Outdoor Movie Season in Seattle

Here’s info about just some of the outdoor movie events coming up in the Seattle area. And don’t forget the drive-ins.

Freemont Outdoor Movies
15th season. Saturdays, June 23 – September 15

Cinema on the Lawn – South Lake Union, Seattle
June 29 – August 10, behind the SLU Discovery Center at Denny & Westlake

Sidewalk Cinema – West Seattle
July 21 – August 25

Movies at the Mural – Seattle Center
August 3 – 25, at the Mural Amphitheater

NW Film Forum’s 2nd Annual Bike-In – Capital Hill
August 25, at Cal Anderson Park

Outside Seattle

First Tech Movies at Marymoor Park – Redmond, WA
July 11 – August 29

Summer Sounds & Outdoor Cinema – Tacoma, WA
July 28 – September 1, at various parks (see web site)
Preceded by live music and (beware!) the “Tacoma Idol” contest. Ouch.

Zoo Cinemas – Tacoma, WA
August 3 – 24, at the Port Defiance Zoo

Outdoor Summer Sounds and Cinema – Auburn, WA
July 27 – August 24
Preceded by live music and again with the “American Idol” knock-off (shudder).

Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema – Bellingham, WA
June 30 – Sept. 1, at the Fairhaven Village Green
Preceded by live music

Outdoor Cinema Series – Lacey, WA
July 7 – Aug. 4, at Huntamer Park in Woodland Square

Sedro-Woolley Outdoor Movies – Sedro-Woolley, WA
Fridays from July 6 – July 27, at the Masonic Center

Washington Drive-Ins

Yes, Washington state still has a number of operating drive-ins, an endangered species to be sure. Drive-ins are also the last bastion of the double feature! Most have dispensed with the good ol’ fashioned window speaker in favor of microbroadcast radio. (Now MobMovs are a subject for another day.)

Valley 6 Drive-In – Auburn, WA
5 screens – AM radio
24 hour telephone: (253) 854-1250

Puget Park Drive-In – Everett, WA
One screen – FM stereo
(425) 338-5957

Blue Fox Drive-In – Oak Harbor, WA
One screen – AM & FM
Plus…go-karts! And some kinda train ride thing.
(360) 675-5667
Visit site to subscribe to email list.

Rodeo Triplex Drive-In – Port Orchard, WA
3 screens – FM w/ Dolby Digital & DTS Surround stereo (dang)
Family operated
(360) 698-6030

Skyline Drive-In – Shelton, WA
One screen – in-car speakers / AM
(360) 426-4707

Vue Dale Drive-In – Wenatchee, WA
2 screens – radio (FM?)
(509) 662-7740

Bruce Bickford Film Event at Fantagraphics Bookstore This Saturday

Poster: The Idiosyncratic Cincema of Bruce Bickford. Click for larger copy.

Mugu Brainpan is a huge fan of animator Bruce Bickford, and you should be, too.

This Saturday, Seattle-ites will be treated to a rare, uh, treat when the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery down in Georgetown hosts a special screening of four recent short films by Mr. Bickford, including “the public debut of a recently completed untitled line animation.” If you’ve checked out the extras on the Monster Road DVD (Scarecrow has it for rent), then you know that Bruce’s line animation is even more mind-blowing than his clay stop motion…and that’s really saying something. It’s one of the only times I gave my TV a standing ovation.

As an added bonus, Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring will host the evening, and the reclusive Mr. Bickford himself will be in attendance.

By way of teasers, here’s the current YouTube offerings of Bruce Bickford’s work.

Following is the full press release from the Fantagraphics blog. (Sorry the reference link takes so bloody long to load. For some reason you can’t link to an individual post but only the whole bloody month.)

Fantagraphics Bookstore Presents “The Idiosyncratic Cincema of Bruce Bickford” on Saturday, May 12

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is pleased to host a screening of animated shorts by Seattle-based artist Bruce Bickford on Saturday, May 12 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. This event, hosted by Bickford’s associate Jim Woodring, gives the public a rare opportunity to view new and recent works by the highly acclaimed, yet reclusive, filmmaker. Fantagraphics Bookstore is located at 1201 S. Vale St. at Airport Way S. in Seattle’s Georgetown arts community. The screening is free to the public of all ages.

Bruce Bickford’s obsessive clay and line animations are at once seductive and grotesque. The son of a Boeing engineer, Bickford began working in film as an adolescent, drawing on childhood insecurities and dreams to create a stunning body of work of singular vision. His work gained international prominence when featured in Frank Zappa’s 1979 concert documentary Baby Snakes. Bickford’s contribution served as a dynamic visualization of Zappa’s approach to composition-as-metamorphosis. Bickford is the subject of the award-winning feature length 2005 documentary Monster Road, which will be available on DVD at the event. He continues to create subversive films in seclusion in his south Seattle studio.

The program on May 12 will feature four short films, including the public debut of a recently completed untitled line animation, in addition to other recent works. Seattle cartoonist Jim Woodring will serve as host. Woodring’s art, currently on view at Fantagraphics Bookstore, shares Bickford’s meticulous and visionary approach to the creative process. The screening will be followed by comments from Bickford and a question and answer period with the audience…

Listing Information:

The Idiosyncratic Cinema of Bruce Bickford
Saturday, May 12, 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery
1201 S. Vale St. (at Airport Way S.) Seattle
Admission Free. All Ages.
206.658.0110 www.fantagraphics.com
Hours: Daily 11:30 – 8:00 PM (Sundays until 5:00 PM)

Production still from a Bruce Bickford clay-animation film.

