The Fogarty Building Funeral

By Angela DiVeglia

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Fogarty Building, unknown date

The John E. Fogarty Memorial Building, located on Fountain Street in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, was built in 1967 to house the state’s Department of Human Services. The Brutalist building remained in use by the department until 1999; it served as a middle school until 2003. Developers have proposed numerous uses for the Fogarty Building in the intervening years, including making it into a police station, a parking garage, or even a sports museum, but it has remained vacant for over a decade. In early 2017, current owner The Procaccianti Group received formal approval to demolish the building to make way for a Marriott Hotel.

Demolition began on March 13, 2017; on March 17, a group of people held an outdoor funeral for the building, organized by members of Doors Open Rhode Island, Providence Preservation Society, and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage. The funeral included a procession with a floral funeral wreath, a chorus of kazoos, and a series of eulogies.

I interviewed two of the Fogarty funeral planners: Marisa Angell Brown, architectural historian and the Assistant Programs Director at Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities, and Caroline Stevens, Director of Doors Open Rhode Island. Photos of the funeral were taken by Christian Scully of Design Imaging Studios.

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Angela DiVeglia: What was the significance of the Fogarty Building in Providence’s downtown cityscape?

Marisa Angell Brown: The Fogarty Building was Providence’s most significant Brutalist building. Brutalism is an architectural style that dates from the late 1950s in the US and Europe and hit the mainstream by the mid-1960s. Early Brutalist architects include Alison and Peter Smithson in the UK, who designed the controversial headquarters for The Economist magazine in London in 1959; Eero Saarinen, who designed the Brutalist US Embassy in London in 1960; and Paul Rudolph, who designed the UMass Dartmouth campus in the mid-1960s. The Fogarty was designed by a local Rhode Island architecture firm, Castellucci, Galli and Planka in 1967 after the style of some of these earlier Brutalist icons. From our vantage point today, Brutalism appears ugly and imposing to many, but in the 1960s, the style was embraced by vanguard architects who liked working with cast concrete because it could be sculpted into new forms, it was textural as it contained the rocks and sometimes the shells that were part of the concrete mix, and it was cheap. To many of them, cement seemed like clay: a tactile material that could bring some of the artist’s touch back into architecture, which at that moment in the field was dominated by the high modernism of glass-and-steel corporate headquarters like Lever House in New York City. So, losing the Fogarty Building is a significant architectural loss for the city of Providence. Because Brutalism is now on the rebound — many Brutalist buildings have recently been renovated to great acclaim, like Breuer’s old Whitney Museum in New York, now the Met Breuer — we may regret this demolition in years to come.

AD: What was the genesis of the idea for a funeral for the Fogarty Building? What were you hoping to accomplish in holding a funeral?

Caroline Stevens: I had heard about the “Funeral for a Home” project organized by Temple Contemporary in Philadelphia, and thought it was brilliant. Like many good ideas, the idea for the Fogarty Funeral came to me as I was drinking a glass of wine with a friend — in this case discussing the impending demolition of the building. The next morning, I proposed a session around it at the Hacking Heritage Unconference, organized by Marisa on behalf of the JNBC, and people rallied behind the idea, gave it legs and put it into action. But its inspiration definitely came from Philadelphia.

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The idea for the funeral came out of a need. Many people have trouble relating to architecture, and the Fogarty Building clearly suffered from this. I think that the act of personifying a building can help build understanding. Though it’s a bit late, holding a funeral is a great means of talking about a building in more accessible terms. For instance, I might describe the Fogarty as a bit rough around the edges and at times foreboding. But once you got to really know the building, you’d find it to have all of these great qualities: honesty, tremendous strength and integrity. It also had a great sense of rhythm.

In this way, a funeral was a means of providing new perspectives on the Fogarty, and fostering dialogue around our built environment more generally. We were interested in welcoming both friends and critics of the building, and used its demolition as an opportunity to consider how our downtown was changing — encouraging the public to take on a more active role in shaping its future. Regardless of an individual’s feelings on the building, its demolition marked a passage of time. It played an important role in our cityscape for nearly 50 years and that alone deserves reflection.

AD: What is the precedent for holding funerals for buildings?

CS: I think, but I’m not entirely sure, that the first funeral for a building was Temple Contemporary’s “Funeral for a Home”. Unlike the Fogarty Funeral, which was planned in just one week, the Philadelphia funeral was planned over the course of a year. The row house coming down was the last remaining one on the block, in a predominantly African American community. Its demolition was further evidence of the dramatic changes happening in the neighborhood. And though the building wasn’t significant architecturally, it had been home to lots of different people — all with their own stories. Temple Contemporary conducted several oral histories of its former inhabitants. From what I understand, the funeral was an amazing means of community engagement — the whole neighborhood came out for it. A local pastor spoke; a gospel choir sang. It brought people together.

Since then I’ve also heard of a couple of other funerals — for trees! There may be many more that I don’t know about.

AD: Right, people organized a funeral for a beech tree in Newport, Rhode Island last spring—and it was because the tree was nearing the end of its life span, not because it was already dead or cut down. Can you briefly describe the Fogarty Building funeral?

CS: About 30 people gathered for the funeral — an open casket. Demolition was well underway. Despite the sad state of the building in front of us, the mood was mostly lighthearted. It’s safe to say that it was the first building funeral for all of us, and everyone came with a smile and an open mind. We heard several short eulogies, each one offering a different perspective. Jana Planka, the daughter of one of the building’s lead architects, gave a moving eulogy on what the building meant to her father. It happened to be the fifth anniversary of his death, making her tribute especially meaningful. The notoriously anti-modernist architectural critic for the Providence Journal, David Brussat, likewise delivered a eulogy. His was more critical, but still respectful. We heard from an interior architect, a preservation consultant, and someone who shared a brief biography on John E. Fogarty, for whom the building was named. Afterwards, we piped “Oh Danny Boy” on bagpipes through our portable speaker and processed around the building, led by a young woman carrying the funeral wreath. We all sang along on kazoos, and ended at a local bar where we could continue the conversation over beers.

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Everyone, including those sad to see the building go, was happy and smiling. In this sense it felt like a celebration of a life more so than grieving of a loss. I think people were happy because we brought them together to do something new to all of us. I didn’t know everyone there, but felt connected to all the people, as we all had this building — and experience memorializing it — in common. The whole thing felt really special, to the degree that I now wonder why we don’t memorialize our buildings more often.

AD: Can you say a little bit about the relationship between urban decay and grief?

MB: It feels to me as though we often overlook decay in our cityscapes — it’s as though our eye literally jumps over moments of decay and focuses only on what appears new.  In this country, we tend to value the new and the young — decay makes us uncomfortable.  This isn’t the case in other countries, and this is actually something that interests me quite a lot.  I think this tendency is embedded in our inability to think about preservation and contemporary design as things that can complement each other, not as opposites.  In Europe, there is more of a comfort level with what is being called “experimental preservation” —  preservation projects that bring innovation and even a contemporary look and feel into the preservation of older structures.  Here, we tend to like to embalm our buildings — we like them young and timeless, or we like them dead/demolished.  I hope that this changes as we are missing out on the richness of experience that comes with productively and creatively synthesizing our past with our present.

AD: What is the role of media in documenting and preserving individual and collective memories of buildings and other physical spaces?

CS: Every building tells so many stories, from the architects behind their designs, to how their designs reflect the times in which they were built, to the people who lived and worked in the building, and what the building was trying to achieve. Documenting these stories in accessible ways is key to the preservation not only of these stories and memories, but also of the places themselves. It’s only when we’ve heard these stories and built understanding with our buildings that we care about them, and become advocates for their preservation.

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AD: What is the value of well-maintained historic buildings in a contemporary landscape? What about the value of poorly-maintained historic buildings? What is lost when those historic buildings are demolished? 

