’t spend much time with me", I cautioned him, "I don’t have any money, but I’m really enjoying looking". Much to my surprise, he spent much of the afternoon talking photography, its history, culture, and craft. Soon, I was going there all the time, looking through magnifying glasses and loupes, playing with the prints, and gaining an education and a friendship at the same time. A couple of years later, I was actually able to buy a piece or two, but the cumulative amount I paid never came close to paying Stephen adequately for the exceedingly unselfish time spent with this financially-strapped non-buyer.
There are magic times in one’s life when free access to an art form becomes suddenly available through the acquaintance of someone who’s passionate about it, and has an equal --- and inexorable --- desire to share it. To not go along for the hayride is a crime, punishable by another trip to the dark corner of ignorance, perhaps culminating in a future reflection of sorrow that the trip was never taken when it could have provided decades of fun, interest, and enlightenment. I don’t know how many Stephen Roses there are in the world, who have a love for the art form surpasses their drive for the dollar, but without people who have a similar conviction, many of us never get exposed to art forms that eventually we, in turn, pass on to others. Eventually, incidentally, Stephen left Boston for Florida, then packed up again and moved his photos and his family to Indianapolis a few years ago, where he began selling rare books, and occasionally, a few photos. The gallery space that was so welcoming to window shoppers is gone, a victim to the high-priced rental market, but Stephen’s still publishing the occasional catalogue, still enthusiastic. Films on photographers aren’t easy to find, and we've finally been able to acquire enough to warrant a show, dedicated to people like Stephen Rose, who share their interests freely, placing passion for art above that for monetary gain, and those of us fortunate enough to be there for the largesse.
Tonight’s films include:
‘Points of View’ (1959) 29m, dir. Robert Katz. These early KQED films can be a bit dry, but this one, featuring famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams’ portrait of a house in Pescadero, CA, and the family that lives in it, represents an interesting look at another side of his work.
‘Eisenstaedt: Germany’ (1981) 35m, dir. David Hoffman. Here, 81 year old Alfred E. visits filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, discussing many of his old photos in the process.
‘Imogen Cunningham, Photographer’ (1970) 20m, dir. John Korty. At home with her photos, an intriguing visit with this timeless photographer.
‘Mathew Brady: Photographer of an Era’ (1976) 13m. dir. Lewis Jacobs. This fine film by the noted documentary historian celebrates the world of the noted Civil War era photographer.
‘Night’ (1989) 9m, dir. Bill Maylone. Not about photographers, nor even photographs, we’ve chosen this moody and pretty non-narrated film poem due to its haunting quality, that, in a voyeuristic sense, perhaps is more akin to the still camera than cinema, this tale of a girl, the moon, and a bicycle rider, as they interact with the night.
Thursday, 24 February... More Fun With The Whole Fam-Damnly: Part II (see 27 January notes...)
‘All in the Same Boat’ (1979) 15m, dir. Deborah Kingsland. Why do the Australians do this stuff so well? The Canadians are a bit more genteel about families in crisis, and this documentary, from the Australian Film Commission, shows a much darker treatment of a familial theme. Here, mom complains that her infant and toddler have her climbing the walls. The volume of noise, tantrums, boredom, and her ignorant husband all contribute to her valium habit, and she strikes out: by slapping around her children and joining a group of toddler-moms to talk about how vapid their husbands are and their joys in life ("I’m on pills, she’s on brandy..."). Dad’s not the brightest, incidentally, saying that he likes to watch television because it’s "stupid", and then goes on to say he’d be happy watching it all day. Instead, he goes motorcycle-riding with his "mate" while mom struggles to bring groceries and two toddlers home on a crowded city bus. While advertised as an anti-drug film, it’s really a wake-up call for couples who think that having kids is a cakewalk.
