Newsday is opening this story to all readers as we provide Long Islanders with news and information you can use during the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.
When theaters, libraries and performance venues shut their doors in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, film historians like Glenn Andreiev, Philip Harwood and Keith Crocker suddenly had no place to give their lectures across Long Island.
Yet, they believed people were still interested in Hollywood and independent movies and that escapism was, if not essential, important. But the business of talking about movies to live audiences ground to a halt — temporarily. Now, with the help of area libraries and such places as Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, their intermission is over as they move to present their lectures virtually. They are doing live presentations online and leading discussions on Zoom, recording short and longer versions of lectures, pushing out existing videos and shooting introductions to movies that people watch on their own.
And with many people binge-watching new and old movies, film historians — part performer and part educator — have returned to the small screen in a big way.
“They are chronicling not only how film developed, but why film developed, and why it stays so popular and strong as part of our culture,” said Jude Schanzer, director of public relations and programming for East Meadow Public Library. “They explain the importance of film to our collective awareness to issues and people.”
"We're trying to preserve the legacy of film,” said film historian Philip Harwood, 56, of Levittown. “What we're doing is a form of film preservation. We're trying to not only entertain, but inform. And now we're doing it online."
Here is a look at how three film historians are bringing entertainment and education to people’s homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Glenn Andreiev’s "found" movies
With the pivot to virtual lectures, Glenn Andreiev, 58, a Kings Park filmmaker and film historian, has turned his living room into a studio, recording lectures presented by Cinema Arts Centre and elsewhere.
“I figured don’t try to make my living room look like an office or a movie venue. It’s from one living room to another,” he said of a video showing him on his couch, interspersed with clips and stills. “That’s what I want to get across. I’m like everybody else, confined to a living room.”
Andreiev has also recorded 20-minute mini video lectures that Huntington Public Library has posted, and he is in talks with other libraries.
An expert with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, he has lectured at Long Island theaters, libraries, senior-living facilities and Northport VA Medical Center. Topics range from the art of Looney Tunes to Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick to Abbott and Costello, film noir to the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball to Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang to Universal Studios’ monsters.
“I was thinking how am I going to support myself? You go into shock. What’s going to happen?” Andreiev said of his initial reaction to not being able to present lectures. “Then you figure out you can do this.”
Andreiev grew up in East Northport, making films in Super 8 mm in high school.
“I would catch an old movie on TV,” he said of his youth. “I was fascinated by people like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The first Godzilla film really did it for me.” He read that “Godzilla” had been shot in Japan with footage of Raymond Burr edited in afterward for the American release. “I got fascinated by the mechanics of filmmaking,” he said, “That you could do this with editing.”
Andreiev graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1987; he also learned filmmaking by working on a low-budget film, titled “Street Trash,” on summer break in 1985.
After making “Lost Emulsion,” a documentary about forgotten films, he taught classes at Cinema Arts Centre about making small-budget films and began lecturing about movies.
“I thought I was going to get 10 people in the theater,” he said of his first lecture, on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” roughly a decade ago. “The place was packed.”
He has been working on a video about Lucille Ball to be presented online through Huntington Public Library’s website. “I’m focusing on her pre-‘I Love Lucy’ days,” he said. “I was lucky enough to find her first speaking role, in a gangster movie called ‘Blood Money.’”
Among the tidbits his research has turned up: Ball grew up in upstate Jamestown, where her mother took her shopping. “She’d be in the aisle automatically performing while her mother shopped,” he said. “She had the showbiz bug early on.”
“The one thing that's missing is audience reaction,” he said of virtual offerings. “There's nothing like being with a large audience roaring with laughter at a Marx Brothers antic or gasping with shock at a Samuel Fuller film.”
Debra Cowan, 68, of Kings Park has seen his presentations in person and online — and is happy with his transition. “He’s done a great job adapting with edits and added lighthearted comments befitting the subject matter and today's circumstances,” she said.
Philip Harwood: The Golden Age
Philip Harwood, 56, of Levittown, started his love affair with movies, as many do, when he was young. Film was part of his family culture.
“Every week we went to the movies,” he said. “I saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the theater for the first time when I was 6. I went with my brother Marc to see ‘Gone With the Wind.’ Whenever there was a film revival, we would go see it.”
Growing up in West Hempstead, he went to movies on Long Island and in New York City, honing his knowledge of film history from the era before the Production Code (aka Hays Code), which aimed to police morality in films, to the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, spanning silent films to the late 1960s, with such movies as “Casablanca” and “Gone With the Wind.”
“There are many hundreds of people interested in classic film,” he said. “They want to see films on a screen with a discussion.”
Harwood is presenting an online series about Rod Serling for East Meadow Public Library and discussing “Singin’ in the Rain” online for Cinema Arts Centre. “It’s based on what I’ve done in the past and what I’m passionate about,” he said of choices. “It’s also popular.”
He says he’s seen an interest in TV from the 1950s on. “I think people are looking for an escape to earlier times,” he said. “You were dealing with the Cold War, the fear of McCarthyism. There was blacklisting, but you didn’t have a pandemic.”
His "Singin’ in the Rain" presentation will begin with a 10- to 15-minute prerecorded introduction to the film on the Cinema Arts Centre website. People can then pay a fee to see the film through the center or watch it on their own; a discussion follows on June 23. “We’ll talk about the film, what they saw, answer questions about the making of the film, the music, any questions. They can ask what went on behind the scenes, the dance numbers,” Harwood said. “It will be like a Zoom class.”
Harwood is a reference librarian at Elmont Memorial Library. He has taught film at The New School in Manhattan and has lectured for Hutton House at LIU Post since 2009. He taught in the lifelong learning program at Queens College for two years and became an adjunct professor of film at St. Francis College in 2017. Also on his resume: managing the Malverne Cinema for three years.
