Nov 29, 2014

Charles Tepperman follow-ups: Follow the leader, FOLLOW THE GIRLS, Follow O'Farrell

Guest blogger notes by Charles Tepperman, commenting on the previous posts here about our Orphans at MoMA program of November 18th, "An Amateur Cinema League of Nations." [Asides added by Dan Streible.]

Re: The Amateur Cinema League leaders: I love this section of the previous post. I have some other versions of ACL leaders. While I’m tracking down my 1930s examples to see if the one you describe is there, here’s a down payment, one from the mid-40s. [Watch here, from Chicago Film Archives.]

Kodachrome 8mm animated logo  from Autumn Glory (1945; 20 seconds). (Chicago Film Archives)

Autumn Glory (1945)
John and Evelyn Kibar, silent, color, 8mm, 150 ft., 7'
(A companion 1/4"-inch audiotape not yet digitized.)

[Movie Makers attributed the film to "John R. Kibar, ACL of Racine, Wisc." and gave it one of ten Honorable Mentions (the only 8mm film on the list). One of the amateur organizations the Kibars belonged to was the delightfully named Ra-Ciné Club. CFA's website includes other Kibar films, such as This Is a Hobby?  (Evelyn M. Kibar, ca. 1958), a comedy about amateur movie making.]

The Kibars on screen. Frames from This Is a Hobby?  (Chicago Film Archives)
[CFA says the husband and wife "shot and starred in their own productions (Evelyn’s screen presence as the annoyed wife has delighted us for years now). . . . They began making films together in the 1930s, and were frequent visitors, presenters, judges and winners in both photographic slide and film competitions in Chicago and Milwaukee." From "Celebrating International Women's Day (all year round) at CFA," March 8, 2013.]

The Theisen [Triptych Poem] mystery is fascinating. My cursory search shows that Earl Theisen wrote occasionally for Movie Makers, mostly in the late-1930s. In 1936 and 37 he wrote a handful of articles about rudimentary film special effects (rear project, glass shots, trick shots) and one called “How Movie Tools Developed” (from 1640-1926!) in December 1936. This to reinforce your observations about his interest in technology. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more clues about this. . . .

It might interest other orphanistas to know more about the volume my Leslie Thatcher essay is in. Cinephemera (just out this month) is very much in the spirit of the orphans project.
Order from McGill-Queen's University Press
It includes a chapter about Crawley Films (dedicated to Bill O’Farrell, no less), travel films, and other Canadian film oddities. Bill O’Farrell used to say that Canada’s film history isn’t a story of commercial feature filmmaking, it’s a story of sponsored, amateur, and independent production. Cinephemera explores different facets of that story.

[Along with editors Zoë Druick and Gerda Cammaer, film scholars Joseph Clark and JoAnne Stober created the website "to create awareness of orphan media and to excavate, preserve, and contextualize a variety of alternative, non-theatrical, obscure or obsolete forms of Canada’s audio-visual heritage." All four have participated in past Orphan Film Symposium gatherings. The site's answer to the question "What is an Orphan Film?" is here.

For more about O'Farrell's contributions to the scholarship and preservation of amateur film, see "Tributes to Bill O'Farrell," The Moving Image (Spring 2009). It includes Tepperman's remarks about his mentor, as well as this illustration and caption.

Bill O’Farrell (in plaid shirt) with Eric Schaefer, Jim Henderson, and Tricia Welsch to his right, and Alan Kattelle and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley to his left, in Bucksport, Maine, at the 2000 NHF Summer Film Symposium. Bill holds the orb given to recipients of the Maxim Memorial Award for amateur movie makers. Courtesy of NHF. 
Karan Sheldon notes the "hefty spherical trophy" in O'Farrell's hand is the one that Judith and F. R. "Budge" Crawley of Ottawa received in the 1939 Ten Best contest for their film L’Ile d’Orleans. As Tepperman notes in his new book, the ACL created the award in 1937 to recognize the best film among the Ten Best.]

The Follow the Girls/Oscar Horovitz story is terrific and keeps on getting better. I managed to visit the NYPL Library for Performing Arts to watch the video before I headed home to Calgary. The film is colourful and engaging, but a little unusual for a Ten Best award-winner. The film begins with a quasi-educational voice-over commentary that defines and explains the cultural significance of the American musical comedy. Then, after introducing the stars it presents excerpts from the musical itself. The film doesn’t foreground any narrative structure (for one who doesn’t know the musical at least) but shows a series of scenes of solo and ensemble performance, singing and dancing.

Some features that are striking: Horovitz shoots from very good positions (a box or the orchestra pit) and distances, and cuts from wide shots to surprising close views of the singers and dancers. The colour values and lighting in the film are excellent and it’s clear that he only included the best material (something amateur guides were always harping on). Surprising: because of the technological limitations, the non-synch “music on disc” sound track doesn’t match up with the musical numbers we’re watching (I’m not even sure if they’re all from FTG!), which makes it a strange kind of record of the stage performances. But Horovitz manages to match the mood and tempo of the images with the songs on his sound track very well.

The Movie Makers citation for the film notes that plenty of amateurs make films of stage productions or other performances, but what sets Follow the Girls apart is “its sure sense of cinematics.” And it's true that the film’s cinematography and editing are what make it engaging. 

The Gift to Mother story is also a good one. From Melinda Stone to me to Maria, it’s great that this film eventually fell into the right hands. 

-- Charles Tepperman, author of
Amateur Cinema: The Rise of North American Moviemaking, 1923-1960