Jun 30, 2008

De V De

About thirty seconds after the posting on color fading appeared, Ron Mann sent the following dope sheet on Painters Painting.

* Steve Franco at VideoPost Dallas supervised a new HD transfer from the original 35mm dupe neg (Mary Lampson recently told me it was the best element to use.)

* DuArt is remastering the sound.

* Arthouse will release Painters Painting on DVD in the fall.

* All of de's films are transfered from the best source available to High Def masters.

* The current DVD releases are standard def., but when Blu-ray costs come down, de's films will be released on Blu-ray.

* In the King of Prussia is next in line to be transfered to HD.
* Re: Painters out-takes. On the CD-ROM, I published transcripts of complete interviews and they are indeed incredible. Love to do a deluxe edition with out-takes. If you know any patrons of the arts - send 'em my way!

Painters Fading...

Painters Fading

I met a lot of nice colors.
-- Robert Rauschenberg,
on studying with Josef Albers

Color fading is one of the most heartbreaking signs of the impermanence of the motion picture medium. Few things are sadder than a once-glorious color film turned monochromatic pink or red.
-- Stephen Prince, Film Quarterly (Spring 1999), book review of
James M. Reilly's Storage Guide for Color Photographic Materials

Yesterday, at the Harvard Film Archive, I saw a screening of the documentary Painters Painting (1972), part of HFA's Emile de Antonio's America series. The 16mm print came from the Museum of Modern Art’s circulating collection. Apparently MoMA’s 35mm print is not circulating, because of its faded colors. If the 16mm copy is any indication, the 35 must be quite faded indeed. And color fading is a wee bit important for a film showing off hundreds of painted canvases. The interviews, roughly half of Painters Painting, were shot and released in black-and-white. While color fading might not seem like a problem for b&w, in fact this monochromatic footage was a faded-rose-and-white. (HFA dutifully advised moviegoers of the problem. But they all chose to stay and they all stayed to the end.)

Of course restoration of this film is not MoMA’s responsibility. It only purchased copies for the museum’s collection. The originals/masters are elsewhere. No doubt at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, where “de” left his things – lots of things. The collection description says they have “Negatives, outs and trims” for Painters and other films. Perhaps there are also prints at the George Eastman House, where de left copies of his films (in case of nuclear attack on Madison, Wisconsin – no lie). Or perhaps the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the film was shot, had the foresight to buy a print and to keep it in cold storage. Or maybe New Yorker Films has material from its role as the original distributor of 16/35 prints in the 1970s. There might even be a print of
Painters Painting at the National Archives, since the U.S. Information Agency circulated the film overseas for several years. (A delicious contradiction: a U.S. government agency distributing the Marxist filmmaker’s work worldwide as a celebration of American exceptionalism, while the executive branch was surveilling and harassing him because of his political activities.)

Painters Painting DVD is due out in September 2008. Its producers no doubt know where all the prints and elements are and which are in best condition. If ever a film cried out for high-quality color reproduction, this is it. It was only ten years ago that Mystic Fire Video issued a VHS version, sold as Painters Painting: The New York Art Scene, 1940-1970. And in 1996, de Antonio protégé Ron Mann released his Voyager CD-ROM version of Painters Painting. Sadly -- but not surprisingly – the once-beautiful disk won’t play on my computer anymore. It was designed at the time of Mac OS 7 (first introduced in 1991). Ditto for those marvelous Our Secret Century CD-ROMs that Rick Prelinger produced with Voyager in the 1990s.

Ron Mann is also responsible for the 4-DVD boxed set
Emile De Antonio: Films of the Radical Saint (HomeVision-Image Entertainment; street date, July 8, 2008). The saint subtitle is unsuitably hagiographic for the devilish de, but it's good to see In the Year of the Pig (1968), Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971), Underground (1976), and Mr. Hoover & I (1989) being released. The VHS versions that MPI Home Video released in the 1990s were underwhelming. MPI retitled the works, and, in some, intercut late ‘80s video footage of de Antonio talking about the film you are watching.

