Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Costumes for Film Fans: BMFI Favorites

By Devin Wachs, Communications Manager, BMFI

Actors get to transform their look regularly as part of their jobs, but Halloween is one of the few times when the rest of us are encouraged to dress up in crazy costumes. Why should the actors get all of the fun? At BMFI we love it when our guests wear costumes, as fans of our sing-along screenings know. In celebration of the spooky holiday, if you wear a costume to see a movie at BMFI this Halloween, you’ll get a free small popcorn!

If you needed some inspiration getting your last-minute costumes together, here are some of our staff’s favorite movie-themed costumes:
Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., Director of Education
It’s always fun to see people who’ve taken the time, and have the creativity, to create a costume based on popular movie characters. Who among us men of a certain age never dressed up as Han Solo for Halloween, for example? When the “casting” is right, and the costume is spot on, it can make for a wonderful treat this time of year. However, there is one thing better: When a person uses that time and creativity to make a great costume based on a supporting, or lesser-known, character from a film (blockbuster or no). For example, it never would have occurred to me, in a million years, to base my Halloween costume on Les Grossman, the sleazy producer in Tropic Thunder, played by Tom Cruise in a stunningly hilarious barely-more-than-a-cameo, but I have all the appreciation in the world for this guy who did.

Maxwell Gessner's Les Grossman costume was so perfect, it took home a prize in the 2010 Tom Cruise Halloween Costume Contest run by TomCruise.com, Cruise's official blog.

Valerie Temple, Programming Manager
I'm not into preplanning for Halloween—I usually just whip up a costume by throwing together items that I already own. Of course, I'm the kind of person who happens to have a pair of old-school roller skates and a selection of ‘70s loungewear in her closet. Pop on a blond wig and you've got the perfect Rollergirl (Heather Graham) from Boogie Nights!

Heather Graham played Rollergirl in Boogie Nights. If you have gold lame pants and skates, this costume is an easy one to replicate.

Patricia Wesley, Director of Development and Communications
Main Line thrift shops are my favorite place to shop for Halloween costume materials. A heavily beaded dress from the ’80s plus a fake fur, all the pearls you can find, and an hour with some scissors, and you are ready to go as Daisy from The Great Gatsby. Elbow-length gloves are usually available for a few dollars (you might even find kid gloves). Add a cigarette holder and a beaded cigarette case! Best of all, as Daisy, you have a license to have a great time!

Carey Mulligan dripped in diamonds and pearls as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's 2013 version of The Great Gatsby.

Kerri Grogan, Staff Assistant
What I love to see in any costume, not just one for Halloween, is creativity. This costume, make-up job, and prop design was created by Rayce Bird on the reality show Face Off, for a Tim Burton-themed challenge. I think it’s breathtaking. The concept is packed with emotion: it’s all about a musician’s passion for music and for her instrument. It’s also a beautiful interpretation of Tim Burton’s signature visual style and an homage to the emotion he puts into his characters.

Artist Rayce Bird created this beautiful costume, inspired by Tim Burton's work, for the television show Face Off.
For my part, an easy and fun costume for a couple would be the young runaways from Moonrise Kingdom. For Suzy (Kara Hayward), you would need a pink above-the-knee dress, white knee socks, and a pair of binoculars. Pull your hair half-back in a clip and amp up your eye shadow. For Sam (Jared Gilman), you'd need a scout’s uniform (or a similar khaki shirt and shorts) with a yellow kerchief, glasses, and a coonskin cap. A canteen and a pop-gun would make great props. And voila!

Dressing as the young lovers in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom would make for a fun pair of costumes.
We hope to see you in costume on Thursday, and happy Halloween!

What are some of your favorite movie-related costume ideas? Tell us in the comments below.

Devin Wachs is the Communications Manager for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI's staff in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who'll be in touch!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Access for All at BMFI

Big changes and improvements are happening here at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Construction is underway, and now that we’ve reopened our first renovated theater, we're excited to unveil some of the accessibility enhancements that are changing the way our viewers experience movies. Some Assisted Listening Devices, or ALDs, are available in theaters throughout the country, but BMFI is on the cutting edge in our region with what will ultimately be three different types of hearing devices: closed captioning, headphones with enhanced audio, and the “loop.”

The USLinc Closed Caption Receiver is a simple, portable way to enjoy closed caption subtitles for any film. This device fits snugly in your seat cupholder, and the adjustable goose neck allows you to position the caption box exactly where you want it. It's battery operated, so there are no cords to tangle with. The text is crisp, clear, and easy to read without being harsh in low-light settings. Since it uses infrared sensors, it won't pick up interference from other theaters or radio transmitters.

Bryn Mawr Film Institute is currently the only art house theater in the region that offers this closed caption system!
Thanks to the innovative hearing system known as The Loop, real movie sound can now be transmitted right to your hearing device. The loop is a sound system that broadcasts directly into hearing aids and implants, meaning that it serves you by using your own device, which is already customized to your exact specifications. Most new hearing aids come with Telecoil technology that can pick up on signals sent from a loop system. How can you tell whether your hearing aid is loop-equipped? According to HearingLink.org, if your hearing aid has an obvious "T" setting on the program switch, you can probably use it with the loop system. However, if you really can't tell, the best way to find out is to ask your audiologist.

We are looking into aids for the visually impaired as well.

As always, BMFI is fully wheelchair accessible. There is wheelchair-accessible parking in the lot behind the theater, as well as wheelchair seating and restroom access. There is an elevator with access to the second floor.

We hope that these enhancements will help you to enjoy a day at the movies at BMFI!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Our Kids Matinees tribute to beloved children's author Roald Dahl features a screening of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) this Saturday, September 28 at 11:00 am. Kerri Grogan shares some sweet facts about the making of the candy-filled fantasy.

I've Got a Golden Ticket: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl and published in 1964. As with many of his novels, Dahl drew inspiration from his experiences as a schoolboy in the 1920s, a time when chocolate companies were competing fiercely with each other for young customers. 

But what inspired the film? Director Mel Stuart said that he was approached by his daughter, who was ten at the time and had just finished reading the novel. It delighted her so much that she told her father that he should make a film out of it!

Turning this sweet novel into a delightful film was fairly challenging, especially when many of the actors were children without a lot of acting experience. Stuart had a simple way of capturing some genuine expressions from the actors, though: by making sure they really were surprised. For instance, the kids' reactions to the chocolate room are very real—it was their first time viewing the set! Also, even though the Wonkitania was being pulled down the chocolate river on a track, the actor portraying the Oompa Loompa at the helm thought he was the one steering. Stuart decided not to tell him the truth, to keep it more believable.

Director Mel Stuart surprised the young cast of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Willy Wonka's Chocolate Room. Until they shot the scene, the young actors had never seen the set.
Gene Wilder, who played the iconic Willy Wonka, was particularly convincing. Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) said in the 30th Anniversary DVD commentary that she was completely fooled by his fake limp during filming. She assumed he had really injured himself and that production would be delayed! When he went from limping straight into a somersault, she was just as surprised as the audience. While they were floating down the chocolate river by boat, his acting was so convincing that it frightened some of the actors: they thought he really was going mad! He was even instructed not to tell Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, that he was going to yell at him during a scene late in the movie. The pair had formed a close friendship by then, so Ostrum's shock at being yelled at was completely real. Yikes!

There were some similar mishaps behind the scenes, too. In Wonka's office, Stuart decided to have all objects in the room cut in half to give the room a more whimsical, less ordinary look. While one of the prop men was working on the set, he accidentally started sawing into a real coffee pot that someone had left in the work area! He only realized his mistake when it was too late: coffee was already leaking out.