‘Jamie: Story of a Sibling’ (1964) 28m, dir. John Howe. Those of you who were at ciné16 a couple of years back for director George Kaczender’s appearance remember well his starkly beautiful black and white films on teen angst. ‘Jamie’ has similar sensibility, and we suspect that the producer, fellow Hungarian expatiate Nicholas Balla, had as much to do with the angst and psychological terror depicted by the 10-year old protagonist as did director Howe. One could suggest that the Hungarian filmmakers hired by the National Film Board of Canada, fresh from a losing battle against a dictatorial juggernaut, felt quite at home with stories in which authoritarianism came out the loser. Tonight’s film is a a day-in-the-life drama of a middle child, squeezed between the academically perfect older sister, and the cuter younger brother, shot from the perspective of the protagonist. As Jamie strives to achieve and maintain an identity, he is suspended between the intellectual blindness and emotional immaturity of his young parents, with no way out
‘Would I Ever Like To Work’ (1974) 9m, dir. Kathleen Shannon. Joan's got no uppers, 7 kids and no job; what can she do? The kids are driving her nuts! Our first impression was that just was just another of Shannon’s "poor me" subjects, but mom’s situation in this scathing interview leaves us scratching our heads, wondering if there really IS a solution...
‘Reflections’ (1975?) 20m, dir. Noel Black. An innocent friendship between two children of opposite sexes is abruptly brought to a halt by the Hispanic parents of one child and the Asian parents of the other. In the final scene, the Hispanic girl carries on surreptitiously by flashing mirrored sunlight reflections across the street through her forbidden friend’s bedroom window, his hands moving slowly and deliberately across his table, pushing his small mirror onto the floor, where it smashes to pieces. The camera settles on his face, conflicted in sadness, resignation, and lost hope.
‘See You in the Funny Papers' (1983) 28m, dir. Grant Munro. Not everyone’s dysfunctional: this visit with "For Better or For Worse" cartoonist Lynn Johnston in Lynn Lake, Manitoba is, we think, even better than her strips...
Thursday, 17 February... When Country was Still Western: Rediscovering the Old West (Part II)
Last week we explored two highly-produced approaches to Western culture, both of which focused on contributions made by individuals of Euro-Caucasian extraction in the U.S. Tonight, we expand our horizons to include films that were made with budgets that were far less ambitious, focusing on lesser-known, but equally important elements of the frontier dynamic, from Mexican-American vaqueros, to Australian stations, to the Canadian prairie...
‘Bellota: Story of a Roundup’ (1969) 34m, dir. Philip Spalding. Mexican vaqueros, in southwestern Arizona. Real.
‘Sheep Rancher’ (1967) 15m, dir. Maclovia Rodriguez. Sheep herder wagons, Mexican-American shearers in remote areas, doing 100 per day, while helicopters nail coyotes. Like many important films of the era, the color in this film has shifted to red, a victim of the volatile dyes of Eastman film stock of the era.
‘Saturday’ (1979) 30m, dir. Dean Semler. It’s hard not to fall in love with this "day in the life" of the a station family who visits the nearby town of Lake Cargelligo, NSW, pop 1,571. Great local music by "The Melody Makers"
‘Every Saturday Night’ (1973) 27m, dir. Tom Radford. The Badlanders are group of old-timey country musicians who have been playing in the country dancehalls of Alberta since the 1930s. Here, they talk philosophy and booze, and host a hoe-down. Area teenagers are interviewed, none of whom dig the scene.
Thursday, 10 February... When Country was Still Western: Rediscovering the Old West (Part I)
‘Born To Buck’ (1975?) 90m, dir. Casey Tibbs. Narrated by Henry Fonda and Rex Allen, we visit a bronco roundup & rodeo near Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. Tibbs was one of the more famous broncbusters of this century, and we can't blame the horses: once we found out how they make those beasts jump, we figured we’d be hollarin’ too (hint, the technique won't work with girl horses). Near the chuckwagon, we get comic relief from the bowel habits Jack Hart (that’s right, folks, no indoor plumbing on the range). This film’s so damned politically incorrect, it’s scary...