Tonight & Sat. @ Midnight: Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3D at the Egyptian (Seattle)

Sorry for the late notice, but Creature From the Black Lagoon is being shown tonight (Friday 3/16) and Saturday (3/17) at midnight at the Egyptian Theater here in Seattle, on Capital Hill.

According to my phone conversation with the kind folks at the Egyptian, it is an anaglyphic print (red/green), not the original 2-projector polarized deal (which is not generally available, alas), which means the 3D will be not nearly as good (as I can personally attest), but being 35mm it won’t be all bad, either.

Regardless, Creature is rarely shown in 3D so you should guzzle some coffee and make some tracks, because it totally kicks ass. (Anaglyphic prints of It Came From Outer Space have been shown locally a couple-few times now in recent years — but not Creature.)

I find it more than a little amusing that it’s playing on St. Patrick’s Day weekend — drinking like fish and all that, eh wot, glub glub.

El Topo Opens at the Grand Illusion — One Week Only

This Friday (Feb. 2, 2007), Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo begins a one-week run in Seattle at The Grand Illusion, in the U-District at the corner of 50th and University Way (aka The Ave).  Enter on 50th.

Showtimes:  6:30 PM and 8:45 PM daily.  Plus:  4  PM matinees on Sat. 2/3 and Sun. 2/4; and 11 PM late nites on Fri. 2/2 and Sat. 2/3.  Run concludes on Thurs. 2/8, and Holy Mountain opens the following day.

As was sorted out here in unnecessary but joyously geeky detail, both El Topo and Holy Mountain are being screened as new 35mm prints, only months old according to the distributer.  El Topo is a newly-struck 35mm print of the 1996 optical restoration (not the just completed full digital restoration supervised by Jodorowsky himself).  But word is that Holy Mountain (opening Fri. 2/9) will indeed be a new 35mm print of the newest restoration (again, supervised by Jodorowsky).

About the Prints for the El Topo / Holy Mountain Roadshow

As readers of this here blog hopefully know by now, El Topo and The Holy Mountain are currently hitting the road for what is certainly their first US theatrical run since their release in the early ’70s — if not ever. (Distribution was, I understand, spotty even at the time and I half-deduce their original runs were extremely limited, perhaps even to just a couple-few of the larger cities, tho I could have that wrong.  And I’ve no idea how extensive European distro was.  Jodorowsky experts are encouraged to correct me.)

As I’ve also mentioned, this is in advance of their release (along with Fando y Lis) as a legal (!!) DVD box-set.

For Jodorowsky fans, no matter their nationality, simply seeing these baroque psychedelic mind-bombs in an honest-to-god theater at all is one of the rarest of cinema treats, like a UFO landing, hitherto restricted only to the not-very-occasional film festival having to make do, usually, with battered old prints.

But the even bigger ballyhoo in this case is the films’ status as freshly, lavishly, HD-digitally restored jewels with the direct participation and supervision of Jodorowsky himself. Naturally, as a true film nerd, I wanted to know: we will be seeing new prints of the new restorations?!?!

Turns out, this is a trickier question than meets the mind’s eye. Alan Klein’s ABKCO Films, which owns the rights to the films (itself a minor saga), is being somewhat parsimonious with the information. The company’s web site, while featuring only information about the new releases, provides only plot descriptions (*cough*) and not one single solitary word about the restorations. Very strange publicity ploy, n’est ce pas?

Further confusing things was the December run of El Topo in New York City at the IFC Center (once the famed Waverly Theater, yes the one in the lyric from Hair). As discussed in an earlier post, the copy IFC ran was digitally projected HDcam tape, not film. With digital, about 75% of your experience depends on the quality of the projector, but HDcam tape is probably one of the best projection sources you can hope to get. But…it ain’t film, and despite the enormous strides made in digital projection in the last decade (both theatrical and home-style), it still does not come close to a quality film print — a fact noted by some who saw screenings there.

Things were bemurked further still by a comment to my post by a “John” (who claimed to be “Davis” in his nearly-verbatim comment on another blog). “John”, speaking with self-assured authority, stated categorically that “for better or worse, there are no 35mm prints from this new 2006 restoration.” When commenting as “Davis” at notcoming.com, he stated “while IFC Center would have preferred to have shown a brand new 35mm print from this Jodorowsky-authorized restoration, such a print does not and will not exist.” (I later deduced he was referring specifically to El Topo.)

Well stop the damn presses, I thought. WTF?? Are we getting chopped liver, or what? And who is this “John”/”Davis” guy anyway, and how the hell does he know? From the sound of things, it seemed like he might be an IFC flack or maybe just a defensive staffer “moonlighting” on his own.

So, I cruised the web sites of the other venues ABKCO lists as hosting this Jodorowsky film roadshow. They all trumpeted the restoration, but the screening prints themselves were often unaddressed — perhaps making the same, possibly erroneous, assumption I had made? The Music Box in Chicago said “new print” for one film but not the other, The Castro in SanFran proclaimed “New 35mm Prints!” (plural), and a buddy of mine at the Grand Illusion told me they were under the impression/assumption they would be new prints (plural)…but when it came down to it they weren’t positive. As a regular parser of politician-speak, I knew a skillfully unanswered question when I saw one.

So, just before xmas I sent an email to the press contact address on the ABKCO site, explaining the conflicting information I’d gleaned and asking for clarification. Were they sending out film prints or digital? Or both? If print(s), were it/they old or new? And while yer at it, got anything to share about the restoration tech trip? Well, so far no reply, though in fairness I did write just before the holiday week.