"You're turning violet, Violet!" The makeup that turned Violet Beauregarde purple in the film seemed to have a negative side effect on actress Denise Nickerson. When she returned to school after wrapping up the film, a classmate leaned over and told her she was changing color. The makeup had seeped into her pores and was turning her violet all over again!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Click here to view BMFI's full schedule of upcoming Kids Matinees.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Juliet Goodfriend: Toronto International Film Festival 2013

By Juliet Goodfriend, BMFI President

This year I had only four days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and each one was packed with four to six full-length movies and a handful of twenty-minute samplings in some rare free moments. I had trouble with Twitter, so abandoned it. Below are my faux tweets.

Themes this year a bit harder to discern, but one theme I noticed was passion, in its many forms: alive, dead, dying, gone bad. These films are indicated below with a (P) at the end of the film blurb. There were at least four films on “Words”, of which I saw three, indicated with a (W). “No crime goes unpunished” or Aquinas’ “the ends never justify the means” was the final theme of the last two films I viewed, indicated with an (E) for “ends”.

Going to TIFF is work. I am in search of movies to show at BMFI and I look at all films through that filter. “Yes” means we would show it, “No” means we would not show it, and “Maybe” means just that.

Labor Day (d. Jason Reitman) – USA
Would we like to show this? –Yes
Kate Winslet is again wonderful in this absorbing “hostage-romance” film. Tension maintained with rewarding results. (P)

Tim’s Vermeer (d. Teller) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Wealth enables this obsessive inventor to work out the technology behind Vermeer’s art. Very interesting doc, though a bit too self-indulgent.

Le Week-end (d. Roger Michell) – UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes
If only the wife in this 30-year marriage weren’t so sadistic and mean… but that’s part of the uniqueness of this aging couple rom-com. Scenes of Paris sweeten the taste and soften some of the truthfulness of their conflicts. Must now watch Le Weekend of Goddard to appreciate its references.

I Am Yours (d. Iram Haq) – NOR
Would we like to show this? – No
While this exposes the multicultural picture of Norway to some extent, it is narratively weak.

Prisoners (d. Denis Villeneuve) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A great director and wonderful cast, but a few loose ends in this remarkably tense and a bit too gruesome story mar its polish. (P)

This is Sanlitun (d. Róbert I. Douglas) – CHN/ISR/IRL
Would we like to show this? – No
Not a funny enough spoof on ex-pats in this stylish neighborhood of Beijing. The idea is there, but the execution did not have me laughing—and it was supposed to, I think. What does come through is the arrogance and naivete of westerners trying to make it in China. (W)

12 Years a Slave (d. Steve McQueen) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A remarkable true story that we all wish were fiction, expertly executed with a superb cast. Should we wonder why an Englishman was the one to bring it to our attention on the screen? It is far better than the trailer, and will be a “must see” for everyone. (E)

Bad Words (d. Jason Bateman) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Light and funny, at last, this spelling-B farce is a good night’s entertainment! (W)

Love is the Perfect Crime (d. Arnaud Larrieu) – FRA/SUI
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
I am a sucker for Mathieu Amalric, architecture, and the alps in winter, but the peculiarities of this thriller don’t quite live up to the setting and the cinematography. (E/P)

Gravity (d. Alfonso Cuarón) – USA/UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes, but not without 3-D
Finally, a film that rationalizes 3-D. Neither the two characters nor the appreciative audience (will) have much to talk about. Here a picture wins out over words (see below movie of similar title). Total immersion in CGI and exhausting.

Enough Said (d. Nicole Holofcener) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Charming and poignant, given the recent death of the male star, James Gandolfini. The naturalness of the characters enrich this sweet, but not saccharine, romance.

Words and Pictures (d. Fred Schepisi) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Why is the part of the eccentric American English teacher given to Brit Clive Owen, who cannot quite hide his accent? Any number of great male actors could have done it. At least Juliette Binoche is playing an artist whose unexplained French accent may make a bit more sense. Am I picky? Yes. This film deals with a wonderful subject, yet it is a bit too predictable and fey. Can’t the battle between words and pictures, fought by newly energized students in a prep school, be enough in itself without throwing in the 12 Step program to save the drunken English teacher? (W)

Walesa. Man of Hope (d. Andrzej Wajda) – POL
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Poland’s greatest filmmaker combines reenactment and archival footage to explore the motivation and methods of this simple man who did so much to change the world in the 1980s. Worth seeing to remember him and learn what happened (probably) behind the scenes.

When Jews Were Funny (d. Alan Zweig) – CAN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
I can’t believe it, but I got a bit tired of the question, “Are Jews funnier than others?” However, there are enough laughs to satisfy most Jewish audiences, even if the filmmaker can’t quite focus on what his real questions are. Did you hear the one about the thirsty guy…? (W)

Fading Gigolo (d. John Turturro) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Of course we all will go to a movie written, directed, and co-starring John Turturro and Woody Allen (who MUST have had a hand in the directing and writing, don’t you think?) Turturro is a believable novice prostitute. Woody as pimp is funny and slightly embarrassing. His living with a black family and supporting a Hasidic widow are both confusing plot features that may be his idea of a perfect NY story. Sure you’ll go see it.

Wonders (d. Avi Nesher) – ISR
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Alice in Jerusalem might be its subtitle, and that city is as much the star of this film as the humans who are caught up in a religio-criminal-fraud tangle that provokes giggles if not laughs.

American Dreams in China (d. Peter Ho-sun Chan) – HKG/CHN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
China’s economic success is powered by creative entrepreneurs who, in the case of this movie, are funny and inventive. Their goal is an English language school to prepare millions of young Chinese with better TOFL scores for entry into US colleges. Their friendship survives partnership travails. The choppiness of the narrative is challenging, but the heart of this film is solid. And Christopher Doyle’s camerawork is as remarkable, as usual.

Enemy (d. Denis Villeneuve) – CAN/ESP
Would we like to show this? – No
A great director entirely off his mark. This is a slow moving doppleganger story that looks like a psychological thriller but one leaves without an inkling as to what is going on in the psychology of the character. The entire audience was in the dark, I sensed.

Night Moves (d. Kelly Reichardt) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A very good tale that proves, as St. Thomas Aquinas argues, the ends do not justify the means. No matter that the environment (water, in this case) may be improved, be wary of your means. What’s wrong is wrong. OK, got the point. This movie brings it to life quietly and with some terrific acting and directing. (E)

Therese (d. Charlie Stratton) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Another case where the crime cannot be justified and the sinners get their just deserts. This is a close adaptation of Zola’s novella and beautiful and poignantly set. Jessica Lange is the strong centerpiece of this cast. It is a costume piece with finely carved characters, great atmosphere, and good pace. (E)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Double Trouble: THE PARENT TRAP

Cool off at BMFI as we bring our "My Summer Vacation" series to a close with the 1961 Disney classic The Parent Trap, which will be showing on Saturday, August 24 at 11:00 am.

By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

One actress, two roles. Hayley Mills was certainly up to the task of playing both twins in The Parent Trap, but in 1961, when computers weren't used for film editing, how did she manage to appear in two places at once? The creative minds of Walt Disney Studios used a few different techniques to make sure you'd be seeing double.

The easiest way to make this kind of film work is to use a body double, and for The Parent Trap, Susan Henning fit the bill—she and Mills were the same size, right down to their shoes! They got along quite well, too. Henning even helped the natively British Mills learn some American slang for the part. For many scenes, she stood in as one twin and then they switched places to film Mills as the other twin. You can see Henning herself plenty of times too, cleverly facing away from the camera. Unfortunately, despite those appearances, the way her contract was worded meant that she went uncredited for her part in the film. For a long time she wasn't even allowed to talk about it! However, at the wrap party, Walt Disney presented her with "The Duckster", a small Donald Duck statue that served as an award recognizing her as the "Best Unseen Performance of the Film."

