August 7th, 1998
The buzz on the sets & in the theaters
By Shawn Levy
|“Forbidden Cinema” is the name of the series Nyback will be showing at the Clinton Street, and the title is a bit of a come-on and a tease. Most of what’s in the programs, after all, is perfectly licit. Rather, Nyback’s idea of forbidden suggests a cheeky resentment of the way the Hollywood product muscles everything in his collection off the screen. It’s a shame, too, because, as a preview of the series showed, Nyback has a terrific eye. Take “Death Zones,” a school bus safety film made with truly bad taste. In its hysterical zeal to frighten the lights out of schoolkids (children are shown under bus tires in bloodless, staged re-creations of accidents), it’s actually edited, scored and shot with great craft and care. Likewise a promotional reel for swing bands, in which a talent agent who could have been a creation of Woody Allen’s in “Zelig” introduces the likes of Cab Galloway and Duke Ellington. Even the lengthy episode of TV’s (perhaps justly) forgotten “Space Patrol” shimmers weirdly in its low-rent details — a perfect, unintentional camp text.
This is hair-raising, exhilarating programming, and a trip to “Forbidden Cinema” is sure to make you think twice before you assume that “the movies” can only mean big stars, big budgets and simple plots.
When we talk about “the movies,” we’re generally talking about feature films made in Hollywood. Oh, sure, there are plenty and independent films and the-occasional avant-garde work implicit in the term, but the fact is that most of us think big things when we think of “the movies.’Well, don’t try pushing that mumbo jumbo on Dennis Nyback, the Seattle-based film historian and archivist who is bringing a fascinating collection of turns to the cozy
Clinton Street Theater this week.
Nyback, who used to run Seattle’s Pike Street Theater, has an astounding collection of films and film related materials, and there’s barely a Hollywood minute in the bunch. From student movies to films on school bus safety to documentaries about life in Harlem to exceedingly rare images of great jazz musicians of the swing era to weirdly compelling old TV episodes to a terrifyingly frank film about heart surgery, Nyback’s bag of tricks contains wonders that will forever change your notion of what the term “the movies” means.