Category Archives: Film

The Year of Sound

Author: Lisa Marie Patzer

Each year, Penn’s Provost office sponsors a series of events around a theme chosen by faculty, staff and students.  The theme for 2013-2014 is the Year of Sound, a topic that can be further explored by nearly every area of academic study.  In conjunction with the yearly theme, a book is chosen for the Penn Reading Project (PRP), an initiative designed to introduce incoming freshmen to academic life at Penn.  Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley will be the text for the 2013-14 (PRP).

book-of-rhymes-cover

As a film student and visual artist, I have a keen interest in the pairing of moving image with sound.  As David Lynch said, “Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.” The influence of sound design in film is perhaps one of the more common examples of how auditory experience impacts our understanding of things.

Less well-known is the use of sound in works by artists and avant-garde composers such as John Cage  (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992). Cage wrote music for film and also modern dance performances but his most notable works were those that dealt with chance and sound.  In 1952, Cage composed the piece that became his best-known and most controversial creation: 4′33″.

john_cage

The score instructs the performer not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece—four minutes, thirty-three seconds—and is meant to be perceived as consisting of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.  Highly controversial at the time of Cage’s original performance, 4′33″ has since become a hallmark of the avant-garde and has been performed worldwide.

The Slought Foundation, located at 4017 Walnut Street, showcases a unique interactive installation by Cage. In 2010, with the help of the John Cage Trust, The Slought Foundation installed  “How to get Started”, featuring a rarely heard performance by the artist.  The visitor listens to a monologue by Cage and is then invited to contribute to the installation by recording their own “realizations”.  This site provides instructions for how to prepare:

1. familiarize yourself with Cage’s realization

2. get out ten index cards and write down ten topics of interest

3. practice extemporizing on each topic, in random order

4. notice that Cage never spoke for more than three minutes on a single topic

5. visit Slought Foundation and schedule a session

The topic of sound can be explored in many interesting ways and I look forward to the programming for this year.  Visit here to find out more about the Year of Sound and how you can get involved.

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Filed under Film, Fine Art, Lisa Marie Patzer, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Uncategorized

Los Angeles Event Recap – Hollywood and The Holocaust: An American Response on Film

By Kiera Reilly, C’93  @Kiera Reilly

As the west coast representative for the Global Alumni Network, I attend many different alumni events throughout the year – breakfast meetings, lunch discussions, evening receptions and cocktail happy hours. Some of my favorite events are those with an intellectual component, and this week I attended an event which featured the expertise of a Penn alumnus.

On Tuesday in Los Angeles, the Southern California Regional Advisory Board hosted an event at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Many of us didn’t realize there was a Holocaust museum and, as the museum staff told us is common, mistakenly thought it was the Museum of Tolerance. This museum has existed in various locations since the early 1960s, but has only been in its permanent home in Pacific Park in Los Angeles since 2010.

After the staff led us on a brief museum tour, SCRAB member Jon Kean, C’89, spoke to us about “Hollywood and the Holocaust: An American Response on Film.” Jon is a writer and director and most recently has focused on documentary film projects such as the film Swimming in Auschwitz. He currently has three projects in development, including a sequel to Swimming in Auschwitz which focuses on life after liberation for Holocaust survivors. For the past two years, he has been a Ross Visiting Lecturer at Chapman University, working with Dr. Marilyn Harran in the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education on the course Holocaust: In History and Film. Jon and his wife Beth Isaacson Kean, ENG’89, have been Board members of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust since 2004.

Jon did a condensed version of a lecture he gives for his class at Chapman, and started the discussion by asking the audience about our first visual memory of the Holocaust. He then led us through three American films “about” the Holocaust and we discussed whether or not we would now consider the main subject matter the Holocaust, how Judaism was portrayed and whether they were historically accurate.

The first movie, based on the book and Broadway play, was 1959 film The Diary of Anne Frank. Jon played the Hanukkah scene from the film and argued it had been stripped of cultural context and no Yiddish was spoken.

The next movie we discussed was the 1978 television miniseries The Holocaust: the Story of the Family Weiss. While it did a generally good job of sharing things that happened, it also tried to show a little bit of everything in different geographical locations that the characters couldn’t realistically appear in all of them.

