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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reels from the Attic: Bob & Teresa's Docs That Rock

Nobody knows the Enoch Pratt Free Library's 16mm film archives better than Bob Wagner and Teresa Duggan. Well, maybe a select few, like Skizz Cyzyk (who used to plunder the collection back when he screened films at the Mansion Theater circa 1993-1998) and Laure Drogoul ("La Hostess" often paired Pratt's experimental films with other music, art and spoken word performances at her 14Karat Cabaret performance space).

For years the Hampden couple have put together wildly imaginative film programs that they screened in their backyard for friends and neighbors; now they've branched out into becoming "curators," teaming up with 2640 Space on May 25, 2016 for "Reels from the Attic: Bob and Teresa's Documentary Picks and Not-Fiction Oddities," a selection of 16mm films borrowed from EPFL's film library and two videos from the Maryland Historical Society.

Bob Wagner projecting
As an AV Librarian with Pratt, I've come to know and love many of the films they've selected. Their taste is impeccable, particularly their choice of such obscure but delightful oddities as "Honeymoon Hotel," "Pigs vs. Freaks" - a short by Jack Epps, Jr. that was later remade as the feature film "Off Sides (Pigs Vs. Freaks)," starring Tony Randall; Epps went on to fame as a screenwriter whose CV includes Top Gun and Anaconda - and "Fantasy of Feet" (Frederic Goodrich, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969, 8 minutes) which we've screened in the past at the library, but to much less appreciative audiences. (In fact, I think Teresa got "Fantasy of Feet" from me; I had scored it from a Pratt Book Sale and probably unloaded it with the glut of films I de-hoarded when I moved years ago.)

Here's my "Feet Accompli" Accelerated Decrepitude blog posting from November 29, 2006 that describes "Fantasy of Feet":

"Feets of Fantasy" film still
This is a wonderful montage of people and their feet coupled with fantasy pixilation effects and a Swinging '60s soundtrack courtesy of David Lindley & Kaleidoscope. (Multi-instrumentalist Lindley is best known for being Jackson Browne's longtime collaborator in the '70s and for fronting the band El Rayo-X). 
It was made by Frederic Goodich, the same director who did "Toes Tell" and "Whose Shoes?". According to the Academic Film Archive of North America's website, it won a Cine Gold Eagle award (awarded for excellence in documentary and other informational film and video production) in 1971. He was also the cinematographer on Board and Care (a live action short featuring mentally retarded performers) that won the 1980 Academy Award for Best Dramatic Short. Goodich currently teaches cinematography at the American Film Institute in L.A. 
Anyway, I like the part where people are dancing on plexiglass so you get a grounds-eye view of people's feet - a technique made famous by American avant-garde filmmaker Dudley Murphy in his 1929 Black and Tan short featuring Duke Ellington's orchestra - a concept Japanese culinary hentai took to heart with their no-pan shabu-shabu steakhouses (where the floors are mirrored and the waitresses wear short skirts sans panties - remember, presentation in everything at fine dining etablishments!).(Not to mention Baltimore's own 2nd level-glass-floored "raw bar" in ye olde Hustler Club!). The film also features a great countdown leader (with 666 appearing for the number 6!).

The view from "Black and Tan"

Sexy-Plexi: Japan's "No-pan shabu-shabu" worldview

Director Frederic Goodrich's "Fantasy of Feet," as well as his similarly themed "Toes Tell" short used to be available for viewing on YouTube. No more. So you'll have to check out the 2640 film screening or Pratt Library's 16mm print to realize your film feet fantasies.

Fortunately, you can still view a short clip from the historic "Pigs Vs. Freaks" short on YouTube:

Director Jack Epps, Jr. attended  Michigan State University and his short film was based on the school's famous "Bull Bowls" in East Lansing that pitted cops against hippies and raised money for Danny Thomas' St. Jude's Children's Hospital. (See Scott Pohl's "Remembering EL's Pigs vs. Freaks Football Clashes" article for details.)

