Dancing on Thin Ice

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. —R.W. Emerson

Tag: motion pictures

George Kuchar 1942-2011

06 September 2011 marked the passing of friend and film-maker George Kuchar. He left an indelible mark on the world with his wit and humor and his many films.

Farewell, George. I’m honored to have known and worked with you.


George Kuchar 1942-2011

Still from Thundercrack! copyright © 2004, Melinda McDowell.

and then . . .

something unexpected happens to inject some pure, undiluted joy into my life.


Leonardo and me at the Noir City 9 opening party. (Photo by Mike Humbert)

Last week my friend Mike Humbert drove all the way to San Francisco from Paradise, California to take me to the opening of Noir City 9 at the Castro Theater. Before the show we met with festival director Eddie Muller, “the voice of Noir” Bill Arney, and a handful of others at Dashiell Hammett’s old Post Street apartment, which is being lovingly restored by Robert Anderson. Altogether a completely delightful evening, one I’ll remember for a long time to come.


Friend and fellow historian Peter Field and me at Noir City 9. (Photo by Mike Humbert)

another lifetime

“Curt McDowell and Mark Ellinger, circa 1979”

Not long after my friend Curt McDowell died, I drew this picture from a photograph of the two of us shooting a scene for his film Initiation on King Street. The drawing was a gift for Curt’s older sister Marce, who lives in Indiana where Curt grew up. It’s a shame that Curt never finished King Street. It was, or would have been, one of his best films: dreamlike, dark and moody, unsettling and prophetic,* densely layered with metaphor; it was an allegory of Curt’s self-discovery as an artist. Initiation on King Street was not Curt’s final film, but it was the last film on which I worked with him. It was another lifetime—we were so damn young.

In ’78 and ’79 Curt and I shared a flat near the foot of Utah Street at the bottom of Potrero Hill, when it was still an active industrial district. There were no condos, galleries, or jewelry marts. Our neighbors were companies like Forderer Hollow Metal Products, Best Foods, Kilpatrick’s and Hostess Bakeries, Crown Zellerbach Paper, Lone Star Concrete, Hamilton Hardware, and diners; lots of little diners that fed the factory workers, truckers, and trainmen. Most streets in our part of town were embedded with train tracks, spur lines to the area’s industries, and at night we were often serenaded by the soulful chimes of Western Pacific air horns as switching engines shuttled raw materials and finished products to and from the factories. Much of Initiation on King Street was filmed near the Southern Pacific train depot, within a cobble-stoned labyrinth of low, wooden warehouses between King and Berry Streets, stretching from Fourth Street almost to Seventh.

It was the end of an era and I deplored its passing, so to live amidst the industrial remnants of that era was a little slice of heaven. It breaks my heart to think that nearly all of Curt’s and my documentation—motion pictures, photographs, and sound recordings—has been lost, for it captured the zeitgeist of that too-brief moment in history, of which only my memories now remain.

*The film foretold Curt’s untimely death, and included an eerily prescient scene of my own mourning.

Thundercrack! makes national news

. . . that is if anything on Fox can be called “news.” In a piece headlined “Perverts Put Out,” Fox talking heads get their panties in a twist over San Francisco Frameline’s screening of a thirty-five-year-old film. It’s heartwarming to know that Thundercrack! still offends the delicate sensibilities of conservative prigs, but watching them express their outrage on national television is exquisite. I would like to personally thank Rupert Murdoch and especially Roger Ailes and his minions for giving national publicity to Thundercrack! I know that George (Kuchar) also thanks you, as would Curt (McDowell) if he were still with us.

Disclaimer: I developed the original story concept for Thundercrack! with friend and director Curt McDowell and also wrote and performed the film’s score.

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Thundercrack! stills are copyright © 2004, Melinda McDowell (thanks, Mindy!).

Click here to listen to excerpts from the score.

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