The UCLA Film & Television Archive and Los Angeles Filmforum are partnering to present a weekend of events feting “orphan” films, which are merely movies without traceable copyright ownership or a substantial role to play in the marketplace. The archive industry strives, via DVDs and minifestivals like this one, to invent such a role, leaving it up to us, this weekend, to decide whether the movement to preserve cinema abandoned by capitalist whim should succeed or not.
Orphanhood is often the destiny of ephemeral film — educational shorts, industrial promotions, news footage, home movies, items produced for television back when it was considered disposable. Among the prize nuggets in UCLA's two-day program are a 1925 newsreel of a promotional happening — actual steam engine, Indians and cowboys — performed in front of the Egyptian Theatre to mark the opening of John Ford's The Iron Horse; a couple of early '70s computer experiments by Bell Labs staffer Lillian Schwartz; home movies by black entertainer Marie Dickerson Coker, and so on. The more thoroughly authored freakazoids are just as savory: the recently controversial David Wojnarowicz film A Fire in My Belly (1986-87) in its full 13-minute form; a 1932 Republic Studios short, The Unshod Maiden, which re-edits Lois Weber's 1916 feature Shoes to mock its political meaning; and And Then They Forgot God (1971), a Kafka-esque dystopian drama shot for TV (with Beverly Garland, Joseph Campanella and Adam West!), which has apparently completely slipped the noose of history and appears in no one's filmography.
New York–based filmmaker Bill Brand, who is presenting a number of UCLA's selections, gets his own retrospective on Sunday at the Egyptian. Roping in shorts made over more than a quarter-century, the lineup includes his epochal 1984 featurette Coalfields, which ruminates on coal-worker black lung and the activism around it via an optically printed Brakhagian shit storm of traveling-matte chaos and flicker assault, as if the film itself is continually trying to expel toxic particulates. Brand's more recent films, shot on video, focus on the body in super close-up: In Swan's Island (2006), what appears at first to be the Caribbean as viewed from the clouds becomes a woman's paint-spattered body; and in Suite (1996-2003), the camera patrols everything from double-exposed home movies to the textures of nephrectomy sutures.
CELEBRATING ORPHAN FILMS | May 13-14 | Billy Wilder Theater | www.cinema.ucla.edu
INTERIOR LANDSCAPES: FILMS BY BILL BRAND | May 15 | L.A. Filmforum at the Egyptian Theater | lafilmforum.org