Teachable Moments: Alamo Drafthouse, Cinefamily & the Future of Repertory Cinema

So I think its time to have a little conversation about value, worth and intersectionality.

Things are pretty weird right now. I was talking with a girlfriend the other day and both of us have been in the film community for a really long time. Long enough to remember when internet-based film writing/promotion and communities didn’t rule the scene. Imagine that! But internet/no Internet, there has always been misogyny. Always been racism. The homophobia has been lesser to an extent, but…that’s entertainment. It’s still there. We all know that transphobia is awful no matter where you go so…end scene.

gender neutral robot

 

Let’s set the stage. Current events: if you’re a straight white male celebrity who sexually assaults women, you might want to start getting scared. James Woods found this out the hard way when Amber Tamblyn called him out on Twitter last week. She wrote two brilliant pieces on Teen Vogue and the NYT, in response to him calling her a liar after she recounted his ill-fated pick-up attempt when she was just 16. Tig Notaro’s recent season of One Mississippi dedicates 2 episodes to addressing sexual assault, which is a direct shout out to Louis CK. Tig has spoken widely about CK’s refusal to address his problem, as have other female comedians.

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Real talk: this shit has been shoved under the rug in the entertainment world since the casting couch was invented and studio heads invited women in for “lunchtime interviews,” promising them the “role of a lifetime.” But women are finally breaking their silence. Which is great. This should be supported and encouraged, especially by powerful men in the media world. But there’s a big chance it won’t be. Why not? Because making a “bold move” such as that might mean outing their friends or losing their buddies. And that’s scary and uncomfortable.

Dudes, I’m calling you out. It’s time. It’s not brave for you to step forward and join us in talking about what’s actually going on. If anyone tells you you’re “brave” or thanks you, tells you how “amazing” you are for standing up, that’s straight up bullshit. You should have always been doing this. You just finally smelled what The Rock was cooking, ok? No back pats, no OMG YOU’RE SO AWESOME!

Make a decision. Look at what’s going on and be on the right side of history. Because history does not wait and it certainly has no sympathy.

Over the last week, some straight white men in the film community have had a few real HOLY FUCKING SHIT moments. These were all heavily tied into the fact that they have absolutely zero comprehension of what VALUE means or what or who might, in fact, be VALUABLE.

It is important to note that most of the recent conversations being had in the film world have been incredibly white and privileged conversations. We have not stopped for one second to address women/people of color, trans bodies, or any communities that might have felt equally bludgeoned by what has been happening in the repertory theater scene. And by that I mean the recent scandals at the Alamo Drafthouse and the Cinefamily.

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LA Weekly, September 13, 2017

I want to approach this discussion of VALUE on an intersectional level and include every body that has ever felt assaulted by today’s straight white male dominated film culture. It is a structure designed specifically to celebrate all that is white, male, moneyed and heterosexual and oppress all that are not. All marginalized groups-defined as women (women of color especially), people of color, queer folx; trans and non-binary identifying individuals- are considered outsiders from this Primary Group and ostracized. We may try to affiliate ourselves with those in this Clique, but the very nature of its construction denies us entry. We haven’t gotten good seats in the movie theater for quite some time.

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I have been in the world of cinema and media studies for most of my adult life. The world has changed a lot in the last twenty years, and I’ve changed with it. The one thing that has not changed is the way that marginalized groups have been treated. This is absolutely a question of VALUE. We are simply not considered to have worth.

Structures of value and worth are why women are spoken over on newscasts and televised political arenas. It’s the reason so few brown faces are protagonists in feature films, there are currently no Asian superhero movies and why black bodies have rarely been lit correctly on film and television until work like Insecure (creators: Issa Rae & Larry Wilmore, 2016) or Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014).

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Issa and Molly, Insecure, Photo: HBO

The incidents I will be discussing- the sexual assault troubles at LA repertory movie theater Cinefamily and the sexual assault/employment cover-up/what-have-you at the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse- are not ones that I plan to give space to here. Please feel free to Google them at your leisure; there are tons of articles available on both subjects. I will be using them and specific details/ experiences in context that I believe to be important to this piece but I don’t believe that I need to link any articles.

Moving forward then- value has been an issue for hundreds of years in marginalized communities. Consider the following: a body’s worth measured in economics (slavery) or a body’s worth measured in marriage and reproduction (a son is good, the family name/legacy continues, a daughter is bad except for marrying off/childbearing). What about a slave body that can reproduce another slave body (a woman of color)? Think on these things. These evaluations are not done by the bodies themselves but by an outside force; an oppressor. Whether it is White Supremacy or Patriarchal Heteronormativity, dominating another body because of your self-created value structures is just fucked up.

One of the primary topics of this article is sexual assault, an act that involves our physical selves. Our bodies. Our bodies are a big part of our worth. Our bodies are physical containers but they are also reflections of our PERSONAL worth. We value ourselves and we value our bodies. So what do we do when our bodies are violated? Worse than that, what do we do when those whom we value enact violence upon our valuable, worthwhile bodies? Who do we turn to when we are viewed as so invaluable that we cannot even be consulted about intimacy? That’s a fucked up feeling.

This was something many women faced at Cinefamily and have faced for years in the film community. Who would believe that so-and-so did THAT? “He’s so coooool Are you sure you remember right? You weren’t just a little drunk?” Because then he’s off the hook. If you’re drunk, the incident didn’t happen. And if he’s got some kind of high-level rep or if he’s famous then it definitely didn’t happen.

