"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan


Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

British Food

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April 12  Manchester, England

I like a morning routine. Here, it is to take the walk, including through two parks, to the Starbucks on Oxford Road and drink coffee and read the New York Times and write. This morning I also had a mission. That was to go to the North West Film Archive and see if I could borrow a projector speaker and a short lens for the show on Thursday at the Lass O’Gowrie pub. Things started just fine when I found I could add five pounds to my Starbucks card and use it.   I wondered what the exchange rate would be. That would allow me use of the wifi.  I was shocked to see that when using the card here I got a fifty cent break on the price of a cup of coffee. They also don’t even bother to charge for refills. Probably because only because an American would ask for one and very few of them come in. I was due at the NWFA at 9:30 which didn’t allow much delving into the news. I did get a report posted on my blog. That got me just a couple of days behind.

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A young couple with a blond two year old boy lingered over coffee. Every few minutes the little boy would dash off and one or the other parent would say “Reese!” and he would return. I was surprised he didn’t show more resistance. Eventually they finished their coffees and prepared to leave. They strapped him into a stroller and only then did he scream. He yelled all the way out of the store.

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On my way to NWFA the sun was shining but the wind was knocking most of the warmth away. I had a hand drawn map provided by Marian Hewitt. That took me right to it on Chorlton Street just off Whitworth. Inside the front door was a complete 35mm projector. I asked for Marian and she called to me from another room. She came out and introduced me to Mark Bodner. He was a cheerful looking man with a round head containing no hair at all. I was then introduced to a woman named Jeanette. She was there to be given a tour of the place. I was told to tag along. Mark then took us on a fascinating trip. He started by giving us each four inch long examples of 8mm, Super 8mm, 9.5mm, 16mm and 35mm film, all stapled together. He explained they were all the formats they archived. He also said they try to limit the archive to film from the region.

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The first stop was to a hallway that had been made into a work station where two people were seated examining 16mm films on flat bed systems with no viewers. The films had to be hand inspected and repaired if needed before viewing. In a nearby room were two complete Steenbeck flatbed editors. Mark said he had modified the Steenbecks to become telecine transfer machines. Near to them were a whole bunch of video decks and monitors. Mark had come to work twenty three years earlier and everything I was looking at  had been assembled by him. He then showed us examples of different types of films on different monitors they had transferred including black and white16mm from the early 30s, black and white 9.5 from the forties and Kodachrome 16mm from the sixties. He showed us both standard DVD and High Definition of the same film split down the middle on one screen for a side by side comparison. He said there was some film that couldn’t be transferred to High Definition because it would “be too ruthless and expose every flaw.”

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So far Jeanette hadn’t asked a single question. I asked her what her interest was. She said she had just been hired by the local government and had been assigned to see what various publicly funded entities were doing. We then went up a flight to the film storage rooms. The coldest room was for color film. It also had a specific humidity that was different from the black and white room. The warmest room, still cold, was a staging room for bringing films out of the colder rooms in a gentle and graduated manner, to avoid having them suffer from “thermal shock.” He said to take a film from the coldest storage to room temperature was a three week process. All films were stored horizontally. We discussed the basic hardiness of film as opposed to survival rate of DVD and other ways to store the data from them. Stored film can be good for at least a hundred years. A DVD has an average life span of twenty. He posed the question “How can an archive commit itself to hard drive storage when there is such high failure rate?” That is a good question.

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After the tour we went to Marian’s office where the four of us sat down to coffee, tea, cookies and Kit Kat Bars. After that Mark took me on the search for a lens and speaker. The speaker was no problem. He took one off of a donated projector. The lens was problematical. He couldn’t find a single inch and a half lens or any Filmovara lens attachments. He did loan me a zoom lens, that I thought was identical to the one John already had, and an odd lens he said would create big image but would have to be taped to the base lens. He said they’d paid several hundred bucks for that lens and never found an application for it.

