Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A Brief History of the Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society

This is a brief history of the Theodore Huff Film Society, written by William K. Everson, who also served as the Society's programmer and author of the extensive program notes that accompanied each screening. It is available to read at NYU's Everson Project website:
Here is the link to read the entire historical note by William K. Everson.

The Huff Society was among the most prominent -- and certainly among the most adventurous in terms of its programming -- among the early film societies operating in the US, and was fundamental at a critical moment in demonstrating how all films -- not just the most prestigious ones -- could possess artistic merit worth examining.

The Society derived its name from film historian Theodore Huff, who was a founding member of the group, originally known as The Film Circle, in 1952. The Society was renamed in honor of Huff after his untimely passing in 1953.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Podcast Recommendation: "The Act of Seeing"

I wanted to take a moment to recommend a new podcast that I thought would be of interest to readers of this blog. It's called "The Act of Seeing", and is produced by Tom Sutpen, who previously ran the excellent visual culture photo blog "If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats" (now "Facsimile") as well as the "Illusion Travels by Streetcar" podcast and the ongoing "Radio Free Gunslinger" music podcast.

In this episode of "The Act of Seeing", the discussion centers around John Ford's 1924 Western epic The Iron Horse. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Paul Mazursky's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a brilliant satire -- funny, touching, surprisingly honest and profound. It follows a well-off, upper-middle-class Southern California couple who return from a New Age retreat changed by the experience -- or so they think. The couple uses the teachings of the encounter group as an excuse to escape their comfortable middle class trappings and explore their muddled, newfound ideas of "sexual freedom" by cheating on each other, but are finally forced to confront the emptiness of their new pursuits when they bring another couple -- their best friends -- in to the experience with them.

At first, it seems that Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice could be a freewheeling sex comedy taking advantage of the new permissiveness of the late '60s. But soon something sadder, more desperate, more neurotic comes through. The brilliance of Mazursky's approach involves using such attractive characters who seem to have it all, which makes their supposed "enlightened" attitudes toward sex all the more seductive. Interestingly, both Bob and Carol defend and justify their infidelities by describing them as empty experiences. Although both characters eventually seem satisfied with this justification, it does eventually raise the question: if it is such an empty experience, just what exactly is the point?

That is the question that the two couples are forced to face at the end of the film, which provides them with the realization they have been seeking. As the song says, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love."

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

A Corner in Wheat (1909) and The Sower (1850)

These farm scenes in Griffith's A CORNER IN WHEAT (1909) -- modeled after Millet's "The Sower" (1850) -- were shot in Jamaica, Queens. I loved that this shot turns up in WALL-E (2008) as an artifact of planet Earth for people of the future.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Streaming: "Desk Set" and "Rashomon"

I recently watched a couple of films on streaming. The first was Desk Set, available on Netflix through the end of January. I thought I had seen this one a few years ago, but apparently not, as it was definitely new to me. I suppose I was just familiar with the premise and could imagine how it played out so that it felt like I'd seen it.

Desk Set is one of the last Tracy-Hepburn pairings. Tracy plays an eccentric computer engineer who has come to the research department of a big TV network in order to install his machine to streamline the research process, and Hepburn is the brilliant, long-time head of research who sees the computer as a threat to her future at the company. The plot is pure romantic comedy silliness, although Hepburn and Tracy certainly lend the material a certain charm and dignity that always keeps things interesting. Most striking is the use of big splashy DeLuxe color and enormously wide CinemaScope framing, in which characters can become practically lost when watching the film on the small screen. The computer-as-villain is sort of an interesting counterpart to the usual TV-as-villain trope that appeared in Hollywood films of the time. All in all, an enjoyable if forgettable trifle, acted by two first-rate stars.

Next up was Akiro Kurosawa's Rashomon. Unfortunately the version I saw on the streaming channel I was watching (MyRetroFlix on the Roku device) cut off after an hour, but I was so thoroughly engrossed in the film that I had to pull out my DVD copy to watch the remaining half hour. I had last seen this one about ten years ago, in a beautiful 35mm restoration on the big screen of a local historic movie theater. Watching it on the small screen couldn't compare to that, of course, and yet I found myself more struck than ever by what an incredibly beautiful film it is. I do not use that term loosely; I watched transfixed by the power of the images Kurosawa captures, especially those shots looking up through the trees, with the sunlight poking through between the branches. And that torrential rainfall, pouring down over the roof of the structure where three men debate the different testimonies heard at the trial that frames the narrative of the film -- what an image! So haunting, so lyrical.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marc Sober Interview Part 10: Current Film Culture -- Baltimore Film History Series

Final part of a ten-part interview with film historian Marc Sober, discussing how Baltimore's film culture has changed since he first became involved with it during the 1960s.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Marc Sober Interview Part 9: George Figgs & The Orpheum Cinema -- Baltimore Film History Series

Part nine of a ten-part interview with film historian Marc Sober, discussing the importance of Baltimore's Orpheum Cinema.