"Pigs vs. Freaks" Bull Bowl program, October 1975

"Pigs vs. Freaks" film still 

You can still buy the film from Taos Land & Film Company. Here's the Taos Land & Film Company's description of how "Pigs Vs. Freaks" came about:
East Lansing, Michigan, the home of MSU (Michigan State University), had a history in the 1960's of violence between police and college protesters. Then one day, two police officers tried to kick some college students off of a high school football field, only to find themselves face to face with a challenge; settle the dispute with a friendly game of football! The police accepted their challenge, and 16,000 people came out to watch "The Pigs" lose to "The Freaks" by a single point. "The Pigs" vowed to settle the score "next year", but next year came and "The Freaks" won again. This documentary film provides dynamic coverage of the third consecutive year in this annual tournament. Who will it be in this year's Bull Bowl? Will "The Freaks" maintain their undefeated winning streak, or will "The Pigs" put their first notch on the board?

As for "Honeymoon Hotel," this four-minute short originally was shown on the award-winning early 1970s PBS television series The Great American Dream Machine.

PBS' finest hour: the late "Great American Dream Machine"

TGADM was a mix of comedy and social commentary, featuring comedians like Chevy Chase and Albert Brooks, pundits like Andy Rooney and Studs Terkel, and musicians like Nina Simone and Pete Seegar. Called "the intellectual's Laugh-In," its variety format combined short films, satirical sketches, and musical interludes in an attempt to address current American social and cultural issues. I can even recall seeing Evel Knievel's ill-fated crash after he attempted to jump over the Caesar's Palace  fountain in Las Vegas. It lasted from 1971 to 1973 and seemed to bask in controversy; it was truly rad, man.

"Honeymoon Hotel" aired as part of a segment on sex and marriage. It featured interviews with newlyweds who revealed their sense of values as they extoled the gauche pleasures of a Poconos hotel with its round beds and heart-shaped bathtubs.

OK, enough backstory about my faves in this program...on to Bob and Teresa's show!

Following is the rest of the 2640's "Reels from the Attic" program curated by "local film fiends" Bob and Teresa, as described on the 2640 Facebook page:


2640docs presents Reels From the Attic: a selection of 16mm films & video curated by local film fiends Teresa & Bob.

Enjoy two sets of vintage short films and videos about historic Baltimore and beyond, and then stick around to talk about them.

=== SET ONE == 
“Honeymoon Hotel” Interviews with young newlyweds in the Poconos, showcasing the gloriously tacky heart-shaped-tub rooms they've always dreamed of. (1971, 4 mins)*

“Jazzoo” A lilting jazz score plays as the St. Louis Zoo slowly comes to life in the early morning. Animals stretch, eat, preen, and prepare to meet their audience. (1967, 14mins)*

“Baltimore's geography, Jones Falls, the stream that shaped a city” Better than a brief history of this well-known waterway, this short film will transport you back in time. Photographer/lecturer Denny Lynch will participate in a Q&A about the Baltimore City Public School’s production of the film. (1983, 20mins)*

=== SET TWO ==
“Blueprint for Tomorrow” Imagine David Simon’s Show Me a Hero shot on VHS and produced by the Baltimore City Life Museum. (c.1996, 15mins)**

“Kurt Schmoke PSA” Baltimore, listen to Kurt Schmoke. (1998, 2mins)**

“Elysium” A poetical appreciation of that Charm City charm. (1961, 10mins)*

“Pigs vs. Freaks” East Lansing, MI. Late 1960s. Student protesters and police meet on the football field to settle their differences. (1975, 14mins)*

“Fantasy of Feet” A montage of people and their varied feet in motion, paired with stop motion animation and a swinging '60s soundtrack. (1969, 8mins)*

FREE EVENT! Doors at 6:30pm. Films start at 7pm. Refreshments available.

2640 Space | 2640 St. Paul Street, 21218 (St. John’s Church)

* Film borrowed from the Enoch Pratt Library.
** Video courtesy of MdHS.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Enoch Pratt Library's 16mm Film Spoofs

On April 1, 2006, I presented a film program at the Enoch Pratt Central Library called "Spoof! An April Fool's Day Celebration of Film Parodies at the Pratt Library."

Back in 2006, we did not yet have a licensing agreement with Movie Licensing USA to screen major Hollywood studio releases as part of our film programming, and instead had to rely on screening only films for which the Pratt had secured Public Performance Rights. All of the titles in our 16mm film collection (over 2,100 titles) - and some videos - came with PPR, so I put together a program highlighting the best of the many film spoofs we owned on (mostly) 16mm and video. Following is that film program, with the addition of one more film spoof that I had not yet discovered: Bob Dahlin's Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension: A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Dahlin's film actually won a "Special Jury (Dramatic)" Student Academy Award in 1973, when Dahlin was a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In fact, five of the 12 films that follow were nominated for Academy Awards, with three winning Oscars (Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension, Chicken Thing, and Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life).

