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Kitten With a Whip and Chasing Rainbows

Wednesday, Oct 13 1999
Kitten With a Whip
Before Jack Stevenson got married and moved to Denmark in 1993, the author (Desperate Visions: Camp America) and film collector obliged this town's once-healthy appetite for kink with regular shows at the Roxie, the Other Cinema, and the Chameleon. Now he does the same for Copenhagen, screening incredibly strange films in a bar called Rust and on a creaky freighter converted into a cinema. Besides teaching, writing, and renting his own prints to diverse venues throughout northern Europe, Stevenson distributes the work of Bay Area underground filmmakers like Craig Baldwin, Danny Plotnick, and Jon Moritsugu. "I run [my business] like a film co-op," he e-mailed me. "I try to give the film a life over here and I give the filmmaker two-thirds of the rental."

Stevenson returns for a Bay Area "tour" every year, toting a couple of heavy suitcases laden with film cans. "A chaos of my personal picks" is how he describes his "raw, sleazy, and unhinged" Other show (Oct. 16); "total potluck: just grabbing the spools and putting 'em on as a spur-of-the-moment inspiration dictates." A more refined brand of derangement marks the shadow-rich trio of post-war educational films Stevenson screens under the rubric "Film Noir Educationals" at the Fine Arts Cinema (Oct. 18-20) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Oct. 23-24). Those venues will also host his "The Cult of Camp," a hysterical, historical grab bag of trailers, outtakes, shorts, and TV shows.

Chasing Rainbows
Marie Dressler was 45 when she made her film debut in 1914, a veteran of stage and vaudeville. The neglected comedienne -- the subject of Marie Dressler: A Biography (McFarland & Co., $49.95), a new, lovingly researched book by San Francisco critic and anthropology instructor Matthew Kennedy -- endured middling screen success and (in the '20s) abject failure, before emerging as the biggest box office draw of 1932 and '33 in the wake of Anna Christie, Min and Bill, and Dinner at Eight.

"The circumstances of her stardom were fascinating to me," Kennedy relates. "I was particularly interested in how her career intersected with the times. For families that had no security for the future, what did it mean to plunk down a dime and see a Marie Dressler movie -- which apparently the whole country did? What a comfort she must have been, this old, homely woman who had survived so many hardships in her own life. Her grandmotherly qualities were very welcome during the Depression.

"Her style was very sentimental, and that isn't in vogue right now," adds Kennedy. "Marie was folksy and went right for the tear ducts -- as well as the belly laughs. She spawned no imitators."

In the introduction to his book Kennedy observes, "It is her place as the grand, imperious dowager empress of early talkies that makes Dressler indelible. At that point, her art became a tonic for the masses. But she remains fresh and funny today; strength of character and superb comic instincts transcend history." Kennedy reads from his book prior to a screening of the Dressler vehicle Emma (1932) at the Pacific Film Archive on Oct. 17.

About The Author

Michael Fox


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