AFS and UT Press Celebrate the Legacy of CinemaTexas

Notes on cinema history

Austin is known as a film-watching city, but that reputation doesn't come from nowhere. Its seeds were planted in CinemaTexas, the film programming unit of UT's Department of Radio-Television-Film. This wasn't some small film club. From the early Seventies to the mid-Eighties, UT's Jester Auditorium was packed for 16mm screenings – sometimes twice nightly – of classic, underground, subversive, landmark, and ignored movies. Open to all students who just wanted to catch a movie, they were also classes with a curriculum, and a core part of the learning process was the Program Notes: free handouts with credits and reviews, but also an article, written to give detail and context to what was being shown.

They were Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and Cahiers du Cinéma melded into zine form. Starting in March, to celebrate this week's publication by UT Press of the first collected volume of CinemaTexas Notes, as edited by Austin Chronicle co-founder Louis Black, AFS Cinema is presenting CinemaTexas Rewind. The series will highlight a handful of the hundreds of movies lovingly examined, dissected, and explored, with introductions by some of the authors of those original pieces.

The Band Wagon (1953)
directed by Vincente Minnelli

"Before Minnelli, the backstage musical always excluded itself by framing the musical action with the stage, even if from that island of dramatic safety it took off into the empyrean as with Busby Berkeley. In contrast, Minnelli has always accented the abstraction of the film image by framing it against a backdrop of artificiality in other mediums. ... The question still remains, though, why are these actions possible, and even essential, if the cinema is thought to be a fundamentally 'realist' medium. The answer is, of course, the star system and the musical actor. In the backstage musical, we know from the very first that all the kids are singers and dancers waiting for the chance to be stars."

– David Rodowick and Ed Lowry, Vol. 12, No. 4, Feb. 21, 1977. Screens March 22, 7:30pm (hosted by Richard Linklater) & March 25, 5:30pm.

Sunrise (1927)
directed by F.W. Murnau

"Hollywood's dominance of the world film market has been challenged but rarely in the eighty-odd years since the birth of the motion picture. Perhaps the most serious challenge was that posed by the German film industry during the 1920s. ... Hollywood's response to the German challenge was simple: bring all of that talent to the United States. Make the top German filmmakers offers they couldn't refuse; simultaneously weaken the German film industry and build up Hollywood."

– Warren Spector, Vol. 22, No. 1, Jan. 29, 1982. Screens March 29 (presented by Spector).

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
directed by Sam Peckinpah

"Generally regarded as a failure when it was released, the film's critical stature has only slightly improved over the years. To set the record straight: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is one of the most important and brilliant of Peckinpah's films. In many ways it represents the culmination of the first (and so far greatest) period of his work. It is an ugly, vicious film about not very glamourous people engaged in ugly, vicious activities."

– Louis Black, Vol. 19, No. 2, Oct. 28, 1980. Screens April 5, 7:30pm (hosted by Black) & April 10, 7pm.

Caged Heat (1974)
directed by Jonathan Demme

"In 1970 Roger Corman's New World Pictures released The Big Doll House, a film which began a whole cycle of women-in-prison pictures. Where Hollywood had occasionally turned out films in this vein [they] were largely a variation on the standard (men's) prison genre. Big Doll House, however, generated several films which followed many of the conventions it had established: woman warden/male doctor, integrated cellmates, acceptance of lesbian relationships and, especially, women armed and dangerous at the end. ... Caged Heat is at once the best of the films in this genre and the ultimate send-up of them."

– Louis Black, Vol. 14, No. 3, April 3, 1978. Screens April 12, 7:30pm (hosted by Chronicle film reviewer Marjorie Baumgarten).

"Necrology" (1971)
directed by Standish Lawder

"The credits listed at the end of the film are woefully incomplete. The following is a complete breakdown of the relevant statistics regarding Necrology. Total performers: 326 (191 male, 135 female) Credited performers: 76 (53 male, 23 female) Uncredited performers: 250 (138 male, 112 female). In examining these statistics, certain patterns come immediately to mind, patterns which raise serious questions about Lawder's integrity. Most obvious is the implied sexism of the credits. Only 17.04% of the women in the film are credited, whereas fully 27.75% of the men receive credits."

– Nick Barbaro, Vol. 21, No. 3, Dec. 7, 1981. Screens April 17, 7pm (presented with "Corruption of the Damned," hosted by Chronicle founder and publisher Barbaro).

Gun Crazy (1950)
directed by Joseph H. Lewis

"The most outstanding sequence in the whole film is the single shot bank robbery; for, if nothing else about the film were notable, this shot would make it all worthwhile and in a better known film would likely be touted the world round. Lewis sets his camera in the back seat of the car the couple is driving to a bank robbery. ... By keeping the camera pointed always forward, Lewis denies us the tension-releasing effect of being able to look backward to check for ourselves. Fourteen years later, in Bande à Part, Godard was to 'innovatively' place his camera in the back seat of a car, watching only the backs of the heads of the couple in the front seat as they drove and talked."

– Ed Lowry, Vol. 15, No. 3, Nov. 29, 1978. Screens April 19, 7:30pm (with a panel on Lowry) & April 22, 7:30pm.

CinemaTexas Rewind

AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35, March 22 – April 22

CinemaTexas Notes: The Early Days of Austin Film Culture

Edited by Louis Black, University of Texas Press, 332 pp., $29.95

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