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I left with my booty and walked to the house. I found John in the kitchen at table working on paperwork. I left the stuff there and left again to take a better look at the city. The sun was still shining and the cold wind was still blowing. I took a leisurely stroll of a couple of hours that me took past things I remembered and things I don’t think I had ever seen. That was no surprise, as most of what I remembered from my three previous trips to Manchester, all three during the month of October, were of darkness and rain. In daylight it didn’t look bad. At Whitworth Street I walked the opposite direction from NWFA and followed the elevated train track. It is not an erector set sort of elevated track such as in Chicago.

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It is supported by massive stone arches. Inside the arches are businesses. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have one of those businesses with trains rattling right overhead night and day.

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I walked as far East as Whitworth would take me. I found a huge structure I assumed was a train station that was the municipal car park. There I turned South. I found a huge round building made of white stone that was the main library. It was closed for repairs with a chain link fence all around it. I eventually came to the upscale shopping area. I went into a Marks and Spenser grocery store looking for peanuts in the shell. I settled for shelled peanuts in a bag.

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I walked through crummier shopping areas and eventually came back to upper Whitworth Street. I passed that and turned toward John’s house on a less traveled side street. It was home to pubs and Chinese restaurants. I passed the Lass O’Gowrie and noticed the poster I had made was not among those in the window. I came to Oxford Road and cut through the first park. Walking in front of me were three teenagers. Two of them were holding hands. Both were dressed in extremely colorful outfits. The boy had a multicolored jacket and striped pants that made his legs look long and skinny. His hair stuck up several inches in the air adding height. The effect was added to by very tall platform shoes. They looked like five inch tall black bricks under his feet. The girl wore the same shoes with not as much hair but also tight pants and a jacket that was covered with little tufts of hair. The girl walking with them had no platform shoes and appeared half a foot shorter at least. They walked at good clip with people they approached obviously taking notice.

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It was past six when I reached the the house. It didn’t appear that John had moved in the time I was gone. He was in the same pose at the kitchen table with papers all around him. He told me he had meat pies in the oven that would be ready in an hour. He gave me directions to a big grocery store. The route was via a pedestrian overpass crossing the freeway. It was then along a big wild parkland. The ASDA grocery was part of a group of other large stores. It surprised me. It was like an American suburban shopping center in the middle of big wasteland of open ground. I bought Newcastle Brown Ale.

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When I was first in college in Seattle a British restaurant called the Unicorn had opened around the corner from where I lived. A British man named Angus ran it.  I had dinner there within a week of it opening. It offered pasties peas and chips, steak and kidney pie, shepherds pie, and other traditional British food. I ate there regularly for several years. It also introduced me to British beer. That was before the craft beer movement when all beer in America was mass produced lager with no character. You could find Angus’ pasties in area grocery stores.  When I first came to England in the 90’s I looked for that same food and found it hard to find.

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Dinner was traditional British pub food. Along with the meat pies was boiled potatoes and carrots. There was also gravy. All perfect with Newcastle Brown Ale. Yumm! After dinner I got another report posted on my blog. I was then caught up to date. So concluded an open day with no film gig. The next day would be the Green Room show. After that a day show at Bolton University and the evening show at Lass O’ Gowrie. The next morning, flying home.

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Pictures Will Talk!

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April 11  Manchester, England

The show today was to start at noon. We would be picked up at 10:30. I got up at 7:30 and walked to a Starbucks I had noticed that was closer than the one at St. Peter’s Square I had found the day before. This one was on Oxford Road just past the big BBC building. My plan was to post a report on my blog. The only rub was that in British Starbucks there was no free WiFi except for people who had Starbucks cards. My card, not being of use in Germany, Switzerland, Finland, or Denmark, was back in my suitcase and I didn’t have a key to get back into the house and certainly wasn’t going to knock on the door and wake up John who apparently was a night owl. I also didn’t recall my user name or pin code. Just how many of those for different purposes does one have? Luckily one of the Starbucks employees volunteered the use his id and pin number and I was in business.