CS: When every building looks somewhat the same, coming from the same time period, it’s easy for a city to feel static and boring. I prefer walking through a city that has buildings spanning time, representing a variety of styles. That’s how a place starts to feel more dynamic and buildings are able to converse with each other in exciting ways. A contemporary building might disagree with its historic neighbor, but in the process the two create energy.  That’s why the demolition of the Fogarty Building was such a loss — it was our most significant Brutalist building in downtown Providence, and so different from its neighbors. Something that Marisa said recently really rings true to me: she doesn’t hate ugly buildings so much as she hates boring buildings. I couldn’t agree more.

AD: Anything else you’d like to add?

CS: The thing that made the planning of this funeral so special for me was how it brought all of these awesome people together. Many people played a role in its planning — everyone volunteering their efforts. Working as a team was energizing and fun. And we planned the whole thing in just one week! The quick turnaround time and teamwork was empowering, making me see potential for projects that I might not have before.

Keeping Maine Strange, Part I – The Beginning

By John Campopiano

In this multi-part series, NEMMC sits down with Brendan Evans, curator of curios and creator/owner of one of the few independent multimedia shops left in New England, Strange Maine. An unassuming honey hole of obsolete media, found photographs, and punk rock t-shirts, Strange Maine has been a local Portland staple and out-of-towner “must-see” since April 2003.

In Part I, Strange Maine founder, Brendan Evans, sheds light on how a compulsion for collecting and binge watching horror movies on VHS led to the creation of a tiny storefront that has grown into a small mecca for those determined to feed their passions for collecting all things local, independent, and offline.

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Strange Maine interior, 2017
NEMMC: What was the genesis of Strange Maine? How and when did it first open?

Brendan Evans: When my friend, Shea Mowat, and I were in our early 20s we were diehard movie junkies. We watched videos until 6am almost every night–with heavy a emphasis on horror, low budget, and art films. During the day we would drive all over Maine and New Hampshire visiting mom and pop video stores–which back then could be found in every New England town. Around that time they were all upgrading to DVD and selling off their VHS tapes for $1 each, 2 for $1, even 4 for $1–and these were gems! There were so many obscure 1980s horror videos in particular. We would fill Shea’s trunk with bags and bags of horror tapes. We had shelves, milk crates, stacks of these things. In fact, once a cop pulled us over at 2am for having a tail light out and he noticed all of these suspicious looking bags in the back seat. We told him they were all full of horror videos but he really didn’t understand what we were doing.

At some point we started talking about opening our own video store–even though we really didn’t have much money. I was working as a projectionist at a third-run movie theater in Portland while Shea worked in a group home with schizophrenics and the mentally ill. Between the two of us we only had enough money to buy mountains of tapes that no one else seemed to want. Initially, we thought we would buy an old van and drive around southern Maine like a bookmobile and rent these tapes out to people: drive a circuit and come back to each town at the same time every week to recollect our tapes and rent out more, etc., all the while continuing to scour thrift stores and yard sales for new inventory.

But we never got the van.

It was an idea that we knew was absurd and, though we were sincere, it just never really took off. But the seed was planted and we had acquired all of this stuff and wanted to spread it around to people. Meanwhile, after four years I quit my projectionist job. It had become very routine. After taking a month off (and watching more movies than ever– sometimes ten a day or the same one three times in a row) I realized that I couldn’t get another job. No one wanted to hire a high school drop out with no phone, no car, and dreadlocks down to his butt–just an overall bad looking dude.

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Congress Street in Portland, ME, circa. 1985. The local arcade, Starcade, would eventually become the second (and current) location of Strange Maine

But I tried. I applied to be a parking garage attendant, a night watchman–any low impact, menial labor–but the no phone, no email thing was a major stumbling block. So, I started looking at store fronts that were for rent. Even though this was 2002, rent was still pretty pricey: it was looking like $1,200 – $1,500 per month for second story office spaces or out of the way storefronts which I would have had to take a bus to get to. It was all pretty discouraging. But then one fateful day I saw a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window of a place right in the middle of downtown Portland (and only three blocks from my apartment.)

By that time I realized that I would need to sell records, too, in order to make a shop feasible, so Shea and I decided to open a kind of media thrift store with no particular emphasis on any format. Strange Maine was born.

NEMMC: And this was back in the early 2000s?
BE: Right. We signed a lease in February 2003 and had the keys on March 1. We worked seventy hours a week for a month and had our grand opening on April Fool’s Day of that same year. In those days, most of the contents in the store I had hauled over hundreds of separate trips from my overflowing studio apartment–from my place to the shop and back again. Over and over. Pile by stack by crate by sackful. This was all during the US invasion of Iraq and my route went straight through an occupation of anti-war protesters who were camping out in Monument Square. Most days I’d take a minute and add my voice to the chorus of the disaffected–it was an exciting and emotional time for me. I felt like I was joining society for the first time in my life.
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Interior of the original Strange Maine location, circa. 2004
NEMMC: So, was the majority of what was sold at Strange Maine originally from your personal collection?

BE: Early on we put a sign on the door stating that we were buying records, tapes, videos, DVDs, books, etc., and that folks should just drop in while we put the shop together. A lot of the early content in the shop came from those drop-ins, most of whom were willing to trade for store credit. Tons of punk rock kids would drop by with their hardcore 7-inch records and zines, which were previously collecting dust in their closets because no one would buy.

When we finally opened for business on that Tuesday, April 1 in 2003 there was a line of people waiting to get in–many of whom had credit slips and wanted to scoop up the stuff I had been putting in the window display in order to generate interest in the shop. Most of those things were from the cream of my own collection. I had emptied my apartment in order to jumpstart the shop and many of those records, books, and videos I sold I still miss today. But, of course, it was worth it to have some cool stuff in the shop.

I was 23 years old and only wanted to make enough money to pay my rent and eat three or four 7-11 hot dogs a night.

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Paul Reubens, aka, Pee-wee Herman, visits Strange Maine in 2005
NEMMC: It seems like, even today, that Strange Maine leans a little more heavily on cult and horror films and music. Was this always the case? 

BE: I did notice that some people were really excited about particular records and movies; passionate about books; thrilled to find 80s punk demos on cassette for $1, while other folks had the look of sharks or vultures when they’d find something they could flip for a profit on the Internet. But I think the punks who came to the store really dug the socialist approach I had toward that stuff and they really championed the store. I was there five or six days a week, noon until midnight, sometimes later. It was a great time.

My vision for the space and its contents continued to grow and I became very possessive of the shop–it became my world and Shea, who still had a day job, felt excluded and left about six months after it opened. Occasionally I would close for a day or pay a friend to man the shop so I could have a day off, there were  a couple of occasions where I handed over the keys to a regular who’s name I didn’t even know with the hope that they wouldn’t do anything too heinous. I didn’t have a computer still, or a cash register, and I didn’t accept credit cards…but I was proud of the fact that if the power went out the only real affect it would have on the store was that it would be marginally dimmer (though it was already the darkest record store I had ever been in, having just three or four 60 watt track lights for illumination).

Back in those days it was a very simple, funky, rinky-dink place. Some folks still view the shop this way–but now it’s very tidy, organized, efficient, and much more of a capitalist venture now than it was back then.
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Strange Maine interior, 2017
In Part II, NEMMC and Evans discuss the darker (at times morbid) side of Strange Maine. Coming soon…

Taking in the Trash with New Hampshire’s Chris Nichols & The Trash Pile

By John Campopiano

Back in 2010, Chris Nichols, originally from Massachusetts but now residing with his wife in New Hampshire, was searching for a new way to satiate his appetite for creative output after his days performing in local Boston area bands had come to an end. As an enthusiast for not just music but also film, specifically cult, horror, and genre films, Nichols launched The Trash Pile–a blog dedicated to finding, reviewing, and in some cases re-releasing obscure and forgotten films. But Chris isn’t all that keen or interested in releasing hard-to-find weirdo gems on digital platforms like YouTube (though he isn’t against other people doing it). Instead, Chris’ allegiances lie with a format that holds much sentimental value to hoards of likeminded collectors (including the founder of this blog): the VHS tape.

