322: Batwoman

Archival Spaces 322

La mujer murcielago (1968) restored

Uploaded 26 May 2023

On Friday, 14 April 2023, I attended a midnight screening at the TCM Film Festival of the newly restored La mujer murcielago/Batwoman (1968), directed by Cuban-Mexican director, René Cardona, and produced by Guillermo Calderón (1919-2018). The producer was the son of Rafael Calderón who with his brother Jose was one of the founders of the Mexican film industry. Viviana García-Besné, director of Permancia Voluntaria, has been restoring the films of her Calderón family. Back in 2015, while preparing our UCLA exhibition, “Recuerdos de un cine en espagñol: Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles” (2017), I visited the Calderón Archive and wrote this blog (https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/blogs/archival-spaces/2015/08/28/permanencia-voluntaria). 

The first time we see actress Maura Monti as the Batwoman is in a cutaway montage as friend Tony Roca describes her many talents to the Mexican inspector investigating a series of murders of professional wrestlers (luchadors). First, she appears in a full-length white evening gown with mink stole  – she’s wealthy -, then with her blue bat woman luchadora mask shooting bulls eyes with a pistol, followed by her in western costume on horseback, shooting more bulls eyes, then scuba diving with a harpoon, and finally in the ring woman-handling a luchadora. She is a phallic femme, endowed with the visual symbols of male power, but still trapped in the iconography and visual style of the male gaze. Batwoman is the long dark-haired answer to the 1960s icon, Emma Peel in “The Avengers,” smart, sexy, highly athletic, and tough. As a flyer at the screening tells me, Monti did all her own stunts, except in the wrestling sequences which used a body double. Through much of the film she wears the tiniest of bikinis with her luchadora mask and azure blue cape, another prototypical 1960s American comic book image, part Batman, part Mexican wrestler, all male fantisized erotic object. But this is a guilty pleasure because the cultural melange can be read as pure camp.     

Contrasted to the blue sea, and Bat Woman’s blue mask and cape, is the coral red of the Fishman, a Frankenstein-like amphibious creature created by a mad scientist in the laboratory on his yacht, trying to rule the world. The creature, produced by injecting the pineal-gland fluid of murdered wrestlers into a fish which through some atomic force is then turned underwater into a human-sized Fishman who is guided by radio signals from the madman. Given that Guillermo del Toro has named La mujer murcielago one of his favorite films, it is clear Batwoman’s monster was one of his inspirations for The Shape of Water (2017), just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1957) inspired Bat Woman. This film is proud of its pop-cultural origins, with its tongue in cheek.

Viviana Garcia Besne, Marianne da Silva, Peter Conheim
Charles Horak

The new 4K restoration of Batwoman pops in bright Technicolor colors. It was made possible thanks to a team of restorationists, working far below scale in what is obviously a labor of love. Heading the team is Viviana García-Besné, a niece of the film’s producer, who remembers spending vacations in the Acapulco villa at the center of the narrative, and who for the past decade has gathered together the dispersed films of her family through her Permancia Voluntaria. Past restorations have included El fantasma del convento (1934, Fernando de Fuentes) and Santo contra Cerebro del Mal (1958,
Joselito Rodríguez), the first of numerous Santo films produced by the Calderón family. Working with Viviana was film collector and restorationist Peter Conheim (http://peterconheim.com/ ) and colorist Andrew Drapkin. However, before preservation could begin, there had to be a multi-year fundraising effort.

Working with film producer Charles Horak (no relation), Permanencia Voluntaria set up a fund through the Paseo del Norte Foundation in El Paso, Texas. Horak also organized at least two fundraising screenings at the Plaza Theatre in El Paso in 2018 and 2019 of Santo vs. the Evil Brain (1958), the first Santo film. and a smaller private event that raised money from hundreds of local citizens. El Paso was of course one of the ancestral homes of the Calderón film empire, which operated the Colón Theatre (now gone) in El Paso and numerous cinemas in the Texas-Chihuahua border area, before also moving into distribution. and film production in 1932 with Santa, the first Mexican sound feature film. Various members continued producing films continuously into the 1990s, including Batwoman’s Guillermo Calderon Stell. The screenings raised $ 27,000 and  $37,000, respectively. Charles Horak was particularly proud of his crowd-sourcing without going through internet sites. Further funding for Batwoman was provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/Academy Film Archive and the Cinema Preservation Alliance.    