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I managed to get report posted and that was about it before I had to leave at 10:00. I found John in the living room eating a bowl of cereal. Our ride showed up on time. It was provided by a guy named Paul who said he had met me at Kino Festival 2001. I took his word for that. Our first stop was at the Green Room Cinema where John picked up his projector. Than we drove to Manchester Municipal University, which was right around the corner from John’s house. The reason for the ride was that the projector was in a huge metal case that probably doubled its weight. It was an American projector so in addition there was a yellow step down transformer with a handle on top, which was needed to make the British electricity compatible, that weighed at least twenty pounds itself

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At MMU we parked on the street. I took one handle of the metal box and Paul took the other and we got the behemoth into the building. We took it into a room that had tiered seating in a half circle and a large screen at the front. It was the modern equivalent of the anatomy and dissection theaters that were in British medical schools a hundred years ago. You can see a good example of that in 1931 version of Frankenstein. The reason we had an hour to set up was that we were going to patch the 16mm sound into the room’s audio system and were not sure how compatible they would be. It turned out they were not compatible at all. Luckily the show time was actually 12:30 and it was only shortly after that when they finally got the projector to speak.

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The show was going to be me, John, and a woman named Marian Hewitt. It was a sort of mini-symposium on film archives and animation. John had a collection of 16mm films himself. Marian was the director of the North West Film Archive. I would lead off with the subversive animation show. About 20 students were in attendance. I gave the same talk I had given in Preston. The films ran fine. There were a few questions afterwards. We then had a break. Outside the room there was coffee, tea and Walker’s Shortbread cookies. One of the students told me that the cartoon The Sunshine Makers was on line with a hip hop sound track added. That was interesting news to me.

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Marian was next. She explained that their archive was for films from the region and there wasn’t much animation in the collection. She had brought three items on DVD. First was a neat six minute silent infomercial for Telegraph Soap from 1921. It was a mix of animation and live action and also had scratching on the film effects. The plot was about a man sent over telegraph wires to a washer woman’s station where he used the soap he’d brought along to make her life easier. He also knocked her around a bit for no apparent reason. The scratching on the film was used to produce the look of lightning bolts coming from his finger tips to aid in the washing. Her next was a film from 1947 using a jazz soundtrack to promote a local trade union and the local cotton industry. It was also very interesting. The final one was early work by the local animator Paul Berry who had worked with Tim Burton and also made the Oscar nominated 1991 film The Sandman . One of the Berry items was a trippy film he made when was a teenager using the Red Riding Hood story.

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John showed two examples of Hungarian animation. One used line drawing and the other was puppet animation. The puppet animation was a very well done story about a puppet that went to a school for clowns. It had no dialogue which meant it could be shown in any country without the expense of subtitles or dubbing. It also had great color. A really cool film.

We drove straight to the house instead of taking the projector back to the Green Room. We would need it for the Wednesday show there, but John wanted to work on it first. Paul, who was member of the Kino Film group, came in and we talked for an hour or so. Paul then gave John a ride to the post office so he could mail out a bunch of heavy packages. I stayed at home and wrote up a second blog report. If I could get it posted I would be just a day behind. If I could post two more reports the next day I would be caught up.

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There was a meeting of the Kino Film group at 7:00. It was held at the nearby Odder Bar. I went along. The Odder Bar has free wifi. While John met with three members of the group I had a pint and got the report posted. On the walk back to the house we stopped to look in the windows of the Grosvenor Picture Palace which is right on Oxford Road. It is an ancient looking movie theater that looks nothing like anything ever produced in America. The outside was all done in green and off white titles. The building was landmarked. Through the window I could see a wrap-around balcony and the original ceiling. Very ornate and Victorian looking. Instead of a movie screen there was a huge video screen with a soccer game on it. John said it was not the sort of place you would ever go into as you wouldn’t be welcomed there. It was a student bar with really cheap drinks. I asked if they’d beat you up if you went in. He said no, nothing like that, although they might throw up on you. We then went home where John made falafel plates for dinner.

