Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air

The great French artist Fernand Léger once said, "The cinema and aviation go arm in arm through life; they are born on the same day." While not literally true, Léger's observation is true enough. Aviation and motion pictures came of age together.

As history shows, around the same time that the Wright Brothers and other pioneers of manned flight were developing the first airplanes, the flickers were emerging as a dominant new form of entertainment and art. Within just a couple of decades, the first motion picture — a silent film — would be shown aboard an airplane.

The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, along with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, have joined together to present a series of films devoted to aviation. "Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air" screens at the PFA February 23 through February 26.

Patrick Ellis, a doctoral student in the Department of Film and Media at UC Berkeley and guest curator of the series, notes "For many years, the vehicle in which most people first experienced flight was not the airplane, but the movie theater. The new flying machines were still prohibitively expensive and often dangerous, but the vertiginous thrills they provided could safely be simulated with a fisticuffs-on-the-wing film like Dizzy Heights and Daring Hearts (1915). That is, when the idea of mechanical flight did not seem simply far-fetched. If a ship could actually fly, it was thought, well then anything might fly: beds, houses, people. The great silent fantasists — Winsor McCay, Georges Méliès, Walt Disney — all explored these possibilities."

"Others imagined how life might be lived in a world of commonplace flight. The London of High Treason (1929), a science-fictional "aerotropolis" of conspirators and saboteurs, suggests that such speculation was not without attendant anxieties. This was, after all, the first generation to see these machines put to war. In A Trip to Mars (1918), made at the war's end, we find a pacific message gleaned from the new technology of flight. Above all, the new way of seeing — the aerial view — is savored in these films. In The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower (1927), director Julien Duvivier steals glances at the world below from every available purchase, possessed by the view from above — a harbinger of our present life in the air."

If you love the movies, "Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air" is a great opportunity to take-in some little seen works, a couple of which call to mind Fritz Lang's ever popular science fiction spectacle, Metropolis (1927).

Thursday, February 23, 2012
7:00 p.m. A Trip to Mars
Holger-Madsen (Denmark, 1918) Archival Restoration! Part science fiction and part utopian fantasy, this silent film from Denmark combines the fascination for flight with a WWI-era imagination of a world without war—in this case, perhaps ironically, the planet Mars. (90 minutes) Introduced by Mark Sandberg. Bruce Loeb on piano.

Friday, February 24, 2012
7:00 p.m. High Treason
Maurice Elvey (U.K., 1929) Archival Print! In a futuristic London, the Peace League must stage a popular revolt in the air force —and in so doing repair the romance between a pacifist and a soldier. A modernist Lysistrata, an English Metropolis — High Treason is science fiction for the Jazz Age. (75 minutes) Live musical accompaniment by Peter Chapman.

Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:00 p.m. The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower
Julien Duvivier (France, 1927) Archival Print! A palate cleanser for those who found Spielberg’s Tintin wanting, Julien Duvivier’s late-silent adventure masterpiece served as an inspiration for the original Tintin comics, and delivers much of the same charm, inventiveness, and visual delight. The PFA is screening the only known copy of this rare film. (129 minutes) Introduced by Patrick Ellis. Live musical accompaniment by Ken Ueno, Matt Ingals, Hadley MacCarroll.

Sunday, February 26, 2012
2:00 p.m. Fantasies of Flight: Animation and Comedy Shorts
The utter novelty of human flight during most of the silent period is hard for our post-jet-set age to fathom: this program aims to recapture an inkling of this lost sense of wonder. Included are the French comedy Airplane Gaze; Edwin S. Porter’s The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; Winsor McCay’s The Flying House; Disney’s Alice’s Balloon Race; Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, and the Mack Sennett-produced aviatrix comedy, Dizzy Heights and Daring Hearts. (97 minutes)  Introduced by Patrick Ellis. Frederick Hodge on piano.

More info: "Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air" screens February 23 through February 26 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. The PFA is located at 2575 Bancroft Way, between College and Telegraph. More information about the film series can be found at http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/dizzy

"Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air" is a project of the UC Berkeley graduate course in film curating taught by BAM/PFA curators Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid. With thanks to Doug Cunningham, Laura Horak, Luke McKernan, Alexa Punnamkuzhyil, Mark Sandberg, and Stacey Wisnia. Presented with support from the Graduate Film Working Group and the Department of Film and Media, UC Berkeley, with the assistance of Marianne Jerris, Danish Film Institute; Fleur Buckley, British Film Institute; Marleen Labijt, Eye Film Institute Netherlands; Daniel Bish, George Eastman House; Marie-Pierre Lessard, Cinémathèque Québécoise; Serge Bromberg and Maria Chiba, Lobster Films; Nicholas Varley and Mark Truesdale, Park Circus; and Mary Tallungan, Walt Disney Studios.

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