Apr 27, 2014

SIGHT & SOUND reports on the 9th Orphan Film Symposium

Summarizing and synthesizing all the elements that take place during an Orphan Film Symposium isn't easy. Ian Francis's report on Orphans 9 for the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine (online) does a deft and thorough job.

The blurb reads: This year’s convention of ‘archivists, artists and scholars’ dusted off curios including a Polish typewriter camera, a bonfire of valve radios, Josephine Baker in clogs, Communist-bloc amateur movies, Fred Ott’s correctly-timed sneeze and the eye-popping Gasparcolor system. Plus, digital delight and disquiet.


Having EYE host the NYU symposium in Amsterdam opened new doors and allowed new audiences to attend the four-day event. With attendees coming from at least 30 nations, the Orphans gathering was even more international than its recent New York editions. We found orphan film advocates and enthusiasts coming from Eastern Europe in notable numbers, from Poland, Albania, Croatia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic.

Sight & Sound, on the cinema beat since 1932, has been a constant and important presence for film criticism, history, and appreciation. Best known perhaps for its decennial critics' poll of Greatest Films of All Time, the magazine's 2012 poll had something of a milestone. Well, yes, the fact that a film other than Citizen Kane ranked #1 for the first time in decades (that honor to Hitchcock's Vertigo). But also the wonderful anomaly that a piece of unedited newsreel footage received a vote, when Andrew Lampert put NYC Street Scenes and Noises (Fox Movietone News, 1929) on his list of ten. The 11-minute wonder of early synchronous sound recording opened the 4th Orphan Film Symposium (On Location: Place and Region in Forgotten Films) at the University of South Carolina in 2004, where Lampert first saw it.  He later programmed it with an evening of Ken Jacobs audio experiments at Anthology Film Archives, running the 35mm print at the beginning and end of the show.

Soon after the 2012 Sight & Sound poll appeared, the Museum of Modern Art's To Save and Project preservation festival included a curated program called "A Cinema of Industrial Noise." Here's how the MoMA promo described the piece showing before Gerald McBoing Boing (1950), Jean Mitry's Symphonie mécanique (1955), and the documentary about CBGB, Punking Out (1978).

Recording synchronous-sound footage for the New York City's "Noise Abatement Commission" (defunct since 1932, to the detriment of the city's auditory health), the newsreel equipment van becomes the subject itself in this journey through Times Square and "Radio Row" (Cortlandt Street). Capturing the aural debris of radio shops and various street activities, the result is an inadvertent, yet unforgettable, city symphony. Preserved by the University of South Carolina, Moving Image Research Collections.
NYC Street Scenes and Noises also opened, without announcement, the first Orphan Film Symposium at NYU in 2008.  And Heather Heckman brought it to the MIAP 10 celebration screening at NYU Cinema Studies as recently as December 2013.

It's actually two pieces of outtake material, now both online at the USC MIRC DVR.

#4-399 here: http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A10696
#4-400 here: http://mirc.sc.edu/islandora/object/usc%3A2234

The footage's transcendent effect when projected on a big screen (at robust volume) is notable.

So Andrew Lampert's vote in the Sight & Sound poll was no joke.

And the Orphan Film Symposium reaching the electronic pages of Sight & Sound is a great thing for the orphan film movement.

Apr 21, 2014

Juilan Ross report on Orphans 9 now online at Desistfilm's web•log.

The manifesto for the online magazine Desistfilm says its creators are interested in film that "surpasses the frontiers of convention, that promotes a vision of what cinema gives to our lives, how it changes us, how it questions us, how it confronts us." 

In addition to a quarterly magazine format, Desistfilm hosts a Web log.  It's multilingual. ("El blog de desistfilm es parte de un proyecto mayor: la revista digital desistfilm.") 

From Amsterdam, Julian Ross publishes this well-illustrated report on the 9th Orphan Film Symposium.


Frame scanned from 16mm print of On the Way to India Consciousness, I Reached China (Henry Francia, 1968). Courtesy of the filmmaker's estate, as well as Benedict Olgado, the National Film Archives of the Philippines, Bill Brand, BB Optics, Pacific Film Archive. 