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Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe

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Hamburg, Germany  April 4, 2011

I got up early enough to have breakfast with Volker and Esther before she went off to her job. I said goodbye to Volker a while later and walked to the S-Bahn and got off three stops later at the train station. Having no stated time to arrive in Kiel I went looking for a Starbucks and free Wifi. The Starbucks up the street from the train station in Hamburg was very interesting. It was in its own self contained building in the middle of a plaza. The building seemed to be about a hundred years old. There was very little seating on the ground floor but lots of tables outside. A third of the ground floor was taken up by a raised area with three computers with what looked like some sort of travel agency team manning them. The main indoor seating was upstairs. It was a big open room where old time dances could have been occurred. I guessed it was more probably for fraternal club meetings. Or maybe it had been the reading room of a library. There was an upright piano in the corner. I had started with a medium cup of Pike Place Roast coffee and then had a “Wild Blueberry” muffin with my refill. I am not sure what sort of wild that meant. I spent a lazy couple of hours getting caught up on things.  Soft sunlight glanced off the brown wood table I had claimed for my space.

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I walked outside outside and circumnavigated the building. I had originally approached it from the rear. It was a nice day.  In the front was the table area. It was contained by a low stone wall that extended from the outer walls of the porch of the building. At the front of the tables, and still connected to the building by the low walls, was a fountain. It had a tower in the middle at least fifteen feet high topped by a statue of a lion. It was flanked at a lower level by statues of both a man and woman, both posing with what looked like Harbor Seals. Below the man was a plaque that read:

Gestfifit Von Den

Burgern Hamburg

1914-1926

There was also a plaque below the woman:

Demandenken en

Burgermeister

John Georg

Monckeberg

Atop the pillars in the front at the eaves level it said Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe. A few feet below that, hanging between the pillars, was a sign that said Starbucks.

I later found out that before it became a Starbucks it had been a Burger King.  When it was a Burger King the words Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe had been replaced with Burger King.  All things considered Starbucks was a step in a better and more tasteful direction.

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It being a lazy day I ambled to the station and found a train to Kiel leaving immediately.  I hurried and got on board.  I left my bags on a rack at the front and took my seat.  When we hadn’t left in several minutes I realized I had missed that train to Kiel.  Sure enough, I was on the train to Lubbock.  Luckily it didn’t leave until after I got off.  I then found it was twenty minutes until the Kiel train.  I bought the Trib and a bottle of Becks beers.  It seems the height of indulgence to open a beer on a train and relax during an afternoon ride.  George Will recently wrote an editorial claiming the movement for more trains in America was a Liberal plot to “diminish Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”  Oh?  I’d like to see George crack open a cold one in his car and wave it as a salute to Liberty at the police passing by.

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When I arrived at Kiel the sky had darkened and rain was pouring down.  I went into the Sophie Mall to get out of the downpour.  When I exited from the back a few minutes later I walked into blue skies that  had replaced the storm clouds.  I walked to Karsten’s house. There I found Martina in the kitchen.  That was nice.  It is more usual to enter the house and find it empty.  Karsten soon got back from his errand of buying bike locking gear at a hardware store.

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I went to the store and bought beer.  I got  Dithmarscher Maibock from a display rack.  Martina told me that it was beer only produced in the spring.  It had first been produced in the middle ages when Monks had to fast for forty days for Lent.  It was created as a liquid that would substitute for food, a sort of Dark Ages nutritional supplement.  It was tasty and I could see how it could soften difficult  times.

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It being Asparagus season we had asparagus and fish stew.  Very nice.  In general I would say cooking in Europe is more seasonally oriented than in America.  Food from a box or a can doesn’t depend on the weather.  We talked after dinner and into the evening.  I then retired to bed and enjoyed a couple of chapters of Charles Dickens’ wonderful tome The Old Curiosity Shop  featuring  Little Nell.

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Again Breathing Easily in Bern

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I got up at 8:00 and again found Mani already gone. He works as an elementary school teacher. The reason I hadn’t seen him yesterday was that he worked at Lichtspiel after school. There was a note asking if I would like dinner at 6:00. Yes, that sure suited me. I made coffee in the Italian coffee maker, one of those brutal looking metal ones that have an upper and lower chamber that screws together after water is put in the bottom and ground coffee in the middle. Then it is placed on a burner where the water in the bottom ends up as coffee in the top chamber. The best thing about the system is the coffee is very hot when poured into a cup. There is no toaster in Mani’s kitchen. I had bread with butter instead. I have never seen a loaf of sliced bread in this kitchen. The bread is always what in America would be called “artisan” bread. Small dense loaves often with nuts. Very tasty with butter.