Hayley Mills pulls double duty as Susan and Sharon in a duet of "Let's Get Together." Her version of the song became a pop hit! 
The clever technique they used for more complicated scenes is called "double exposure", or in filmmaking, "split screen". The cameraman locks the camera in place and the exact same scene gets recorded twice, once with the actor on one side of the screen, and then again on the other. Then the negatives from both recordings are spliced together by hand. No one knew if it was going to turn out well, so originally they only planned to use it for a few shots. But when Walt Disney saw the end result, he was so pleased with it that he rearranged the script to include more.

Can you try acting as two different characters at the same time? Mills reportedly got so confused while filming that the only way she could tell which character she was playing was by the wig she was wearing. And then they both cut their hair short!

Disney remade The Parent Trap in 1998, but even with all the advances in technology since the original came out, they decided to use these very same techniques to give the illusion of one actress playing two characters. Fun fact: Joanna Barnes, who played Vicky Robinson in the original, played Meredith Blake's mother in the remake. The character's name was Vicki.

Did you know? The film went through a handful of different titles, starting with His and Hers. The studio even had a contest for fans to pick the name of the film! Some of the winning titles were "Susan and I" and "We Belong Together." Then one day Walt walked in, announced that they were calling it The Parent Trap, and the rest is history.

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Director Robert Mulligan: Two Summer Gems

Bryn Mawr Film Institute is hosting a Summer Family Favorites screening of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by the late Robert Mulligan. In honor of Saturday's showing, film fan Alan Webber takes a look at two of Mulligan's best films, including To Kill a Mockingbird.

Director Robert Mulligan: Two Summer Gems
By Alan Webber, BMFI Patron and Film Fan

Robert Mulligan (1925-2008), like his contemporary Sidney Lumet, was part of a new wave of filmmakers who learned their craft in the “golden age” of television. He is a neglected American film director who is due for a major reassessment if his consistent quality is recognized. He fully mastered what can be called a “classical” style, which was essentially unassuming and minimalist in technique.

Robert Mulligan directed six films in the 1960s alone, including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Up the Down Staircase (1967). He was well known for directing dramatic films that were tender, nostalgic, and filmed with very fluid camera motions.
Some critics took him to task for lacking a strong directorial vision, yet he was often praised for a fluid camera, a strong narrative ability and a fidelity to his source material. More popular with audiences than with critics, he did not receive the same acclaim as other contemporaries like John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn. Yet, sensing a kindred spirit, French director François Truffaut was a vocal champion.

Mulligan’s most notable talent was, like Truffaut’s, a special sensitivity in the handling of young people. It was this enduring interest in youngsters on the cusp of self-discovery in an adult world that that occupied him from his first film to last and is most evident in two of his finest: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Summer of ’42 (1971). The films are set in summers ten years apart and make great vacation viewing.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Maycomb, Alabama, 1932

Mulligan’s greatest achievement “remains one of the most well-respected and emotionally engaging films in the American cinema,” as Charles Derry puts it. This alone should be enough to demand a reevaluation. It is a movie which continues to please audiences everywhere, whether they remember it from their past or whether they see it today for the first time. It is, like Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from which it was adapted, moving, passionate, and told with great humor and tenderness.

The film recounts the childhood experiences of six-year-old “Scout” Finch (played by Mary Badham) during the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. When her widowed father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a principled and respected attorney, defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Scout and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) witness the horrors of racism. They also learn valuable lessons about courage, compassion, tolerance, and prejudice.

Phillip Alford and Mary Badham as Jem and Scout, respectively, in To Kill a Mockingbird. Director Robert Mulligan was adept at working with young actors, a trait that carried through to the end of his career.

But bringing Ms. Lee’s celebrated novel of the Deep South in 1932 to the big screen was not an easy task. Studios didn’t want to produce it, for it was “only” a story about a middle-aged Southern lawyer with two kids. There was no romance or onscreen violence and it was certainly devoid of action. Who would want to see this?

But, as Marc Lee has noted, and Mulligan skillfully demonstrates, "…the story is in their characters, their failings and fragility, their heroism and nobility of spirit. It’s in the depiction of heart-breaking cruelty and heart-warming humanity. It’s in the innocence of a child’s world overshadowed by the evil that adults do.” It is also a daughter’s loving evocation of her dad as seen through her childhood eyes.

In the film, Mulligan demonstrates his greatest skill: a keen attention to the inner lives and self-discovery of young people. He coaxed nuanced performances from Mary Badham (Scout) and Phillip Alford (Jem) and guided Gregory Peck to an Oscar.

The film is not without critics though, most notably Roger Ebert, who has castigated To Kill a Mockingbird for its misplaced liberalism and heroics. For most, however, the film remains an enduring classic.

The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. The film was ranked number 34 on AFI's original list of the 100 greatest movies of all time, but moved up to number 25 on the 10th Anniversary list in June 2008. I believe Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is among the finest ever written and was the first soundtrack album I ever purchased. I still listen to it today. It placed 17th on the AFI’s list of greatest film scores.

Summer of ‘42
Nantucket Island, 1942

Summer of ’42 is a coming-of-age drama based on the memoirs of screenwriter Herman Raucher. In his early teens, he and a bunch of friends would summer on Nantucket Island. In 1942, Raucher engaged in a one-sided romance with a married woman, Dorothy, who had come to the island while her husband had gone off to war. With some modifications, this is the tale Raucher brings to the screen, along with all the coming-of-age hijinks that you would expect from teenage boys and girls centered on their sexual self-education and experimentation. Warner Bros. liked the script so much that they asked Raucher to novelize the story. The resulting book was published prior to the film’s release and it became a runaway bestseller.

The film's screenplay was so well-received that it was made into a novel before the movie was released. For that reason, many people mistakenly think the story was based on a novel.

Summer of ‘42 opens with an adult Raucher recalling in narration (Mulligan provides the voiceover) his time as 15-year-old “Hermie” (Gary Grimes) on the island with his best friends, the sex-obsessed Oscy (Jerry Houser) and timid Benji (Oliver Conant). The teens in this film are archetypical and I knew a half-dozen “Oscy”s in my own high school years with the same obsessions. Early on, the boys encounter Dorothy, played by a radiant 22-year-old Jennifer O’Neill.

She is the bride of a naval officer who is shortly sent off to war. Hermie casually develops a relationship with her, which soon becomes a one-sided romance on his part while he carries home her groceries, puts boxes in her attic, and shares awkward talks over her “exquisite” coffee.

Hermie goes to visit her one night and discovers that her husband has been killed in the war. In Dorothy’s sorrow and grief she takes 15-year-old Hermie to her bed. The sequence was filmed by famed cinematographer Robert Surtees with the simplicity and sensitivity that is a signature of all Mulligan’s films, especially those involving young people. Dorothy leaves the island the next day having written Hermie a note trying to explain their carnal experience and what he should remember. The mark she leaves on Hermie’s psyche is positive, profound, and lasting. Hermie never sees her again, but Herman Raucher carried her with him the rest of his life and gained joy and strength from that knowledge.

The film is sentimental and nostalgic in the best Hollywood tradition, although some critics held this overt sentimentality against Mulligan in later assessments. Summer of ‘42 was a major box-office hit and the film received five Academy Award nominations. Composer Michel Legrand won Best Original Score for one of the most memorable ever written.

