Tag Archives: Film

Time Travellers

Generally there are several films on my Salem Film Fest “itinerary”, but this year (the Festival’s 10th) I seem to be focused exclusively on one documentary: Jay Cheel’s How to Build a Time Machine. I don’t think I’m quite as fixated on time travel as the two subjects of the film, animator Rob Niosi and theoretical physicist Ron Mallet, but I’m a Time Machine aficionado too: of the book and both (major) movies. I think there are personal motivations behind their mutual quest, but I haven’t seen the film yet. Beyond Wells’ storytelling abilities, the attraction for me is the steampunky notion of playing with time: I certainly don’t want to conquer or even control it! Like most historians, I don’t have a romantic attachment to the past either: I know it was dirtier, smellier and dark, but not, perhaps, as dark as the future, so I would still prefer to go back, if only for a spell, in my dependable machine.

time-machine-poster

time-machine-collage A century of time machines, from Enrique Gaspar’s “time ship” (1887) to the 1960 Wells machine, to TARDIS.

I’m just a casual delver into science fiction, but it seems me that The Time Machine is seldom discussed in the context of its lighter predecessor, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), probably because the latter is so light and not as concerned with the logistics of time travel. It is interesting to me that at this time, the tail end of the nineteenth century, so many people were interested in going back or forward or to anywhere but where they actually were! These two works initiated a time travel genre that will no doubt be with us forever, encompassing everything from Time Bandits, to Back to the Future to Midnight in Paris and everything in between, including my personal favorite, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey.

time-trave-aconnecticutyankeeillustratedepub

time-travel-connecticut_yankee4_new

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chestnut-street-pc-with-knight Knights descend on Salem!


March of…….

I’m interested in the concepts and visualizations of march or marching on this first day of March, 2017 and trying to divorce the term from its predominantly military and political references. I’m tired of the march on and more interested in the march ofwho or what else is marching besides soldiers and activists? As I browsed through my favorite databases of museum and library collections and auction archives a few trends emerged, though it took some time to cull out all the military marches and marches on Washington, past and present. The third most popular use of the concept of marching has to do with time and/or progress: up until the middle of the twentieth century the “march of time” inevitably means progress–after that it’s not all that certain. Beyond time, the word is used to highlight certain social campaigns (the March of Dimes) or trends, often on sheet music or editorial cartoons. Then there are various whimsical marches that are more representative of artistic expression than any larger commentary. Animals are often marching, and after 2005, of course, it’s all about the March of the Penguins.

march-of-intellect-smithsonian

march-of-the-dawn-of-the-century

march-of-time-collage

One of several satirical prints showcasing future long-distance travel entitled The March of Intellect (“Lord how this world improves as we grow older”) published by T. McLean, London, 1828-30, and Dawn of the Century March & Two-Step, 1900, also featuring the “march” of technology, Smithsonian Institution Collections. By the middle of the twentieth century, the newsreel series The March of Time was much more realistic than idealistic. Also from the Smithsonian: I LOVE the 1928 print by artist and illustrator Robert Lawson (1892-1957) entitled The March of Progress below:  the gleaming modern buildings of the rising New York City skyline loom above sad fairy-tale characters exiting the scene (Central Park), led by a lone wolf: there’s no room for whimsy in 1920s New York!

marchofprogress-lawsonRobert Lawson, The March of Progress, 1928.

Forcing someone to march in line is an easy and effective way to constrain/tame/demean and mimic them–a visual device that is very apparent in Henri Gustave Jossot’s famous anti-clerical caricature from 1902:  the “Geese”. This image pairs very nicely with that of another French artist, René Magritte’s Le Marché des Snobs sheet-music cover from 1924, coming up in an auction of vintage posters at Swann Auction Gallery later this month. Another Swann lot, Rodolph Bresdin’s  Le Marché aux Parasols, illustrates that “marching” doesn’t necessarily have to be strident, purposeful, good or bad, just (somewhat) active.

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Henri Gustave Jossot, The Geese, from L’Assiette au Beurre, 17 May 1902; René Magritte, Marche des Snobs. Sheet music, 1924; Rodolphe Bresdin Le Marché  aux Parasols, 1866, Swann Auction Galleries.


What Would Jane Think?

