July 25, 2013

The City in the 60s - Lost Gems from Non-Theatrical Distribution

by Allen Irwin

Last weekend the National Gallery of Art screened a series of 16mm documentary and educational films organized around the idea of “The City in the 60s” to highlight the neglected area of film culture that is non-theatrical distribution. Of the 7 films screened, only one was shown theatrically in the United States, and the majority were shown in schools or other educational venues. Most of them are also available to watch online, and well worth checking out:

Felicia (1965) - This short documentary about a young girl living in Watts, LA in the mid 1960s feels very much like a precursor to 1970s films like Killer of Sheep (1977) and Bush Mama (1979), albeit with a more straightforward documentary approach, and it was produced through the same UCLA film program that would be responsible for the later L.A. Rebellion film movement (of which Burnett and Gerima’s are a part). It also serves as a window into a very specific point in time, as it takes place only months before the 1965 Watts Riots.

Three Cures for a Sick City (1964) - This was the only film shown that I couldn’t find online - it investigates the ways that three different Washington, D.C. neighborhoods (Georgetown, Southwest, and Adams Morgan) approached urban renewal in the 60s.

Village Sunday (1960) - A fun sampling of life in Greenwich Village on a Sunday afternoon. The playful narration is by Jean Shepherd, who wrote A Christmas Story (1983).

Time Piece (1965) - A very early experimental film directed by (and starring!) none other than Jim Henson. It follows a vague narrative of a man in a hospital, and spins off into his subconscious the first chance it gets. There is a musical beat, action or cut for every second of screen time and Henson uses the syncopation to build an intricate structure of surreal images and associations. This is the one film here that was shown theatrically - on a bill with the French film A Man and a Woman (1966). Unfortunately this clip is only a segment from the film - see the whole thing if you get the chance. (Click here and scroll down to see some more early Henson Shorts)

Chicago: City to See in ’63 (1963) - This portrait of 1963 Chicago was made by filmmaker Margaret Conneely to encourage attendance at the 1963 Photographic Society of America conference.

Nightsong (1964) - An impressionistic ride through Chicago’s nighttime club and music scene with musician Willie Wright as your guide. Directed by Don Klugman (Check out more Klugman shorts on his YouTube Channel)

The Battle for Michigan Avenue (1968) - This is a boots-on-the-ground documentary covering the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Rather than using narration, it builds its story through immediate imagery and montage. It is part of a seven part series: “The Urban Crisis and the New Militants” - which can be viewed (along with a bunch of other cool films) at the Chicago Film Archive’s YouTube Page.

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