Robert Mulligan made some other fine films with adolescents at their core, including Up the Down Staircase (1966). The film features an Oscar-nominated performance from Sandy Dennis and remains one of the finest depiction of “teaching” ever on screen. His final film and one of his best, The Man in the Moon (1991), features the debut of a 14-year-old Reese Witherspoon, and is a subtle, beautifully realized coming-of-age story of young love. Ebert considered it to be a “masterpiece of language and mood.” Again, Mulligan’s sensitivity to performance and period detail is evident. It is a deeply poetic and moving film.

The film was a postscript to a fine career, for by 1991 Mulligan’s time in the limelight had passed as Hollywood had, as Richard Corliss remarked, “jettisoned sentiment and subtlety for sharks and light sabers” and Mulligan had “outlived the mood he so delicately captured.”

Can Mulligan regain some of his luster? It’s possible, but as Charles Derry has noted, “His taste may be too fine and his feelings too sentimental to attract contemporary regard in a culture which thrives on the sexy, profane conflicts…” common in films today.

Other notable Mulligan films are: Fear Strikes Out (1958), Love with the Proper Stranger (1964), Baby, The Rain Must Fall (1965), Inside Daisy Clover (1966), The Other (1972), and Same Time, Next Year (1978).

Alan Webber is a BMFI patron and film fan.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Terror by the Sea: THE BIRDS

Our "Hitchcock at the Height" series comes to a close this Wednesday, July 31, with the avian thriller The Birds, which will be introduced by Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D.

Terror by the Sea: The Birds
By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

Spoiler warning!

This year marks the 50th anniversary for Hitchcock's harrowing film, The Birds (1963), but the novelette it was based on was already a decade old by then. Also titled The Birds, it was written by Daphne du Maurier and originally published in 1952. Both feature deadly attacks by birds in a seaside town, but there are some big differences from text to film. One of the main changes was Tippi Hedren's character, Melanie Daniels, who was originally war veteran and family man Nat Hockens.

The other distinctive change is setting. While the original story is set in du Maurier's native Cornwall, Hitchcock moved the story to Bodega Bay, a remote coastal town in California. Eerily enough, two years before the film's release, there was a real avian invasion in the seaside city of Santa Cruz, California. Hitchcock reportedly asked for a copy of the news article covering the event (which you can read here) to use as research material. Obviously the real event had no widespread aftermath, but the novelette does: by the end, all of Britain is suffering from deadly attacks. Hitchcock's film doesn't explicitly have the same apocalyptic results, but it does hint at it.

Hitchcock leaves a very open ending in the film by intentionally omitting a "the end" title card. He wanted audiences to have the impression that the terror faced in the film was ongoing.

Did you know? The attic attack scene took a full week to film, and used only live birds–no puppets. Hedren was injured during filming, and afterwards, she was so exhausted that she had to spend a week in the hospital! Hitchcock leading man Cary Grant happened to be visiting the set that week, and after watching the filming, he called Hedren "one brave lady" for her work on it. [Source]

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Talk about FRUITVALE STATION: A Moderated Discussion and Take-home Topics

By Devin Wachs, Communications Manager, BMFI

We are thrilled to present the powerful new film Fruitvale Station starting today at BMFI. The drama features a break-out performance from Michael B. Jordan (The Wire) as Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a transit cop in the wee hours of New Year's Day 2009. Written and directed by debut filmmaker Ryan Coogler, this heart-wrenching dramatization of Oscar's final day won awards at Sundance and Cannes and co-stars Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer as Oscar's mother.

Michael Coard, a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia with twenty years of state and federal trial experience, will moderate a discussion about Fruitvale Station and the issues it raises after the 7:00 pm show this Monday, July 29. You can download a flier with more information about this special screening and buy tickets here.

Below you'll find some questions for self-guided discussion; printed copies are also available in our lobby.

Suggested Questions for Self-guided Discussion
  1. The film’s outcome is a given and the story is told in flashback. Did the “spoiler” at the beginning spoil anything for you as a viewer? Does knowing the outcome make the details in the dramatization seem more meaningful or poignant?
  2. What impact did including the real cell phone footage captured by bystanders at the scene have for you as a viewer?
  3. How does the film put you into the characters’ shoes? What methods did the filmmaker use that promoted your understanding of their situation?
  4. What effect does the flashback to prison in the film have on you as a viewer? What role does it play in giving you a better sense of Oscar Grant?
  5. What did you think of the inclusion of the dog scene?
  6. How does the use of the hand-held camera change your relationship to the characters and the story being told?
  7. This is an emotional film. What aspects of it most touched you? What filmmaking techniques did the filmmakers use to heighten your emotional response?
  8. What is your biggest takeaway from the film?
  9. When Oscar Grant was killed on New Year’s Day 2009, it shocked the world and made headlines. How does your remembrance of the news coverage of the event impact your understanding of the film, and vice versa?
  10. How does the film’s character-oriented narrative approach impact your understanding of the issues Oscar Grant’s murder raises?
  11. Would you consider Fruitvale Station a political film? How does the film contribute to your understanding of race relations in America?
If you've seen the film, what discussion questions would you add? Tell us in the comments below.

Devin Wachs is the Communications Manager at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who will be in touch!

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Talkie" Triumphs and Technical Tribulations: THE COCOANUTS

Our "Mad for the Marx Brothers" series continues this Saturday, July 20, with the Marx Brothers' first feature film, The Cocoanuts!

"Talkie" Triumphs and Technical Tribulations: The Cocoanuts
By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

Before the Marx Brothers released their first feature-length film, The Cocoanuts, producer Monta Bell wanted Groucho Marx to discard his signature grease paint mustache, citing that it was too "phony-looking" for audiences to believe. Groucho's response? "The audience doesn't believe us anyhow. All they do is laugh at us, and isn't that what we're being paid for?"

Filming The Cocoanuts (1929) for the silver screen had its pitfalls. Trying to record singing, music, and zany antics in the early days of sound films was tricky. Cameras were noisy--so noisy that they had to be placed in soundproof cases so that the camera noise wouldn't be recorded by the external microphones! Microphones were stationary, too, meaning that in order to stay within the recording area, actors had to keep a limited range of motion.

Another problem was recording sensitivity. If camera sounds were being recorded, you can bet that other noises were, too. One of the most notable problems was the rustling of paper props. At first, shots including them were re-recorded, very carefully, to minimize the sound that they made. Then someone had the bright idea of soaking all the paper props on set in water!

Does this map look a bit soggy to you? Chico and Groucho Marx look over blueprints for the Hotel de Cocoanut.
Rumor has it that director Robert Florey was also put into the soundproof camera chamber once or twice. Why? He had never seen the Marx Brothers in action, and couldn't stop laughing while the cameras were rolling.

Fun fact: The ink that Harpo drinks in the hotel lobby was actually Coca-Cola. Delicious!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gus Cileone: Voyeurism, Fantasy, and VERTIGO

BMFI film fan and author Gus Cileone interprets Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo. Do you agree? See the film for yourself on the big screen at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Wednesday, July 17. Vertigo is showing as part of our Hitchcock at the Height film series, which is presented in conjunction with a four-week film course about the filmmaker's best-known works.

Voyeurism, Fantasy, and Vertigo
By Gus Cileone, BMFI Film Fan
*Spoiler Alert*

Alfred Hitchcock addresses voyeurism often, which is fitting, since his audience lives vicariously through the characters he presents on the screen. But, he goes further, making the audience, from the perspective of the camera lens, an unseen presence stepping into the stories themselves. We become a Peeping Tom, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window; we observe Janet Leigh through the hole in the wall, in Psycho; we are accused directly of causing the coming apocalypse in the diner scene in The Birds.

