Jurassic Fail

This is American film producer Cathrine Curtis…

Cathrine Curtis

Cathrine Curtis (sourced from MHDL)

…who in 1920 wanted to make a film about dinosaurs (these dinosaurs).


Unfortunately, her intended jurassic project was to go very, very wrong.


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Columbia Pictures, Rita Hayworth, and Virginia Van Upp

In my continued search for materials relating to Hollywood screenwriter-producer Virginia Van Upp, I was last week fortunate enough to visit the American Heritage Center (AHC) in Laramie, Wyoming, where I made some exciting discoveries.

The AHC holds an extensive collection of materials concerning the day-to-day operation of Columbia Pictures (1929 -1974). Van Upp worked at Columbia between the years 1941 – 1947. Her most successful movie at the studio was Gilda (1946), which she both wrote and produced. She briefly returned to work for the studio in 1951, assisting Rita Hayworth with the production of Affair in Trinidad.

The Columbia Pictures Collection at the AHC primarily consists of daily teletypes transmitted between the New York and Los Angeles offices. In these communications studio producers discuss particular films, publicity stunts, music rights, but above all else: Rita Hayworth! Discussions about Hayworth concern her films, contracts, clothes, travel arrangements, future productions, relationships….etc.

In addition to the teletypes, the collection also contains a few “Story Conference” transcriptions in which writers and producers discuss problems with various scripts and films. Among these records I found a few pages pertaining to the making of Gilda.

A big THANK YOU to the archivists at the AHC, all of whom are amazing.

My next port of call will be the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.



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Horror in the Amusement Park

Just back from seeing Jurassic World, which I have to admit I enjoyed. I mainly took pleasure in the homages to the original movie – I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I was also amused by the meta-discussions about needing to create bigger monsters to impress audiences who endlessly demand greater visual stimulation. I actually don’t think this is true of cinema audiences and the argument highlights the disconnect between Hollywood and spectators who still appreciate good storytelling.

Movies and amusement parks share quite a history – they grew up together. In Lauren Rabinovitz’s book: Electric Dreams: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernism, Rabinovitz outlines how: “Amusement parks and movies appeared simultaneously.”

Electric Dreamland

Amusement parks helped contribute to the “rise of movies as a cultural institution… [as] cinema and the amusement park both celebrated each other” (22). Early examples of movies that embraced amusement parks include:

  • Boarding School Girls Visit Coney Island (1905, Thomas Edison)
  • Speedy (1928, Ted Wilde)
  • The Crowd (1929, King Vidor)
  • Coney Island (1939, William Castle)
Speedy (1928). At Coney Island, New York.

Speedy (1928). At Coney Island, New York.

In the final chapter of her book, Rabinovitz identifies a divide between the cultural significance of amusement parks in the first half of the twentieth century, and their transformation, corporatization, or ‘disneyfication’ into the theme parks of the ‘post-war’ years (Disneyland first opened in 1955). It appears to me that contemporary representations of amusement parks have taken on a sinister dimension. While early films focused on the physical and audiovisual pleasures amusement parks offered visitors, later films have depicted amusement parks as sites for oppressive working conditions, kidnappings, murders, vampire attacks and a zombie apocalypse.

Below are just a few examples of disturbing scenes set inside amusement parks.

  • The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
  • The Lost Boys (1987)
  • Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Jurassic Park (1993)
  • Itchy and Scratchy Land (1994, The Simpsons, TV)
  • Silent Hill 3 (2003, VG)
  • Adventureland (2009)
  • Zombieland (2009)
  • Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
  • Jurassic World (2015)

My favorite of the above is the horror film Escape from Tomorrow, which was shot on location at both Disneyland and Disney World (without Disney’s knowledge!). I first saw the movie at the Crosby Hotel, NYC, where the director attended a Q&A discussion after the screening and talked about the logistics of covert, guerrilla filmmaking. Escape from Tomorrow is currently available on Amazon Prime.



One might posit that the prominent placing of amusement parks in recent movies demonstrates a working through or mourning as movie spectatorship and more generally entertainment become less and less an embodied, crowd experience.

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California – Hawaii

After completing the school year I was more than ready to get out of New York for a couple of weeks.

I spent last week in Southern California mostly vacationing, however I did have the pleasure of lunching with, and interviewing Virginia Van Upp‘s step-daughter in San Diego. She shared some wonderful memories of her weekends spent on the Sonora ranch that her father, Ralph W. Nelson and Van Upp built together. Nelson also worked in the industry and is perhaps best known for his work on the Twilight Zone series. He and Van Upp collaborated on a number of projects in the thirties and forties. The relationship was tumultuous: they married, divorced, and remarried. The couple remained together until Van Upp’s death in 1970.