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After finishing the coffee and bread and butter I worked on my post for the blog. It would consist of the previous four days and would get back up to date. Knowing I would have just over an hour to work on line to add the links and art I wanted it to be ready to copy and paste when I got to Starbucks. By eleven o’clock I was ready. Looking out the window I saw the streets were wet with rain but that no rain was falling and the pedestrians were walking without hats or umbrellas. I decided to go out wearing the sport coat but not the overcoat. That proved a good decision as the sun had come out and the day was warming up. I bought a Trib at a news stand. It was nice to have not read any online news for a couple of days and again be in a more natural rhythm of news in the morning paper than the 24 hour news cycle that the world wide web has made possible.

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At Starbucks the drip coffee was again not ready. I asked if only Americans requested it . I was told it was just Americans and Japanese. Live and learn. I asked about refills. They were puzzled. In Switzerland the idea of a free or low cost refill on a cup of coffee is still unheard of. I wondered how long that could last. When I was first in England in 1997 the refill was a sinister idea to them. Ten years later, at least in Starbucks, it was common place. I ordered a medium cup. Another difference here, as opposed to the USA, is that when ordering coffee a house mug is the default option with a to go paper cup by request only.

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I found a small round table next to an electrical outlet. To make sure I could get everything done in the time allowed I worked off line for more than an hour. I then got on line and right to work. Working as efficiently as possible I still didn’t get it done before the wifi shut down on me. I went looking for the toilet. I discovered a staircase. I took the upstairs option and found another room for people to sit and drink their coffee. With no service bar is was larger than the area below. Wow, I had no idea. Downstairs there were as many people seated outside as inside. The walls of the building were actually floor to ceiling glass doors. On a warm day all those walls would open and the whole main floor would be one with the plaza. There might be a hundred people sitting at this Starbucks this minute drinking coffee in China cups.

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The toilets were downstairs with no sign pointing that way. The doors had key pads. I got the code from upstairs. I was surprised to find that the toilet was multi use. The now common American idea of private single use bathrooms in public places had not gotten here. The idea of handicap access was also not considered. It could be those two things came together as a pair in the USA.

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I walked to the cyber cafe to finish the post. I hoped to get it done in the 6 minute window. I put my one Franc coin in the slot and then blanked on my gmail password. Damn. That sort of thing is generally situational. It can also be inopportune. We get so comfortable with our use of laptops and their ability to remember what we need. For this simple job I would need different passwords and user names for gmail, my website, and Facebook. I eventually relaxed and remembered the passwords and got to work. I used up the three one Franc coins I had come with and got more. When I got the blog item posted and announced on Facebook I then added a fairly pathetic second Facebook post summing up the blog item in case people didn’t want to slog trough the minutia they’d find there and also complaining about how much trouble writing out and posting all that minutia took. I then walked out of the cyber cafe into bright sunlight and joyfully rejoined the natural world.

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I spent an hour or so just walking around. Bern is a very old city and the oldest parts are very pedestrian friendly. I have forgotten to mention that the walk from Mani’s apartment to the Starbucks is nice in itself. In between is the high Lorrain bridge. On the neighborhood side it is guarded by a sandstone statue of a Gazelle. On the city side it is guarded by both a sandstone statue of a seated man and a dog and a seated woman with deer. The man and woman gaze stonily across the road at each other and have done so for nearly a hundred years and will continue to do so until they erode away or are removed in the name of progress. In the middle of thee there is view of the Alps in the distance and a river far below. I have been told that if ever I am in Bern in the summer we will go swimming in the river. It occurred to me that the problems I had posting the reports on the blog were exacerbated by their covering several days each. I was now caught up and could post a daily report that would take much less time. With that epiphany and the load off my mind I took the pleasant walk back across the bridge, stopping to look at the alps, and went back to the flat where I took a nap.

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For dinner that night I made another Greek salad with the fixings from the day before. Mani made a very tasty risotto. They clashed culturally but tasted fine together. After dinner we talked late into the evening over red wine about the state of education and the problems of the world. That sort of thing is possible in a kitchen with a table and no TV or internet access.

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