Oddball Films and guest curator Landon Bates bring you Portholes to the Past, an exploration of and tribute to the ancient imagination, centered on (but not limited to) classical Greek mythology. Commencing our tour through antiquity, we’ll soar over the splendid Mayan ruins of Sentinels of Silence (1971), the award-winning documentary narrated by that deity of cinema Orson Welles. We’ll then head to Greece for Galathea: Das Lebende Marmorbild (1935), wherein the myth of Pygmalion—a sculptor who falls in love with his statue after a goddess brings it to life--is rendered through the ever-elegant silhouette cutouts of pioneering German animator Lotte Reiniger. Then, the part-educational-documentary, part-mythological-reenactment, The Greek Myths: Myth as Fiction, History, and Ritual (1972), a whirlwind of a film that combines live action and animation, covering three favorite myths (most prominently showcasing that fearsome battle in the heart of the Minotaur’s maze), in addition to taking on questions of modern interpretation. Rounding out our program’s Greek center is an animated version of that classic quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason and the Argonauts (1987). And, finally, we’ll conclude the night on a more modern note, with a man who internalized the ancients and laced his own stories with myths and mysteries, as we delve into The Inner World of Jorge Luis Borges (1972).
Venue: Oddball Films, 275 Capp Street San Francisco
Admission: $10.00 Limited Seating RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 558-8117
“Old myths, old gods, old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call.”
- Stanley Kunitz
Sentinels of Silence (Color, 1971)
Over 30 years before the enormously popular BBC Planet Earth series, there was Sentinels of Silence, a worthy forbearer of the documentary epic, whose aerial helicopter shots soar over mist covered masses of tropical forest and float around the ancient Mayan ruins, astounding in their architectural complexity and grandiosity. This film does full justice to its subjects, appropriately brazen in its technical approach, and supported by the authoritative narration of Orson Welles, whose Charles Foster Kane, in an earlier time, might’ve presided over one of these ancient palaces. And, as an enigma is at the heart of Welles’s Kane narrative, so a central mystery looms over the ruins of this film: why did these highly advanced societies disappear? All we have as answers are the relics, “all trying to communicate their secrets through a dozen centuries.” (Sentinels of Silence is also the only short film ever to have won 2 Academy Awards.)
While rightly celebrated for her 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (widely credited as the first feature length animation), Lotte Reiniger’s vast body of short films remains largely overlooked. We at Oddball seek to correct this oversight. In this playful rendition of the Pygmalion myth, Reiniger gets meta: as Pygmalion’s inanimate sculpture comes to life by the unseen hand of Aphrodite, so Reinger bestows her paper cutouts with fluidly graceful movement, with life! And (if this metaphor may be stretched little further), as Pygmalion falls in love with Galathea, so, too, do we with this film.
Throughout his career John Barnes directed a staggering number of films for Encyclopedia Britannica Films Inc., believing the genre of educational films to be artistically legitimate as well as culturally important. “I have an idea—a faith, I suppose it really is—that some of my films—or a single film, or even a single sequence in a film—will light up a young mind somewhere: light it up so that nothing—unsympathetic teachers, lack of a decent place to live, or lack of love—can ever plunge it into darkness.” This film, exploring interpretive ideas about mythology, (myth as a sort of primitive version of fiction, a disguised history, and as a manifestation of prehistoric ritual), is sure to set your own mind alight. Includes dramatizations of Theseus and the Minotaur, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Persephone.
Jason and the Argonauts (Color, 1987)
Long before The Avengers there was a serious band of heroes: The Argonauts. In order to capture the prized Golden Fleece, Jason and the gang must face a series of challenges: clashing rocks, deadly birds, seductive sirens, fierce bulls, and the guarding serpent. An older Jason narrates some major events of his youthful adventure to two young Greek boys in this animated mythological epic.
In a program preoccupied with myths, no one is more appropriate than Jorge Luis Borges, whose stories are lean and atmospheric, even hallucinatory; they’re hard to pin down, but stir a little something up in the mind. While T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland, for instance, collaged fragments of myths, one might say that Borges digested myths, alchemized them, to create others. His stories are made up of the fabric of myths. He also wrote about them--his stories are thematically preoccupied with them--, about the way they seep into the culture and can become almost physically present. This half-hour long documentary features several conversations with Borges in his native Buenos Aires, addressing a range of topics from his love of libraries, living blind, and his literary concerns of mythology, time, and space.
Landon Bates is a UC Berkeley graduate of English Literature, plays drums for the duo Disappearing People, and is a cinephile whose devotion to movies knows no bounds.