“A Thousand Cuts”at Film Forum


Fred Astaire in “Me and the Ghost Upstairs” sequence which was cut from the movie “Second Chorus” (1940).

November 30, 2016.  On Sunday, November 27 Film Forum presented a program called “A Thousand Cuts,” based on the book “A Thousand Cuts: the bizarre underground world of collectors and dealers who saved the movies,” by authors Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph. The program consisted of rare film clips saved from oblivion by film collectors who found their footage in attics, closets, the trash and other out of the way places. When I use the term “film collectors” I am not simply referring to people who collect movies on DVD. “Film collectors” are a sub-culture whose members collect actual film.

The personalities featured in the featured clips included Alfred Hitchcock, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo and others. The program was put together by co-author and collector Jeff Joseph, who presented the clips, spoke about them and took questions from the audience.

The film clips proved to be a fascinating collection of TV commercials, scenes cut from movies, wardrobe tests and interviews. One of the most memorable, for me, was “Me and the Ghost Upstairs,” a musical number cut from the movie “Second Chorus” (1940). The sequence featured Fred Astaire and dancer/choreographer Hermes Pan. Pan, disguised under a sheet (playing the ghost) and wearing high healed shoes, dances with Astaire. It is the only footage of Astaire and Pan dancing together and it is a wonderful number. The only reason it exists, Joseph explained, is that someone, who knew Pan, borrowed Pan’s 16mm print of the sequence and had it transferred to a Betamax tape (Betamax is a now obsolete video format, which was overtaken by VHS tape). The Betamax tape was then digitized. The 16mm film and the Betamax tape have since been lost. All that remains is this digitized version, which, while not of great quality, is an important piece of film history and a lot of fun. One has to wonder if the reason that Pan had to be under a sheet and clearly playing a female ghost might have been due to 1940’s censor concerns about two men dancing together. “Me and the Ghost Upstairs” can be found on youtube. When asked about his opinion of youtube, Joseph, clearly not a fan of the site, said that it was not legal, but that no one seemed to care. I have since found that many of the clips presented in “A Thousand Cuts” are available there. However, on my own I would not never have come up with, or have even been aware of, these clips. In addition, youtube would not have afforded me the experience of enjoying these clips as part of a large and appreciative audience, with an expert to provide background information and answer questions.

Other clips featured a very young, and pre-famous, Diane Keaton as an “on the go” mother and wife relying strongly on “Hour After Hour” deodorant to keep her busy life together, while future stars Farrah Fawcett and Penny Marshal plugged “Head and Shoulders” shampoo, in a 1969 commercial. A series of three clips showed dancer Ann Miller rehearsing a number for a TV special and then the actual performance. Miller was amazing and in incredible shape. To me, in these clips, Miller looked to be around 40. Joseph pointed out that she was actually 64 at the time! Miller’s famous “Great American Soups” commercial musical production number was also shown. Mike Nichols and Elaine May did skits encouraging Americans to file their income tax returns, while John Wayne plugged the Great Western Savings Bank. United Airlines made a big musical number commercial to inform businessmen that they could take their wives on business trips for one third off. King Kong starred in a commercial for Volkswagen. The King Kong Volkswagen commercial, very nicely done, was only shown on TV one time. Joseph explained that Volkswagen decided it did not want to be represented by an ape.

Film Forum has many more interesting events planned. For more information visit http://www.filmforum.com.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 30, 2016, in Film Forum, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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