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Listening to the Archive

By the mid 1960s in Los Angeles, the great movie palaces built between the Great War and the early 1930s on the Broadway corridor of Downtown were in decline, as was most of the inner city. White Angelenos had fled to the assumed safety of the suburbs, but every weekend my underprivileged family was able to see first-run Hollywood films in these still very impressive cinema temples for a low fee.

Somehow, as a small child, I would always manage to escape my mother and three older sisters and wander off on my own, winding up into the projection room. I instinctively knew that this was the place where all the true movie magic occurred. Ever since then I have been fascinated by movie projectors and projectionists, and that delirious hum that the machines produce. What I didn’t know as a child, but that I realize now, after several years of utilizing the living and breathing archive of the Arsenal, is that the movie magic goes even further than the projection room.

Now my innate, childish curiosity keeps leading me deeper than I ever could have imagined, and in the end has turned the tables of child and mother, or in my case perhaps mammy. So it seems only fitting to continue as before without fanfare: mothering the archive as a work-in-progress. Am I a successful parent? Who is to say? At least I know where my children are when they run away from me into the projection room.

As part of the Living Archive project I have enhanced my long running series "Rising Stars, Falling Stars" to now explore the often complex relation of music and film. Of course the musical genre is part of that interaction, but that’s only the beginning. Wait and see.

Rising Stars, Falling Stars – The Films

Vaginal Davis has spoilt her audiences with silent movies and live music over 40 times. Now she asks: "Is there a new way of seeing music in film?". In April 2012 she launched into a new Arsenal series about film and music.
A reader that contains most of Davis's fascinating introductory texts has been published to celebrate five years of "Rising Stars, Falling Stars" in October 2012.

PORGY AND BESS Otto Preminger, USA 1959, 16 mm, 115 min
The film adaptation of George Gershwin’s eponymous opera tells the lovestory of the cripples beggar Porgy and the drug-addict Bess, whose former lover, the gangster Crown, does not want to let her go.

THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE John Cassavetes, USA 1976, 35 mm, 109 min
To pay his gambling debts the owner of a second-rate strip club has to kill a local mobster. Cassavetes coldly and systematically deconstructs genre cinema in this dark thriller.

GOLDEN EIGHTIES Chantal Akerman, Belgium 1985, 35mm, 96 min
A film composition made by Belgian director Chantal Akerman. The musical takes place in a fictional shopping mall where everything revolves around love.

BABES ON BROADWAY Busby Berkeley, USA 1941, 16 mm, 118 min
“Mickey Rooney asks July Garland whether she’d like to sing him a song. She says, ‘How do you know I sing?’ He says, ‘You sing when you talk, and you dance when you walk, and when I look in your eyes, I see a song.” (Michael Baute)

ST. LOUIS BLUES Dudley Murphey, USA 1929, 16 mm, 16 min
ST. LOUIS BLUES contains the only film footage of “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith, as well as her only recordings made outside of her Columbia Records contract.

THE BLANK GENERATION Amos Poe, USA 1975, 16 mm, 55 min
Amos Poe's THE BLANK GENERATION is a home movie about the birth of New York punk with Iggy Pop, Blondie and Patti Smith.

LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG Jacques Demy, France 1963, 35 mm, 92 min
Cherbourg, November 1957: 18-year-old Geneviève, who sells umbrellas in her mother‘s store, falls in love with car mechanic Guy. Their first night of love is also their last before he has to go to Algeria for his military service. Her mother forces her to marry a well-to-do jeweler when it turns out she is pregnant.

TAGEBUCH EINER VERLORENEN (Diary of a Lost Girl) G.W. Pabst, Germany 1929, 35 mm, 109 min
Thymian has a special effect on men, soon resulting in a child, which carries certain consequences: after being abandoned by the father, having the child taken from her and being tortured in an institution, she is thrown into a brothel by a shady count. "And Louise Brooks moves through the film in silent beauty, frightened, defiant, in anticipation and bewilderment, as the girl to whom all this happens. Almost like a beautiful, tragic Buster Keaton." (Berliner Tageblatt, 1929)
Deutschen Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen film copy

PYAASA Guru Dutt, India 1957, 35 mm, 147 min
The film centers on a failed poet who doesn‘t even receive recognition within his own family. After he‘s declared dead due to a mix-up however, his work suddenly becomes a posthumous success, while he is taken to an insane asylum in another mix-up.

TOCA PARA MI Rodrigo Fürth, Argentina 2001, 35 mm, 103 min
Carlos is the drummer in a punk rock band in Buenos Aires. When his adoptive father Genaro, an accordion player, dies, he travels to the small village of Los Angeles, which is in the middle of nowhere. The further he leaves punk music behind him, the more open he becomes to the rhythms of folklore.

PERMANENT VACATION Jim Jarmusch, USA 1980, 16mm, 74min
To a rumbling soundtrack the youthful protagonist Allie drifts through Manhattan‘s Lower East Side. On his sensual search through rundown, abandoned apartment houses and industrial buildings, the Charlie Parker fans encounters a cross section of Downtown hipsters: saxophone players, crooks, freaks, poets. A melancholy “Odyssey of Cool”.

ZEINAB Muhammad Karim, Egypt 1950, 35 mm, 111 min
ZEINAB is a sound remake of his eponymous 1930 silent movie. Both films are based on Muhammad Husein Haikal‘s novel written in 1914, about a peasant girl trapped between social and family convention and her own hopes.

SALOME’S LAST DANCE Ken Russell, UK 1988, 35 mm, 89 min
In SALOME’S LAST DANCE Ken Russell organizes a private performance of the forbidden play Salome for it’s author Oscar Wilde in a luxurious brothel in Victorian London.

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 Norman Taurog, USA 1940, 16mm, 102 min
Fred Astaire and George Murphy play a down on their luck dance duo, whose friendship is put to the test when a chance at big-scale Broadway fame at the side of starlet Claire Bennett (played by Eleanor Powell) presents itself.

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER Vincente Minelli, USA 1970, 16 mm, 107 min
In a former life, Daisy was a coquotte at the Royal British Court. Complications ensue, as her psychiatrist falls in love with her historic alter ego.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media