But a funny thing happened. As related to me, ABKCO contacted the Grand Illusion’s programmer (who happens to have the same first name as me, albeit with the different “second-S” spelling) and revealed unto him the nature of the prints that will be circulating during this roadshow, and thus coming to Seattle in February.

Drum-Roll Please…

So…as per ABKCO, to me via the grapevine:

El Topo will be a newly-struck 35mm print of the 1996 optical restoration. It will not, alas, be the brand-new restoration recently completed. (Or maybe, I theorize, that restoration is not quite complete or wasn’t completed in time for prints to be converted and stuck. That might explain the HDcam digital screening in NYC.) So far I’ve not been able to scrape up doodly about the 1996 restoration, but according to the mysterious “James”/”Davis” dude, it “was done without Jodorowsky’s participation and is very different (in terms of color corrects, sound mix, etc.) from the new digital version.” With no other context or info, it’s impossible to know if that’s actually as dire as he seems to imply. That said, I seriously doubt even the mercurial ABKCO would release a truly crappy version of El Topo to promote their super-lush DVD release…tho, of course, anything is possible when you get down to it.

But rejoice still, for The Holy Mountain will be a brand new 35mm print of the new digital restoration! This is glorious news, indeed, as the colors and music in that film were jaw-dropping even in the fairly battered print I saw (once, ca. 1987). Also, the latter print (which I gather from Googled press snips appeared every once in a great while at other fests) had no soundtrack at all for at least one full reel. So at last, I will finally get to see a complete film print of this masterpiece.

In both cases, my source tells me, these new prints are merely months old (even if the reportedly-substandard El Topo neg just celebrated its 10th b-day).

El Topo was shot in 1.85:1 and Holy Mountain was shot in scope (2.35:1), and I’m assuming the original aspect ratios have been preserved. Please note that both films were originally produced with mono soundtracks, so do not be disappointed that they are not stereo.

I do not know what lab produced the prints (or the ’96 restoration of El Topo for that matter), but a little trolling at IMDB revealed that Postworks, New York provided 2K HD restoration and color correction services for the newest digital versions of the films.

El Topo and Holy Mountain to Play Seattle in February

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s twin masterpieces, El Topo and Holy Mountain, will grace Seattle with their inexcusably rare presence with back-to-back runs at The Grand Illusion Cinema in February. Both films will be shown in 35mm. My impression — unconfirmed as yet, and I’m seeing conflicting reports — is that these are possibly new prints. (Update: the “prints” screening at the IFC Center in NYC are not film but HD digital, presumably from DVD from HDcam tape.  What formats will actually be shown here in Seattle remain unconfirmed and I will update further if/when I know for sure.)

El Topo (1971) runs February 2 through 8, and Holy Mountain (1973) runs February 9 through 15. (Now that’s a Valentine’s Day date.)

The only other West Coast dates will be in San Francisco at the venerable Castro Theater during the latter half of January (tho there’s also a late Feb. run in Boulder). The films are making an (did I mention?) unspeakably rare tour of the US that began less than a week ago in NYC. The full US schedule is available at abkcofilms.com (which also features a Flash-ified trailer on the homepage).

This road-show is in advance of fully-restored releases on DVD, apparently including the US market for the first time ever.

If you even pretend to be interested in film, and even if you’ve managed to watch one or both on a home video import (to date only released [legally] in Italian and Japanese editions, with latter with digital blurs over all exposed crotches [the Japanese have a thing about pubic hair, apparently]), you must make tracks to see these justly legendary works of genuine visionary cinema — a much-bandied but rarely deserved appellation.

Sadly, both films have (obviously) suffered a terrible distribution fate, due to the infamously possessive Alan Klein, who owns the rights. (Klein also owns the rights to most of the Rolling Stones catalog, as well as the absolutely brilliant Antony Balch re-interpretation of the already brilliant Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), with narration by William S. Burroughs and a soundtrack featuring Jean Luc Ponty, which — thankfully — recently received the always exquisite Criterion Collection treatment on DVD. A definite must-own.)

The lack of distribution has been the nexus of a decades-long feud between Jodorowsky and Klein, now finally resolved for whatever reason. And it’s about damn time. Props, however mitigated, to Klein for finally seeing the light. The irony is that Klein was prompted to obtain the rights to El Topo by no less than John Lennon, who wanted the film to be widely seen. Hey, better late than never. I suppose.

This November 8, 2006 post from the WorldWeird Cinema blog offers an account (via a Yahoo forum) of a Jodorowsky Q&A for a NYC screening of El Topo.

YouTube (Time‘s 2006 “Person of the Year”) offers this clip of Jodorowsky discussing El Topo and Holy Mountain.

Also, the Dinosaur Gardens blog offers twin posts with MP3s of the El Topo soundtrack (high sound quality rips from the Douglas 6 LP) and the Holy Mountain soundtrack (regrettably lo-fi rips, probably from a VHS bootleg) featuring the mighty Don Cherry and Archies (?!) keyboardist Ron Frangipane (ripped from the film, and thus including dialog).

Obviously, I’m excited about this. Watch this space for more related posts.

New Climax Golden Twins LP

Conspiracy Records in Belgium has released a new LP by Climax Golden Twins as part of the label’s 12-LP series celebrating their 10th anniversary. Pressings for the series are limited to 200-500 copies (depending on the title), and are on heavy, 180 gram vinyl. The CGT release sports what Rob describes as “beautiful labels and hand screened covers.”

