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Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

April 30, 2014

Premiere of Jeff Parker Film Scores

For tomorrow’s FIRST STEPS program at Columbia College we enlisted the talented Jeff Parker (pictured above) to score all of the silent Ruth Page films and home movies, including:

DANSE MACABRE (1922), BOLERO (1930), VARIATIONS ON EUCLID (circa 1938),  FRANKIE & JOHNNY (1938), and Ruth Page Home Movies shot in Bali, Indonesia (circa 1928)

We have been blown away at the quality of Jeff’s work and are really really excited to share his scores with the public for the first time. Each score melts naturally into the film, making the previously silent images feel more alive and accessible rather than interrupted or interfered with.

Jeff Parker is a guitarist, composer, educator, and sculptor of sonic textures. Since 1990, he has focused on being adaptable in musical environments that are constantly changing. His sonic palette may employ techniques from sample-based technologies, analog and digital synthesis, and conventional and extended techniques from his 35 years of playing the guitar.

Recognized as one of contemporary music’s most versatile and innovative electric guitarists, his music is characterized by ideas of angularity and logic, as well as an instantly recognizable tone on the instrument. He works in a variety of mediums, from Jazz to contemporary music, using ideas informed by innovations and trends in both popular and experimental music. He creates works that explore and exploit the contrary relationships between tradition and technology, improvisation and composition, and the familiar and the abstract.

He is a founding member of the critically acclaimed and innovative groups Isotope 217˚ and Chicago Underground, and a longtime member of the band Tortoise. He has released several collaborative albums under his own name. Currently he has been focusing on solitary work and solo performance – to cultivate and establish an idiosyncratic relationship between electronic and acoustic compositional properties in music and sound. (bio courtesy of Jeff Parker)

You can see and hear it all at FIRST STEPS – Thursday, May 1st (7PM) at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor). More on the program here

April 7, 2014

Earthkeeping, Episode Five: “Sodbusters”

The historical approach taken in “Sodbusters” differentiates the episode from the others in Earthkeeping – the narrative draws a comparison between the pioneer mindset of westward expansion/Manifest Destiny and the sense of entitlement possessed by corporate developers in the twentieth century. How much have modern practices of resource exploitation changed since the days of John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company?

On The Yesterday Show, Robert Trashman (John Belushi) stands up for the environment, squaring off against cowboy star Jack Crabbe (Joe Flaherty) and industrialist C. Steel Mills (Harold Ramis).

Second City’s “Yesterday Show” sketch (l-r: Joe Flaherty, John Belushi, Harold Ramis)

Also in the episode, David Rasche recites a stanza from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”:

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

April 2, 2014

Robert & Theresa Davis Collection Update

Oh, the glorious Kodachrome…

Last week (March 24-27), CFA hosted University of Alberta associate professor Liz Czach as she conducted research on our Robert & Theresa Davis Collection. Liz is currently researching a number of travelogue filmmakers, but her particular interest in the Davis Collection stems from its relative completeness – in many instances, archives only hold on to the travelogue films themselves and perhaps a few other relevant artefacts. In the case of the Davis Collection, the films are not limited to final prints, but also include outtakes and various other production elements. Additionally, large amounts of complementary presentation material, such as ¼ inch audio soundtracks, full narration scripts, and Robert Davis’ personal cue cards, are being preserved along with the films. The collection also includes over twenty boxes of other promotional and personal material. This additional ephemera provides insights not only into the working habits and biographies of Robert & Theresa Davis, but also helps to shed light on the history of the travelogue genre and circuit.

In order to fully understand the contexts in which these films were presented, the preservation of many different elements is essential. The footage from the Davis’ travels was used in several different iterations – besides the lecture films (which ran about an hour and twenty minutes and were presented with live narration by Robert Davis), the films were also re-edited and sold as shorter educational programs (which typically ran roughly twenty minutes). As an example, here is a selection of materials related to the Davis’ educational film, Incredible Iceland (one of their favorite travel destinations):

Title card to the film

Above: Promotional materials for Incredible Iceland – “Meticulous attention to detail guarantees an unusually pleasing travel tonic.” Click the thumbnails for full-size images.

A page from a narration script draft, with Robert Davis’ edits in pen

Cue cards featuring Robert Davis’ signature shorthand. We’re still trying to figure out how these were used…

Sound effects employed in the film. PUFFIN EFFECT!

Although the films have been inventoried, neither they nor the paper materials have been processed. Liz’s visit greatly helped to shine a light on what we have on our hands, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Updates on the Robert & Theresa Davis Collection, including digitized film transfers, biographical information on Bob & Terry, and more on the travelogue genre, will be appearing in the weeks to come.

April 1, 2014

Early 8mm Films of the Chicago World’s Fair Arrive at CFA

This year, we were fortunate to acquire five more reels of home movies featuring the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. They were shot by Russell V. Zahn (1901-1993) of Racine, Wisconsin and part of a larger collection of home movies donated by the family (you can read more about our Zahn Home Movie Collection here).

Previously, we only had two 16mm reels documenting the fair, one in our Ferd Isserman Collection and another in our David Gray Collection. The Isserman film is and reads very much like a home movie, while the Gray film *appears* to be a silent commercially produced film spliced together with home movie footage. I almost prefer the home movie footage over the commercially produced films about the fair. Each home movie gives a unique on-the-ground (and sometimes overhead!) perspective, shaky camera and all. They often highlight family members & friends and even include quiet downtime moments or breaks from the hustle and bustle, giving us 21st century viewers a more personal experience of the fair.

What’s particularly unique about these five newly donated reels is that they were shot on 8mm, a celluloid format that entered the market in 1932 (just to point out the obvious, only a year before these were shot!). More on the 8mm format via Kodak:

“By 1932, with America in the throes of the Great Depression, a new format, the “Cine Kodak Eight”, was introduced. Utilizing a special 16mm film which had double the number of perforations on both sides, the filmmaker would run the film through the camera in one direction, then reload and expose the other side of the film, the way an audio cassette is used today…. After development, the laboratory would slit the film lengthwise down the center, and splice one end to the other, yielding fifty feet of finished 8 mm movies. The success of 8mm film was almost immediate, and within about fifteen years, 16 mm film became almost exclusively a format of the professional filmmaker.”

These five reels (now streaming on our site and below via CFA’s Youtube channel) are the oldest 8mm films we have and they happen to document one of our favorite subjects in all its troubled splendor. At this time, it’s unclear what order the reels were shot, but we have labeled them Reels 1-5 in order for us to differentiate the titles among reels (all were titled simply “1933 Chicago World’s Fair,” but each contains unique footage). Enjoy!