‘Star Route: Webb Pierce’ (1969) 30m, dir. Stan Harris. Star Route was a fine television show produced in Canada, showcasing various C & W luminaries, and containing all the clichéd props partial to shows of this type: barrels, fake oil derricks, a jail, and Chinese lanterns (yep, Lorrie Collins sings us a ballad, walking among them). The house band, Gene Davis and his Star Routers, is superb. This episode, hosted by Rod Cameron, focuses on the music of Webb Pierce, owner of the loneliest high tenor in the West, and credited as the first musician to put a pedal steel guitar in his group. While we have to wade through the Collins Kids’ and Glen Campbell’s interpretations of Pierce hits, Webb’s renditions of "Country Church" and "There Stands the Glass" (banned by many radio stations in its day for its reference to the pain-killing properties of alcohol) make it all worthwhile. Hand-held, non-synch camera in hand, we even get to visit Webb and family at his modest home. If you’re curious to see what Country was like before Nashville, urban cowboys, feathered cowboy hats, and line dances ruined it all, come visit us tonight at Webb's place, down at the ciné16 ranch...
Thursday, 3 February... ‘Cold Cuts: Films from the Frozen North’
We ain’t talkin’ about July in San Francisco here, but something far colder, sort of like the hurricane-force fan that someone turned on at ciné16 last week, blasting an arctic-like fusillade of ice crystals at our old wood-burning Bell & Howell projectors and the poor guy who had to stand there and run them. Nobody could figure how to turn the damn thing off, and those seated ahead of the projection beam, uncomfortably turning up their collars, at least had the decency not to complain to the projectionist, who could barely be discerned anyway, with those icicles descending from eyes, nose and mouth, looking more like an ancient sea captain braving the hells of the howling 40s from the bridge, than a dude just tryin’ to show a few films in a basement.
Hey waitaminnit! I forgot... I’m 'sposed to be selling people on attending ciné16 events, not turnin’ ‘em away. Good thing I run this show, otherwise I’d be fired! I guess if you’ve read this far, you’re ready for the relevance, so here goes... Canadians don’t generally like to talk about how cold it can get up there, not wanting to risk giving additional hype to the stereotype, but frankly, the cold and remote areas of Canada are some of the most interesting aspects of the country, and the Film Board has certainly developed a body of work that underscores this. Tonight, therefore, ciné16 presents an evening dedicated to the coldest, and most forbidding elements particular to our northern neighbor, perfect for a cozy evening in front of the fire, or better yet at ciné16, where you can finally get some use out of those battery-operated gloves and socks.
‘Sub-igloo’ (1973) 20m, dir. James de B. Domville & Joseph MacInness. Here, scientists and engineers labor under severe conditions to place a plastic domed laboratory forty feet under the surface of cold Resolute Bay. Cutting through four feet of ice, and manually placing six tons of pig-iron on the dome's perimeter to prevent it from shooting to the surface are just two of the challenges faced by divers who must utilize oxygen from their bottles as an extra insulation layer in their dry suits. When in place, the sub-igloo resembles a glowing landing module on a lunar landscape.
‘Snow War’ (1979) 25m, dir. Harold Tichenor. Avalanche, anyone? Not when these fellows are around, doing double duty at rescue and, in conjunction with Canadian Forces, shooting howitzers at mountainsides to create avalanches at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC.
'Rock, Ice, and Oil' (1984) 57m. prod. John Foster. This film is a compendium of scientific studies carried out within Canada's arctic circle, hosted by John and Janet Foster, who accumulate wonderful footage of the expansive, colorful scenery as they meet geologists, botanists, and ichthyologists. Here we go mapping the continental shelf, do some lead-zinc mining on Little Cornwallis Island (Polaris Mine), grow an arctic fresh vegetable garden, and bask under the midnight sun in our little arctic oasis on Ellesmere Island (Alexander Fjord).
