Talking Film History with Bérénice Bejo

Last week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Bérénice Bejo, Argentinean/French actress who stars as Peppy Miller in the new Weinstein Company release The Artist. Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the film, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, has been busy garnering attention and acclaim. The Artist pays homage to a very specific era in film history-the transition in Hollywood to sound motion picture production that occurred in the late 1920s. The film is black and white and mostly a silent film.  The story begins in 1927 as Peppy begins her Hollywood career as an extra and dancer. She enchants George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), a famous star, at the premiere of his latest film. The Artist presents the challenges that actors faced during the silent to sound transition in a charming and engaging way.

While Bérénice’s latest project is about filmmaking 90 years ago, we were excited to talk to her about her role in another film, which Flicker Alley distributes, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno. Inferno, a documentary, focuses on film history from a different decade-Clouzot’s ill-fated 1964 production of L’enfer. Directed by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, the film illustrates why L’enfer was never fully realized through interviews with crew members, original production footage and screen tests shot by Clouzot, and readings from Clouzot’s script with Bejo and Jacques Gamblin in the roles originally played by Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani.

We talk to Bérénice about her roles in both Inferno and The Artist. 

Bejo with Jacques Gamblin in "Inferno"

Flicker Alley: Why do you think the original production of Inferno was a significant/unique project? What was your interest in working on it?

Bérénice Bejo: The story of the production of Clouzot’s L’enfer [Inferno] was fascinating to me. As someone who works in the entertainment business, it’s always interesting to see how films are made or how projects remain incomplete.

Serge Bromberg [the director] is an amazing person. I also could not pass up the opportunity to work with good quality directors and actors. I also very much admire Romy Schneider. I was interested in the project, especially after watching her screen tests. Romy is beautiful, touching, and strong. Young actresses in France still often look up to her. I would compare her to Gena Rowlands. Both have the same emotionally intense acting.

Poster art for "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno"

Flicker Alley: Were you able to see the Clouzot’s footage before you shot your scenes?

Bérénice: Yes, I’ve seen so much of the original footage, including auditions with various costumes and many of test shoots by Clouzot. Clouzot did so many tests – he was so crazy!

A week before Serge [Bromberg] called me about the film, I was talking about Clouzot’s other lead, Serge Reggiani, at a party with some friends. We were discussing how in spite of his success as a musical artist, he was “the black cat of French cinema,” bringing bad luck to many of the productions he was involved with. So, it was fascinating to also watch his scenes.

Flicker Alley: What was the most surprising revelation upon seeing your scenes and the original footage combined?

Bérénice: It was difficult the first time to see the new scenes, which are so modern, combined with the beautiful, older ones, but the second time I watched the scenes, I was completely into it and accepted the idea. From the beginning, I said there is no way I can act the scenes in a way that would compare to Romy, so I always tightly clutched the scripts in the scenes, in a way to make it clear that I didn’t want the audience to compare my acting to hers. I think the audience does not judge, the new scenes allow them to understand and comprehend the story.

 Flicker Alley: Do you feel that your character Odette was an innocent, the victim of her husband Marcel’s demons of jealousy, or was she cheating on him?

Bérénice: I think she’s a victim. Her husband was totally crazy and jealous. He needs to see a doctor quickly! That is just my opinion, of course.

Flicker Alley: Inferno dealt with a project made 45 years ago, The Artist deals with an era of filmmaking 90 years ago.  Was there any kind of connection regarding your interest in the two projects?

Bérénice: No, connection. The project just came along. Michel [Hazanavicius] is my partner, and I inspired the character in a way. I am very lucky and received a great part!

Flicker Alley: How is acting for a silent film different from other films you’ve worked on?

Bérénice: The acting isn’t different. I didn’t focus on the fact that it was silent. Rather, I focused on the character herself – a woman who wants to work in the movie business and then becomes a big star. I tried to focus mostly on the character, portraying an American woman who becomes and actress.

In the 1930s, the way of acting for film was maybe more intense. The American way of acting is bigger than the French acting. I’m Argentinean; I love to act with my hands, so I tried to trust my body language to portray that “Golden Age of Hollywood-way of acting.”