NEMMC spoke with Nichols earlier this autumn and asked him to rewind for us the story of The Trash Pile–the idea idea turned web show turned blog/podcast–and to share with us what motivates him to act as one of many faithful believers in the VHS format.

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NEMMC: While getting to know you over this past year it’s evident that the VHS format holds a great deal of meaning for you. Can you talk about how being an advocate and podcast figure within the niche community of VHS collectors has impacted you?

Chris Nichols: For years the VHS format was something my father and I shared and spent time enjoying together (although going to the theater was just as important to us). I started collecting VHS around 1991 and for years in my neighborhood the kids and families would ask if they could “rent” the movies I owned. Back in the early days of Excel, I would print out spreadsheets with details about what was my VHS inventory. I suppose that’s what led to me searching out more and more movies that I hadn’t seen before–this is also where the podcast came into play a couple of years ago. The podcast (and our old web show) were all about starting a dialogue around movies that had somehow skated under the radar of fandom or had never received a proper release here in the states.

NEMMC: This web show sounds intriguing. What was that all about?

CN: The show was done online and it followed the format of the podcast with the addition of covering new releases on DVD and Blu-ray (as well as comic books).
We didn’t really have any guests to speak of–just likeminded friends. Mark Anastasio from Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre called in once to hype their annual Halloween Horror Marathon.

NEMMC: The Trash Pile has had some stops and starts over the years. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in keeping it going?

CN: The biggest challenge I’ve faced in the last six years of doing The Trash Pile is maintaining my own drive–having the will to do it. I’ve experienced instances of bad luck, I guess, in my personal life that has left me feeling depleted creatively.  The co-host of the podcast, Jason, moved from Massachusetts to Georgia late last year, so having the ability to sync up and to record has been tricky. Really, it’s all bullshit excuses because I should just write to write, or podcast to podcast–for the enjoyment of it.

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Chris Nichols, left; Jason Potter (right)

NEMMC: Can you talk about some of The Trash Pile’s limited edition VHS releases? Have you encountered any rights hurdles with talent or production/distribution houses? If so, how have you navigated those hurdles?

CN: Most of what I do is on the grey market [unofficial buying/selling/trading areas that exist outside the perimeters of authorized manufacturing channels] and my re-edits and re-releases are always of films that are not available for purchase in the States. If something has been released here [the United States] and is currently in print, I don’t touch it. In terms of the titles I’ve done small batches of, it really just comes down to if it’s a title I, personally, enjoy. The whole idea of the grey market was something that fueled my love of international and genre films. When I was in high school my friend, Jason, and I would attend comic conventions in Boston every few months in order to search for and pick up new movies. Without those conventions we wouldn’t have been able to see a lot of these films that never made it to the States by that point (e.g., VERSUS, BATTLE ROYALE, etc.) or special edits of films that were very hard to come by (e.g., the x-rated version of ROBOCOP). Of course the distribution arena has changed dramatically over the years and a lot of these once hard-to-find titles are now popping up on sites, like YouTube, for free.

NEMMC: Has the increased availability of rare and offbeat titles on places like YouTube and via other grey market retailers that are flooding the bootleg scene making your work harder and/or is it changing the focus and scope of The Trash Pile?

CN: For me, it’s all about increasing the exposure of these films. So, if there’s a rival way for people to view it (YouTube, other grey market outlets, etc.) that’s all the better. The Trash Pile was never a money or business orientated venture, but instead a way to share fun movies with people interested in seeing them.

NEMMC: I’m fascinated by your work involved with the release of THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN (1993). Can you talk about the experience of both discovering and, ultimately, releasing it on VHS?

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VHS release of THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN courtesy of The Trash Pile

CN: Like a lot of video collectors, I try and visit weird thrift stores and yard sales, year round. You’re never guaranteed a hit every time, but it’s all about the thrill of the hunt. As far as finding THE MURDER OF SGT. MACKLIN, I was visiting a church book sale in southern New Hampshire when I saw the film while poking through any banana boxes stuffed with analog. I had never heard of it before, though that wasn’t a new thing as there’s always going to be something you’ve never seen before–but MACKLIN was different.

I’m a sucker for ghost stories, so, the film seemed like one that was worth the .75 cents. After taking the film home I looked for whatever information was available about it online, but couldn’t find a damned thing. I then looked up information on the director, Bob DuBois, and learned he was still around and living in the same Colorado town where he shot the film. I sent him an email and began a back and forth with him about how much I enjoyed his subtle little ghost story. I’ve always believed that no film should be lost and forgotten, so I asked Bob if I could do a small batch release of the film, and he agreed.

NEMMC: What do you think the value is in chasing down and re-releasing films considered by some to be lowbrow or trashy? What excites you about this flavor of cinema?

CN: It all comes down to one thing for me: entertainment. As I said before, I don’t think any media should be lost or forgotten, so a lot of what I’m doing (reviewing, watching, re-releasing) is an effort to not let a movie be forgotten. Believe me, there are a plethora of titles that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on, but I know that there is an audience for each and every one of those films regardless of whether or not I like them all.

NEMMC: Jumping off my last question, what is the value for you of collecting and distributing films on the VHS format?

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Composite print VHS release of ALLIGATOR courtesy of The Trash Pile

CN: There will always be a new movie waiting if you continue to dig into past releases that may have missed the digital boat. There are a lot of solid digital distributors putting out titles for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. However, there are still thousands of films that haven’t seen the light of a commerce shelf in decades and unless there is a push from fans a lot of these movies could cease to be. That’s really what collecting/distributing is all about to me; making sure that the right entertainment finds the right person. Life’s too short not to be entertained.

NEMMC: Do you think the VHS format will ever experience a resurgence the way vinyl has been experiencing over the last decade?

CN: That’s a tough question as a big part of the modern renaissance in vinyl can be attributed to, in my opinion, the fact that production of turntables never really stopped altogether. Manufacturers like Denon, Pioneer, Yamaha and Sony never ceased production on their turntables. It wasn’t long after VHS stopped being produced that the production of VCRs slowed. For a few years the DVD/VCR combo sold moderately well, but finding that option in stores is not an easy task nowadays. A VHS resurgence would require a company to start manufacturing new players, similar to what Crosley is doing with turntables. If we get to that point I believe you’ll see VHS again.

NEMMC: What does the future hold for The Trash Pile? What are some of your goals going forward?

CN: Honestly, I’m not sure. 2016 has been a ridiculous year for me due to a number of life-changing events, so, doing anything creative like podcasting and generating more VHS output seems like a real challenge for me emotionally. I have been focusing on doing some manufacturing of VHS for directors and distributors who want their titles on an analog format. For example, I just did a batch of VHS for an awesome indie film currently hitting the festival circuit called, MUTE, by A Color Green–a production company out of New York. And I’ve also had directors ask me to give their films a VHS release, like Jason Stephenson, who ask me to release his film STRIP CLUB SLASHER earlier this year. His film is now part of The Trash Pile catalog. That was a really fun project because I had the chance to reuse ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ pink clamshell cases for the release.

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VHS limited release of THE LAMP courtesy of The Trash Pile

Chris Nichols and The Trash Pile project are a fun and creative insight into one of the many different ways in which collectors and VHS enthusiasts are keeping the format alive while simultaneously introducing or re-introducing the public to a variety of largely forgotten films of yesterday. Those of us who share their passion hope that Nichols can keep the creative juices flowing and continue to expose us to more analog craziness in 2017 and beyond!

The Electric Grandmother (Revisited) – *Article & Video

By Eric P. Gulliver

Plot: A trio of children, traumatized by the death of their mother, and their father get a very special robot grandmother to assist them.