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IndieWire Headline, Aug 22, 2017 11:21 pm

Intimate violence is visited upon our bodies and we can do nothing about it. We are not believed because we have women’s voices. Or queer voices. Or black voices. Or trans voices. While white women like Amber Tamblyn can reveal their stories and talk back to James Woods, do you think anyone would’ve believed a black trans woman who wasn’t famous?

Let’s look at social structures of VALUE. White people don’t value POC. If we did, black bodies wouldn’t be strewn lifeless throughout American streets, while the white bodies that violated them are legally allowed to move on without repercussions. Women/women-identifying folx are not valued. If we were, there would be no such term as “mansplaining.” White women are valued more than Women of Color but that in and of itself makes me cringe. And let’s be honest: trans and non-binary identifying individuals get the worst of it. It’s not just that people don’t value them. People pretend they don’t exist. Value and worth. If society, structured exclusively by White Rich Straight Older Men sees no value in you, you play no part and you are worthless.

Having attended the Cinefamily for a long time, I always noticed that there were many female employees and volunteers. Like an overt amount. I knew a few of them. I also saw a huge turnover rate. I stopped going a few years ago except to certain screenings. I saw brilliant and painfully talented people get treated poorly and that left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Film School Rejects, AUGUST 25, 2017

There were a few men employed there, but for the most part, it was women and not in an “empowering women” way. Looking back, the presence of so many women employees had a display case feel. Which I thought was strange. I chalked it up to Cinefamily being an “extreme hipster” theater but that was definitely not it. Sometimes we tend to compartmentalize when we don’t want to see things that are staring us right in the face. This was one of those things.

To Hadrian (Cinefamily founder), cultivating the look and molding the culture around that theater was part of its cachet. He did a masterful job in many ways. On the other hand, other people who never received the credit did much of the work attributed to him. What is critical here is that he created an environment where the only value system at play was his own. In any other work setting, this would have been seen as abusive. In any other work setting there would’ve been a HR person to assist his employees. But his male-dominated upper management structure (which includes the board) was in charge of the entire feel and social landscape of Cinefamily, from screen to popcorn maker.

So the regular floor employees were intimidated as fuck. The value of the women had been as objects, the men as continuing the promoting of the world/culture that had been created. Sounds a little bit culty. Which has been mentioned before. But I really read this as a lot of fear and sadness and a deterioration of personal worth as you continue to be abused by a workplace situation that you used to adore.

Here’s the even shittier part: this is what the world of repertory theaters and film festivals has been like forever. So the fact that Cinefamily exploded when it did made me roll my eyes a little. I couldn’t help but think: OH FUCK. Here we go. So who’s next? And let me stress right now that I have a lot of love for a lot of people working in the film festival and repertory worlds. My archivist/preservationist world is 100% not without its horror stories. In fact, we are probably due for some explosions too. But we’ll deal with those when they happen.

 

Guerrilla Girls' Pop Quiz 1990 by Guerrilla Girls

 

As for theaters and festivals and their dreadfully loosey goosey culture…These white, straight and male-dominated events and networks have always had Questionable Incidents. In the past, they were sighed at, and “Oh, that’s just so-and-so”-ed at. It really was like Mad Men. Whispers and secret confrontations swept under the rug. It was expected and built in. But when the ladies talk behind closed doors, we’re not fucking happy about it. And we haven’t been happy about it for years.

Did you know that, guys? Or did you think things were ok? Because a lot of you had to know about a lot of the heinous shit that has happened over the last 20 years. Whether I am in academia, the film festival world, entertainment journalism or my current archiving/preservation community, I want some answers. If my girlfriends and I know, if we’ve been frustrated and angry because we couldn’t call someone out because they were Too Big Time, then you guys must know the stories too. You probably know worse stories and have laughed or just rolled your eyes about it. Every time you didn’t warn us or stop those guys or call them out or do something, you let the women in your life and in the film community know that they were not valued.

Friends. WE JUST HAD TWO NUCLEAR MOVIE HOUSE EXPLOSIONS IN LESS THAN TWO MONTHS. Think there’s something rotten in the state of theatrical? Cuz I fuckin’ do.

So let’s update. It’s 2017. Less rep houses, mostly due to the analog/digital changeover. So we’re down a lotta movie houses and up a hellovalot more film festivals. What did that do? Well, it gave us the white, straight male-dominated film culture that focuses on the White Male Film Geek as Lord King God. It is literally White Geek-Bro Supremacy. This is something that has been planted, cultivated and grown over the years, carefully and intentionally. Fed with social media and entertainment journalism, it is so large that it IS VALUE and considered something OF WORTH. Basically, these geeks bring in the bucks. But at what cost?

I’m here to tell you fuck White Geek-Bro Supremacy. There is nothing valuable that can be created by this system. It does not create communities of worth. It gives NOTHING back.  The Cinefamily, Alamo Drafthouse, Fantastic Fest are examples of this dynamic in action and each one of these has either imploded completely or fractured under the weight of its toxic masculinity.

Communities established under this structure do not value women of color who love to read comic books or cosplay because it is joyful. In fact, the communities developed by White Geek-Bro Supremacy do not center joy at all. White Geek-Bro Supremacy centers competition, bullying, and one-upsmanship instead of goodwill, respect and an infectious love for cinema. The cradle of this system is binary viewpoints (best/worst) and list-dependency (top ten most ___). It was heavily nurtured with the idea that some media was indubitably to be valued and some not to be valued, based upon a knowledgeable hierarchy that rose to the top of the message board/chat group communities and eventually published blogs and articles. Incidentally, this is how men ended up dominating authorship of Internet movie sites.