Apr 19, 2014

3 days, 4 nights, 70 speakers, 80 movies, 200 attendees from 30 nations.

Orphans 9. EYE. Amsterdam.

3 days, 4 nights, 70 speakers, 80 movies, 200 attendees from 30 nations.
Some slides contributed by attendees to the public Flickr pool, Orphan Film Symposium:  www.flickr.com/groups/orphanfilmsymposium.

Many of the best are from Kramer O'Neil (Paris) and Thomas C. Christensen (Copenhagen). 


Apr 12, 2014

Charles Musser's Union Films' INDUSTRY'S DISINHERITED

Another presentation from the 9th Orphan Film Symposium finds a well-illustrated home online.

Charles Musser offers revised and extended remarks based on his Amsterdam presentation of April 2. It's about the 1949 Union Films production called

Apr 11, 2014

"a lively, friendly, and very dedicated bunch of film preservationists, restorers, archivists, scholars and artists . . . "

Matt Soar shares some images, and thoughts on his experience at the 9th Orphan Film Symposium.


Certainly his Lost Leaders project offered a nice accidental graphical interface with O' 9.

He might not be alone in thinking it, but he is the first I've read to wax poetic about one of the amateur films that Andrés Levinson of the Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires presented at the symposium. Perros en paracaidas (1963), as it is now called, indeed shows us dogs parachuting into Antarctica. Or, la Antártida, as those closest to the continent call it. Soar describes one sequence and offers:

"It might well be the most beautiful few frames of film I’ve ever seen."

Here are other images from Matt Soar's Lost Leaders presentation. 




Apr 8, 2014

"it is undeniably the legacy of Hoos Blotkamp at work here."

Here is a humbling but touching reminder of all the work that has come before us, regarding what we now call orphan films, their preservation and re-presentation to the world.

Today EYE published notice of the passing of one of its foundational figures.

Hoos Blotkamp, former director of the Dutch Film Museum, died last Thursday in The Hague where she lived. She had been ill for some time. Blotkamp, a former senior official at the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture (WVC), succeeded Film Museum director Jan de Vaal in 1987. Under Blotkamp’s guidance, the slumbering film archive in the Vondelpark was ‘kissed awake’, in the words of Dutch writer Annemieke Hendriks. The number of screenings increased spectacularly, while funds were also found for preservation and restoration activities. Blotkamp left the Film Museum – EYE’s predecessor – in 2000. She lived to the age of seventy.
Included were remarks by filmmaker Peter Delpeut, who was also a deputy director and programmer for the Netherlands Filmmuseum from 1988 to 1995. It was during that time that Delpeut made the landmark found footage film Lyrisch Nitraat / Lyrical Nitrate (1991). The production's use of both beautifully preserved and beautifully decayed film prints was a new phenomenon.

Watching a 35mm projection in a large theater (the Ima Hogg Auditorium, yes, really!) while at the University of Texas at Austin, I was captivated but also a little perplexed. Although I knew nearly nothing about film preservation and archiving during these graduate school days, my viewing led to one of my earliest publications (a review of Lyrical Nitrate for The Motion Picture Guide: 1992 Annual). I was most struck by the lengthy passage from a stencil-colored crucifixion scene from a Pathé life of Christ film, dated ca. 1906. Nearly twenty years later, Bill Morrison presented a found fragment from another life of Christ film, also Pathé, also stencil-colored. He spoke as the last presenter at the 2010 Orphan Film Symposium, introducing this short fragment showing not the crucifixion but the Ascension, with the rising body of Christ uncannily obscured by smeary clouds of decay.

Lyrical Nitrate (left)  meets  Just Ancient Loops

That screening ended at the stroke of midnight. A poetic moment.

Bill Morrison's artistic career has unfolded and blossomed in time simultaneously with the Orphan Film Symposium. His Ascension fragment became part of Just Ancient Loops (2012), with live performance by cellist Maya Beiser at "Orphans Midwest" in 2013. His acclaimed Decasia (2002) had an Orphans projection too. His 2003 short The Mesmerist with its bubbling patterns of decay in a nitrate print of The Bells (1926, with Lionel Barrymore) premiered at an Orphans screening at the Margaret Mead Film Festival. In the audience was an NYU visual anthropology grad student, Emily Cohen, who was inspired to write a lengthy piece in American Anthropology. She called it (unbeknownst to us) "The Orphanista Manifesto."

