Corrections or additions?

This article by Phyllis Spiegel was prepared for the January 11, 2006

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Looking at Jimmy, Post WWII

`The program includes something for every member of the family," says

Bruce Lawton, a motion picture archivist and historian and presenter

of "Post-World War II Films of James Stewart," a film series that

takes place at the Princeton Public Library on Saturday, January 14,

and Saturday, February 18. The January 14 program, is a triple feature

movie marathon. "Only the most stalwart will sit through all three

films," says Lawton, who recommends "Rope" (1 p.m.) and "Winchester

`73" (3 p.m.) for audiences from the early teen years on, and says

"The Spirit of St. Louis" (7 p.m.) will be enjoyed by all age groups.

(The February 18 program will screen "Jackpot" and "Harvey.")

Lawton, 37, who will introduce each film with historical and critical

remarks and host a question and answer session afterwards, points out

the Princeton connection to these programs. "James Stewart was

Princeton, Class of 1932, and was one of the many famous performers

who appeared in McCarter Theater productions. He performed in the 1931

Triangle Club Show at McCarter before he went on to summer stock and

then to a luminous Hollywood career.

"Upon his return from service in WWII, Stewart didn’t know whether he

was an unemployed actor or an unemployed pilot," Lawton says. "He was

at sixes and sevens for quite a while, wondering whether he was still

relevant or even wanted in Hollywood. Stewart’s role choices after the

war were interesting and varied, running the gamut from whimsical

comedy to hardhitting drama, but always showcasing the many facets of

the human condiditon in the American everyman." According to Lawton,

director Frank Capra experienced a similar dilemma after retuning from

his service, and he and Stewart soon collaborated on the independent

production, "It’s a Wonderful Life."

"Rope," a 1948 Hitchcock production, was the first film the two

Hollywood luminaries made in color. "Everyone knows `Rear Window’ and

`Vertigo,’" he says, "but this movie is less well known and

unheralded. To me, `Rope’ is ahead of its time. Its somewhat morbid

subject matter and experimental nature put people off in its time, but

I find it riveting. This is a superb piece of film making from both

sides of the camera that really works, a tight 80-minute film that I

hope will attract more fans in Princeton to join the growing cult who

appreciates it." "Rope" tells the story of two highly impressionable

young men who, fueled by the cynical teachings of their onetime

philosophy professor (Stewart), commit a thrill murder in their

apartment. They then prepare for a party to which the victim’s

parents, girlfriend, rival as well as the professor have been invited

– with the corpse concealed nearby.

"Winchester `73," which runs about two and a half hours, is the first

post-World WarII Western Stewart made after returning from the Air

Force as a multi-decorated Brigadier General. According to Lawton,

Stewart was the first Hollywood star to enlist in the armed forces.

This gritty western is often cited as the example that shows that he

can move beyond the "smooth guy" typecasting of his earlier work.

`The Spirit of St. Louis," made in 1957, tells the story of Charles

Lindbergh’s pioneering trans-Atlantic flight. Lindbergh was the

boyhood hero of both Stewart and director Billy Wilder, who departed

from his sophisticated comedies for this historic story.

Film historian Bruce Lawton’s life has always revolved around film.

He believes that the roots of his career choice are both genetic and

environmental. The oldest of eight children, he was born in Scarsdale,

New York, where his maternal grandfather, Karl Malkames, has a 20-seat

screening room in the basement – "a home theater before anyone thought

of such a thing," Lawton says, "with the same kind of 35-millimeter

projectors that are still used in commercial theaters." Karl Malkames,

it seems, was actually a second-generation film buff. His father, Don

Malkames, was a cinematographer in the days of silent movies. He took

himself to Hollywood when he was 18 and worked with stars like Clara

Bow, Lillian Gish, and Gloria Swanson.

Karl, now 80, and still active in the film industry, is known for a

successful career as a cinematographer as well as a film restoration

specialist and for designing and building machinery that helped save

many of the earliest films for the Museum of Modern Art and other

organizations. In the 1970s he did all the film preservation work for

the Silent Years series, hosted by Orson Welles and Lillian Gish on

public television.

Lawton’s great-grandfather, Don Malkames, was also involved with the

saving of early film history and also had a theater in his basement in

Yonkers, New York, where he kept a museum of antique cinemachinery.

Over the years, the family has assembled a collection of vintage

cameras, projectors, and other equipment, as well as countless films,

posters, and print material relevant to the industry.