Bejo as Peppy Miller in "The Artist"

Flicker Alley: Do you have a favorite silent film, genre, or director?

Bérénice: I love the late silent works of Murnau and Borzage. My favorite films are Sunrise (1927), City Girl (1930), and Seventh Heaven (1927).

Flicker Alley: Where there any silent film actors or works that you consulted in preparing for your role as Peppy Miller in The Artist? 

A young Joan Crawford

Bérénice: I really like Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. I didn’t really look specifically at many silent film stars for this role. I focused more generally on stars and stories from the classic Hollywood era.

I was interested in Joan Crawford, in particular, when she was 25 and started as a flapper. I also read the biography of Gloria Swanson (who was amazing), which made me understand how a studio could take a little girl and make her into a star and how the studios created personas.

 Flicker Alley: What’s next for you?

Bérénice: I will be in two French movies. Since Cannes, I have been reading a lot of scripts, working, and raising a family.

Thanks again to Bérénice for graciously taking the time to speak with us! The Artist arrives in U.S. theaters on November 25.

For more information about Inferno, click here.

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Bringing 1911 to 2011! – The Films of A Century Ago

Since 2003, Randy Haberkamp, Director of Public Programming and Educational Outreach at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has annually been presenting a unique and fascinating survey of early cinema at the turn of the last century. This year’s program, “A Century Ago: The Films of 1911,” is subtitled “Heroes and Heroines,” and will be presented next week, Monday, November 7th, starting at 7:30 PM at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood.

This may be one of the only program of this kind in the world to be presented on a 1909 hand-cranked Power’s Model 6 Cameragraph motion picture machine (!), restored and cranked by historian Joe Rinaudo.   It will also feature live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.  Lucky cinephiles in the Los Angeles area SHOULD NOT PASS UP this unique cinematic opportunity!

“A Century Ago” will also be presented at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, California on November 21st at 7 PM.

We recently had the chance to speak with Randy, as he was previewing the films, along with Academy Film Archivist Brandee Cox, in preparation of next week’s show.

Director of Public Programming, Randy Haberkamp, and Academy Film Archivist, Brandee Cox, preview the Films of 1911 Program

Flicker Alley: It could be said that each year during the first two decades of cinema had ground-breaking things happening during it.  What is momentous about the year 1911 as it relates to cinema history?  Is it the establishment of the star system or the strong move away from studio productions to having locations be more integral to the plot?

Randy: Yes, both the establishment of the star system and shooting on location were momentous shifts in 1911. The star system really did explode in 1911. The studios embraced the concept of marketing popular personalities and pushing their names. There was also an explosion of people moving out to various locations for filming, partially to have distinctive settings but also for privacy and to protect the evade the corporate patent entanglements of the motion picture trust.

The other aspect of cinema history that is really notable from 1911 is the larger embrace of fan culture. Before this year, there were trade magazines, but in 1911, magazines directly produced for the fan, specifically covering motion picture stories and accentuating the star culture of popular players.

Flicker Alley: What’s one aspect about the emergence of the ‘star system’ that might be most surprising to audiences today?  (Follow up: Regarding this new phenomenon in 1911, what has changed and has anything about it stayed the same to this day?)

Filmmaker Francis Boggs

Randy: What stayed the same between 1911 and 2011 is that audiences and producers  are very fickle. There were some popular film players in 1911 that were forgotten within a couple of years. Some filmmakers were able to make an impression and many others fell by the wayside.

It is surprising that the star system has largely remained the same. The scandal and salary demands of today were already happening then. Florence Lawrence was already on her third studio deal, going for bigger dollars. The first big scandal hit in 1911 when filmmaker Francis Boggs was shot and killed in the Selig Studio.  And there were lots of sequels, remakes and producers copying previous hits.   The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Flicker Alley: Today major studios tend to market much of their studio products to an age 18-35 demographic.  What was the movie-going audience like in 1911 demographically?  Who was predominantly watching these films?  (Follow up:  How were films marketed and promoted in 1911?)

