Keeping the Light Alive: Behind the Scenes with Karl

The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium and Metaphor, a film exhibition which featured several massive projectors and analog films, closed to the public last week. In a photo essay, our film technician intern reflects upon the six months he spent tending to one of our highest-maintenance exhibitions. 

By Karl Frederick Mattson

The Dying of the Light: A once continuously looped film exhibition, temperamental in nature, and spliced together with a heavy dose of preservation and nostalgia. The delicate technical maintenance required for such an exhibition came down to a physical science. The projectors — essentially living and breathing mechanical wonders — came with their fair share of daily issues. Given that the exhibition ran constantly for 11 months from opening to close on a daily basis resulted in an indefinite amount of time behind the scenes to keep the bustling machines running.

The following series of images is a brief account of the attentive technical maintenance that was required to preserve and often repair the nearly obsolete presentation, medium, and metaphor of analogue film in a public setting.



The film before the film.



The War Room, where a vast array of film equipment was stored.



The film tech cart, which included all of the necessary projector tinkering tools.



Prepping the ol’ movie theater projector (oil leaks galore) for a new print of Rosa Barba’s The Long Road.



Watching for the green ray while testing out a new print.



Turning on Matthew Buckingham’s False Future, hoping the projector lamp won’t burn out (again).



A box full of used chandeliers.



A trusty bright neon microfiber cloth used to clean Rosa Barba’s Stating The Real Sublime.



Dead light.

Posted February 26, 2015 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Film, Interns, The Dying of the Light, Uncategorized
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God is Where? closes with local filmmaker’s documentary

By Rebecca McBrien
MASS MoCA, Blogger Extraordinare

This Thursday, May 1, sit down with Williamstown resident and filmmaker, Holly Hardman, tfor a Q+A about her film, Good People Go to Hell, Saved People Go to Heaven after a viewing at 7:30pm. The film examines American Evangelical Christian communities against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina.

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Hardman’s film ties into the question, God is Where? — the theme of our documentary series that took audiences from the Apollo Theater, to the streets of Damascus, to the NBA playoffs. These films gripped our hearts, but also pushed us to grapple with issues of faith, devotion, and the mysteries of life, including award-winning The Light in Her Eyes, Linsanity, When I Walk, and 20 Feet from Stardom. 

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The Light in Her Eyes focuses on important issues and challenges that women in Damascus, Syria are facing. Following Houda al-Habash, a conservative Muslim preacher, the film tells her story as she challenges “her students to pursue higher education, jobs, and public lives, while remaining committed to an interpretation of Islam prioritizing women’s role as wives and mothers.” The film is a glimpse into the vibrant culture of educated and wealthy women in Syria, but which is one that has been threatened by social turmoil in Syria in recent years.

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Linsanity swept the nation as basketball player Jeremy Lin became a household name in 2012. Lin is one of only a few Asian–American players to make it to the NBA, and the first of Chinese or Taiwanese decent to do so. The film captures his faith, perseverance, and dedication to both God and the game, along with his fun-loving and compassionate side. Lin said, “It’s humbling, a privilege, and an honor. I’m really proud of being Chinese, I’m really proud of my parents being from Taiwan. I just thank God for the opportunity.”

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Filmmaker Jason DaSilva’s When I Walk, chronicles his own story of his struggles with the complications and physical restrictions of life with multiple sclerosis. The film is an “emotional documentary filled with unexpected moments of humor and joy.” Even as DeSilva struggled with the pains and complications of this disease, he was determined to not simply survive but to thrive. “My diagnosis was not the end of the world. Instead, and with a bit of determination, it has proven to be a new way for me to see and be in the world. This was the voice and heart that emerged in the film.”

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The series, which started back in January, kicked off with a captivating glimpse into the lives and careers of anonymous backup singers who put their mark on so many of rock ‘n’ roll classics. 20 Feet from Stardom, Winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary, caught critics and audiences alike in an emotional tale of conflicts, sacrifices, and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others. The film put a twist on the classic interview format by interviewing the rock stars about the singers who stand behind them each night on tour and in the studio. The women featured in the film were passionate about their work, even when “there are no guaranties in entertainment.”

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Posted April 30, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film
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If you’re sad, and like beer, I’m your lady.

So says beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley in Guy Maddin’s off-kilter masterpiece The Saddest Music in the World. Maddin’s 2003 film showcases his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the sad, strange, and funny story of a world-wide contest to find the saddest piece of music in existence. Lady Port-Huntley (played by Isabella Rosellini) launches the odd contest after Winnipeg is named the “Sorrow Capital of the World” for the fourth consecutive year. Musicians descend upon Winnipeg for their chance to win the $25,000 first prize. The event draws eccentric contestants from across the globe but ultimately boils down to competition within one family: a patriotic Canadian father and his two sons, one representing the United States, and the other representing Serbia.

Like many of Maddin’s films, this sort-of musical utilizes a lo-fi look and sound, reminiscent of the silent movies and early talkies of 1920 and 1930s, an aesthetic similar to this year’s runaway hit and Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The Artist (directed by Michel Hazanavicius). The Saddest Music in the World is filmed mostly in grainy black and white and with slightly out-of-sync sound. In an interview with hobo magazine, Maddin explains, “The 1920s have always seemed eternally modern to me, but they’re really the primitive days of cinema, technologically speaking…And there was something about the vocabulary of film in that decade, when it still could’ve gone off in any number of directions; that excited me. It reminded me of a child learning to talk.”

