Halloween Spook Show at the Grand Illusion

Tomorrow night!  Friday, October 30, 2009 at 8:00 PM — one show only!

The Sprocket Society proudly presents
The Grand Illusion Halloween Spook Show!

Featuring: Movies! A real live seance!  Monsters run amuck! And your host, The Swami!

At the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th Street (at University Way)
Part of the 2009 All Monsters Attack! series

(Preview trailer by Marc Palm)

Northwest Film Forum Needs Your Help

Northwest Film Forum [logo]The Northwest Film Forum, Seattle’s leading cinematheque, today sent out an urgent fundraising request.

All they’re asking for is a $10 donation (the price of one movie ticket or a six-pack of decent beer) — though of course if you’re so inclined more than that is totally cool, too.  They need to raise $70,000 by August 15, or make significant cuts to their core programs.

You can use this secure online donation form (there’s an “Other Amount” box at the bottom of the membership options), send in a check via snail mail, or drop by the place personally and hand someone a Hamilton.

In a message sent to 10,000 email subscribers and posted online (here, here, and here), NWFF Executive Director Lyall Bush said that income for the year was down by 30%.  “While we remain scrappy and imaginative in tough spots, this time is different,” he wrote.  “We are looking at real changes…”

The programs that Bush said could be “put on hold, shelved, or stopped altogether” are among their most important ones:

  • classes
  • filmmaker support
  • equipment rental
  • special screenings
  • film series

Readers and friends know that I’m fond of the Northwest Film Forum, which was founded in 1995.  It’s a remarkable and really pretty uniquely robust cinematheque.  In a huge, 8,000 square foot space it’s a combination art house movie theater, film university, post-production facility, rental house, distributor, producer, lending library, creative cauldron, and host for creative house guests.

As a volunteer there for five years or so, I’ve gotten a sense of just how much the Northwest Film Forum offers to the community.  The movie theaters alone are a huge asset to Seattle, but behind the screen there’s a constant flow of filmmakers, collaborators, instructors, students, people of all ages, all working on making and doing stuff.  Meanwhile, there’s working relationships with the other film organizations in town, the city government, numerous embassies and consulates, PBS, colleges and universities, and film institutions around the world.

Just get a load of this:

  • Two fully equipped theaters, both running (and hosting) shows most of the time
  • Constantly hosting screenings with directors and filmmakers
  • Production and funding support for local and regional filmmakers — for everything from shorts to features
  • Distribution support for original shorts and features
  • Film festivals, including the Seattle Children’s Film Festival and Local Sightings, devoted to northwest filmmakers
  • Special series, both bringing in traveling roadshows and producing their own
  • Commissioning and supporting new scores for historic silent films
  • Meeting space
  • Office rentals for local film groups and festivals
  • Really cheap equipment rentals for everything you need to light and shoot video, 16mm, or Super 8 film
  • Digital, 16mm, and Super 8 editing facilities, also incredibly cheap
  • Constant workshops of every description — production, writing, editing, animation, equipment training, digital media training, filmmaking workshops for kids…
  • Member discounts at local labs and rental houses
  • Doing stuff like bringing in director Gus Van Sant to work with local crews
  • A really pretty excellent private lending library of books, scripts, VHS, and film
  • One of the only places left where you can rent actual film projectors — and for cheap
  • A telecine for transferring 16mm or Super 8 film to video
  • Providing a very accommodating film venue and locus for groups like STIFF (Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival), Third Eye Cinema, The Sprocket Society, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, and many others.

Any city in the world would be lucky to have a film arts organization like that, and some do.  But I’m tellin’ ya, it’s really not that many.

I encourage you to please consider taking three minutes and 10 bucks to help support this important Seattle arts institution.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled interweb, already in progress.

Alexandre Alexeieff DVD Forthcoming from Facets

The Animation of Alexeieff - cover of the Facets DVDI’m thrilled to serendipitously learn that July 28 late November, 2009 will see the US release of The Animation of Alexeieff, a new DVD from the good folks at Facets Video in Chicago (who also recently brought us the phenomenal and long-overdue Lawrence Jordan Album four-DVD set).

