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HMD Report: Cambridge, Massachusetts 2008

HMD Report: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thanks to Liz Coffey for this in-depth report on HMD Cambridge:

This year’s HMD took place in the same room as last year, which is a film classroom in the Carpenter Center where the Harvard Film Archive is located. This building is the only LeCorbusier building in North America, by the way. The room has a permanent screen, video
projector, and projection booth. We did our inspections in the projection booth and set up the projectors in the room (not the booth).

Jason played DJ again this year, with my portable turntable and collection of LPs. We offered music for each of the films, although not everyone took us up on that. With or without tunes, we encouraged people to speak about their films, and I occasionally made technical comments about what we were looking at.

We started the event by showing “Home Movies” on VHS while we completed inspections. We showed this at the first HMD Boston back in 2003. This is a Robert Benchley short comedy from 1940. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032604/ Always a crowd pleaser.

We opened ceremonies with a little speech about HMD, home movies, preservation, etc..

First up, a VHS transfer from 8mm Kodachrome from our own Melissa Dollman. Although we had advertised for video this year (VHS, DVD were all we were able to support, and we advertised a 5 minute maximum), Melissa was the only one to bring video. The movie was from
the 1950s in rural South Dakota, and featured her family, who are Yankton Sioux, at Christmas, including the only known footage of her great grandmother, who was visiting from the Reservation. Beautiful interior shots, classic family film.

Chrissy was up next, with the first of several super 8 Kodachrome reels we were to show from her collection. Her father shot this film of the San Diego Zoo in the 1960s, and his camerawork featured animal antics. Humans were around, but only shown as trunks, just sort of in the way of the animals. (Animals, by the way, turned out to be the major theme of this year’s HMD.) The film was well shot, with quick in-camera edits, and quite entertaining. The action turned from the
zoo to grandma’s house, for some classic family film material.

Peter Mork, a perennial poster boy for HMD Boston, arrived with an 8mm Kodachrome film he made at age 14 in 1966 called “The Last Mission.” It was a sort of James Bond-type spy film featuring his friends and brother. Peter described the film as “budget spy – not an Aston Martin, but a station wagon.” They had costumes, sets, special effects, gore, interiors and exteriors. By the end of the film, our hero had been tied up and beaten, cut with a bottle, whipped with a
chain, and run over by a speed boat. Things were blown up. Spoiler alert: there was no hope for a sequel. All in all, a high concept amateur production that was very well done. The film was highly edited & I had to repair several old cement splices. Peter had shot titles using a colorform-type title set. This made my list of best movies we’ve ever shown at HMD. A definite contender for a future best of HMD.

Scott was up next with an 8mm film I failed to take notes about. Scott is a film collector, but this particular offering was of his family.

Reed Sturtevant, another HMD regular who always tops my list with outstanding content, brought an Ektachrome super 8 sound film. He brought it last year but I didn’t have a sound projector. I hadn’t tested the sound on our new Eumig projector this year (not expecting
to have to use that part of it, and also not having any test film), but we went ahead with it. We started at the wrong speed, but the sound worked!

This film also tops my list of best HMD films ever. When Kodak introduced super 8 sound in 1973, Reed bought a camera immediately. Kodak was doing a promotion that included free film, and he took his free roll to his school (MIT) and shot his friends at the School of Architecture. He hadn’t seen the film in a long time and thought it might have him telling his girlfriend to tell him she loved him on film, but that wasn’t quite it. The reason this film was so interesting to me was because it was so good at showing off the medium. People were coming up to the camera and looking at it, or talking about it. “Hey, where’d you get that camera?” “That has sound and picture?” And Reed also talks about the camera during the film. He tells his girlfriend not to get too close because she’ll be out of focus, as she peers closely, out of focus, into the lens. “What do you mean my eye will be out of focus?” “Well, I mean it will look out of focus in the movie.” The audience gave big laughs near the end of the film when Reed’s friend says she’s unsure about being filmed: “Who’s going to see this film?” “Everyone.”

It seems, with 35 years in between, almost unreal, a set-up, but once I thought about this reaction, it made the film a thousand times more authentic. This is the first time these people had seen a synch sound camera, and the film really captures the moment. The movie is not perfect, but it is an incredible time capsule for technology. Another contestant for the future Best of HMD.

Back to Chrissy for another beautiful 1960s super 8 Kodachrome family film of a county fair (more animals!) and various family dinners. Lots of food, and the family dressed to impress the Kodachrome. “Our family’s really into food.” Lots of shots of the various dishes, including preparing fish and tacos.