In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart’s weird obsession with Kim Novak’s Madeleine takes this voyeurism to the point of obsession. The voyeur has no respect for the individual, who is only a means to satisfy the voyeur's fantasy. In the opening credits we see a woman's face and then her eye. We then look into that eye, and there is a spinning pinwheel. Right from the beginning, Hitchcock is saying that a man can lose his balance with obsession over a woman.

After Stewart's detective, Scottie, discovers that he has acrophobia, hanging from a gutter after chasing a criminal, he is traumatized by witnessing a fellow policeman fall off the roof trying to save him. Falling becomes a motif in the film. The story takes place in hilly San Francisco, which symbolizes the precariousness of Scottie's predicament. (Scottie lives right near Coit Tower.) Probably because he feels guilty about the dead police officer, he dives into the bay to save Novak's character. But the jump also shows how dangerous his obsession can become. Of course, there are the falling deaths from the tower, and Scottie has dreams of falling off the tower. After the death of his fantasy woman, he drops into a state of catatonia, unable to be in the real world. The falling theme also refers to the danger of falling in love with the wrong person, for both Scottie and Novak's Judy. One could push it and say, for Scottie, the towers are phallic symbols, and the fear of falling could symbolize the fear of impotence in real life, thus encouraging the escape into fantasy.

Jimmy Stewart stars as a traumatized detective caught in a deadly scheme.
The acrophobia is not only a plot device so that Scottie can't witness it when Gavin (Thomas Helmore) throws his wife off the tower. It also symbolizes Stewart's character's inability to see the big picture from a height. He can only see as far as his version of a dream woman. The first scene deals with beauty and sex, as we watch his ex-fiancée, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), draw fashion pictures and discuss a newly designed bra. She is not the Hitchcock ice goddess, since she just draws beauty and clinically describes the bra's engineering. When she draws a picture of Novak as Gavin's wife Madeleine and substitutes her own face, Scottie quickly departs the room, showing how she does not fit his sexual requirements. She is real and can't compete with a dream girl. Gavin is an old friend, who knows of Scottie's disability, and wants Scottie to find out where his wife is going on her mysterious trips. At first Scottie is the voyeur spying on her beauty at the restaurant. Hitchcock places the audience in the car seat, following Novak, joining the detective in his fantasy. When he follows her through a dark walkway and opens the door, the scene lights up with the beautiful colors of flowers that the equally beautiful Novak is buying. It reminds one of Dorothy opening the door of her drab house to witness the awe of Oz, which is both a fantasy land and can be dangerous, just like Scottie's obsession.

Madeleine (Kim Novak), when Scottie follows her to the flower market.
The husband says a dead woman is possessing his wife. She goes into spells, visits her grave, and looks at the dead woman's painting on the wall of the gallery. Scottie observes that the curl in Novak's hair mirrors the curl of the dead woman in the painting. We realize that the circular curls also echo the theme of spinning wheels, leading to actual and symbolic vertigo. The story of the ghost plays into the whole unreal, fantasy theme of the film. Scottie sees Madeleine check into a hotel, but the concierge says she was not there that day, and there is no evidence of her in the hotel room. After Scottie rescues Madeleine from the bay, the camera shows her clothes hung up and drying in his home, and Novak naked under the covers in his bed. This is kind of creepy, knowing that she has been undressed by a stranger. It is as if Stewart's character presumptuously has actually taken possession of her (in contrast to her pretending to have become possessed) as an object in his fantasy world.

After rescuing Madeleine, Scottie takes her to his apartment.
When they are in the sequoia forest, Madeleine seems to disappear for a while, like an unearthly spirit. After his release from the mental institution, Scottie looks for Madeleine wherever he goes, like a morbid ghost hunter. It is ironic that he becomes haunted by the ghost of a woman who pretended to be haunted by another dead woman. Of course, when Scottie accidently sees Judy, thinking she is only a Madeleine look-alike and not part of the murder conspiracy, he wants to resurrect the dead Madeleine, forcing the now-in-love Judy to again play the same part. After Scottie finally recreates Madeleine by changing Judy’s make-up, hair color and style, and clothes, Novak materializes out of the hotel room's wall in a neon-sign-illuminated mist, like a ghost.

Scottie's obsession is a kind of madness. Gavin says there is madness in Madeleine's family, which sets the stage for the belief that she would commit suicide (her name even has the word "mad" in it). And, Scottie's madness leads to a sort of personality suicide as he realizes at the end, as Roger Ebert says in his book The Great Movies, that another man (Gavin) created the woman he wanted to forge, and thus Scottie's dream was not even his own. First he lost the person he wrongly thought was his ideal woman incarnate, and then he loses the woman he thought he created to be his perfect reproduction of his ideal. For Hitchcock, the desire to possess one's dream person is an impossible act and can only turn life into a nightmare.

Gus Cileone is a retired government employee who worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has received several writing awards and has published two novels, A Lesson in Murder and Feast or Famine. You can visit his website at www.augustuscileone.com.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Twelfth Night...of Filming MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

What can you do with twelve days and a cast of actors you know and love? If you're Joss Whedon, the answer is Much Ado About Nothing, and it's playing here at BMFI until at least Thursday, July 11!

Joss Whedon's delightfully modernized take on Shakespeare was filmed in only twelve days at his own home, while he was on break from the set of Marvel's The Avengers. Whedon is no stranger to this sort of "Do It Yourself" film productionhis 2008 web-musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was entirely self-created and funded during the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strikebut even he was intimidated to try filming a production of the magnitude of Much Ado in such a short window.

"I had to convince Joss that this was a good idea," Kai Cole, Joss's wife and a producer of the film, said in an interview with Women and Hollywood. "He was exhausted and more than a little skeptical." Shakespeare had long been something Whedon and Cole wanted to tackle. For years, Whedon and his friends (including Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who play Beatrice and Benedick in the film) had been doing play readings at his home, and it was one of these readings that inspired the production of the film.

 Joss Whedon and actress Amy Acker (Beatrice) on the set of Much Ado About Nothing. The entire production was filmed in Whedon's Beverly Hills home, which was designed by his architect wife, Kai Cole.

Much Ado about Nothing was filmed in black and white using only natural lighting, accentuated with mirrors and glass. In an article by Emma John, Whedon speaks to some of the challenges he faced by filming in such a do-it-yourself style: "I did everything they say don't do... Great idea to shoot next to a golf course, by the way. You know what they do on golf courses all day? Mow."

Did you know? In Shakespeare's original play, set in Italy, the character of Claudio is a young lord of Florence. Click here for details on how you can enter BMFI's raffle to win a seven-night stay for two in Florence–including $1500 in spending money!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Russ Collins: Close Encounters of the Implosion Kind

Russ Collins, the Director of the Art House Convergence conference and a fellow film exhibitor, wrote a thoughtful essay responding to the somewhat alarmist predictions for the future of the film industry recently espoused by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Steven Soderbergh. It is an excellent assessment of our industry and the role of art house movie theaters within it, and I echo his views. We are pleased to share it with you here.
- Juliet Goodfriend, President, Bryn Mawr Film Institute

Close Encounters of the Implosion Kind
Guest post by Russ Collins, Director of the Art House Convergence

Gary Meyer, [co-director of the Telluride Film Festival,] wrote, "I do not like to be a doom and gloom guy but I think there are big changes afoot for commercial cinemas, but not the scenario predicted here: Steven Spielberg Predicts 'Implosion' of Film Industry."