Randy: In 1911, the studios were basically marketing to everyone, but they also knew that many in the audience were new to the country.  Many movies were aimed to lower middle-class immigrants. It was very inexpensive entertainment that changed regularly–mass entertainment which really had not existed before. Studios also made a conscious effort to bring women into the audience with heroines played by Mary Pickford and Blanche Sweet, for example. These were very different heroines. They didn’t always need to be rescued and were very much in the center of their own stories. A lot of the women were expected to go out on location and do their own stunts. It was really quite an adventure.

Flicker Alley: Who’s a “star” from 1911 that you personally are most fascinated by?

Randy: Kathlyn Williams, one of Selig’s first big stars. She was a popular actress and heroine and later appeared in some of the earliest serialized stories. She was also a real trooper, heading out West. We are showing a film fragment that shows a film crew driving in a truck and heading to a location to shoot. They are shooting with only a camera. That’s it, just a camera. You can see this “Let’s make a movie spirit” at the time, and you think to yourself “Wow, these people really had guts.” The actors weren’t thinking “Where’s my stuntman?” They were ready to jump into danger. During the shooting of Lost in the Jungle, which will be screened next Monday, Kathlyn was actually attacked by a leopard.  But secretly I must say that Jean the Vitagraph dog is my favorite 1911 film star.  She opened the door for all the canine stars.

Kathlyn Williams, one of Selig's first big stars

Flicker Alley: This is the ninth year that the Academy has been presenting the “A Century Ago” program. Looking forward, how do you see the series expanding and changing as you begin to deal with long form, narrative and/or “feature length” cinema?

Randy: Yes, it is the ninth year. I am dealing with the program on a year to year basis. I literally spend an entire year on it and get input from colleagues and others. I see what stories and information I can gather. I also develop the shows based on what films survive and what condition they have survived in since only about 10% of the films from this period still exist.  It’s heartbreaking reading some of the magazines and realizing that the majority of the films are lost.

Flicker Alley: The Academy’s program is unique among archival institutions in the way they are presented on an original hand-cranked project equipment from the era.   What’s the most striking feedback that you receive from audiences that have seen the films presented this way?

Randy: The hand-cranked projector is an antique for my generation. What is fascinating about if for me is to see how even more foreign it is to some people in their 20s and 30s that have no relation to the projector as a cinematic device because they are so used to DVDs and online videos.

Seeing this hand cranked projector up close, the most primitive projection apparatus in its rawest form, is fascinating. And the audience loves seeing how the projectionist can control the speed of film. It is like seeing what is behind the magician’s tricks.

Joe Rinaudo with his hand-crank projector

Flicker Alley: What do you think is the value of looking at films from a century ago?

Randy: What is relevant is that on the one hand these films from a century seem completely foreign. You really need to know what you are looking at…it’s like a film in a different language. When you study these films a little bit, you realize that what we think about in 2011 as filmmakers and filmgoers is the same. It is valuable to see film stripped down to its most naked essentials…to see what makes film fun and to see what makes film work.

Thanks to Randy Haberkamp and Brandee Cox for letting us get a sneak peak at Monday night’s program.

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Those Awful Hats!

Flicker Alley is pleased to welcome our first guest blog post from Doug Hanvey, a writer and casual moviegoer. 

For filmgoers who dig horror, sci-fi, cult, animated, or just plain weird films, watching Flicker Alley’s new WILD AND WEIRD set is de rigueur. Yeah, that’s French, but so are three of the set’s films. In fact, the weirdest films on the set are the French ones, which I think says quite a bit about French cinema. Oh wait, I like French cinema!

WILD AND WEIRD boasts 14 films – 13 of them from the silent era – directed by luminaries such as Buster Keaton and D.W. Griffith. For you non-cinephiles (of which I am one), D.W. Griffith is no relation to Andy Griffith, though once you see his pic in the WILD AND WEIRD booklet, you can imagine him as an old fart on the streets of Mayberry.

So where was I going? Oh yeah, cellphones. Cellphones! You know, every time you’re in a theater nowadays you’re admonished to turn off your phone…like it or not. (It does piss some people off.)

