Archive for the 'Motion Pictures' Category

Ingrid Bergman: From Rochester with Love

Posted by on Aug 29 2015 | History, Motion Pictures

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, US 1942, 102 min., 35mm)

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, US 1942, 102 min., 35mm)

When Ingrid Bergman first came to the United States in 1939 at the age of 24, she was already a star in her native Sweden and known throughout Europe. The great David O. Selznick, who brought her across the ocean, played it safe, casting Bergman in the English-language remake of her 1936 Swedish hit Intermezzo for her American debut. A mere two years later, and thanks mostly to her performance in the immortal Casablanca (1942), Bergman was Hollywood’s most beloved female star. Unlike most of her peers who exuded a thick air of nobility, inaccessibility, even arrogance, Bergman’s intelligence, warmth, and genuine modesty shone all the way through her physical beauty. She had that rarest beauty that Hollywood professionals at the time would call “bulletproof angles,” referring to the ability to be photographed from any angle while retaining all the allure and near-perfection.

The lightning speed of Bergman’s rise can unfortunately be matched only by the split second in which the American public decided to start ignoring her completely less than a decade later. All because of a single letter—one of the most beautiful letters in film history. In early 1948, Bergman, already an Oscar-winning celebrity, saw Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946), two masterpieces by founder of the neorealist movement Roberto Rossellini. Dazzled by his unglamorous, truthful, and radically non-Hollywood approach to filmmaking, and by the almost miraculous humanist spirit emerging from the ruins of post-WWII Europe depicted in these two films, Bergman offered herself to the Italian filmmaker in a two-sentence letter:

“Dear Mr. Rossellini, I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you. Ingrid Bergman”

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, US 1946, 101 min., 35mm)

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, US 1946, 101 min., 35mm)

The rest, as they say, is history. Bergman and Rossellini made five brilliant films together—the most famous being Journey to Italy (1954)—got married, and had three children. The only problem, at least for the morally righteous public at the time, was the fact that Bergman fell in love with Rossellini while she was still married to her first husband, the respected and pioneering Swedish-born neurosurgeon Petter Lindström. And here is where the story of Ingrid Bergman connects with Rochester, making this the second reason for our special retrospective (the first being the fact that Bergman, born on August 29, 1915, would have been one hundred this year). It was at the University of Rochester where Lindström received his degree in 1943, and where Bergman stayed with him and their daughter between shooting. The New York Times reported that Rochesterians loved her just a little bit too much:

“They took a small house in Rochester, N.Y., where he attended medical school. Whenever she was not working on a picture or appearing on the stage, she flew there. There was but one trouble. Her admirers of both sexes ran her and her husband ragged. They could not even go skating without a gallery.”

Join us in September and October at the Dryden Theatre for seven films with Ingrid Bergman:

Saturday, September 12, 8 p.m.:  Spellbound

Sunday, September 13, 2 p.m.: Intermezzo: A Love Story

Saturday, September 19, 8 p.m.: Notorious

Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m.: Under Capricorn

Sunday, September 27, 2 p.m.: Journey to Italy

Sunday, October 11, 2 p.m.: Elena and Her Men

Sunday, October 18, 2 p.m.: A Walk in the Spring Rain

As always, we warmly invite you step away from your tiny, solitary digital screens, and experience our offerings in the way they were meant to be experienced, on the big screen and in all their celluloid glory, with their emotional and intellectual impact preserved.

Only at the Dryden.

 

 

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100 Stairs from the History of Cinema

Posted by on Aug 21 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, History, Motion Pictures, Other

Little more than a month remains in George Eastman House’s exhibition Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location (on display until September 20). Now that some time has passed since the show first went up, I’d like to take a moment to convey some thoughts about its execution.

Greenaway intended The Stairs as a decade-long international installation in ten parts, each focusing on a theme related to cinema such as framing, audience, and time. Stairs 1: Geneva dealt with the theme of location. Stairs are uniquely poised to address such a topic, for not only are they pivotal elements in countless classic films, but are fundamental to the shaping and sequencing of space. Just as stairs cut through and segment space, they also bring otherwise disparate spaces together. If this sounds rather cinematic, it is because stairs are especially visual media. (Consider the homophony of “stair” and “stare”.) Of all architectural passages (e.g., doors, hallways, vestibules), stairs are the most conspicuous. We are rarely conscious of the doors or hallways we pass through, but stairs make their presence felt. They can even be spectacles in their own right, to the extent that they become centerpieces of a room. What better evidence of this is there than the films of Hitchcock, Sirk, or Lang?