Like Gary, I am not a doom and gloom guy. However, it is tempting for older cinema artists like Steven Spielberg and soon-to-retire artists like Steven Soderbergh (or maybe it’s just filmmakers named Steven!) to see gloom in clouds of change. Change is hard. It frequently makes us feel discouraged or unfairly challenged. The shifting sands of change can cause us to see threats everywhere and feel the world as we know it will end. However, maybe we feel this way because it’s true. The world as we know it will indeed come to an end because change is the only constant, and creativity in art, business and all things is frequently born from what might appear to be destructive forces brewed from dynamic change. It is a defining story of living; a baseline truth, an ever repeating cycle of human existence that the Hindu religion represents so effectively in the story of Shiva, whose joyous dance of destruction celebrates the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution.


Movie attendance at theaters in the USA by the late 1940s appeared stable at 4 BILLION admissions per year. By the early 1960s, movie attendance at theaters had fallen dramatically and re-stabilized at around 1 billion admissions per year—the theatrical audience was just 25% of what it had been 16 years earlier. It’s hard to imagine. We can feel better about movie attendance over the last 16 years because at about 1.4 billion annually, USA theatrical movie admissions have been fairly stable.

However, as a highly profitable, highly centralized business model, the movies—the pre-TV, Hollywood studio system heyday of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s—died in the 1950s. Shiva danced and Hollywood’s heyday died as television became a mature mass media market. During the 1950s, television replaced movies as the mass market media phenomenon of the 20th century. So the truth is, since the 1950s, movies, meaning all movies shown in theaters, are not “mainstream.” Movies shown in theaters are merely a specialty market with larger market segments (Hollywood blockbusters—action blockbuster, comedy blockbusters, Black blockbusters, chick flick blockbuster, kid live-action blockbusters, kid animated blockbuster, etc.) and smaller market segments (Indie American, documentary, classic, foreign, Masterpiece Theatre style, etc.) and sub-segments (mumblecore, experimental, films by local filmmakers, silent-era, Black American Indie, Jewish, French, German, Polish, Chilean, Brazilian, Iranian, Burkina Fasoian, Senegalese, Palestinian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Scandinavian, Ethiopia, Nigerian, Mexican, Canadian, classic noir, restored films, screwball comedies, Marx Bros., Woody Allen, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Ford, Sturges, Fellini, Truffaut, Warhol, Waters, etc., etc. etc.). Today, broadcast television is flat on its back because pay-per-view, paid-legit streaming, pirate streaming, cable, computer, smart phone, tablets, etc. are the “television” of today.


During the second half of the 20th Century, the era in which TV has dominated, movie journalists and scholars seem to divide the post-Hollywood studio movie era into the following sub-eras:
  • The foreign film Art House / college movie society / Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll generation saves Hollywood world of the late ‘50s, ‘60s and on into the mid-‘70s;
  • The Indie Cinema / Burgeoning Home Video / Hollywood Summer Blockbuster world of the late-‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s;
  • The DIY-Mumblecore -Funny or Die / Pirate ethos / Digital Transition / Netflix queue / Hollywood Comic Book-Remake world of the early 21st century.
People in the movie business of different generations attach a “halcyon days” glow to different eras:
  • The Post-WWII-Early Baby Boomer generation seems to think the ‘60s youth reinvention of Hollywood is the halcyon era—folks like Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola.
  • The mid-to-late Baby Boomers and early GenXers appear to think that the Sundance/Miramax/New Line-Fine Line/Video Store/Indie Film Paradise of the ‘80s and ‘90s are the halcyon days—folks like Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith.
  • Probably folks like the Duplass Brothers, Greta Gerwig, Debra Granik, Benh Zeitlin, the Funny Or Die guys and gals, and other filmmakers finding success in the current era will look back at the twenty-00s as a halcyon era of celluloid dreams found during the digital transition. An era that provided limitless YouTube possibilities, when the number of community-based, mission-driven Art Houses cinemas were growing (due to the Art House Convergence!) and everyone had the ability to earn a post-graduate motion picture education at Netflix U.
So, instead of filmmakers and pundits making broad statements assuming that movie exhibition exists as one giant mainstream market; let’s instead think about the theatrical exhibition market place as the segmented and diverse market that it is—and has been for generations!


The media and the general public seem to easily accept sweeping unsubstantiated statements about the movie exhibition marketplace. However, people seem to have a more nuanced and complex understanding of the music market. No one thinks of Lady Gaga, Wynton Marsalis, and the Boston Symphony playing to a large, singular music market. People seem to understand that each of these artists have their niche. So if pundits or a prominent musician said that the music industry will collapse unless arena shows continue to be successful (by the way, there are fewer and fewer arena shows these days), that pundit or musician would be mocked by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. However, this is basically what Steven Spielberg said would happen to the film market. To illustrate this point I have replaced references to “movies,” in Steven Spielberg’s recent statement postulating that the movies will “implode,” with the appropriate musical reference:
“[Some ideas from young MUSICIANS AND MUSIC STUDENTS] are too fringe-y for MUSIC. That's the big danger, and there's eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown. There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget CONCERTS are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm."
Mr. Spielberg is a great artist in my opinion. He has a peerless career. His artistry and craftsmanship was so resonant with broad audiences in the 1970s and 1980s that he was significantly responsible for creating the summer blockbuster dynamic (Jaws) that allowed for the development of “megabudget” movies. For him to say that young filmmakers and film students are “too fringe-y” is absolutely true—they always have been fringy (but some are not—which is also true). To say that “[an implosion is] going to change the paradigm” is also true, because something is always changing paradigms—clearly Spielberg was an innocent agent of paradigm change as a young filmmaker!

Think about the world that Mr. Spielberg came into as a young filmmaker in the late 1960s and 1970s. The old line Hollywood Studios were reeling. There were no megaplex theaters – the movie exhibition innovation of that era was multiplex cinemas in shopping malls with postage stamp size theaters and screens. These shopping mall cinemas were causing the few remaining movie palaces, as well as single screen neighborhood cinemas to be abandoned or “twinned” or “quaded.” In the 1970s there was no generally accessible internet or movie streaming. For all intents and purposes there were no video rental stores or home video. Mr. Spielberg’s career was established during a period of a HUGE paradigm shift. He benefited from the newly created blockbuster movie marketing. He profited from the soon-to-follow home video explosion. But, I have to imagine from Mr. Spielberg's point of view, the paradigm shift in the 1970s was just the new “normal,” a “halcyon era” from which we are straying in the 21st century because theatrical exhibition is tenuous (as it has been since the 1940s), the home video market has dried up and people are watching pirated movies on their phone. Spielberg’s coming of age era was for him the halcyon period that the 21st century “implosion” will cause to go “crashing into the ground.”

But he is wrong. As said previously, the market for movies is actually diverse and highly segmented—although from the top-down movie industry vantage point and media punditry you would not think this to be true. Would we really mourn for Mr. Spielberg or ourselves if Lincoln would have been made for cable or had played on public television? Is it bad for humanity that cable television is creating wonderful, resonant stories in long-form moving image series that people want to watch at home on TV (or streamed onto their computer)? I don’t think so, but it is a paradigm shift and it might affect people’s theatrical moviegoing habits. Televisions in people’s homes have had that effect for seven decades—it is not a new phenomenon.

As Art House cinema impresarios we need to focus on what WE can do at our theaters and in our communities. It is not productive for us to fret over what pundits say or about what well-meaning filmmakers like the Stevens—Spielberg and Soderbergh—say. We should fret about what we can do in our communities. What we can do to support filmmakers. What we can do to raise philanthropic support from our communities. What we can do to increase the appreciation of film as art and as a transformational form of creativity. We need to be professional and be constantly innovative and clearly focused on building robust cinema exhibition businesses in our communities. We do not need to worry about commercial megaplex movie theaters. They will find ways to make money or they will implode and be replaced by other ways to promote large scale, broadly targeted cinema.