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It’s a joke in my family that I have no memories before my teenage years. “Don’t ask Eric, he won’t remember,” my sister often quips. To justify this, I tell myself that new learning has had to shove old memories further down the memory-hole. But why do some memories stick and others don’t? This question has become somewhat of a preoccupation of mine as I approach my third decade. Trauma can’t explain all the memories I do recall, because some are pleasant: there is the giant water fight on Bayberry Lane where we all got soaked, even mom. Then further along when us Tucker Street boys lit an enormous dead pine tree on fire in the town forest. Like that pine tree, these moments, though few and far between, illuminate small pockets of space through my formative years.

It was during this same time that movies began to mean something to me. I didn’t just let them fade, I would watch and rewatch them. I wanted to know how they were made. “How can they do that?” I apparently asked upon seeing the chimney sweep scene in Mary Poppins. I use the word ‘apparently’ because this is a memory passed along by my family.

One film firmly planted in my mind was the 1982 television movie The Electric Grandmother, which for some reason, my parents let me watch. This film stayed with me. And create memories it did. Although scene details were hazy, I could remember the unsettling feeling it gave me and the questions it posed. Does Grandma have to plug herself in in the basement too? Did she come from a factory?

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Maureen Stapleton as The Electric Grandmother

And everyone’s personal favorite: My wanting clarification that my grandma couldn’t actually shoot orange juice out of her fingertips for breakfast. Something about the subject matter affected my small mind. I would reference the film as I grew up, and now, strangely enough, I have to remind my parents what the film was even about.

The difference in these memories was not in images but rather in mood. In terms of TEG, I remember being unsettled by the grandma being delivered by helicopter (it was later I would learn she was delivered in a sarcophagus, an object I didn’t know yet). I remember Maureen Stapleton’s calm, almost robotic tone throughout the film. And being stupefied when she descended to the basement and performed her before-bed (or shutdown?) mechanical exercise, before plugging herself into the wall and rocking alarmingly in her rocking chair. Something about this image scared me good; I was never totally comfortable in my grandmother’s basement ever again.

It was later that I learned that this film was based on a Ray Bradbury story, in a discussion with John Campopiano, who had tracked the film down after I referenced it in a discussion about obscure movies from our past. In a stroke of chance, another of John’s friends, Adam, also referenced TEG stating that he had an extended version on 16mm. This serendipitous reference spawned a night of revisiting The Electric Grandmother projected on 16mm film.

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The Electric Grandmother re-fills Agatha’s milk glass

For Adam and I, the film is still unsettling even upon second viewing as adults. The collective cringing of our fellow audience members validated our unease from scene to scene. This time it was the sound effects that proved most peculiar for me; the positively frightening opening noises of the sarcophagus and awakening/activating of the grandmother, and the sound of liquid coming out of her fingers. When I think more about it, even the word choices one uses in regards to describing TEG are significant, too. Was she awakened or activated? Was she turned off or did she go to sleep? Did she actually love the children or was she merely programmed? Such questions may form the ethical subtext of the Bradbury story. Perhaps my small mind wasn’t ready to ponder these questions yet, and why it has held onto them so many years later.

Rustic VHS: Digging at the Tape Barn

By John Campopiano and Matt Spry

Stretching over 20 acres with more than 400 vendor spaces, the Hollis Flea Market (established in 1964) in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, purports to be the largest and oldest flea market of its kind in the Granite State. The outdoor market is so busy, in fact, that according to the official website, “we need two Hollis police officers to direct street crossings.” While the market offers countless options for vintage fashion, antiques, and novelty handmade items — on a recent visit we spotted a toilet seat fashioned into what appeared to be a four-string bass — a rust-colored barn on the outskirts of the market’s main drag is of particular significance to media-heads. [Authors’ note: John scouted out the location first, nearly two years ago, and urged Matt to visit, remarking in an August 2014 text that he’d “never seen anything like it.”] More than 400 miles and a hundred purchases later, this characterization still holds up.

The “Tape Barn,” as we’ve affectionately come to call it, really consists of two distinct entities, neither of which references the VHS format at all: Murphy’s House of Books and Ruth’s Book Barn. The main proprietor of both of them, Mark Murphy, has been a vendor at the Hollis Flea Market since 1998. Just three years later, he began a business relationship with another vendor, an elderly woman named Ruth, and integrated his book inventory with her movie inventory to help her with the weekly rigors of maintaining her vendor space. By 2004, this full collection of books, DVDs, and VHS tapes was moved into the barn as it exists today. More than 15,000 VHS titles adorn its shelves — most were purchased from private collectors over the years as video stores went belly up —  with an additional 25,000 titles (Mark’s estimate) residing at Ruth’s home as overstock.

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Matt’s fresh picks from the Tape Barn as of May 2016

On any given Sunday from May through October, Mark and one or more of the Barn’s other workers can be found moving stack after stack of crates full of tapes to more than a dozen outdoor tables for easier access. The barn itself is appropriately simple, with only daylight to brighten your view of the shelves, and more than a few cobwebs to add a uniquely woodsy touch. There are three narrow, floor-to-ceiling aisles to navigate that extend about 20 feet back from the entrance. Unlike your favorite video rental store, which likely arranged titles by genre and displayed the front box covers, the Barn’s tapes are ordered alphabetically and show the box’s spine text, the way libraries shelve books. (A stiff neck is a common symptom of scanning the shelves over extended periods of tape-digging — the bottom shelves are the absolute worst in this regard.)

And, as most repeat visitors will likely discover, it’s not just them who feel the aches and pains from tape-digging at the Barn. Occasionally, as a result of being exposed to New Hampshire’s seasonal elements (wind, rain, snow) tapes will emerge each spring a little worse for the wear. Ultimately, it comes with the territory when you’re dealing with a grassroots project such as the Barn. With such a massive inventory and the lack of a staff, it’s not surprising that addressing preservation issues and performing general upkeep of every tape is essentially an unachievable goal. For the avid tape-digger, however, the questionable condition of some of the tapes is less a deterrent as it is an added element of intrigue and perhaps even excitement. The issue of ongoing preservation of their inventory is something that may continue to plague the keepers of the Barn while simultaneously grabbing the attention of like-minded collectors and admirers of the medium.

The patrons with whom we’ve shared this unique space seem to be film fans like us — people in their late 20s through their early 40s who have defined tastes in genre films, perhaps horror or direct-to-video action — with some material nostalgia for the VHS format itself. More important, most of them probably hold the notion of serendipitous discovery in high regard; stumbling upon an obscure or even a personally sentimental title in the “wilds” of a flea market or vintage store is somehow more satisfying than getting a used copy from an Amazon seller, or winning an eBay auction. In discussing her fondness for flea markets in a prior exchange with John, makeup and special effects artist, Stacy Still, articulated this idea, saying that “as a massive tape collector, I’m always on the hunt for new tapes, ones that I remember fondly from my childhood at the video store.” There are few people for whom the act of poking around a cramped and dusty barn to simulate the past experience of video store browsing still holds appeal, but there are even fewer places that provide this opportunity in the era of media streaming.

The Barn is just one of several remaining VHS treasure troves of which we’re aware, but unlike Scarecrow in Seattle, WA, or Movie Madness in Portland, OR, it doesn’t have a well-lit brick-and-mortar location to sell its wares. Its staff isn’t comprised of film buffs with a fondness for 1980s slashers or 1970s kung fu epics. Instead of engaging customers online through a dedicated Twitter feed or even a website, Mark relies on a local Craigslist post that he periodically refreshes throughout the market’s open season. Many VHS enthusiasts will visit the Barn and see a collector’s paradise; its selection, trade-in policy, and prices ($3 a tape or four for $10) really can’t be beat. Despite the breadth and depth of his inventory, it’s not evident that Mark shares the same enthusiasm for the format or the nostalgia that his patrons often do. (He owns “a few” VCRs and acknowledges that interest in VHS persists because “not everything is on DVD,” but also says that his books might actually outsell the tapes.)