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from Katie Kilkenny’s article, “Why Are So Few Film Critics Female?” in The Atlantic, Dec 27, 2015

White Geek-Bro Supremacy is what was working overtime during the Alamo Drafthouse turmoil this week.

Many thought the mess was about a sexual assault(s) committed by a former writer for an Alamo Drafthouse publication. It was about more than that. It was about a severe lack of transparency, the preferential treatment for a pal and the willingness to risk an entire company’s reputation and national operations on an individual relationship. This speaks of a special kind of blindness: Privilege Blindness. As my friend John Wildman eloquently wrote, a large problem in the Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League’s “crisis management” was that he never stopped to listen to those who should have been listened to.

This is a recurring theme with privilege. Those with White Privilege, Male Privilege, and Heterosexual Privilege have the idea that their privilege affords them earplugs & blinders. The definition of Privilege Blindness is “I will not make the space to listen to you because of xxxx reasons.” Guess what, honey? Not one of those xxxx reasons is valid. Grab a beer. Pop the top. Just get uncomfortable with this.

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When you do not take the time to listen to another person, you are telling them, “You are not valuable. You are not worth anything. You have nothing to tell me of any value. I do not see you as someone who could add value to my life. Your experiences/thoughts/feelings mean nothing to me.” When you do that to someone in a marginalized group, it can be both achingly familiar (we’ve lived our whole lives not being listened to) and possibly life threatening. While the aforementioned former writer for Drafthouse certainly did lousy things, he wrote one good thing on his now-deleted Medium post: “Believe women. Especially when they are talking about you.”

What is it going to take to destroy these systems of oppression? What is it going to take to break down years of abuse? The men and women who have spoken out against the ongoing practices at the Drafthouse are mirror images of those at Cinefamily. They feel ignored, stepped on, devalued and left in the cold. They were not hip enough. Not in the cool kids club. Stories of floor staff at the Drafthouse being treated as “lesser than” because they were not within the upper echelon of the Who’s Who. And I get it: it’s largely impossible in a company that size to have some utopian vision where people are all partying together. But it is possible to have people feel appreciated and like they are part of an institution that is doing something amazing for the cinema community, which is the image that the Drafthouse outwardly projects. Bottom line: the party should never end up being more important than the people who decorated the room for the celebration.

As for Fantastic Fest… Tim League’s gotta be a little sad about that right now. His actions have put him in that funky little zone where moral values have impacted his Financial Value. Fox Searchlight pulled their film from Fantastic Fest. That’s kind of a big deal. While FF usually goes for more unusual fare, it could always use a big studio film for a bump, especially after recently launching new distribution shingle, Neon. Get rid of the testosterone-fueled boxing-matches, limit the VIP-only bashes that create such clear hierarchies and go back to what made the festival unique- its content.

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Boxing match from Fantastic Fest 2014, Photo: Alamo Drafthouse, September 21, 2014

 

So this may have been a lot to get through for many of you. And it may not have made sense or connected to the Cinefamily and Drafthouse situations for some. But please trust me- it all does. Obviously right now I don’t give a shit about TL;DR. Some will read this, others won’t. I’m really pissed off. I hate that it’s taken the devastation of two cinematic institutions and one film festival in order to knock some sense into dudes’ heads and make them remember that women are people too, with feelings and needs and all kinds of INSANE THINGS.

And please know- I never wanted Cinefamily to die. However, in the form that it was in, with that board of directors (some of whom are still very active in the LA rep theater scene), it was impossible. There were amazing people at Cinefamily and amazing people are suffering unemployment now due to its closure. I also do not advocate skipping Fantastic Fest (unless you feel you need to). I think that taking the discussion to the source and holding people accountable is key. But don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.

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An interesting ad from an anti-rape campaign in Missoula, MT.

I don’t want to see Drafthouse go down in flames but I would like to see its encouragement of White Geek Bro Supremacy stop. This will take more than a few professional sessions with a “crisis management” team. This will mean letting real people – women, POC, queer folx, trans/non-binary film lovers- talk to you, Tim League. And you need to shut up and listen.

Turn a new page. It’s possible, but it’s going to take work. It’s going to take a lot of listening and a lot of people are going to have to get really uncomfortable. A lot of people are going to have to do some major self-reflection. But as Amber Tamblyn wrote to James Woods, “What you are experiencing is called a teachable moment. It is called a gift.”

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Women and other marginalized groups are done being quiet. We know our value and our worth, even if rich straight white dudes don’t. For many of us, discovering intersectionalism has helped. Working together we can be more powerful than by focusing on just our own separate issues. Many of us have discovered new definitions of value and worth in community organizing. But that also means that structures of white supremacy and patriarchy are in serious danger. We’re only going to get louder and more powerful.

So White Male Geek Squad? Y’all should get your shit together and clean up your act. We’re coming for you. And that’s a promise.

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Why We Watch: Theatrical Attendance, Archiving and Individualism

It has been a whirlwind last few weeks. Things have been moving so quickly that I haven’t slowed down enough to be able to put both feet on the ground! Either that or I’ve been so thrilled by all the fantastic things that have been happening that I am in a permanent state of 5 feet above the pavement. I’ll let you know which one it is when I know. Which may (fingers crossed) be never…

Exciting things? A life-changing AMIA Conference in Savannah, GA which included meeting Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi. Participating in a truly kick-ass small gauge workshop where I learned so much. Attending a fabulous Home Movie Day recently, and a new archiving/metadata project that I’ve been busting my ass on. I’m loving EVERY MINUTE. The latter of these things was yet another case of a colleague in the archiving community reaching out, too. I swear to reels and sprockets if it wasn’t for film preservation and the folks I know and have met in the last few years? I would be lost. L-O-S-T.