Update: release of this Facets edition was delayed for four months, for reasons I’ve not been able to learn.  Back in July, Scarecrow Video even had it on their “Coming Next Week” white board…and the following week they listed it as “delayed,” and no one there seemed to know why.  This happened again earlier in November.  At this writing (Nov. 28, 2009), the Facets web site actually lists it as “in stock,” so let’s hope they’re actually shipping, too. I’m also disappointed to see that, now that it’s finally coming out, the single-disc release has a whopping $40 price tag.

This is a North American-market re-release of the stunning (and out-of-print) 2005 French release, Alexeïeff: Le Cinéma Epinglé, issued by Cinédoc in Paris.  It brings together five theatrical shorts and 18 commercials made by Alexandre Alexeieff and his partner Claire Parker, using their remarkable invention, the pinscreen.  Also included are a couple documentaries, notably the excellent workshop film The Pinscreen, made by Norman McLaren when he brought Alexeieff and Parker to the National Film Board of Canada to do master classes and create some new work there.  (That film can also be found in the mammoth but essential DVD box set, Norman McLaren: The Masters Edition.)

One of the NFBC filmmakers inspired by those sessions was Jacques Drouin, who went on to create a number of films using the pinscreen.  His 1976 film, Mindscreen (Le Paysagiste), is also included on this DVD.

Additional enticements and goodies are a photo gallery of Alexeieff’s gorgeous engravings and illustrations, as well as an illustrated booklet.

My discovery of the pending Facets release couldn’t have been timelier — I was just about to convince myself to drop a 100 bucks (!) on a second-hand copy of the original French edition, which had just surfaced on eBay.  Alexeieff and Parker’s films are almost completely unique in film history, and I’ve been a huge fan since I first saw Le Nez as part of a “surrealism in film” program of shorts in Chicago during the late 1980s. Beautiful, otherworldly and, yes, rather surreal.

Needless to say, I recommend this DVD very highly.  (I’ve watched the original French edition, which can be rented from Scarecrow Video here in Seattle.) The only disappointment is that more of their theatrical shorts aren’t represented, and that their masterful prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962) is also omitted.

Here’s some additional stills to whet your appetite:

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'En Passant' (1943)

This still from En Passant (1943) shows the incredible amount of detail possible with the pinscreen, not to mention the breathtaking skill Alexeieff and Parker brought to bear.  Now imagine animating the above image, shifting one metal pin at a time…24 times per second.  Astonishing.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'A Night on Bald Mountain' (1933)

One of the many darkly evocative images from their first pinscreen film, Nuit sur le mont Chauve (Night on Bald Mountain) (1933), set to the composition by Mussorgsky.

A still from Alexeieff and Claire's 'Le Nez' (1963)

From Le Nez (The Nose) (1963), an interpretation of the short story by Gogol. The wavy horizontal pattern is part of the original image and was itself animated during portions of the film.

From the pinscreen prologue to Welles' 'The Trial' (1962)

Alexeieff and Parker’s pinscreen prologue to Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962), above, is not included on the forthcoming Facets DVD, but makes that film even more worth renting that it would be on its own considerable merits.

Silent Movie Mondays Return to the Paramount, June 8-22

The always worthwhile Silent Movie Mondays series returns to the glorious 1920s-era former movie palace The Paramount here in Seattle.  The new series runs every Monday at 7:00 PM from June 8 through June 29, 2009.

As always, the films will be accompanied on the restored Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ by the incomparable Dennis James.  If you’ve never seen a silent film, this is absolutely the way you should start.  Very few cities ever get this kind of authentic experience, and if they do it’s usually one-off screenings or a festival.  Seattle is incredibly lucky to get what amounts to a mini-festival a couple-three times a year.

Of especial note is that admission to the first show in the series is FREE courtesy of longtime series sponsor, Trader Joe’s. Damn, thanks Trader Joe’s!

The entire line-up is excellent, as usual. I highly recommend catching the June 22 show, The Godless Girl (Cecil B. DeMille, 1929), which is great stuff (the heavy Christian moralizing notwithstanding).  I had the privilege of watching Dennis accompany it at the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco a couple years back, and it was possibly the best I’ve ever seen him play.  During the climactic scenes, he dang near brought down the house.  Also very highly recommended is the concluding film on June 29, Seventh Heaven (1927) directed by Frank Borzage.