My guilty pleasure-reward for making it through this particular semester is indulgence in a few Austen-esque books: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible and Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe. Eligible updates Pride and Prejudice by removing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and their plot-driving families to the suburbs of Cincinnati, where they encounter complications brought on not only by their pride, prejudice, and genteel poverty, but also by a range of modern challenges (and opportunities): everything from artificial insemination to anorexia to a reality television wedding extravaganza. I think I got most of the updating, although I’m not quite sure of the significance of the spider infestation in the Bennet Tudor (Revival). Eligible is the fourth adaptation of HarperCollins’ Austen Project, which has commissioned contemporary authors to “reimagine” six Austen novels: I’ve also read Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and am looking forward to the reimagined Persuasion, my favorite Austen. The Austen Project apparently aims not only to update but also to upgrade the usual Austen fan fiction genre, which has produced countless titles since Colin Firth/Darcy emerged from the Pemberley lake in the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries.

Austen Project Collage

Austen Stack

Austens Folio Society stack

British covers of Trolloppe’s Sense and Sensibility and Sittenfeld’s Eligible; my stack of real and inspired Austens; my favorite recent editions, from the Folio Society.

I’m not quite sure that I represent the target audience for all these Austen adaptations, even though I was right there, holding my breath, when Elizabeth encountered a damp Colin/Darcy striding from the lake. I’m probably too old or too traditional or both: while I got Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary, I didn’t really understand the point of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in either text or film form. But I am really interested in the culture–and the economy–of “Janeitism” because it seems like a very vibrant one, offering up many new and varied products every year. I haven’t started Yaffe’s Among the Janeites yet (I’ve been too busy with Eligible) but I’m hoping it will give me lots of insights into this world. You would think that the word “Janeite” is a new one, but actually it goes all the way back to the first big revival of her works, following the publication of her nephew’s Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, which inspired the appearance of several illustrated and introduced editions in the 1890s. From then on, it wasn’t quite the Austenworld that we live in now, but she was regularly in print (you can see a nice succession of Pride and Prejudice covers here) and occasionally on the screen. Austen adaptations have clearly surpassed those mediums in the twenty-first century, and I can’t help but wonder, what would Jane think?

Austenland

Death Comes to Pemberley

Austen Love & Friendship

balbusso_pp_1 Pride and Prejudice

Stills from Austenland (2013), which was not very good, Death Comes to Pemberley (2015), which was quite good, and a film opening this week, Love & Friendship, based on Austen’s posthumously-published epistolary novel, Lady Susan; Jane thinking, illustration from the 2013 Folio Society edition of Pride and Prejudice by the Anna and Elena Balbusso.


Salem on Screen: East meets West

There is quite a long list of films set in Salem, but the list of films that were actually filmed here is impressive as well–and much more impactful. David O. Russell apparently loves Salem, as he filmed scenes from two movies here (American Hustle, Joy) even though their plots did not necessitate this location, tours of Hocus Pocus locations remain ridiculously popular, and though not a film, we’ve decided to dedicate a very prominent city square to Samantha from Bewitched (and TV Land), just because a few episodes were filmed here. The very first production filmed in Salem, however, traded on its commercial reputation rather than its connection to witchcraft: this was the 1923 silent film Java Head, which shot scenes on Derby Wharf, Salem Common, and Chestnut Street.

Filmed in Salem Java Head Lobby Poster

Java Head was based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Hergesheimer, about the scion of an old Salem family who meets a “Manchu princess” in China, marries her to prevent her imminent death, and brings her home to his Yankee family and the girl he left behind. Apparently this love triangle drives the movie, along with lots of cross-cultural conflicts, but I’m basing my plot summary on the novel (and the 1934 “talkie” remake, which replaced Salem with Bristol, England) as the film has not made it to You Tube (and may indeed be lost, along with 75% of all silent films that were produced–the Library of Congress has catalogued the film but there are “no holdings” in its archive). The interior and “Chinese” scenes of Java Head were filmed at a studio in New York, but Derby Wharf (or a nearby stand-in) and several Salem structures were used as locations. In his 1989 memoir Highlight and Shadows, cameraman Charles Galloway Clarke recalls that We loved the good people of Salem for they were friendly and helpful and did everything to make our stay there pleasurable. After finishing the scenes around the recreated dock, for this was a film about the China Trade during the sailing days of Salem, we returned to Astoria for the interior scenes. The title “character” of the film is actually a Federal mansion, exemplifying the fortunes to be made in the China trade. Contemporary sources hint that the Forrester-Peabody Mansion (later the Salem Club and later still the Bertram Home) “played” Java Head, but I think a far more likely suspect is the Devereux-Hoffman-Simpson House on Chestnut Street.There are a few more details and images here, but what I’d really like to see is the film!.

