Saturday, October 08, 2011
Review for Emerson Presents/Emerson College Faculty Film Series Boston, Mass.
By Amy R. Tighe
Turns out, I know more than I think I do. When I got assigned to review the Emerson Faculty Film series called Emerson Presents, I was a little concerned. I admit it, I don’t really know the difference between a film and a movie. I probably never will. But I love to learn, to talk to artists about their work and to see film that I might otherwise not have access to view.
Emerson Presents offers monthly screenings of films made by faculty, local filmmakers and scholars who are available to talk to the audience after the screening. Viewers have immediate and personal access to the artists and experts who discuss up close their work in an atmosphere of inquiry and insight. We get to see the Wizard behind the curtain and learn more about OZ. It’s a perfect way to learn.
The kick-off film of the season was “Scum of the Earth.” It’s a sexploitation film, made in 1963, when film was rising as a mass media form while at the same time, societal sexual standards were changing. Presented by Professor Eric Schaefer, the film is a great example of the era. Big cars, small cityscapes, bumpy camera shots, blunt dialogue and simple characters. In a short clip prior to the film, the producer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, tells us that the trailers for his films were brilliant because they enticed people to come and that he made lots of money off of them. Overseeing his museum, in his garage in the South, is his main work now. We watched a trailer, it was full of T&A, lots of full frontal and nude shots of women, no nude shots of men. Sort of uninteresting, but I wanted to hear what the experts thought.
When we finally saw the feature, it was about a sweet young thing being coerced into having bad photos taken of her when scantily clad, and bad guys gaping around her. Yep, lots of schlock, lots of clichés. There are two murders, a few rapes (off camera) a graphic beating with a belt (on camera) and a suicide.
I was hoping for a discussion afterwards of what we had seen. How did camera angle, use of lighting in a limited technology, black outs and white outs on the screen become an integral part of the action in the film? The role of women as objects, specific techniques the filmmaker used to make us, as viewers, actually become voyeurs, and to ask ourselves whether a rape off screen was more violent than on screen -- to me, these would have been great topics. We didn’t get to any of that, which was a disappointment. The room was clearly full of intelligent and insightful people and an excellent discussion was completely available. We just didn’t connect. Too much T&A, not enough Q&A.
I will probably never see another sexploitation film from the 60s. But I most definitely will continue to come to this film series because I learned there are other ways to value a film, and to discuss how a film reflects and impacts its culture. I may stop going to movies. It’s more filling to watch the filmmaker in the room talk about their work. You can’t do that with most of what’s out there in movie land. Public discussion of public art is satisfying and ARTSEMERSON makes this happen for the seasoned and the novice.
The next film is October 14. Associate Professor Kathryn Ramey will present a program of her work, starting with her recent video Yanqui WALKER and the OPTICAL REVOLUTION, an exploration of the obscure American expansionist and military dictator William Walker. On November 4, Assistant Professor Hassan Ildari, a screenwriter and director originally from Tehran, Iran, will show his 1989 feature film Face of the Enemy, based on characters related to the 1979 Iran-US hostage crisis.
Tickets to Emerson Presents screenings are $10; $7.50 for members and seniors (65+); and $5 for students. The series is presented in the Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, Boston, and will continue through April 2012. Check the website for screening times www.artsemerson.org or call 617-824-8400.
As an aside, I must say that the Paramount is a total sensory delight. If you go to the movies to escape, then come here. The restoration is entrancing. It’s better than having a fairy godmother. Upon entering, you’re transported into an Art Deco dream, suddenly adorned with diamonds and your sensible business suit has become a glistening gown. If you are not careful you might start dancing in the foyer. But that would be just grand because the staff is totally professional, accommodating and gracious, they might even dance with you. And if you go to movies to learn something new, again, come here. Overall, ArtsEmerson has an innovative and inviting program. Rarely seen films and prints of Katherine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, a collection called The Marriage Circle, portraying “the comedy and the awfulness of marital strife” are a few of their offerings. I’m bringing my 10 year old niece to see at least two of the matinees on the Big Screen.
Built in 1932, the Paramount has had many lives. It opened as a Palace, succumbed to decades of urban decay, and became another victim of the Combat Zone. Emerson College has thoughtfully and thoroughly embraced this history, and offers us a way to understand where we have been, and also, through its programming, where we can go. Definitely a Boston gem!