Thursday, March 27, 2008

Orphans, miscellanies

The opening night of the Orphan Film Symposium 6 was a particularly lovely tribute to my friend Helen Hill, who was killed in January 2007 in New Orleans.

As someone who doesn't spend much time thinking about film at all, the notion of orphan films has only recently dawned on me, but there's a strong archival and historical component to the work people are doing on this material that obviously speaks to me, and a combination of modesty and dedication in the orphanistas that I enjoy and admire...

It is always very delightful to see Helen's films, which are joyful and visually rich to an extraordinary degree. (A couple ones tonight I hadn't seen before, including a very beautiful short one called "Termite Light.")

They were interestingly interwoven with complementary material that highlighted certain aspects of Helen's work much better and more strikingly than a chronological ordering could have--I was especially enjoying contemplating the mind of Dan Streible, whose imagination shaped tonight's event and (I am guessing, to a great extent) the whole field of orphan film as it has begun to emerge.

Treats included an amazing--and beautifully restored--color silhouette film, made by Lotte Reiniger in 1957, called "Helen La Belle" (imagine the Trojan War, paper dolls that could have come from turn-of-the-century Vienna and an Offenbach score...); and films by Naomi Uman and Jimmy Kinder, winners of the Helen Hill award, each of which in quite different ways spoke to some highly Helenesque themes and techniques (I was especially tickled by Uman's rather magical and very amusing use of black-and-white pornographic films in which the women's bodies had been daubed out in a way that left them as lovely amoeba-like blobs of light, but best friend A. had to cover up her eight-year-old's eyes and hurry him out of the theatre!).

But I was especially enchanted by a quite lovely film called Think of Me First As a Person. (Some more links--here's the gist of it.)

In other news, my main job is to survive until the end of the semester. A little light reading here and there around the edges:

I spent a delightful evening rereading Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, which I must have read at least five or six times as a teenager and was glad to have a good reason to revisit. (The voice is still so fresh, so intelligent!)

One of the panelists at Friday's conference is a friend from college days, Aoibheann Sweeney, and some blend of guilt and genuine enthusiasm prompted me to dig out her novel Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking from the archeologically-scaled book heaps (I liked the look of it when it first came my way, but it vanished into the pile anyway!) and read it in several rather blissful sittings. It's just the kind of book I like, a novel for adults that's also got the appeal of young-adult fiction (a coming-of-age story with a first-person narrator), deeply appealing in terms of character and voice but also containing some absolutely lovely descriptive writing, especially of what happens when protagonist Miranda looks at modern art. (And there's swimming!)

I was somewhat disappointed by Charles Stross's The Family Trade. The narrative builds momentum in the second half, so that I finished feeling rather more eager to read the next installment than I would have imagined around a third of the way through, but the novel feels slightly as though it's written from outline, with none of the distinctive voice and humor I've liked so much in his other books. As though he's writing with one hand tied behind his back--and in fact it is still much better than many (most?!?) other ones. But marred, through no fault of his own, by the contrast I couldn't help drawing (it is unfair, this appeared before the other) between this and Paul Park's haunting and surpassingly strange A Princess of Roumania.

Finally, though I am really not equipped to write anything remotely like opera criticism, I did see Peter Grimes at the Met last week and will just say that it is a sinister and beautifully written opera indeed. But I wish the Met would abandon this awful practice of double intermissions in relatively short operas...

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