Film

The Smoker: A History of Stag Films at Light Industry, but No Smoking, Please

As I get older, I forget about some of the things I’ve done that not many others have. Case in point: I took two pornographic film classes as part of the my film studies curriculum.

The first was as an undergraduate at UCSB that was taught by Constance Penley, who Rolling Stone called a notorious professor in 1998. By the time I took the class, it had been taught several times and was not the hot-topic around campus as much as it was when it was first offered. Nonetheless, Penley ran the class as an historical survey of pornographic film, no different than any other professor would teach a survey of animation, documentary, or French cinema.

The second class was as graduate student at NYU, although our instructors were a bit sly about the subject matter of the class. They called it Explicitly Independent, insisting that we were studying experimental, independent film that pushed the boundaries of representing sexuality. This class was not meant as a broad survey of explicit film, as my undergraduate class was, but instead was meant to address a number of topics that our instructors were studying.

Both classes made clear a couple of facts about pornographic film:

  1. it has been around a long time: about as long as motion pictures themselves have been around.
  2. more people consume pornography than you think: it’s pretty much close to 100% of film viewers.
  3. a stylistic history of pornography tracks closely to the stylistic history of cinema at large: the golden age of pornographic film is in the 1970s, which is the same decade as the golden age of New Hollywood.

Light Industry is presenting nine short films on Tuesday, February 20, beginning at 7:30 PM: a program they call The Smoker: A Brief History of the Stag Film. The term “smoker” refers to the smoke-filled rooms where men—and only men—would watch sex on film as part of some weird homosocial ritual to prove that each guy wasn’t “a homo.” If you ever wondered what your grandfather did with his buddies at an Elks Lodge meeting on a Saturday night, it was probably watching these films.

As someone who watched a lot of these kinds of films with an audience that isn’t there for sexual gratification, I will tell you will initially feel a bit awkward when you recognize the situation of watching porn while sitting next to strangers.

Light Industry seems to recognize this. They will screen the films silent in the spirit of historically accuracy. It was common for men to hoot-and-holler while these films played, and indeed, Light Industry’s website notes “in the spirit of smokers past, we encourage attendees to provide their own soundtracks.”

I would go a step further and encourage you to provide your own beverage, too. But, remember that this is the twenty-first century: there no smoking during these smokers.

A History of New York’s Film Forum

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Venerable repertory film theater Film Forum has been operating in New York since 1970. That’s no small feat when you consider the various challenges such an institution faces, including new technologies—from VHS to streaming—that compete for cinephiles’ attention and the commercial real estate market in New York, where the life of a business is largely determined by the length of its lease. As an example of the latter, two movie theaters closed last month in Manhattan because the landlords did not renew their leases: the Landmark Sunshine will be demolished and converted to office space, and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas will undergo some kind of structural renovation to the building—and may again house a movie theater.

Film Forum’s Director of Publicity, Adam Walker, gave a presentation in Utah at Art House Convergence, a gathering of film distributors and exhibitors, about the history of Film Forum. Film Forum posted the presentation on their website The presentation describes several milestones: the various moves that Film Forum undertook that culminated in their current home on West Houston Street, their expansion from one screen to two screen and ultimately to three screens, and the addition of personnel that has shaped their history. The presentation also explains why you often have to sit behind a column when watching a movie there and the origins of their distinct printed calendars.

Origins of Film Forum Calendar

If you prefer experiencing the presentation in a slideshow format, you can also see it as a slideshow on Indiewire’s website.

Spoiler alert: There was one happy note at the end of the presentation that I am happy to relay. Film Forum recently extended their lease to 2035. This means they’ll likely be around for another generation. And because of this newfound security, they have begun renovating their current space and plan to open a fourth screen.

The Internet, The Long Tail, and the End of the Video Store Clerk Effect

The “Internet” gets riled up about a few things from time-to-time that, in the great scheme of things, don’t really matter. Earlier this month, the Internet got mad that Netflix was apparently closely examining its customers’ viewing patterns to produce this tweet:

The Internet’s outrage was due to one of two factors, or in the case of some people, probably both:

  1. People just now realize that Netflix actually tracks and stores what we watch on Netflix. To those people, I say, “well, duh!”
  2. People dislike the tone that the Netflix social media team took with its users and what they watch. Let’s call this the “video store clerk effect.”