Spoof! An April Fool's Day Celebration of Film Parodies at the Pratt Library

See humorous parodies of films like Star Wars (such as Hardware Wars, pictured below), as well as spoofs of Ingmar Bergman, Frank Capra, Hollywood Westerns, Horror Flicks and even pretentious experimental films.

Princess Ann Droid in Hardware Wars

Spoofs of Film as a Medium

From the creator of Astroboy, Osamu Tezuka, comes this spoof of film conventions that literally steps outside the very framework of film. In it, a cowboy seeks to rescue, then woo, a damsel in distress. But he is constantly thwarted by the scratches, breaks, and other imperfections present in the film print itself. (1985, 6 minutes, color, video). Unfortunately, this film is now missing from Pratt's collection. (Tezuka's equally brilliant 1984 animated short Jumping is also missing.) But you can still watch it online at Vimeo.

Tezuka made 13 animated experimental film shorts. You can watch them all at Open Culture (openculture.com) and YouTube.

Spoofs of Film Genres

Invasion of the Teacher Creatures – Horror Film Spoof
See students eat school lunches! See students do math! These and other horrors await viewers brave enough to sit through this clever spoof of horror movie “coming attractions.” (Henry Parke, 4 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog
We Can Prevent Accidents (1980s) – Safety Film Spoof
This humorous spoof of educational safety films by Tim Ballou sets the tone for today’s program – and will make you think twice the next time you toss a Frisbee!  Not much is known about the director other than he directed another film about TV news called If It Bleeds It Leads. (Tim Ballou, 1980s, 7 minutes, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Help! My Snowman’s Burning Down (1964) – Avant-Garde Film Spoof
In this Oscar-nominated satire on avant-garde surrealistic films (1965, Best Short Subject, Live ActionSubjects), a  beatnik (Bob Larkin) sits in a bathtub on a New York pier, typing on toilet paper and later fishing by casting his ring-baited line down the bath drain. When a female hand emerges from the drain, he paints one fingernail and it disappears. When he opens a medicine cabinet, he finds another guy shaving on the other side. Eventually his bathtub sets sail in the harbor, only to encounter a toy sub in the film’s climax. Cast: Bob Larkin, Dian Robertson. (Carson Davidson, 1964, 10 minutes, color, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Watch "Help! My Snowman's Burning Down" (YouTube)

Besides the Academy Award nomination, Davidson's film received 14 international awards, including a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. On May 10-11, 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and NYU Cinema Studies screened a program called "The Real Indies"  a celebration of recently discovered and preserved "Orphan films," which are defined as "rarely seen, previously neglected cinematic works deserving preservation and revival." The poster for the event featured a picture of Help! My Snowman's Burning Down star Bob Larkin sitting in a bathtub.

(Pratt Library also has another film by director Carson Davidson, Third Avenue El, which documents the nostalgic attitude of New Yorkers toward this departed elevated railway.)

The Great Toy Robbery –  Westerns & Christmas Spoof
An animated Christmas story about three bandits who, after robbing a bag of toys from Santa Claus, are captured by Santa Claus, the sheriff, and a cowboy. (National Film Board of Canada, 1963, 8 minutes, color, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Sergeant Swell of the Mounties (1971) – Westerns Spoof
Pasty-faced Sergeant Swell gallops across the countryside on an invisible horse in this parody of Hollywood Western cliches. Sgt. Swell repeatedly saves the heroine from a band of Indians led by the effeminate chief Silly Savage and legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. (Chuck Menville and Len Janson, 1971, 15 minutes, color, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

This Sergeant is Swell!

Watch "Sergeant Swell, Part 1" (YouTube)

Watch "Sergeant Swell, Part 2" (YouTube)

Note: For more on the stop-motion films of Menville and Janson, see my Accelerated Decrepitude post "The Dynamic Duo of Pixilation" and Night Flight's "Stop, Look & Listen: The Pixelated Genius of Menville and Janson."