Thursday, 27 January... Fun With The Whole Fam-Damnly: Part I
We’re not afraid to admit it: while we’re impressed with much of the work produced by the National Film Board of Canada, they’ve got their clinkers as well, particularly among films in the social genre. Of the 500 or so titles we acquired two years ago, we’re finally reaching the end of the review process, and it turns out we wisely held off on the family-related films, which are mostly pretty horrible. Who’s to blame? Not to speak ill of the dead (which I’m -- ahem --- now about to do) but executive producer Kathleen Shannon’s tenure as head of the National Film Board’s Studio D, while aiming for the noble intention of serving as an alternative to studios producing films largely for, about, and geared to White Males of European Descent, often failed miserably in the excitement realm. Studio D films all too often consisted of rambling half-hour monologues, delivered by very ordinary people with unspectacular lives and stories, bellyaching about a social issues for which they offered no solution. On top of this, camera movement was minimal or non-existent, often showing the interviewer slightly at the edge of the frame, mumbling a question. Statistics are pretty grim: of roughly 80 films of this nature in the initial purchase, we kept, I think, four for the archives. Over the next two weeks, we’re showing the survivors, which contain some real brilliance and inspiration, or which are so just plain nasty (‘Would I Ever Like To Work’) that we had to keep ‘em because they’re so odious. Maybe the wildest, from a social perspective, is the Australian film that the Board decided to distribute (bless ‘em, sayeth the atheist), the radical ‘All in the Same Boat’, a film as close to the theme of child murder as the Film Board would dare. ciné16's two programs on films about family issues will take place in two separate segments (the other is scheduled for 24 February) to allow for the complete recovery of our audience ‘twixt shows, also to allowing you to tell all your buddies about the vicarious pleasures derived from seeing family units other than yours become repaired or disintegrate further...
‘Just A Lady’ (1980) 21m, dir. Susan Trow. ‘Just A Lady’ was one of the better films made during the Shannon era, and here Susan Trow, product of an upper-class matrilineal family that extends 150 years into the past, investigates the changing social mores and attitudes of women in her family through old photographs. Occasionally skating on the edge of didacticism, the film isn’t perfect; we would have enjoyed the film better if the film had been without the Nordstrom-like piano soundtrack, and would have preferred Trow to speak the words of her ancestors, rather than leaving it to voice talent. Trow’s directorial skill in editing and shooting the photographs is superb, and her analysis of the forces determining the decisions of her previous counterparts seems dead-on. An ultimately satisfying work, her decision to break from tradition drives the film’s final moments, an important personal statement that provides the social and historical context to her chosen treatment.
‘Foster Child’ (1987) 43m, dir. Gil Cardinal. In what may be the most moving, emotional film we’ve seen all year, the 35-year old director makes an attempt to discover his past. He knows very little, only that he was left temporarily with a family as a Foster child, and was never reclaimed by his mother. The film is unrehearsed and shot in vérité style, quite effective in Cardinal’s trek from the social agency to several families that may or may not be the key to his past. His first glimpse of his mother --- through an old photograph --- is an unforgettable moment for the viewer, reminding us again of the power that a superior autobiographical film can convey. More than a journey to discover singular elements beyond memory, Cardinal also struggles to find the lost cultural connection to his Metís past...
‘Antonio’ (1966) 28m, dir. Tony Ianzelo. A funny, sometimes bizarre portrait of Tony's dad, bitchin' about the kids, and reading the bible and Dante...
Thursday, 20 January... Back to China: Two More From the Heart of the Dragon
I have often felt that the twelve-part ‘Heart of the Dragon’ series was not only the most complete, dynamic portrayal of a country ever to be shown in classrooms, it was also probably the most effective serial treatment of a given theme. ‘Heart of the Dragon’ is therefore not only a fascinating glimpse into what was, in 1983, a country relatively unknown in the West, it is also a visual textbook for the student of documentary filmmaking. There are a number of reasons ‘Dragon’ rose above other BBC-produced documentary series from that era, and one may have well been that, in eschewing on-screen hosts such as Alistair Cook, Kenneth Clark, and Jacob Bronowski in favor of the non-visual narration of erudite Anthony Quayle, the director was able to more seamlessly integrate visuals with text (I always felt that, just when the story was getting a good head of steam, one of the three above hosts would lie across the tracks and grind it to a pause...) Tonight, your host Barinda Samra will show two of the series we’ve not yet seen (last year we showed ‘Eating’, ‘Mediating’, and ‘Working’).
