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Home Movies Give Glimpse of Reel Life

Dozens dust off their family films for a Hollywood screening as part of a preservation program at the Los Angeles Film School.

August 15, 2004|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

There was an obscure punk band, a family cross-country trip, the wedding of a professional Greco-Roman wrestler and a message from a father to a daughter he never knew.

All these scenes had something in common: They were captured in home movies before the age of video cameras.

The silent, but visually rich images were projected onto a big screen at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood on Saturday. The third annual Home Movie Day was created by film preservationists who consider the moving pictures slices of history -- where sometimes mundane scenes offer a glimpse of how people lived.

Dozens of people, who otherwise would not have had access to a projector, dusted off old home movie reels. Many of them sank into the plush theater chairs and viewed films by strangers for hours.

Wendy Horowitz was 16 when she sneaked an 8-millimeter camera out of a high school classroom to film punk rockers, the Dead Boys, at a club in New Haven, Conn.

She had not seen the footage in years. As the lights dimmed and the projector reels began to turn, the Los Angeles city librarian was transported back to 1980. With a microphone, Horowitz explained the images to the audience.

"Oh, that's one of my best friends, Iggy," she said of a young boy smiling on the grainy film. "We called him Iggy because he loved Iggy Pop. His real name is Salvatore Muolo."

Then there were the Dead Boys and their lead guitarist, Cheetah Chrome, sweating and strumming his instrument manically.

"He kept giving me looks," Horowitz said. "Afterward, he said, 'Did you see I gave you some really good looks? Can you buy me some drinks?' I said I wasn't old enough so he said to just give him the money."

Actor Kaye Kittrell brought her 13-year-old son, Walker, to see movies she and her husband made in 1989 during a drive from New York to Los Angeles. Kittrell, who had taken a part on the soap opera "General Hospital" at the time, had stopped off at her late grandmother's home in Alabama.

"It's very nostalgic," Kittrell said. "It's scary showing the films with a mixed group because you can't get weepy even though you want to."

Though the images were just 15 years old, the slow pace of the film made the high-top sneakers and aviator sunglasses seem like relics.

Dee Dee Cimiluca was moved to tears when she saw footage of her parents' wedding in 1939. Cimiluca said her father had been a professional wrestler when it was considered a real sport.

"It was very emotional," the West L.A. resident said.

Iris Green, a film school employee, was handed a reel by her estranged father five years ago. The film was full of confounding symbolism.

There was a young man throwing a crucifix and a book into a lake and then submerging himself underwater. Was it pseudo-art or a profound glimpse into her father's character? Green didn't know.

"It was a little odd," said Green, 23. "But he gave it to me for a reason."

The free event also allowed participants to have their films cleaned and examined by experts. Though organizers preferred home movies, they did allow Eleni Mandel to show an anti-drug student film she made in fifth grade.

Mandel, now 34 and a musician, showed poise and genuine distress when pretending to be injected with illicit substances by a drug pusher. The 10- and 11 year-olds -- some with impressively puffy afros and terry cloth wristbands -- acted out a police interview and later an arrest at a real restaurant in Hollywood.

It was a moment that made organizer Snowden Becker think out loud how times have changed. "Can you even shoot a student film at a restaurant in L.A. anymore without a permit and $1,500?"

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