ChickenThing (1986) – Horror Film Spoof
A too-vivid imagination and too much television make a scary mix for one little boy in this suspenseful interpretation of Hollywood's best things-that-go-bump-in-the-night movie hits. Winner of the 1986 Student Academy Award. Director Todd Holland won that award for his thesis film while a student at UCLA. It brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who hired him to write and direct the second season of his Amazing Stories television series. Holland went on to become a veteran television director, working on The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and later co-creating Wonderfalls with Bryan Fuller. Two of his shows were named in TV Guide's "100 Greatest Episodes of Televison": "Everybody Loves Larry" (The Larry Sanders Show) and "The Life of Bryan" (My So-Called Life). (Todd Holland, 1986, 12 minutes, color, 16mm and video)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Arkelope (1994) – Nature Docs Spoof
A caustically humorous take on televised nature documentaries, Arkelope is an award-winning animation short that challenges us to face up to our careless treatment of the other species on the planet - before we ourselves meet a similar fate. (Roslyn Schwartz, 1994, 5 minutes, color, video)
Check this title in the Pratt catalog

Watch "Arkelope" (YouTube)

Spoofs of Specific Films & Directors

HardwareWars (1977) – Star Wars Spoof
This film, which George Lucas calls his “favorite spoof,” is the granddaddy of all Star Wars parodies. Its creators use common items from a hardware store, including flying toasters in pursuit of a flatiron space station and a robot vacuum cleaner who foils the supreme force of evil. May the farce be with you as you witness the exploits of Fluke Starbucker, Augie Ben Doggie, Princess Anne-Droid, Ham Salad, and the evil Darth Nader! (Ernie Fosselius and Michael Wiese, 1977, 13 minutes, color, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog 

Hardware Wars: "May the farce be with you"

Watch "Hardware Wars" (YouTube)

De Duva (The Dove) (1968) – Ingmar Bergman Spoof
Nominated for an Oscar in 1969, this riotous spoof parodies four of Ingmar Bergman's films - Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The Silence and Smiles of a Summer Night. It also marked the first film role of Madeline Kahn (pictured at left). Speaking in mock Swedish (a mix of English, Yiddish, and adding "ska" to word endings - e.g., "It'll take a momentska"), with English subtitles, a retired physicist with a hernia recalls, while sitting in an outhouse, a garden party he attended as a youth. In a game of badminton rather than chess, Death loses his intended victim because of a hilarious obstacle ... a dirty pigeon that poops on him! Besides the Academy Award nomination, the film won 28 international awards (though not the bogus "Golden Escargot Pan-Europa Festival du Cinema" award that appears in the film's opening credits). 

Director-producer George Coe , who plays "Viktor" in the film, was one of the original cast members on the first three episodes of Saturday Night Live. A veteran character actor, Coe later found fame voicing the character of Woodhouse on FX's animated series Archer. Director-cinematographer-producer Anthony Lover went on to create the original branding for HBO, as shown below:

Lover is best known for his feature films Distance (1975), which was produced by George Coe and starred James Woods, and My Brother, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture at the 2006 American Black Film Festival. Script writer and co-producer Sidney Davis plays the role of Death.  (George Coe and Anthony Lover, 1968, 15 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

According to the web site Forces of Geek,  upon its 1968 release, De Duva "began showing up in theaters paired with various Ingmar Bergman films. A dark, dreary imitation of Bergman, the short shared many of the same themes and styles of the director, but it wasn't until various audience members began to realize that the 'Swedish' language on screen was actually made-up that what they were, in fact, watching was a parody of a genre that didn't lend itself to much comedy." 

De Duva was later paired (as The Dove) with '70s screenings of the Anthony Lover-George Coe feature film production Distance. (For more on Lover, Coe, and Distance, see distancethemovie.net.) 

Dove Tales: "Distance" and "The Dove" double-bill ad

Although they used to show it a lot in the early days of HBO and on USA Network's late great Night FlightDe Duva is extremely hard to find outside of our 16mm film print. It was once available in VHS format on Classic Foreign Shorts, Vol 1, but currently is out of print. Check Facets Multimedia for updates on its availability.