It’s only available directly from the label, so visit the link above if you’re interested.

In his recent spam about the album, Rob also said it “contains some songs, some collage, 78rpm records, hillbilly acoustics, an ambient caveman number featuring Erin Sullivan from the mighty A Frames…and more…” Thoughtfully, Conspiracy Records has posted a sample track MP3 on their page about the release.

Update:  This Saturday night, Oct. 21, the Twins and three other bands are playing “an ear-bending evening of avant psyche freak out” at an artists space in a converted boat warehouse. Check it:

Enterruption and Le Vide present:
Suishou no Fune
Climax Golden Twins
Du Hexen Hase
Datura Blues

October 21, Saturday, 8:30pm, All-Ages, $5
@ the S.S. Marie Antoinette
1235 Westlake Ave N., Seattle, kind of across from Rocksalt…

The S.S. Marie Antoinette folks also have a MySpace page if you’re into that.

Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel

Rare original poster art for Maurnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922)

On Friday, September 29, Brian and Gary and I had a second Backyard Movie Party behind their duplex, just three weeks after the one on Labor Day Sunday. Miraculously, the weather cooperated and it was clear, slightly crisp night.

There are a couple great Flickr albums of low-light photographs of the evening by Patrick and Brian.

Following are the film list and post-facto program notes from Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel. When available, the soundtrack on the film was used. For silent prints (and one sound film), recorded music from various modern sources was played. (iPod Nanos were just made for stuff like this.)

Cinematograph Souvenirs of America (1896, Lumière, FR)
Louis and Auguste Lumiere, and various operators
B/W Silent. Music: “Souvenirs” (1982) for organ by John Cage, performed by Stephen Drury.

Actualities and views filmed in the US by the Lumiere brothers during their first world tour in 1896. They and a crew would shoot new films in the country they were visiting. This footage would then be shown along with the original French prints at huge gala screenings received with tumultuous ovations. Included in this Blackhawk Films compilation are Lumiere actualities of Washington DC, New York City, a police parade in Chicago, and others. The organ music by John Cage was spacious, often very quiet and subtle, and slightly ominous. (I also like the intellectual pun of using Cage to provide the obligatory silent movie organ music.)

KoKo and the Kop (1927, US) b/w
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Alfred Weiss.
B/W Silent. A 1950 rerelease by Stuart Films, with added jazz soundtrack.

Max Fleischer, in his den, makes cardboard cutouts of some drawn city streets and buildings, tacking them to the wall. The inkwell is opened, and out come KoKo and his sidekick and foil, Pup. KoKo is a policeman who tangles with the hungry Pup, a prankster who’s intent on stealing a bone. Features some particularly surreal and fluid animation for the time. It not only got laughs tonight, it was played again as an encore by audience request. Earlier in 1927 there had been business changes (including a new producer), and the Koko series was renamed from Out of the Inkwell to Inkwell Imps. The different capitalization of Koko/KoKo’s name was a result of related copyright details.

Still from 'Betty Boop's Ups and Downs'

Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs (1932)
B/W Sound. An NTA television print ca. late 1950s or early ’60s
Animated by Willard G. Bowsky and Ugo D’Orsi.
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Max Fleischer. Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor.

It’s the depths of the Depression, and Betty is dispossessed. As she leaves her house, a “For Sale” sign goes up. The picture backs away, and then the whole block is for sale, then the whole country, and finally, the whole world. The Moon gathers all the planets around to auction off the Earth. Mars and Venus do not bid high enough, but the planet Saturn gets the high bid to buy Earth (of course, the Moon demands cash up front from Saturn, not really seeming to trust him). Saturn decides to see what happens if he takes gravity out of the earth…so he reaches in and pulls out a large magnet. With no gravity, Betty and all her friends and the houses, etc. begin falling up. Gravity is reversed, along with all other activities on earth.

Aladdin’s Lamp (1906, Pathé Frères, FR)
(aka Aladdin and the Marvelous Lamp, orig. Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse)
B/W, originally hand-colored. Silent. Music used: “My God My Love Has Come” by the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar on Jajouka Between the Mountains (Womad Select CD, 1995)

Directed by Albert Capellani. Production Design by Hugues Laurent. Produced by Ferdinand Zecca.
Cinematography by Segundo de Chomon (who also photographed tonight’s The Red Spectre). With Georges Vinter as Aladin.

A trick film telling the legend of Aladdin and his magic lamp in simplified form. Peasant Aladdin falls in love with a princess. Promising he can win her hand, a mysterious stranger leads him to an enchanted cave, where he is beset by acrobatic gremlins and strange phenomena. He finds the magic lamp and uses it to escape. Back home, the lamp brings Aladdin wealth, luxury, and even marriage to the princess. But an evil magician appears and steals the lamp for himself. All of the magic is undone and Aladdin’s charade is exposed. He must regain the lamp or lose everything — even his life. Aladdin defeats the evil magician, regains the lamp and the princess, and lives happily ever after. In direct competition with Melies, Zecca was responsible for all trick films (and much else) for the Pathe company. poster art for Disney's 'The Skeleton Dance'

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Disney US)
B/W Sound. Blue toned print
A Disney Silly Symphony (using the Cinephone sound process)
Animated by Ub Iwerks. Music by Carl W. Stalling. Directed by Walt Disney.

