The truly appealing Colleen Moore in "Orchids and Ermine"
Since 1987, I’ve been making an annual trip (I know I missed a couple of years) to Syracuse NY for Cinefest, a festival of American, primarily, films from the teens to about 1950.
I just got back from this year’s festival, which was its 30th time and it seemed appropriate to think back especially during the four hour drive to and fro on my experiences with the show.
Now Cinefest is perhaps one of the most laid back and non-glamorous film festivals one could ever attend. First, one has to understand the films are from archives and collectors and sometimes are the only 16mm print of a particular movie in existence. The average age of the attendees has got to be about 60 and to keep it running for the future there has been a concerted effort to bring in young film students into the audience mix.
There are some well-known people who attend the show on a regular basis and there have been a number of special guests, but this is not a show for the paparazzi. This ain’t Sundance, folks.
Unlike many of the people I encountered at Sundance when I went in 2004 – never again! – The people who come to Cinefest are here to see movies. Yes, there are deals being made – collectors buying prints from one another – but that’s about it.
The show has dealers’ rooms that routinely have closed tables. You see, the dealers go to the movies as well. The dealers’ room is one of the best of any show or convention I’ve seen. Routinely I’ve found great stuff there.
This year, I walked away with DVDs of Kane Richmond’s Shadow movies from Monogram, some silent cartoons, a biography of W.C. Fields I didn’t have and a poster of one of Richard Gordon’s films I didn’t have.
The movies are always a crapshoot. You never quite know what you’re going to find.
The folks who run Cinefest don’t care much for horror or science fiction. Animation is something they must despise. They run plenty of shorts subjects, but never a cartoon. I once volunteered to do my Fleischer slideshow for them and was politely told the Cinefest audience wouldn’t care for it.
You’re not apt to see exploitation films, although I did see once a real corker of a film about how Mormons were hypnotizing English girls to be their wives!
Some years the movies are truly memorable and you walk out of the auditorium saying, “Damn! I want that movie.” Of course it’s unlikely you’ll ever see it again.
For instance, several years back I was able to see a print of a Conrad Veidt film called “The Last Performance.” It was an incredible film and it was probably one of the few prints in existence. Of course, it is highly unlikely it will ever be on home video.
The cast and crew of "The Last Performance."
That’s why I go to Cinefest – to see something that I can’t see anywhere else.
My first trip to Cinefest was a day trip. I was then a friend with a guy who corresponded with producer and archivist Alex Gordon. Alex was at Cinefest – he was a loyal attendee – and my then-buddy Ray wanted to see him. So Ray and I and two other guys drove the four hours. I was immediately mortified when one member of our party looked at Alex – who knew Bela Lugosi well and his brother Richard produced two films with Boris Karloff – and asked him who was the better actor. He was a Lugosi fan and thankfully Alex dodged his idiot fan boy question.
I remembered buying a ticket for the day and watching at least one film before we piled back into the car for another four-hour haul back to Springfield.
I was impressed with what I had seen and kept coming back.
The best thing, though, to come out of Cinefest has been my friendship with Richard Gordon, who has been an influential mentor to me, whether he knows it or not!
My wife has gone once and we had one of the best dinner parties of our lives there with Richard Gordon and two of the directors with whom he worked: Radley Metzger and Norman J. Warren. These guys were hilarious and treated my wife like a princess.
I was very happy when my pal Steve Bissette started going. I remember the first year he went simply raiding the dealer’s room for all sort of esoteric Japanese monster movie stuff. Then his wife Marge started going and she would watch for films than either of us!
While this year didn’t have one of those films that proved to be a revelation, I was happy to finally see a Joe E. Brown comedy – “Earthworm Tractor” – Colleen Moore’s delightful romantic comedy “Orchids and Ermine” and a genuine train wreck of a movie, “Peacock Alley,” starring Mae Murray in a failed effort to regain some of her popularity.
I also suffered through a hideous but rare comedy short starring Bert Wheeler of Wheeler and Woolsey fame. They’ll show this crap, but not a Fleischer cartoon?
Ah well, that’s the nature of Cinefest.
© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs