Friday, August 16, 2013

Short Subject: 'Junkopia'

Ed. Note: “Junkopia” was shot in 1981 at the Emeryville Mudflats outside of San Francisco. The filming was done while director Chris Marker was also shooting footage in the area for his film, “Sans Soleil” (1983).

For more information click here and here.

Short Subject: The Power of Image

by James Parrish

I first met Steve Apkon at the Sundance Institute's Art House Convergence, an annual gathering of independent art house theaters that takes place in Midway, Utah, the week before the Sundance Film Festival each January. Steve is the executive director of the Jacob Burns Film Center, a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema; promoting 21st century literacy; and making film a vibrant part of the community. I've attended the Art House Convergence twice, in 2012 and 2013, as part of my research on establishing the Bijou Film Center.

Enjoy this great short film, I Am Here, made to accompany Steve's new book -- The Age of the Image. This little film shows exactly how image sound and story can be more effective than words alone. 

Connecting with leaders in the independent art house and independent media community like Steve is one of the best parts of the Art House Convergence. Before long and with your help, I'm convinced we can establish the Bijou Film Center to do for Richmond, VA what the Jacob Burns Film Center is doing for Pleasantville, NY.

In his book The Age of the Image (with a foreword by Martin Scorsese) Steve argues that it is time we understand why and how visual images are today's most powerful form of communication.
We are story animals. And we need to tell our stories in as direct, as
unmediated, and as emotionally resonant a way as possible.
-- Stephen Apkon, from The Age of the Image*
* Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. For more information, visit:


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Five Film Favorites: Gems on YouTube

by F.T. Rea

Of course I’d rather watch a brand new print of any movie than an old beat up print. Likewise, given the choice, I’d rather see that pristine print projected onto a large screen than watch it on a laptop. But if the choice is between seeing or not seeing a film, let’s say it’s a Fritz Lang picture I’ve read about but never seen, the laptop will do.

Enter YouTube.

Over the last few months I’ve watched a bunch of old movies on YouTube at no charge. Sometimes the look of the movie has been better than others. On any given day, it seems thousands of titles are available. Some of the films are in the public domain, others may not be. Consequently, due to rights issues, they might not be available on YouTube for long.

Several of the gems I’ve watched recently have subsequently been pulled, so don’t wait to see one on the list below you really want to see. The opportunity might be gone the next day. 

In particular, I’ve been enjoying the black and white movies from the 1950s and early-‘60s. Of the movies in that category I’ve watched recently on YouTube, my favorite five today (with links that still work at this posting) are as follows:

  • “The Big Heat” (1953): B&W. 90 minutes. Directed by Fritz Lang. Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin. Note: Ford is the cop who won’t be scared off of investigating the death of a colleague. Grahame is the gangster’s moll who gets caught in the middle. Marvin is the second-in-command of a crime syndicate; he routinely terrorizes people, especially women, for his own amusement. Click here to watch it.
  • “The Hitch-Hiker” (1952): B&W. 71 minutes. Directed by Ida Lupino. Cast: Edmund O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Note: Based on a true crime spree story that had been covered extensively by the press in 1950. For a woman to direct a lean and brutal movie like this one was a breakthrough in that time. Talman’s quirky portrayal as the psychotic murderer is memorable. Click here to watch it.
  • “Paris Blues” (1961): B&W. 98 minutes. Directed by Martin Ritt. Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier, Louis Armstrong, Diahann Carroll. Note: Nice soundtrack and just seeing the good looking stars of this story about Americans involved with the jazz scene in Paris is worth investing 98 minutes. These expatriates were way too cool for the processed rhythm and blues, folk music, etc., that was dominating the pop charts in the USA. Click here to watch it.
  • “Patterns” (1956): B&W. 83 minutes. Directed by Fielder Cook. Cast: Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley. Note: Written by Rod Serling, “Patterns” was first presented on the Kraft Television Theatre in 1955. A year later it was reworked as a feature film. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story of dog-eat-dog immorality in the business world is how well it holds up -- Serling's dialogue is still crisp. Click here to watch it.
  • "Shake Hands With the Devil" (1959): B&W. 111 minutes. Directed by Michael Anderson. Cast: James Cagney, Don Murray, Dana Wynter, Richard Harris. Note: This story about an American medical student (of Irish heritage) getting inadvertently involved with revolutionary politics is set in Dublin in 1921. The student, who is also an apolitical WWI veteran, gets dragged into the IRA’s bitter battle with the thuggish Black and Tans. Click here to watch it. 


Pub. Note: 'The Harder They Come' 40th Anniversary Re-release

by James Parrish

After I tweeted Bijou Backlight editor Terry Rea's story about his work planning and executing a successful premiere screening of The Harder They Come at the Biograph Theatre some 40 years ago, lo and behold, we got "favorited" by the folks handling the 40th anniversary re-release of the film at select theaters on September 5th.

I love happy coincidences.

One of those theaters is Nashville's Belcourt Theatre, an anchor organization with the Art House Convergence, an annual gathering of this country's independent art house theaters. It's times like these when I wish the Bijou Film Center was already open -- I sure would love to have a hand in bringing the film back to Richmond ... 40 years later!

For now, this trailer and some wishful thinking will have to do.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Feature: Screening 'The Harder They Come'

by F.T Rea

Ed. Note: What follows is an episode of Biograph Times, which is a work-in-progress that hopes to one day become a book. Part memoir, part pop culture history, part folderol, the stories revolve around the Biograph Theatre (1972-87), as seen through the eyes of its original manager. The Biograph was an independent repertory cinema, located at 814 West Grace Street in Richmond, Virginia. It opened in an era that seemed ready to give the baby boomers, who were becoming adults, whatever they wanted. 