Admittedly, something has been bothering me. I have tried not to let it get to me too much because I have all these other things going on but… I can’t stop thinking about it. So here is me. Talking about some things. And I’m not going to bullshit. And I’m not going to beat around the bush. But I am also not here to trash-talk, get personal or nasty. This is not a gossip piece. With that said, let’s get the initial stuff out of the way so we can talk about the REAL issues.

By now many people have probably seen the blog written by Julia Marchese, former employee of the New Beverly Cinema. You may recognize the name of this theater as the one that I have written about several times . Without getting into details or reposting the blog (go ahead and find it yourself if you need to) her article discusses how she felt that she got the raw end of the deal in her recent “dismissal.” While I found her article problematic from a working professional’s standpoint, I think I found the public response even more disturbing. Much of the blind support and anti-theater sentiment came from people who had never met her and/or had never even visited the New Beverly. This felt weird to me.

Do I feel bad that someone, anyone lost their job? Absolutely. But did I think that it was news in the same time period that Home Movie Day was happening (a great film preservation event) or when such fascinating pieces are being written about Christopher Nolan and INTERSTELLAR‘s exhibition changes? Not really. So I was ready to just blow it off. But then it happened. Not once, not twice but over and over. Within the few articles that I read, Julia was referred to as the “heart and soul” and “public face” of the New Beverly Cinema, either by the author or within the comments. How an employee of 6 years could be either of those things for a theater that is 36 years old made me feel even more uneasy.

These phrases and this structure of characterization is what I REALLY wish to explore. I wish to center my discussion on what I see as a kind of posturing, and let me reiterate: it is not endemic to this situation nor to this person. I have seen it before in other situations. I’m sure we all have. But my issue is as follows: anytime someone is built up with their own personal importance emphasized before that of their institution’s or what their institution does, there is a major problem. Especially if that person is not considered to be a major figure within said institution. Not only can this cause unrest and poor work relations in a given work environment, it’s not a healthy way to present any company or team atmosphere. I can only speak from where I sit and this is why sharing credit and community recognition has always been one of the greatest assets to the moving image archiving community. It tends to prevent situations like this. But….not 100% of the time. As Billy Wilder wrote, “Nobody’s perfect.”

From my experience, it is antithetical to our primary goal as a film preservation community to peacock, especially if you have a significant attachment to a company- be it educational institution, regional archive, studio or movie theater. What I have seen within my own community (and yes, Virginia, there are politics in the most altruistic of film preservation worlds) is that those folks who see themselves as an archivist/preservationist first and then an individual are generally far more successful and usually become the central touchstones of this magical world I am part of. That has said worlds to me as I train to become the woman I want to become. Thus I get awfully suspicious when I begin to see any kind of cult of personality being built around someone who has stated that they are tirelessly working for the betterment of the film community on their own.

Now let’s get into wording and some basic reality. Here is a cold, hard fact: the heart and soul of a movie theater will always be the films it shows. It will never solely be a person. What a theater shows creates its personality, its individual culture, its ambience. A programmer is a good portion of that, which is why people like Michael and Sherman Torgan’s development and creation OF the New Beverly is SO VITAL TO BE RECOGNIZED. In addition, Phil Blankenship’s Saturday Midnight series at the New Beverly was a major part of its personality. Brian Quinn and Eric Caiden’s Grindhouse Series. The guest programmers. Hell, even my series added a little bit (I like to think). My point is: content creates character

When I go to the Heavy Midnights series at the Cinefamily, I’m not going specifically to hang with the programmer (sorry, Phil!). I go to see the incredible and rare off-beat movies shown. When I go to the American Cinematheque, I don’t attend the films because I want to chat with the folks I know that work there. It’s a nice perk, but I go to see the movies. There are some incredible programmers in this town. The film events going on are really unbeatable. But am I switching my schedule around and looking at bus plans so I can get to the Echo Park Film Center to be hip? Not even close. I’m doing it because that place is an amazing and dynamic part of LA Film Culture. I get to see cool shit. Really, isn’t it all about seeing cool shit?

Archives work in the same manner. What we collect, how we process and care for the collections, our rules and regulations and our interactions with other professional organizations (including locations of exhibition) help to define us. While we may all have our own individual identities as archivists, projectionists, exhibition specialists, I firmly believe that we are also part of larger systems. Not only are we part of the businesses or organizations that employ us, but we are also tied in through an umbilical-cord-like-network, an over-arching community called FILM. We answer to it as our primary boss. If Mama Film wasn’t there…neither would we be.

What we are not is regimes. If you’re curious, my stance on the New Beverly format issue has not changed. I’m not going to alter my researched and valid personal position that a theater should be equipped with everything from digital to 16mm. And I’m not going to change my opinion about the way in which the New Beverly transition was conducted. I don’t think it was professionally done nor was it respectful. But I highly object to the repeated use of the word REGIME, in reference to either the Torgan family or Tarantino.

Neither of them are tyrannical rulers or fascists. Let’s get real, people. This is a damn movie theater, not the Third Reich. Regime?? Just stop.

 

I would like very much for us to think about why we go to the movies at all. During the Depression, people went to get a sliver of happiness from the horrors of the world. As Hollywood legend Norman Lloyd notes, “They were a wonderful escape. People would go into the theater, in this darkened cavern, and it took them out of themselves. They could fantasize about what happened on the screen, about those beautiful stars that existed then.” I like to think that we still do that. I know that I do. It’s why I went into preservation work. So that the little babies that my friends are having right now can experience what I experience. Big screen magic of beautiful (or beautifully told) stories.