Watch "De Duva" (YouTube)

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1995) - Kafka & Capra Spoof
Stumbling over how to complete the first sentence of what was to be his masterpiece, Metamorphosis, Kafka writes: “George Samsa woke up one morning and found he’d been transformed into a giant…” A giant what? A banana perhaps? Starring Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I), this 1995 Academy Award-winning film (Best Live Action Short) is a powerful sustained joke on both the perceived image of Franz Kafka and the powerful sentiment of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. (Jane Balfour, 1995, 25 minutes, b&w, DVD and video)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Watch "Franz Kafka's IAWL, Part 1" (YouTube)

Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension: A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock (1973) - Hitchcock Spoof
Northwestern University film student Bob Dahlin won a Student Academy Award in 1973 for this tribute that references over 20 of the great suspense master's films. In a satirical spoof, the titular hero becomes involved with the mystery as he stands on the platform of the Chicago El and is knocked flat by the body of a murder victim that falls from the open door of a commuter train. Murder in the bathtub, handcuffed escape from police, scenes from rear-view windows, airplane and bird sequences are all used with fun and style to build up to the surprise ending when the murderer is revealed. Winner of the 1973 Student Academy Award - Special Jury (Dramatic). Cast: Bryan England (Robert Webster), Mary Ann Childers (Marion Lane), Bob Schoen (Gromek), Bob Dahlin (voice of Norman Nurdlepick), Michael Laskin (voice of Alfred Hitchcock).  (Bob Dahlin, 1973, 32 minutes, 16mm)
Check this item in the Pratt catalog

Bryan England and Mary Ann Childers strike a "39 Steps" pose in Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Condensed Cream of Beatles" & Other Charles Braverman Films at Pratt Library

Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles
(Directed by Charles Braverman, 1974, 17 minutes, 16mm)

Braverman's "Condensed Cream of Beatles" (1974)

One of the treasures of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's 16mm film collection is Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles, which was directed by American  film director and producer Charles "Chuck" Braverman. The Pratt Library catalog describes the film as:

A history of the Beatles and the 1960's from the flip, exuberant, youthful days to the sober, socially conscious end of the decade is seen in a fast moving collage of still pictures, films clips, works of art, and album covers accompanied by the innovative music of the British quartet
Originally produced in conjunction with Apple Films, and first seen on Geraldo Rivera's "Good Night America" television show for ABC, it was later distributed in 16mm format by Pyramid Films in the 1970s. I wish I could say it was available in other formats, but so far Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles has never been officially released on video or DVD.

Still from "Condensed Cream of Beatles"

Braverman went on to become a successful documentary filmmaker and television director. According to his Wikipedia entry, "he was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject for his 2000 documentary, Curtain Call; he was also nominated for three Directors Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary (2000, 2001, 2002), winning in 2000 for High School Boot Camp. He has also directed episodes of several major television series, including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Northern Exposure as well as television films such as the Prince of Bel Air and Brotherhood of Justice starring Keanu Reeves and Kiefer Sutherland."

But it's Braverman's early experimental film shorts that interest me. They imbue the spirit and style of Sixties Pop Art. In fact, one of the three Braverman titles in Pratt's 16mm collection is a 15-minute film called The Sixties (1970). Another is one of his earliest efforts, a short film called American Time Capsule: A Very Short History of the United States (1968). Set to the militaristic beat of Sandy Nelson's "Beat That#?! Drum*"...

...the film uses a montage of over 1,300 images to depict 200 years of American history, from 1997 to 1968, in three minutes. American Time Capsule was originally broadcast on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on the CBS network in 1968. (It is strikingly similar to Mason Williams' "Classical Gas" video, which also aired on the Smothers Brothers show in 1968 and has been called the "first music video." Williams, a musician and Smothers Brothers writer, paired his Top 40 instrumental hit with images from Dan McLaughlin's UCLA student film "God Is Dog Spelled Backwards;" the result shows 3,000 years of fine arts history in three minutes.)