Spotify did something similar in the past, where it made a tongue-in-cheek ad based on its customers’ music listening.

While I appreciate the point that @xor makes by reminding us that our VCRs and record players didn’t make fun of us, allow me to remind all these analog dweebs what it was like to visit a video store or a record store. Part of me dreaded visiting these kinds of stores because of the clerks who worked there, passing judgement on what I movie I was renting or what CD I was buying.

Perhaps, I should have been less self-conscious and been proud of my cultural choices. Or maybe were it not for those clerks, I would not have curated my hipster tastes more carefully.

Nonetheless, when I first got on the Internet and bought a CD through CDNow in 1995, I really liked this experience because…

  • the selection was much more diverse than what I could find at a local music shop, or what Chris Anderson refers to as the “long tail.”
  • there was an impersonal anonimity in that I could buy whatever I wanted

I don’t remember what I bought and if it was all that embarrassing, but I seem to recall that I was programming a radio show on KCSB at the time, which likely meant it was something hard-to-find in the Santa Barbara–area.

To be sure, I know that my personal preferences, listening and viewing data, and my shopping habits are all tracked by a multitude of companies. However, I also don’t remember those algorithms making fun of me whenever I brought something to the counter. And, as far as I know, no algorithm ever its friends that I would see around town about what I music or movies I like.

Finally, the whole Internet backlash against Netflix might have been overblown. I heard one theory that the @netflix social media team just might have fabricated that fifty-three people had watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past two weeks.

If that’s the case, it’s not creepy, it’s comedy.

However, Swarm/Foursquare did something similar and reported on some extraordinary streaks that its users have made.

Given that Swarm/Foursquare offers almost no benefit other than reporting check-ins, I would avoid annoying its users, lest they feel they’re being judged for liking donuts and sandwiches.

UnionDocs is Looking for Winter-Spring Interns, Apply by November 17

UnionDocs, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn–based center for documentary video production, is looking for interns who work in “some aspect” of film and video: curation, production, or film theory. Interns help with realizing UnionDoc’s mission to foster nonfiction media, programming, events, production, and storytelling.

Interns would have responsibilities that including:

  • event documentation
  • event planning
  • social media marketing
  • programming support

Interested students can read more about it on the UnionDocs website and complete an application. The Winter/Spring internships run from mid-January through mid-May. The deadline to apply is Friday, November 17.

Apply by November 17

J. Hoberman Presents “Against Riefenstahl” at Light Industry

It’s been a while since I’ve linked to an event at Brooklyn’s Light Industry. That’s partly because I don’t live within a two-minute walk, and I have an evening class on Tuesday nights, which is when their events are usually scheduled. If I can’t attend, how can I reasonably expect you to attend?

But this coming Tuesday, October 17, there’s a pretty special event. Celebrated film critic J. Hoberman will be at Light Industry to present three World War II-era film in a program titled “Against Riefenstahl.



The first film is an abridged version of Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 cinematic love-letter to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis as they consolidated power in Germany. The notes on the website detail how the film reached the attention of American film viewers, including Iris Barry, the first film curator at the Museum of Modern Art. The films that Barry curated are considered the first canonical works of film scholarship. MoMA edited a 45-minute version—a kind of “documentary of the film itself”—that circulated throughout the US in the 1940s.

The film apparently caught the attention of Hollywood film director Frank Capra. According to the screening notes, Capra regarded the edited version of Triumph as the “most impressive propaganda movie he had ever encountered,” incorporating material from the film in his own Why We Fight? series of propaganda films made for the US military between 1942 and 1945 to train newly enlisted and drafted US soldiers.

The film also caught the attention of Charles Ridley, of the British Ministry of Information, who edited a print from the British Film Institute to create a satirical look at Hitler and the Nazis: The Lambeth Walk (1940). This short film that includes and manipulates segments from Triumph and sets it to a song from the time to create a humorous “dance” film, where Hitler and Nazi soldiers appear to “dance” the Lambeth Walk, a popular dance of the time. Having screened this film in class several times, the films retains its sharp comedic and critical bite, nearly eighty years after it was made.