Harwood, like other presenters, has fans who follow him. “Philip is a well of information,” said Gloria Piraino, 65, of Forest Hills. “His manner of presentation is charming and friendly.”
Keith Crocker: From home to Hollywood
Keith Crocker, 54, of North Baldwin, didn’t have to go to the movies as a child to be part of an audience. With five brothers and sisters, the audience was right there at home.
“We had six kids,” Crocker said. “It was a communal thing to watch television. I remember us mostly watching movies.”
His interest in film sprang from “Creature Features” and “Chiller Theater,” which showcased horror and fantasy movies on TV during his childhood in the early 1970s. “Initially, I was frightened of the movies,” he said. “As I got older, I took them in. They became a part of me.”
Elysa Parker, a North Woodmere resident in her 60s, says she and her husband, Larry, are Crocker “groupies.”
“He has a relaxed manner, knows a lot of facts and trivia and is very passionate about each subject,” she said. “He’s very open to questions by the audience.”
Crocker developed an expertise in horror, science fiction and fantasy, graduating in 1977 as a film major with a television minor from New York Institute of Technology’s Westbury campus.
His wife, Christina Crocker, was and still is a librarian at East Meadow Public Library, where he was asked to speak about filmmaking in 1995. “Film was becoming more accessible,” he said. “People were using video, and we started to get to the age of digital.”
After that, he got calls from other libraries and began lecturing on how to make films, leading to talks on horror, science fiction and other film topics.
“I would give a talk and bring memorabilia,” he said. “I brought stuff to the presentation: posters, press books, lobby cards.”
Richard Carris, 62, of Rockville Centre, recalled Crocker pointing out behind-the-scenes information about “The Beach Girls and the Monster,” released in 1965, in one of his lectures. Explaining a scene in which a car goes off a cliff and bursts into flames with a monster behind the wheel, Carris said, “Keith noted that this scene was lifted from another movie.”
Crocker also lectures about musicals and comedies, such as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin. W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton.
And, he said, switching to virtual presentations was a matter of necessity. “We had no choice. Making the transition had to come or you weren’t going to work,” he said. “I can still show my clips while giving presentations. I just share the screen.”
He had done six online presentations as of the last week in May, each with typically 20 to 40 virtual attendees tuning in using smartphones, computers and other devices.
He speaks from a room with movie posters on the walls that he changes every six months; recently posters from films by Staten Island-based filmmaker Andy Milligan were hung.
“Online, there is an element of distance,” he said. “My preference is to be there live and in person.”
Nevertheless, he has heard rave reviews for his online lectures. “Someone said, ‘You are making the pandemic bearable.’ That makes me feel great,” Crocker said. “Nothing makes me happier than entertaining them and enlightening them.”
WATCH AND LEARN
- Find videos of Andreiev’s lectures on the Huntington Public Library’s YouTube channel, nwsdy.li/HuntPLYouTube; visit the library’s website, thehuntingtonlibrary.org, for upcoming lectures on Lucille Ball, Marlene Dietrich and Vincent Price.
- “Lost Emulsion,” Andreiev’s 2016 documentary, 7 p.m. June 2, East Meadow Library website; register at eastmeadow.info to get link for event.
- “Requiem for a Heavyweight," 1 p.m. June 5, and “The Comedian,” 1 p.m. June 12, East Meadow Public Library, eastmeadow.info.
- “Twilight Zone Trivia Night,” 7 p.m., June 10 at Elmont Memorial Library, elmontlibrary.org.
- “Singin in the Rain,” 8 p.m. June 23, Cinema Arts Centre, cinemaartscentre.org.
- “The Golden Age of Hollywood Musicals,” 1 p.m. June 3, and “Cartoons from Cinema to the Early Days of Television,” 1 p.m. June 17, Bryant Library, bryantlibrary.org.
- “Ed Sullivan and the Golden Age of Rock & Roll,” 2 p.m. June 4, Great Neck Library, greatnecklibrary.org.
— Claude Solnik
Cinema Arts Centre goes virtual
When the pandemic hit and movie theaters closed, the Cinema Arts Centre, founded in 1973, went dark. The lights are on again at least online — as the theater presents a wide range of virtual programming, serving as one home for film historians and other presentations.
“Since people can’t leave their houses for nonessential activities, we have to find ways to convey some of that experience online,” said Dylan Skolnick, 52, co-director of the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. “We’ve had to migrate as much of the program as possible online.”
Film historians are presenting everything from video lectures to Zoom discussions.
“We always felt film history is important, essential for anyone who cares about film,” Skolnick said. “You can’t really understand modern cinema without understanding where it came from. And you’d be missing out on a ton of great movies and stories.”
Film historians often bring passion as well as knowledge of behind-the-scenes stories that shed new light on old movies.
“They’re great presenters,” Skolnick said of historians doing the center’s online programming. “They manage to make it interesting and fun and illuminate stuff about the film that people didn’t know.”
Cinema Arts Centre presented a video of Glen Andreiev’s lecture on Abbott and Costello and is expected to present his lecture on “Citizen Kane”; Philip Harwood will do a program about “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“A film like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is just a pleasure,” Skolnick added. “It takes your mind off what’s going on.”
And changing times can alter the experience of watching classics, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he said.
“The sheer scope of the movie,” Skolnick said, “the fact that it goes from the dawn of humanity off into the future, puts into perspective what’s going on right now.”
The center is fundraising and bringing in income through its online programming while fulfilling its mission of presenting movies and knowledge.
“This is what we do,” Skolnick said. “We can still do what we can to connect to our audience, giving them thoughtful, interesting, engaging stuff that makes them think and maybe takes their mind off the craziness that’s going on.”