Dennis Nyback Talks Harry Smith

Film archivist/historian/master projectionist Dennis Nyback reunites with long time collaborator Lori Goldston at SIFF Cinema on March 18. Photo credit: Anne Richardson, aka Mrs. Nyback.
1. Have you ever screened Heaven And Earth Magic before in Seattle?
No.  The first time I screened any Harry Smith film was for the Not For The Faint of Heart: Survey of Avant Garde Film class I co-taught at NWFC in 2001.
2. Did you know Harry Smith was from Seattle (Anacortes/Bellingham) before you did this project for Oregon Cartoon Institute?
No.  I became aware of Harry Smith in the early 1990’s when I was showing other avant garde films at the Pike St. Cinema in Seattle.  I knew he was from Portland.  Exactly how I found that out I don’t know.  I probably would have showed his films at the Pike if they had been cheaper to rent.  
3. This screening is a reunion of you and musician Lori Goldston. When did you and Lori first work together?
I met Lori in 1988 when we were both part of the Belltown art scene in Seattle.  She first accompanied the silent film The Cat and the Canary (1927) for me in 1989 at the Jewel Box Theater.  I got the idea to use a cello for accompanying silent films several years earlier when I heard a Jim French produced late night radio drama where he used a cello to excellent effect.  In old time radio it was customary to use an organ. When I first heard Lori play I knew she’d be the one who could do it.  I was happily right.  After leaving the Jewel Box I opened the Pike St. Cinema in 1992.  There Lori accompanied many silent films including The Passion of Joan of Arc,  Spies (Fritz Lang) and Berlin Symphony of a City.   In 1994 I showed silent shorts with the Black Cat Orchestra at the OK Hotel in Seattle.  The next year I moved to New York, but in the summer of 1997 returned to Seattle to mount a silent film festival at the Grand Illusion Cinema.  In that series Lori created scores and played with six movies including Sex (1920) and Are Parents People (1925).  About that time the Black Cat Orchestra came to New York, and I showed silent shorts behind them in a cafe in Brooklyn.  Lori is flat out wonderful to work with.  She is rock solid dependable.  She has never failed to show up on time and prepared. Musically she is great.  More than that she knows how to use her brilliance to let the silent film be the star, with her being the enhancer.  

4. Did you pick the films, or did Lori pick them?
Generally when I worked with Lori I would pick a film and ask her to accompany it.  For the silent film series at the Grand Illusion in 1997 and in 1999, I gave her the list of the films and she picked the ones she wanted to accompany.
4. What has it been like for you to try to translate Harry Smith’s description of a multilayered, expanded cinema approach to Heaven And Earth Magic to reality?
It was an interesting challenge to figure out just how Harry first showed Heaven And Earth Magic. The multi-layered image he wanted was created with a 16mm motion picture projector and multiple still slide projectors choreographed together.  The initial screening I did at the Hollywood Theater using three projectors was more fun than anyone could imagine. 
5. What do you make of Harry as a filmmaker?
I love Harry as a filmmaker.  He advanced film making by pushing through limits commonly accepted.   He hewed toward his personal vision to created beautiful works.  Heaven and Earth Magic is a singular film.  I can’t think of any other it can be compared to.
Oregon Cartoon Institute brings Heaven And Earth Magic to SIFF Cinema on March 18 at 7:00 PM. Live projection by Dennis Nyback, live accompaniment by Lori Goldston, Jessika Kenney and Susie Kosawa.

A cautionary note: You never know what will happen if you attend an Oregon Cartoon Institute event. Eric Isaacson, the owner of Mississippi Records, attended the Harry Smith Seance last year, and found his love for Harry Smith, fellow vinyl enthusiast, re-awakened. That summer he took a program of music films from his personal archive on tour of Europe, and this month his record label re-issued the Anthology. If you come to the SIFF screening on March 18, you better be ready for anything.

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