The program will look at these three “derivative works” created from one of the most notorious films ever made: an extremely beautiful and well-made film that celebrates the most evil and murderous regimes in history.

Against Riefenstahl

  • October 17, 2017
  • Light Industry, 155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
  • $8.00

Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision is Again Available in Print

Cover art for the 2017 republication of Metaphors on Vision, by Brakhage

If you’re looking for more reading on experimental film, Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision, which was out of print for forty years, is again available for purchase in a new edition.

As one of the most celebrated and prolific American experimental filmmakers Brakhage not only understood how to technically make films, he had a deep philosophical understanding on what he wanted to with filmmaking. Metaphors on Vision is the manifesto that explains the lyrical and profoundly personal filmmaking that Brakhage created throughout his life.

Republished by Anthology Film Archives and Brooklyn’s Light Industry, two institutions that I have often reference on this site and respect greatly, the new edition features the original book design by George Maciunas and many corrections and revisions overseen by renown film scholar P. Adams Sitney.

The book has a street date—if that’s what it’s called in the bookselling game—of September 26, 2017, for a list price of $40.
It’s also for pre-order through Light Industry at a 15% discount.

Go Back to School with Anthology Film Archives

Anthology Film Archives is arguably one of the most important institutions for film in New York City, and with the back-to-school season upon us, Anthology Film Archives is offering a substantial discount on one book relevant to their mission as a home of experimental and avant-garde cinema.New and renewing members can purchase one of the following four books at a 50% discount:

Support Anthology Film Archives, get free admission to Essential Cinema screenings, and enjoy discounted tickets to all screenings by becoming a member. Regular memberships start at $70 and student/senior membership cost $50. Also, student members will receive two bonus months of membership for free.

A Letter to the World: Experiments in Essay Filmmaking, Workshop at UnionDocs, September 8-10

The folks at UnionDocs is offering a three-day intensive workshop on the essay film, called A Letter to the World: Experiments in Essay Filmmaking, between September 8 and 10, to enable artists to articulate their ideas and explore new methodologies in crafting their work. The workshop will be led by filmmaker Lynne Sachs and will feature guest instructors Alan Berliner, Akosua Adoma Owusu and Roger Beebe, with scholars Timothy Corrigan and Nora M. Alter, co-authors of the book Essays on the Essay Film.

The workshop is open to filmmakers, students, artists, scholars, etc.

The workshop is currently sold-out, but you can join the waiting list at https://uniondocs.org/event/2017-09-08-explorations-essay-filmmaking/.

New York City 2017 Bike Map Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

I finally had a chance to see the New York City 2017 Bike Map, and it took me a while to realize that the cover pays tribute to longtime New York Times fashion photographer and cultural icon Bill Cunningham. Cunningham was a well known bicycle enthusiast and was known to enjoy riding his bike to photograph New York street life in his weekly “On the Street” columns for the New York Times.

Film still from Bill Cunningham New York. First Thought Films/Zeitgeist Films.

There are a few giveaways that show the cover illustration depicts Cunningham:

  • it’s an older, white-haired man on cruiser,
  • he’s snapping a photo from his bike,
  • he’s wearing his trademark blue jacket and grey pants,
  • most obviously, the map indicates a credit of “Cover illustration of Bill Cunningham, used with permission of the Estate of William J. Cunningham.”

Bill Cunningham passed away at age 87 a year ago today. He was extensively covered in the 2010 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, which as of today, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

NYC Bike Map 2017 Inset Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

Today, the Clock Strikes Thirteen

Today, over 200 art-house and independent movie theaters in the United States are screening 1984, the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel directed by Michael Radford. The theaters are doing so to stand up for “freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as ‘alternative facts,'” according to the United State of Cinema website.

I bought tickets to screening at the Loews Jersey in Jersey City and am going tonight. However, I later realized that there were plenty of other options closer to home, including the Nitehawk (sold out), Anthology Film Archives (buy at the box office), the IFC Center (also sold out) and even the newish Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn (yup…sold out). The Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening it for free, but you should expect a throng of cheapskates waiting to get in.

If you can’t get to a screening near you, you can stream it on Amazon.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. Shopping through that link will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!