Happily, the digital restorations had access to the original 35mm Eastmancolor camera negative and optical sound. Unfortunately, the camera negative had been badly damaged through overuse and the effects of a recent earthquake that demolished parts of the Archive, necessitating literally hundreds of hours of digital clean-up by hand. Their only guide was a badly faded to magenta 35mm projection print, also in possession of Permanencia Voluntaria. While the sound was mastered by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, the digital clean-up was handled by Conheim on his home desktop. Viviana and Peter went through four different versions before they were happy with the final result, which was on view at TCM and which will be available on DVD soon.

For those interested in supporting Permanencia Voluntaria’s efforts to restore popular Mexican cinema, you can make a tax-deductible donation to https://pdnfoundation.org.

321: Erik Daarstad

Archival Spaces 321

In Memoriam: Erik Daarstad

Uploaded 12 May 2023

Terry Sanders and Erik Daarstad

I first met the cinematographer, Erik Daarstad, when my daughter Gianna Mei Li was a member of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. It was the Summer of 2008 and she was joining the chorus on their tour of mainland China, an event documented in Freida Lee Mock’s Sing, China! (2009). Freida and Erik arrived early in the morning to film us driving to LAX, where they joined the chorus to catch the plane to Hong Kong. We saw Erik again at work, when four weeks later we joined the Chorus for their final concert in Hong Kong after they had given concerts in numerous cities in China. We then traveled to Shanghai for an extended trip of our own through China that included a visit to my daughter’s former orphanage in Tongling, about 150 miles west on the Yangtze River. At the time we had no idea that Gianna, who was extensively interviewed during the tour along with several other kids, would become central to the film’s narrative, given her unique story as a Chinese-American adoptee, returning to China for the first time.

Sing China! (2009, Freida Lee Mock)
Sing China! (2009, Freida Lee Mock) with Gianna Mei Li Horak

However, I already was familiar with Erik Daarstad’s cinematography because The Exiles (1961), which was restored at UCLA Film & Television Archive by Ross Lippman at the moment I became the Archive’s Director, premiered at the Berlinale in February 2008; it was released by Milestone in  Summer 2008. That previously forgotten docu-fiction feature by Kent McKenzie visualized Native Americans living in the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles and has since been recognized as an initiator of American neo-realist cinema. It was only Erik’s second film. Essentially plotless, the film and Daarstad’s camera observe the often sad, sometimes directionless, occasionally desperate fates of young Native Americans uprooted from their homes and traditions in the Southwest, left at sea in a hostile and alien urban environment. Furthermore, Daarstad’s camera documents the Bunker Hill of dilapidated mansions and tenements that have long ago been urban renewed out of existence in favor of impersonal office buildings. Even the bar where the men congregated on South Main Street finally closed during the pandemic.

The Exiles (1961, Kent McKenzie)

Erik was born on June 27, 1935, in a small mining town in the mountains of southern Norway. As a five-year-old, Erik experienced the occupation of the country by the Nazis, his father dying in a Nazi bombing raid. According to an obituary in the Bonner Country Bee, the paper of record in Sandpoint, Idaho, where Erik had lived since 1976 with an eleven-year interlude in Seattle (1986-1997), Erik discovered movies as a 6-7-year-old in the local community hall. Taking an interest in photography in high school, Daarstad moved to Los Angele in 1953 to enroll at the University of Southern California’s film school. His first credit as cinematographer was on Hell Squad (1958), an independently produced World War II yarn, directed by Burt Topper and distributed by AIP; cinematographer John Morrill worked on the film, too, and was also credited on The Exiles, serving as a consultant on the UCLA restoration, before passing away in 2015. After The Exiles, Daarstad found work in documentaries and television movies, working with Mel Stuart, William Friedkin, and a couple of times with Kent McKenzie.

Why MJan Creates (1968, Saul Bass)
Bass on Titles (1978)

In 1969 he won an Academy Award with Saul Bass for Best Documentary Short for Why Man Creates (1968). An essay film on the nature of creativity that never answers its central question, the film was a collage of both staged and documentary sequences that are both playful and serious, encouraging audiences to think rather than consume.  Why Man Creates was subsequently screened in elementary and high schools throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Many adults who were schoolchildren during this time have extremely fond memories of Bass’s film. Erik would later also shoot Bass on Titles (1978).