 Because The Stairs was intended as a reflection on the medium of film on its centenary, Greenaway wanted the number one hundred to operate as a frame tying together the installation’s various components. At the same time, this provided him with the opportunity to expand the purview of the project as a whole, for instance by staging a supplementary exhibit containing one hundred different types of the same object. We saw this as an excellent opportunity to draw a clearer link between the ideas behind Greenaway’s project and the mission of George Eastman House. This is how we came up with the idea for a display consisting of one hundred images of stairs from the history of cinema.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Because of their sheer ubiquity, it was not difficult to construct a sizeable collection of film stairs rather quickly. More difficult was the task of condensing that list down to one hundred stairs that function explicitly as “devices for display,” to quote Greenaway himself. My criteria for this was simple enough: the stairs had to occupy a central position in the mise en scène, to the extent that the shot in question would be unthinkable without them. One particularly expressive example of this can be found in the 1939 Technicolor classic Gone With the Wind.

Still from Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, US 1939)

Still from Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, US 1939)

The staircase is situated precisely in the center of the shot; one cannot even look at this image without looking at stairs. Everywhere around there is darkness, as if the stairs and the woman on them are all that exist in this world. This image attests to what a powerful stage stairs can provide, commanding and directing the viewer’s gaze. I mentioned earlier what a crucial role stairs play with regard to space, and this is no less true in film than it is in life. Consider this image from The Magnificent Ambersons.

Still from The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, US 1944)

Still from The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, US 1944)

The spatializing function of stairs in this case is clear right away. Here, we see two figures, each occupying opposite poles of a shot. Even without any familiarity with this film’s plot, we can deduce much from this shot thanks to the mediating role of stairs. The woman is explicitly positioned in a relation of power to the man, if only for the fact that she is located directly above him. But here that point couldn’t be made in a more visually literal sense, since (as with the previous case), image and stairs almost appear as one. Even though we don’t see the stairs themselves, they are as it were everywhere in this image. This notion of stairs as omnipresent and as activating deep space is brought to an even further extreme in this image from The Spiral Staircase, where stairs appear to decenter and consume even the human body.

Sill from The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, US 194

Sill from The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, US 1945)

All routes lead to stairs. Look at this shot from Poltergeist:

Still from Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, US 1982)

Still from Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, US 1982)

In this image, the stairs are the content and the form, even to the point where they assume a fetish-like quality. Incidentally, this was the most “meta” of all the staircase shots I was able to find in my wild stair chase.

While there can be no doubt that stairs are spatially oriented media, they’re also uniquely temporal. A set of stairs places demands not only on our bodies, but on our time. Stairs take time. This makes them powerful dramatic devices, sites of tension and suspense. Think of how long it takes Norma Desmond to make her descent into final madness in Sunset Boulevard, or for Lord Hidetora to make it down the stairs of his castle to face defeat in Ran.

Still from Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950)

Still from Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950)

Still from Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/France 1985)

Still from Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/France 1985)

Elsewhere, in Tsai Ming-Liang’s ravishing video Journey to the West, a man dressed as a monk makes a painfully slow ascent up a flight of stairs. Each step becomes a measure of time. Stairs not only take time, they make it.

Still from Journey to the West (Xi you, Ming-liang Tsai, France/Taiwan 2014)

Still from Journey to the West (Xi you, Ming-liang Tsai, France/Taiwan 2014)

Or consider this shot from Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film Death by Hanging. The image is extremely powerful: a young man sentenced to hang sits atop a set of stairs, totally enframed by a noose.

Still from Death by Hanging (K?shikei, Nagisa Ôshima, Japan 1968)

Still from Death by Hanging (K?shikei, Nagisa Ôshima, Japan 1968)

In this instance, stairs do not measure a concrete span of time so much as they represent the inevitability of death. Stairs are the very fatedness of an ending.

Of course, I could go on. Each frame from this montage of one hundred images represents a unique instance of “stair-ness” from film history. Each testifies to the diversity and importance of stairs as a subject of cinema, and the affinity that these two media have for one another. But from my perspective, ultimate meaning here lies in the many rather than any single instance. In other words, what finally defines the experience of this display lies in the curious relationships and dialogues that occur between its images. I should point out that we decided to arrange each of these one hundred images in chronological order. This seemed like the best course of action, in large part because we wished not to freeze these images within the frame of a given curatorial commentary. But even without much interpretive intervention on our part, when placed together these one hundred images came alive.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Still, we had some room to play. This is because many of the films contained in our list were released during the same year. In some cases, as many as six films shared a year of release, which meant that within a sequence of six or so images we could experiment with various configurations. This allowed us to reveal intriguing formal affinities amongst images, such as the relation between the stills from The Godfather and Rocky below.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

These images are strikingly similar, but are inverted in a number of important ways. Both men have ascended a set of stairs, their arms now raised up above their heads. And yet, one man is frozen in a moment of triumph, while the other twists into a death pose. One body is heroic and lively, while the other is moribund. There is perhaps no better example than this to sum up my own conception of montage: clash through similarity.

I hope that you take the opportunity to visit our exhibition during its final month to experience Greenaway’s singular vision. While you’re there, I invite you to spend some time with our display of one hundred stairs to notice some of these relationships, and to discover some of your own.

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Happy 4th of July!