Watch The Skeleton Dance at YouTube. The supernatural hijinks that go on in a graveyard at night. A Halloween-season classic featuring dancing skeletons playing each other like xylophones, lovely animation art, and one of the very first Carl Stalling cartoon scores ever. This was the first Disney Silly Symphony film, a sound series created in the immediate afterglow of the smash success of Steamboat Willy. Shown was an extremely rare toned print (or rather, a color copy of a toned print). This is different from tinting, where a wash of colored dye is applied to black-and-white film. This colors the whites and affects the greys, but leaves the blacks (mostly) black. This is the most commonly seen early color process. Toning, on the other hand, is kind of the reverse. Through a chemical process, the black is replaced with a color — red, or blue, or whatever. The blacks still look true, and the whites in the image are still white. But the “greys” are now shades of the color — the red or blue or whatever — instead of black. It’s unusal to see now, and it can be very striking (like in this film). But during the later silent era it was increasingly common. Some deluxe productions even used tinting on top of toned stock. Imagine the possibilities.

The Merry Frolics of Satan (1905, Star Films, FR)
(orig. Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable)
B/W with multi-colored tinting. Silent. Music: “Hal on Earth” and “Calling All Mothers” by the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble from Hal on Earth (Abduction CD, 1989)
Produced and directed by Georges Méliés.

Georges Melies as Satan in 'The Merry Frolics of Satan' (1905)Melies is at his peak in this riotous 1905 film. A pair of British dolts visit an old wizard to obtain magic “pills” (more like “bombs” really) that explode and create whatever the thrower wants. Naturally, the wizard is actually Satan himself, who pursues and, well, bedevils the hedonistic fools with an army of acrobatic imps. The more the dolts use the magic bombs, the worse things go. After destroying various vehicles, taverns and dining rooms, the Brits flee on a carriage…until the horse transforms into a demon and carries them all down a volcano, straight into Hell. Dancing legions of demons and imps hoist them overhead, roasting them on a giant gerbil-wheel spit as Satan waves with glee from his throne. Explosions, flame, and brimstone smoke obscure everything, and the film ends. Melies was commissioned to film a version of this to be part of a theatrical pantomime staged by the Châtelet. The show, based on an 1839 chestnut called The Devil’s Pills, included the “demon horse” sequence as film — the rest was staged live. After that production closed, Melies expanded the film, shot new sequences, and put it into general release through his Star Films company.

The Red Spectre (1907, Pathé Frères, FR)
(orig. Le Spectre Rouge, aka El Espectro Rojo, Satan de Divierte)
B/W with stencil color and hand-coloring. Silent with added electro-acoustic soundtrack of unknown provenance.

Directed and photographed by Segundo de Chomón (who also photographed Aladdin’s Lamp in this program).
In a strange grotto deep in the bowels of the earth a coffin uprights itself, dances, then opens, and out steps a demonic magician with skeletal face, horns, and cape. The devilish magician then performs a series of magical acts. A classic trick film of the time, much enhanced by Pathe’s trademark stencil coloring (albeit rather faded in this print), with the rather unusual addition of selected hand coloring. A beautiful and strange film. This particular print also came to me with an unusual optical soundtrack of electro-acoustic music — chamber-orchestral instruments combined with electronics. Some fragments I also recognized in the Blackhawk sound-added print of Nosferatu shown tonight. If the soundtrack was stitched together from royalty-free sources, then someone really put some love into it. Great stuff.

Fall of the House of Usher (1928, US) Still from Watson & Webber's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' (1928)
B/W Silent. Music used: “Sense of Doubt”, “Moss Garden”, “Neuklon” by David Bowie (with Brian Eno), “Heroes” (LP, 1977)
Director/Cinematographer: James Sibley Watson, Jr. Set Designer: Melville Webber. Writers: Watson, Melville Webber and e.e. cummings, from the 1839 story by Edgar Allen Poe.

A beautifully abstract rendition of Poe’s dark story of the cursed Usher family and their doomed castle. One of the great silent avant garde films. Not to be confused with the longer French version by Jean Epstein and Luis Buñuel, also released the same year. Read some program notes about this film that I compiled in 2003.

Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922, DE)
(orig. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)
B/W Silent, with added orchestral soundtrack (Blackhawk Films print)
Directed by FW Murnau. With Max Shreck as Count Orloff.

The great Murnau horror classic, albeit in the truncated 65 minute edit that has been most common. Fortunately, 90-plus minute restored versions are now available on DVD. Read more about Nosferatu at Wikipedia, which also has an interesting entry on the origins of the word “nosferatu”.

View from the screen, Sept. 29, 2006 - photo by Brian Alter

Blah blah blah…

Shortly after the September 3 Backyard Movie Party, house host Brian emailed me and said, “Let’s do another one on Friday, September 29.” I was positive it would rain, but said sure let’s do it. One 3D movie festival later and I’m back in town and Brian’s still up for it — so we go for it. By some miracle the weather actually cooperated beautifully (though it was a little chilly and the post-sunset condensation was more intense than I’d expected — note to self: more plastic bags next time).

Slightly smaller attendance this time, owing in part to the last-second invites (gotta stop that), and despite some returnees mostly a different crowd. Everyone was friendly and had a good time. I was especially flattered by the kind praises of an older gentleman I did not know who, I think, was of British extraction.)

Once again there was a feature (the one-hour version of Nosferatu with a pretty good added orchestral soundtrack) and a bunch of shorts. This one had a slightly artier bent. It was almost all silent film, with added music of one sort or another — except for two early sound cartoons from 1929 and 1932. Basically the program was influenced by the choice of feature (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne was another candidate) and anyway despite being a silent film geek, I don’t get to show them to audiences very much.