In his book about the Smothers Brothers television show, Dangerously Funny, David Bianculli describes the serendipitous way that Tommy Smothers discovered recent USC film graduate Charles Braverman:

Tom was shooting pool one night at The Factory, a Hollywood nightclub, when Braverman's mother, playing at a nearby table, introduced herself and said he should take a look at her son's student movies. "I met Tommy Smothers tonight, and he says he wants to see your films," Braverman says his mother told him - and to his amazement, when he called the number Tom had given her, Tom picked up and invited the young Braverman over. After seeing his films, which included images presented in rapid-fire, almost subliminal jump cuts, Tom suggested maybe he should do something about history. Braverman left, and Tom forgot about it, but Braverman didn't. He and some friends, following the mandated three--minute limit, decided on a film about American history, and assembled a fast-moving piece he called American Time Capsule. When she showed the finished product to Tom, Tom rushed it onto Comedy Hour the very next week - just before the election... 
It's an astonishingly powerful compilation, and one of its regrettable but unavoidable recurring themes is violence: massacres of Native Americans, assassinations of American leaders, bloody world wars, and, at the end, current bloodshed at home and in Vietnam. The film concludes with a swift parade of presidential faces, from George Washington to LBJ and comes to a halt with an ominous question mark. (When Comedy Hour repeated the film due to popular demand a few weeks later, it replaced the question mark with the face of President-elect Richard Nixon, which seemed, somehow, even more ominous.) Tom had presented a fast-paced montage by another filmmaker before, on the summer series, but that was a rapid romp through the history of art [Classical Gas]. American Time Capsule, by contrast, was an artistic sprint through our country's history, so potent it still stuns college students when I show it to them in a TV history class forty years later.
And there's even a Beatles connection to the film. Bianculli comments that George Harrison, then visiting the United States, was so impressed when he saw American Time Capsule that he agreed to slip in and appear as a special unannounced guest for the next week's Comedy Hour show.

Both American Time Capsule and The Sixties, which epitomize the "fast-cut" editing style, are available on DVD from Braverman Productions Inc.

The Smothers Brothers commissioned a second film from Braverman about the year 1968, aptly entitled 1968, for their final 1969 season. 1968 was a violent and volatile year that featured the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the mayhem of protesters battling police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the escalation of the Vietnam War following the Tet Offensive. Braverman's film captured it all, ending with an image of a peace sign. At the film's conclusion, Tom Smothers commented, "Let's hope 1969 will allow us to make a film that has nothing but beautiful things in it."

American Time Capsule and 1968 are available on the Smothers Brother Comedy Hour DVDs and on YouTube.

Watch American Time Capsule on YouTube.

Braverman produced the opening sequence to the 1973 film Soylent Green in the same style as American Time Capsule.

Watch Soylent Green opening on YouTube.

Watch 1968 on YouTube.

But back to Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles...First seen on Geraldo Rivera's "Good Night America" ABC television show, it used mostly animated graphics, but also featured some short live action clips, including a cameo by Rivera interviewing John Lennon about his American citizenship troubles. Rivera would revisit the film's images when he reported on John Lennon's death for ABC News on December 9, 1980.

The most recent footage used in the film is taken from George Harrison's The Concert for Bangladesh and John Lennon's "One To One" concert, both held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

When it was first released on 16mm film by Pyramid Films in the early '70s, it was shown in schools across the USA, serving as many pupils' first introduction to footage of the Beatles. One teacher at a Massachusetts high school praised the film as a serious "introduction to the culture of the sixties, the study of rock music, discussion of the Vietnam War and the Protest Movement. It illustrates the concept of montage in creative writing, and demonstrates both technique and idea in filmmaking. It can be combined with song lyrics printed as poetry, with Braverman's film The Sixties for a study of the recent past, or with other films on Rock and Roll. Unique in conception and style, Cream of Beatles will succeed in the classroom as well as provide geniune entertainment."

Blogging about Braverman for Dangerous Minds (http://dangerousminds.net), Richard Metzger added, "It's a seriously cool film, but for whatever reason, it's practically disappeared off the face of the earth. One of the few places you can actually still get a 16mm print of the film is the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD. (They've got quite a few cool things in their collection.)" [Metzger's link is to my "Top 10 Pratt 16mm Film Rarities" post in my other blog, Accelerated Decrepitude.]

Here's a 7-minute extract I found on YouTube:

And here's the 1-minute Billy Shears excerpt:

The Beatles fansite WogBlog wrote it up in 2014:

And here's the Hey Dullblog write-up, in which the author notes that Apple Corp. has prevented the entire film from being uploaded to the Internet (alas):

I've screened it here at Pratt in the past; unfortunately, with the Central Library renovations, we can no longer project 16mm films (we are currently screening only videos and DVDs in the downstairs Children's Department "Night Room," which is not set up for 16mm film equipment). And as I noted earlier, it is not currently available on video or DVD. Oh well...

