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.