There are hundreds of laser discs at Krasker. For those of you who might not know, laser discs were a precursor to DVDs; approximately the size of an LP record, laser discs look similar to DVDs, only bigger. Wait. What? What’s an LP? Oh good grief, how about you just Google that! For today’s lesson all you need to know is that the darn thing’s big. Whilst prized by hardcore cineastes, the laser disc didn’t catch on and soon the more portable DVD usurped its position as the next best thing. We still use laser discs at Krasker for one simple reason: we have to. Yes there are certain films (or certain editions of certain films) that just are not available any other way. Unfortunately laser discs do degrade over time leaving some titles at risk for extinction, all the more reason to support film preservation initiatives. Plus often DVD releases (see comments below) are very flash-the-pan and not always easy to obtain for educational purposes.
Current BU faculty, staff and students can learn more about laser discs by visiting our center at Mugar Library, 771 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA 02215. Check out our website for additional info.
In the spirit of the season, here’s a glance at our latest acquisition: the surf and sand comedy Don’t Make Waves (1967). This oft-overlooked film was directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Ealing Studio auteur and the man behind The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. It stars Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale, and Sharon Tate –perhaps that’s why this title is just now getting a DVD release??? Tate’s tragic death in 1969 at the hands of the Manson Family cult has unfortunately made her films somewhat taboo. But when watching Don’t Make Waves one can’t help but smile at its sunny, slapstick humor. Admittedly, the script is no masterpiece and Mackendrick fails to reach the comedic heights of his earlier Ealing offerings but Don’t Make Waves celebrates the most fun-loving, free-wheeling (and dare I say innocent?) aspects of the sexual revolution sixties. And the animated opening credits sequence is poor genius: the kind of artful, cheeky flourish one doesn’t see much in movies anymore. One caveat: while the remastered transfer looks great, Warner Bros. has released the film as a computer-unfriendly DVD-R (BOOOOO!) which means you need a standard DVD player-TV to ensure playability. We have tons of those at our screening room however and if you can’t make it to the ocean this summer, hit the beach at Krasker …just Don’t Make Waves!
Alfred Hitchcock’s very first film has surfaced at The New Zealand Film Archive. The acclaimed auteur filmed the 1923 silent melodrama The White Shadow at the tender age of 24 and the film was long thought lost. To read more about this amazing discovery, check out this BBC article.
3 February 1957 – 5 April 1994
Filmmaker Marlon Riggs life and career were sadly cut short when he died of complications from AIDS on 5 April 1994, while making the film Black Is…Black Ain’t (which thankfully was finished posthumously in Riggs’ honor by his friends and fellow filmmakers ). The film world lost a rare talent, for Riggs not only gave voice to the African American experience but to the African American gay male experience–something that is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. Truth-seeker and trailblazer, poet and provocateur, activist and educator–Riggs and the films he made are as relevant today (and sorely needed) as they were when he made them.
Riggs is widely taught at BU in African American, film and LGBTQ studies classes. Films in the Krasker Collection available for classroom use include the following:
Ethnic Notions (1987) – Riggs’ seminal work: this Emmy Award-winning documentary takes an emotionally-seering and disturbing look at the racist representations of African Americans in American popular culture. Covering everything from minstrel shows to Mammy, Ethnic Notions takes the viewer on what is both a dark and illuminating journey.
Tongues Untied (1991) – a tribute to the joy and complexity of black gay life. Using poetry, personal testimony, rap and performance, this film describes the homophobia and racism that confront black gay men. It became the center of a national controversy in 1991 when many public television stations refused to air it and later when it was excerpted by Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan as part of a muck-racking television campaign.
Color Adjustment (1991) – This wonderful companion piece to Ethnic Notions turns a critical eye on how African American representation on television has evolved (and in some instances not evolved) from the 1940s, which brought Amos ‘n’ Andy from radio to television, to the early 1990s and the mega-success of The Cosby Show.
Anthem (1991, 9 min short included on the anthology DVD Boys’ Shorts: The New Queer Cinema) – an experimental music video that politicizes the homo-eroticism of African American men. With images–sensual, sexual and defiant–and words intended to provoke, Anthem was Riggs’ reassertion of the “self-evident right” to life and liberty in an era of pervasive anti-gay, anti-Black backlash and hysterical cultural repression.
No Regret (Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, 1992) – Through music, poetry and, at times quiet, five African American gay men speak of their individual confrontations with AIDS, illuminating the difficult journey men of color throughout America make in coping with the personal and social devastation of the epidemic.
Black Is … Black Ain’t (1995) - This documentary, Riggs’ last film, weaves together the testimony of those whose complexion, class, gender, speech or sexuality has made them feel “too black” or “not black enough”. Scholars and artists, including Bill T. Jones, Essex Hemphill, Angela Davis and
bell hooks, as well as everyday people not in the public eye, movingly recall their own struggles to discover a more inclusive definition of “blackness”. Threading the film together is Riggs’ own deeply personal quest for meaning and self-affirmation as his health deteriorates.
And bear in mind, that while we have chosen to highlight Marlon Riggs during Black History Month, EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR is a great time to explore the works and contributions of filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, composers and other technical film artists of color.
~Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services
It has only been in the past year that we at Krasker began tagging titles in our catalog with the subject heading Films: Feature Foreign (Canadian/Quebecois French), but the need for such a designation is clear. Canadian cinema is fertile ground for critical analysis–a country whose home-grown talent offers up a unique perspective on the world and which is, increasingly, exploring this point of view with daring visual gusto.
