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Dr. Frank Zach – Zach Home Movies

Dr. Frank Zach, 1956, 8mm, color, silent, 32:38
Locations: Los Angeles, Pismo Beach

Dr. Frank Zach, 1958, 16mm, color, silent, 9:55
Location: San Francisco

Shown at Home Movie Day San Francisco
Transfers by Movette Film Transfer
Films courtesy of San Francisco Media Archive, www.sfm.org
Copyright San Francisco Media Archive
Thanks to: Stephen Parr, Kathleen Maguire

About the Films

A physician by trade but dubbed by his wife as a moviemaker at heart, Dr. Frank Zach created dozens of increasingly accomplished amateur films after falling into the hobby in the early 1950’s.  Drawn from a collection of 16mm, 8mm, and Super 8mm works donated to the San Francisco Media Archive by Zach’s widow, Helga, It is Lucky to Live in America (1956) and San Francisco in Cinemascope (1958) are early works that deal in the two genres that dominated the early part of his amateur experiments; home movies and city studies.

It is Lucky to Live in America appears to be Zach’s first crack at a partially composed and edited home movie.  Though made when Zach’s interest in filmmaking was nascent, the stylistic grandeur he explored in later works and his innate skills as a cameraman are readily visible.  Cinematically constructed establishing shots of Los Angeles landmarks and highways – landmarks in their own right! – serve as entry points into Zach’s then L.A. based homelife, where his wife and children knowingly play to the camera.

Although It is Lucky to Live in America’s sprawling style and focus on prosaic activities lend the naturalistic appeal of a conventional home movie, it is clear – from more than just Helga’s writing credit –  that Frank looked at his home through a director’s lens.  In interviews Helga Zach notes that Frank would often have her and the children stage scenes (or, restage real scenes) to suit his cinematographic needs.  As small dramas like a play fight between siblings over a lounge chair wind down, the final moments often include a gaze directly at the camera from the familial subject, expectantly seeking approval from their patriarch.

When Zach’s filmography is considered as a whole, a truly charming element is the comfort his family slowly reaches with the camera.  Helga in particular is often seen in It is Lucky shyly looking away from the camera; by the time Zach made his masterwork, Welcome San Francisco Moviemakers! in 1960 Helga is a pro, confidently leading a workshop on amateur filmmaking.

San Francisco in Cinemascope preceded Moviemakers! by two years, but is similarly focused on the possibilities San Francisco’s stunning landscapes afford the amateur filmmaker.  Featuring a range of aerial beauty shots of the city the film captures not only lost landscapes, like a cross city highway system then in construction – now long ago fallen and the beloved Playland at the Beach, but Zach’s marked professionalization as a filmmaker.  Upon their move to San Francisco, Helga says Frank integrated into a group of amateur cinemamakers who would meet to share their work and discuss technique, perhaps becoming a driving force behind his artistic developments. While Helga does not appear in this film, she noted that hobbyist filmmaking was kept in the family – she was charged with carrying the cumbersome cinemascope equipment during shoots.

Zach made numerous other landscape and natural films throughout the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, having establishing himself as a central figure of the Bay Area amateur filmmaking scene, he was hired by Kaiser, the major insurance provider in the Bay Area, to expand his amateur visions into industrial filmmaking and created a series of medical films for the company.

–Kathleen Maguire