And what of Rush to Judgment, the Warren Report rebuttal that de Antonio made with attorney/author Mark Lane in 1966? Last year I saw (fifth hand) an e-mail from Mark Lane asking where he could get a “master print” of Rush and its outtakes [er, rushes] so as to digitize and put it (sell it?) on the web. He authored the RTJ best-selling book (actually ghost-written by Ben Sonnenberg Jr.), but one wonders what rights Lane holds on the film, which is copyrighted in the name of Judgment Films Corp. In any case, no plans for a DVD release. Ditto for In the King of Prussia (1982), the no-nukes activist video made with the Berrigan brothers and the rest of the Plowshares 8, plus Martin Sheen.

Now that de Antonio’s Point of Order (1963) and In the Year of the Pig have been restored by Ross Lipman and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, perhaps Painters Painting can be next in line. If these other prints and negs have fading problems too, maybe Wisconsin can work with the Warhol Foundation, UCLA, and others to restore the film.

Or will films be consigned to high-definition video versions by then? Come to think of it, these new DVD releases are not HD.

Watching aged and well-worn 16mm prints can have its pleasures, once one accepts the fact that it’s not gonna look/sound like what it might have been. For the
Painters Painting print, the wear worked well visually, in an almost perverse way. Those vertical scratch lines that run down the images of so many 16mm prints were in abundance. However, since the first reel was devoted to painter Barnett Newman talking about his striped canvases (“it’s not a stripe, it’s a zip”; “it’s not a stripe, it’s a streak of light”), it was almost like someone had given Barney the print and asked him to do his thing to it. Kinda like Robert Rauschenberg erased a de Kooning drawing. Also, near the heads and tails of reels, some conspicuous spotting was visible. Blue polka dots. Kinda like Larry Poons (who’s also in the film) was given the print after Newman and asked to do his thing to it too. I once saw this “effect” on a classroom print of Night and Fog (1955), and it added something positive to the aesthetic of the film, which opens with decaying prison camps, failing memories, fog.

Ironically, the least faded shot in
Painters Painting was in the end-credit sequence, in which we see cinematographer Ed Emshwiller filming the crowds at the Met’s New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940-1970 exhibition.

Dreaming of a glorious restoration.

And let’s see the outtakes while we’re at it. I can’t imagine that there is not an audience eager to see unedited sequences of Andy Warhol talking in his contrarian fashion about his work (“Brigid does all my paintings”). Or the excellent interview with Louise Nevelson that was completely cut from the film. Or the sight and sound of curator Henry Geldzahler talking in that cavernous echo-chamber that is the Met.

Ron Mann at Sphinx Productions in Toronto handles licensing rights to most of the Emile de Antonio films. Video copies can be purchased there too.


Emile de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman's book Painters Painting: A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940-1970 (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984) can be found, used, at prices ranging from $8 to $75.

Henry Geldzahler's exhibition catalog, New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970 (E. P. Dutton, 1969) is available second-hand, priced between $4 and $85.


Jun 19, 2008

Orphans 6/Flaherty 54

The 54th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar begins this weekend. I'll be there for the whole week, watching dozens of films whose titles are completely unknown to attendees. The dawn-to-midnight pace of the Flaherty and the refectory-style learning have influenced the shape and tone of the Orphan Film Symposium since its inception. And there's now lots of cross-over attendance. Filmmaker Bill Brand (BB Optics and Hampshire College), Elaine Charnov (the Mead Festival/AMNH), and Ariella Ben-Dov (MADCAT Women's Int'l Film Festival), for example, all attended Orphans 6 and now we are driving up to Colgate U. together for the seminar.

Chi-hui Yang (SF Int'l Asian American Film Festival) is curating "The Age of Migration."

Last year I saw only a single film at the Flaherty that I had previously seen. It's great to be exposed to so much new (to me) work all at once. From what I infer from recent chatter, the Flaherty might also be hosting some of the guest artists who brightened Orphans 6.

There are some other nice serendipitous connections between the venerated Flaherty Seminar and the upstart Orphans. Yvonne Ng, new graduate of the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program, did her thesis on the large collection of audio recordings of 50+ years of the seminar. You'll be able to read it soon, online at the NYU MIAP website. I recommend it.