‘Trading’ (1984) 60m, dir. Nigel Houghton. Opium transport is investigated, as well as other related and unrelated goods and services.
‘Correcting’ (1984) 60m, dir. Peter Montagnon. The indictment & trial of Ni Chen-Ying, who robbed her neighbors.
Thursday, 13 January... Dogs of War: Commercial Film meets the Mercenary Dynamic
'Dogs of War' (1980) 90m, dir. John Irvin. Among many gun totin’ dudes of the early late 1970s, and early 1980s, mercenary chic was the fashion. Fueled to a very large extent by the ascendancies of Robert K. Brown’s Soldier of Fortune Magazine and various skirmishes, wars, and revolutions in Africa, thousands of young an old men worldwide were drawn to nations --- primarily those with uneasily-established reactionary governments --- to fight in mostly undeclared wars, generally on the side which could pay the most. Skills and weapons were in abundance, as soldiers displaced by peace agreements sold their talents freely in a market most willing to pay whatever necessary in an what were, generally, futile attempt to preserve status quo. Cubans in Angola, Americans from Congo to Rhodesia, and Foreign Legionnaires, brutally trained at Fort Nogent and spoiling for a justification to utilize battle skills upon termination of their contracts, were among the most common archetypes in this new breed of warrior class. Names like Mad Mike Hoare, who led perhaps the most famous band of mercs, were common in the press, while increasingly bizarre weapons, such as the Holland Hale Organ, which, fitted to the underside of a bus, would explode in a 360 degree fusillade when deployed at an "unplanned checkpoint", were unleashed to an unsuspecting populace. Falling into a specific, yet wary niche between the action, spy, and political genres, was the Merc film. Two of the best known were ‘The Wild Geese’ a Hollywoodized treatment of Mad Mike's mercs in the Congo, and tonight’s film, ‘Dogs of War’.
Appreciating --- or perhaps ‘understanding’ would be a better word for many --- the climate surrounding films like ‘Dogs’ is important if one is to recognize the fact that the people and events portrayed in these films was real, carried out and done, offering employment and satisfaction to many former soldiers who emerged unemployed after the Viet Nam conflict. Christopher Walken’s somewhat wooden performance in ‘Dogs’ isn’t that far removed from that of the everyday merc who, separated from the popular myth of the philosopher-soldier, would be primarily content to collect pay, do a professional job of soldiering, screw a few women, and live long enough to hoist a few scotches and tell a story or two before the next foray.
Tonight, join us for a decidedly politically incorrect film, shot, if I may use that word, in Belize, to honor the philosophical verse better known in parts of Africa than here, "vive le mort, vive le guerre, vive le sacre mercenaire..."
Thursday, 6 January... Alan Root in the Bushveld
Tonight, Barinda Samra revisits two of the better documentaries we’ve shown, Alan Root’s ‘Baobab: Portrait of a Tree’ and his stunning portrait of termite culture, ‘Mysterious Castles of Clay’. Root’s films have all the characteristics of great nature documentary film: an understated --- or non-existent --- musical track, insightful narration, and spectacular footage, and if your exposure to African nature documentaries consists of what you’re seeing on the dumbed-down TV these days, we challenge you to drop by tonight to see what’s missing from the small electric screen...
'Baobab: Portrait of a Tree' (1973) 60m, dir. Alan Root. The amazing baobab tree is an ecosystem unto itself. This film is a fascinating look at the birds, insects, and other flora and fauna that live off this singularly robust giant of the bushveld.
'Mysterious Castles of Clay' (1978) 60m, dir. Alan Root. One of the more common bushveld sights are the large numbers of populated and deserted anthills, some of which stand higher than you or me. What goes on inside bears more relationship to a modern high-rise building than one would imagine. The termites themselves are fascinating creatures, and Root masterfully films them as they go about building the nest, protecting the queen, raising their young, and foraging for food. Eventually, like some primitive take on a 1950s science fiction film, a hungry aardvark comes and eats the whole damn thing! A magnificent film.