I’ve been doing movie parties since I was a kid (a tale for another day), but I can only remember one year when I was able to do two (one in the living room and one in the garage). Multiple screenings, sure, but not movie parties.

Film Notes on 3D Rarities II at the World 3D Film Expo II, 2006

3-Dimension Rarities II3-Dimension Rarities II

Sept. 17, 2006, 1pm
World 3D Film Expo II
Grauman’s Egyptian Theater
Hollywood, CA

(All of my posts about Word 3D Film Expo II can be found here.)

A truly history-making screening of rare, extremely rare, and astonishingly rare 3D short films and surviving fragments, as well as excellent new 3D video footage. There were a small number of repeats of Rarities from the first (and they thought only) 3D Film Expo in 2003, but the majority of the films shown were essentially premieres.

The headline for the papers was the world premiere of the miraculously restored Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures and related test footage from 1922 — now the oldest surviving 3D film in the world, and second oldest film known to have ever been shown to a paying audience. What’s more, the 3D imaging was phenomenal, like looking into a time machine. This film is discussed further below.

The following film list, in order shown, originated from my hand-written notes made during the screening. (There were no handouts or program notes, alas.) Please pardon any rough edges — I am adding and rewriting as time allows.

Meanwhile comments, corrections, and addenda are most welcome.

The screening was hosted by Expo II producer Jeff Joseph and technical director Dan Symmes, who introduced each film.

3D Jamboree
1956 (USA), Technicolor polarized, widescreen
Dir. William Beaudine
Brand new dual-35mm print struck from the original negatives

Cheers erupted from the (mostly older) audience when this was announced — not just a prized rarity, but the premiere of a stunning brand new print.

3D Jamboree was made to be part of a long-running movie attraction at Disneyland that premiered on June 16, 1956 and ran at the old Fantasyland until 1964. 3D Technicolor footage of the Mousketeers was shot to wrap around Disney’s other 3D properties, the cartoons Working for Peanuts (with Donald Duck and Chip ‘n’ Dale) and Melody. This particular screening did not include the cartoons (which were both shown twice during other screenings at the Expo), but included everything featuring the Mousketeers.

The 3D had good depth and overall was pretty flawless. The color negatives had survived extremely well, and the image quality was excellent and lush. For me though, the young whippersnapper, it was just kinda too bad it was used on the Mouseketeers — although it did make for a very bizarre 1956 time capsule.

There was a singing intro (with the trademark ramrod-stiff staging required by early television), a little 3D shtick with a long balloon, and segue segments for the two cartoons. This was followed by a weird staged routine and a song sung by a very young Annette as she swings back and forth right at you in a swing and frilly 1800s sun dress. Meanwhile, the rest of the Mousketeers were arrayed in little clusters around the soundstage, dressed in period costumes and doing shtick, with a few running around doing the Keystone Kops routine. 3D shenanigans ensue, perforce.

In announcing the film to the crowd, producers Jeff and Dan unveiled, with gleeful flourish, a large poster for the film. It was one of the big cards displayed in a main entryway to Disneyland, “travel” placards to the various “lands”. The designs were only ever used there, and few (sometimes only one or two) were ever made. So this poster is most probably the only surviving copy, unless one is still lurking somewhere in the Disney archives. It looked pristine, as though it had never even been used. It had been offered on eBay, where Dan Symmes bid on it. Everyone lost when bidding didn’t meet the reserve. Coincidentally, it turned out a mutual friend knew the seller, and eventually a deal was struck and the poster was acquired for the 3D Film Archive.

Festival co-producer Dan Symmes faked us out about this film. During a breakdown on the afternoon of opening Saturday, he killed time by taking questions from the crowd and discussing 3D stuff. When someone asked about 3D Jamboree, he said they hoped to show it but one of the surviving Mousketeers, “won’t say who, wants a whole lot of money to allow it.” Either it was a puckish ruse, or they managed to work it out before the screening.

There was another later Disney 3D film attraction, Magic Journeys, that ran for some years at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

New Dimensions
1943, shot ca. 1942 (USA), polarized Ansco Color print
Produced by Chrysler Corporation
Color remake of In Tune with Tomorrow (1934, b/w, polarized 3D)

A portion of this film, minus the end and with new opening titles, was released in 1952 as Motor Rhythm (which was shown twice during Expo II). This screening was only of the material different from Motor Rhythm, not the fully-assembled film — namely, the original opening credits and an outro promoting Chrysler’s then-new 1941 line of cars. The omitted portion of the film is a wonderful 3D stop-motion animation sequence of a car assembling itself.

[Lumiere Anamorphic 3D Test Footage]
1934 (France), b/w polarized

Anaglyphic still from August Lumiere's 3D test footage of 1933-34The Lumiere brothers, of course, are credited with inventing the first successful film projection process in 1895. Only the truly nerdy know about the 3D experiments almost 40 years later.

The Lumiere 3D process used a rather remarkable technique that is a little difficult to explain verbally, but I will try. The two “eyes” were rotated 90 degrees and printed side-by-side in a single frame of film. A special twin-anamorphic lens compressed the roughly square aspect ratio of each “eye” of the image so that they could fit together in the alotted frame space. This is the reverse of the principle used for Cinemascope-type widescreen, where the wide image is compressed to fit into a standard 1:33 frame. Instead, the (more-or-less) 1:33 image is compressed to fit into a fraction of the frame, alongside its twin — both of them rotated so their horizon is vertical.

