When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand

Where has this film been all my life? Like a lobotomized Vincente Minnelli shooting CHILDREN OF PARADISE on a Roger Corman budget, this movie’s first half-hour wraps delirious yet barely-syntactical filmmaking around reams of metered, self-consciously crafted text. Like CHILDREN OF PARADISE, Carl Dreyer’s GERTRUD, or THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, this is a film […]

Ever since that train arriving at the station was etched onto emulsion by the Lumière Brothers’ new invention, film has been a time capsule. Film documents the everyday.  Even film fantasy puts on record the tastes and technology of an era.  But more importantly, the method its creators used to conceive and present its subjects […]

In the most recent Sight and Sound international critics’ poll to name the ten best films ever made, critic Jack Stevenson put Warner Brothers’ 1965 psychothriller BRAINSTORM on his top ten list. That choice has an air of critical braggadocio and contrariness in its statement, but this is a film that does have a certain […]

The center was not holding.  It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled.  It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers.  Adolescents drifted from […]

“BOOBIES!! BOOBIES!! BOOBIES!!” shouted the inebriated Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) to no one in particular as she stumbled down a scuzzy street of strip bars and adult theaters in 1967’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.  Self-consciously appraising her own dimensions against the aggressive images of the adult-entertainment placards, she summed up the state of show business […]

Experimental / avant-garde filmmaking became a fertile, serious art movement in the United States with the creation of MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON by the husband and wife team of Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren in 1943.  Experimental shorts had been made before MESHES, however this black-and-white film of dark Freudian imagery, filmed in bright Los […]

Americans are believers. The emotional comforts of fiction and the psychic fuel of wishing are, ironically, both our common cultural trait and the wedge that keeps the nation out of unity.  The United States’ highly-touted Freedom of Choice is most frequently exercised by its citizens in Choosing To Believe:  to believe pundits, conspiracy theories, articles […]

Documentary Film experienced a sea-change during the 10-year period from 1980 to 1990.  As video cameras entered the mass-retail market, many who felt they had something to say quickly embraced video as the medium for getting their message to a large audience.  The result was an exponential number of offerings, voices never allowed cultural space […]

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what the story was behind the Rochester-based creative team of Watson and Webber, who made experimental, avant-garde films in the 1920s and 30s.  James Sibley Watson was an M.D. with connections to early 20th Century modern poets such as E. E. Cummings and Marianne Moore.  The less-documented Melville Webber, […]

Los Angeles in the days of New Wave totally kicked ass:   The Police (including an impossibly young Sting) gigging at the upstairs bar of Madame Wong’s in Chinatown; Pee-Wee Herman developing his act at clubs on Sunset Boulevard; Andy Warhol snapping Polaroids of hipsters waiting on the street to get into Club Lingerie; future […]

The ultimate spoiled rich kid, Kim Jong-il, is also a wannabe movie maker. In addition to being the national movie critic, he has written a Marxist book on the art of cinema.  Yet his personal tastes in cinema have been anything but Marxist:  the sketchy information gleaned from the other side of the Bamboo Curtain […]

[This post was written in conjunction with the For the Love of Film:  The Film Preservation Blogathon this week.  Please DONATE to the National Film Preservation Foundation.] The need for film preservation eventually reduces to a discussion of film stock.  It’s the effects of age and the unstable chemicals in the physical elements of film […]

On December 30th, 2009, the Library of Congress announced the next twenty-five films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry, merited on their “enduring importance to American culture.”  On the list was the 1975 animated short QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO by Sally Cruikshank. As the Library of Congress announced: “Quasi at the Quackadero” has […]

When Francis Coppola’s RUMBLE FISH was released in the early 1980s, I read a report that throughout the production the director would repeat, “This is my student film.” I’m a former film student and ex-professor to film students, so I understand how that phrase crystallizes a unique aesthetic and precious experience in film viewing:  the […]

The second most surprising animation I’ve seen during this stay in China was a blast from my childhood:  the “Silly Rabbit” hawking TRIX cereal is now a primetime bunny on China’s Saturday night commercial slots. But the strangest cartoon in Sino-world has been an ‘educational’ video on the H1N1 virus, shown as part of the […]

I’M NOT A FILM ARCHIVIST but the three-headed monster known as my career (making media, writing and assessing media, managing media) has always kept me one or two degrees away from the field.  So I’m happy to report that I’ll be blogging from the conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, held this year […]

You know how it goes:  you look for something on the Web and before you know it you’ve hypertexted yourself into a totally different realm of information. That’s how it was for me one night when I found myself on the IMDB User Comments page for Peter Watkins’ PUNISHMENT PARK.  I was amazed at the […]

Director Ang Lee’s 1997 film THE ICE STORM dramatized the risks and perils of Modernity.   Today when “new” means “contemporary” and Modern is out-dated — losing its power to the next wave, PostModernism — it’s hard to conceive or convey what Modernism was all about.   THE ICE STORM laid bare the personal perils […]

By coincidence BOILING SAND went live on the 10th of October, the birthday of 1950s cult film director Ed Wood.   To commemorate both their introductions to the world, I’m re-posting a personal memoir of my early days in Hollywood and of knowing Wood’s makeup man, Harry Thomas. Have you ever heard Charlie Parker’s 1947 […]

“No matter when one lives in Hollywood, one brings one’s own mental furniture along.”      — Otto Friedrich,  journalist / cultural historian The final (and rarest) episode of director Jacques Demy’s Lola film trilogy has made its home video debut this month.   Unlike the first two, MODEL SHOP was in English and shot in Southern […]

I saw BRÜNO last month. The film’s duality of performance and cultural observation, documentary and manipulation, agent provocateur and farcical comedy led me to think about its relationship to certain aspects of the Warhol / Morrissey output in the late 1960s such as BIKE BOY. The camera of 1967’s BIKE BOY recorded the codes of […]

The Malaysian films of actor / singer / songwriter / orchestrator / screenwriter / director P. Ramlee are gems:  enchanting, disarming, humorous, tuneful treasures waiting to be discovered by Western cinephiles.  On first look Ramlee’s Cinema may look like Bollywood-on-a-Budget, but as the viewing unfolds what emerges is a picaresque slapstick world with a common […]

Milos and the gang at FACETS have scored big-time by unearthing this film, cleaning it up, and releasing it on DVD. ANOTHER SKY is the only film directed by screenwriter / novelist / Hollywood-biographer Gavin Lambert, made in Morocco on a budget of £25,000.  The movie was made during Lambert’s days as editor of the […]

For a couple of decades, producers in Turkey cranked out unlicensed ripoffs of Hollywood movies:  RAMBO, STAR TREK, E.T., THE EXORCIST, STAR WARS, etc. Aysecik ve sihirli cüceler rüyalar Ülkesinde (literally, Aysecik in the Land of the Magic Dwarfs) was the Turkish take on THE WIZARD OF OZ.  It’s pretty primitive filmmaking:  there’s even a […]

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