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Monday, January 10, 2011

Mère d'archive

Mom aloft in the hands of my grandfather Philip

James expressed some surprise that the second installment of Archive Fever would be, like the first, about Mom (if you're counting the Palin thing, don't). But his surprise was only momentary: Mom and the archive are natural allies. The word "archive," as Derrida reminds us, is rooted in "commencement" and "commandment" and "home," three areas in which Mom is supreme. Mom saves the ephemera that feed the archive decades later; she produces, directs and makes cameo appearances in the films in which we star, a fact brought home to me this week by Mom's commandment that I digitize the home video collection before she leaves for Israel, which means before I leave for New York, which is (shoot me) Friday. 

If you ever want your old VHS tapes digitized, don't give the job to a filmmaker, at least not if you want it done this year. You know those OCD victims who have to lick every doorknob? That's me in a room with unedited footage. My grandparents' home movies, formerly 26 minutes, 45 seconds and one frame of film transfered ten years ago to VHS, are now six short films set to recordings of my sister's original songs and our performances of Bartok violin duos. Making these was a complete joy that has drifted, inexorably, into a panic attack as I stare down one hour, 34 minutes, 51 seconds and 23 frames of my mother's home movies of my sister and me, plus several hours of musical performance and other video in the VHS collection. It will get done: the archive commands it. 

I'd like to share some of the video with you, but there isn't enough time before departure to deinterlace and compress anything. In any case the stills are sometimes better than the footage:

Helen, my grandmother, with my infant mother in the summer or fall of 1941

My great aunt Sylvia holding Mom

Philip and Mom

Mom holds my sister, then Eva and now Chava Rachel, who requests a celery stick

Mom in January 1973 (Eva's 5th-birthday party)

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.