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I know very few people that can simply go with the flow when it comes to technical malfunctions during an event. I can say this from experience having had my own issues during a film screening I did almost a year ago. Luckily I had by my side an accomplished performer, someone who knew how to take a potentially bad situation and turn it around completely. That man was local sensation (in San Diego County) Scott Paulson and I had the recent pleasure of seeing him in action, this time as part of the audience.

Thursday night after making a five hour flight back to San Diego from New York Scott Paulson arrived at Carlsbad’s New Village Theater to screen several silent era shorts. I of course had to attend and this time I coerced one of my best friends, Cecilia to come along. The hundred plus capacity room was packed to the gills and luckily we managed to score some seats in the front of the room.

Paulson is the master of showmanship, encouraging the audience to get involved with the films by providing them with musical instruments. While his Teeny Tiny Pit Orchestra (usually made up of no more than 3-4 people) provides  the main soundtrack  the audience adds other sound effects, akin to what a pit crew would have provided at a movie screening close to one hundred years ago. Although he encountered numerous technical malfunctions (he was working with equipment that refused to perform properly) he smoothed them over by cracking jokes and playing to whatever film randomly came next.

As more of a historian myself, perhaps the one thing that lacks in Scott Paulson’s shows is any real concrete historiography of silent film. He tends to gloss over the facts only providing surface details so that he can segway into the performance. But perhaps this is not the point. When you get down to it Paulson is more of a performer, a vaudevillian, than he is a historian, because for him the show is more important than the facts. And for this historian (me) that’s a wonderful thing.

To find out where Scott Paulson is performing next check out his website at scottpaulson.info.

Alright readers, so a week or so ago I mentioned Film Matters and the site I was creating. Well after some consideration I have decided to make a blog (its a bit more interactive than a web page). Its still under construction but I’ll give you the address anyway: becausefilmmaters.wordpress.com. I hope to have pages for each of the films I’ll be showing with pictures. Eventually I will also post stories about my showings. So keep your eyes peeled for new and exciting things coming from Film Matters!

David Bordwell and KristinThompson are authors of two of the most widely used film text books in higher education: Film Art and Film History. Both provide copious amounts of important information for the budding film scholar. Of the two works my personal favorite is of course Film History, which spends several chapters outlining the silent era (where most spend only one).

In today’s post I wanted to mention Bordwell and Thompson’s Blog: Observations on Film Art. Not only is it chock full of salient historical information but it also provides insight on current film pieces as well (the most current post is on Inception). Bordwell and Thompson are able to blend the present with past, making connections that only the most seasoned of film historians would notice. So if you want to learn more about film history, or your craving a really well written blog with a focus on everything cinematic then check it out. I promise it won’t disappoint!

Their site can be found at http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog

P.S.: It should probably be mentioned that David Bordwell is a retired professor whom formerly taught at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Kristin Thompson is a full time writer also based at U of Wisconsin.

By Luck, By Chance

Six years ago I sat in my room playing some DVD s on my old iBook G4. It was another boring summer day and I was looking to pass the time till something better came along. Back then I was a bit of a homebody (and still am to some degree), just shy enough to not call my friends to hang out. At that time my DVD collection was scant, most of what I owned was footage of my favorite band, Queen; which happened to be what was currently playing on my computer. The next song in the shuffle was Radio Ga Ga, a little ditty written by the drummer of the group, Roger Taylor; a song I happened to like.

As I think back now on watching that video I wonder why it was that it fascinated me so much that summer day. After all it wasn’t the first time I had watched it, nor was it the first time I had seen early film images. As a junior in high school I had been exposed to silent images (incorporated into PBS documentaries) of immigrants on the shores of Ellis Island. Being 50% Sicilian I found these images interesting from an ancestral perspective but that was about as far as my fascination went.

Anyhow…back to my story. As I sat there watching the video I was assaulted with a barrage of images. However, interspersed with images of Queen and stock footage from WWII era England was the real gem; it appeared to be from an older film; workers in a factory, robots being transformed. I was given one clue at the end of the video telling me where I could look to find the rest of this strange excerpt. Metropolis was the piece credited and so I hastily copied down the title and logged onto the internet to figure out what “it” was. I have always been fascinated by history, how it’s shaped the past, present and future; this footage was seemingly no different…or was it?

I later discovered that Metropolis was a 1927 German Expressionist film by the late director Fritz Lang. It was made as a last gasp of the movement at a time when making films in Germany cost little due to high inflation. Needless to say the taster I had in the video was enough to get me to watch the entire film…I was not disappointed.

On that day I discovered my path in life, my passion. I am not a religious person, however if we are meant to do one thing in life I have discovered my calling. Film history is my life, my driving force. If it hadn’t been for that music video my life would be very different right now. I am eternally grateful to Queen, to Metropolis, to that day for taking me down a path I wouldn’t change for the world…

For your viewing pleasure here is the video that changed it all…Also here is the trailer for the new Metropolis DVD/Blu-ray coming this November!