Filmed in Salem Java Head Poster

Filmed in Salem Java Head article

Filmed in Salem Leatrice Joy

Filmed in Salem Java Head 1923

Filmed in Salem Bertram Home

Filmed in Salem Devereux Hoffman Simpson House Chestnut Street

Lobby Card for Java Head (1923) and article from Picture Play from the same year, showing lead actress Leatrice Joy’s transition “from occidental to oriental”; after the transition-a Swedish poster for the film; a still from the film showing the Salem mansion “Java Head” which some sources identify as the Bertram House at 29 Washington Square (with flag, above), but I think it was definitely 26 Chestnut Street (just above).


Salem Film Fest 2016

CATS, architecture, the Renaissance (or pseudo-Renaissance)…all my favorite topics are featured in documentary films screening at this year’s Salem Film Fest, which opened last night with Curious Worlds: the Art & Imagination of [miniaturist] David Beck. The festival is now a Salem tradition, in its ninth year, and of course a welcome addition to the non-witchy/kitschy calendar. I usually go to one or two films, and regret not seeing more. Even though the slogan of the festival is Come to Salem, See the World, its organizers always include some local productions, so the entire experience has a “glocal” feel to it, which seems appropriate for our city, our time, and this particular medium. This evening we will see Concrete Lovethe Böhm Family, which purportedly “paints an intimate and pointed portrait of the complexity and inseparability of life, love, faith and architecture” through its examination of the life and work of German architect Gottfried Böhm, the patriarch of an architectural dynasty which includes his three sons. This weekend, I’ve got my eye on Projections of America, featuring 26 short propaganda films about America: the people produced for European audiences following the liberation of France in 1944, Kedi, all about the hundreds of thousands of cats that roam the streets of Istanbul, American Renaissance, a short on Renaissance-faire culture (I can’t miss this, as hopefully it will give me all sorts of insights into my students), and The Million Dollar Duck, (not to be confused with the 1971 Disney film of the same name) about the fierce competition among six artists to win the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art competition sponsored by the U.S. government. I feel honor-bound to see this last movie, as one of Salem’s most illustrious artists, Frank Benson, was actually one of the competition’s first victors!

Salem Film Fest Concrete Love Poster

Salem Film Fest Poster_Projections_of_America

Salem Film Fest Kedi Still

Salem Film Fest Kedi Cat

Salem Film Fest AMERICANRENAISSANCE_web_1

Salem Film Fest Million Dollar Duck

Duck Stamp

German poster for Concrete Love: the Böhm Family; Projections of America poster;  character cats in Kedi; a “Renaissance” plague doctor in American Renaissance, poster for The Million Dollar Duck, and Frank Benson’s winning design from 1935.


Through the Spyglass

While watching Admiral, the lavish Dutch film about the great Michiel de Ruyter (1607-1676), Lieutenant-Admiral of the Dutch Fleet during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the mid-seventeenth century, all I could think about was spyglasses. He had one on deck, of course, as did everyone around him, and it also seemed as if we were watching these epic naval battles through them from the shore. So in addition to seeing spyglasses on the screen, I felt like I had one, and was therefore able to get very close to this meticulously made-up world (sometimes too close–see below). Admiral is not a great film by any means (although its original Dutch version, titled Michiel de Ruyter, is probably a lot better as the English dubbing is really distracting; I would have preferred subtitles), although it is very engaging one. It’s also not a great historical film: the history is off and compressed; no one ages or is the right age.The peripheral royal characters, the foppish Prince William III of Orange and the decadent King Charles II of England, are just caricatures, but very watchable caricatures nonetheless. And fair warning: the violence is explicit as the film recreates one of the most horrifying events in European history, the lynching of Johan and Cornelis de Witt by an organized Orangist mob in 1672. I really wish I had looked away sooner. Nevertheless, for all the violence and the video-game attributes of the film, it does present an interesting corrective to the dominant British or French perspective one usually sees in historical films and the acting and material details are really wonderful. Like our founding fathers, Michiel de Ruyter is on the money in the Netherlands, so not just anyone could play him: the Dutch actor Frank Lammers was perfect. And I also started to think about naval formations for the very first time.