Here’s the full schedule, with links to details (and in turn to online ticket purchase):

June 8: Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926) — FREE ADMISSION!  Come early for decent seating.
June 15: Romola (Henry King, 1924)
June 22: The Godless Girl (Cecil B. DeMille, 1929)
June 29: Seventh Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927)

Restored Godfather Parts 1 and 2 at SIFF Cinema for One (More) Week

A still from 'The Godfather: Part II' (1974)

New 35mm prints of the beautifully restored Coppola films The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) start a one two week run at the SIFF Cinema this Friday, Dec. 19, closing on New Years Day.

Full schedule and advance ticket sales for all shows can be found at the SIFF web site.  There are some marathon days, but most are one film a night.

The restorations, recently released to home video, were supervised by Coppola with the close involvement of the original cinematographer, Gordon Willis.  The result is spectacular, bringing new richness to the film, including the justly famous low-light sequences.

Needless to say, attendance is mandatory.

Here’s a recent article about the restoration:

“Post Focus: Paramount Restores The Godfather” by Stephanie Argy
American Cinematographer, May 2008

Murnau and Borzaga’s Early Sound Works for Fox

PR photo of the lavish 12-DVD box set, 'Murnau, Borzage and Fox'

Holy crap.

Normally those really spendy, over-extravagant DVD box sets just kinda piss me off.  But Fox Studio Classics has just released one that I might just feel compelled to actually splurge on.  (It’s also kind of a toing, because just two nights ago I spontaneously decided to watch Sunrise on DVD and meandered through the extras.)

As you can see above, Murnau, Borzage and Fox is a ginormous, 12-DVD dee-luxe $et ($240 SRP, $180 on Amazon — ouch) with not one but two hefty books of essays and photos, and a new 2 hour documentary about the directors.  Mmokay.  But the real grabber is the list of films — 2 by Murnau and 10 by Borzage, spanning 1925-1932, the late silent through the early sound/talkie era.   A couple are acknowledged masterpieces, several are highly respected, and most-all of them have long been unavailable on any kind of decent home video.  Martin Scorsese, in his BFI documentary for British television, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), singled out Borzage as one of the best Hollywood directors of the early sound period, not only making intelligent films but occasionally pushing the severely limited technical capabilities of the time, especially with camera work.  I’ve been intending to delve into his stuff for a while now.

The two Murnau gems are noteworthy.  The Sunrise disc includes two versions of the film: the Movietone version, as well as the European silent version.  This is important, because the silent version was not only a somewhat different cut, it used negative from a different camera (and thus slightly different angles), and sometimes different takes.  Also, the infant sound-on-film format used a fairly wide area of the available film for the actual sound, slightly reducing the horizontal space available for the image.  The silent film negatives had a different aspect ratio.  The DVD released a couple-few years ago (as part of a different box set) included only the Movietone version.  If the official PR is to be believed, the Movietone version on this new disc has a 1:30 aspect ratio, and the Euro silent one is in 1:20.

I’m also happy to see City Girl (1930, with a 1:19 aspect ratio, thanks for asking) is included. Originally titled Our Daily Bread, Fox took control of it away from Murnau and re-edited it somewhat.  He left the studio very soon after.  Murnau’s original cut is, of course, lost so I’ve wanted to see the surviving version.

Dave Kehr recently gave this set a learned and positively elegiac review in the New York Times in “When Titans Roamed the Backlot at Fox” (Dec. 8, 2008):  “Altogether, Murnau, Borzage and Fox represents the best that home video has to offer in quality, scholarship and enduring aesthetic interest; this is not a set that anyone will exhaust soon.”
Anyway, here’s the list, not including the scads of extras, commentaries, outtakes, mini-docs, and all that…

Murnau silents:

Sunrise (1927) (Movietone score version and European silent version)
The City Girl (1930)

Borzage silents:

Lazybones (1925)
Seventh Heaven (1928)
Street Angel (1928)
Lucky Star (1929)

Borzage talkies:

They Had to See Paris (1929)
Liliom (1930)
Song O’ My Heart (1930) (full sound version and music/effects version)
Bad Girl (1931)
After Tomorrow (1932)
Young America (1932)

(Thanks to the Bioscope blog’s post for the tip-off.)