[livevideo id=51D0F47D11E744C7B4B03973B7A03AE8]

Vintage Vignettes

For the past year or so I have had the pleasure of curating several film vignettes at UCSD’s Loft Video Gallery. From vintage views of San Diego, California; spanning from 1915 to 1980 to classic advertisements and shorts from the 1950s and 60s. Each has allowed me to learn and share my knowledge  to a diverse body of people (student, faculty, staff, visitors). Now I embark on a new project for The Loft, which integrates the same idea of using vintage  moving images with the screening of contemporary films. The concept called Vintage Vignettes and each 10 minute block appears before the feature as a sort of addendum; a look back before we look forward. I will be sharing my experiences in making and presenting these vignettes here on the blog so you can follow my journey.Who knows what I will encounter along the way…

A big shout out to Rebecca Webb of The Loft’s Film Programming who has worked with me over the past two years and gave me this wonderful opportunity!

For more information stay tuned! Also visit http://www.artpwr.com/categories/film

Film Matters

I am extremely pleased to introduce my newest venture Film Matters. Film Matters is my way of reaching out to the community to teach them about the history of film and its 21st century applications. With films including; Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy, Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You and Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s classic Girl Crazy the program will bring classic film to young and old. Check back soon for a link to the new site and more information about this exciting endeavor!

A still from Capra's You Can't Take it With You

Film Before Film

” There is no one creator of film…”-Narrator, 1986 documentary Film Before Film

The documentary Film Before Film explores those optical illusions that acted as pre-cursors to the filmic medium. In its 83 minutes the viewer is offered a vast array of visual objects and tricks that entertained children and adults alike for centuries. While individuals such as Edison, Friese-Green, Dauguerre, August and Louise Lumiere and Muybridge helped create the basic tenants of film; it was many of these pre-cinematic objects that laid the groundwork. From cards that reveal special scenes when lit from the back to secret images at the bottom of tea cups, there was no shortage of visual entertainment in the centuries leading up to the discovery of cinema. Below is a closer examination of  a few  examples presented in the film:

Diorama: ” a theatrical experience viewed by an audience in a highly specialized theater”. Historically this tradition began in  Paris in 1822 with Louis Jaques Mande Dauguerre (one of the fathers of photography). According to sources each landscape that was presented was, “painted on linen which was transparent in some places allowing light to shine through”. This along with other lighting effects would cause the scene to change subtly before the viewers eyes.

Dauguerre's Diorama

Zoopraxiscope: a device in which to view images painted on a circular disk. While most of these discs contain painted images there is one which contains photographs; Muybridge’s horse experiment. Legend has it that in 1879 Muybridge assisted the then governor of California Leland Stanford (for which the university is named) in winning a bet. The wager concerned whether or not all four feet of a horse left the ground when it galloped. The images found on this original disc are of the horse as it galloped past several cameras  to capture the action. Although the original machine is not known to survive, parts of it are still extant and can be found at the Royal Kingston Museum. For more information about the zoopraxiscope and Edward Muybridge please visit: http://www.kingston.gov.uk/browse/leisure/museum/museum_exhibitions/muybridge/machinery_and_equipment/zoopraxiscope.htm

Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope

Phantoscope: one of the first projection devices for motion picture film, the phantoscope has a nefarious past to say the least. Created by C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895, this device helped usher film from its peep show beginnings (a la the kinetoscope) to the era of full-scale projection. However, when a an argument broke up the duo Armat saw an opportunity for profit and sold the rights for the device to Thomas Edison. With a few changes it was then re-branded the Vitascope and marketed under Edison’s name.

What once was the phantoscope became the vitascope

Zoetrope: William George Horner created the Zoetrope in 1834. Originally named the “daedlum” or the “wheel of the devil” by the inventor the object was forgotten for over 30 years before it was re patented by another company. William F. Lincoln and American renamed the “daedlum”  the”zoetrope” or “wheel of life”. This simple drum rotates in a circular motion when placed on top of a stand. The drum contains vertical slits which when peered into, as the object moves, reveals a set of images set in motion.

The Zoetrope

Magic Lantern: perhaps the one visual device most closely connected to the creation of film, the magic lantern was created as far back as the 1650s (there is some debate surrounding the actual invention date). The idea behind the magic lantern is that slide images are projected onto available space using light. The magic lantern was used both for educational endeavors as well as entertainment. While many of these slides were static, effects were often created to make the images look as though they were moving. Much later into the device’s creation inventors began creating moving slides which created an illusion similar to the motion picture.

The Magic Lantern

This tiny piece of cyber space has been through several re-incarnations in the past year. It’s all been in an effort by yours truly to create a unique corner in which to share my thoughts on classic cinema. And while I would love nothing more than to be organized I find my self resisting that urge. The more organized I try to be the less I become interested in performing the task at hand. So quite simply this blog will function as a place for my thoughts, my actions etc. etc. in regards to the world of classic film. My background in in film from 1895-1960 with a particular emphasis in films from the silent era (1895- c. 1930). So if your interested in reading the babblings of a future film scholar you have come to the right place…