Yes, I returned to the NEW New Beverly last night. I went to go see the two George C. Scott pictures. And I had a great time.

I spent some time soul-searching this week. Clearly. I deeply explored ideas of self-promotion and individuality, love for the medium and exhibition landscape, ideas of preservation. I had major thoughts about the evolution of Los Angeles film spaces, too, since many of the theaters I attended as a little girl are now gone. Even the Egyptian Theater is itself a new iteration- it’s the American Cinematheque. At some point I got all Emma Goldman up in my head, angry at anyone who would try to personally claim ownership for a media environment when it should belong to us all…but that passed. I just put on some punk rock and remembered that DIY archiving is totally a thing and that calmed me down. I just started working on a database. It’s the Ariel Zen.

I had thought that boycotting the New Beverly was going to be my answer but it’s a really stupid answer. Here is where I stand. As someone who puts film above almost everything else in life (including many human relationships), I feel much more comfortable going back there now that I know that I will be able to be in a climate that is more film-centered than personality-centered. My biggest concern? What’re you playing, man? What’s on the marquee? Last night was pretty nice. I was able to breathe easy, enjoy the films, laugh too loud at the damn cartoon that no one else was laughing at (it’s a cartoon, guys!!), got to see some people who I genuinely adore, and watch some rarely screened pictures.

Also, as I was saying to someone in the lobby, one of my favorite things about being in the archiving/preservation field is that I get to learn about new media elements or historical facts on a regular basis. This also happens in exhibition. And that’s just a joy and a pleasure. I saw some trailers last night for films that I have NEVER heard of before. I must see MOVIE/MOVIE. That film looks awesome!!! 

The print for the first film, RAGE, was pretty gnarly, but as someone who’s familiar with 35mm, I know that watching them in this condition is important for me to do so I may learn more about analog and see what I can suss out myself. Is that discoloration due to film stock? Is that a base scratch? Is that due to bad printing? To be honest, this is great practice for me! RAGE does exist on Warner Archives and I’ll bet that their DVD is in better condition but….I’ll take big screen over DVD any day.  The audience reaction alone was worth the price of admission!!!!!!!!! And I’ve seen FAR worse prints. Definitely worth a watch so hey- there’s my plug for Warner Archives! Baby Martin Sheen! OMGZ!! The second print, THE SAVAGE IS LOOSE was simply gorgeous (and a much better film, I might add). I cannot stop thinking about it. Such an incredible, bizarre and eerie film. Absolutely loved it.

I can only speak for myself. But from what I have gleaned, I get the sense that the one thing that Michael Torgan and Quentin Tarantino share is the fact that they want films to keep playing at the New Beverly. They may have differing ideas on methodology, but I think that this mutual drive for exhibition and the strong desire for films to be seen is something that needs to be recognized in both men. This is something to be respected. I see this in my own field in the people who fight tooth and nail to keep their archives afloat. It’s not easy. And things are changing all the time. I don’t want to be prescriptive here. I’ve just come to some resolutions over the last week that may make me less than popular with friends but make me feel ethically better with my field of choice and with my self.

I’m not going to be an apologist for anyone or their actions. In fact, I’m staying wholly clear of that. But I also want to examine the idea that maybe we should be deciding for ourselves the ways in which we consume moving image media. And I do believe that it is important to support local theaters, and 35mm and 16mm exhibition. What I am absolutely sure of is that I would not go to a movie theater simply because it is owned by someone famous. I would not go there simply because it is run by a friend or one of the most amazing folks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, although I admittedly did do that on more than one occasion so….yeah.  Point being, I WOULD go there because it has movies I want to see. I know my reason for attending the theaters I attend.

But at the end of the day, I guess it really is a personal question to be answered: why do you watch?

Man Out of Time: Film Preservation and the Noir Western

As I have been participating in this amazing Noir Blogathon, I have had a lot of time to consider what I wanted to write about each day. And, as I have been writing, I have had many things on in the background. Whether it was TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar or just some music, it has somehow played into the way I have put together my work. But last night, I was having a rough time deciding what I wanted my last piece to be. I looked at my wall of movies and couldn’t figure it out. Did I want to go Sam Fuller, and dig through House of Bamboo? I love me some Sam, and while I have written on him before, never have I attempted that film. I pulled it out and looked at it, and kept it out as an option. Then I pulled out Lonely are the Brave, which I had been thinking about for about a day or so. It was a rough choice. Did I want to battle another film that wasn’t just an out-and-out noir? A film that masked its “noirness” underneath another genre? Then I looked down at my television, and saw what was playing.

I had just finished watching Blow Up (1966), and considered writing about that, but was honestly having a hard time thinking critically about the piece, due to the fact that I hadn’t seen it in so long and…well, Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings are so impossibly good looking in that film that I was reduced to a drooling idiot, in no uncertain terms. So that film was out. However, as I stood by my television, DVDs in hand, trying to make my choice on the Next Noir to write about, the first bars of 2001: A Space Odyssey came on. And that’s when I remembered why I had challenged myself to write as many pieces in this short a span of time.