They didn’t have that particular problem in 1909. They had an even bigger problem (literally): ladies’ hats! Imagine you’re chilling in your seat with your Milk Duds, and this broad (that’s also French) takes the seat right in front of you.

She looks like this:

Or, even worse, this:

Now that’s a hat; a hat with the power to obliterate the movie-going experience of an entire row.

That’s what audiences were up against in 1909. Fortunately, show houses soon learned to project an informational slide (much like our cell phone admonishments) before the film: “Ladies, please remove your hats.”

In fact, the ladies’ hat dilemma was the inspiration for D.W. Griffith’s shortest film. In the comic Those Awful Hats (1909), which leads off the WILD AND WEIRD collection, women with enormous hats take the remaining seats in a packed theater. But not to fear! From the heavens swoops a massive “hat scooper” that is more than a match for the hats. In fact, it not only removes the hats, it removes a lady too. The lesson here? Remove your hat – or else.

As Those Awful Hats reveals, filmmakers of this era were already pushing the bounds of this new and astonishing medium. Not only does Griffith use early trick photography to superimpose the “hat scooper,” he creates a “film within a film” which is achieved by somehow inserting a moving image into the area formed by the movie screen (which the very informative DVD booklet tells me was accomplished via an early form of “matte printing”). I found myself amazed at Griffith’s ingenuity – hadn’t they just invented the “moving picture” a few years earlier?

If you rarely watch films from the silent era, perhaps you owe it to yourself to broaden your horizons. In fact, WILD AND WEIRD may be the perfect initiation for you. And remember, if you watch with others, please remove your hat.

Stay tuned to the Flicker Alley blog for more guest posts, interviews, news, highlights from our collection, and new releases.

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Flicker Alley is proud to present Soviet “Landmarks”

Landmarks of Early Soviet Film box set contents

Flicker Alley is proud to announce the release of a essential collection of eight landmark Soviet silent films all new to DVD in North America. The term “Soviet montage” is widely used in film circles, but understanding of Soviet silent film remains monolithic, based in large part on jut a few archetypal sequences. Presenting four documentaries and four fiction films made between 1924-1930, our newest box set LANDMARKS OF EARLY SOVIET FILM chronicles the development of Soviet Montage and showcases the many ways of approaching that mysterious moment between two shots.

Porfiriy Podobed as Mr. West in The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924)

The 595 minute box set includes beautiful new HD transfers of both Sergei Eisenstein’s last major silent work OLD AND NEW (1924) (and the film that most clearly exemplified Eisenstein’s cinematic theories), as well as completely unpublished feature by celebrated cinema theorist Dziga Vertov, STRIDE, SOVIET! (1926). Additional to these familiar classics, the collection contains six other lesser-known Soviet post-WWI cinematic treasures (running the gamut of genres and montage styles), such as Boris Barnet’s effective propaganda masquerading as charming comedy THE HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA (1928), and Lev Kuleshov’s stunt-filled comedy that pokes fun of American culture, THE  EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MR. WEST IN THE LAND OF THE BOLSHEVIKS (1924).

LANDMARKS OF EARLY SOVIET FILM is a continuation of a partnership with the Harvard Film Archive, Blackhawk Films Collection, and Lobster Films that began with our 2009 release MISS MEND, a Russian action-packed adventure serial by Boris Barnet and Fedor Ozep. The phenomenal score for MISS MEND was composed by frequent collaborator Robert Israel, who’s full-orchestral traditional scores are also found on this collection for  TRUBNAYA, OLD AND NEW, and MR. WEST.

What makes this collection exceptional is that it contains slices of Soviet cinema, which may be new to many. Though early Soviet film can be united by the belief in the power of fragmentation, recombination, and juxtaposition, we hope that the films in this collection expand and widen conceptions of this important historical cinema movement.

All the films have original Russian intertitles with English subtitles, except TURKSIB (1929) and THE FALL OF THE ROMANOV DYNASTY (1928), which have full-screen English intertitles. All films have original musical scores new for these DVD editions by Israel, as well as Eric Beheim, Alexander Rannie and Zoran Borisavljevic.