Admiral Film Poster 2015

Admiral Michiel_de_Ruyter_1607-1676

Admiraal_Michiel_Adriaensz._de_Ruyter_en_zijn_familie_door_Jurriaen_Jacobson_1662

Admiral Spyglasses Still

The poster for the 2015 English-language film; Ferdinand Bol, Michiel de Ruyter as Lieutenant-Admiral, 1667, Rijksmuseum; Juriaenn Jacobsz., Michiel de Ruyter and his family, 1662, Rijksmuseum; a still from the film with spyglasses.

As you can see in the contemporary paintings above, de Ruyter’s spyglass was like an extra appendage: he wields it even in the family portrait. A century or so later it will be commonplace to see admirals and sea captains pictured with their spyglasses, but this is a new composition/characterization in the seventeenth century–the telescope was invented by Dutch spectacle-makers (NOT Galileo) for maritime purposes only a few decades before the beginning of de Ruyter’s career. It’s almost like a national symbol for the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century, when it was commonly referred to as the “Dutch Telescope”. From this time until well into the nineteenth century it’s fairly difficult to find a portrait of a sea captain without a spyglass by his side: it looks like this is yet another legacy of the Dutch Golden Age.

Some Anglo-American sea captains of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, spyglasses in hand:

Admiral Warren NMM

Captain Sir Edward Vernon NMM

Sea Captains nineteenth century

Thomas Hudson, Admiral Sir Peter Warren, 1748-42, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; Francis Hayman, Captain Sir Edward Vernon (who later became an Admiral, SWOON), c. 1753-56, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; and two mid-nineteenth century merchant captains from either side of the Atlantic: an anonymous English merchant captain, c. 1830 and portrait of Captain John Howland of New Bedford (1802-46) by an unknown artist, New Bedford Whaling Museum.


The Wayfaring Chapel

To stick with cinema for just a bit, I’ve always believed that those in Salem who favor the maritime over the witchcraft in terms of tourism focus are handicapped a bit because Salem was not a whaling port like New Bedford. Merchants are simply not as dashing and courageous as whalers; there is no Hawthornian equivalent of Moby Dick. When I think of the latter, I must admit that images from the 1956 film come to mind much more quickly and vividly than detailed passages from the 1851 book, and the very first image that comes to mind is the passionate preaching of Father Mapple (Orson Welles) from that amazing pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship in a seamen’s chapel, or Bethel, packed with mariners. Both the preacher and the place were based on reality; in the case of the former, the “Mariner’s Preacher” of the Boston Bethel, Edward Thompson Taylor, and the Bethel was based on that of New Bedford, which is still standing (its original pulpit was not the elaborate one depicted in the film, but a similar one constructed to satisfy the tourists who made their way to New Bedford in increasing numbers due to the popularity of the film–a version of Salem’s Samantha statue).

Bethel

Bethel Collage

Orson Welles in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956); The New Bedford Bethel or “Whaleman’s Chapel”, exterior and interior.

Like nearly every seaport of a certain size, Salem had a Seamen’s Bethel too, but it was a wandering one. It clearly existed in the early part of the nineteenth century (there is an extant sign, and several references to a chapel at the head of Phillips Wharf), but was reincarnated later on. The French Catholic parish, St. Joseph’s, purchased an old Bethel on Herbert Street in 1873, and then it turns up in two locations on Turner Street: first right on the water in the House of the Seven Gables’ front yard, and then alongside it on the street. A large bequest by Captain Henry Barr funded the construction of this later building in 1890-91, but a decade later newspapers across the country were commenting on Salem’s fading maritime glory, testified to by the fact there were simply not enough sailors in Salem to attend services in this new Bethel; consequently the YMCA took over the building in 1911. By the 1920s it was moved to another location on Turner Street to accommodate the expanding House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, and by the 1930s it was gone. The last picture of the Bethel below, taken by the Boston-based architectural photographer Leon Abdalian in 1929, was probably more notable for the blimp than the Bethel at the time!

Seamen's Bethel Salem on Water

Bethel on Turner

The Salem Seamen’s Bethel, 1914 and 1929, Boston Public Library.


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