Still of Jimmy Cliff as Ivan.
In the fall of 1973, David Levy, then the most active managing partner/owner of the Biograph Theatres in Georgetown and Richmond, asked me to look at a film to evaluate its potential. From time to time he did that for various reasons. In this case he had a new 35mm print of “The Harder They Come” shipped to me. I managed the Biograph in Richmond.

In those days we had frequent after-hours screenings of films we came by, one way or another. Usually on short notice, the word would go out that we would be watching a movie at a certain time. These gatherings were essentially impromptu movie parties. A couple of times it was 1940s and '50s 16mm boxing films from a private collection.

Sometimes prints of films that were in town to play at another venue, say a film society, would mysteriously appear in our booth. In such cases the borrowed flicks were always returned before they were missed ... so I was told.

Although I don’t remember any moments, in particular, from that first screening of “The Harder They Come”, I do recall the gist of my telephone conversation with Levy the next day. After telling him how much I liked the Jamaican movie, he asked me how I would promote it.

Well, I was ready for that question. I had smoked it over thoroughly with a few friends during and after the screening. So, I told David we ought to have a free, open-to-the-public, sneak preview of the movie. Most importantly, we should use radio exclusively to promote the screening. Because of the significance of the radio campaigns for the Biograph's midnight shows, over the last year, he liked the idea right away.

In this time, long before the era of giant corporations owning hundreds of stations, a locally-programmed daytime radio station with a weak signal played a significant role in what success was enjoyed at the Biograph. For a while we had a sweet deal -- a dollar-a-holler -- with WGOE-AM, the most popular station for the under-35 set in the Fan District and environs. In the first half of the 1970s, the station at the top of the dial, 1590, owned the hippie market. 

Subsequently, on a Friday morning in November the deejays at WGOE began reading announcements of a free showing of “The Harder They Come” that would take place at the Biograph that afternoon at 3 p.m. Then they would play a cut by Jimmy Cliff, the film’s star, from the soundtrack. This pattern was continued maybe three times an hour, leading up to the time of the screening.

“The Harder They Come” (1972): 120 minutes. Color. Directed by Perry Henzell; Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw. In this Jamaican production, Cliff plays Ivan, a pop star/criminal on the lam. The music of Cliff, The Maytals, The Melodians and Desmond Dekker is featured.

Of course, Reggae music was being heard in Richmond before our free screening, but it was still on the periphery of popular culture. As I recall, some 300 people showed up for the screening and the movie was extremely well received.

In previous runs in other markets, “The Harder They Come” had been treated more or less as an underground movie. As it was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its American distribution, it had a grainy, documentary look to it that added to its allure. Upon hearing about the audience's approval, Levy got excited and wanted to book it to run as a regular feature, rather than as a midnight show.

While it didn’t set any records for attendance, “The Harder They Come” did fairly well and returned to play several more dates at the Biograph, at regular hours and as a midnight show. 

Levy became a sub-distributor for “The Harder They Come.” When he rented it to theaters in other cities within his region, he urged them to use the same radio-promoted, free-screening tactic.

Over the next few years Reggae music smoothly crossed over from niche to mainstream to ubiquitous. Bob Marley (1945-81), dead for over 30 years, still has a huge following to this day. Reggae's acceptance opened the door for the popularity of the still-fresh fusion sound of the 2 Tone bands, like The Selecter, The Specials, the (English) Beat, Madness, and so forth, in the early-1980s.

Forty years ago, watching a virtually unknown low-budget Jamaican film after hours in the Biograph, all that was yet to happen. On that night in 1973 "The Harder They Come" looked and sounded exotic to those assembled in the Biograph's auditorium.


Ed. Note: Click here to read more of the completed episodes of Biograph Times. 


Bijou Diaries: It Begins with a Kid

by James Parrish

Charles Starrett as The Durango Kid
Ed. Note: This begins what will be a series of posts written by the publisher of the Bijou Backlight.


The idea for the Bijou Film Center really begins with a kid -- the Durango Kid. You see, I grew up listening to my dad to tell stories of the many Saturdays he spent at the Princess Theatre in the 1940s and 50s in Benson, North Carolina, our hometown.

By the time I came along, the screen of the Princess had long been dark and those exciting Saturdays packed with enthusiastic kids were trapped behind the boarded up windows and doors of the theatre, projected only the mind's eyes of those kids, now adults, like my dad and his childhood friend, "Fish."

Even today, you can see the twinkle in his eye when he describes how he gathered his pennies and nickels for the Saturday afternoon shows by selling discarded soft drink bottles to the grocer, old newspapers to the fish market and used coat hangers to the dry cleaners. For dad those pennies and nickels were passage into the worlds of Wild Bill Hickcok, Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson, Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and his favorite, the Durango Kid. When the credits rolled, my dad and his friends would fling open the doors of the Princess, rushing home to recreate this week's showdowns between good and evil.

It was my dad who took my brother and me to the movies to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones and countless others, giving us our own childhood memories and passing along his love of the movies. The Bijou Film Center, first and foremost, will be for the kid in all of us who wants nothing more than to spend Saturdays at the movies and then save the day, just in the nick of time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Short Subject: 'The Film That Warped Too Much'

by F.T. Rea

Once its doors open for business, in addition to presenting lots of movies, the Bijou Film Center will start doing what it can to become a part of the overall effort to preserve old films and convert them to modern formats; the emphasis will be on Super 8 and 16mm films.

The Bijou, a little cinema with a single auditorium, will be the heart of the nonprofit Bijou Film Center, which will be established in the Richmond's burgeoning Arts District. However, the new Bijou will be more than just a movie house.

The ongoing development of film restoration technology is fascinating. New techniques are putting the magic back into fragile old footage. For a glance at how some of that is being done, click play on the Criterion Collection's YouTube video above, to watch “The Film That Warped Too Much.”