Commercial movie theaters have had several “implosions” through the years and new, effective and profitable paradigms have emerged. 1920s-era Movie Palaces killed Nickelodeons, the mom-and-pop storefront cinemas that established movies as a viable art form and profitable market. Mom-and-pop theater owners were very upset and felt unfairly treated by the Movie Palace paradigm shift; it was a most tumultuous and difficult era in theatrical movie exhibition. Technology forced dynamic change as talking pictures made Movie Palaces inefficient. What emerged was the more efficient but less spectacular, single screen cinema-style theaters of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Television nearly killed single screen theaters and Movie Palaces, and the shopping mall multiplex theaters of the 1970s finished the job. Megaplexes killed multiplexes. Who knows, maybe megaplexes will be killed by high-priced deluxe cinemas with fine dining options—who cares! Maybe all commercial theaters in the future will be like IMAX theaters. The paradigm shift that takes down the megaplex is not a dynamic we as an Art House community will control. We can learn from and adapt to whatever changes may occur to the Megaplex paradigm. However, we do not control those changes so it is fruitless to fret about them. The cinema market is large and diverse and our job is to focus on our small but essential piece of the movie market—the community-based, mission-driven piece of exhibiting cinema to movie lovers in our home towns. As Ira Deutchman said to us at the [2013 Art House] Convergence, we must understand and embrace the fact that what we do is hard, but we should never take the easy path.


Being connected to your community, you have a role in defining that community. You can make sure your community values having an Art House. You must strive to be consistently innovative in how YOU run YOUR Art House; this will create consistent success. But it requires capital, hard work and the willingness to adapt to changes; changes in technology (digital cinema), in programming (day and date release with home viewing opportunities), in being an effective fundraising professional and a teacher of moving image aesthetics, history and practice. You are the impresario of the most important cultural product created in the American century. You deserve to be a key quality of life institution in your community.

Although the venal dynamics of Hollywood cause the Art House to be undervalued, we must remember that the Art House is vitally important because it is where the beating heart of cinema culture lives. We must keep that heart healthy. Let us execute our heart based Art House cinema in the best possible way, for its own sake and for the general health of our community and cinema art. And, please, let us not be afraid of change.

Change is inevitable. It is foolish to think that change will not happen. Change brings with it opportunity, and there is great opportunity for the Art House to flourish. Why? Because there are more movies made now than at any time in human history. This means all vital channels in which cinema can be presented can succeed—they won’t, but they can. And the community-based Art House has a distinct advantage because, as we have known for a little over 100 years ago, seeing a movie on a big screen, in a darkened room full of strangers is a profound and moving experience. Many humans, many of our neighbors seem to need the experience of gathering communally to experience stories and receive information. The Art House is that place, because it is the community’s living room, or better still, the communal campfire where people can learn, be entertained and transported by stories that are spun by that most brilliant of story tellers – the motion picture.

Keep the faith, Art House friends. You are the best—now let’s get better!

The Art House Convergence is an annual gathering of art house cinemas across the country. Russ Collins, the conference's director and the CEO of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, was recently listed as one of IndieWIRE's top 40 influencers of 2013.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Harold Lloyd: A Legacy

By Devin Wachs, Public Relations Manager, BMFI

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, in honor of Bryn Mawr Film Institute's screening of Safety Last! on June 25. Read the first part here.

Harold Lloyd keeps his granddaughter Suzanne quite busy. As the caretaker for his collection, she is responsible for preserving one of the largest private film libraries in the world and introducing the silent comedy legend to new audiences. Her grandfather’s film library gets around so much, in fact, that she laughingly calls the collection “Harold”, as if it is a person, “because ‘he’ is so busy.” (She lovingly refers to the man himself as “Dad”.)

Harold Lloyd dangles above the street below in this iconic scene from Safety Last!, a new restoration of which recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival and will be featured at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on June 25.
It has indeed been a busy few months. After taking “Harold” to the Cannes Film Festival for an oceanfront screening of the new restoration of Safety Last!—showing at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on June 25—they were off to England to oversee the recording of composer Carl Davis’s new scores for The Freshman and High and Dizzy with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Recently, home viewers also enjoyed fifteen newly restored Harold Lloyd shorts on Turner Classic Movies, co-hosted by Suzanne.

A Grandfather’s Gifts

Suzanne was granted a very special view into classic Hollywood from a young age. She was raised at Greenacres, her grandparents’ estate in Beverly Hills, where she was neighbors with the likes of Cary Grant and schoolmates with the daughters of Jimmy Stewart, William Wellman, and Randolph Scott.

“One of [my grandfather’s] dearest friends was Doug Fairbanks—his best friend—and Mary Pickford was one of my grandmother’s best friends. I used to go to see ‘Aunt Mary’ all the time. She had great cookies, nice dogs. Colleen Moore was my godmother. I had no idea who they were. You just accept them as your grandparents’ friends. I got a clue who Walt Disney was when I was older. He had a train in his backyard, and when we went to Disneyland, I put it together that it was named for the same guy with the train.”

Suzanne Lloyd with her grandfather, Harold.
Suzanne knew her grandfather first and foremost as a photographer, philanthropist, and technology enthusiast. She remembers when, as a child, they visited Charlie Chaplin at his house in Switzerland. “They said that he worked in the same business that Dad did, but I thought that meant running hospitals, or taking pictures. I didn't realize who he was.”

When Harold passed away in 1971, Suzanne was only nineteen-and-a-half years old, but she was entrusted with the task of protecting his legacy and managing his film library, a responsibility for which Harold had been unofficially grooming her for years.

“It was a real privilege. But I worked on the films with him before he died and I really knew them. I used to go lectures with him. I went to the opening of the American Film Institute. When about fifteen, I started I started working on the films with him at the house with a couple of film students.

“My first job was to clean, rewrap, and air out nitrate film. Have you ever smelled nitrate film? It’s not fun. Dad said, ‘This is a good way to break you in. Film isn’t fun, it’s hard work. You need to know the elements of film before you can do more.’”

He arranged for Suzanne to take film classes at USC when she was just a senior in high school. Although Harold had retired in 1947, before Suzanne was born, if friends were shooting a movie, he’d take her to visit the sets.

“Robert Wise was shooting Star at Fox. I’d just broken my leg—it was a bad break. I couldn’t go to school. Dad called him up and said, ‘Listen, Bob, I’m trying to give Sue an overview of stuff, but I’m not on set anymore.’ So I went down to the set and they put me in one of the director’s chairs every day while they worked. I put my leg up; the grips just moved the chair around. For two or three weeks, I just sat there, every day. ‘Just sit there, take notes,’ they told me.” She did.

Passing the Torch

“He was very good about passing on torches and helping others. He started a lot of people’s careers,” Suzanne recalls. Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, was born in Harold’s beach house, where Harold let Jack and his wife live while Jack was starting out as an actor. Robert Wagner was introduced to Harold through Suzanne’s mom, and he became close with the Lloyd family. “Dad said, ‘Well, maybe we’d better get you an agent.’ That led to his first job.”

And those young film students that worked with Suzanne to help Harold archive his films? “They were Rich Correll—the son of Charles Correll, who played Andy in Amos and Andy—and David Nowell, who’s now one of the top aerial cinematographers in the world. Richard is one of the creators of Hannah Montana. He did the restorations on the new shorts for Turner Classic Movies, and he still has me rewinding the film and marking the positions. I never seem to have gotten out of that!” Suzanne reflects with a hearty laugh.