Disc 1 & 2 – Fiction Films:
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MR. WEST IN THE LAND OF THE BOLSHEVIKS (1924 Comedy): 64 mins
THE OLD AND THE NEW (1929 Drama): 120 mins
THE HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA (1927 Comedy): 75 mins
BY THE LAW (1928 Drama): 80 mins

Disc 3 & 4 – Documentary Films:
STRIDE SOVIET (1926 Documentary): 59 mins
THE FALL OF THE ROMANOV DYNASTY (1928 Documentary): 87 mins
TURKSIB (1929 Documentary): 57 mins
SALT FOR SVANETIA, STRIDE (1930 Documentary): 53 mins

Special thanks to Soviet cultural specialists Maxim Pozdorovkin and Ana Olenina for their brilliant catalog essay entitled “Montage Uprising: A Collection of Soviet Silents” which is included with the box set.

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A Journey Through Silent Film’s Time, Color and Space

Last week the Flicker Alley team attended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ event “A TRIP TO THE MOON in Color: And Other Travels Through Time, Color and Space” – a screening event dedicated to re-creating the impact and charm of restored silent films on the big screen. The evening was presented by film historian/archivist Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films (Paris) and Tom Burton (head of the Preservation Department at Technicolor LA) representing Technicolor Foundation. The Academy’s capacity 1,000 theater saw a packed house of 680 visitors. As we entered the theater and were handed 3D glasses to an early cinema screening, we suddenly got a glimpse of just how special the night would be!

There were a wealth of interesting short films – all extremely rare – many of which had never been screened before in Los Angeles, including the French trick film later hand-colored by Bromberg’s sister KIRIKI, JAPANESE ACROBATS (Segundo de Chomón, France, 1907), which is part of our 2008 publication: SAVED FROM THE FLAMES: 54 RARE AND RESTORED FILMS 1896-1944. Between films, Bromberg would enthusiastically introduce the next, after which he would waltz over to the piano and play its accompaniment.

Another Flicker Alley featured title was the UK short directed by F. Percy Smith, THE ACROBATIC FLY (1910), which is part of our most recent release WILD & WEIRD. An early stab at macro-photography, Smith glued live flies to a match-head and the flies performed acrobatic feats.

While A TRIP TO THE MOON was the most popular film of its day, it was also most pirated. Melies’ solution to this distribution problem was to fashion a camera that could feed two strips of film through it simultaneously, allowing him to finish two negatives of the film at the same time, one staying in Europe, one going straight to the USA. Without knowing it, Melies’ invention has allowed current (and might I add, very fortunate) audiences to see the films in Stereoscopy (the concept of stereoscopic vision involves combining two 2D offset images, each one corresponding to the left or right eye, to create the illusion of depth, or 3D). It was truly magical to see Melies’ hand-colored films in 3D. The original 2D versions of the films – LE CHAUDRON INFERNAL (1903), L’ORACLE DE DELPHES (1903), AND LA CORNUE INFERNALE (1906) – can be found on our set GEORGES MÉLIES: FIRST WIZARD OF CINEMA (1896-1913).

A hand-colored version of 109 year old A TRIP TO THE MOON was considered non-existent until a badly damaged hand-colored nitrate reel was found at the Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. Serge joked that the reel was so stuck to itself due to its decomposition that had more resemblance to a ‘hockey puck’ than to a film. Tom Burton’s talk went into detail about the painstaking digital restoration process, demonstrating every stage for the audience. The results when it was all said and done were truly remarkable. The color restoration of this film was the opener for this year’s Cannes Film Festival. At the Academy event the film was presented twice. The first screening of the film featured a brand new musical accompaniment by French rock/electronic group Air.