Best Swing Dance Sequence Ever

A dance sequence with some absolutely astonishing Lindy Hopping, from Hellzapoppin’ (Universal, 1941).  Things really get rolling at about 2:40 min. into the clip.

No seriously, this totally kicks ass.  Ya gotta see it.

If the Intermets aren’t failing me, the dance troupe are the Harlem Congaroo Dancers (aka Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers).  Featured in the routine, in order, are:

  • William Downes (overalls) and Frances “Mickey” Jones (maid)
  • Norma Miller and Billy Ricker (chef’s hat)
  • Al Minns (white coat, black pants) and Willa Mae Ricker
  • Ann Johnson (maid) and Frankie Manning (overalls)

Read some more about Hellzapoppin’s “plot,” and check out some vintage poster art and blog-grabs.

I watched Hellzapoppin’ on DVD a couple years ago, stumbling across it one night at Scarecrow.  (Forrest J Ackerman always used to refer to it in Famous Monsters of Filmland.)   It’s like Airplane! meets low-budget 1930s movie musical.  There’s some really pretty out-there stuff in it.  If you Google it, you’ll find some grey-market DVD-Rs floating around.

Thanatopsis (Ed Emshwiller, 1962)

Thanatopsis (1962)

Becky Arnold and Mac Emshwiller
in a film by Ed Emshwiller

Sound design by Ed Emshwiller?

A powerful film that must be almost overwhelming when shown nice and big with a good sound system. And dig how early it is; anticipating industrial music and film/video by about 30-35 years.

More Ed Emshwiller

Screening Room with Ed Emshwiller (1975)  77 min.
Directed by Robert Gardner
Link offers video downloads for sale or rent

Ed Emshwiller appeared on [the weekly Boston TV program] Screening Room in July 1975 to screen and discuss the films Chrysalis, George Dumpson’s Place, Carol Emshwiller, Thanatopsis, Film With Three Dancers, Scape Mates, and Crossings and Meetings.

…Ed Emshwiller started out as an abstract expressionist painter and an award-winning science fiction illustrator before becoming a major figure in avant-garde cinema and the experimental film movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Eventually a highly respected video artist and dean at the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of the Arts, Emshwiller was always looking for ways to push the boundaries of film and video. He was a pioneer of computer-generated video and combining technology with art. Many of his films, including Relativity, Totem, Film with Three Dancers, and Thanatopsis received screenings and awards at New York, Cannes and other major film festivals worldwide.

…Screening Room was a 1970s Boston television series that for almost ten years offered independent filmmakers a chance to show and discuss their work on a commercial (ABC-TV) affiliate station. The series was developed and hosted by filmmaker Robert Gardner…who was Chairman of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard for many years.

This unique program dealt even-handedly with animation, documentary, and experimental film, welcoming such artists as Jan Lenica, John and Faith Hubley, Emile DeAntonio, Jean Rouch, Ricky Leacock, Jonas Mekas, Bruce Baillie, Yvonne Rainer and Michael Snow. Frequently, guests such as Octavio Paz, Stanley Cavell, and Rudolph Arnheim appeared as well.

Nearly 100 programs were produced during the years Screening Room was broadcast. Recently, The Museum of TV and Radio in New York City offered to copy the two-inch master tapes that had been given to the Film Study Center.

A still from 'Screening Room with Ed Emshwiller' (1975)

Jr. Star Trek (1969)

Jr. Star Trek (1969)
Produced and Directed by Peter Emshwiller

Starring

Peter Emshwiller: Capt. Kirk
Lee Lowenstein: Spock
Mark Hyams: Dr. McCoy
Dave Erits: Henry
Mark Harris: Sulu (and stunts)
John Bergison: Scotty
All: Aliens

Via YouTube, posted by the filmmaker.

Made by 10-year-old Peter and his friends using the 16mm sound camera of his dad — filmmaker, pioneering computer animator and video artist (videography) Hugo-winning science fiction illustrator and educator, Ed Emshwiller.  Peter’s mother is science fiction author Carol Emshwiller.

Jr. Star Trek won WNET’s “Young People’s Filmmaking Contest,” was shown on national television, and is still shown at Star Trek conventions.