In December it had been announced that 17 extra minutes of the film had been discovered in a salt mine. To me, that was phenomenal. I know that it is blasphemy for any cinephile to say this, but I’m not a huge fan of 2001. In fact, I’ll come right out and say that I think the movie is extremely boring. Is it gorgeous? Totally. Well made? Absolutely. Is it a work of genius? Yeah, it probably is. Do I like it? Nope. I just like the parts with H.A.L. Those parts are creepy and I like creepy stuff. So there’s my admission and I am totally comfortable with it. That said, this discovery was brilliant to me. Not because it was 2001 necessarily, but because it was part of our history; and even moreso, our shared cultural history. Cinema bridges so many gaps in the world and manages to create a common visual language amongst millions of people and peoples who have never known each other and will never meet each other. When I fell in love with cinema in college it wasn’t because I wanted to make a movie, it was because I realized that no matter how much I like Chagall, not everyone on the planet would know who that was if you said his name. But if you mentioned/described Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse or a more modern star (who would it be now? Brad Pitt? Mark Wahlberg?), people would absolutely know who you were talking about. Of course it is, as always, about monetary economy and access, but cinema as a medium is far more wide-reaching than any other art form. Which is why the restoration of Metropolis or the saving of this 17 minutes of 2001 is crucial for us as scholars, film lovers, noir fans, and human beings. It is film preservation, my friends. Without our past, we do not have any future.

And with that, I made my decision on what I needed to write about. I needed to write about Lonely are the Brave. It is a story based on a man who is, in a sense, a bit of an anachronism. He’s a cowboy in a world that is, quite literally, over run with cars, trucks, and other machinery. Yet his own world is still alive and vibrant; he refuses to accept the idea that the things that surround him are “higher” technology. He is, indeed, a “man out of time,” in more than one way. With Lonely are the Brave, I see a man who whole-heartedly embraces what the world sees as the “past,” and he just accepts it as what he is. He doesn’t hold it against anyone else, necessarily, nor does he live in some kind of fantasy world where he thinks that it really is still the Days of the Wild West. His Past Persona is his identity and, to me, his ethos. Jack W. Burns feels that if there is no man out there living free like he does, then the world will somehow have died.

The film, written by Dalton Trumbo, is one of extreme import. Jack W. Burns (played with grace and style by Kirk Douglas) returns to an urban landscape from his regular transient routine doing whatever cowboy-related tasks he can find (sheep herding, etc) to help a friend in need. That friend, Paul Bondi, however, has changed, and is no longer the same person he once was and the help that Jack is willing to offer will do little to no good. In fact, in trying to help out his friend, Jack gets himself into the jam that leads to his ultimate altercation with the law and spiral downward. The great irony is that it is, quite literally, this modern, urban landscape and all of its accessories that end up leading to Burns’ downfall. Jack reinserted himself into the situation so that he could help his pal from the ol’ days; a friend he thought was still living (at least partially) in the same world that he was, only to find out that Bondi had moved on, become more responsible. But for Jack, his Cowboy Culture is not a phase, it is a way of life.

Burns gets put into jail specifically to see Bondi. After meeting and talking with Bondi, he realizes that Bondi is on a different life path, and so Jack stages a jailbreak- Bondi does not go. When Burns returns to the house where Bondi’s wife and child are, he has a conversation with Jerry (Gena Rowlands), Bondi’s wife. It is clear the two have had some kind of possible previous romantic involvement, at some point in their relationship, although it is not entirely apparent whether or not it was ever consummated. Before Jack leaves to try to start outrunning the police (on his horse, Whiskey), he says something quite important to Jerry:

JACK: I didn’t want a house, didn’t want all those pots and pans, didn’t want anything but you. It’s God’s own blessing I didn’t get you.

JERRY: Why?

JACK: Cuz I’m a loner down deep to my very guts. And you know what a loner is? He’s a born cripple. He’s crippled because the only person he can live with is himself. It’s his life, the way he wants to live, it’s all for him. A guy like that, he’d kill a woman like you, cuz he couldn’t love you. Not the way you are loved.

JERRY: You’ll change too someday, Jack.

JACK: Mmm, maybe. Can’t now, too late. Paul did though…

The kind of emotionally-tinged speech to Jerry that is at once pushing her away while telling her that he cares deeply is very similar to another very famous speech involving Bogey and Bacall and a hill of beans. While Lonely is masquerading as somewhat of a western, the noir sensibility is just as strong as it is in Casablanca. Jack and Rick share a great deal of things in common. They are both outlaws in their own areas, live by their own rules, and are not willing to budge, even a little. While I have heard people argue on whether or not Casablanca is a noir, I’m not going to get into that discussion at all. If we are to go by the Borde and Chaumeton definitions, the Durgnat discussions, and even Paul Schrader’s family tree, I believe that both Casablanca and Lonely Are the Brave would qualify.

But a western noir is a difficult thing to be. And this film is even more difficult to qualify as it is, in essence, about the end of the western. Jack Burns is a loner, and all he has is his horse and his tight grip on the past. The environment and the officers/representatives of the environment he has put himself in are attacking him, and as the movie progresses, he gets more and more trapped within his situation and becomes even more of a “man out of time.”

Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliantly constructed score works in tandem with the alternate storyline of the trucker (Carol O’Connor) and the police chase to build the film up to a brilliant crescendo. The finale sequence, in the rain, essentially plays out the way a standard noir might do. If the standard noir was about a man and his horse, just trying to live their own way, damn the consequences. The modern world comes into conflict with Jack’s world, and he is left, confused, broken, and, ultimately, alone. His earlier words to Jerry were true. He is the only person he can live with, and that world is now coming to an end.

Our final moments of the film show us a man who has been conquered by forces beyond his control. Not dissimilar to other films noir, Jack W. Burns has been broken by the world that he did not wish to play a part in. The downbeat ending only further identifies this film as part of the cycle of the films that go under the categorization of noir western.