And so it was with great delight that I by chance was present when Bill Morrison and Peter Delpeut met for the first time.  At last week's Orphans 9 in Amsterdam, they met by happenstance in the lobby of EYE during one of our lunch breaks.

Morrison / Decasia  meets  Delpeut / Lyrical Nitrate 
outside the EYE gift shop, April 2, 2014.
3264 × 2448 JPEG, BiMo iPhone 5c, color profile sRGB IEC61966-2.1, exposure time 1/20th sec.
Both of these films are momento mori ('remember that you will die'). And so it is sadly fitting that Delpeut today wrote "Remembering Hoos Blotkamp." He described her as someone
for whom thinking and acting were two sides of the same coin. Under her directorate, the Film Museum’s archive grew into the most innovative institution in the world. To her, archiving and preserving of films automatically involved collecting and presenting them. It was a philosophy which she had acquired working in a museum and as a trained art historian, but for the film world in the late 1980s it was an entirely new approach. 
Her spirit is still present in the archive, as was all too obvious recently at the opening of the international Orphans conference at EYE:  technological know-how, subject-matter expertise and resolve, and above all, creative ways of presentation still characterize the work of the present staff – I am touched by this, especially at this time, because it is undeniably the legacy of Hoos Blotkamp at work here. “Let’s get on with it, people," she would always end the meetings she chaired.
I too am touched. And greatly humbled by such work and such colleagues.

We are sometimes cognizant of André Bazin's argument that the desire to capture people on film is the human attempt to stave off the reality of death. Yet we are also, in the best moments of movie watching, aware that a collective cinematic experience can be a great celebration of the vibrancy of life. We are animated. Animated by the pulsating Polish "non camera" newsreels of the great Antonisz and the raw footage of Egyptian whirling dervishes performing for a newsreel camera a century ago.

USC MIRC Fox Movietone News Collection                         Filmoteka Narodowa 


Perhaps we should give the last word on this to the late filmmaker Helen Hill. In a too-fitting serendipitous moment, she began her 20-second animation The Low-down on Love (1997-98) with this answer to the narrator's question "Looking for a different way to say 'I love you'?"


It's the little things.

In fact, some one inspired by an early Orphan Film Symposium published a poem about "Small Good Things."

Here you can watch 23 minutes from Dutch TV, showing a live broadcast, April 8, 2014, from EYE's film archive.

It's an unusually long time to have a privileged look at film archivists showing their wares. The occasion that prompted it was EYE's rediscovery of the film Love, Life, and Laughter (1923), which had been on the BFI's "Most Wanted" list of 75 films presumed lost. (Here's BFI's very well illustrated description of the film from BFI from before the new finding.) Archivist Bin Li found it only days ago, and we were fortune that EYE digitized a clip, so we could screen it at the very very end of Orphans 9. A total surprise ending.

We see and hear Frank Roumen, Head of Collections, talking about the rediscovery, and Annike Kross showing the nitrate print and its Dutch intertitles to the TV reporter from her flatbed.

We also see some of the other workstations within the archive. Preservationist Jan Scholten shows some of the scanning technology.

But what caught an orphanista's eye was the final seconds, in which we see an unidentified archivist wearing an Orphans 9 T-shirt!

The NYU-EYE logo on the back of the black T is clearly visible as the end credits roll.

Who is she??


April 9 UPDATE:
She is Suzan Crommelin!  


Apr 6, 2014

A shamelessly NYU-centric account of the 2014 symposium.


From the evening of March 30 straight through the evening of April 2, NYU Tisch / Cinema Studies co-hosted nearly nonstop screenings and presentations in the already landmark building known simply as EYE, the home of our host, EYE Film Institute Netherlands.