Fighting for Life (2008, Terry Sanders)
G-Dog (2012, FreidaLeee Mock)

In the 1970s and 80s, Daarstad worked mainly in television, including Richard Schickel’s The Men Who Made Movies (1973) and National Geographic Specials (1970-1991). Erik shot his first film for Terry Sanders in 1973, Four Stones for Kanemitsu, becoming close friends with Terry and his wife, Freida Lee Mock. Erik would end his career in the 2010s, shooting two more films for Terry, and four for Freida Mock. Freida sent me this note about Erik: “Erik had a poet’s heart and eye, able to capture the beauty and humanity of the character and stories he filmed as a gifted legendary cinematographer.  We are lucky that Erik chose to stay in America after leaving Norway as an 18-year-old to study film at USC.  The Daarstad touch was distinct with his steady hand-held camera work that conveyed unforgettable images of choristers singing at the Great Wall (the SING! Films), of the charismatic Fr. Greg Boyle’s embrace of homies and society’s marginalized (G-DOG) and the quiet bravery of Anita Hill – 100s of films about the famous and unknown that are his legacy.  I always felt Erik had a third eye for he saw everything and expressed the essence of life in his beautiful work.  But he is most remembered as one of those kind, thoughtful, great humans who one is lucky to call a friend and colleague.”

Erik Daarstad died on 13 March 2023 in  Sandpoint, Idaho.

Anita: Speaking Truth to Power (2013, Freida Lee Mock)

320: Orphans Film Symposium

Archival Spaces 320

Orphan Film Symposium: All-Television Edition

Uploaded 28 April 2023

For the first time since May 2011, UCLA Film & Television Archive hosted the Orphan Film Symposium with New York University, again at the Billy Wilder Theater. Co-curated by Orphans founder and NYU professor Dan Streible and John H. Mitchell Curator of Television at UCLA Mark Quigley, the 1 ½ day event drew television archivists and researchers from across the United States, many of whom presented their treasures of rarely or never seen television footage. After welcomes by UCLA Film & Television Archive Director May Hong HaDuong and Streible, with Streible asking “What was Television,” the proceedings began shortly before noon.

John Baird, Mechanical Television
Karloff, Lorre in Playhouse 90 Press Event

After Jeff Bickel, UCLA Film & Television newsreel archivist introduced some Hearst Metrotone News footage from 1931 of John Baird, one of the inventors of mechanical television, Mark Quigley presented a previously lost closed-circuit broadcast of a CBS press conference in 1956, introducing the first five Playhouse 90 (1956-61)programs, soon to become one of the most storied omnibus drama shows of the 1950s. Running a then-unheard-of 90 minutes, the program eventually garnered 47 Emmy nominations and 19 wins, including four for “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” the second show in the series. Introduced by program producer Martin Manulis, the show featured a series of talking heads talking about the pleasures of making the program, including directors John Frankenheimer and Ralph Nelson, and actors Charleton Heston, Tab Hunter, Vincent Price, Jack Palance, Ed Wynn, Kim Hunter, Eddie Cantor, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Frank Lovejoy, and Barbara Hale.  CBS spared no expense to acquire well-established and respected Hollywood film actors for a new kind of television at 90 minutes, i.e. like films. The quality of the 35mm film print, blown up from two 16mm kinescopes was exceptional, allowing a more casual look at stars mugging for the camera as they struggle to read the teleprompter.

It’s Joey (1954)
Willi Brown interviews James Brown (1971)

Next, Mike Mashon from the Library of Congress presented four clips from television pilots that never saw the light of a cathode ray, including The Family Upstairs (1955), a family sitcom on a two-story set, one camera moving between floors; It’s Joey (1954), featuring 21-year-old Joel Grey singing and dancing as if he were on a Broadway stage, rather than a 15’ x 15’ studio set; a Polly Bergen-Dick van Dyke game show, Nothing But the Truth (1956), revived the same year as To Tell the Truth (1956- present); and an even weirder Some Like It Hot (1961), which transforms the stars of Billy Wilder’s movie (Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis) through plastic surgery into the pilot’s players, ostensibly so they can escape the mob. Ruta Abolins, Peabody Awards archivist, closed out the evening with an amazing interview with singer James Brown, conducted in 1971 by a young, local, black Georgia TV station host, Willi Brown. In the interview, James Brown chides the host for asking “colored” questions, like a white man, rather than helping the community to liberate itself from the daily racism around them. Preaching black self-reliance, Brown endorsed Richard Nixon shortly after the interview. Yet, there is also something magnetic in James Brown’s on-camera performance, where left and right become one of many contradictions in Brown’s career.