Lawton’s earliest film memory, when he was three or four, is of being

dropped off at his grandfather’s house so his parents could have an

evening out. "He’d take me downstairs and run Chaplin and Laurel &

Hardy films. To this day, these are my favorites," he says, adding

that Chaplin’s "Modern Times" is his all-time favorite film. In fact,

it is this interest in Chaplin that brought him and his wife, Alice

Artzt, a world-renowned classical guitarist, together. Called

"America’s best player" by Guitar Magazine, Artzt is also a college

professor (she has taught classic guitar both at Mannes College of

Music in New York and the College of New Jersey). Known as an

authority on the films and music of Chaplin, she is the author of

several books about the star and his work. She now teaches classic

guitar at her private studio in Princeton.

Lawton was chief curator for a motion picture archive in the 1990s in

New York City, where he met Artzt, who grew up in Princeton. It was

through their interest in silent films, especially Chaplin, that their

paths crossed. They were introduced in 1990 by a mutual friend, Bonnie

McCourt, who Lawton says is "the ultimate Chaplin enthusiast." They

married in 1996. In 1999, after Artzt’s mother died, the couple moved

back to Princeton to the home she’d grown up in in the Borough.

At the ripe old age of seven Lawton, says he knew that his career

would be in film. "As for me, college never happened," he says. After

attending public schools in Scarsdale and a Catholic school in Putnam

County, New York, Lawton’s mother home-schooled him for the last three

years of high school under a program provided by the Christian Liberty

Academy. "I was a bright kid in school but I was always bringing in

books on the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin. I couldn’t keep my

mind on anything but movies. I’d have done well in a school like the

High School of Music and Art in New York City but that wasn’t

available to me. So my mother, who had many intellectual interests and

had become highly religious, staying at home and raising this large

family, decided to home school me for most of the high school years."

Lawton says his father, a postal worker and newspaper deliverer, was

highly imaginative and unorthodox. "He gave me permission to dream and

follow my own star," said Lawton.

When Lawton was eight years old, he says, "a famous film historian who

was my grandfather’s friend sent the Chaplin family a drawing I had

done of Charlie after seeing many of his movies. I’m still thrilled

when I think of that."

In the early 1990s, Lawton and a musician friend, Ben Model, teamed up

to produce live silent comedy programs and later organized a company

called Silent Cinema Productions, Inc. to introduce the silent

geniuses such as Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and others

to new audiences. For several years they have presented 12 programs a

season at the New York Historical Society. "These showings are very

popular with young families in the city," he says. In addition, the

company brings showings to college campuses, museums, libraries, and

other organizations throughout the east.

In his Princeton home, Lawton cares for his large film collection as

one would tend fine wines. "Coolness and dryness is vital," he says.

Through colleagues and contacts, he has access to huge numbers of

films, he says. He works with film laboratories in New York on

restoration and archival maintenance. He has produced and edited

documentaries and presentations for television here and abroad. He has

worked on special material with many companies including

Merchant-Ivory Productions, Jazzmedia, HBO, and Turner Entertainment

as well as on productions on Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, D.W.

Griffith, and Chaplin. He has also worked on rare audio recordings

with Lucie Arnez and with Paramount to review their archival

preservation program.

`It’s important for me to look at today’s films," he says. "I love

seeing the connection between the old and the new – how the techniques

and effects come to life in new and expanded ways. For example, one of

my favorite films is the little-known Coen Brothers’ `The Hudsucker

Proxy,’ with Tim Robbins. I don’t think the public really `got’ this

one." The VideoHound Golden Movie Retriever says the movie "is

peppered with obscure references to numerous points on the historical

map of cinematic style."

Perhaps his second favorite art form is music, and of course, music is

part of all films. Lawton attends concerts and listens to film scores

and to a variety of genres of music – classical, rock and roll, and

the Beatles. Singer Sam Phillips, a Christian artist who has moved

into a more secular mode, is one of his favorites and he heard her

last year live at McCarter Theater.

While Lawton appreciates that the technology of video production has

widened the audience for film, he wants viewers to appreciate the

difference between sitting home amid what he calls "an electronic

droning that can put you to sleep and being in a darkened theater in

the dreamlike state achieved by film being projected on a screen."

Lawton considers himself a missionary, bringing the art form of silent

and classic films to new life. He recently co-produced two DVD

collections for Laughsmith Entertainment: "The Forgotten Films of

Roscoe `Fatty’ Arbuckle’ and "Industrial Strength Keaton." "There are

a lot of forgotten films to be rediscovered, lost generations of

people who haven’t been exposed to early film. I’m excited about the

possibilities of renewing interest within new generations of film

fans."

Post World War II Films of James Stewart, Saturday, January 14,

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Screening of "Rope"

at 1 p.m.; "Winchester `73" at 3 p.m.; and "The Spirit of St. Louis"

at 7 p.m. Discussion facilitated by film archivist and historian Bruce

Lawton. Continues Saturday, February 18, with "The Jackpot" at 3

p.m., and "Harvey" at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be available at the

library cafe outside the screening room. 609-924-9529.


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