GEORGES MÉLIÈS: FIRST WIZARD OF CINEMA (1896-1913)

The second presentation of  A TRIP TO THE MOON featured the original catalogue description read aloud. Georges Melies was fluent in English from his time living in London where he learned much of his stage craft. With an eye towards distribution in the American market, Melies would write detailed catalogue descriptions of each film in English as well as French. These detailed descriptions were used as the source of live narrations that would accompany the films; a common practice in the age of ‘Cinema of Attractions‘. The Academy’s Randy Haberkamp read the live narration and while Mr. Bromberg improvised a simultaneous piano score. Afterward, the crowd indicated that this was a highlight.

Georges Melies was a magician by trade, and became the first to think in cinema in terms of illusion and storytelling.

Click below to access a free pdf of the TRIP TO THE MOON book, published by the Technicolor Foundation/Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and launched at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year:

La couleur retrouvée du Voyage dans la Lune – A Trip to the Moon Back in Color

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Cinecon goes Cinerama!

Congratulations to the Cinecon team on a successful 47th annual event. The longtime Los Angeles silent/classic cinema screening event was just this past weekend. A festival which itself has a very impressive history, has been unveiling rare and interesting films for almost fifty years, and more recently has started incorporating documentaries that focus on communicating the importance film preservation. After the success of last year’s screening of the documentary Keepers of the Frame (1999) which advocates for the importance of restoration and preservation, this year Cinecon screened the 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure about the Cinerama widescreen process.

Fall 2012 will mark the 60th anniversary of Cinerama; a three-camera, three-projector ‘virtual reality’ cinema process which used widescreen and peripheral vision (as well as surround-sound) to give the sensation of 3D without the use of special glasses. Part loving-portrait and part catalyst for raising awareness about the importance of film preservation, ‘Cinerama Adventure’ certainly did its job to re-invigorate excitement about this historic phenomenon.

In 1928 at the London Tivoli, Abel Gance’s masterpiece Napoleon was shown from three projectors onto a triple width screen (what’s called a triptych). Inspired by this experience, twenty four years later, Paramount special effects master, Fred Waller in collaboration with Michael Todd, developed a large screen system called Cinerama. It utilized three cameras to record a single image, and three electronically synchronized projectors to project this image on a huge screen curved at an angle of 146 degrees.

In Cinerama’s ten year history, seven truly Cinerama films (and many imitations inaccurately it as a moniker) were produced, mostly in the style of travelogues, but were really adventure/explorer films. Sadly, the process was abandoned in 1966. But for many cinemagoers – including Cinerama Adventure Producer Randy Gitsch and Producer/Director/Writer David Strohmaier – the age of Cinerama has been reinvigorated with this documentary. The film is adding to a renewed appreciation for the process; shifting from its conception as its trivialization as passing fad to an important phenomenon in popular consciousness that ultimately encouraged a ‘widescreen revolution’. To preserve these films the way they were intended to be seen, a wholly new digital preservation technique called Smilebox has been devised to bring the curved screen to cinemas, and home-viewers.

Smilebox - Cinerama Adventure

Smilebox technology provides a simulated Cinerama image.

At Flicker Alley, we continue to be fascinated in these kind of historical technologies in film history. Thus, we’re very excited about the announcement made at Cinecon that the 60th anniversary of Cinerama will be celebrated September 28th-October 4th 2012 with series of special screenings in Los Angeles likely at the beloved Cinerama Dome, just a few blocks from the Flicker Alley offices! The event will showcase all seven Cinerama films, some in their original form and some digitally restored, including the ‘Cinemiracle‘ feature Windjammer (1958).

As our mission is to bring film history to new audiences, we are very excited about these upcoming restorations and their un-veiling in all their Cinerama glory next September! Cinerama Adventure and the news accompanying it was definitely a Cinecon 47 highlight for us.

Note: For more titles from Abel Gance, check out our releases La Roue and J’Accuse.

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The Reel Thing XXVII in review

Discovering Cinema: "Learning to Talk" & "Movies Dream in Color" - Two Spectacular Documentaries on the Artistic and Technical Birth of Sound and Color Movies

Last week members of Flicker Alley had the pleasure of attending The Reel Thing XXVII. The Reel Thing is a symposium organized by The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) used to educate, demonstrate and discuss new developments in the technology of moving image preservation, and chance for those interested to see recent examples of film restorations. The Reel Thing takes place as part of AMIA’s annual conference(this year to be held in Austin, Texas), but Reel Thing events are also held elsewhere such as Amsterdam, and Los Angeles!