The 9th Orphan Film Symposium featured more than 70 presenters, nearly as many movies, and more than 200 attendees, who came from 30+ nations. The numbers give some idea of how intense and, yes, exhausting the event was. Yet "Orphans 9" yielded innumerable moments of excitement, serendipity, and rediscovery. Thanks to our generous EYE hosts and spirited colleagues, the symposium also sparked interstitial connections and new partnerships we will continue to hear about in the months ahead.

Even with the highly international cast and, for the first time, a European location, NYU Cinema Studies was well represented by a couple dozen faces. Faculty members Antonia Lant (below, right), Mona Jimenez, Dan Streible, and (via Skype) Howard Besser were on the presenting end of things, as was adjunct faculty and film preservation guru Bill Brand.


NYU Cinema Studies alumni Juana Suárez, Walter Forsberg, Benny Olgado (aka Bono), Charles Musser, and Paula Félix-Didier also gave presentations, as did our PhD candidate Maria Vinogradova. MIAP students Pamela Vizner and Athena Holbrook each moderated a session. Other alumni attending: Natalia Fidelholtz (Storycorps) and Kathleen Maguire (Exploratorium). Current graduate student symposiasts: Catherine Park and MIAP's Lorena Ramírez-López, Emily Nabasny, Genevieve Havemeyer, Jasmyn Castro, Julia Kim, and Blake McDowell (who produced this video trailer, screened throughout the symposium).

Filmmaker and NYU Tisch Film-TV adjunct David Bagnall also produced a trailer, and designed our logo. And Lukas Brasiskis (Vilnius Academy of Arts) traveled to Amsterdam from Lithuania; he will be joining our PhD program this fall.

* * * * * 

Read and see more about Orphans 9 (The Future of Obsolescence) in social media spaces other than this one.

Apr 5, 2014

The morning after the morning after . . with Josephine Baker

Postscript to yesterday's posting:  Citation has its rewards.

Mette Peters (animation archivist at EYE) was kind enough to send these two Dutch newspaper clippings of 1928, documenting the press coverage that Josephine Baker's (24 August) appearance in Volendam received.

Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 24 August 1928
    Leeuwarder Courant, 25 August 1928.

frame from Josephine Baker Visits VolendamFox Movietone News C8059, MIRC.SC.edu
Cinematographer: Mack Van Lier, for Mac-Djorski-Films, Aug. 24, 1928.

(The oldest daily newspaper in Holland -- founded 1752!)

Apr 4, 2014

The morning after . . . with Felix the Cat

Dan Streible writes on April 3, 2014:

A lovely symbol of the morning after Orphans Amsterdam. Tulips (orange, no less) outside the houseboat Anna, on (in?) which Bill Brand and I stayed during the symposium. A nice 20-minute stroll to and from EYE each day and night.

along Brouwersgracht

More news, follow-up, and documentation coming to this blog soon.  But for now it must be said that Amsterdam and EYE were ideal hosts for NYU's Orphan Film Symposium. And the event itself was a grand success. Exciting rediscoveries, premieres of new works and new restorations, captivating presentations, eclectic (very) variety of content, lots of surprises, happy serendipities, genuine joy, and dare we say love amongst the symposiasts / orphanistas.

Let me take this first reawakening moment to recount just one of the rewarding rhymes that played out, connecting beginning and end in serendipitous manner. It involves animation legend Felix the Cat.  Neither screening was on the original 'run of show' (or draaiboek, they/we/Anna Dabrowska say in Dutch).

At the Monday morning Orphans Orientation on Obsolescence, I opted to begin with a screening of the four minutes of outtakes from USC's Fox Movietone News Collection piece catalogued as Josephine Baker Visits Volendam (Aug. 24, 1928, viewable via the MIRC DVR). It was too apt not to show. Greg Wilsbacher kindly scanned the 35mm.

