Documentaries


Dancer Sophia Delza, possibly in costume for Broadway production of "Fiesta" (1929)

This blog normally doesn’t cover the work of moving image archives as such, but I was especially excited to hear about a retrospective on the documentary filmmaker, Leo Hurwitz, currently running at New York’s Anthology Film Archives.  This series is presenting a wealth of rarely screened films in an effort to reexamine Hurwitz’s seminal career within the context of a “New York School of Documentary Film” that emerged during the 1930s.  You can read more about Hurwitz in this overview of the series from the Village Voice and in this PBS interview with his son, Tom (also a documentary filmmaker).

I first became aware of Leo Hurwitz and the fascinating Hurwitz family when I processed the papers of one of his sisters, dancer Sophia Delza (although the term, “dancer,” here hardly captures the protean nature of her career any more adequately than “documentary filmmaker” defines that of Leo Hurwitz), and I am extremely sorry to have to miss this series.  Leo Hurwitz also was married for many years to Jane Dudley, another prominent figure in modern dance.  Haiku (1965), a short film featuring her work will be shown tomorrow.

It’s that time of the year again.  For me to do another blog post?  No, for the Dance on Camera Festival, held mainly at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater!

There’s a very gushy promotional piece by Alastair Macaulay in yesterday’s New York Times that’s worth checking out.  The two films of many that I most would like to see are tonight’s opening night premiere of Nrityagram: For the Love of Dance (at the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn) and Keep Dancing (which will be screened twice during the festival).

Yes, I am jealous!  Someone report back!

Jerome Robbins during rehearsal for West Side Story (1957).

Jerome Robbins during rehearsal for West Side Story (1957).

Although it has been  screened recently at the Dance on Camera Festival and other venues, those of you in the Bay Area still can catch the West Coast premiere of the much anticipated documentary, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About.  The film will be shown for free on February 5, 2009 at 7:30 P.M., not at the Museum of  Performance itself, but at the Premier Theatre, Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio (Chestnut & Lyon Streets); for reservations and directions, check here.

The rest of us will have to wait until the film is shown on public television as part of the American Masters series on February 18, 2009 (but do check your local listings); there are a few blog posts on that site to whet your appetite as well.

Image credit: NYPL Digital Gallery ID#psnypl_the_4932

Portrait of Alvin Ailey by Carl Van Vechten

Portrait of Alvin Ailey by Carl Van Vechten

Tomorrow.

Those of you in New York, please take advantage of this opportunity to see “rare archival material” screened and a special exhibition of posters from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Walter Reade Theater.

Read the full description of tomorrow’s program here.

Image credit: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Image ID# 1094155

While I don’t believe that the esteemed Ms. O’Day ever covered Pictures of Lily (but you never know), mrs. meshbesher’s last post on the NYPL Kenn Duncan exhibit sent me back to the NYPL Digital Gallery to see if the Arthur Mitchell shot mentioned in that review is included on the site. Unfortunately it is not, but the two fab images of Anita O’Day that are up there also reminded me that the outstanding documentary on her life and art, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (which has been making the rounds on the festival circuit for some time) finally opened today in New York and Los Angeles to generally excellent reviews.

It being the weekend and all, I’m not up for writing a review, but if you are lucky enough to be in one of those two cities, I would urge you to see it. I caught it at the Tribeca Film Festival last year–where it truly came across as a labor of love–and would eagerly watch it again. And if someone did want my opinion, I would call it simply the best performing arts documentary since Ballets Russes (but, then again, I don’t get around much anymore). Those of us in the smaller markets can only hope it will hit the theatres in our respective towns some time in the future (or wait to order the dvd).

But, speaking of small markets, I also was reminded of a post that I had been meaning to write about a tidbit that appeared in the nearby Olympian newspaper last month promoting the online presence of the University of Idaho’s International Jazz Collections. Apparently, however, the Olympian does not “archive” all of its articles; the link is now broken. A similar story is still available here. While the IJC site does not contain “all” of that repository’s remarkable holdings, a wealth of material has been made available digitally (through the efforts of hardworking archivists), including this wonderful autographed publicity photograph of a younger Anita O’Day.

Image credits:

(Top) Kenn Duncan portrait of Anita O’Day. NYPL Digital Gallery ID #1752308

(Bottom) Associated Booking Corporation portrait of Anita O’Day. MG 02, Box 58, Folder 5, Leonard Feather Jazz Collection, International Jazz Collections, University of Idaho Library.