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Museum Of The Moving Image (#110 of 18)

Film Histories Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

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Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema
Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

As you walk up the stairway at the Museum of the Moving Image, you’re greeted with a screen. On the left side is a black-and-white, silent, documentary image of young women dancing outdoors; on the right side is a tinted, silent, documentary image of a woman alone, twirling her dress. Perhaps curious, you approach, sit on a bench, and put on a pair of available headphones. The film on the right, Thomas A. Edison’s Annabelle Serpentine Dance, from 1894, you might recognize by face, if not by name. But playing on the left is a lesser-known work that holds equal entertainment and documentary value: the Bell Telephone Company of Canada’s 1920 film How Business Girls Keep Well.

Film canons and best-of lists are consistently built on a fiction, which is that the people building them have actually seen every movie ever made and can select the best accordingly. But a quick look at a list like the British magazine Sight & Sound’s recently released poll among more than 800 critics for the top 50 films of all time, which consists almost entirely of feature-length fiction works from the United States, Japan, Russia, and a few Western European countries, suggests this isn’t the case. The States alone have produced more than 500,000 “ephemeral films” (a term coined by American archivist Rick Prelinger, who also gave the statistic), short works created to advertise, promote, educate, and even entertain, and made both by corporations and by private individuals.

What’s Underground?: The Films of Jack Smith

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What’s Underground?: The Films of Jack Smith
What’s Underground?: The Films of Jack Smith

Who was Jack Smith? A question lodged at numerous parties I’ve recently attended. But that question might fade as Jack receives renewed attention in the coming months. Nearly all of his films will find screenings throughout April at the Museum of the Moving Image, Anthology Film Archives and at the series Dirty Looks, at Participant Inc. To top it off, a large solo show, curated by Neville Wakefeild, will open May 6th at Gladstone Gallery.

Jack was an underground visionary in every sense of the word. Jack poured glitter into everything he made: pasty creatures, plastic fantasias and moldy monsters. He was a performance artist, filmmaker, playwright, photographer, socialist, aesthete, installation artist, scene-stealer, writer, interventionist. He built a theater and movie-studio in his rickety loft out of street debris; an intricate and child-like universe, Cinemaroc, was equal parts Baroque and broke. For a contingency of art and theater fags, Jack, as Charles Ludlam once eloquently put it, “is the daddy of us all.” And quixotically, the fact that he remains a somewhat underground or cult figure, as opposed to canonized creature, attests to his legacy.

Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann, Pt. 4: reflections, doubles, and doppelgangers

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This is the fourth in a five-part series of Moving Image Source video essays on Michael Mann, whose new film, Public Enemies, opened July 1. To read a transcript of the video’s narration, click here. For links to more episodes, click here. To read MZS’s review of Public Enemies at IFC.com, click here.