“Matrimony’s Speed Limit,” 1913, directed by Alice Guy-Blaché. COURTESY SAG HARBOR CINEMA
Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan was on a macabre mission last week — it involved driving out to the East End from New York City with a skeleton riding along in the passenger seat of her car. But don’t worry. This wasn’t some misguided effort on Vallan’s part to qualify for the HOV lane on the Long Island Expressway. Rather, the bony sidekick is slated to appear at a screening this Saturday as part of the Festival of Preservation happening all this weekend at Sag Harbor Cinema.
“We’re showing William Castle’s ‘The Tingler,’” explained Vallan, the cinema’s founding artistic director. “Castle was a very famous producer and known for A-list films, but his most interesting legacy is B-thrillers and they very often had an interactive component. He would create an effect inside the theater to involve the audience even more.”
With the advent of television in the 1950s, people began turning to the small screen at home rather than the big one at movie theaters, so movie producers got creative in their attempts to lure viewers back, hence films with gimmicks. Castle was inspired by showman P.T. Barnum, and though his more high-minded films included “Rosemary’s Baby’ and “The Lady From Shanghai,” his stock in trade was the B-thriller and stunts designed to elicit scares. Those stunts included $1,000 insurance policies for “anyone who died of fright” and a “Coward’s Corner” for those who wanted their money back. Castle’s 1959 film “The Tingler,” starring Vincent Price, is from this era.
“He was very ingenious. He was creating this added degree of spectacle and these films make for a great collective experience. John Waters was a major fan and in the ’80s, he made ‘Polyester,’ the Odoroma film,” Vallan said.
She explained that Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s director of repertory programming and founder of Rialto Pictures, has brought live presentations to Sag Harbor Cinema for previous preservation festivals in 2021 and 2022, including “The Nicholas Brothers Presentation” and “Vaudeville 101: A Night at the Palace.” On November 18, at 9 p.m. he will do the same for Castle’s film, keeping in the B-movie horror vein.
“‘The Tingler’ is a little monster, and Bruce Goldstein has been performing it with this extra effect all over the world,” Vallan said, keeping the mystery intact. “Though we can’t say what the secret is, what we can say is the audience will experience an interactive element.
“I’m very excited,” she added. “It was hard to convince Bruce, because he has retired ‘The Tingler’ and is only doing this for us.”
Between skeletons riding in cars and surprise elements at screenings, it’s evident that Vallan is having a good time organizing this weekend’s lineup of screenings.
“I enjoy programming this festival, I completely love showing the whole cinema culture, how it has survived and cultivated audiences,” she said.
This is the third year for the festival, which is officially titled “Martin Scorsese Presents the Sag Harbor Cinema Festival of Preservation,” due to Scorsese’s passion for and involvement in preserving some of the historic films to be shown. The festival runs Friday, November 17, to Sunday, November 19, and will present a precode comedy, a classic western and Salvador Dalí collaborations with both Hitchcock and Walt Disney. Also featured will be women filmmakers of the silent era, Warner Bros. roaring thirties films, a Mexican musical melodrama and film by Senegalese visionary Djibril Diop Mambéty.
“This year, I think something our audience may not know a lot about is early women filmmakers,” said Vallan. “It was not widely known that the silent era was full of women producers, writers and directors, and studios really cultivated them.”
The Women’s Film Preservation Fund will be one of the new guests at this year’s annual Sag Harbor Cinema Preservation Panel taking place on the cinema’s third floor on November 19, at 11 a.m. The panel will include presentations by Grover Crisp, executive vice president in charge of the Columbia and TriStar libraries at Sony Pictures; Kevin Schaeffer, director of restoration and Library management at the Walt Disney Company; TCM’s director of original productions, Scott McGee; Terry Lawler former executive director of New York Women in Film & Television and member of The Women’s Film Preservation Fund; and Simon Lund, director of technical operations at Cineric.
The Women’s Film Preservation Fund is behind the restoration of several of the silent shorts that will be shown at the cinema at 1 p.m. on November 18, in “Pioneering Women Filmmakers of the Silent Era,” a program devoted to women behind the camera. Barbara Moss, founder of The Women’s Film Preservation Fund, will introduce the program which will screen eight short films dating from 1911 to 1923, including seminal works by Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Grace Cunard, Angela Murray Gibson, and Helen Holmes.
“These are important archives and it’s what I could fit in one program,” explained Vallan. “They are all very different — documentaries, comedies, a serial — but you can see how these directors like Lois Weber and Grace Cunard worked outside the studio system.”
When asked why such a large number of female filmmakers from the medium’s earliest days were shut out and disappeared in subsequent years, Vallan responded, “The answers are always ambivalent. There’s really not a tangible explanation. But when films became more industrialized, it’s clear that it was a money-making venture.
“I hate to generalize, but the common assumption is it was a financial interest. Wall Street and the pyramid of power consolidated the industry toward male directors,” she said. “I show things both behind and in front of the camera. It was incredibly advanced filmmaking. I’m proud and happy we’ll have Barbara Moss, founder of the Women Preservation Fund who’s on our advisory board, and Terry Lawler of the of The Women’s Film Preservation Fund. These organizations have done a lot to preserve and uncover the history.”
