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Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 6:10 pm
by Gary Johnson
I've been scrolling the Web this past week reading impressions from those who attended the last Cinefest. The general consensus is that it was very well attended (not surprisingly). And that it wasn't so much a funeral as an Irish wake. The regulars seemed thankful that they had the opportunity to see so many film rarities these many past decades. And it may not be over. I read a Canadian article where the reporter cites that an unnamed guest was making preliminary inquiries into creating a classic film fest to be held in Buffalo in the coming years. Whether anything comes of that initiative, or if it is just pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, it is still nice to hear that there are some out there still trying to keep classic film alive.

The one item I didn't read much about were the actual films shown. Most viewers just wanted to gloat over the malfunctions of the digital projector. Poetic justice, in their minds. Does that mean that there is an equal faction of digital proponents out there who are actively rooting for a nitrate explosion to occur?
Film vs Digital is taking on a dark tone.
The early FOX talkies got a lot of good mention, (especially the Tracy feature) mostly due to their lack of longtime exposure. Same goes for Whales THE ROAD BACK (37). Dick Bann showed a program of Roach shorts, some in their foreign film releases, but I haven't found too many comments on them. And no one wrote about Lloyd's silent version of WELCOME DANGER (29). Most assume it would be an improvement over the released version, but is it just slightly better or is it like watching a newly discovered silent classic?

Re: Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2015 6:47 pm
by Richard M Roberts
So now you're reviewing Fests you didn't even go to?

Listen, we got back Tuesday night and we're thawing out and catching up on sleep. while already busily engaged in writing program notes for the Columbus Cinevent. When we catch our breath, we'll talk more about Cinefest.

However, the point about the digital messups (and boy howdy, there were a lot of them, literally EVERY digital presentation had problems!) is that, as it seems to be the future of the way audiences will be seeing these films, it may not really be a future worth going to. Apart from the innumerable glitches, a number of the digital transfers looked and/or sounded really lousy even when they managed to get them up on the screen and actually moving.

More on all of this to come.


Re: Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Sat Mar 28, 2015 2:17 pm
by Louie Despres
I had a tremendous time. Yes, there were many issues with the digital presentations but those were minor compared with the other films being shown and getting a chance to hang out with old friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. For me the best films/presentations of the weekend were the pre-code 30's films from UCLA (got to see another Brendel I hadn't seen before), the Mostly Lost presentation, Dick Bann's 1st presentation and the "Oh Susanah" show, Eric Grayson's color presentation, Last Man On Earth, The Return of Peter Grimm (been wanting to see this one for a while), Synthetic Sin, and I must say I am one of those dopes who doesn't mind the "Welcome Danger" talkie but I do think the silent works very well.

I probably saw less film this year because I've seen the movies before (Out All Night, The Road Back, Risky Business, Tess of the Storm Country) or just didn't care (Ray Faiola & Richard Barrios presentations, Bride of Finklestein) but that gave me more time to hang out & share drinks with friends and watch movies up in the hotel rooms. Hell of a fun weekend!

Re: Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Sun Mar 29, 2015 2:48 am
by Gary Johnson
Richard M Roberts wrote:So now you're reviewing Fests you didn't even go to?

I find it cuts down on airfare.

Re: Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Sun Mar 29, 2015 11:24 pm
by Richard M Roberts
Okay, a bit more awake and caught up now, it was a bittersweet finale for Cinefest. We had a good time catching up with old friends and going out in the brisk (to put it mildly) Syracuse and general environs climate (11 degrees one morning, and it didn’t hit 40 degrees the whole week we were back east) to have good meals in what turned out to be some remarkably fine dining in the area, and we had the time because a lot of the film program held little interest (seen it, or didn’t care) for us. What we saw we enjoyed, especially when it was run on film, which proved amazing dependable unlike the numerous digital mess-ups. I have a videotape coped off an old local TV broadcast of OUT ALL NIGHT (1933) with Slim Summerville and Zasu Pitts, but it did come to life with a friendly audience and was fun to see again. I couldn’t believe people whining about the political incorrectness of YELLOW FINGERS (1926), yeah, it was one of those “never the twain shall meet” bits of nonsense, but who cares when it gave Olive Borden plenty of opportunity to show lots of skin and look generally terrific. The rest was fun melodrama not to be taken seriously on any level, and it worked fine for what it was.

The best film I saw here was HEART TO HEART (1928) with Mary Astor, even in a digital transfer that overly windowboxed it (more black than picture folks, looked like a postage stamp up there on the screen), it was another nice little re-do of the SO’S YOUR OLD MAN/WOMAN OF THE WORLD set-up, well-directed by William Beaudine who allowed all sorts of nice little character flourishes by the excellent ensemble cast, including Louise Fazenda and Lucien Littlefield, and Astor was luminous. I enjoy Dick Bann trumpeting his showings of Hal Roach films as not seen publically in decades when that basically meant he hadn’t bothered to show them anywhere much in the interim. It was nice to finally see CRAZY FEET (1929) with Charley Chase rejoined with it’s soundtrack, but I think it may have actually worked better when we ran it silent with music a few years back at Slapsticon, it lost some early-talkie awkwardness that way, and was that Earl McCarthy I spotted as one of the chorus-boys mincing it along with Charley? DADS DAY (1929) was a surprisingly mean-spirited early-talkie All-Star directed by Roach himself (at one point Eddie Dunn puts a cigarette out in Rolfe Sedan’s hand as a revenge punchline), but it was nice to see Ben Hall in a rare Roach appearance and see him actually playing the banjo.

