The Peculiar Life of an Orphan Part III / by KirstenStudio

Saturday began with Jon Gartenberg and Jeff Capp (GME) screening Dutch East Indies footage from the 1920's, which was absolutely gorgeous. Later that morning Eugene Perl spoke of his experiences as a cast member and student of School: A Film About Progressive Education (1939, Lee Dick) while Dan Friedlaender (Temple U) and Adrianne Finelli (U of Michigan) presented Lee Dicks' 1940 documentary about coal miner's living, working and health conditions, Men and Dust for OrphansProgressive Education and Labor Advocacy: A Lee Dick Retrospective segment. The images in Men and Dust were incredible. The Jungle, a 1967 short made by Harold Haskins and the 12th & Oxford Street gang in the film was outstanding. Secret Cinema's Jay Schwartz spoke about his discovery of it and the history behind the film which inspired several of its cast to transition out of gang life into filmmaking and forming businesses and community building efforts.The Jungle was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry a few years ago.

For the afternoon's Popular Science, Michael Aronson and Elizabeth Peterson (U of Oregon) discussed Lester Beck, the Oregon filmmaker psychologist, and screened Human Growth (Sy Wexler, 1948). Human Growth was a film within a film and served as sex education to students but also as a 'how to' for teachers on approaching sex ed in the class room.  The best parts of this film are the reaction shots of the classroom kids following the sex education film they've just viewed. Check it out at The UO Channel. Another funny tid-bit is that this was an Eddie Albert production.

Sergei Kapterev (Moscow Research Institute of Film Art) showed a delightful film, (Aleksei Yerin, 1963) while offering bits of translation. An interesting factoid Kapterev shared was that in the 1960's the Soviet Union was still making films on nitrate stock, but for me the highlights of this film were the '60's style space suits.

The evening was terrific. Marie Lascu (NYU MIAP) and Karl Holder (Tokyo U) showed  Behavior: Studies of Apparent Behavior (1943 Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel) which received an enthusiastic audience response. The piece used geometrical shapes, animating them in a way in which one shape appeared to be the aggressor to the other shapes. Then the same piece was shown in reverse, which flipped the characterization of the aggressor to be that of the shape being pursued. What followed were variations on the idea in the form of USC digital remakes, my favorite being Can't Fool Pacman: The Remake by Amy Jumper.

In closing I'll just mention one or two more, although really every screening was really pretty fascinating, Robert Martens and Walter Forsberg presented a very weird Auroratone: When the Organ Played "O Promise Me" (Cecil Stokes, 194?) with Bing Crobsy. This film looks a little more psychedelic '60s but apparently it was used at a variety of venues in the '40s, including mental hospitals and as a backdrop during church sermons. Bing Crosby's involvement other than the Auroratone's music is that he was actually an investor for tax purposes. This restoration was done by Film Technology Inc. is available on Youtube and it's quite beautiful and according to it's Saturday night presenters, some 1940s mental patients might also admit that it's calming.

I also want to mention one screening from Thursday that I missed in my Part One blog entry and that is the truly precious 1905 35mm nitrate home movie, Francena Feeding the Chickens, from 1905 by Charles Camp now preserved!). The footage is one of the earliest known home movies and was presented by  Center for Home Movies. The film itself is of a thirteen year old girl, Francena feeding chickens on a farm. Charles Camp filmed roundups and farm life, but what remains a mystery is what kind of camera Camp used, where he got it and where it was processed. After all it was 1905 and Camp was in out in the country. What really added to this screening however was the granddaughter (I believe?) and her husband talking about the discovery of this film in a basement. They each read letters written by filmmaker, Charles Camp, (spoken in character voice over no less) as the film played in a loop.

These are the kinds of stories that make orphan films so utterly fascinating. They are windows to our culture and history and because there are often mysteries associated with their origins, creators or whereabouts they also remain somewhat elusive, which just deepens their allure, if you ask me.

Please feel free to contact me with corrections or comments