Two staffers who help International Film Seminars executive director Mary Kerr organize the Flaherty are orphanistas. Tori Wunsch is at IFS full time since getting an M.A. in Cinema Studies at NYU. Laura Major, who also worked on the 2007 Flaherty, was a very helpful co-producer of the 2006 Orphan Film Symposium in South Carolina. Now she's working an MLIS degree at USC and returning to help run the Flaherty this year.

So it's a good interrelationship, this Flaherty-Orphans thing. Both are intensive experiences that have their devotees and regulars. "Content is king" at both, meaning people come for the viewing.

Jun 17, 2008

a Facebook experiment, with viscous cream

"Orphan Film Symposium" is now a Facebook group. It's an experiment.


Ned Thanhouser suggested such a social network was in order. The goal is to keep the conversations and serendipities going between symposiums. Most of the work that manifests the films preserved and then shown at Orphans biennales goes on year-round of course. Perhaps this is another tool to keep partnerships going.

Also, this non-Facebook blogspot blog is open to any readers who want to guest-write a posting. I'm happy to add your text, images, video.

-- dan streible

p.s. A late Bloomsday quotation for you, from James Joyce's Ulysses:

What supererogatory marks of special hospitality did the host show his guest?

Relinquishing his symposiarchal right to the moustache cup of imitation Crown Derby presented to him by his only daughter, Millicent (Milly), he substituted a cup identical with that of his guest and served extraordinarily to his guest and, in reduced measure, to himself the viscous cream ordinarily reserved for the breakfast of his wife Marion (Molly).

Jun 15, 2008

Kentucky trip becomes orphan film junket

June 11-14 (or rather through the 15th, thanks to United Airlines), I took a trip to see family in Louisville, KY.

By coincidence, Kentucky Educational Television had recently contacted Kentucky-born Brooklynite Martha Kelly, who owns the film Our Day (1938). The title, made by her father Wallace Kelly as an amateur endeavor, was added to the National Film Registry in 2007. KET producer Jayne McClew contacted me when she heard from Martha that I was in Louisville. She is putting together a segment for the weekly public television program called Louisville Life. The idea is to introduce Our Day and other films shot by Wallace Kelly, and to profile the artist/moviemaker's career.

Jayne, her videographer Matt, and I met at the Baxter Avenue Filmworks, an 8-screen cinema that shows first-run Hollywood features alongside indie and international films. (How many other commerical theaters in the U.S. have murals of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein hand-painted on either side of their main screen? How many dare to combine Beverly Hills Chihuahua with a gay and lesbian festival and a retrospective that includes Paths of Glory and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?) For an hour we talked about the discovery of Our Day at the 2007 Home Movie Day in New York, Wallace Kelly's other painterly home movies, and a history yet to be written about film production by Kentuckians. Not just D. W. Griffith or Appalshop. Why, for example, have 3 Kentuckians become the biggest male box office stars of the moment? (George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and Johnny Depp).

Broadcast of the Our Day segment is planned for October 2008 -- close to Home Movie Day (Oct. 18). And the video will be podcast by KET.

Turns out that owners of the locally owned and operated theater where we did the interview include people who ran the repertory movie house I frequented as a teenager. The Vogue Theatre (1939-1998) is now a clothing store with a movie marquee, but for a couple of decades it ran all kinds of movies. There I saw Days of Heaven (seven times) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (thirty). Fellini's Satyricon and Casanova, Harold and Maude, Gizmo and The Atomic Cafe, several editions of the annual International Tournée of Animation compilations, O Lucky Man!, The Last Waltz, Rust Never Sleeps, Day for Night, Dersu Uzala, King of Hearts, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Citizen Kane and Casablanca, Able Gance's Napoleon, What's Up, Tiger Lily?, The Personals, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Cries and Whispers, The Passenger, My Dinner with Andre, Missing. On Christmas Day 1979 there was a full house, 800 moviegoers, for Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute.

Come to think of it, the first time I was at the Vogue Theatre was earlier than the above would indicate. Probably about 1970. My father took my sister and me to see a kiddy matinee of Flipper (1963), Ivan Tors' theatrical film version of his dolphin kiddy adventure TV series.