We went in to see SYNTHETIC SIN (1929) with Colleen Moore because we know that its chances of coming out on DVD-R will not be as soon as WHY BE GOOD due to its lacking most of it’s Vitaphone score. Actually, Makia Matsumura’s piano accompianment was quite charming, and frankly better than the Vitaphone one which came in disappointingly at the last reel. SIN is basically a female version of LONG PANTS, appropriate since Moore’s husband John McCormick produced both films, and I think it actually works better than WHY BE GOOD as far as Moore’s character is concerned. I found her character in GOOD rather annoying in her phonily playing a tease for most of the film then taking it out on men like it’s their fault she can’t be herself, in SIN she’s a small-town girl/wanna-be actress who decides she must learn to be “bad” to be able to play vamps effectively, and therefore moves to a bad hotel and gets involved with gangsters to soak up the local color. This is where the LONG PANTS motif comes in, and at one point Moore even does a total Langdon gesture as she cries “Let’s make whoopee”!

As much as I like Colleen Moore, I do wish she and her production staff would have allowed her stronger leading men to work with, rather than the George Brents of the Silent Era, it’s Antonio Moreno in SYNTHETIC SIN and he never upstaged anyone in his life. It’s too bad because Moore is so much a reactor over actor that if she wasn’t always paired with the likes of Lloyd Hughes or Neil Hamilton, her films would not come off so much as just okay star vehicles (even Jack Mulhall in ORCHIDS AND ERMINE gave her a little more to work off of) and really click into something worthwhile. The energy picks up in SIN the minute an old pro like Montagu Love comes on and really gives Moore a little challenge in the owning-the-scene department.

SMOKIN’GUNS (1934) was a wacky Ken Maynard vehicle that caused his firing from Universal for being difficult and padding his production expenses with things like taking Latin American Crocodile hunts to “shoot footage” for this film. You can see the moment in the film where Uncle Carl Laemmle was most likely sitting in the projection room coming to the big croc scenes, saw the three stock shots of the big reptiles then the big fake wooden croc chasing Walter Miller in the backlot jungle, and then hear him jump up and scream “We paid that son-of-a-bitch ten grand to go hunt crocodiles on film and this is what we get? Fire his ass!”. Walter Miller gets to do some good emoting in th first half of the film, then he croaks and we are forced to suspend belief and think that Ken Maynard can impersonate Miller, even with Miller’s former fiance’ by removing a bad blonde wig and shaving his beard? What the heck, it was fun anyway, and Maynard may have indeed been the greatest cowboy star because for all his reputation as an off-screen prick, the camera does not show even a hint of it, and the camera seldom lies in that respect (two names, Al Jolson and Frank Fay).

We would have watched more, but indeed the digital presentations showed us a glint of the problems of the future, not just numerous glitches, but frequently poor unrestored transfers that one would certainly not travel across country to see. I saw the UCLA restoration of THE SECOND FLOOR MYSTERY in beautiful 35mm several years ago and greatly enjoyed it, the digital transfer sent to Cinefest looked like a bad dupe one could buy off the dealers room tables, dark, grainy, muddy in sound and picture. And say, it seemed the LOC digital transfers of the shorts for the silent comedy presentations, when they could get them up on the screen at all, appeared to be transferred at generally incorrect slo-mo speeds, with accompanying herky-jerky movement to boot, not worth watching in this form. I thought they knew better than that back there, apparently not.

All in all, knowing this move towards digital was one of the major reasons, along with the Archives generally making things more difficult to run anything at all, digital or otherwise, coupled with the aging and mortality of the Cinephile population, difficulty in finding new volunteer blood willing to do the actual hard work that putting these shows on really is, general fatigue after many years of putting on these shows, etc, made most there sad it was going away, but really understanding that it was time to end it. So it was less a tragic beating of the chests than a merry and fond farewell, yet I still found the irony of the number of Archivists making appearances there bemoaning Cinefest’s end when they and their institutions are one of the main causes for its demise, amusing. Perhaps after years of defending them, I’m gradually moving over to the idea of what is the point of such places when there is no true, easy or quality access, especially from a publically-funded institution.

In any event, auf wiedersehen Cinefest, thanks to all who put it on, those still with us and those long gone, it was fun while it lasted.


Re: Cinefest's Last Hurrah

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2015 10:49 am
by Gary Johnson
Thanks for that, Richard. Much more informative than my week of scrolling around the Web.

No one had mentioned the Maynard oater, or defended YELLOW FINGERS (or at least said it was not to be taken seriously), or had mentioned that the convention was filled with Archivists (irony).
One of the reasons Gerry Orlando cited in his letter about the closing was the high cost of shipping prints. Was shipping so many digital prints this year the Archives way to save costs? What with their budgets being slashed and letting seasoned staffers go, maybe the bad transfers of some prints could be due to inexperienced employees now running the Archives? Just speculating....