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August 18, 2003
Lowly Home Movies Get a Day as High Art
By LAWRENCE LEVI
I n an era of reality television and the film "Capturing the
Friedmans," when the intimately personal has become the shamelessly
public, the initiation of an international home movie day should come
as no surprise. New York's occurred on Saturday at
Anthology Film Archives in the East Village and featured a three-hour
open screening of home movies.
Andrew Lampert, Anthology's archivist, said he was "hoping for a mixture
of families and boho types," and given the event's
location, that is exactly what he got. Mr. Lampert, 26, organized the
home movie day at Anthology with Katie A. Trainor, 34,
director of operations at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville,
N.Y. Both organizers live in Manhattan and are graduates
of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George
Eastman House in Rochester.
Ms. Trainor said that the idea for the event, which took place in
numerous other cities nationwide as well as in Canada, Mexico
and Japan, grew from a conference last year of the Association of Moving
Image Archivists in Boston. "We're all lovers of
small-gauge film," Ms. Trainor said, by which she meant film sizes
smaller than 35 millimeter. The only criterion for the open
screening was that films had to be 8-millimeter, Super 8 or
16-millimeter format, no videotape.
"Home movies are a genre," Mr. Lampert said, explaining that they have
certain conventions that are almost always fulfilled.
"Every home movie has the wave," Ms. Trainor said, affecting an awkward
smile and waving her hand as a demonstration.
Before the Anthology screenings, at a table in the lobby, each film was
rapidly inspected for broken sprockets, bad splices and
any other potential screening problem. Anthology, which was established
in 1970 and moved through two downtown locations
before settling in the East Village in 1979, is known as an institution
that takes films seriously. Its idea of a Saturday matinee is the
three-hour documentary "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni
Riefenstahl," which was showing in the full-size upstairs theater
while the home movies began in the 66-seat theater on the ground floor.
Mr. Lampert, who operated the 8-millimeter and Super 8 projectors from
amid the theater's seats, started the show with
selections from a Super 8 film that he had found. He told the audience
that the clips were tedious except for "a few breakout
moments of rapture," and he had edited it accordingly. Members of the
Blond family, as Mr. Lampert called them, stood beside a
pool somewhere, waving. Four slender blond girls in colorful early-70's
outfits performed soundless dance routines in a verdant
yard. A blond toddler grimaced as someone squirted him with water from a
hose. "In every reel this kid takes so much abuse,"
Mr. Lampert announced. "He must have been the last of about 18 kids they
had." Suddenly the screen turned white, eventually
revealing hazy images of people in bathing suits, the film's
overexposure making it appear as if they were taking a dip in a
During the next three hours more than 20 films were shown. Steve Carter
showed what he called "a chronicle of youthful
alienation in 1969," which included images of himself looking
disconsolate in his high-school graduation gown. Debra Ziss
showed scenes from her first birthday. Elliott Malkin chose film of an
equally important day in his early life: his circumcision.
"It's not graphic," Mr. Malkin said as the film began, prompting a joke
about splicing from the crowd. The silent scenes showed a
screaming baby on a dining-room table surrounded by people. A man in
surgical garb attended to the baby while Mr. Malkin's
father stood stoically nearby in red plaid golf pants. (It was 1973.)
"That's my grandfather holding the wine," Mr. Malkin said.
Ed Crouse offered found film of a 1960 New Year's Eve party in which the
guests, young couples in skinny ties and shiny
dresses, played a bizarre game that involved attempts to bat golf balls
across the room using only brooms dangling between their
legs from ropes tied around their waists.
Alex Olivera showed 16-millimeter film shot in 1936 in Jamaica, Cuba and
the Bahamas. In it were pristine black-and-white
images onboard an ocean liner, a mustached man frolicking on a beach and
women picking bananas while wearing fabulous hats.
Mr. Olivera, a freelance photographer who lives in Jackson Heights,
Queens, said later that he bought the film at a flea market
because the locations written on the film can intrigued him. He also
brought along film that his father shot of Washington Square
Park in 1963. "My father moved to Florida, and I got stuck with it," he
Jennifer Fieber brought a three-minute film of her family in 1968 in San
Jose, Calif., just after her parents moved the family there
to start a new life. Lots of beaming children piled out of a tiny blue
car decorated with stars and stripes and peace symbols on the
doors. "My dad painted that," Ms. Fieber said. Her father, with long
hair and a handlebar mustache, sped around their
cul-de-sac in a go-kart, and the children played in a field, flashing a
peace sign whenever they noticed the camera. The sun was
shining in every frame.
Afterward, Livia Bloom, a 24-year-old filmmaker, writer and designer who
lives in Manhattan, said she was thrilled by all she
had just seen. "It was 70 years of history made by people," she said.
She liked the range of the films, that there were "some about
kids, but also older people having fun for themselves," she said. "Most
movies lately don't show anyone who's not beautiful or
young having a good time."
A 30-year-old film editor who would not give his name seemed less
enthusiastic. "The first two hours was good," he said. "By the
end they could have shown the Zapruder film and, `O.K., O.K., it's time
to go.' "
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