Home Movies

Dec 5, 2006

Ihad said that I was going to write about growing up with a projector in my attic, and Peter’s writing about home last week brought back some memories. Movies were cool. In the late sixties, my father would bring home the Films Incorporated catalog (they had new American films), and I got to pick something for him to bring home on 16mm. We screened lots of movies over the years, and several stand out. From Russia with Love—what could be cooler than having Bond in your attic? Here Comes Mr. Jordan—it’s sweet and made me a Claude Rains fan forever. A Night to Remember, which didn’t seem as sad to me as a kid as it does now: I had my first kiss with my high school girlfriend during that movie. The Lady Vanishes was perhaps my favorite of all. I traveled to England with my parents in the early seventies when my dad was meeting with Rank Film Distributors, and I looked for “Froy” on every train window. We screened a new print at the Janus 50th celebration in September for over 400 people. The reaction was wonderful, and seeing it on the big screen with an audience was a treat. I’ve seen each of these dozens of times and always look forward to the next time.

My knowledge from home made me the official audiovisual person at my elementary school. I was called in to thread the projector whenever the school was showing a film. Occasionally I would bring in a movie. It’s been almost forty years, but I remember like it was yesterday the day I brought in Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman. We showed the movie for the entire fourth, fifth and sixth grades, and for the last twenty minutes—the football game—the entire auditorium was on its feet, screaming. It didn't necessarily make me want to get into the business, but it's an experience that firmly etched into my mind the power of the movies. The Freshman is out as part of the Harold Lloyd collection from New Line. Rent it or buy it, and sit down with lots of people (Lloyd really needs an audience) and enjoy.

Another vivid memory is from January 1976. I was sitting around the dinner table with my parents, and my father mentioned that Paul Robeson had died. He asked me if I knew who Robeson was, and I said “Yes, a black communist.” I was proud of myself for having seen an obit on CBS news the night before. They had shown a short clip of The Emperor Jones, and I had noticed that they had included the Janus logo. I had never heard of Robeson before that. My father jumped up from the table and made calls to my brother and sister, who are much older than I, and he asked each of them a simple question, “Do you know who Paul Robeson is?” Both answered no and at that moment my father decided to make a movie about Paul Robeson. He said he found it staggering that a generation could have no knowledge of someone who was so significant in his life growing up. My father’s short film, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist, was born that night. His film isn’t about Robeson’s politics and remained remarkably neutral on the subject (there’s only one politically leaning line in the narration). It’s about Robeson, the man, and his amazing achievements. In March 1980, my father received the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary for the film.

The year he won the Academy Award, I wasn’t nearly as interested in the movies as I was in space, as I was working for NASA. But that’s for another day. For now, I proudly display the Oscar statue in our den.