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Some of John’s favorite VHS covers found at the Tape Barn

With a presence at the Hollis Flea Market spanning nearly 20 years, and more than a decade of selling VHS specifically, it’s unlikely the Barn will be going anywhere anytime soon. (Ever try to sell out an inventory of 40,000 tapes? Not an easy venture.) It’s difficult to gauge Mark’s plans for expansion or advancement — he alluded to creating a searchable image database for his titles — but the beauty of the Barn is its simplicity. There’s magic in its dusty floors, in the awkward positions in which you need to contort your body to see certain rows, and in the pockets of crisp air near the back wall on a warm July morning. For purely selfish reasons, we don’t want any changes at all, because we’ve never seen anything like it.

John’s purchases from The Barn:
-Aberration (1997, Artisan Entertainment)
-*Batteries Not Included (1987, MCA Home Video)
-Blood Link (1986, Embassy)
-CHUD II (1988, Vestron Video)
-Circuitry Man (1989, RCA Home Video)
-The Club (1994, Imperial Entertainment Corp.)
-Code Name: Zebra (1990, Star Classics)
-Count Yorga, Vampire (1970, HBO Video/Orion)
-Cutting Class (1988, Republic Pictures Home Video)
-Cyborg Cop (1993, Vidmark)
-Dark Breed (1996, PM Entertainment)
-Dark Universe (1993, PRISM Entertainment)
-Death Drug (1986, Academy Home Entertainment)
-The Dirt Bike Kid (1986, Charter Entertainment)
-The Dive (1989, M.C.E.G Virgin Home Entertainment)
-Eat and Run (1986, New World Video)
-The Evil Within (1994, A-Pix Entertainment)
-The Expectant Father (1993, Video Treasures)
-Florida Straits (1986, Orion Home Video)
-Forgotten Warrior (1986, Monarch Home Video)
-Freddy’s Nightmares: The Series (1991, Warner Home Video)
-Gargantua (1998, 20th Century Fox)
-Ghosts That Still Walk (1986, Interglobal Video Promotions)
-A Gnome Named Gnorm (1994, PolyGram Video)
-Graveyard Story (1992, Goodtimes Home Video)
-The Haunted Lantern (1997, Asia Pulp Cinema)
-Jack Frost 2 (2000, A-Pix Entertainment)
-Jaws of the Alien (1988, Star Classics)
-Kuddly Kittens (1990, MNTEX Entertainment)
-Little Monsters (1989, MGM Home Video)
-Lobster Man From Mars (1990, IVE)
-Meridian (1990, Full Moon Entertainment)
-Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983, MCA Home Video)
-The Meteor Man (1993, MGM Home Video)
-Mr. Nanny (1993, New Line Home Video)
-My Mom’s a Werewolf (1988, PRISM)
-My Uncle: The Alien (1996, PM Entertainment)
-Planet of Dinosaurs (1993, EDDE Entertainment)
-Playing Dead (2000, Academy Entertainment)
-Prehysteria! (1993, Paramount Home Video)
-Project: Alien (1989, Vidmark)
-Proteus (1996, Vidmark)
-Psychic Killer (1975, Embassy)
-Psycho II (1983, MCA Home Video)
-A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987, Warner Home Video)
-Screamers (1980, Embassy)
-Shallow Grave (1990, Paramount Home Video)
-Short Circuit (1986, CBS Fox Video)
-Spaced Invaders (1990, Touchstone Home Video)
-Stepmonster (1993, New Horizon)
-Strange Invaders (1983, Vestron Video)
-The Surgeon (1993, A-Pix Entertainment)
-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986, Media)
Matt’s purchases from The Barn:
-Abraxas (1990, United American Video)
-Angel of Fury (1992, Imperial Entertainment)
-Anguish (1987, Key Video)
-Bad Blood (1981, Academy Entertainment)
-Band of the Hand (1986, Columbia TriStar Home Video)
-BrainWaves (1983, Embassy Home Entertainment)
-Cage 2 (1994, Summa Video)
-The Carpenter (1988, Republic Pictures Home Video)
-The CBS/FOX Guide to Home Videography (1983, CBS FOX Video)
-Chinatown Connection (1990, Southgate Entertainment)
-Cut and Run (1985, New World Pictures)
-Dead Tides (1997, Live Home Video)
-DeepStar Six (1989, IVE)
-Double Blast (1994, Vidmark)
-Dragonfight (1990, Warner Home Video)
-Eye of the Eagle (1987, MGM Home Entertainment)
-A Fight for Honor (1992, York Home Video)
-Fist Fighter (1989, IVE)
-Free Spirit: The American Biker (1991, Visual Entertainment Group)
-The Joy of Natural Child Birth (1985, MCA Home Video)
-Laser Mission (1989, Platinum Disc)
-The Legend of Gator Face (1996, Lions Gate)
-Link (1986, Home Box Office Home Video)
-Making Contact (1985, Anchor Bay)
-Merlin and the Sword (1986, Vestron Video)
-Mindfield (1989, Magnum Entertainment)
-The Moon in the Gutter (1983, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video)
-Nightflyers (1987, IVE)
-Ninja Enforcer (1976, New Pacific Pictures)
-Ninja Mission (1984, Media Home Entertainment)
-No Retreat, No Surrender (1986, New World Pictures)
-The Playroom (1989, Republic Pictures)
-Raw Courage (1984, New World Pictures)
-Rock House (1988, Coyote Video)
-Rooftops (1989, Avid Home Video)
-S.A.S. San Salvador (1983, Vestron Video)
-Sudden Thunder (1990, AIP)
-A Taste of Hell (1973, Star Maker Video)
-Thunderground (1989, SGE Home Video)
-Torment (1986, New World Pictures)

The Museum of Everyday Life

By Clare Dolan

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The Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, VT

Perhaps the best, most basic introduction to The Museum of Everyday Life can be found in a text written on the occasion of its inaugural exhibition in 2011:

“The creation of The Museum of Everyday Life grew out of the following questions: What would it be like to imagine a museum which looked like a giant cabinet of curiosity, but filled with perfectly familiar objects rather than exotic ones? Could there be an institution which, rather than preserving rare and “authentic” objects, dedicated itself to deteriorating objects of no monetary value, but of immense ordinary-life consequence? What would it look like to defy the commodity-based model of collection and display? And how might it be possible to create exhibits by soliciting contributions from the public, to create massive participatory collections of objects and personal stories? Our goal is to explore, analyze and celebrate everyday life objects. This museum is the co-creation of all of us who live ordinary lives and have relationships with ordinary objects. Its purpose is a heroic, slow-motion cataloging of life; a detailed, theatrical expression of gratitude and love for the minuscule and unglamorous lives of the unfamous. We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch everyday.

In addition to a robust and ever-expanding permanent collection, our special featured exhibits have explored ordinary objects such as the safety pin and the match. These exhibits look at the objects in-depth, tracing their surprisingly fascinating origins, and additionally presenting a wide array of unique perspectives and uses of the objects. The creation of these special featured exhibits has involved the input of many people, from neighbors to college students, from fanatical collectors to local artists and performers, all of whom have donated their time helping to construct exhibits, maintain and improve the buildings and grounds, advertise, and perform at openings and events.

