Ben Tucker's Posts

Ben Tucker is the Processing Technician in the Motion Picture Department. He has been employed by George Eastman House since 2003.

Our tribute to Ray Harryhausen

Posted by on May 10 2013 | History, Motion Pictures

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Ray Harryhausen at the Dryden Theatre in 2004

The great Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday. The pioneering animator and special effects artist visited us at the Dryden Theatre nine years ago this month to receive the George Eastman Honorary Scholar award. The house was sold out for this very special event. Harryhausen was a major influence on virtually every science fiction and fantasy filmmaker of the last 60 years. It was his imagination that created some of the most memorable and beloved creatures in the history of cinema.

Beginning with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD he conceived ideas, drew conceptual artwork, supervised all animation sequences and served as co-producer of all his films. As John Landis pointed out in a Dryden interview only one week earlier, this fact makes Harryhausen that rare non-director to earn the designation of an auteur. It’s the realization of Harryhausen’s vision that you’re witnessing when you watch CLASH OF THE TITANS or JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Those are his films.

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Ray Harryhausen at the Dryden Theatre in 2004

Harryhausen was generous when he visited the Dryden. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and answered questions. His sense of humor put the audience at ease when he said
“Some people call me a geek. I don’t know what that means, but I guess it’s a compliment.”

He said that he will always be grateful to Kodak. When he got out of the Army he took with him 1000 feet of outdated Kodachrome stock that was going to be thrown out. He decided to try shooting some fairy tales and the color “still looks beautiful after all these years.”

It was the beginning of a legendary career in the movies.

Ray Harryhausen6


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"Compliance" Premiere, Craig Zobel + Pat Healy

Posted by on Sep 24 2012 | Motion Pictures

(Compliance, Craig Zobel, US 2012)

On Friday, September 28 the Dryden Theatre will screen the Rochester, NY premiere of one of the most controversial films of the year, Craig Zobel’s Compliance.  After a now notorious Q & A session following its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival the film was immediately picked up for US distribution by Magnolia Pictures. It’s had a lot of press and many positive reviews. We love movies that provoke discussion. Good art can make for an uncomfortable experience and this movie has it in spades.

The Compliance premiere has reminded us of when the Dryden screened The Great World of Sound (Zobel, 2007). That evening Craig Zobel and Pat Healy were in attendance. Zobel introduced the film. He and Healy were interviewed by former George Eastman House Assistant Curator and Dryden film programmer Jim Healy (Pat’s brother) following its presentation. Those at the screening will likely remember some tension during the Q & A. This is something that the mild-mannered Zobel must be used to by now.

Pat Healy and Craig Zobel at the Dryden Theatre


In his review, Roger Ebert said The Great World of Sound was about the American dream turned nightmare. The general consensus was that the film was a thoughtful, funny and original character-driven study, we did have one member of the audience who questioned the tactics that the filmmakers took to make it. At the time it was being made, some members of the cast didn’t realize they were being filmed. Zobel explained that he took out an ad in a Charlotte, NC newspaper seeking talented musicians for an audition with a music producer. Remember: this is a film about soundsharking.  So many of the auditions in the film are “real.” They were shot behind two way mirrors and even from a camera mounted in a hollowed out microwave oven. Some are sad, some are quite good. Zobel explained that following each audition he and Healy and his crew explained to the musicians what was really happening. Most of them signed disclosures which gave the filmmakers permission to use the footage (Otherwise, of course, they didn’t wind up in the film.) Many of them, it turned out, were quite excited to find out that they were going to be in a movie.

The Great World of Sound (Zobel, US 2007)

Were they exploited? We’re not meant to laugh at them. This isn’t schadenfreude. But that’s up to the viewer to decide. Hopefully you will have a chance to catch up with GREAT WORLD OF SOUND if you haven’t seen it already. And hopefully we will see you at COMPLIANCE on September 28. Maybe it will anger some people. I’m looking forward to it.



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Spotlight on Motion Picture Preservation

Posted by on Apr 11 2012 | Motion Pictures

As we head to Hollywood this week for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, we look back at a recent film preservation event in Australia with Eastman House Film technician Ben Tucker:

With the goal of sharing knowledge about the practice of preserving motion pictures and making those preserved films available to the public, an annual exchange program was established in 2006 between the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) located in Canberra, the nation’s capital.