To restore the film, these images were extracted, unsqueezed to their true aspect ratio, and then printed to dual 35mm. This same specially-converted print was shown (and I believe premiered) at the first 3D Film Expo in 2003.

It was beautiful. Appropriately, as you can see from the anaglyphic still included here, the reel included a 3D reenactment of the Lumiere’s famous train shot from 1895. There was a little bit of artifacting at times, but it was modest and forgivable, especially since it was otherwise quite true. An anaglyphic version of this rare test footage is to be found on the Festival of 3D Movie Trailers DVD produced for the first Expo (which is still available at this writing…hint). Unfortunately, it’s still TV 3D and gives little hint of the spectacular quality of the dual-35mm print we were treated to.

Thrills for You
1939 (USA), b/w polarized
DP: Leventhal, shooting with a Norling rig.

'Thrills for You' memorabilia

Produced by the Pennsylvania Railroad and originally shown at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. It had been thought lost for 65 years, until a 16mm print was recently discovered, restored, and a dual 35mm print made from that.

Excellent 3D imaging. Most of it was presented as verité documentary with music and minimal narration. Features awesome train footage — on board, passing landscapes, trainyards, factory interiors, the whole works.

[Vectograph test footage]
ca. 1953 (USA)
Joseph Mahler and Edwin H. Land

Photograph of Edwin H. LandOne of 2 test reels made in Los Angeles using the experimental Vectograph film stock. (Although some sources rumor of “several” reels, we were told with certainty only two were actually made). This print utilized reprinted 3D elements of the cartoon Melody (Disney, 1953). This is the only known surviving Vectograph film footage. Dr. Land (pictured at right) ordered the films destroyed, but this print, literally cut into pieces, was rescued from the trash and carefully re-assembled.

The Vectograph film stock can probably never be reproduced. Each polarized eye is printed on opposite sides of a single strip of film. Since it’s polarized, the image can be color. Although one would think this would result in shadowy or distorted image, it actually it worked surprisingly well. There was some modest though noticeable ghosting in some places (perhaps due to momentary mechanical imprecision during the optical printing), and the color had deteriorated. But overall it looked to me like a pretty successful experiment — why Dr. Land so resolutely abandoned the process is a little bit of a mystery (though it likely had to do with the 3D crash at the time).

As described by Lenny Lipton in his book, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema, Land was first approached with the concept of the Vectograph in 1938 by a Czech inventor named Joseph Mahler, who made his living in part by supplying sheet polarizers.

“The Vectograph is similar to the anaglyph [red-blue] , since both images are superimposed on each other and may be projected with a standard projector without any modification. Because the coding of information depends on polarization rather than color, one would assume the full-color Vectograph might also be possible…” [Lipton, p. 88]

[William Crespinel 3D test footage]
The can the film was found in is labeled 1927, but the footage was probably actually shot ca. 1923
(USA) b/w, anaglyphic (r/b)
3D test footage shot in the early 1920s by Willliam T. Crespinel

Shown was a 1999 dual-35mm print struck from dupe neg; produced and owned by the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY (where the original still resides). Norling was apparently involved to some extent, though this was not elaborated on. These experiments were possibly related to the later Audioscopics films Pete Smith produced for MGM in the late ’30s and early ’40s.

One of only two anaglyphic films (their original format) shown during the entire festival, along with the following.

Third Dimensional Murder
(aka Murder in 3-D and Murder in Three Dimensions)
1941 (USA), b/w anaglyphic (r/b)
An original Technicolor print!

Gag publicity shot for 'Third Dimensional Murder' (1941) - Pete Smith (left) and Ed Payson (right)Probably the only surviving original Technicolor print of this film. The 16mm prints circulating in collectors’ circles, although generally pretty decent, are originally from a reduction dupe of (I think?) a 2nd generation print (possibly not even Technicolor).

Overall, the effectiveness of the 3D matched that of my 16mm print, though of course this one was much clearer — and bigger!! Though the effectiveness was still uneven, the only real (tho spectacularly) bum shot was one hand-from-the-wall gimmick, which was completely misaligned. But otherwise the 3D was consistently high quality and probably the best anaglyphic 3D I’ve seen. You can read some program notes about this film I compiled a while back.

New York City in 3D
2006 (USA), color
StereoVision 3D (with Dolby polarized dual video projection)
super-wide aspect ratio (Scope-ish) — huge

A new 3D video short by SabuCat Productions. Begins with 3D views culled from the NY Public Library (stereo-opticon slides, etc.) floating about — it was very effective and wonderful to see the old views, though I found myself wanting more lingering close-ups of them. This transitioned to modern-day views of the the city, in video footage shot ca. 1996. This included flying views of the World Trade Center, which was handled with understatement, but I confess it was unexpectedly moving. We were also flown over other parts of the city, as well as given land shots.

An excellent testament to the quality possible with well-handled 3D video.

1953 (USA)
Starring Lili St. Cyr
Produced and directed by Saul Lesser
Shot using the Stereo-Cine dual-35mm process by Karl Struss

An original poster for 'Carmenesque', a short 3D burlesque film starring Lili St. CyrA very rare dual-35mm 3D burlesque routine. Shown flat — only one eye is known to survive. According to the 3-D Film List compiled by 3-D Revolution Pictures, this was originally part of a longer project titled The 3-D Follies that was abandoned before completion.
Features a wise-cracking parrot (absolutely awful jokes) that sounds suspiciously like Mel Blanc. A real artifact of its time.