The final film was Schindler’s List from 1993. Interestingly, he asked us how we would rate the film as a true telling of the Holocaust on a scale of 1 to 10. He said survivors tend to rate it less than 5 while non-survivors would rate it a 7 – 8. The reality is that those of us that didn’t experience the holocaust can’t really know what it is like. He encouraged us to talk to the survivors that are still living and to listen to the testimonials filmed by the USC Shoah Foundation (these are now recently available at the Penn Libraries: http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/penn-host-access-usc-shoah-foundation-institute-archive-nearly-52000-holocaust-testimonies-vide )

A lively discussion ensued during and after the talk, and one attendee was a child of survivors and shared his perspective with us. Everyone enjoyed the talk and discussion, and we all hope to return to the museum to visit and further explore its exhibits. As a parting gift, Jon gave us DVDs of his film. What a special evening.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Events, Film, Kiera R., Library, West Coast Regional Office

Preserving the Cinematic Experience

Author: Lisa Marie Patzer

The Academy Award Ceremony on Sunday has stirred discussion around the importance of watching cinema on the big screen. This is in part a self-preserving strategy by the movie industry, concerned with the fall in movie ticket sales and their dwindling budgets, but it also points to the idea that the experience of watching a movie in a theater is inherently different than watching it on a computer, a TV or iPad.  The significance of the shift from watching cinema in the theater to the living room, airplane, and anywhere you can take a mobile device, has been an ongoing area of research and debate among cinema scholars.  It is a subject that brings up questions of ideal spectatorship, visual and auditory immersion, and audience participation.  Obviously, this is a topic too vast for me to tackle in what is supposed to a pithy blog post.  So rather than try and summarize an entire body of research, I will bring it back to my own experience.

Last week I attended the first screening of the Penn Humanities Forum film series “Adaptations” and was reminded of why I love to watch cinema in a theater. The film was Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 Contempt, projected from a 35mm print in the unusually wide Cinemascope aspect ratio.

Contempt Poster from Screening

As described in the program, “Contempt (Le Mépris) stars Michel Piccoli as a screenwriter torn between the demands of a proud European filmmaker (played by legendary director Fritz Lang), the crude and arrogant American producer (Jack Palance), and his disillusioned wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), as he attempts to doctor the script for a new film version of The Odyssey.”  The film, typical of Godard’s style, was layered with commentary and innuendo, making the narrative at times inaccessible and difficult to watch.  And for all of these qualities of the film, I was thrilled to be sitting in a seat, surrounded by other viewers.

Together we were awed by the rare chance to see a 35mm film in Cinemascope format, with the scratches, hairs and depth of resolution that came with it.  And when Fritz Lang referred to the Cinemascope as not  ideal for shooting a story but better suited for showing snakes and funerals, the audience had a level of appreciation that would not be possible on a small screen.  And in those moments when I felt completely and utterly bored, restless, aching to get up out of my seat, the presence of the others kept me there.  Sure, I could have stood up and walked out, but the thought of disturbing a room full of attentive people who seemed stronger than I, kept me in my seat and glued to the image on the screen. To be completely honest, I don’t think I would have made it through the entire film if I were watching it on Netflix.

I embrace new technology and feel the film industry needs to adjust to changes in models of viewership, however, I do feel there is something unique and special about theatrical screenings that needs to be preserved.  I am grateful to the Penn Humanities Forum, the Cinema Studies Program at Penn and other advocates of cinema for doing so.

There are three additional screenings in the Film Series “Adaptations”


All films begin at 7:00pm
Ibrahim Theater @ International House, 3701 Chestnut Street
Registration for films is not required.


29 February
Adaptation, Spike Jonze (2002)
Intro and Discussion: Timothy Corrigan, English and Cinema Studies, Penn

21 March
Le Million, René Clair (1931)
Intro and Discussion: Carolyn Abbate, Music, Penn

28 March
Day and Night
The Green Wave
Jack Smith Tumbling
Another Occupation
Seeking The Monkey King
Ken Jacobs
(2010-2011)
Intro and Discussion: Charles Bernstein, English, Penn
and Ken Jacobs, Filmmaker

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Filed under Film, Lisa Marie Patzer, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Uncategorized

The Image as Archive; Towards a Third Cinema

Author: Lisa Marie Patzer

As I walked up the ramp to the second floor gallery at the ICA, I immediately recognized the whirring sound of the slide tray advancing and the click of the next slide falling into place.  Growing up in the 1970’s, I am nostalgic for all things celluloid, including 35mm slides.  Imagine my delight when I saw not one, but four slide projectors, sitting side by side in the gallery, dutifully rotating, loading and projecting images at regular intervals.  This is what I would call a little slice of cinephile heaven.

Still from "Sample Frames", 2011, by Alexandra Navratil

The four slide projectors are part of an installation titled Sample Frames, 2011 by Alexandra Navratil (born 1978) and is featured as part of the current exhibit Living Document / Naked Reality:  Towards and Archival Cinema on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art Project Space.

The show is curated by Jennifer Burris, the Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow.  She states about the show, “Living Document / Naked Reality: Towards an Archival Cinema presents works by contemporary artists who explore cinema’s complex political, formal, and ideological history from the 1910s to the 1960s.  Each project engages with the often contradictory responses to the question ‘What is cinema?’  Together, these works—which include video, found object, and slide installation as well as a series of ‘black box’ screenings and events—provoke both critique and nostalgia for the outmoded film technologies and abandoned utopias of a previous era.”