The Museum has three components: 1) The Museum of Everyday Life Philosophy Department, involving the production and publication of theoretical writing about people and their relationship to objects, curatorial methodologies, and encylcopedism, 2) The Museum of Everyday Life Performance Company, which creates puppet shows and performances in an ongoing effort to examine everyday life via the life of objects, and lastly, but most important 3) The Museum of Everyday Life Exhibitions and Collections, comprised of actual exhibits which make the theoretical work tangible and concrete. We are located on Rt 16 about 5.5 miles south of Glover village in Northeastern Vermont, and here, in the imagination of the beholder…”

The Museum has been something I’ve carried around in my head for a long time– an idea, a sensibility, and a wish. When I bought a dilapidated house and barn in remote rural Vermont in 2004, I immediately indulged in fantasies of what it could become. But it took me until the spring of 2010 to make my first exhibition. And it wasn’t until 2011 that the first official Museum of Everyday Life exhibit: “Locofocos, Lucifers, and Phillumeny: A Celebration of the Match,” inaugurated its opening season.

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International matchbooks from the exhibit, “Locofocos, Lucifers and Phillumeny: A Celebration of the Match”

In the beginning, I approached the museum mostly in a spirit of fun, wanting to play with the museum as Establishment, to mock the high seriousness and expense of these institutions. I started by writing a manifesto and making declarations about what a museum “should” be (see “The First manifesto of the Museum of Everyday Life”). But as I became more and more absorbed in understanding the actual mechanisms of arrangement and display, and the way different display strategies can encourage different feelings and responses in the viewer/participant, I began to more seriously develop the idea of the homemade museum as a real and potential tool for transforming our relationship to our lives – helping us to be both more self reflective and present in our day to day moments, to transform the way we think about being “ordinary” people and the mundane parts of being human. I would like to force all of us to look more closely at the questions “what do we value?” and “in what way do we value?” and “what objects surround us and why?”

The understanding I have now of the “everyday” is the foundation of everything I make, perform, and write about. I have discovered that this is my central concern, and gives coherence not only to my art projects but also to my politics, to how I try to live my life.

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Bread and Puppet Circus, 2009

I started forming this sensibility when I worked at the Bread and Puppet Theater, which was where I “grew up” as an artist and learned how to think about art-making and living. Bread and Puppet gave me an example of how one artist, (founder and Director Peter Schumann) and subsequently a whole constellation of people who have worked with the theater over its 52-year existence, have found ways to integrate an art practice with fierce engagement with the rest of the world, and to not forget or leave behind the dumb normal tasks of life that we spend 90% of our time doing. Schumann is a genius at connecting his relentless art-making to everything else: the world, its politics and people, everything that happens culturally and rhetorically and politically, plus the sunrise and sunset, eating, sleeping, scratching, getting dressed, sneezing, pooping, etc etc. Inspired by this, but being my own person, a woman of a particular age, I have developed my own perspective, and emphasis, and tactics. But the Museum of Everyday Life is my ultimate expression of this understanding: a locus where the everyday object is the vehicle for examining the intersection of the Ordinary and the larger world stage of politics, power, economics, historic events, natural disasters – the “big” things.

At the same time, the museum is also a profoundly intimate space. The Museum of Everyday Life lives inside each of us, a vast and echoing cabinet of curiosities, every minute of every day filling our endless drawers and cases with new additions to the permanent collection. My choice of the match as the subject matter of our first exhibition reflects both this intimacy and its connection to the “larger” world. A simple household match hums with danger and hope. When we strike it for a moment we hold between finger and thumb the Promethean gift of Possibility. Each match is a tiny revolution, a promise of radical transformation. The match reminds us that all objects in some way come from the human body. Not only does the design of the match accommodate the requirements of the thumb and forefinger which must be able to grasp it, and the shapes of cup handles and bowls, for example, mirror the human hand, but also the bowl and the cup and the match echo the very shape of human hunger and thirst, the body’s need for heat, the eye’s requirement for light in order to see. Every object in our museum of everyday life speaks to the body, amplifying it, extending it, the way an echo in a deep canyon empowers a whisper. Belying their status of apparent insignificance, these humble, mundane things toil away endlessly to unburden us of the vast problematic contingencies of the body.

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Title: Woman-Shaped Toothbrush. This toothbrush was found by Ron Kelley in 1985 when he moved into an apartment at 520 E. 11th. St. in NYC. Several years later Ron left the city for Southern Vermont. During the spring of 1990 his wife discovered the toothbrush lolling about on his desk. It surprised her. A lively conversation ensued. Since that conversation, this toothbrush was removed from Ron’s desk and brought down to the tool section in their basement where it languished for 24 years until it was resurrected for this exhibit, titled, “Toothbrush from Twig to Bristle In All Its Expedient Beauty”

Just as the bowl and the cup handle and the match are shaped by the demands and needs of the body, so also do the objects in the museum of everyday life record our attention and ministrations. The upholstery on the arm of a couch is worn smooth by caressing elbows, the chipped corner of a lacquered box is carefully glued back into place, a favorite wallet is creased and cracked by being opened and closed countless times. These things bear the proof of the lives we have led, the things we have done. They remember us.

In Syria, where everything is on fire, millions of people are on the move, carrying their last, salvaged possessions on their backs. Recently, the nation of Denmark declared its right to confiscate cash and valuables carried by refugees. Humanely, it claimed, excluding items of “sentimental value” from seizure. But what is sentimental? And what are “valuables”?

A gift from a lover, a family heirloom, a note, a paperclip, a pocket knife, a picture frame: in the museum of our everyday life a million invisible threads are tied to our fingers, ears, lips, and eyes, which are tied to every object, which are tied to the lips, ears, fingers, eyes and hearts of other people. The web is invisible. The object is seen, can be picked up, and cradled. Objects have secret powers that are not easily understood. In the noisy world of what we call our “popular culture” (the clangor of video and cell App and cinema and mp3 and reality show, of celebrity and specialty and infamy) the secret powers of the ordinary can appear to be muffled, smothered. Until the next hurricane. Until the lights go out.

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Pencil sharpener exhibit

These are some of the reasons I am compelled to pay such close attention to ordinary objects, and why I feel they deserve not just one museum, but many museums. And because I am in love with the visual vocabulary that is available within the museum form – boxes and frames and short texts and titles, vitrines, dioramas, curtains, drawers, shelves, pedestals, maps, doorways – I take particular pleasure in putting together the exhibitions on my own. This past February I picked the special featured object for our upcoming season and then began spreading the word. People have responded from all over, sending everything from ideas, associations, ephemera, suggestions of where to find multiples of the object, art made out of the object, special examples of the object, and unusual uses of the object. I do a lot of research and scour garage sales, the internet and my neighbors’ barns and basements for objects. Slowly an assemblage materializes. The fun is in sorting through it, arranging, describing and contextualizing – giving it shape. That is how the exhibitions come to be.

That’s the story of The Museum of Everyday Life.

Providence Has a Film Society: The Arkham Film Society

by John Campopiano

There aren’t many film buffs left in the New England area who are as passionate about print film and getting eyeballs in front of movies as Josh Thomas Gravel and the Arkham Film Society – a Providence, RI, based film group dedicated to, at their core, showing movies. As a film lover myself as well as a native of Rhode Island, I knew sitting down with Josh and picking his brain for an NEMMC post was a must. Thankfully, Josh found some time amidst his busy schedule of programming and penning film reviews to answer some questions for NEMMC.

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New England Media & Memory Coalition: What is the Arkham Film Society and when did it start?
Arkham Film Society: The Arkham Film Society is basically me – independently booking and hosting screenings of cult, horror, exploitation, or otherwise just strange movies with the help of a couple friends. The events are held around Rhode Island and occasionally Massachusetts and we try to present these movies on actual film whenever possible. We have gotten to the point where we are hosting (almost) monthly screenings as well as occasionally collaborating with film festivals. At the moment most of our events in Providence are being held at The Black Box Theater. They were attendees of our events prior to us working together and they have been extremely  helpful and generous with their space.
Our current screenings are a mix of 16mm and digital (when a particular title either isn’t available or would be overly cost prohibitive to screen via film). We have not had the pleasure of sharing any of our 35mm prints with an audience in quite some time due to many cinemas going digital and the higher premium placed on those who haven’t, but we are currently in talks with a couple of potential venues to bring back our 35mm screenings.