Courtesy of University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections

The story of how the fun Baker footage got to South Carolina includes a story of its origins from an Amsterdam-based company called Mac-Djorski-Films. Turns out that Djorski was a pseudonym used by George Debels, a pioneer of Dutch animation. And that EYE has put a few of his early works online at Film in the Netherlands). After opening night, I decided we needed to see a sampling of Debels animation after seeing Josphine Baker on the big screen. So I took the liberty of cribbing from the site and making a slide that included this 18 seconds of digital video:

On the left is a clip from Een avontuurtje in 't luchtrium (An Adventure in the Skies, 1919), an advertising film for E.L.T.A. -- Eerstte Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam [the First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam] -- which was also one of the earliest Dutch animated films. On the right is an excerpt from Debels/Djorski's 1923 film advertising Niemeyer pipe tobacco. Both short silent movies are viewable in complete form at filminnederland.nl.

The latter has its own serendipitous connection to Orphans at EYE, in that it features Debels' rendering of Koko the Clown, a creation of Max Fleischer;  EYE's day-long "Celebrate Cinema" on March 30 featured a screening of Koko's Queen (Fleischer, 1926). The latter was one of two films preserved through the National Film Preservation Foundation's newly announced repatriation partnership with EYE to identify silent American films thought lost but actually surviving in the Netherlands archive. The other, Clarence Cheats at Croquet (a Thanhouser Co. comedy, 1915), was presented by Ned Thanhouser at both Celebrate Cinema day and the Orphan Film Symposium.

Curiously, Debels not only copies Fleischer's Koko in his tobacco ad, he also has Koko introduce Felix the Cat -- who in turn draws the various men who enjoy smoking Niemeyer tobacco. A creation of animators Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, Felix was (like Koko) first seen on screen in 1919. He was a popular movie star throughout the 1920s, recognized even then as a veritable sine qua non for the art of the motion picture (see the cover of Donald Crafton's great book Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928). Never mind that this is Debels/Djorski's unauthorized drawing of Felix selling tobacco. A Felix it is. 

On closing night, the closing act was Dennis Doros & Mary Huelsbeck (WCFTR), with an hour of seldom-seen and never-before-seen works by American maverick Shirley Clarke, a preview of more of Milestone's Project Shirley releases. The material comes mostly from the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. More surprises! Including Shirley Loves Felix, a video (repeat: video) production in which Clarke performs while talking about the images upon which she is superimposed -- a copy of her prized film print of a Felix the Cat cartoon. The undated video was produced during her time on the UCLA faculty (1975-85). The on-screen Shirley tells us how she perpetually watched Felix to lift her spirits. And then, from Milestone Cinematheque, an inspired idea: an HD edition of her 16mm print of Felix Out of Luck (1924) from daughter/video artist Wendy Clarke -- with a newly added music score, selected from the unreleased jazz recording sessions done for Shirley Clarke's first feature film, The Connection (1961).

From Milestone's Kickstarter page for Portait of Jason, with Shirley's handwritten note:

       When I was still a young girl, I had about twenty Felix the Cat toys, from tiny wooden ones to large stuffed Felixes that my parents brought back from France. I had a Felix the Cat costume that my French governess made for me to attend a girlfriend's costume party. Also, I had a 16mm film by Otto Messmer called Felix Out of Luck. So, I would sit watching my Felix film in my Felix the Cat costume, surrounded by my entire collection of Felix the Cats. 
       -- Shirley Clarke quoted in The New American Filmmakers Series, no. 39, Whitney Museum of American Art, Dec. 5-27, 1987.

 * * * * * * * 

Photo from Radio Age (April 1956), harvested from the awesome Lantern <http://lantern.mediahist.org>.

I don't know if Clarke had it in mind, but the connection between video signal and the 1920s popularity of Felix reminds me how RCA's first experimental television broadcasts fed a test image showing a papier-mâché Felix rotating on a turntable.  I should also note that my slideshow was informed by a richly illustrated essay by Mette Peters.

PPT slide no. 20 of 48 (March 31, 2014)

I was not previously familiar with her work, but was glad to have credited it on screen -- since it turned out she was in the audience. She too works at EYE. So many talented people there! The full article is online. Mette Peters, "Het animatie maakproces in het archief. De vroegste Nederlandse animatiefilms [The Animation Creation Process in the Archive: The Earliest Dutch Animation], TMG, Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis [Journal of Media History], vol. 15, no. 1 (2012):  www.tmgonline.nl/index.php/tmg/article/view/6/55