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Filmmaker attempts to save sanity at Harwood

The quest for a slice of cinema that will save one's sanity is the impetus behind New York's Robert Beck Memorial Cinema film series.

In 1915, American serviceman Robert Beck, who was serving in France, was left deaf and mute as a result of shellshock. Beck was promptly and compassionately sent to a sanatorium in England to convalesce.

At one point during his stay there, a film was shown to entertain the patients. While viewing the film, Beck suddenly broke into peals of laughter and was cured of his affliction. This is the larger aim of the film series: to find a piece of cinema that made Beck recover so suddenly.

In conjunction with Basement Films, Brian Frye, a founding member of the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema, brought "Gleanings from the Cinema's Dustbin" to the Harwood Art Center Feb. 2 for a night of merriment. While the work of Frye and the memorial cinema cannot be defined only in terms of the healing power of laughter, "Gleanings from the Cinema's Dustbin" provided ample chuckles and snickers.

Frye opened the evening with a collection of his own work. "Anatomy of Melancholy" appeared to be outtakes from a 1950s Midwestern, post-apocalyptic melodrama. Frye's sonic accompaniment was equally as interesting as his odd mÇlange of imagery, featuring, for example, antiquated French love songs and old records skipping and pulsing as though simulating the film's own inner workings and blood flow.

Although Frye and the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema may never determine exactly which moment of cinema roused Beck out of shellshock, the movie spoke cleverly and entertainingly of the joyousness and preciousness of life with such shorts as the "1940s Home Movie" and "17th Anniversary Eggnog Home Movie." The effect was, in many ways, like watching a cinematic rendition of a Joseph Cornell construction.

However, this is not to say that it offered no laughs - it did. Shorts such as the "Punch and Judy X-mas;" "Honeymoon Hotel," a promotional film featuring interviews of satisfied honeymooners in their gaudy boudoirs; and "Fantasy," a short documentary of a lovelorn Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, left the audience in stitches.

The idea that a piece of cinema can restore worldwide sanity is oddly comforting. While that piece of film may not exist, it is nonetheless a nice thing to believe in and work toward finding.

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