Posted by on Jul 04 2015 | Motion Pictures, Other

Happy 4th of July from George Eastman House and the Moving Image Stills, Posters, and Paper Collection!

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford

Nancy Carroll

Nancy Carroll

Colleen Moore

Colleen Moore

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Blind Date with Nitrate

Posted by on May 03 2015 | Motion Pictures, Other

Nitrate-Mystery-Frame-1200

Print source: George Eastman House
Running time: 95 minutes

Screening Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m. at the Nitrate Picture Show.

About the film
The frame enlargement reproduced above was taken from the nitrate print to be presented in this program. If you are able to identify its title from the image, you are more than welcome to spread the news ahead of the screening.

All of the other films featured in the official schedule of the Nitrate Picture Show were announced on the morning of the festival’s opening day. We are now asking you to take a further leap of faith and come to this show without knowing what the film is.

In the months preceding this weekend, our technicians and curators inspected all sorts of films, ranging from undisputed classics to relatively obscure items. Our pleasure in looking at them didn’t derive much from the reputation of their creators, or from their stylistic achievements; we were, quite simply, in awe at how beautiful they looked after so many years. We would like to share some of this joy with you, regardless of the film’s critical pedigree.

The second reason for inviting you to a blind date with nitrate is the element of surprise. Each of us, at least once in our lives, has gone to the movies without knowing anything about the title we would see. This condition of blissful ignorance was, to some extent, part of the game. Not infrequently, the will to embrace the unknown is rewarded with a revelation, whether of a major work or an undiscovered gem. The sense of surprise achieved through this humble gesture has given these films a special place in our itinerary as moviegoers. It is a precious gift that deserves to be honored.

This mystery film is no more and no less important than the others in this festival. Don’t expect a previously lost masterwork—nor, for that matter, a mere curiosity item for hardcore cinephiles. It is cinema, embodied in a nitrate print.

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The Nitrate Picture Show Projectors and Projectionists

Posted by on May 02 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Motion Pictures, Other

Each introduction to a film at the Nitrate Picture Show includes special recognition of the projectionists in the booth who are the behind-the-scenes heroes making this entire festival possible. They certainly deserve an extra round of applause!

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The Projectors
A gift of the Century Projector Company, the Century Model C Projectors have been installed in the Dryden Theatre since it opened in 1951. These machines are “closed head” projectors, so-called because the entire film path from feed magazine to takeup magazine is enclosed. This makes them safer for running nitrate print film. Other safety features on the projectors include fire rollers or fire valves located between the body of the projector and the film magazines and a fire shutter. The fire rollers help prevent a fire from spreading to the roll of film in either magazine. The fire shutter cuts off the hot beam of light when the projector is either slowed down or stopped, helping to keep the film from catching on fire.

projector
The projectors were originally set up with carbon arc lamp houses, replaced in 1979 with xenon light sources as carbons were being gradually phased out. The Century projectors’ sound reproducers have also been upgraded over the years to ensure the best possible sound from vintage sound tracks.

Inspection report for CASABLANCA on display in the projection booth.

Inspection report for CASABLANCA on display in the projection booth.

Original release print of CASABLANCA (1942) queued up for opening night.

Original release print of CASABLANCA (1942) queued up in the booth for opening night.

The Projectionists
Spencer Christiano, projection specialist at Eastman House, is a graduate of the SUNY College at Brockport Department of Theatre (BS) and the MCC Visual Communication Technology: Photography- Television program (AAS). For nine years, he was chief projectionist at Rochester’s Cinema Theatre, and for two years, technical manager of the MuCCC theater, where he is currently an artist-in-residence. He is very active in the performing arts community, and has written, directed, designed, and managed more than two hundred theatrical, dance, mixed media, and conceptual art productions.

Jim Harte is a 1979 graduate of New York University Tisch School of the Arts Department of Film and Television. He has worked in New York City and Rochester as a film editor, writer, director, and archivist. He joined the projectionist team at George Eastman House in 2013.

Steve Hryvniak landed at Eastman House in 2004 after 25 years as a motion picture (later, entertainment) imaging technician at Eastman Kodak Company, where he contributed to new motion picture products and projection room support.

Projectionists Darryl G. Jones and Jim Harte.

Projectionists Darryl G. Jones and Jim Harte.

Darryl G. Jones has worked as a part-time projectionist since 1968. In addition to serving as a relief projectionist and service engineer for Eastman House, he was employed by Eastman Kodak Company from 1974 to 2007 as a systems development technician on traditional photographic, video, and digital cameras. He is the past president of the Rochester International Film Festival and has been their projection chairperson since 1975. He is a life member of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

Patrick Tiernan is a Rochester native and an avid film fan. He holds a degree in film studies from SUNY College at Brockport. He has been projecting film at Eastman House for four years.

Ben Tucker is assistant collection manager in the Moving Image Department at Eastman House. He is a graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and has been employed by the museum since 2003.

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