The Eyes of CinemaTexas
A Brief Reminiscence
A significant number of the small group that started The Austin Chronicle were film graduate students, most of whom had never had a journalism course (resist the obvious jokes). We had become friends working for CinemaTexas, a graduate-student-run film society that programmed films to complement the courses being offered by the Radio-Television-Film department during the semester (this before video was consumer accessible). If there was a Western course, then every Wednesday would be a Western; film noir, then one night a week of noir films; French new wave, Italian neorealism, Hollywood melodramas, and so on. Whatever was being taught would get its own night (Monday through Thursday). Tuesday was always for the history-of-film survey course. The schedule would always start with silent films, including D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation or Intolerance up through Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, past Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless or Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player to more current films. Each semester, titles would change, as would which directors were represented (though Griffith and Welles were mainstays).
The CinemaTexas offices were on the top floor of the faculty dining room building on the corner of 23rd across Guadalupe from the KLRU building and the College of Communications building. CT had two rooms: one, the office for ordering films, editing notes, and meeting; the other, a screening room where the mimeograph machine was housed. In that one was a 16 mm projector for showing films against the wall, and, best of all, a two-plate flatbed Steenbeck editing machine for more careful viewing and analysis. On it, you could watch the film frame by frame, as well as go backward and forward with ease. In the days of DVDs and video, this probably doesn't seem spectacular, but back then, it was an absolute luxury, and UT RTF was one of the few graduate schools where history, theory, and criticism students had access to one.
The department's film history graduate students hung out at CT, but we also wrote notes to accompany each film screening. We'd turn in our four to 12 pages of notes, which were edited, typed onto stencils, mimeographed, and distributed at the screening. Notes consisted of a film's complete credits (which were not as extensive as today's), the feeling being if an assistant sound editor's nephew went to UT, we wanted him to see his uncle's name. They also included an analysis of the film, which often included its history as well as that of the director and actors. The notes were periodically collected together, and a volume of them (usually about 10 to15 films in a set) would be published and sent to a nationwide mailing list.
Again and again, CinemaTexas comes up: in the telling of the Chronicle's history, in talking about individuals who were at one time involved, in talking about certain films and filmmakers. CinemaTexas events are an important part of the whole Austin film story.