In 2011 I was excited to learn that I was the staff member selected to visit the NFSA.

During my visit in late October and early November, I rotated between departments and was able to spend some time with many of the 200+ staff members of the NFSA. I worked with the film technicians, video technicians, as well as the film stills and paper conservation departments. I also had the opportunity to work with the curators of the sound collection, sound technicians, film programmers and projectionists. I visited the NFSA offices in Sydney and Melbourne, met with the vault managers, toured the film laboratory and learned how they market their collections.

During my time in Melbourne I visited the Astor Theatre and the Sun Theatre. I met with the owners and technicians of both venues to learn about how they operate their organizations. I visited Chapel Film Distribution, the Australian rights holders of many classic Hollywood and foreign language films. I was fortunate to coordinate my visit with the Canberra International Film Festival and was able to attend a screening of the newly restored METROPOLIS at the Sydney Opera House with live musical accompaniment by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

At the end of my stay I delivered a presentation to approximately 50 staff members of the NFSA, including their new CEO and the Chairman of their Board of Directors. There, I gave a brief history of GEH and the Motion Picture Department and my impressions of the NFSA during my visit. I addressed the similarities and differences between the two institutions and spoke about what I learned during my time there.

It was a fantastic opportunity for me to experience the works and rewards of this National Archive, and I am pleased to share this video of my presentation:


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A look back with Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

Posted by on Feb 19 2012 | Motion Pictures, Other

George Eastman House, “Rochester’s Home,” is also home to the legacy of George Eastman and the arts he made possible. As such, it attracts many of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers, including Oscar nominees Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.

Payne has been nominated for three more Academy Awards this year, for producing, directing and writing THE DESCENDANTS (2010). Jim Taylor, his frequent collaborator, was also nominated this year for his work co-producing the film. This is their fifth feature film but the first time they have not shared a writing credit.

Payne and Taylor were invited by Assistant Curator Jim Healy to introduce a screening of their second film, ELECTION (1999) in July 2006, and participated in a Q&A after the film. Payne returned in December of that year to host a screening of one of his many favorite films, Richard Fleischer’s THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING (1955). [Fleischer himself was a guest of GEH ]. Once he arrived a good relationship was established between our archive and the filmmaker. During both visits, Payne spent a few days at GEH, mostly watching many private screenings of films from our archive in the Dryden Theatre. He’s a real cinephile – but not the kind who slavishly repackages his influences in his own movies. They’re best classified not as comedies or dramas but as Alexander Payne films.

(l to r) Jim Talylor, Jim Healy and Alexander Payne

Healy, in his introduction to ELECTION, called Payne and Taylor “contemporary descendants to great filmmakers like Frank Tashlin, Michael Ritchie, Hal Ashby and the pioneers of film satire – Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges.” Healy called their films “exquisitely written and profoundly funny.” He praised their “great taste in cinema and their expansive knowledge of film history and a deep understanding of essential film grammar – the cinematic language laid out by their predecessors.”

Of the four films that he has written and directed, when asked why he chose to screen ELECTION for the Rochester audience Payne said that it tends to be the “favorite of film nerds. And it is Cinemascope. And can I brag and say that both Barack Obama and Richard Holbrooke have told me that it’s their favorite political movie?”

The following are some of the highlights from both of Alexander Payne’s visits to George Eastman House.

Payne: “Casting is Job 1. The old cliché that 90% of directing is casting is really true. Even though I spend a lot of time complaining about working with the studio, [we] deal with who the top two or three actors are then after that it’s completely mine.”

“I shot [ELECTION] soon after CASINO (1995) had come out. It kind of quietly had an influence on the style of the film. It’s one of the few American films that I’ve seen with multiple voiceovers. [It is] moving and cutting quickly to constantly changing music cues which [Scorsese] began in GOODFELLAS (1990). I think CASINO is kind of a masterpiece.”

In response to a question about how they met, Jim Taylor said “[In 1989] Alexander had a room that was for rent. He had a two bedroom apartment. We were just acquaintances but I moved into that room and we became friends and started writing together.”

Payne, Taylor and Healy on the Dryden Theatre stage.

George Eastman House: “Your first film was in ’96. How many scripts did you guys work on together before you hit on one that got made?”