Happy Father's Day.

Jun 10, 2008

Orphans in the blogosphere

As reported on the Roosevelt Island 360 blog, our sister site WotBA has unfurled a week-long photologue tour of New York's Roosevelt Island, which I just learned is home to Orphans International (which is not a film institution). Nonetheless, the picture makes a nice welcome-to-the-world and reminds us what’s important. Or, as a friend said to me when our conversation alluded to movie stars, “The world is so f***ed up right now, I don’t care if I never see another celebrity.”

More relevant to the Orphan Film Movement (if I may) is news involving folks who were at this spring's symposium. The Tribeca Film Institute has launched an ambitious Web project called Reframe, led by Brian Newman. Newman (after stints at the South Carolina Arts Commission in Columbia and IMAGE Film & Video Center in Atlanta) became executive director of the New York-based National Video Resources in 2004. NVR changed its name to Renew Media, though it retained its non-for-profit mission to support independent media makers (e.g., a 2004 fellowship to Helen Hill for work on her film The Florestine Collection). Then, in February 2008, Renew Media merged with the Tribeca Film Institute, best known for its annual post-9/11 film festival – making Brian Newman CEO of the institute.

Reframe is a major undertaking. Several partners are invested: the MacArthur Foundation, Warhol Foundation, Amazon.com, NEA, New York State Council on the Arts, and the moving image “content owners” who will go to Reframe for digitization and distribution. Reframe’s announcement certainly attracted press coverage (e.g., “Tribeca, Amazon to Digitize Rare Films,” Hollywood Reporter).

Here's how the institute describes the project:
The goal of Reframe is to help individual filmmakers, distributors, archives, libraries and other media owners to digitize and sell their work using the internet, and to become a one-stop location for anyone seeking these films.
Will this robust resource change the map of film-video distribution and access, in a way often promised in the rhetoric of new technology? Will traditional film archives and private archival film collections buy into Reframe, giving us the ability to purchase DVD or MPEG copies of obscure and orphaned movies? Of course several significant enterprises and many small-scale ones are already established on the Web. YouTube aside, Netflix now sells downloads of commercial features (IF your computer is not a Mac). The Library of Congress has been making public domain material available for more than a decade – long enough that most of its digitized motion pictures are available as small-windowed QuickTime files. Ubu.com has its funky film line-up. Folkstreams.net offers its "national preserve" for an excellent thematic collection of older and rare films about American roots music.

Most significant perhaps is the visionary, petabyte-minded Internet Archive, which added its Moving Image wing in February 2001. Archive.org launched with a thousand orphan films from the Prelinger Archives, free for download and re-use. Many more works and collections continue to be added (now 120,859 items, they say). Will the strength of the Amazon and Tribeca brands allow Reframe to achieve a new economy of scale, one that surpasses these other ventures?

The Tribeca Film Institute has more than one iron in the fire, to be sure. During the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, it commissioned a weekly blog by Teri Tynes (friend of the show), which she entitled Shoe Leather. Not limited to TFF stuff, Shoe Leather writes about all kinds of independent (if not orphan) film interests. The June 9th edition features a guide to essential experimental film viewing, as guided by avant garde media maven Michael Zryd (friend of the show). Hollis Frampton is Topic A. Think a canonized member of the American film avant garde has not been orphaned? Zryd has been circumnavigating the globe looking in archives that hold bits and pieces of Frampton’s uncompleted Magellan series. Even some of the Frampton films safely stored by the Museum of Modern Art remain unpreserved.

The good news is that, thanks to a very generous grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the final six films in Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena* series got preserved this year. Bill Brand at BB Optics did the work in concert with the final-semester M.A. students in NYU’s MIAP program. Before this, MoMA had preserved only the first and best-known work in the series, (nostalgia) (1971) --with NFPF funding.

Look for some of the Hapax 6-pack at Orphans 7. But more on that another time . . . .

* hapax legomenon: a word that occurs only once in a body of work or language.

Here's how to pronounce it.

