I slept late this morning, so I don’t have time to write-up the films I saw yesterday. (And yes, I want to talk about a couple of them in-depth.) What I do have are some lovely photos of the restored Virginia Theatre for your consumption:
Yesterday morning, I drove from Minneapolis, MN to Champaign, IL, a trip that takes around 7-8 hours of nonstop driving.
Recently, I purchased a glass mount and a power cord for my Sony DSLR, in hopes that I could shoot more sophisticated time-lapse movies during my long road trips. Thus, before I left town, I mounted the camera to the windshield of the car and set it to take a photo every 12 seconds.
The project ultimately failed. My car’s power inverter died (possibly a blown fuse), so the camera was left to run off its own battery. The battery died about 6.5 hours in. It also monsoon-rained during much of the drive, which means the individual photos were blurred by water and marred by the occasional windshield wiper.
The good news, though, is that the camera occasionally shot an interesting image, made dreamy by the blur and glare of the rain.
I can credit my intense love of movies to two people: my mom and Roger Ebert. I used to watch Sneak Previous and At the Movies religiously, and I’d make note of the movies I was too young to see, but would undoubtedly seek out when I was older. Mom is the person who would put those tapes in my hands… or at least patiently tolerate whenever I’d catch something a bit advanced on HBO.
Those TV shows, of course, were a joint effort between Siskel and Ebert, but Ebert was the one I connected with. Siskel was a smart guy, but Ebert knew something that most critics don’t realize: highbrow art and lowbrow art are both art. Ebert could defend summer blockbuster fare as easily as he could defend a Fellini film. He also knew how to talk about folks like Fellini and Bergman in a way that felt accessible. He could guide you around the subtler points of the cinema without making you feel dumb for missing details on the first go.
I started attending Ebertfest in Chambana, IL, only a few years ago, after Ebert already had his jaw removed. He’d always put in a few appearances at the film festival, but it was clear that it was difficult for him to get around. He’d use his computer to speak to us, and would gesture charmingly with his hands as the digital voice spoke for him. The removal of his jaw left him with a permanent smile upon his face, but when he was in the Virginia Theater with us, that smile always looked like something he’d choose to wear anyway. The Virginia Theater felt like his home, and he made us all feel welcome.
Over the few years I’ve been to Ebertfest, Roger’s amazing wife Chaz has been taking on more of the MC duties of the festival. It’s always a delight to see her, too. She’s the sort of person whose smile is larger than life.
Last year, Chaz was MC for the festival almost the entire time. If I remember right, I only saw Roger in the theater once. That’s when I snapped the photo above.
I never did get to thank Mr. Ebert in person. I’m not too disappointed by that, though. He seemed to always be surrounded by people who loved him and his life’s work. I would have just been one more voice in the crowd. I got to watch movies with him, and that’s an honor.
This year’s Ebertfest happens in two weeks. I wish he could have made it to one last Ebertfest, because he would carefully select each film specifically because he felt it hadn’t been seen by enough people. He had already selected this year’s slate of films. He wanted to share these films with us. It’s a shame he won’t see that giant old moviehouse packed one last time, packed with people excited to share the moviegoing experience with him.
My heart goes out to Chaz and to all my critic friends who knew Roger much better than I did. We’re all going to miss him.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I photographed an edged weapons collection for a friend. I talked previously about one of his American possessions, but the real meat of his collection consists of several pieces of WWII German regalia.
My friend certainly does not have any sympathies with the Nazi movement. He collects these items because they are pieces of history, because they are interesting, and because they are, frankly, quite beautiful objects, despite being tinged with what we now equate with evil.
I recall the scene in American Beauty where the teen girl flips a delicate piece of dinnerware to find a swastika printed on the back.
Nazis are now the perfect villains, to the point where they are now cliché. Their goal is now almost universally reviled, and yet they looked so damned good while doing unspeakable things to millions of people. That’s incredibly cinematic. In a film, you can kill as many Nazis as you like, because it’s easy to forget that Nazis were real (tragically misguided) human beings who happen to look good while they die like flies. Quentin Tarantino bucked history and murdered Hitler himself in a tremendously gory fashion, and audiences cheered in the theater. This is the sort of thing that the term “zeitgeist” was made for.
Items like these beautiful daggers are reminders of the seductive image control that helped lure an entire country of people to become monsters. It’s no mystery to me why my friend collects such things.
About a week ago, I was called upon by an edged weapons collector to photograph his stash of pointy things for insurance purposes. Most of the photos aren’t terribly visually interesting, since they are meant to be just matter-of-fact documents of the quality of the item and the maker’s marks. However, a few of them turned out to be nice images, so I got permission to post them.
I sadly don’t have a lot of historical context for most of these items, so I don’t offhand know a whole lot about the item in the photo above. It’s a showy piece of craftsmanship, full of intricate carving on both the hilt and the blade. The maker’s stamp bought my curiosity, though, so I went a-searching on the web for the M. C. Lilley Company.
From the Columbus Metropolitan Library:
Founded in the mid-1860s, the M. C. Lilley Company was world renowned as manufacturers of regalia. Regalia is defined as magnificent attire, finery.” Besides ceremonial swords, the Lilley Company produced banners, flags, emblems and uniforms for fraternal societies and organizations such as the Mason Fellows, Knights of Pythias and policemen. Lilley also supplied the U. S. Marine Corps and the cadets of West Point and Annapolis with swords. During World War II the company made thousands of machetes for Dutch troops. There is even a story of one of the swords being recovered from Pearl Harbor in great condition. Their goods were shipped all over the United States, Canada and even Australia.
A short biography of Mitchell Campbell Lilley reveals more about the history of the company, as well as a bit about the boom in American fraternal organizations between the Civil War and the end of World War I. Oddly, the regalia company started out as a publishing house:
The publishing house distributed forms and ledger books for the fraternal groups. It also published the Odd Fellows Companion, a newsletter featuring fictional stories and reports of membership and lodge statistics that were submitted by the chapters. Charles Lindenberg was the salesman for the Companion, and traveled the country selling subscriptions.
Soon, however, subscribers began asking where they could find the ornate uniforms and accessories worn by chapters they read about in the periodical. The business owners capitalized on this unsolicited piece of reader response.
The company decided it would broker and make those goods plus whatever else could be made in their shop. A debate within the Odd Fellows eventually propelled M.C. Lilley into becoming the maker and supplier of everything fraternal.
Growth forced the company to move from its South High Street location to 27 W. Gay St. in 1882 and to Sixth and Long streets 10 years later. A state report in 1887 showed Columbus with 58 manufacturing companies and 48 of them employed at least 40 people. M.C. Lilley had a staff of 420 and was the second-largest manufacturer in the city. Company promotional materials some 30 years later claimed it employed in excess of 1,000.
After the fraternal boom died down, the M. C. Lilley Company merged with another company in 1931, which then was absorbed into another regalia company in 1950.