Home movie salute is splice of local life

Mencken to Memorial fondly recalled in Patterson tribute

August 14, 2004|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Roll it.

Home movies you will NOT see at today's Home Movie Day at the Patterson arts center in Baltimore:

John Kerry's home movies, as seen in A Remarkable Promise, the nominee's campaign film that aired at the Democratic National Convention.

Arnold and Jesse Friedman jailed on molestation charges, as seen in the family's home movies featured in the documentary, Capturing the Friedmans.

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, as seen in home movies featured in a recent documentary about the heavy metal band Metallica.

Saddam Hussein's bad boys, as seen in that family's home movies, which were aired by 60 Minutes II.

Film lovers might wonder what possible fun Home Movie Day could be without Uday Hussein's winning personality captured on film or Arnold and Jesse performing a song-and-dance number before the Friedman men are hauled off. Wonder no more. Think local, think interesting, think law-abiding.

Home movies you will see at today's Home Movie Day:

H.L. Mencken (circa 1930s) dancing in a field, as seen in the home movies of an Annapolis photographer named Rudolph Torovsky.

Seafaring cowboys, captured in rare clips, delivering Maryland cattle to meat-starved Europe post-World War II.

Sunday-best-dressed boosters carrying banners on the field of Memorial Stadium during the 1962 Colts-Rams game.

"A lot of birthday parties," says Kristen Anchor, director of Creative Alliance MovieMakers. But maybe they will be creative birthday parties.

The Creative Alliance - a nonprofit organization inhabiting the Patterson in East Baltimore - this afternoon will sponsor Baltimore's Home Movie Day along with Colorlab, a film preservation lab in Rockville. While promoting film preservation, Home Movie Day offers anyone a chance to show their 8 mm, Super 8 mm or 16 mm artifacts.

"So rifle through your closets, call up Grandma, and search out your best family [or flea market] home movies!" exhorts Creative Alliance's Web site. "These movies," Anchor says, "are accidental historical documents. They say things about fashion, home design, even class and race."

Home Movie Day was founded last year by a group of film archivists concerned about the fate of home movies shot during the 20th century. With folks rushing to convert their home movies to videotape and DVDs, the archivists set out to debunk the idea that digital transfers are the only way to preserve home movies. Their message is that with proper handling, the original films can outlast digital versions. Their medium is Home Movie Day - now complete with its own Web site, official song and merchandise that includes T-shirts, coffee mugs and thongs.

Last year's inaugural Baltimore event had spotty attendance at the American Visionary Art Museum. This year, organizers hope more people will drop by if for no other reason than to watch movies such as the two Rob Schoeberlein will screen. He's director of special collections at the Maryland State Archives, which houses the footage.

The first film is of Mencken's Saturday Night Club, featuring its founding member "solo dancing" in a field, as other club members also frolic about. Alcohol was in attendance. The second film comes from two Baltimore men, Chester Banachowski and Joe Wilkinson, not exactly household names. Making home movies was their hobby and East Baltimore their setting.

Their 1962-1966 home movies depict scenes from family picnics on the Shore, an eighth-grade graduation, a 4-year-old dancing "The Twist," and Aunt Ida's prize roses and her parakeet - "including its cage decorated for Christmas," as Schoeberlein notes.

If festive parakeets weren't enough, the film offers panoramic crowd shots at Memorial Stadium in 1962, as boosters mug for the camera. Among those filmed was Eugene "Reds" Hubbe, who died this year at 72. "That was Reds down there, Sunday after Sunday across a dozen autumns, circling the field and leading Baltimore Colts ovations like a man conducting an ocean," as Sun columnist Michael Olesker eulogized in February. Reds is on film, too. And so is Aunt Ida's parakeet.

For some, preserving home movies has become a passion project. Skizz Cyzyk, programming manager for the Maryland Film Festival, has "buckets and buckets" of 8 mm and 16 mm home movies he plans to watch and save. He had a friend who worked for a cleaning company that removed belongings from the homes of deceased elderly people (removing belongings from live people is illegal). Braving that vinegar smell peculiar to deteriorating celluloid, Cyzyk has peeked at a few of the movies.

"It's a glimpse into the past to see what people found important in their lives," he says. "You also hope to see secrets from someone else's life." It is a bit voyeuristic, but at least it's consensual in most cases.

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