Jun 8, 2008

Wacky Orphan Film Wiki

They call this irony, right?

This is a screen shot of what appears at the head of the Wikipedia entry for 'Orphan film.' At least as of today.

The folks over at Wikipedia.org have a project to get their orphaned articles interconnected with other entries. (Is there something wrong with being a stand-alone subject? There are some advantages to linear thinking, which is what comes from traditional text more easily than from hypertext, where one idea clicks to another -- though you haven't even gotten through the first paragraph of the thing you were looking up.)

But I digress.

The irony gets richer, because this (below) is where Wikipedians (their word) take clickers interested in helping to solve the problem of having thousands of orphaned articles and images just sitting around. (Any moving images?)

Here's a screenshot of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Orphan
taken today.

The Orphanage. The metaphor is endlessly adaptable. In 2001, the Vice President for Research at USC helped Orphan faculty members (Julie Hubbert, Laura Kissel, and me) gear up a Web presence for access to the fruits that the Orphan Film Symposium was bearing. We, of course, called it the orphanage. It's still online, "archiving" some valuable work; but the Big Idea got cut off at the knees early on -- due to an event too ludicrous and painful to retell (and no fault of the VP's).

Well, as the Wikians at Project Orphanage say (above), "de-orphaning [!?] is a difficult task." Not as hard as preserving or making a film, I take it. But I understand where the Wikkans are coming from.

I stumbled on all this while I was editing the entry on Helen Hill. Someone started it just 10 days after her death. It's been added to steadily, but there was still so much to say.

Jun 7, 2008

Notes on "intermedia"

Images from More than Meets the Eye (2007, Juul Sadee, video loop)

Thinking again about the Experimental Intermedia Foundation and Elaine Summers' orphan films. Bits of film made for and used as parts of live performance pieces have an extra layer of orphanhood. How and why to preserve, for example, an 8mm film loop made for a site-specific presentation? Might it be put to a new purpose, something other than re-presenting the 40-year-old performance piece?

If "they" began using the term intermedia in the 1960s and 70s to describe performance with film, video and audio elements, who were "they"?

Fluxus artist Dick Higgins makes a solid claim for the coinage. His note "The Origin of Happening," published in the journal American Speech (Autumn-Winter 1976), points out that he first used the word intermedia in his foreword to The Four Suits (Something Else Press, 1965 -- said press being one he founded in 1963). He was looking for a term that would shed some of the connotations with which happening had already been encrusted. In "Intermedia," Something Else Newsletter (Feb. 1966), he credited the British poet-critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) with using the word (the late eighteenth century being the heyday for the electronic arts, of course).

Curiously, Higgins's 1976 piece does not mention the words film or video in his definition.

Intermedia covers those art forms that are conceptual
hybrids between two or more traditional media, such as concrete poetry (visual art and poetry), happenings (visual art, music, and theater), and sound poetry (music and literature). The term is sufficiently technical in effect that, though it has enjoyed some popular use, it is still applied only to the arts and, except for some careless confusion with "mixed media" (in which the elements remain distinct though simultaneous), is usually applied in my original sense.

The earliest use of the word I have found in the daily press was in Vincent Canby's New York Times article, "How to Succeed as a Film Festival Bum," Aug. 28, 1966. Canby's glossary said:

expanded cinema: Also known as intermedia, expanded cinema may be any of various combinations of films, slides [Remember slides? -- ed.], lights, live actors, live dancers, live musicians and previously recorded announcements [announcements??]. Some demonstrations are expected to be arranged as part of the Lincon Center festival's program of Special Events this year.

A few days later John Brockman, organizer of said Special Events for the New York Film Festival, was quoted in the Times: "Hate Happenings. Love Intermedia Kinetic Environments." The 25-year-old curator was described in the phrase of the moment as being "where the action is." Brockman was said to be

plugging into the switched-on 'expanded cinema' world in which a film is not just a movie, but an Experience, an Event, an Environment. This is a humming electronic world, in which multiple films, tapes, amplifiers, kinetic sculpture, lights and live dancers or actors are combined to Involve Audiences in a Total Theater Experience.
(Elenore Lester, "So What Happens after Happenings?" Sept. 4, 1966)

Sign me up.

