Photo courtesy Lazara Stathes
Several of the shorts in our Wladyslaw Starewicz program (Screening Sunday 11/2 at 7pm at Cinema Borealis) are coming from film collector and animation historian Tommy Stathes. We exchanged a few questions with Tommy by e-mail about some of his ongoing projects and his role in keeping film alive.
For more information, visit Cartoons on Film & the Bray Animation Project
JA: What came first, your interest in film collecting or your interest in animation? How did you first get involved with both?
TS: I was definitely deeply interested in animation as a very young child, well before the moment when I understood that I could collect anything. Growing up in the early 90s, I was seeing most classic animation by way of VHS tapes given to me as gifts by older family members, and less occasionally, on television. As for why I gravitated toward animation so much at such a young age, I’ll never know, although it’s generally accepted that most infants, toddlers and older children simply love cartoons. My fascination and urge to see more and more and eventually learn about their history was the unusual aspect. Continue reading
Everyone brings their own personal baggage to the movies, and I don’t think I’m alone in treating them too readily as literature. Much of the vocabulary we apply to film comes from long-ago high school English classes. We assume that every detail is a puzzle piece that leads inexorably to a deliberate display of thematic unity and artistic expression. Analyze this film, we’re asked, and we begin to point out a camera movement like it’s an enjambment in a poem. We’re blessed with a bag of critical tools but we apply them as if every work is a self-contained thing that we can understand without leaving the house. Continue reading
Between fuzzy adolescent memories and Amazing Dreamcoats, getting a real fix on Technicolor has always been difficult. A dizzying example of total branding supremacy, Technicolor was not just a process but cultural shorthand for a certain kind of overripe, retina-scarring engagement with the world around us. (It was a Hollywood fantasy, and an irresponsible one.) With the name used as adjective to describe anything from a candy store to a brilliant automobile, it’s time to husk away the shades of grey. Continue reading
Since avant-garde movies first attracted a substantial audience in America under the auspices of indecency and subversion of established ideas about politics, art, society, and especially sexuality, many don’t expect that such films can also be exceedingly gentle, even reverential towards their subjects. Continue reading
Last week’s news of Amos Vogel’s death, at 91, brought the expected—and deserved—tributes for the enormous influence of two ventures that he co-founded: Cinema 16, the New York-based film society that ran from 1947 to 1963, and the New York Film Festival, which Vogel programmed from 1963 to 1968. (In these ventures, equal credit must go, respectively, to Amos’s partner Marcia Vogel and the critic/curator Richard Roud, both deceased.) The lineup of filmmakers whose work Vogel introduced to New York audiences is certainly imposing: Polanski, Ozu, Brakhage, Anger, Cassavetes, Bresson, Resnais, Rivette, Varda, Naruse. The list could go on. Continue reading
The emulsion is on the wall, so to speak.
Film is finished as a mainstream exhibition format after more than a century. Roger Ebert, a long-time video projection skeptic, proclaimed as much a little over a week ago.
One can see where he’s coming from. High-end digital projectors have overtaken 35mm in the multiplexes. Kodak shares briefly flirted with penny stock status. The only good news coming from the company lately was, ironically, the leasing of laser projection patents to IMAX, which will shortly replace its last remaining 70mm installations with digital machines.
As film’s share of the market shrinks, there will be increasing pressure to discontinue the format altogether. The studios would rather it had been discontinued yesterday.
At first glance, digital represents a clear cost-saving. No more laboratories, no more prints, no more warehouses, no more trucks—a frictionless distribution infrastructure without the grease and rust. The future is shiny: hard drives, servers, eventually satellite transmission without any physical medium whatsoever. The next time some fussy filmmaker is haggling over final cut a week before release, there won’t be any rush orders at Technicolor—4,000 prints by Wednesday. The newly conformed digital intermediate can be uploaded by supper. Continue reading
There has always been an artificial divide between cinema and television. The latter, it was prophesized, would bring about the death of the former. Movies quickly embarked on out-flanking TV with innovations like widescreen, stereo imagery (3-D) and stereo sound (four-track magnetic playback), Eastmancolor, and, eventually, sex and violence that would make any network censor blanche. Cinephiles proudly declared they didn’t own a television set and TV buffs shook their heads over the expense and inconvenience of going to the movies. Frank Tashlin satirized this division early on (and hilariously) in The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
In reality, the two media were often closer than partisans would admit, with moguls freely shifting talent and resources from one to another. Universal, the studio that invested most seriously in TV production, would reap the benefits many times over.