Herbert E. Ives, Mechanical Television
Cesar Romero in Joker makeup with Texas Tv host

Day 2 began with Daniela Currò, Director of the Fox Movietone Archive in South Carolina, introducing a television test (1931) by Herbert E. Ives of the Bell Telephone Labs who is presenting his mechanical television system. Next, Margie Compton (U. Georgia, Brown Media Archives) showed a hilarious local game show sponsored by Purex Bleach, whose only goal was to give away as many bottles of the sponsor’s bleach as possible, naming contestants on air with their actual phone numbers and addresses. The mirth continued with Caroline Frick and Laura Treat from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, showing numerous clips of car commercials, children’s shows, Cesar Romero made-up as Batman’s Joker being interviewed by what appeared to be a former lover, and alocal late-night terror show host, among others. Their humor-filled presentation was also deadly series, noting that 90% of all tv-programming before 1995 is now lost, and at least three States in the Union have no television collections at all. They named three major impediments to preserving tv: 1. Funding,  which is very expensive; 2. Technical obsolescence; 3. Copyright restrictions.

Melissa Dollman on stage
Mary MacAdoo at Home
Barbara Hammer in T.V. Heart (1988)

The afternoon session on “Women Make Television” began with Melissa Dollman (Deserted Films) showing a short clip from a 1955 local children’s program, followed by a hilarious piece, introduced by Maya Smukler (UCLA F&TV Archive), in which local L.A. television host Mary McAdoo of Mary McAdoo at Home (1953) verbally spars with costume designer Edith Head about what kinds of clothes are appropriate for women who are not perfectly shaped with four or five mannequins to use as defensive or offensive weapons. Edith gives as good as she gets. The program revealed to what degree much of early television, especially local tv, was live and improvised, warts and all. The humor continued more seriously with Barbara Hammer’s avant-garde video short, T.V. Tart (1988), introduced by Amy Villarejo (UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television). In the highly manipulated electronic image, the late Barbara Hammer gorges herself on all manner of sweets and sugar, Hammer drawing in what is primarily an abstract film an analogy between tv consumption and candy. The program then took an even more serious turn with Juana Surárez (N.Y.U.), who has since 2015 been working on the preservation of Yuruparí (1983-86), a Colombian TV series of ethnographic documentaries about Afro-descendant and indigenous culture, directed by Gloria Triana and filmed in 16 mm and on video.  

Tom Reed (1980s)
Humberto Sandoval in Imperfecto (1983)

The final session of the afternoon saw Mark Quigley (with Shawne West) introduce Tom Reed’s For Member’s Only (1981-2011), a long-running independently produced African-American culture program. I remember when Mark first came to me in 2017 and announced he had visited Tom Reed, who was thinking of donating his collection. It would take several years of courting before Quigley was able to finally acquire this amazing collection of ¾” tapes from Reed, which document not only black culture and politics in L.A. for decades, but also black capitalism in the form of commercials. The afternoon concluded with legendary Chicano filmmaker Harry Gamboa’s Imperfecto (1983), a bizarre and comical video short that visualizes a Latino man as an asylum inmate seeking the truth, metaphorically describing the relationship between white mainstream power and Latin culture in Los Angeles. Chon Noriega (UCLA) introduced the video and interviewed Gamboa after the screening.     

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the evening’s programming, which focused on African-American television and video, presented by Orphan regulars, Walter Forsberg (Smithsonian) and Ina Archer, as well as Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., (Smithsonian), Blake McDowell (Smithsonian), Ellen Scott (UCLA), and Josslyn Luckett (NYU). 

Abby Lincoln in Black Journal 23 (1970)

319: Deutsche Kinemathek

Archival Spaces 319

Deutsche Kinemathek in Peril

Uploaded 14 April 2023

While in Berlin in February for the Berlinale, I heard the first disturbing reports that the Deutsche Kinemathek, one of Germany’s oldest film archives will lose its space in 2025 in the Sony Building, where it has maintained offices, archives, and the Museum for Film and Photography for the last 23 years. While the Arsenal Cinema, operated by the Friends of the Kinemathek, as well as the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB), both co-tenants in the building, have found new locations, there seems to be at present no other plans for the Kinemathek, other than boxing up the collections, maintaining a website, and organizing traveling exhibitions. Back in California, I started doing research to track down the veracity of the rumors and have learned the following.