The Saddest Music in the World is presented in conjunction with Oh, Canada (MASS MoCA’s survey of contemporary Canadian art on view through April 2013). Maddin frequently collaborates with other film and performance artists. Most notably, Canadian artist Noam Gonick, whose video installation Wildflowers of Manitoba is on view in Oh Canada, directed the documentary Waiting for Twilight, which depicts the enigmatic Maddin’s daily life and work and is narrated by Tom Waits.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Canadian cinema, an interested film lover, or this is your first time dipping your toes into the Canadian art pool, Guy Maddin’s work is sure to charm you. The Saddest Music in the World is a comedy that “can serve as an introduction to the work of Canada’s most original filmmaker or as a culmination of everything he’s done before,” cites Newsday.

If this weekend’s film forecast includes a few too many big budget Hollywood flicks for your taste (Taken 2, really?), catch The Saddest Music in the World  in MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 on Saturday, October 27 at 4 PM. Tickets are $5. Call the Box Office at 413.662.2111 or purchase online.

Posted October 25, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film, Oh Canada
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MASS MoCA + WFF Through the Ages

MASS MoCA and the Williamstown Film Festival (WFF) live down the street from each other, were both born in 1999, and are considered major artistic centers—obviously they have become good friends with one another.

This weekend marks the beginning of the 13th Williamstown Film Festival, with two films premiering at MASS Moca, We Need to Talk About Kevin on Saturday, October 22 at 8pm and Never Stand Still on Friday, October 28 at 8pm.

In honor of these events, let’s examine the history of the MASS MoCA + WFF relationship, taking a look at which films and events we have hosted as a part of the festival! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted October 18, 2011 by MASS MoCA
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Fly in Film!

Director Joe Thompson offers this information about our film this weekend at the airport, The Great Waldo Pepper projected on a hangar door.  Bring your own chair.

Among the subtler losses to civic life stemming from 9/11 is the great fortification of small local airports.  The movement from aerodrome – a magical field of flight, located at the edge of town – to airfield, to airport, to the post 9/11 fenced and gated abstractions of today is not lovely.

It’s more than the difference between, say, the romance of a remote dirt road, a blue highway, and Interstate 90, because even in a world of 4-lane superhighways it’s still easy to experience what it feels like to travel by road off the beaten track.  But it’s almost impossible to find spots to actually be inside aviation today, which has nothing to do with the horrors of commercial flight.  Katama Airfield, a wedge of grassy sand just off the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, is one such place: my son and I spent a pleasant afternoon there on a bench a couple of years ago sitting next to David Letterman and his family, watching small planes take off and land, trying to talk over the beautiful throaty rumble of a Waco bi-plane’s big radial.

Situated at the base of Mt. Greylock, North Adams Harriman West has one of the most beautiful airports in the United States.  Before the days of fence and gates there were almost always small clusters of people gathered there on languid summer weekend days, watching gliders and their tow planes in search of upslope wind.  The Taconic Ridge sunsets are spectacular from the airport.  It’s one of the great hidden gems of our region.  So, for a few hours on August 5th, MASS MoCA has teamed up with the City of North Adams and its Airport Commission to invite the public back inside the gates.  Beginning at 7pm, there will be music, a balsa glider contest (with free gliders given to the first 100 kids), and good, well-priced food and drink, including beer and wine… but not for pilots who plan to leave that evening (I should add, in case the FAA is listening) since pilots must abide by the “8 hours from bottle to throttle” rule.

At about 8:30pm, we’ll be screening cartoons and a movie on a huge hangar door, with BYOC (bring your own chair) seating on the tarmac.  If you fly in, admission to the movie is free for you and your passengers.  Or for those of us who live nearby, pack as many friends and family as you can get into a car (or any vehicle!) for just 14 bucks.

We had a lot of fun picking the movie: Airplane! was far and away the staff’s choice, but in the end I’m a sucker for air-to-air photography, and the great flying sequences of Redford’s slightly goofy Great Waldo Pepper won out: there are scenes that look like they could have been shot right at Harriman West, and if we catch a nice night, it should be spectacular.

Which great aviation film should we show next year (assuming we try this again)?

Posted August 1, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film
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Marc Ribot & Silent Film


Nominated for the Jazz Journalist Association’s Guitarist of this year, Marc Ribot, American guitarist and composer, has developed a career which defines the concept of independent musicians. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Marc Ribot moved just across the Hudson River that little town New York City in 1978 during his mid 20s. After playing in a few bands, such as John Lurie’s jazz assembly The Lounge Lizards during the 80s, Ribot began working alongside of some impressive folks, such as Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and a familiar face to MASS MoCA, Nels Cline (Member of the band Wilco, the curators of our Solid Sound Music Festival) Working with international artists, Ribot has toured globally, put out 19 albums, and explored multiple areas of music, from avant-guard Jazz to Cuban sounds.

With having said all of that, proving his accomplishments on paper (or rather on a web log) actually doesn’t matter. The music speaks for itself. Ribot’s 2010 “Silent films” album is unique, ambient at times, powerful at others, and holds a sense of charm. Paired with the Charlie Chaplin classic, The Kid, Ribot’s media collaboration allows for a special connection of music and film, and certainly a very big nod to the historic progression of both genres.

On Saturday, July 9th, at 9:00 MASS MoCA will be showing The Kid, with Marc Ribot performing his film score live in our outdoor Courtyard C, and we can’t think of a better way to spend a warm summer evening.

Photo credit: Ziga Koritnik

Posted July 7, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film, Film+Live Music, Music
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