I hope to interview more of Van Upp’s family and visit the Sonora ranch when I return to California in August for a month-long research trip. I will also be visiting the American Heritage Center in Wyoming where some of Columbia Collection is held.

Right now I’m in Hawaii enjoying the scenery and preparing for the Film Theory comprehensive exam. I have chosen to focus on Feminist Film Theory.

Lots of exciting developments happening on the Harlem Theatre front – hope to have some good news soon regarding the movie’s  preservation and increased accessibility. The project has taken many surprising twists and turns!

Back in NYC next week.


P.S. I think Hawaii may be my spiritual homeland…also sales tax is 4.1%


Extreme Fishing

View from balcony, Paradise Pali Kai.  Extreme Fishing!


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About the Documentary HARLEM THEATRE (1968)

HARLEM THEATRE (1968) is a ninety-minute documentary that was made for German television by filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn. The movie, filmed just after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., follows Harlem’s New Lafayette Theatre members as they rehearse for their upcoming season and run politically radical workshops in the community.

Founded by actor-director Robert Macbeth, the New Lafayette Theatre was a significant institution within the Black Power Movement. Ed Bullins, the theatre’s playwright-in-residence was the Black Panther’s Minister of Culture. In addition to recording the theatre’s workshops, the movie contains street interviews with Harlem’s residents, and scenes from the Black Panther fundraising event held at Fillmore East for Eldridge Cleaver.


New Lafayette Theatre 1968, Company Members: J.E. Gaines, Beverly   , Bill Lathan, Yvette Hawkins, Roscoe Orman, George Miles, Helen Ellis, Roberta Raysor, Gary Bolling, Sam Wright, Estelle Evans, Bette Howard, Whitman Mayo, Peggy Kirkpatrick, Kris Keiser, Robert Macbeth, Ed Bullins

The movie is a powerful political and historical document that speaks to today’s concerns regarding justice for black people, police brutality, and the instrumentality of art to bring about change. Today’s renewed interest in the Black Panthers also makes the film timely. To the best of my knowledge the film has never screened publicly outside of Central Europe. (16MM, B/W, English Language)

Here is a clip from HARLEM THEATRE in which Robert Macbeth discusses Black theatre as a subversive force.

This clip was transferred by a collector from a print of the film that has since been lost/destroyed. The only known of surviving ninety minute, English language print of HARLEM THEATRE exists in an archive. If you would like to find out more about this film please email me. Continue reading

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I Love My Radio

Here is a still from the animated short promotional film More Than Meets the Eye (1952) made by United Productions of America (the same company responsible for Mr. Magoo). In every domestic space someone is listening to a radio set.


Other films promoting radio sets, radio shows, and advertising airtime established the convention of presenting montages of white people enjoying domestic bliss with their radio sets. Sponsored telecommunication films 1935-1960. Continue reading

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One Man’s Home Movies Make For a Magnificent Feature

Here is the trailer for a stunning film that I watched a few weeks ago. The movie is made entirely from one Finnish man’s “home movies” of his around-the-world trips.  The origin story to this film is very close to that of Finding Vivian Maier. If you contact Antti directly he may give you the password so that you can watch the entire film.

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What I’m reading…

J.D Connor’s The Studios After the Studios

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An Evening of Illuminations: Germaine Dulac’s Movies Screen at New York University



Lillian Constantini (unidentified shot) from “Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations”


On the evening of Wednesday, March 4th in the Cinema Studies Department at NYU, guest speaker Dr. Tami Williams (English Dept. U of Wisconsin – Milwaukee) presented a program of moving images by French feminist and pioneer of avant-garde cinema, Germaine Dulac (1882-1942). Williams introduced and contextualized each of the movies screened, drawing from her recent book Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations (University of Illinois Press, 2014).  Continue reading

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Mulvey at Yale, and Varda at NYU

Today (April 30) I attended an excellent conference entitled “Curating the Moving Image” organized by the graduate students of the Film Dept. at Yale. Guests included curators from MoMA, MoMI, BAM, Anthology..etc. Following the final panel, Laura Mulvey (yes! Laura Mulvey!) delivered the Reni Celeste Memorial Lecture in the auditorium of Yale’s Humanities Center.

This has been a crazy month: Agnes Varda spoke to students in the Cinema Studies Dept. at NYU two weeks ago!

I will attempt to write these events up and post here as they each provided much valuable advice and insight for archivists, junior curators, and film scholars.

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