Payne: “Actually in ’91 we wrote and I directed two shorts for the Playboy Channel called INSIDE OUT – an anthology series. The producer Alan Poul, who later produced SIX FEET UNDER, did that show. He tried to get who at the time he thought were cutting edge and non-DGA directors.”

Audience member: “Has SIDEWAYS brought you a lot of freedom? Do you have a narrow window of opportunity? How secure do you feel?”

Jim Taylor: “We’re doing really well. But we don’t want to feel to secure. That could be a problem.”

Payne: “But I think filmmakers should act as though they have complete freedom. Especially when we’re writing, we’re pretending we have a billion dollar budget. Let restrictions come later.”

Payne on classic Hollywood cinema: “The more I learn as a film director, the more I learn about technique, the more I see the huge achievement of the classical Hollywood film style. No matter how they are made or under what conditions, a director is always thinking about how to make the actors move and where to put the camera. Whether you’re Godard or Michael Curtiz, it’s the same problem. Where do I put my actors and how do I move my camera. I see the elegance and practicality and efficiency and economy with which classical Hollywood film directors worked. And it’s astonishing. Young film school kids in love with the French New Wave, or now they talk about Korean cinema or something like that, they might [minimize] the film that they’ve seen the most, like CASABLANCA (1942). I say go try to make a CASABLANCA. Making something like that is going to be harder than trying to emulate any of these other films.”

Because it is my blog I can close with my favorite part of the evening. Jim reminded the audience that “we should remember the Stanley Kubrick quote that ‘the only person in the world who has final cut is the projectionist’. So kudos to Ben Tucker up there in the booth.”

Payne: “Thank you, Ben.”

Those moments make it fun to work at George Eastman House.

We wish Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor the best of luck on Oscar night.

Payne with audience members after the screening.



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Huck Finn Arrives in Pittsburgh

Posted by on Oct 08 2010 | Motion Pictures, Other

This Fall marks the third consecutive year the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA has worked with George Eastman House to bring a series of recently restored early features from the GEH Collection. On October 15, I will be traveling to the Warhol to introduce HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920) directed by William Desmond Taylor.

This past week I had an opportunity to speak with Daryl Fleming, the composer charged with writing and performing a new score for the film.  Mr. Fleming has recently taken to calling his music ‘pan-temporal songwriting.’  Upon being asked what this is intended to imply he states that his music borrows “liberally from many eras without an attempt at “authenticity.” It is NOT period music, despite melodies, text, and more often being historical in nature.  The music is syncretistic and never devolves into anachronism.  These are real words. Look them up if you don’t believe me!”

HUCKLEBERRY FINN has been a good fit for his music.  The instrumentation for the score will include violin, guitar, harmonica, lap steel, and acoustic bass.  Not shocking choices for Mr. Fleming or a story by Mark Twain.  He says that “some of the music will use harmony that post-dates the 19th century, at least the harmonies of the folk music of the era. Some of the music I wrote specifically for Huck Finn. I will also quote liberally from Red-Haired Boy, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and elsewhere, and hope to avoid kitsch. There will be some “noise” elements as well, sending things a bit out the window for brief periods.”

Mr. Fleming has been involved in Pittsburgh’s music scene for more than 25 years.  When asked how this project is different than all the others he replied “truth is this is my first film score. Folks have often commented on the “cinematic” sound of some of my tunes. I’m up for the task, but I suppose others will be the judge of that–which I welcome. The differences between writing this score and songwriting? Talk to me after the rehearsals and the show and I’ll have a better idea of that. One thing is for sure: writing a score is more time consuming. That’s a fairly mundane response. But true.”

Knowing that the audience will likely be made up of silent film fans and Mark Twain enthusiasts I asked Mr. Fleming what they can expect from his music.  His response was one that should be the goal of anyone composing a film score.  He said resolutely that he sees his music as adding to the “comprehension and emotional experience of the film.”

The Andy Warhol Museum Theatre

It is a rare opportunity these days for Pittsburghers to get to see a brand new 35mm print of a restored silent film accompanied by live musicians.  The Warhol might be the only venue left in town where it is even a possibility.  For this reason George Eastman House is very proud to work with the Andy Warhol Museum.  Hopefully the relationship will continue into the distant future.

Read more about Huck Finn from this year’s 360 I 365 Film Festival.

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