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Climbing Harpo's Ladder The Ann Arbor Film Festival, Dominick's. Old A&d Et Alia

Climbing Harpo's Ladder The Ann Arbor Film Festival, Dominick's. Old A&d Et Alia image
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We are climbingHarpo's ladder - Wavy Gravy Sarpo Marx. Role Model. Stay in touch wlth the right spirits and you'll never be lost. I followed my instincts. The U-M central campus tookyears to explore. The greatest discovery was undoubtedly the Old Architecture and Design Building at Tappan and Monroe, wlth its architectural fragments standing about like the avenues of the dead in Ostia or Pcmpeii. There's still a couple of those columns Ie ft on that land. Back then it was quite bizarre, complete wlth a small but roomy geodesie dome. A refuge. Within sight of this surrealistic pillar garden was a tiny restaurant called Dominick's. Today it's the coolest tavern in town. Back then Dominick's took up one little structure. And, like the Brown Jug and many other established businesses, Dominick's had to wait for many years until the Powers that Govern begrudged them a liquor license. It's the way things are. Were. Will be. So after a lemonade at Dominick's, we'd traipse across Tappan Street and enter the dusty old A&D building, plunging down a corridor, often stopping to stare at the fresco palnted onto the piaster. What we headed for, several nights a week, was called the Old Architecture & Design Auditorium. For75centsyoucould see films from all over the world (subtitles made our eyes dance). Films from every decade. Harpo Marx lived in the air, wlth Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot on perpetual holiday, and W.C. Fields with a cigar rammed into the end of an opium pipe. Films that last a lifetime, and will probably pursue the viewer through the hereafter. I'm telling you the place was infested with the celluloid legions. Still is, to some extent, but only echoes. Harpo never leaves. I miss the student audiences. Lots of them resembled Abbie Hoffman. This was a time when blowing up the bank on the corner was a viable mode of self-expression (clear, concise overstntement of dissent). When the Marx brothers carne on the movie screen, each would receive a standing ovation , except pretty boy Zeppo, who would be booed and hissed. Most of the noisy expression was carried out in a well-balanced, anarchie style, quite unllke your usual collegiate drunkards who disrupt movles. This was audience partlcipation cinema in its mostjoyous manifestation. We made noise! The only thing better than spending an evening wearing 3-D glasses was the 16 millimeter Ann Arbor Film Festival, which erupted out of the Ann Arbor artistic community in 1 962. Tickets to these shows were artobjects in their own rites; collaged curios looking for all the world like train tickets from Cari Sandburg"s Rootabaga Stories. Legend has it the cops raided a 1 6mm Fest during the 1960s, bursting into the projection booth to confíscate a film which was considered obscene and actually hauling off a projectionist in handcuffs! Art and Risk: forever they tango in our midst. You havent really experienced cinema until you've plonked yourself down and allowed flick after flick to blow past your little eyes and head. Some times Tedium is the Medium. Sometimes there's deepish documentaries. Many ñlms defy mere description. It's a world-famous festival of independent and experimental films, and to this day the tickets are collectible bits of art, suitable for framing. The festival has relocated itself to the Michigan Theater, which is great because Harpo Marx Uves in the drinking fountains and lighting fixtures of that place. It's just as mind-boggling as ever, and you're copping out if you don't get in there and support it. If possible, live there for the entire week (March 16 - 21). Back at Tappan and Monroe, things are very nineties. Old A&D is now called Lorch. (What exactly is a Lorch? Do I want toknow?)Since 1980, the Business School has hemorrhaged all over that part of campus, engulfing whole neighborhoods, and endangering our moods. Lorch is the old building gutted and refltted with every conceivable form of corporate executlve training equipment, including coffee ums. The auditorium has been named after someone named Askwith. The glass display cases in the hallway outside the theater used to contain otherworldly art installations. Today there are neatly arranged snapshots of business ed. personnel. So be it. They ripped out the old bathrooms, and I really miss the ancient urinals. But I can cope with it, even though the graffiti has mutated on this campus into mostly hate rhetoric. The one bit of wall-writing which I associate with the old washrooms in that building was a reference to Virgil's Georgic IV, scrawled there by some dopesmokAng intellectual who wanted to share an insight. I'm talklng about a spirit which stlll runs and dances through this community, and the most tangible manifestatlon of that energy is dear old Dominick's, which hasn't copped out and stlll maintains a close involvement with the 16mm Film FesL This involvement goes back as far as the Festival itself. The flrst floor walls of Dominick's were a gallery of framed photos and memorabilia from the very strange and wonderful bohemia of this town in the 60s and 70s, with a marked concentratlon of experimental cinema residue. Some of that art is stlll on those walls, enigmatic as ever. I should mentlon some of the film groups which have so diligently enriched Treetown with predictably unpredictable cinema for so many years: The Ann Arbor Film Co-Op, Cinema Guild, Cinema II, Mediatrics, somethingcalled the Students United for Porn, and a short-lived entlty by the name of the New World Film Co-Op. I ushered for their shows in the early 70s. Saw "Pink Flamingos" about twelve times, and Warhol'sTrash" (aboutajunkie who can't get it up) maybe two dozen times. Repetitlon brings on new perspectives (ask any projectionist). The auditoriums were separate environments. Angelí Hali's Auditorium A is still a grand place to get the cinema in your face and revel with it. The Modern Language Building auds are much more imposing - not only is it easy to get lost and walk full circle in the nightmare hallways of that late-60s architectonic mausoleum, but imagine designing a theater with only fluorescent lightingl They probably thought it was contemporary. Natural Science Auditorium used to be haunted, and the wooden seats were considered uncomfortable. I usually lay on the floor or crept around the aisles like a goon. This facility has been modernized, and for the projectionists especially it's a good revamp. Things change. Just in case you flnd yourself rationalizing home video, consider the difference between your living room and a theater. You can get naked In your living room. You could conceivably get naked in the theater, in fact 1 encourage you to do this if the üme is right. The ritual of gathering ourselves up and sitting together in a darkened temple of electric dreams is not to be taken for granted. The twenüeth century comes wrapped in celluloid ribbon with little sprocket holes running down one side of it. Support alternative cinema in your town! It is among our greatest treasures. This column is dedicated to Peter Wild and all oí the motion picture projectionists who have served the people of the city ol Ann Arbor, which may still be one of the coolest places on earth. For many of the early Ann Arbor Film Festival years, the original festival director, George Manupelli, would créate some little art piece to send to each submitting filmmaker. For the 15th AAFF, he had Cinema Guild members make pms for the filmmakers: victory mousetraps with toy watches caught in the trap. The photograph is from 1977, the 15th AAFF with present-day festival director Vicki Honeyman (picturedon right) and former Ann Arbor dancer Sue Schelt (pictured on left) performing as live mannequins in the Oís A&D lobby showcase. They are wearing the mousetrap pins. Vicki and Sue performed in the showcase of Ols A&D during the film festival for severa! years, every night for 20-minute stints.