I blame Professor Marvin Felheim. He made me do it.
No, this isn't some repressed memory of an illicit teacher-student relationship bubbling up from my subconscious. Back in my undergraduate days, I was one of the lucky few to take a cinema and culture course with Professor Felheim, an early and fervid supporter of the Ann Arbor 16mm Film Festival (as it was then known). He was an educator whose enthusiasm for his subject was as joyful as it was informed. His class was held in one of the largest lecture halls on campus and was regularly standing-room-only, filled with people who weren't even enrolled.
One day, he introduced to the class a friend of his, a striking Amazon by the name of Pat Oleszko. A costumed culture warrior and comedian, Ms. Oleszko was the first performance artist I had ever seen. Professor Felheim announced that she would be making an appearance at that year’s film festival. While I, like many students, regularly attended screenings at the many film cooperatives on campus, building a cinematic vocabulary of foreign, classic, and art movies, I had never really been exposed to “experimental” film. But with the lure of a Pat O. presentation and the imprimatur of Marvin Felheim, I was onboard to check it out.
Now, the mid-Seventies, like the Sixties, are somewhat difficult to remember in specifics. Time and, possibly, a variety of pharma-cocktails have served to muddy the memory waters a bit, so what follows may not be strictly chronologically linear. Walking into Lorch Hall, where the festival was screened, I recall Vicki Honeyman (future AAFF director) posing in a glass display case. The wooden seats in the theater were hard, but once Pat Oleszko appeared in a costume of fabric arms performing a striptease to a tape recording of “Take your hands off her,” we were off to the races—butt-numbing, be damned!—and then, the films.
Each show was a visual Cracker Jack box, with at least one prize in every serving. The vaguely pornographic films of Curt McDowell and George Kuchar, which suggested that sex could be intentionally hilarious. The animation wizardry of Sally Cruikshank’s Quasi at the Quackedero, a cartoon the Fleischer brothers could have made, if they’d dropped acid. A groundbreaking music video, Chuck Statler’s In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution, which introduced the world to some demented Ohioans called Devo.
Best of all was the feeling of camaraderie with my fellow film travelers. Like the groundlings of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, film fest attendees did not hesitate to voice their glee or objections to what was on the screen. Beyond the entertainment factor and the expansion of my cinematic understanding, I felt as if I was part of a communal artistic experience. Forty very odd years later, I still look forward to that shared language and love of film. Thank you, Marvin!
Sue Dise is a member of the AAFF board of directors. A longtime fan and supporter of the festival, Sue also serves as a volunteer screener and an active member of the marketing committee.
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