One presentation we found interesting was given by Robert Heiber of Chace Audio on the expanding capabilities of new audio tools which are changing sound restoration techniques. To illustrate these tools, Robert used the film High Treason as a case study. This 1929 film – released two years after the widely-regarded ‘first sound film’ The Jazz Singer (1927) – had characteristic early-sound film syndrome; bad edits, excessive camera noise, and modulating noise floors. Robert screened before-and-after examples, and the sound restoration magic done to create an overall balance and consistency in the audio track, which he held ultimately works to lessen audience fatigue and perhaps then helps in contemporary audience’s appreciation of early cinema. These kind of audio artifacts and inconsistencies appear in the documentary Learning to Talk about the birth of sound cinema, which can be viewed as part of our two-disc Discovering Cinema DVD set. Robert also tried to stump the audience with a reference to High Treason as a ‘goat gland’ film, a then contemporary reference to a popular medical fad the day – a term for when sound segments were injected into a silent film to give it more ‘life’. The ‘goat gland’ film is also discussed and exemplified in Flicker Alley’s DVD release Discovering Cinema in the documentary Learning to Talk.

It is commonly said that 80% of all silent features have been lost due to deterioration or damage. David Pierce, an independent archivist and film historian and founder of the Media History Digital Library, used the the 1937 Fox vault fire in Little Ferry, New Jersey as the basis to discuss some of his research findings on the destruction and survival of American silent features. Expectedly and unfortunately, there been many other fires that have mimicked the film disaster in Little Ferry. David showed some interesting slides on the 1937 fire, including a Fox internal memo, from a few years before the fire, that warned of the dangers of vaulting so many assets in one location!

David has been working with the Library of Congress to put an exact number to the amount of American silent features that have been lost. That research has been embargoed and will be presented at AMIA’s conference in Austin this November. As founder of the Media History Digital Library, he also discussed the project – a large scale collaborative scanning effort to make historical documentation available online to the general public that will ultimately help to round-out a more complete picture of how motion pictures and other media were presented and perceived at the time.

All in all, we feel fortunate that The Reel Thing technical symposium has turned into an annual event in Los Angeles each August. Already looking forward to what 2012 will have to offer.

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Flicker Alley enters the blogosphere!

Flicker Alley was born in 2002 out of founder Jeff Masino’s passion for cinematic history and a desire to bring filmmakers and films from out of the past to new audiences and renewed recognition. Jeff and an expanding team continue to draw on their lifelong enthusiasm and fascination with silent, classic, independent and avant-garde cinemas. With an awareness of shifts in technology and watching-habits that change the nature of home video, we want to continue to contribute to the on-going interest in our film heritage through the creation of new, high-quality digital editions for broadcast and through home video distribution…and through helping to develop new strategies and collaborations to ensure continued and expanded accessibility to these important films.

The Flicker Alley team is passionate about helping to bring our collective film history to contemporary audiences, and are thusly committed to working with film archivists, academics, historians, and rare saavy industry professional, as we know that without them, these films would not be viewable or accessible for our audiences in the present, nor would they exist in any form in the future! Each of our publications is the culmination of hundreds of hours of research, restoration, design, and music scoring. Collectively, they reflect the creativity, expertise, and shared passion of many talented collaborators and creatives.

Despite the current economic climate, as a brand Flicker Alley has come to enjoy national and international critical acclaim and is regularly featured in annual “Best Of” lists. In 2009 and then again in 2011, the National Society of Film Critics awarded us Film Heritage Awards for publishing “rare early U.S. and foreign silent film.” We wish to continue to provide the very best of silent, classic, independent and avant-garde cinema releases for cinephiles and cinenthusiasts everywhere. Yes, we’re pretty sure we made that word up.

Not only is this blog new, but Flicker Alley has also recently relocated to new offices. We look forward to your readership as we make many new and exciting changes on the Flicker Alley homefront.

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