Monday, May 18, 2009

Film #129: Multiple SIDosis (R.I.P. Sid Laverents: 1908-2009)

In 2000, the National Library of Congress, in their yearly picks of 25 American films to be preserved by their National Film Registry, included a rarely-seen, amateur 16mm movie by Sid Laverents as one of their chosen few. Completed in 1970, Multiple SIDosis splashes as a simple idea on paper, but on celluloid, it's a whole other matter. Laverents--often the star of his movies--plays himself, and as the film opens, he's getting the Christmas gift he's always wanted. And, with it, he experiments, and halfway through, the film really gets underway (stick with it). Laverents made a living, during the vaudeville era, as a one-man band and here, at ages 58-62 (the 9 minute film took four years to complete), he revisits that particular talent through cinema. The movie follows Laverents as he performs Felix Arndt's jaunty ditty "Nola." Now, just watch...("Save the ribbons...")

At age 100, Laverents died on May 6th (you can read the New York Times obituary of him here). Though he never made much of a living as a filmmaker, he joins Abraham Zapruder as one of the few hobbyist moviemakers whose work are among the (now) 500 films in the National Film Registry. Multiple SIDosis is a marvel of technical ingenuity that might seem radically quaint in today's digital age (a film like this would be easy to do now, with ProTools and Final Cut). But in the 60s and 70s, it took a keen sense of timing to pull off what Laverents does here. And it required an exacting artistry (especially if you know what it once took to achieve multiple exposures--Laverents had to have cut a thousand mattes to hit this apex). To quote Bruce Weber's (as usual) exacting Times article: "Using repeated exposures of the same piece of film, Mr. Laverents kept adding different shots of himself playing the different musical lines. The skill, patience and fastidiousness of the filmmaking is extraordinary. Not only did Mr. Laverents perform all the individual parts beautifully, but because he was re-exposing the same piece of film again and again to layer on the next part, if he made a mistake on the eighth run-through, say, he had to begin again." This veritable orgy of color-laden, split-screen mania--made outstandingly funny by the slight nature of the concept itself--required a major amount of grunt-work from the impassioned Laverents (and his one-time wife, Adelaide, who gave him the tape recorder and often operated the 16mm camera), and it all pays off by making us feel wonderfully, unexpectedly giddy. It's a lovely, lovable film--a masterpiece, really--that makes me wanna see more by the man.

1 comment:

Ed Howard said...

Holy crap, that was amazing. About halfway through I was getting a little bored and impatient, and then suddenly it's just sheer joy. That really must have been a painstaking piece of work in those days. What's truly remarkable is that he was working on this, one supposes, in complete isolation from any other independent filmmaking traditions of the time -- five years later, the Austrian experimental filmmaker Kurt Kren made Asyl, his own experiment with multiple exposures over time. Funnily enough, Laverents' film, though not nearly as conceptual, is way more ambitious technically speaking. Great stuff, thanks for pointing this out.