Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rare Films, Rarely Seen

Yogi Berra trading training tips with a feline friend in a commercial
for Puss 'n Boots cat food (available here, starting at 1:05).

Last week I saw "Rare Films from the Baseball Hall of Fame," presented by Dave Filipi, director of film/video at the Wexner Center for the Arts.  This is the ninth year that Filipi has collected video transfers of films from the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and the second year he has shown them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

In honor of Thursday's host city, Filipi opened with a trailer for Rhubarb, a screwball comedy from 1951 in which a tycoon leaves most of his money and a baseball team—the Brooklyn Loons—to a cat, the title character played by Orangey (above, with Ray Milland as Eric Yeager, the team's publicist).

Filipi screened the clips in five groups, introducing each set with commentary.  Each grouping had one or two features, such as a 1961 interview of Roger Maris by Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen.

Other highlights were a portion of a documentary about "Pie" Trayner, the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman; a series of player interviews by Bob Wolff, the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins broadcaster; and not quite half of a home movie by Yankee third baseman Andy Carey of the team's 1955 barnstorming tour of Japan and the Pacific.

The announcer for a newsreel story about a 1955 spring training game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants, who had met in the World Series the year before, concluded with the final score, "Willie Mays, 4, Cleveland, 2."  This is the first year newsreels, from the UCLA Film and Television Archive, were included in the program.

Interspersed with the longer videos were shorter pieces, including ten commercials for Gillette razors similar to the one below.  (Click on the [ X ] to close the embedded pop-up ad.)

Filipi began his annual anthology in 2004 when he set out to curate a film series that wasn't movies like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Eight Men Out.  He stated during the question and answer period on Thursday that he selects videos, "not as a historian, but as an archivist and fan."  He looks for "oddball things" that illustrate "the way baseball intersects with history and culture," Filipi explained.

He acknowledged that some material is now available on YouTube, and the two clips above prove the point.  However, most of what Filipi shows is rare and the Hall of Fame will only allow him to show video transfers. He gave special thanks to Jim Gates of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

The ownership rights for much of the footage is unknown, preventing the Hall of Fame from distributing the material on DVD, so Filipi's presentations are the only opportunities to see the films.  However, those opportunities are also rare; the screening at the BAMcinématek was just one of five nationally this year.  Rare films, rarely seen.

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