Gerhard Lamprecht opening Kinemathek in 1963
Theodore Heuss Platz in 1960s
Berlinale Retrospective, 1998
Berlinale Retrospective, 2017

The Deutsche Kinemathek opened in February 1963, when the West Berlin State acquired the film, document, and equipment collections of German film director, Gerhard Lamprecht, whose multi-volume filmography of German silent cinema is a standard work. Organized as a non-profit public foundation with financing from West Berlin, the Archive became a member of FIAF two years later. Beginning in 1977, the Kinemathek organized the Retrospectives of the Berlinale, their catalogs consistently breaking new film historical ground, especially their focus on German exile filmmakers. Its collections house 26,000 films, 30,000 scripts, 16,000 posters, and 60,000 film programs, as well as numerous estates, including the Marlene Dietrich and Paul Kohner Archives. I first started doing research in the Kinemathek in 1974, when preparing my master’s thesis on Ernst Lubitsch. At the time, the Kinemathek was housed in a building on the Theodore-Heuss-Platz, where it shared a library and facilities with the DFFB. Throughout the 1980s, the Kinemathek’s director, Heinz Rathsack, attempted to build a new facility at the Esplanade on the south bank of the Landwehr Canal and just west of the Potsdamer Platz’s no man’s land, but his death in December 1989 and German Reunification put an end to those plans. Hans-Helmut Prinzler became his successor, and successfully directed the institution until April 2006.

Deutsche Kinemathek at Potsdamer Platz
Florian Bolenius, Rainer Rother

After Reunification in 1990, the Sony Corporation acquired a 320,000 sq. ft. site at the Potsdamer Platz from the city of Berlin city for US $61.6 million with the proviso that it offers space below market value to the Kinemathek, the DFFB, and the Arsenal cinema in their planned complex, designed by Helmut Jahn. In 1999, the three institutions opened their doors with a 25-year lease. The Museum of Film and Television opened in 2006 with the Kinemathek paying approximately 3 million Euros a year rent for all its spaces. At the same time, the German Federal government through the Ministry of Culture took over the Kinemathek’s financing, naming an artistic director, Dr. Rainer Rother, and a business director, Florian Bolenius, for the Kinemathek. In February 2008, Sony sold the complex to a German and American investor consortium, and in 2017 Oxford Properties and Madison International Realty purchased the complex for 1.1 billion Euros. As early as 2015, the Kinemathek attempted to negotiate an extension of their lease but failed because of costs.  

Gallery, Museum of Film and Television, Berlin

Then in February 2017, two Berlin newspapers, Berliner Morgenpost, and the Tagesspiegel, announced that the Kinemathek and the Berlinale would move into a to-be-constructed building on a parking lot next to the Martin Gropius Bau, an exhibition hall in the center of Berlin. The Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters, was quoted in a later Tagesspiegel article:  “A film center for Berlin, in which the Berlinale, the Deutsche Kinemathek, and maybe the DFFB finds a home is a good idea. The idea stands or falls with the right location, and of course financing.”(Tagesspiegel, 15 May 2017) The cost of the new building is estimated at 100 Million Euros. Dieter Kosslick, then head of the Berlinale, also strongly favored the Gropius site for the Berlinale’s new headquarters.

DFFB’s new home in Berlin-Moabit
Arsenal’s new home in a former crematorium in the Silent Green district

However, because of the pandemic, there seemed to be little further forward movement, until Der Tagesspiegel reported in November 2022 that both the Film and TV Academy and the Arsenal had found new homes in Berlin. The former will move to Berlin-Moabit into a former industrial park at the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer, a couple miles north of the Brandenburg Gate. Funded by the City of Berlin, the DFFB announced in the Summer of 2022 that it will become part of a new research and media campus. The Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art will relocate in 2025 to the working-class suburb of Wedding, in the new culture district “Silent Green,” where it will join other media institutions. Not only its archives but also a new 180-seat cinema will be built in a former crematorium. (Tagesspiegel, 4 November 2022) The article repeated unchanged the plans for the Kinemathek’s new home at the Gropius Bau from five years earlier.

Monika Grütters
Claudia Roth

However, a change in government from the Christian Democrats to the Social Democrats in 2021, lead to the succession of Claudia Roth (Green Party) to the Ministry of Culture. She has paid lip service to the government’s commitment to building a film center in Berlin, but so far the land has not even been purchased, much less construction begun. According to someone close to the Ministry of Culture, Roth sees any new construction of cultural buildings with suspicion, wishing instead to encourage the repurposing and reuse of older buildings that can be made energy efficient. Yet, Rainer Rother had as early as 2015 attempted without success to find a suitable building belonging to the government that could be renovated. When I asked Claudia Roth at the recent Oscar reception at the Villa Aurora about the Kinemathek construction, she mouthed her support for the Gropius site, then literally ran away before I could ask any follow-up questions. Emails to her office, requesting information about plans and financing have gone unanswered.

Having spent eight of my twelve years as Director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive planning and building a new archive in Santa Clarita, I understand that it could take as long as a decade to build a new Deutsche Kinemathek. One wonders how the film archive will survive, once it closes its doors in 2025. Who will take up its cause, if not the German federal government that is responsible for its survival?     

Martin Gropius Bau parking lot under trees