Lili St. Cyr was a burlesque star and stripper who also made a number of short films during the early and mid 1950s. The market for this sort of film had to be impossibly small — high-end gentleman’s clubs (or underworld headquarters?) that could accommodate dual-35mm projection for an adults-only audience. I’d love to know more about the production history of this film. Especially since, as I understand it, most “sexy” films during the ’50s were produced to one extent or another by the Mob.

A Day in the Country (originally Stereo-Laffs)
1953 (USA), b/w
Originally anaglyphic
Remastered to polarized dual-35mm
Produced & directed by Jack Reiger (also worked w/ Pete Smith)
Released by Lippert Pictures

Anaglyphic still from 'A Day in the Country' (1953), recreated using Dan Symmes' 20/20 Process

One of three Lippert 3D shorts made at the time, all thought long-lost until a print of this was only recently discovered. Working from a faded and battered anaglyphic print, Dan Symmes used his 20/20 process to extract each “eye” of the red or blue image to separate motion pictures. These were then resynchronized, the image quality tuned up, and finally printed to dual 35mm for polarized interlock projection. A bumpkin family vacation, with misadventures and lots of slapstick. Shot MOS. Narrated in the Pete Smith style, complete with ham-handed sound effects. Shot somewhere around Sussex or Essex, NJ. (Dan was able to read a sign in the background from 2 frames of one shot and found the intersection on Google Maps.)

Symmes writes about the restoration of A Day in the Country on his web site, 3D Moving Pictures.

As it turns out, just weeks after Expo II concluded, Jeff Joseph unearthed paperwork that showed the film was originally titled Stereo-Laffs and had been licensed for exhibition in New York state in 1945. More recently, Joseph discovered even more amazing information: Stereo-Laffs had actually been available as early as 1941 — meaning it was probably shot in 1940!

Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures: Movies of the Future and Thru’ the Trees: Washington, DC
1922-23 (USA)
Produced & directed by William Van Doren Kelley
Photographed William T. Crespinell (some, perhaps all?)
Originally anaglyphic (r/b); fully restored and shown in a new polarized dual-35mm print

Re-created anaglyphic still from Kelley's 'Thru' the Trees' (1922)

The oldest known surviving 3D footage in the world.
First shown on Dec. 24, 1922 at the Rialto Theater in New York City.
(Only screening??)

World premiere of the restored film, itself unseen since the 1920s. A landmark achievement in film preservation, especially considering the technical hurdles that had to be overcome.

The first segment was comprised of experimental footage: simple moving tableaux showing silhouetted human figures and various objects — ladders, balls being thrown and caught, some very effective stuff with poles. Shot at extremely low angle, looks like floor level. Very nice indeed.

This was then followed by excerpts from Thru’ the Trees, shot by William Crespinel in and around Washington, DC. Amazing footage, with very effective 3D — it was like stepping into a time machine. Most shots are outdoor views of various famous locations, buildings, and monuments. The camera is usually situated with intervening trees and branches, providing visual framing to enhance the depth (hence the title). Men in straw hats and Model T Fords traverse the surprisingly empty streets. My notes from the screening say simply, “Stunning.”

This is the second oldest known publicly-shown 3D footage, after The Power of Love (which played for one screening in Hollywood, at the Ambassador Hotel, and a handful more in New York City — and is still believed to be lost).
Anaglyphic glasses used for Kelley's Plasticon PicturesFor this film, Kelley used an experimental color process he had developed, called Prizma Color, which used two colors ala early Technicolor. It was used for a natural color effect during the opening “flasher” bumper, which showed the red-blue Plasticon glasses (opera style) and explained that red goes on right. The rest of the original film used Prizma to create the anaglyphic 3D effect.

The recovered original anaglyphic print was so faded that the image could barely be seen with the naked eye, and the opening “flasher” segment had faded worst of all. Nevertheless, Symmes and the lab Triage (I believe) were able to extract and recover the stereo images for this spectacular brand new b/w dual-35mm print. What’s more, they were able to successfully restore the opening bumper in its original color. Although there was a limited palette to reproduce (the glasses and a hand over a white background), it looked quite realistic — indeed, better than some of the proto-Technicolor stuff I’ve been able to see.

Symmes writes at length about the rediscovery and restoration of these films on his great web site, 3D Moving Pictures. Even better for lucky you, Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures are reproduced in still form here, complete with large-sized anaglyphic images (a sample of which is included above). Thanks, Dan!

Rescuing this film in any viewable form would be something for the history books. That Symmes was also able to not only recreate its breathtaking 3D images and restore the Prizma Color process for future generations is an especially grand achievement. Alas, the Academy apparently failed to take note.

World 3D Film Expo II (2006) – Blogs, Reviews, and Links

Here is a collection of various blog postings and web articles about the World 3D Film Expo II, held Sept. 8-17, 2006 at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA. This will be expanded as time permits.
3D Film Preservation Fund

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the 3D Film Preservation Fund. This organization, along with SabuCat Productions and the 3D Film Archive, played a pivotal role in Expo II and continues to be the vanguard of 3D film preservation.

Official World 3D Film Expo II photos page.

Turner Classic Movies: 3D Festival Movie Reports by Jeff Stafford

Real D Blog by Lenny Lipton, author of Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth (1982, Van Norstrand Reinhold Co.)

World 3D Expo 2006 by Alan Rode (FilmMonthly.com)