Local scenester Katrina Galore brought her own CD of Maria Callas for her super 8 B&W teenage drama (1997). The film is all interiors with natural lighting, which was perfect and rarely underexposed. In this classic of teen angst, a girl (played by Kate’s sister) binges and purges and dies. Inspired by an after school special (that I also saw in school). Funny and dark.

Back to you, Chrissy, for more on how families dined together in the 1960s in southern California. Wine bottle are opened, a large fish is bloodily decapitated in the yard, more dressing for the Kodachrome. Grandma, a favorite character in these films, wears huge white framed
glasses and dresses like a teenager in the best way, 1960s go-go grandma in a red, white and blue pantsuit. The rest of the family dons primary colors.

I showed a super 8 film I made over the summer while visiting an old roommate in France. I followed her husband and baby around the farm as they visited with the horses, the chickens, and the geese. The baby loves the horses the best.

Ralph, another collector, breaks out a 16mm film he bought at an auction. He’s disappointed I won’t show his non-amateur films, but that’s life. It’s Alaska in the 1930s, the coast, scenes shot from a train, a woman holding a live bird. Often the lens turret makes an appearance, something which always astonishes me: who was responsible for that incredible design flaw!? Glaciers from a boat, another zoo.

Mark, my co-worker at the HFA, brought in some 16mm films he bought at a yardsale in Maine over the summer for $1. 1940s New Hampshire: the Man on the Mountain (RIP), the sea, the woods, swimming in a lake. Kids on parade, kids doing bike tricks on a homemade ramp (great bikes!), a boxing match, kids clown around dressed as clowns, acrobats. Cars on the track, kids and ponies, amusement park rides. Girls jump off the pier into the water. At camp, a picnic, taking the flag off the pole at vespers. Autumn arrives in time for drum majorettes, a football game, a woman with her Doberman, a squirrel (see how often the animals appear!), mother and child feeding ducks in the sun, a kid with a coonskin cap. Mark donated the films to the HFA, and we all agreed it was worth the $1.

One couple showed up with a film they didn’t want to show because it was of the man as a kid and said he was embarrassed to show it because he was fat in the films, which I found really sad. They didn’t stick around to watch other people’s childhoods. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but we didn’t deliver.

I showed two pigeon films (again with the animals). Both are Kodachrome super 8 camera rolls. The first was one I shot in two parts, the first half is Providence in the winter two years ago, the second half is pigeons on a medieval church in France this past summer. The second roll is the pigeon film I threatened to show last year but didn’t. Jason pulled out some classical music for this one that really synched up perfectly with the film. As the action of the pigeons flying around got more exciting, the music did as well. This is a film I made on my way to work 2 years ago, of the pigeons around Symphony Hall flying in those swooping circles they like to do. At one point they get really excited because a lady who feeds them is walking toward their feeding spot. They recognize her and surround her as she tosses out a bag of birdseed. It’s prettier than it sounds.

Throughout the last part of the day, I kept calling out for a guy who had brought in a very short super 8 film, but every time I was ready to show it, he was gone. He and his friend wandered in and out, and some point he got drunk and stumbled in and sat down for about 2 minutes, then disappeared again. His friend stuck it out for most of the show, so finally, since it was the last unscreened film, we showed it without him (his friend was there). It ended up being a really
good coda for the afternoon: a cut camera roll (about 20 feet) of super 8 color shot from a car in Hollywood in 1972, showing all these great signs, fast in-camera edits. Some volunteers breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t some scary porn (but having inspected it, I knew it wasn’t going to be scandalous, despite my hopes to the contrary).

All in all, another successful and fun Home Movie Day. We went out to late lunch/early dinner and drinks at my fave local, Charlie’s Kitchen, and talked about the movies and the event. What went wrong, what went right, which films were our favorites, and so forth.

A few days after the event, I saw a friend of mine, who had been at the event. She had never watched home movies before. I asked her what her favorites were, and she declared an affinity for the classic 1960s home movies from Chrissy. I found this great, because they were such good examples of classic family films, and were well shot and edited (in-camera), never a dull moment, practically an ad for Kodachrome. These kinds of films are the bread and butter of HMD, even though we often overlook them in favor of the weird stand-out films (“The Last Mission” and the super 8 sound for me this year). I guess they’re also the kinds of films I worry might bore people who are not used to watching home movies, because they were made with such a small audience in mind, just the family or maybe even just the person with the camera and projector. When this kind of film lacks a strong editor, a person who can frame well and has an eye for color, decent film stock and lighting, they can be deadly. The rolls Chrissy brought were each about 15 minutes long! That’s often far too much, and putting up one of those big reels can be scary at HMD, but in this case we enjoyed the 45 minutes as if the family were our own.