Although the cache of "intermedia" might have been strongest in the 1970s, some artists and groups do still embrace the category. There's an organization in New York simply called Experimental Intermedia (www.experimentalintermedia.org, naturally) which has been offering performance series continuously since 1973. EI's most recent season concluded (a week before Orphans 6) with this from artist Jean Piche: "Three triple-channel videomusic works. . . forming a suite that has helped define a particular genre of pluridisciplinary work: the composer as visual artist; fabricating color and sound, stream and movement, shape and timbre, the artist articulates a highly kinetic discourse at the juncture of abstraction and documentary."

Abstract enough that one has difficulty imaging what would happen at Piche's happening.

Finally, we should note the Belgian cousin (www.experimentalintermedia.be), whose website asks "What's Happening?" Answer: a video series, of which the most recent installment was More than Meets the Eye (2007), a 7-minute video loop by Dutch artist Juul Sadee. "The video captures a moment in the life of an Alzheimer's patient who can no longer trust his own eyes."

How to conserve, preserve, or re-present such material is what Mona Jimenez and Howard Besser are teaching students in our MIAP Program at NYU.

Jun 6, 2008

Elaine Summers: films, videos & intermedia

Elaine Summers, ca. 1973 [uncredited photo in TDR (Dec. 1980), p. 61.]

On June 5th, Andrew Lampert (Anthology Film Archives) and I met with the filmmaker, intermedia artist, choreographer, kineticist, and animating spirit Elaine Summers in her SoHo apartment. Her collaborators Taketo Shimada and Davidson Gigliotti were there. (Gabriella Hiatt, was to be there. She's been doing a lot of work with Elaine's film and video archive. In fact, she brought Elaine to the Judson Memorial Church dinner at Orphans 6.)

Below are snapshots of Elaine and Andy at her makeshift film inspection bench and of the storage room where boxes and boxes of 16mm, Super 8, and 8mm film are being unfurled, along with 3/4", 1" and Quad videotapes.

Most of this material is from Elaine Summers Dance & Film Company productions over the past 40 years. There is much more film than video, although most of the video is original (some shot by Nam June Paik and his cohorts).

Some are complete "single-projection film works" (and their elements). Some are elements originally used with live dance performances ('intermedia' they began calling it in the 1960s). And some are raw documentation of events, mostly in New York. All the material I've seen has been very interesting and certainly worthy of preservation.

The Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library has some of the Summers material already, and is acquiring more.

In particular, there is a 20-min. film entitled ANOTHER PILGRIM (1968) that Gabriella brought to my attention during her coursework. I'm talking to Elaine about making it an Orphans 7 piece. She recently located two cans of original 16mm material on this film, and we think the rest should be in these boxes. Elaine had me give those cans to Brent Phillips at the NYU Fales Library (home to the Judson Memorial Church Collection), who was looking for them.

We are hoping to sic a NYU MIAP student or two on this great collection. A bonus: NYPL's Dance Division media preservationists include Tanisha Jones, graduate of the first MIAP class.

Double bonus: The collection sits just 3 blocks from MIAP HQ at 665 Broadway.

Thanks to a 2006 grant from the NYWiFT's Women's Film Preservation Fund, two films by Elaine Summers have recently been preserved: Judson Fragments (1970) and Windows in the Kitchen (1980). The latter film I saw quite by chance, when Elaine and friends came to test-screen the new print in the Maya Deren Theater at Anthology Film Archives -- where my class had just been meeting. Windows is a beautiful, short 16mm film, with a beautiful, minimalist music track.

At that same serendipitous screening, I got to see another dance film. In black-and-white, we see a medium close-up of a dancer/walker's boots, moving in circles. Before long it was clear that the location of the shoot was the fountain in Washington Square Park (between Judson Church and the Arch). Had I seen this remarkable piece a few months earlier, I would've certainly added to the Orphans 6 lineup of films shot in Washington Square in the 1960s (Dan Drasin's Sunday, 1961; NYU surveillance footage, '68; Bob Parent's raw footage from the mid-60s).