Lonely Are the Brave tells the tale of a man who is an anachronism, and a strong individualist. When I thought about this story, I thought about how I wanted to end this blogathon with a piece of writing that centered around this film. While the film has a downer ending (few noirs don’t, western or not), Jack W. Burns is still a good guy and a hero and somewhat part of our struggle. And our story doesn’t have to have a downer ending.

It is hard to convince people that film matters, these days. Most people would rather sit at home and throw on a DVD than go to the theater. The problem with that is that the less you go to the theaters, the less theaters there will be to go to. It’s also hard to convince people that film conservation and restoration is as important to our history as other archival professions and pursuits. Apparently, since it’s “entertaining” it cannot reflect our social values of the time? Sorry, bub, wrong answer. Every film is a little time capsule, from F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

It is hard to be a film-lover in this day and age where everything is so digital and technologically-bent. I’ve seen gorgeous 4K restorations of films that blew my mind, but to be honest? I almost cried when I was at the 12th Annual Film Noir Festival at the Egyptian last year and they whipped out that awesome print of Cry Danger, fully restored, looked brand-spanking new. I don’t want an Ipad or to watch a movie in a car stuck in the back of some headrest. I don’t want to be able to download the latest toy. I want the films that are languishing away in our vaults to get babied by the professionals who care about them so that I can see them, dammit. Yes, I am totally selfish. But somewhere inside of me there is a hope that if we conduct more of these blogathons, raise enough money, show our support for the film preservation and restoration community at large, maybe there will be people in the studios who will listen and they will financially back our attempts at saving our past.

I’m not going to completely knock the digital world. I don’t know enough about it yet and therefore I can’t say much. But I can say the following:

-We are still projecting nitrate prints. Those are damn old. We are also projecting everything from after that. Cared for properly, prints can last.

-Whatever happens, we need to make sure that our history gets saved. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our friends and families to make sure that this happens by continuing to write about/watch/support/go to/be an activist for any kind of film festival or theater that shows restorations or is a revival house. In my neighborhood, I have things like the New Beverly and the Cinefamily and I’m very much looking forward to the UCLA Festival of Preservation this next month.

I would like to thank everyone who has blogged for the Noir Blogathon. You guys are all fantastic. I have read a bunch of your stuff, and it has been delightful. I have to say that this was an amazing week for me, getting to bask in the presence of a bunch of talented folks who clearly believe in film preservation as much as I do. So hopefully we did some good, and keep at it!

See you at the movies!

Are you down with the sickness?: In a Lonely Place and Modern Traumas

Interesting times right now, I have to say.  And the synergy of my film viewing and the world at large is not going unnoticed by this rabid cinephile.

Tonight I went to the Silent Movie Theater to see In a Lonely Place, a film that I fell in love with back in college at UCSC, when my best friend Ray showed it to me. Since then, I have read the book it was based on, wrote a paper about it, and, better still, found an absolutely fucking BRILLIANT song that was based on it (using one of the best lines from the damn film).

This is undoubtedly a troubling film. There is no question in my mind that it is one of Bogart’s best performances, as you see his range of acting through an array of facial expressions that he rarely gets the opportunity to use in most of his more standard roles, however…it makes the film (and his character) that much more, well, disturbing.

See, there’s a murder, right? And it’s a noir, so there seems to be a wrong man thing, right? (And no, I’m NOT going to give anything away, I hate spoilers and ruining films for people with the heat of a thousand burning fires) And of course there’s a love story somewhere inside. All set within the confines of Hollywood and the film industry. Now, the WONDERFUL thing about many of the films in the ’40’s and ’50’s that were made about Hollywood is the way that they treated the landscape. Far from it being the environment where dreams come true and stars are born, it is diseased. Hollywood is sick and rotting, it is a corpse being slowly picked apart by the vultures who live there; beasts who feed upon it (some call those agents, but hey…) trying to gain some substantiation but end up with nothing but more contamination. My point is, that this film is about the sickness.

I am not a stranger to Hollywood, nor am I a stranger to infirmity, especially the kind discussed within the narrative of this film. I wish I could say that it was foreign to me, however, whether it was a personal experience or a friend’s, it is all too familiar. See, no matter how you cut it, Bogart’s character, Dixon Steele, is guilty. I know, I know, I just told you I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but hear me out- I’m not. The main issue in this film has to do with anger issues, and, more crucially, domestic violence. As the cops look at his case, they go through Dix’s files, they come across case after case of fights and brawls and assorted other socially “acceptable” male misbehavior. Then they come to one of his former girlfriends. She retracted the call she made about him, and said that she had broken her nose by “running into a door.”

This is the point where we start to worry and wonder. This is the part where we become disturbed. THIS is the part where the acceptable “guy-ism” of punching the other dude’s lights out doesn’t count. Because you hit a girl. Now I am a full-on feminist, but I don’t think that there aren’t extenuating circumstances to many situations and the term “hitting a girl” does kinda rub me the wrong way at times because it infers that, well, I couldn’t punch the fuck outta someone if I wanted to. However, I also realize that it is a biological FACT that most men are physically stronger than most women in many circumstances (minus weightlifters, bodybuilders, military, and probably a good percentage of the crazy nutjobs that survive Burning Man on a yearly basis, etc), and therefore? YOU DON’T HIT A GIRL.

Which brings me back to my main discussion. Nicholas Ray’s film and Chris Brown and Rihanna. Wh-wh-wh-what??