As to the A.F.S.’s origin story it is fairly simple: I worked on the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival as a programmer for a number of years with my friends, Ric and Scott, and when it became obvious that our abilities were being limited within the festival organization we sought a way to continue programming outside of the festival.

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MANIAC poster from the Alamo Drafthouse/William Lustig poster series

The first Arkham event proper was in February of 2007 and it was a double feature of MANIAC (1980) and THE REDSIN TOWER (2006). Over the years both Ric and Scott have scaled back their involvement but are both still involved and still help out.

 

NEMMC: What kinds of films does the AFS have in its collection? With respect to collecting does the AFS focus on any particular format or genre? AFS: The film print collection is a small but varied grouping of films on both 16mm and 35mm. We have classics, comedies, documentaries, dramas, and of course horror…lots of horror. As for focus I am not focusing solely on a single format as that would limit our screening potential, but when purchasing new films for the collection I do tend to stick with the popular sub-genres within the cult film world such as horror, exploitation, and action, but in the case of someone donating film to the collection we take whatever is offered. We are always open to accepting any donations of film that come our way and are working to properly catalog everything and store it the best we can.

NEMMC: Does the AFS specialize in showing certain film genres?
AFS: I like to say that we present “cult films of all genres”, because every genre has their unsung gems and cult oddities. Admittedly when looking at our schedule we are definitely horror heavy – especially European horror heavy – but in the past we have branched into classics such as, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and YOJIMBO (1961), more mainstream cult fare like JURASSIC PARK (1993), and even once co-presented a couple of classic musicals on film with an organization from Brown University screening THE RED SHOES (1948) and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952). Overall I am open to showing anything that I enjoy and that people should see in a theatrical setting. However, since my main interests lie in horror we tend to show a lot of horror.

NEMMC: Why physical film in the first place? Where did that interest originate?
AFS: I can’t fully explain why film but it probably has to do with the fact that I grew up going to the movies practically every weekend and then gravitated to programming and then actual film projection. I guess it’s partially a nostalgia thing as I grew up watching movies projected on film, and in all honesty digital can not exactly replicate that viewing experience. It isn’t even a matter of having a flawless film print because sometimes when you watch a scratched and possibly faded 30 year old film print there is a certain sense of history there that isn’t replicated with a Blu-ray or digital film. It’s probably an interest I have always had which has just come to the forefront since I’ve been working with films.
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Arkham Film Society storage
NEMMC: Does the AFS have a larger mission aside from exposing people to the films themselves?
AFS: At the moment no. It would be fantastic to someday have a larger organization and potentially a venue that we could use for both programming and educational purposes such as screenings for schools and lectures about film history. But currently the A.F.S is essentially just an expensive hobby.

NEMMC: To date what sorts of New England-based collaborations has the AFS been involved with?
AFS: We have worked with a number of film festivals such as SENE, The Providence French Film Festival, and of course we program the Rock and Shock Film Festival held at the Rock and Shock convention in Worcester, MA, every October. We have also collaborated with other organizations such as All Things Horror for a Boston Strong charity screening of RE-ANIMATOR (1985), the Coolidge Corner’s @fter Midnite series with a screening of BRAIN DAMAGE (1988), and we have helped source films for the NecronomiCon convention in Providence.

NEMMC: Can you tell us about some of the more memorable acquisitions the AFS has received over the years?
AFS: I’ve had a few fun adventures in film hunting. A couple memorable moments include a time Scott and I drove out to Poughkeepsie and rummaged through the garage of a guy who had some films. We ended up leaving with six feature films that day including the cult slasher film MADMAN (1982).

A more recent experience was when my friend and fellow projectionist, Taylor, spent some time assessing the projection booth in an old theater in East Greenwich ,RI, which is now a performing arts space. There was some hope of getting the projection equipment up and running again since most of it was still in the booth. Unfortunately there were issues with the power running to the equipment which would have put the cost of the project way over the interest level of the organization involved (which I don’t blame them for as it started as a small project and quickly ballooned into a major renovation).

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35mm print of BIGFOOT…MAN OR BEAST

The fun part of that day, though, was going through the booth and storage area finding old film reels and shorts such as the short documentary BIGFOOT…MAN OR BEAST (1972).

NEMMC: How extensive is the film collecting community? 

AFS: It is actually pretty big but also a bit private; while there are many high profile film collectors such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino there is also a huge number of film collectors who are projectionists and theater owners with a passion for the medium.  But it certainly is a welcoming and truly international community once you start to communicate with and learn from other collectors.

 

NEMMC: Are there any inherent risks with collecting film? What are some of the logistical challenges (financial or otherwise) in collecting film?
AFS: As for what we are doing there aren’t any real risks. If we had any pre-1952 prints on nitrate stock that would be a fire hazard and I’ve heard of people having legal troubles if they have a large studio title, but we have neither so we should be good.
There are numerous logistical problems when collecting film and first and foremost is space. Film prints take up a sizable amount of space and when you get into the double digits of prints you have to start dedicating space to storing them properly. Films need to be stored in a low heat and low humidity environment or the film itself can fade and degrade, so it’s best to have a storage space with heavy duty shelving, temperature control, and a dehumidifier running – which all adds up.
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Josh Thomas Gravel
NEMMC: What does the future hold for the AFS?
AFS: As of now we will continue our regular screenings in Providence, RI, and we hope to both get back to presenting films on 35mm again and do more events in the Boston area. If anyone has a theatrical venue that would be interested in having us host an event or wants more info on what we do feel free to contact me through our website Arkhamfilmsociety.com.

Gator Bait: A Love Story

The alligator wants food to chew
Feed him just right or he’ll feed on…YOU
Better be lucky, with the spinner
That tells you to eat him
Or take out his dinner
Give him a TV only he knows
Just when his jaws are ready to close
Take out a jug, put in a case
He’s losing his patience
Just look at that face
Feed him a can
If that’s what you choose
Throw in a block and…YOU LOSE
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Original artwork from the ALLIGATOR  one sheet poster, 1980

By John Campopiano

All of us have a memory of a moment that we’re not entirely sure actually occurred. A blurry instance that we think happened but that we can’t corroborate with someone else or find evidence of no matter how sophisticated the keyword search in Google.

With this in mind, is it likely one might have a childhood memory of sitting inches from  a television set and watching a giant, man-eating alligator burst from the depths of a sewer onto a public thoroughfare? Doubtful. But maybe?

That’s the scene childhood friend, Zac, describes of his first viewing of the 1980 cult classic, ALLIGATOR, directed by Lewis Teague, starring Robert Forster and Robin Riker, and written by the man who also brought us PIRANHA (1978) and THE HOWLING (1981), John Sayles. Originally from Massachusetts and now residing in Chicago, Zac and I shared in a screening of this film at a young age – perhaps too young to be watching the likes of an animatronic monster devouring unsuspecting pedestrians left and right – in his North Attleboro basement.

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Spanish version of ALLIGATOR poster

 

Zac recalls viewing this oddity, “My first memories of seeing the movie are burned into my brain. I was far too young to watch it, maybe six or seven (ca. 1991-92?), and I was downstairs watching it on TV in the basement by myself. The image that is forever etched into my mind is the scene where the alligator bursts out of the street where there is a manhole cover and comes above ground. It was terrifying…”

Clearly the film made an impression on Zac, as it did on me the first time I saw it (Zac’s 2nd go around with it.) Twenty years later that experience with Zac is somehow both vivid and largely unclear in my mind, much like a memory of an experience you can’t quite decipher or confirm. Zac again: “I had that memory of the movie [the alligator bursting from underground] and it had an impact on me for years, but it wasn’t until the two of us connected over it later that I realized it was a real movie in the world. I think I always half-thought that I had imagined it and made it up. Lo and behold, on a second viewing as a teen or adolescent, the same scene came up and it was all confirmed as a real thing in the world.”