As the WogBlog review noted, Condensed Cream of Beatles still pops up occasionally at film club screenings and some film libraries still have prints. But as with all 16mm films that are not preserved, age takes its toll on them, reducing many of the original day-glo pop-art colors to the ravages of pinkish hue.

That said, on a similar (naturally melodic) note, following is one more Beatles-related film in Pratt Library's collection.


(Directed by James Archibald, 1968, 50 minutes, 16mm)

Great Britain’s National Music Council produced this 1968 film as a documentary record of their nation's music and it was later broadcast on American television in 1970 as part of NBC-TV's short-lived Experiment in Television series that was aimed at youth culture.

"I got me pants stuck in the bleedin' drum pedal!"

It uses quick-cut montage techniques to survey the many and varied roles of the music maker in Britain, including opera singer, street musician, school and military band, electronic musician, jug band, folk singer. But the film is most famous for six minutes of rare footage showing The Beatles rehearsing "Hey Jude" at Abbey Road Studios. The take is preceded by an odd 24-second clip of a printer spewing out a list of Lennon/McCartney song titles. Paul McCartney is first seen scat-singing some Little Richard lyrics with John throwing in a refrain from “Drive My Car," before Paul announces “‘Jude’ in A minor”. Partway through the take, the scene cuts to George Harrison in the booth discussing various forms of music with George Martin. Further takes ensue, with Ringo complaining that he caught his pants in his bass drum pedal and John sarcastically suggesting that Ringo solve the problem by removing them!

Here's the only other mention of this documentary that I could find, taken from the Beatles fan site WogBlog - All Things Beatle:

Music! was released in 1968 and it is a celebration of music in Britain, ranging from Tippett, The Beatles, folk clubs, brass bands right through to bell ringing. 
 The Beatles footage captures rehearsals for "Hey Jude", and was filmed on Tuesday 30th of July, 1968. The Beatles recorded takes 7 through to 25, though according to Mark Lewisohn, it was not The Beatles' intention to capture the perfect recording yet. But this session was arranged as more than a means of rehearsing "Hey Jude", it was also arrenged so that the Beatles could be filmed for part of this documentary. The resulting film only includes around six minutes of Beatles footage, compiled from several hours of shooting, showing The Beatles busking, chatting and rehearsing. The musical takes recorded during this session featured just piano, drums and acoustic guitar - so there was no role for George Harrison. Music! showed him in the control room of studio 2 with George Martin and Ken Scott. "The film crew was supposed to work in such a way that no-one would realize they were there," recalls Scott. "But of course they were getting in everyone's way and everyone was getting uptight about it." Most of the footage used were from take 9 of "Hey Jude".

Maybe these will come out someday as part of a future Beatles ephemera DVD compilations. We can dream, can't we?

Related Links:
Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles (Enoch Pratt Free Library catalog entry)
Braverman's Condensed Cream of Beatles (IMDB entry)
Braverman's Condensed Cream of the Beatles (WogBlog review)
Music! (Enoch Pratt Free Library catalog entry)
Music! (IMDB entry)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Mannikin (1977)

(Directed by Don Thompson, 1977, 28 minutes, 16mm, color)

Robert Bloch's story "The Mannikin" first appeared in Weird Tales (April, 1937)

I came across this horror short when trying to track it down for a library patron. The Mannikin is a true rarity, one I had yet to discover in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's 16mm film collection (thanks go to avid cineastes Bob Wagner and Teresa Duggan for alerting me to it!). Based on a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho) that originally appeared in the April 1937 issue of pulp mag Weird Tales, the half-hour film starred Ronee Blakley (not long after her Oscar-nominated turn in Robert Altman's Nashville) and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey).

Keir Dullea in "The Mannikin"

Its provenance is hard to determine. Internet Movie DataBase user reviewer Capkronos (capkronos00@hotmail.com) asserts that it was originally broadcast in February of 1977 as part of a short-lived six-episode Canadian television series called Classics Dark and Dangerous. "The Mannikin" was later incorporated as one of the three stories (along with Alvin Rakoff's "Mrs. Amworth" and Robert Fuest's "The Island") in the 1988 film anthology Three Dangerous Ladies. (Horror film veteran Robert Fuest's name will be familiar to fans of The Abominable Dr Phibes and Dr Phibes Rises Again; he also directed several episodes of the Linda Thorn-era The Avengers TV show.)