Yes, I wrote exactly that. Now the interesting thing is, as I was driving to the theater tonight, I was oblivious to the connection between the two (Gee, I dunno, film noir from 1950, R&B teeny-bopper couple from 2009…connection just *didn’t* immediately spring to mind…call me crazy), but as I watched the film unfurl, I was horrified to realize that there was Too Much There. Watching Dixon Steele unravel, watching Gloria Grahame respond, watching their relationship build to the crescendo that it does, the magnificence that is that film…I found more items inside of the diegesis alarming that I had before. Yet, I also found them more heartbreaking and more heartwrenching as well.  Because nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever easy, and love, above all, is the most difficult of all things. However, this film shows that love, with certain people, can be a combat zone, and does nothing to hide that fact. As a sidenote, it would seem to me that this at least partially stemmed from the fact that Nicholas Ray and his star, Gloria Grahame, were in the middle of ending their marriage during the making of the film (he slept on the set, actually, claiming the need to “work late”). However, like war, in this film love is hell.

However, it is not that simple. Especially not in real life. And especially not when the media gets involved (also one of the pivotal messages of the film- a critique of fame and the role that the media plays in making/breaking personal lives).  This very aspect of media involvement hit me like a jackhammer. Actually, it hit me more like the unending barrage of updates I’ve been seeing everyday at the gym about Chris Brown and Rihanna. And I was fascinated by the parallel issues that I was seeing within fiction and non-fiction, with the more than 50 years in between.

I had been listening to a piece on NPR about teenagers in LA and their responses to the Chris Brown/Rihanna thing right before I pulled up to the theater. See, it’s pretty phenomenal what fandom and fan culture will do to people and their synthesis of actual real life events. The way I see it, there are three main activities that fans regularly engage in that can be seriously and horrifically detrimental in situations like this.

1) Fans will intentionally ignore the negative/unacceptable in order to keep their image of their Perfect Idol “perfect”

2) Fans will actively search for and find “back up” evidence (no matter how outlandish it may seem) that defies the event in question in order to reposition and restore the Perfect Idol back to his/her “rightful” throne

3) Fans will vigorously disseminate their version of events as the absolute truth, as a result of their expert knowledge in that area

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am a HUGE fan of Fandoms and Fan Culture. I study it, love it, AM it, to a certain extent. Each of the above things in and of itself is not inherently evil. However, when it comes to a situation like Rihanna and Chris Brown…it becomes very dangerous. These three things are, obviously, methods that fans use to intentionally distort the truth. This is not bad when it comes to the discussion of William Shatner’s toupees, but it is damaging beyond words when it comes to something like domestic violence.

Especially when there are, oh, no celebrities with the balls enough to stand up and say “Hey guys- this shit don’t fly. This was not good.” That certainly doesn’t help. So when KCRW has these teenagers discussing their feelings about whether Rihanna hit him first, and then whether she deserved to get hit back because she started it, and others disowning Brown altogether, you end up realizing that there is an entire generation of kids out there right now, struggling to cobble together some kind of reasoning and some kind of meaning from all of this with no guidance. Oh boo hoo, so Brown isn’t getting to do that awards show. Is that going to help these girls who love(d) him? Not really.  One of the girls said something to the effect of “Oh, he’s never going to be able to come back from this one. He’s being called Ike Turner, you don’t come back from that.”  Tragically, and especially after rewatching the film tonight, I have to play the cynic on this one. He’s already coming back. His PR people are working overtime to make damn sure that happens. Thus I say, welcome to the sickness. Welcome to the disease. Welcome to the virus-ridden place that used to be located in Hollywood, but has now been expanded to a meta-location called, simply, Celebrity.

inalonelyplace3791 I was going to post a picture of Rihanna and her face, but do you really need to see that? I mean, that is a physically embodied example of illness and malady, physically imposed and created, but sickness nonethless. But I thought better of it. We’ve all seen it by now, and if you haven’t, google it. NO ONE should EVER get beaten like that. I’m glad that picture got leaked though, even if her 21-year-old ass isn’t. It’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. I hope. But I’m not going to repost the damn thing.

Do we need to see more reiteration on WHY you shouldn’t beat another human being to a bloody pulp? I’m thinking….no.  So instead, I’ll end with a brief musing on the foreign poster I found for In a Lonely Place. I thought it was particularly fascinating because, well, the title change. I have a penchant for foreign film posters. BIG time. My favorites currently are the Polish ones. But this one is pretty interesting. The film’s “tagline” literally says “Of hatred? or of death?”  And the title? Well, this film is now called “Death in a kiss.”

Quite a different feel from In a Lonely Place, eh? The association of kisses with violence and death with hate and intimacies, all against the backdrop of what seems to be Bogart caressing Grahame’s face in his hands…It’s quite intense. Not unlike the film. Translations and updates can be funny things, not unlike language itself. It can change a film from having a semi-moody, melancholic title to one that connotes vicious violence and explosive passions. That very same language is also used to change one man’s actions of anger and violence into a simple “mistake,” or something that was “taken out of context,” with very similar effects: the entire scene changes.

At the end of the day, media is as sensitive as we are. However, as it seems to be continually proven, not all the people who are producing it these days, are. They are those vultures as mentioned earlier, circling, waiting. At this point it is just up to us really. We have to decide whether we’re going to be down with the sickness, or abscond to greener pastures and leave it for others to deal with, as the celebrities seemed to have done with the Rihanna/Brown case. Alternatively,  we can always try and revitalize this bitch, give it some blood, a new title and tagline perhaps. I don’t know about you, but those foreign posters? They always speak volumes to me.