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Campopiano visits the North Attleboro, MA house where he first saw ALLIGATOR (1980), February 2016

Indeed, these bizarre memories of reptilian horror were, in fact, real, and in the two decades since, Zac and I have sporadically cobbled together other memories of the film through various email and Facebook message exchanges. It has been – as these things often are – very enjoyable to wax nostalgic for a pleasant time (albeit foggy) in my adolescence. Of course, if you’re someone who happens to suffer from both nostalgia and an urge to collect, the buck does not, as they say, stop there.

In the years since first seeing the film several things happened: I exposed many friends and family (much to their indifference or outright displeasure) to ALLIGATOR. In 2014 I met the film’s director, Lewis Teague, at a convention in New Jersey and had him sign my original Egyptian ALLIGATOR poster [see photo below]. But it was even earlier, in elementary school that I learned of a rare movie tie-in game produced by the IDEAL company, appropriately called ALLIGATOR – The Game. And in the years since its limited release it has become somewhat of a coveted piece by many horror fanatics and board game collectors alike.

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ALLIGATOR – The Game by IDEAL (1980)

Truth be told, since those elementary school days I’ve kept an eye out for any relics from ALLIGATOR (copies of the film on any format, original one sheet posters, etc.) but it was the IDEAL game that continued to elude me no matter how savvy my search. This all changed when I discovered a seller from North Kingston, RI, selling the alligator piece from the game. No other parts of the game were included, but I didn’t care. The cool part of the game was always the 27″ long alligator itself – in all of its forest green, plastic glory.

The complete game with original box commands a high dollar (upwards of $100 or more) — so to find even the lone alligator in decent condition and under 100 miles from my home in Boston should be deemed a lucky, if not an improbable, find.

But could I really sink my teeth into it and seal the deal?

After some good-natured back and forth regarding price I was able to round third base and slide directly into the jaws of this delicious piece of 1980s nostalgia. After years of wondering when or if I would ever find it, it was mine.

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On a warm, Sunny Sunday in February I made the trek south to North Kingston, RI to collect my treasure. Almost immediately after breaking through the East Greenwich/North Kingston town line I felt as though I had stumbled into the most rural part of the state. Not much separated the modest cottages from an antique store (with a fabulous bathtub propped up proudly on the front porch) and some railroad tracks. The owner of my beautiful beast lived in (what felt like) an abandoned farmhouse. Kids toys and rusty farm equipment littered the property. I rang the bell.

A woman cracked the door open and peered out at me. Children could be easily heard running around and yelling in the background. “Hi, I’m here for the alligator toy…” I said.

She quickly called to one of her children to fetch the gator. “Here you go,” she said. I gave her the $15 I had haggled her husband down to and went about my way.

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Campopiano immediately after claiming his prized alligator, February 2016

Victory was mine and I couldn’t have been happier. Years of hunting were over. Not dissimilar to how I have felt over the years collecting other memorabilia, I now felt closer to a film I’ve appreciated for years. It’s a true sign of a collector when it’s not enough just to admire something from a distance – we must connect with it in a tangible, realtime way. Somehow it satiates our hunger for the past while justifying the effort exerted on the quest itself to find whatever it is we’re hunting for.

It’s funny how things like films (and certainly music) have a way of not only binding themselves to us but also binding us to others in our lives. My pal Zac and I never see one another, and yet we carry this bizarre little connection with us through life. I can’t pass his old street in North Attleboro or even see a status update of his on Facebook without thinking of ALLIGATOR. What’s more, I can’t see the VHS cover in my collection or catch the film on late-night TV without thinking of Zac. It’s strange, yet also strangely comforting.

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Campopiano and ALLIGATOR (1980) director, Lewis Teague, in New Jersey, March 2014

Interested in other horror movie-themed board games? Check out this great article by John Squires on Dread Central!

Crate Diggers Part 1: A Man & His Projector

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Box of films inherited by Andrew Bobola from his maternal grandfather, Donald Tyler.

If you’re one of those people who visit thrift stores and flea markets on a regular or even semi-regular basis, you know it’s not always easy to be amazed by what you find. Classic rock vinyl, outdated cooking books, clothing, antique hardware, and forgotten electronics almost always litter the shelves, boxes, and tables. So, when Andrew Bobola of Pawtucket, RI — a seasoned secondhand crate digger — stumbled upon a vintage Revere 85 8mm home projector in a local Pawtucket Salvation Army, it really caught his eye. NEMMC recently sat down with Andrew to learn more about his unique discovery, his patience and determination to bring the projector back to life, and how his somewhat impulse decision to bring the projector home has opened up a new way for he and his family to connect with their family’s past.

NEMMC: Walk us through your experience of first finding the vintage Revere 85 8mm home projector.

Andrew Bobola: A few years ago I was shopping at the local Salvation Army looking for the usual VHS and vinyl records and stumbled on a case (priced for $20). My curiosity got the best of me, so I popped it open and saw a projector in (what I thought was) perfect condition.

NEMMC: Did you decide to buy it right then and there? If so, why?

AB: Yes. I really liked the style and look of the projector. I had never seen anything like it before (in person) and the price was right. I knew if I didn’t buy it it would definitely not be there if I waiting and came back for it. Originally I thought it would just be a nice display piece…  

NEMMC: How did you make sense of what you had found and what to do next?

AB: Once I got it home I made a few Google searches to see what I could find. I discovered that it was a Revere 85 home projector and that it was actually missing a few pieces (a power cord, etc).

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Bobola’s Revere 85 8mm projector.

In my excitement of actually finding it at the store I overlooked the fact that it was somewhat incomplete. I also reached out to a few friends in Boston who know about film (Film Conservator at the Harvard Film Archive, Liz Coffey) to inquire about what exactly I had and what to do next with it. I also took to eBay to see if I had found something rare (I had NO intentions of flipping the project to make a profit, but rather to learn a little more and see what sorts of options I might have). It was after finding a few other projectors like mine I was able to figure out what kind of power cord I was going to need to make it fully functional.

First, I found an owner’s manual and ordered it with the hopes of learning all of the ins and outs about how it worked and what missing parts I had to track down. I also began reading a few message boards where other people also looking for projector power cords were sharing a lot of helpful information about what I would need (I didn’t want to just use any cord and risk damaging the projector.) I was also concerned about spending a lot of money to get it working again (not knowing what, if any, internal damage there might be) so my focus was definitely on finding a good deal.

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Revere 85 8mm Projector Manual.

Eventually I found and ordered a cord. After receiving it I set everything up, got it to power up, ran the motor, everything seemed good…until I attempted to flip on the light. The bulb was totally blown out. I went back to the Internet with the hope of finding the correct replacement (I needed a specific size, wattage, etc.) but it proved a lot harder to find than the cord. After a while, still with no luck, I had to sideline my little project.

After about of year I stumbled on a few of my mom’s 8mm home movies that were originally part of my grandfather’s collection and thought how cool it would be to be able to watch them in their original format. But how? I thought — if I could find that bulb — my projector might be the answer I was looking for. (At this point the projector was sitting in storage waiting for a place to be displayed.)

Once again I took to the Internet but this time I found what I needed! Once the bulb came arrived I watched a video on YouTube about how to properly load it into the projector.

NEMMC: What was the experience like watching these home movies for the first time?

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Tyler home movie: Bobola’s mother, Sandra, celebrates her 1st birthday, ca. 1965, 8mm.

AB: I really enjoyed being able to watch these films. After I got the projector working fully I immediately began viewing the films: my mom’s 1st birthday party, Thanksgiving Day, and other random shots of their neighborhood at the time.

I had seen pictures from my mom’s childhood but to see this was much cooler. I waited for her to come home from work and surprised her with the films. In the near future we plan to have my grandmother over to watch them with us so she can give us a play by play of who exactly is in them and to share any other stories about what was happening at the time.