IMDB's description of Classics Dark and Dangerous calls it "Three unrelated horror shorts from 1975 UK horror anthology series...edited together into one horror film anthology with three segments. Each story features a woman who willingly or unwillingly spreads evil...In 'The Mannikin,' Simone, a young singer on the rise, starts having strange back pain. Soon, a bizarre growth forms on her back, Terrified, she finds out that it's not a disease per se, but a satanic curse tied to her late estranged mother and her servant and that a horrible demonic creature called the 'mannikin' is being reborn through her back."

Capkronos's detailed IMDB review ("Having a Satanic mama can be a real pain in the neck," posted August 19, 2014) adds:

Singer/musician Simone Maglore (Ronee Blakley) arrives back at her childhood home just in time to see her elderly mother die...and she couldn't care less! Simone doesn't shed a single tear, claims she doesn't want any of her mother's belongings, tells the strange housekeeper Miss Smith (Pol Pelletier) she never wants to see her again and also announces that she won't be attending her own mother's funeral. Why so bitter? Well, as a child, Simone was subjected to so much strange, scary and possibly Satanic activity - including being forced to participate in seances - that she was removed from the home and raised by someone else. Now as an adult, she'd just like to put her past behind her and concentrate on her budding music career. 
Soon after leaving her mother's home, strange things begin happening to Simone. She hears her mother's voice calling her name, starts suffering from disorienting dizzy spells and comes down with an excruciating pain in her back. Family physician Dr. Paul Carstairs (Cec Linder) can't find a thing wrong with her, so he refers her to pickle-eating psychiatrist Dr. David Priestly (Keir Dullea). His diagnosis? Psychosomatic pain caused by guilt. Of course, that's not what's "really" wrong with her. Instead, she's been cursed by her mother and Miss Davis and must now give birth to a little demonic minion called a "mannikin," which will be born out of huge growth that emerges on her back.
If you've ever read the 1975 novel "The Manitou" or seen the 1978 film version from director William Girdler, you'll know just from the plot synopsis that these two stories are strikingly similar...For his novel, Masterson added a bunch of Indian mythology to the works to explain the growth, but otherwise it's essentially the same basic idea.

I count myself among those "privileged" few who in 1978 had the misfortune to see Tony Curtis collect his paycheck in exploitation director William Girdler (Abby, Grizzly, Asylum of Satan)'s The Manitou at the old Timonium Drive-In Theater. It was based on the hit debut horror novel by Graham Masterton, who went to write over 30 books. For Girdler, it was his cinematic swan song; he was killed in a helicopter crash in January 1978 while scouting locations for his next film. The Manitou was released after his death.

Tony Curtis played a con-artist medium who tries to help his ex-girlfriend Susan Strasberg from giving a spinal birth to Misquamacus, an evil 400-year-old Indian medicine man. He succeeded because of his love for her. It turns out love hath charms to sooth the savage...um...savage! I have forever since referred to my lower back aches as "Manitou" birthings! (Doctors have no idea what I'm talking about.)

Baby Got Back! Susan Strasberg in "The Manitou"

I never read Bloch, but reviewer Capkronos says many changes were made from his source story, including a sex change: his protagonist was an outcast named "Simon Maglore." And the film adaptation's brief running time (28 minutes) "ensures this whole thing is poorly under-developed. Simone's possession and demeanor change happen so abruptly we never have a chance to get immersed in the story."

Capkronos wonders what attracted Ronee Blakley to the project, having been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar just two years prior for her performance as fictional country singing star Barbara Jean in Nashville (1975):"...it's odd seeing her in a low-budget and somewhat schlocky flick like this."

She suggests Blakley was keen to promote her song "Need a New Sun Rising," which is heard three times in the film. Blakley's song also ended up on the soundtrack for Bob Dylan's "four-hour flop" Renaldo and Clara (1978) the following year, as shown below:

Blakley would go on to do two more horror films, appearing as "Marge Thompson" in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and as "Sally" in A Return to Salem's Lot (1987). She also appeared in an episode of the TV series Tales from the Dark Side (1985).

So there you have it! Unless you can track down a VHS copy of Three Dangerous Ladies, the only other way to see "The Mannikin" is to get a projector and rent EPFL's 16mm film print.