Alexandra Navratil addresses the question “What is cinema?” through synchronized projections of 81 images that were produced by Eastman Kodak Company from 1916 to 1927 as a series of “color guidebooks”.  Kodak produced these slides in an attempt to demonstrate the correct way of tinting black and white slides.  What is fascinating is the way in which the film material has decomposed over the years, negating their original purpose as “pure sample frames”.  Instead, with the viewer sees are four variations of the same exact image, without reference to what the “true” or “correct” image would look like.

Accompanying the Sample Frames installation is an artist book designed by Navratil, Permanence Vocabulary.  On each page, a single term from the “Imagining Materials-Permanence-Vocabulary” manual is printed and defined. For instance, the first word “Abrasion” is printed in dark gray and following the word is the definition.

Permanence Vocabulary, Artist's Book, by Alexandra Navratil

The ICA has several events planned in partnership with the International House, Temple University and Penn, to run concurrent with this show.  See here for more information.

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Filed under Events, Film, Fine Art, Lisa Marie Patzer, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Uncategorized

Lots to Love about Homecoming Weekend

Author: Amanda D’Amico

After our recent, unreasonably early, snowfall, this weekend’s weather forecast – sunny and 58 degrees – seems like almost beach-worthy weather.  And what better way to spend it than at Penn’s Homecoming Weekend from Friday, November 4 to Sunday, November 6.

That’s right – Penn’s Homecoming featuring Arts & Culture is this weekend.  This weekend is packed-full of interesting activities for alumni and their families.  Below are just a few of my personal favorites.

Quaker Exchange: Alumni-Student Speed Networking

One of the greatest advantages that Penn students have – in addition to being some of the best, brightest, and most motivated – is access to the extensive Penn alumni network. Share your career advice and insights with current Penn students in this speed networking event.

Arts & Sciences Quizzo

Join the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Dennis DeTurck, for this arts and sciences trivia game.  Participants will work in teams to try to answer questions posed by the College’s faculty.

Wharton Alumni Homecoming Tailgate

All Wharton alumni – undergraduate and graduate – are invited to in Hoover Lounge prior to the Penn v. Princeton Football game.  The event will feature a “Taste of Philly.” Not a Wharton graduate?  Head over to QuakerFest at Blanche Levy Park (College Green) for a pre-game picnic!

Penn vs. Princeton

As if the Penn/Princeton rivalry wasn’t heated enough, this year’s Homecoming game highlights the competition.  The Penn Quakers, who has won two straight Ivy League titles, takes on the Princeton Tigers at 1:00 p.m. on Franklin Field.  Go Quakers!

Celebrating Scrabble

Stefan Fatsis, C’85, will discuss his book, Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.  This event will celebrate the tenth anniversary of his book and is perfect for anyone who’s become as obsessed with Words with Friends as I have.

yPenn Homecoming HighBall

Young Penn Alumni (Classes of 1997 – 2011) are invited to join their classmates and raise a highball to dear old Penn.  This event will include food, drinks, and fun!

These are only a handful of the interesting events planned for this weekend.  For more information, please visit the website now. Registration is closed, but you can walk on and register at any time during the weekend. I hope to see you there!

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Filed under Amanda D., Events, Film, Homecoming Weekend featuring arts and culture

Resurrect Dead

Author: Lisa Marie Patzer

I recently attended the Philadelphia premiere of Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles at the International House.  I knew very little about the film but was curious to learn more about the odd tiles I had seen scattered throughout the streets of Philadelphia. Here is one located at 43rd and Chester:

Resurrect Dead, a documentary film directed by Jon Foy, follows Justin Duerr a Philadelphia-based artist, on his journey to find the source of the Toynbee Tiles.  Hundreds of these cryptic messages have been found embedded in the streets of major cities across the U.S. and South American and Justin has taken a photo of nearly every one.  The tiles contain some variation on the following inscription:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN KUBRICK’S 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER

I would classify the film is a hybrid doc-fiction that attempts to de-code the meaning behind the tiles as well as uncover the identity of the creator.  I will resist including any “spoilers” here, but I will say I was impressed by the film and the audience support.  The attendance at the International House was so overwhelming they added a 5th screening to the program.  

Kendall Whitehouse with the Wharton School at UPenn has a great  photo album of a Q&A session with Jon Foy.

In order to promote the film, the producers of Resurrect Dead gave the audience stickers that look like the Toynbee Tiles.  I have seen several pasted in public places throughout the city.

This Philadelphia based film is receiving a lot of buzz, both locally and nationally.  It has moved on to Chicago, but I am sure it will be back.  For more information, see the official website.

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Filed under Campus Life, Film, Lisa Marie Patzer, Philadelphia, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Uncategorized