Chauvel Cinematheque

From: Brett Garten (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Jul 29 2006 - 19:25:05 PDT

Curator promises a feast of film at the Chauvel Cinematheque

Cinema closures, plummeting attendances, piracy - the news has been all bad for the cinema industry lately. But the reopening of the historic Chauvel Cinema in Paddington is great news for Sydney film lovers, and their new Cinematheque program, which opens Saturday the 29th of July with a program of films by and about the masterful Czech animator and surrealist, Jan Svankmajer, promises to satiate the appetite of even the most eclectic moviegoer.

Curated by Chauvel projectionist, film collector, and would-be film philosopher, Brett Garten, the cinematheque hopes to revive the corpse of Sydney's moribund film culture. The official Garten line states, "A Cinematheque exists to promote and encourage the appreciation of film as an art and a social force. It is not about embalming the classics - if you want to see Citizen Kane, go to the video store. It's about screening films that can't be seen elsewhere, making new discoveries, and taking risks."

Some of the risks Brett intends to take with the cinematheque include a program of vintage educational films entitled, "That's Education, or They Came from the Classroom", of which Garten says, "Educational films are the last frontier of film scholarship. There is more written about pornography than there is about educational films. Yet some of these films are among the most memorable films you'll ever see, and they are rarely, if ever screened anymore, and never outside the classroom." What are educational films? Educational films were used in classrooms to guide and instruct students on everything from personal hygiene to the dangers of communism, but in the 60s educational fulms evolved into a unique breed of film art. The program includes three films that were nominated for Academy Awards.

Two of the programs are Australian premieres and illustrate Brett's interest and approach to film collecting. The first, Asiamania, is a compilation of vintage Hong Kong movie trailers, salvaged by Brett from the dumpsters of Chinatown. "This is a ninety minute plus program of the craziest coming attractions you are ever likely to see. It took me four years to put together. I watched about three hundred of these trailers and narrowed it down to about two dozen. The film premiered in New Zealand at the Incredibly Strange Film Festival, where it was a favourite of Peter Jackson, who took time off from making The Lord of the Rings, to check it out. Several of the key crew watched it a few times. On the night, Brett will also speak about the night he almost convinced fellow film collector Quentin Tarantino into a private screening while he was here for the premiere of Kill Bill. "I'm glad to finally show it here in Sydney. I think it's a hoot!"

The other premiere is the bizarre "documentary", The Amazing World of Ghosts. "This film is a bit of a mystery. On the surface it appears to be just another documentary about the supernatural, but look a bit closer and you soon realise it's a gigantic send-up of the whole genre." The film was made by the esteemed film critic, Professor Winston Wheeler Dixon, but is not listed on his resume. "It's a shame he doesn't acknowledge the film. In a way it was the first mock-u-mentary. No footage was shot for the film. There are no interviews, no talking heads - it's like he bought up a bunch of films from an old film library, cut them all together, and added a ridiculous voice-over narration. If you want to see the world's first avant-garde found-footage pseudo-documentary, here it is."

A large emphasis is placed on short films, as Garten sees this as the most vibrant sector of the local filmmaking community, as well as the most artistically satisfying. Garten continues, "I love short films. They don't carry the baggage of features. They don't have the commercial imperatives of feature films, the sausage factory approach of Hollywoood filmmaking, the dinosaur like burden of large scale production, the monstrous egos of stars and star directors. They are more likely to be made by amateurs, film lovers, artists. They are pure, untainted, untrammeled."

Brett hopes the cinematheque will foster the development of new films and filmmakers, by exposing them to the possibilities of the medium. Garten claims, "Too many filmmakers want to make these "calling card" movies, then go to Hollywood and make Alien sequels. There is plenty of passion and obsession, but it can so easily be ill-directed, self-centred. Everyone is just looking for the big score - to be rich, to be famous. If you want a to make the big score, make a good film."

Like Henri Langlois, who created the Paris Cinematheque, Brett is primarily a film collector, and many of the films in the program are from his own extensive archive - one of the largest private film archives in the country. "Film collecting, or any sort of collecting really, is often thought of as disease-like - a form of addiction. As far as addictions go, it's a relatively harmless one - it's the thrill of the chase, the lure of the hunt. Kurt Cobain said that the thrill of global superstardom is nothing compared to the thrill of finding a rare record in an op shop for twenty cents." So is collecting a pathology? "There is a point where it can get too much. when you can't move around in your house. I read once about some one who had so many records the foundations to his house collapsed. When you went into his record room, you had to step down two feet to get in."

Having spent more than half his life as a film collector, he has noticed an odd parallel between collecting and prospecting in the mining industry, of all things. "They share a similar jargon. The collector is always 'mining' or 'panning' for 'gold', always searching for the 'mother lode'. They even share the same terrain - most films, once they have passed their use-by date, are used as landfill. "Many of the lost classics of the cinema are buried deep beneath the earth, waiting for some intrepid cinematic super-sleuth to save them."

Brett's interest in film and film collecting began as a teenager when he was a teenage horror film fanatic writing for fanzines. "I was lucky. I had several excellent mentors. I sought out and worked for all of the leading lights of what I saw as the underground community in Sydney: Chris Rhule at the Mandolin Cinema, Terry Brown at the Land Beyond Beyond, Ian Hartley at the Soho Bar, Jaimie Leonarder at the MuMeson archives and Mr. X at the Stud & Track Recording Company. Working with these guys was like doing a diploma in the school of cool. It was like underground University."

Each Chauvel Cinematheque program screens twice - Saturdays at 1 pm and Mondays at 7pm. Screenings are open to members and their guests. Membership is available at the door. Monthly, quarterly and annual memberships are available and the prices are very reasonable. Full program details are available on the Chauvel Cinema website and in a separate program.

"I am very happy with the way the first program turned out and am looking forward to people's reactions. I must thank the staff of the National Film and Video Lending Service in Canberra for their amazing collection, as well as the management of the Chauvel and Palace Cinemas for the opportunity to program the cinematheque. Hope to see you there."

Screening Monday 31st July at 7pm - The Films of Jan Svankmajer

Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer UK/14mins/1984 Dir: Brothers Quay. The brothers pay homage to their mentor in this unusual biopic.

Darkness, Light, Darkness Czech/7mins/1989 Dir: Svankmajer.

Jabberwocky Czech/15mins/1972 Dir: Svankmajer

Alice Czech/89mins/1988 Dir: Svankmajer. An hallucinatory version of Carroll's famous story mixing live action and stunning animation.

"A top notch art-movie for discerning audiences."

"One has the unsettling sense of watching an old and well-remembered dream in a new and disturbing state of hallucination." Phillip Strick, Monthly Film Bulletin

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