In the decades since Suzanne has assumed responsibility for preserving Harold Lloyd’s film library, she has introduced his work to new audiences in numerous ways. In addition to presenting his newly restored films at festivals worldwide and on Turner Classic Movies, she also co-authored the 2002 book Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian, has compiled two books of his 3-D photographs, and was the executive producer for the Emmy-nominated British documentary, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

“It’s Harold’s Job”

I asked Suzanne what has surprised her most about Harold over the years, and if there were things that she is still learning about him through his working with his films.

“I had to really learn to do public speaking when I was young. The first time I went out to introduce the films I was nervous. This archivist who had worked on them said, ‘Speak from your heart. Just remember, the moment that Harold gets up there, it’s Harold’s job. He knows what to do, he’s always known what to do.’ The laughter and reactions to his films are just amazing, year after year. I wish I could have been there in the beginning, but they are so consistent, I bet it’s the same as it is now. You need to see his films with an audience. People who have never seen them come out saying, ‘Why haven’t we seen him? Where has he been?’ That just thrills me and amazes me every time.”

Thanks to Suzanne’s work, the laughs will keep coming and new audiences will continue to be able to discover “Harold”, both the man and his film legacy, for a long time to come.

See the 90th anniversary digital restoration of Safety Last! at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on June 25.

Devin Wachs is the Public Relations Manager for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who will be in touch!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Harold Lloyd: The Grand Prince of Cinema

By Devin Wachs, Public Relations Manager, BMFI

This is the first part of a two-part interview with Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, in honor of Bryn Mawr Film Institute's screening of Safety Last! on June 25.
Film comedian extraordinaire Harold Lloyd returned to the Cannes Film Festival this year, thanks to a brand-new digital restoration of his hit 1923 comedy, Safety Last!

“The 2k restoration is just gorgeous. I’ve seen it on the big screen, and once you’ve seen it on the huge screen, it’s amazing. It’s incredible,” his granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, enthuses.

Bryn Mawr Film Institute is among the theaters featuring the new restoration of Safety Last! The film, which just celebrated its 90th anniversary, will also be released on Blu-Ray through The Criterion Collection. Even as she was preparing to leave for Cannes later that day, Suzanne generously gave her time for a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles.

It’s not the first time she’s accompanied the silent film legend to Cannes. “He actually took me to Cannes when he won in 1962. I went with my grandmother, my mother, and his assistant, Roy Brooks.” Harold lit the festival on fire that year when he presented a compilation of some of his best work, Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy, and was honored with a plaque that read “To the Grand Prince of Cinema.”

The King of Daredevil Comedy

Harold Lloyd started in Hollywood by sneaking onto the Universal lot, where he struck up a friendship with producer Hal Roach. For Roach’s production company, Harold created a variety of characters reminiscent of Chaplin’s Little Tramp. His one-reel comedies soon became two-reelers after he developed his own “glasses” character, an everyman romantic lead and boy-next-door that audiences loved.

Safety Last!, one of the “thrill comedies” Harold made, was a turning point in his career and contains one of the most iconic images in silent cinema: Harold dangling from the face of a giant clock high over the street below. In the 1923 feature, Harold plays a hard-working everyman who ends up climbing the side of a skyscraper as part of a marketing stunt in order to make his girlfriend think he’s a successful businessman.

The film was a big hit, and Harold Lloyd was named the “King of Daredevil Comedy.” Following on its heels were Lloyd's features The Freshman (1925), The Kid Brother (1927), and Speedy (1928), making him the number one box office star two years in a row in the late ‘20s.

In Safety Last!, Harold plays a department store salesclerk pretending to make it big in order to impress his girlfriend.

Being Funny is a Serious Business

Suzanne’s grandmother, Mildred, played Harold’s love interest in Safety Last! The onscreen couple was courting during production.

“Right before the movie was released, my grandparents got married,” Suzanne states. “Well, it was the last film that she ever made with him, because he wasn’t going to play with his married wife in movies. He didn’t think it was that funny—he was supposed to be the bachelor chasing the girl. That’s when Jobyna Ralston stepped in to be his leading lady. But my grandparents had really good chemistry together and [my grandmother] adored him. They were married for 49 years. She was nineteen when she started with him; she was with him when he had his bomb accident.”

Mildred Davis and Harold Lloyd in a promotional image for A Sailor Made Man (1921). They starred in several films together before they were married in 1923.

At a promotional photo shoot at Hal Roach’s studio in 1919, Harold was supposed to light a cigarette with a fake prop bomb. The bomb went off in Harold’s hand, blinding him and blowing off part of his right hand. His career was said to be over.

“Who put the bomb there?” Suzanne queries. “He was working on his third film with my grandmother, Mildred, and this happens. It was absolutely killing.”

Douglas Fairbanks, Harold’s best friend, came to visit Harold and offered him a place at his studio, United Artists. But Harold refused: “You have your comedian.” (Charlie Chaplin was one of the studio founders.) Douglas asked him what he was going to do, and Harold replied, “I’m going to wait and see and think positive. They think my eyes can come back.”

Lo and behold, in a few months, sight had returned in both eyes and his face had started to heal.

Suzanne reflects, “He was just a driven person and he was so enthusiastic about life and such a positive thinker—Why Worry? is actually the name of one of his films. He believed that you have to be positive and things will work out.”

He didn’t let the accident slow him down, and he kept his scars from the public.

Harold Lloyd was known for performing his own stunts in "thrill comedies".
His films grossed more than Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's.

“They had several movies ready for release,” Suzanne explains. “He said, ‘I don’t want people to come in there and look for my handicap or disability. Just hold the movies back. Instead of putting the movies out every two weeks, hold them back so I’m not dropped from the screen.’” Roach had a thin flesh-colored glove made in New York to cover the injury. Harold went back to work nine months later, but wore the glove in every movie he made after the accident.

“People really didn’t know in the public,” Suzanne continues. “He learned to do autographs with his left hand. He’d keep his hand in his pocket at premieres and things. He’d shake with his left hand; if he really knew you and you were a good friend of his, he’d give you his right hand. He was always athletic and always played handball. He played handball even with his bad hand, to build up strength.”

So when Harold was dangling from the clock face in Safety Last!, only a few years later, he was performing the daredevil stunt with only one complete hand.

A Modern Visionary

By the time he retired from the screen in 1947, Harold Lloyd had made 200 films. But retirement didn’t mean “rest” for the go-getter. He devoted himself to the Shriner Hospitals for Children and, in the 1960s, he was named President and Chairman of the Board. Always fascinated by photography, he was an avid 3-D photographer and an early proponent of the idea of using 3-D in films. His photography library contains nearly 300,000 stereo slides he made from 1947 to 1971.

“He was just a real visionary and a pioneer,” Suzanne says. “He was controlling about his films to the point where he didn’t want them put on television where an editor would hack them up for commercials [and ruin the pacing]. A number of generations lost out because he didn’t want to do that. In some ways, Harold is behind in recognition compared to Chaplin or Keaton.

“But if you play a Harold Lloyd film, he‘s more modern,” she continues. “He’s not in a character. He’s your Tom Hanks, your Jimmy Stewart, your Jack Lemmon, maybe your Jason Bateman. He’s your guy on the street. He’s always smiling, he’s always moving. He’s always getting into trouble and getting out of trouble… He set the template for romantic comedy.”

The 90th anniversary digital restoration of Safety Last! will be showing at Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Tuesday, June 25.

Devin Wachs is the Public Relations Manager for Bryn Mawr Film Institute. She joined BMFI in 2005, following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College. If you send BMFI a message on Facebook or Twitter or are interested in onscreen sponsorships, she's the one who will be in touch!