Reading Between the Reels
The ancient Celts devised Halloween more than two millennia ago as a pagan holiday. Thanksgiving was a harvest festival started in 1621 by Pilgrims. Fast forward about four centuries and there's yet another reason to celebrate autumn, at least for Vermont film fans: next month's launch of Green Mountain Cinema. This periodical in book form, created and edited by Stephen R. Bissette of Marlboro, will cover movies by regional filmmakers as well as those shot in Vermont by flatlanders.
The first issue will be out in a week or two; subtitled Green Mountain Boys: Election Year Special, it's a 224-page magnum opus with 125 illustrations. The journal includes essays by Bissette that consider the work of two local auteurs, Montpelier's Walter Ungerer and Norwich's Nora Jacobson. There are articles on Logger-head Rusty DeWees, Charlotte resident John Douglas' prize-winning Da Speech and the late Bob Keeshan, who lived in the Connecticut River Valley town of Hartford after retiring from "Captain Kangaroo."
Remarkably, volume two of Green Mountain Cinema will be out just four weeks later, in December, and future editions are promised for spring and summer 2005. This endeavor stems from five years of research Bissette did for a hardcover book on the state's film history. He has managed to unearth some amazing buried treasures. Who knew that Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the French brothers who helped pioneer motion pictures in the late 1800s, had a Burlington operation in 1902?
While his tome awaits a publisher, native son Bissette has forged ahead to tell some of the same stories in this rather ambitious magazine. He plans to reflect differing viewpoints with articles by various contributors. Although he wrote most of the pieces in "GMC I" himself, other voices chime in. Among them are two people penning tributes to the recently departed. Peacham filmmaker Jay Craven remembers Jonathan Brandis, a former child star with a lead role in The Year That Trembled who later killed himself at age 27. Photographer Peter Miller bids farewell to farmer-turned-actor Fred Tuttle (Man With a Plan), who died of a heart attack at age 84.
In his introduction, Bissette writes that the medium's art and commerce will be explored in a manner "as lively, engaging, informative, entertaining and provocative as possible." Another passage offers some intriguing hints about the content of upcoming issues: "You may find family-tailored mainstream fare like The Trapp Family and Those Calloways! lovingly analyzed alongside articles discussing disaster films, Canada's 'maple syrup porn' films or the blood-bong-smoking night stalkers of Vampire Vermont."
Maple syrup porn? What is this guy talking about? You'll have to plunk down $22.95 to get the answer. At the moment, "GMC I" can be ordered online at http://www.blackcoatpress.com/ greenmountaincinema1.htm.
In the interest of full disclosure, for some reason Bissette thanks me in his acknowledgments along with several other area cineastes. Maybe I'm an unwitting blood-bong-smoking night stalker. If so, I belong in the horror genre that dominates his impressive resume.
Bissette spent decades as a cartoonist, collaborating on such classics as Saga of the Swamp Thing for DC Comics from 1983 to 1987. His fiction earned him a 1993 Bram Stoker Award for a novella, Aliens: Tribes. Movie-wise, he was involved with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret of the Ooze.
However the presidential election turns out, Americans of the Anybody-But-Bush persuasion may be far more impressed by the candidate from Massachusetts after seeing Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry. Vermont Democratic groups sponsored screenings Friday and Saturday at the Village Picture Shows in Manchester Center. Merrill Jarvis has booked the documentary for a one-week run, beginning Friday at his Ethan Allen theater in Burlington.
The chronology of this affectionate profile by George Butler (Pumping Iron) never really covers much beyond the early 1970s. But, in a banner year for political docs, the film effectively addresses the mind-numbing campaign controversy about who did what during the Vietnam War. It's packed with eloquent talking heads such as disabled veteran Bobby Muller, author Neil Sheehan and biographer Douglas Brinkley.
Butler makes the case that Kerry fought bravely while commanding a swift boat, and then mustered another kind of courage -- no less patriotic -- to protest the futility of that conflict. The context of those terrible times becomes clear with archival footage that shows battle-scarred vets sobbing as they toss away their medals in honor of fallen comrades.