The Mechanical Age

Event has passed (Sun Sep 3, 2006 - Sat Sep 30, 2006)
Pacific Film Archive (PFA)
7pm The Magic Lantern and the Mechanical Age
Movies, Film Screening
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As our culture—cinematic and otherwise—moves ever deeper into digital dependency, we would do well to look back at the period that preceded the digital era: the mechanical age, which also happens to be the age of the movies. From its very beginnings, cinema has been obsessed with the machine. For the avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s, mechanical motion and speed were objects of formal fascination, paralleling movements in painting and photography of the period, examples of which we invite you to view in the BAM exhibition Measure of Time. Meanwhile, the Hollywood dream factory cranked out comedies and cautionary tales in which the machine symbolized all the wonder and terror of modernity. Filmmakers celebrated mechanization for its potential to improve society, or expressed the anxiety that machines could someday supplant humanity; they explored the erotics of the machine, or self-reflexively deconstructed the cinematic apparatus—sometimes they did all of these at once. It's been said that film and its attendant machinery passed into obsolescence with the advent of the digital age, but this series, featuring many archival prints, proves that at PFA, the age of the movies is still with us.

Juliet Clark

Special Guests
David Francis, the former head of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress and an eminent advocate for film preservation, is in residence at PFA in September. He will present archival prints of rare serials and, with Joss Marsh, a delightful program of magic lantern slides from his personal collection.
Rick Prelinger, founder of the Prelinger Archives, returns to PFA in October with one of his always-entertaining assemblies of industrial films.

Piano Accompaniment for Silent Films
Judith F. Rosenberg has provided piano accompaniment for silent films at PFA since 2000. Since 1973 she has been artist/lecturer and music director of the dance department at Mills College. Rosenberg has also performed at the Niles Silent Film Series and the Castro Theatre.
Jon C. Mirsalis has been providing piano accompaniment for silent film screenings for thirty years. In addition to his work at PFA, he is currently a regular pianist at the Niles Film Museum, and has performed at numerous film festivals and other venues throughout the United States. He has also recorded scores for many video and DVD releases.

SUN SEP 3 2006
3:00 Metropolis
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Fritz Lang's gorgeous, dystopian classic, “a crazed, pathetic ballet of mechanized ant-man in revolt against his Utopian overlords.”—Monthly Film Bulletin

SUN SEP 3 2006
6:00 Modern Times
Chaplin's politically outspoken picture of an overmechanized world also contains some of his funniest scenes, in which Charlie causes complete chaos merely by being human. With Fernand Léger short Ballet mécanique.

THU SEP 7 2006
5:30 The Mechanical Man (Free Screening!)
A robot runs amok in this remarkable early science-fiction film from Italy. With shorts March of the Machines and Robots.

SUN SEP 10 2006
3:00 Charley Bowers: Dream Machines
Jon Mirsalis on Piano. The charming, crazy contraptions of animator/comic Bowers take American ingenuity to surreal heights.

SUN SEP 10 2006
5:00 Edward Scissorhands
With pruning shears for hands, Johnny Depp's Edward can only create useless beauty. “An entrancing, slyly comic vision.”—Variety. With Fischli-Weiss short The Way Things Go.

SUN SEP 24 2006
4:00 Sherlock Jr.
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Buster Keaton is a projectionist who dreams his way onto the screen in this ode to cinema, the beautiful machine. With Japanese animated short Broken Down Film.

SUN SEP 24 2006
5:30 The Man with a Movie Camera
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Dziga Vertov's “epitome of machine art, the grand summa of the Soviet futurist-constructivist-communist avant-garde.”—Village Voice

THU SEP 28 2006
7:30 The Serial and the Mechanical Age
Lecture by David Francis. Judith Rosenberg on Piano. The struggle between man—or woman—and machine is the theme of this program of serials, featuring episodes from The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine, Nick Carter, and other cliffhangers. Eminent archivist David Francis introduces an assortment of archival prints.

SAT SEP 30 2006
7:00 The Magic Lantern and the Mechanical Age
Presentation by David Francis and Joss Marsh. Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Francis and Marsh reveal how that wondrous 19th-century pre-cinema entertainment, the magic lantern, reflected the concerns and obsessions of the mechanical age. Featuring beautiful lantern slides from Francis's own collection.

SUN OCT 1 2006
2:30 Pandora's Box, Episode One: The Engineer's Plot
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. In Pandora's Box, acclaimed British film essayist Adam Curtis intriguingly muses on the determinism that has shaped our age. In this episode: the Soviet Five Year Plans. Then, at 4 p.m., it's down on the collective farm with Sergei Eisenstein, revolutionary master of montage, in The General Line. Shown with Ralph Steiner and Jay Leyda's 1930 short Mechanical Principles.

SUN OCT 8 2006
3:30 The Steel Beast
Commissioned to celebrate the anniversary of a rail line in 1935, this film by a great German photographer, Willy Otto Zielke, is a daring collage of abstractions, rhythms, and historical commentary, and was immediately banned by the Nazis. With shorts, Shirley Clarke's Bridges-Go-Round and Joris Ivens's The Bridge.

SUN OCT 8 2006
5:30 La bête humaine
Jean Gabin delivers a tragically human performance as a locomotive engineer in Jean Renoir's poetic, pessimistic adaptation of Zola's novel. With short Pacific 231, a 1931 Soviet montage worthy of Arthur Honegger's great symphonic tribute to the steam locomotive.

SUN OCT 15 2006
5:30 Human, All Too Human
In 1972, Louis Malle filmed the workers and workings of a Citroën automobile factory and created this real-life counterpart to Chaplin's Modern Times. With Jean Mitry's short film Symphonie mécanique, in which the activities of factories become an abstract ballet set to music by Pierre Boulez.

THU OCT 19 2006
7:00 Spinning Up, Slowing Down: Industry Celebrates the Machine
Introduced by Rick Prelinger. In one of his patented presentations of ephemeral films, archivist Prelinger reveals American industry's fascination with the machine and its off/on contributions to our prosperity. Featuring a newly preserved print of Jam Handy's Wagnerian-industrial epic Master Hands.

SUN OCT 22 2006
3:00 2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick's most memorable character, the computer Hal, embodies evolutionary anxiety.

SUN OCT 22 2006
6:00 Crash
Cronenberg's steely look at people for whom car crashes are the ultimate turn-on.

Curated by Senior Film Curator Emerita Edith Kramer.

The Mechanical Age is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. David Francis's residency is supported by the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley.


  1. Pacific Film Archive (PFA)
    2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA