Rewind/Fast Forward Fest

Florida's Moving Image Archive pulls out some fine footage

This is not your average film festival, of which we know there are far too many. This is a multimedia mix that's all about archival images; if that sounds out in left screen, it's maybe because it is. Documentaries from Ron Mann (one reviewed below) are some of the most amazing of the genre, but the opening-night look back at local TV hero Skipper Chuck has gotta rule (see Night & Day, page 28). There's the "mockumentary" out of New Zealand about an inventor in the early 1900s called Forgotten Silver; a look at Florida's roadside attractions that attempted to lure tourists long before Mickey, Greetings From Forgotten Florida; and a more serious look at archival preservation, The View From Hollywood and From the Vaults. If you check out a seminar or contest to boot, you'll realize why our archive is proudly touted as one of the largest and most complete of its kind. In other words, Miamians, you can't see this elsewhere. Screenings at the Colony Theatre (before it closes for renovations) from July 11 to July 14; call 305-375-1505 for more information and times.

Comic Book Confidential

Forgotten Silver: Ancient nitrate comes alive
Forgotten Silver: Ancient nitrate comes alive
Comic Book Confidential:  A Ron Mann winner (top); Cuba Mia: Return to Jewban roots (above)
Comic Book Confidential: A Ron Mann winner (top); Cuba Mia: Return to Jewban roots (above)

Hollywood doesn't measure up. At least not when it comes to bringing to life comic book superheroes and their hyper-reality plot lines. The big-budget spectacles just don't compare to the old-school comics -- once sold for a dime and found rolled up in many a young boy's pants pockets.

After watching Ron Mann's 1988 documentary Comic Book Confidential, it becomes difficult to be convinced that any pretty boy hot-list actor can capture the essence of, say, Spider-Man, like the toon's creator Stan Lee does while narrating an episode of his monumental 1960s action strip.

Lee's rendition of Spidey's inner turmoil about women and money woes casts a humanistic light on a larger-than-life pop icon whom Americans assume they understand. The reading is just one of several such artist-narrations in Mann's documentary that reveal behind-the-panels insight about landmark strips in the genre's history.

Mann reaches back to the first modern comic books and interviews the artists and publishers who helped make the colorful pages the premier forum for iconoclastic thought and expression in America. The film features an interview with comic book innovator Robert Crumb, who recounts his early days drifting in a drug-infused daze in San Francisco before finding his voice in the counterculture strips that made him famous in the early 1970s. Also featured are comic stalwarts Jack Kirby, Harvey Pekar, Lynda Barry, William Gaines, and about a dozen others.

Outside of collectors, few people may realize that comic books and their producers, from their inception, were original targets of moralists and government censors. Confidential delves into the initial arguments in the Thirties and Forties that claimed the spectacular tales offered nothing but immorality and lewdness to America's youth. Mann digs up footage of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency that led to industry censorship boards, which then sanitized the popular strips of any sensational or sexy content.

But despite the temporary setback, the true-crime tales and superheroes survived to bring an even edgier front to the youth of America. Soon Mad magazine emerged, and with it a phalanx of underground cartoonists.

The documentary brings viewers up to date with more recent comic book raves Love and Rockets, Maus, Zippy the Pinhead, Ernie Pook's Comeek, Big Baby, and Raw. One of the most humorous segments features Bill Griffith, the creator of Zippy, shopping for Ding Dongs while dressed as his demented creation. Very weird indeed.

Comic Book Confidential is a powerful and thought-provoking film that takes a superhuman swipe at the banality of mainstream Hollywood and Madison Avenue-dominated culture. It is one of three documentaries directed by Mann to be screened Friday. His other films, Twist (about the evolution of rock and roll dance) and Grass (delving into the history of the recreational use of marijuana in the Twentieth Century), will also be featured.

My Father's Camera

The world according to your Uncle Harry or Aunt Phyllis will never be what you see on CNN.

Professional television chroniclers of our times dispense a package known as "news" and give viewers a general idea of what may be happening at a certain period of time. But what is broadcast is often far from a complete picture. To piece together a full depiction of a period, with textures, tastes, clashing ties, and bad hairdos, one must mine attics and storage closets to dig up canned documentary gold -- home movies.

Toronto director Karen Shopsowitz breaks open her treasure trove of family films to explore how amateur footage shot on road trips and at birthday parties is as important to capturing human history as the national news. In doing so she makes a strong argument that those jumpy family reels contribute to popular culture.

Shopsowitz tackles the theme by delving into the films shot by her father, Israel Shopsowitz, a Toronto merchant who had a penchant for capturing scenes with his Super 8 camera. Her father's crisp films of 1950s carnivals, train stations, and Shopsowitz's sister Shelly's bat mitzvah offer an entrée into a homemade era shot in vibrant Foto-Color.

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