In a more material sense, the first few decades of television broadcasting would be inconceivable without film. Local stations, especially unaffiliated ones that relied on syndication deals and back catalog feature film packages to fill out their schedules, were grindhouses in all but name, projecting celluloid prints of TV content hour after hour. Continue reading
By Becca Hall & Kyle Westphal
Twenty years ago, or even ten, the place of home movies within film history and film culture was contested and precarious. Thinking about them was uncomfortable. You remembered posing for the camera, mom rushing into the shot to fix your hair, dad barking directions, your sister rolling her eyes while her camera-less friends enjoyed a real vacation. Even the archivist’s preservation instincts butted up against memories of interminable reels of last summer in Sedona and being held hostage in the den as dad recounted each detail to any passing interloper. Is it so strange that documents of such profound embarrassment and coercion came late to respectability? (At the box office a few weeks ago, a man was looking at the Home Movie Day poster we had on display. “Oh, are you going to come? Do you have any home movies?” His reply: “Looking at those things is always so sad…”)
Yet these films—posed, planned, rehearsed, fussed over, and haphazard nevertheless—often say and show a great deal more than their makers intended. They spur us to recognize the highly social character of our relationships and routines (our whole lives, really) in a distinctive way.
With Home Movie Day fast approaching, it’s easy to take the present stature of these films (itself very much a product of HMD’s laudable successes) for granted. In their heyday, home movie makers reinforced each other’s activities with an array of periodicals and hobbyist clubs–but outside of the insulation of enthusiasm, their type became well known and a frequent target for satire. An early example: in 1939, Robert Benchley made a short for M-G-M, Home Movies, that promised tips for the amateur. As Benchley’s audience falls asleep or gets up to make a telephone call, the cinematographer-editor-projectionist-narrator goes on about using red filters and attributing out-of-focus shots to bad lenses. Continue reading
Last week we posted an overview of Cinefest and a few of the films on offer. We conclude this week with an extended account of four more Syracuse rarities.
Not many folks seemed to like Stolen Heaven (Paramount, 1931), a shot-in-Astoria doomed romance with Nancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes as a pair of fugitives blowing through stolen bills at a posh resort, but its concentrated intensity (often confused for early talkie stiltedness) is definitely something to be reckoned with. In this respect, it recalls (but does not reach the heights of) its near contemporaries, One Way Passage and After Tomorrow; Stolen Heaven is cut from the same cloth of romantic delirium, with an integrity of time and space (but not necessarily plot) that feels particular to its period. Holmes’s anxious, ex-working stiff (lately of a radio factory) is just boyish and skittish enough to convince us that love and larceny derive from a common and unripe source. Carroll constantly and impressively modulates her dignity and exudes excited awareness of her own sexuality. While the film does not follow through on all of its chilly implications, the result is still attractively spare and effective.
The Phantom President (1932) rounded out the Paramount highlights. Perhaps not as fully realized as Hallelujah I’m a Bum, Rodgers and Hart’s urban operetta of the next year, Phantom President still succeeds as a wonderful film record of a living legend, George M. Cohan, playing the double role of a stuffed-shirt politico and his medicine show lookalike. Simultaneously topical to the point of being mercenary (released on the eve of the ’32 election) and not specific or pointed enough to divulge any partisanship or ideological commitment (beyond showbiz itself, of course), Phantom President nonetheless offers edifying, near quintessential, sketches of a broad swatch of ‘30s potentates and string-pullers, along with a library of au courant phraseology and jabber. (That Hoover would soon offer to install FDR in advance of the inauguration—a literal phantom president!—makes the Cohan Conspiracy look mild indeed.) An extended sequence at the party convention—Cohan flaunting his political wares and ‘sex appeal’ to a gaggle of regional and ethnic caricatures so broadly drawn and played as to suggest a hilarious, monomaniacal reductivism—is so good that one wishes there were more music on whole. (Paramount cut much of it, understandably anxious that singing and dancing pictures had yet to re-prove their box office worth after a spectacular burn-out months before.) An earlier blackface number will probably keep Phantom President out of circulation for a goodly long time, which is silly—no one would ever confuse this for anything but a movie of its narrow, beguiling moment and that’s the best thing about it. Continue reading
Posted in Blog
Tagged 16mm, Festivals
Friends enthuse daily about the treasures they’ve found on Netflix Instant. Old media salutes new, with print critics prophesying a day “before too long [when] the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse.” For some, the day has already arrived. “This instant, sitting right here,” Roger Ebert recently observed, “I can choose to watch virtually any film you can think of via Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, MUBI, the Asia/Pacific Film Archive, Google Video or Vimeo.”
The annual trip to Syracuse teaches a very different lesson. Now in its 31st year, the shoestring festival known as Cinefest (organized by the dozen or so members of the Syracuse Cinephile Society) suggests not only an alternate history of cinema but also of cinephilia. I have seen the future and it is a conference room at the Holiday Inn. Continue reading
Posted in Blog
Tagged 16mm, Festivals