This year’s festival will also honor the late director William Friedkin (of “Exorcist” fame) with a special screening of his 1977 film “Sorcerer.” Vallan explains that this was Friedkin’s favorite of his films, and it is loosely based on Henry-Georges Clouzot’s “Les Salaires de la Peur.” Starring the late Roy Scheider, the screening on November 18 at 5:30 p.m. will be introduced by writer and director Josh Safdie (“Uncut Gems,” “Good Time”).
“I knew I wanted to do something on William Friedkin. A close friend and I did a book on him. He passed away in the summer. ‘Sorcerer’ was shot in South America and it’s filled with floods and sabotage. It was not well received, but it’s an incredibly beautiful and tough film. Bill loved it more than the others. He really pioneered auteur filmmaking, and the younger generation looks up to him.”
Speaking of the generations, also screening in the cinema’s Rosenberg Workspace on the third floor this weekend will be conversations between filmmakers — including a film of a very young William Friedkin interviewing a very old Fritz Lang when he first arrived in Los Angeles, and “Hopper/Welles,” an extended interview with Dennis Hopper directed by Orson Welles.
“It’s a wonderful exchange and another way of saving the film culture and passing it down to other generations,” said Vallan.
Also screening at the festival will be Howard Hawks’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo” with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson. Recently restored by Warner Bros. under the supervision of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, the film will be introduced by Warner Bros. library historian George Feltenstein via Zoom from Los Angeles. A Q&A with film and art collector, Bob Rubin, a western specialist, will follow the screening.
Keeping with the Warner Bros. theme, and in tribute to the studio’s centennial, the cinema will highlight its glorious 1930s era at the festival with 35mm screenings of Mervyn LeRoy’s gangster film “Little Caesar” (1931) and “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” (1932). Linda LeRoy Janklow, daughter of Mervyn LeRoy and Doris Warner, will join in a Q&A to discuss Warner Bros. pioneering of the gangster genre, and thought-provoking social dramas, against the backdrop of the Great Depression.
“I’m really excited about this. We’ve been trying to do this for a couple years,” said Vallan. “Linda LeRoy Janklow, daughter of the studio’s original founders, has a trove of stories and she’ll come to the cinema on Saturday after ‘Little Caesar.’ We’ll talk about whatever she wants to discuss, mostly Warner Bros. in the 1930s, which is the glorious period.”
Other preservation festival highlights will include a new 4K restoration of Terrence Malick’s seminal “Days of Heaven,” scanned from the negative and personally supervised by the director, which screens Friday, November 17, 8:30 p.m.
“Opening night, we’re doing ‘Spellbound’ by Hitchcock,” added Vallan. “Everyone remembers it’s beautiful — with all the eyes designed by Salvador Dali. The film has been restored this year. Dali had a project right after ‘Spellbound’ with Disney, called ‘Destino.’ It was never really completed, but the studio uncovered the negatives and [Walt Disney’s nephew Roy and French animator Dominique Monféry] put it together in 2003.”
The Dali-inspired “Spellbound,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, and “Destino,” both of which are from 1945, will be screened together on Friday, November 17, at 6 p.m., with an introduction by Kevin Schaeffer, director of restoration and library management at the Walt Disney Company.
“We’ve had good success with screening classic Mexican films, this year, on Monday night, we continue the tradition with ‘Victims of Sin,’ a melodrama, a musical and noir, by Emilio Fernández,” Vallan said. “He’s the same director we’ve shown in the past. This movie is incredible. It’s a really well known film and it looks beautiful.”
Other highlights include a presentation at the Sunday panel discussion about paper films — films that were printed like a comic strip on paper for copyright reasons. Movie goers should also be sure to make their way up to the third floor of the cinema where archivist, filmmaker and CEO of the Historic Film Archives, Joe Lauro, will display a portion of his rare poster collection focusing on the first 40 years of cinema. The exhibition will stay open through the end of the year.
Other screenings include Wesley Ruggles’s precode sensation “I’m No Angel” (1933) with Cary Grant and Mae West, who is also credited with the story and the script; a MoMA/The Film Foundation restoration of Henry King’s melodrama “Stella Dallas” (1925) with a new score commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art; and a World Cinema Project restoration of “Touki Bouki” (1973) by the innovative Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, an adventure of two lovers that combines a naturalistic approach with a strain of surrealism. Writer/director Jonas Carpignano (“Mediterranea,” “A Chiara,” “A Ciambra”) will join via Zoom from Italy to introduce the film.
Family matinees for the weekend include classic Disney shorts, mostly centered on the 1930s “Silly Symphonies,” but also including a brand new 4K restoration of the autumnal favorite, “The Skeleton Dance” (1929) and Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s first appearance, in “Steamboat Willie” (1928), directed by Walt Disney and animated by the legendary UB Iwerks.
“This is one of my favorite festivals,” said Vallan. “This year, we have passes so people can explore more screenings for a reduced price.”
Tickets and passes for the festival are available on the cinema’s website, sagharborcinema.org. Sag Harbor Cinema is at 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor.
One fine body…