By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"The big thing now is archiving the materials," says Walt Gilmore, an assistant director for TV and assorted features in the '60s and '70s and the club's current vice president and program chairman, as well as director of its most recent group project. "I've got 30-year-old videotapes that are falling apart, and 16mm or 8mm films that are so brittle it's hard to even run them. We're all looking forward to the time we can get DVD burners we can afford -- it's a much more permanent medium."
MELINDA STONE, AN ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE AND Ph.D. candidate at the University of San Francisco, is writing her dissertation on California amateur film clubs. Titled If It Moves, We'll Shoot It (with a nod to Sam Peckinpah), it includes what might well be a slogan for the emerging body of academic theory surrounding amateur film: "Remember: The Ark was made by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals."
"I came across this phenomenon when I was in San Diego," she says, "when I was actually thinking I was going to do my dissertation research on home movies, and kind of excited about a lot of new research that had just emerged in that field. I didn't have any home movies of my own, so I was looking in the archives at UC San Diego, and the archivist there, like archivists around the world, had a secret cache of films. And sometime over the four years that I was hounding him, he let it be known that maybe I could look at it sometime."
Among the treasures Stone eventually unearthed were films by an amateur filmmaker named Colonel Alfred C. Strode, which seemed both more accomplished and more ambitious than most home movies. Strode was deceased, but his widow agreed to meet Stone at the Starbucks in Rancho Bernardo, where she eventually confided, "You know, if you're interested in this kind of filmmaking, then you need to get hold of this club that he belonged to" -- the San Diego Amateur Film Club.
"I started going to their meetings," says Stone, "and fell in love with them, and fell in love with their films, and that's when I realized, 'No one's writing about this.' And it seems like that's what we go to graduate school for, to unearth these interesting things and then write about them."
Stone subsequently curated a program of amateur films called "For the Love of It" (taking its name from the Maya Deren article), which screened at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archives and now tours semiannually, at least when she has the time to curate a new slate of films. ("I have my committee members who are saying, 'It's great that you do all this stuff, but get the dissertation done,'" she confesses. "So I'm going to do that this summer.")
Among her discoveries was Sid Laverents, a 92-year-old star of the San Diego club, a former vaudeville performer and aeronautical engineer whose 10-minute film Multiple Sidosis uses in-camera special effects to present up to 12 images simultaneously of Laverents playing along to music he wrote and recorded on a two-track home tape recorder. The film was recently selected as one of 25 named annually by the National Film Registry as worthy of preservation -- the first amateur film to be so designated.
"I just started hounding people," says Stone, "calling the Smithsonian, calling the Getty, just anybody I knew who had an interest in folk-film culture, which is what I call the amateur film clubs. And I got invited to join this select group of archivists from the Library of Congress for a three-day summit meeting at Sony Studios. The last couple of hours before we took off, they said, 'If you've brought anything that you want to show . . .' So I showed Multiple Sidosis, and Pat Loughney, one of the main archivists, said, 'This is what we need. This is what's missing.' And lo and behold, within eight months it was on the Registry."
Stone, with the prestige of Registry status, was able to secure restoration funds from the UCLA Film Archives and place a 35mm print of the film in the permanent Library of Congress archives. She recommends the clubs as an untapped resource of film-production lore.
"I'm always trying to encourage my filmmaker friends to go to club meetings," she says, "because I learned so much as a filmmaker from these people -- like how to build an animation stand. I still like the old-school techniques, the tactile relationship with filmmaking. And these guys are the link, really. I've gotten more amazing film equipment from them, too, because they're all in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and they've all pretty much gone to video -- they're really funny, techno-crazed people, for the most part, and so they're always doing the newest thing -- and so all of this really amazing equipment, like Bolexes and Bell & Howells, it all just sits in the closet. And when they find out that somebody is interested in film, they go crazy."
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF ONE MEMBER OF THE LA8 club, all L.A. club members work exclusively in video, as film costs are now prohibitive. And the membership is resolutely forward-thinking, especially in the area of technology: In the July 2002 news bulletin of the L.A. Cinema Club, amid the chatty club minutes and latest testimonials for miracle cures, there is an update on Bluetooth, the Scandinavian technology behind those personalized Lexus and Gap ads that recognize Tom Cruise's character by name in Minority Report, and how it has been customized for the latest generation of Sony three-chip Mini-DV camcorders.
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