Too often Canadian filmmakers have been overlooked in this country–or rather their “Canadianness” has been overlooked, as scholars and critics treat their works as a sort of extension of U.S. cinema, thereby blurring the borders that define Canadian cultural and aesthetic experience to the point of invisibility. Furthermore, when an attempt to distinguish Canadian Cinema from our own is made, Canadian film is all too often portrayed as a counterpoint to the United States experience–the quirky neighbor to the North, a pale imitation of the United States, Hollywood on a shoe-string budget in a colder climate. Adding a complicated layer to these modes of interpretation is the long-standing tradition of Hollywood, lured by financial incentives, to use Canadian locations as “stand-ins” for places in the United States. Indeed, the repackaging of Canada as the United States has been a profitable business for our northern neighbors, and an ironic detriment to the native Canadian film industry. A shrewd analysis of this practice’s effect on global and native perceptions of the Canadian cinema can be found in David L. Pike’s essay (featured in Bright Lights Film Journal) Across the Great Divide: Canadian Popular Cinema in the 21st Century.
So “What does Canada say about us?” cries the US! Often the answer is a smug confirmation of the States’ “superiority,” with portrayals of Canadians as quaint, ineffectual rubes that stand no chance of undermining the U.S.’s premium on “savvy”. One consistent Canadian response to this arrogance is to revel in self-deprecation, exploring the Canadian “inferiority complex” through the medium of comedy, a tactic that, when taken to its subversive extreme has succeeded in launching a huge cream pie in the puss of its southern cousins. At the epicenter of this rebellion is the iconoclastic comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, whose television show which ran in the 1980s and 90s set the gold standard for Canadian rebellion–in contrast, the weak as water cuppa served up by fellow comedian Mike Myers missed the mark with its air of pandering to Hollywood’s perception of Canada as a nation with a perpetually low self-esteem.
And hence we return to the sad state of affairs that Canadian film has rarely been assessed in its own right, leaving us to ponder the question, “What is the Canadian voice, if not merely a tentative acquiescence to U.S. superiority?” Like most cinema produced outside the U.S., it has been credited with a greater cerebralness, taking stock in the hallmarks of independent cinema: less flash, more talk, more thought. Indeed, one of the seminal works of Canadian cinema, Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) is a film that sensitively portrays people whose lives fall outside the false glitter and glamour of the Hollywood dream factory, and has been warmly embraced as a story that rings truer than the template-driven popcorn movie. However it must not be overlooked that Rozema’s masterwork offers up a unique and daring aesthetic that helped usher in a greater emphasis on avant-garde sensory experience and it is crucial to note that one of the major attributes that increasingly distinguishes Canadian film today is the realm of the visual–as more and more filmmakers push the envelope of ocular rapture.
The visual? Ocular rapture? Canada? Again we confront the limitations people feel compelled to place on Canadian artistic expression. Yet to discover Canadian cinema as a landscape with more to offer than snowy vistas and maple leaves is to be delighted–and one such filmmakers that exemplifies this trend (and whose work can be found in the Krasker collection!) is Guy Maddin.
It is hard to describe the work of Guy Maddin…a few words and phases come to mind: a pastiche, cinematic collage gone wild, a fusion of silent era filmmaking aestethic and the contemporary, certifiably insane. Perhaps you just have to check it out for yourself and two works in our collection that Maddin is perhaps most identified with are The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006). The Saddest Music in the World tells the warped saga of a Winnipeg-based brewery owner Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rosselini), who also happens to be a double amputee covetous of a man’s glass prosthetic limbs, and her deranged search for–you guessed it!–the saddest music in the world. She launches an international contest to find this elusive musical treasure and subsequently several storylines converge as people race to Winnipeg for the contest. Maddin sets his Winnipeg in the dark days of the Great Depression, and appropriately plumbs the depths of 1920s and 1930s cinema in creating an at times overwhelming visual experience. If Joseph von Sterberg and Busby Berkeley had a child, who then proceeded to go on an acid trip and take us a long for the ride, the result would be this film.
Along the way, Maddin makes some deft observations about U.S.-Canadian relations: one of the central characters is a patriotic Canadian at odds with his American ex-pat son and visions of a drab Winnipeg are tensely juxtaposed with over-the-top Hollywood styling. Furthermore, the at-all-times surreal aesthetic constantly considers and challenges stereotypical perceptions of Canada as the United States’s “plain Jane cousin,” and in so doing, Maddin casts Canadian filmmaking (and Canadian filmmakers) in the role of aggressor–assaulting the viewer with a visual feast that makes the usual U.S. fare taste bland in comparison.
Brand Upon the Brain! likewise provides a stunning visual experience, but whereas The Saddest Music in the World also revels in the aural Brand goes in the very opposite direction: it’s a silent film. Intriguingly, it is a film about Guy Maddin…or at least a version of Guy Maddin. In Brand we follow a young Guy as he wiles away his days on a strange island he will one day inherit. Mystery and odd characters abound, naturally, and the viewer can’t help but wonder what is Maddin trying to say about himself and his art? The silent film device begs a connection between the Canadian artist and a “silencing” of Canadian culture in general; the silence of Guy’s world makes the viewer ever-presently aware of it. At a time when sound film is the norm, the realm of the quiet grabs our attention as much as the silent screams of the bold cinematography and production design make us cock our heads to listen. It is worth noting that the original film did not have a recorded sountrack and upon initial screenings boasted live accompianment and foley artists for the production of sound effects–creating further distance between the Maddin’s Canada captured on screen and the ability to create a sound, a voice if you will, that people will pay attention to. A musical score was added later, however, and is provided on the Criterion DVD release available in the Krasker collection.
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services