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Langley on film, part 2

May 1, 2012

Perennial sci-fi lover, Langley admires a favorite vintage Brick Bradford movie poster based on a comic-strip character created by writer William Ritt and artist Clarence Gray in 1933. Langley explained that adapting the visual media of comics to film can be deceptively difficult. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

With more discussion on film, filmmaking, education and The Lone Pine History Film Museum, The Register concludes it’s in-depth interview with film devotee and Inyo County film commissioner, Chris Langley. (Part one appeared in the April 28-29 issue.)
Langley touches upon the past, the present and the future, both personally and as film commissioner. (And for upcoming events, including a Museum benefit where more than movie-magic abounds when 25-year veteran magician, David Steinhart’s performs Magic You can Believe on Sunday. Read on for more details). Langley also discusses  the first annual Lone Pine Short Film Festival, which he helped spearhead – and which ran April 25-29.
Also among his many street creds, Langley is already a published author with a new book, “Mt. Whitney,” to be released May 21. In the works are three more working-titles: “An Epic and Intimate Landscape: Film History of Lone Pine,” based on an edited collection of Langley’s columns, “Movies of the Eastern Sierra,” and “Movies of Death Valley.”
Look for his next column in The Register on April 26.)
And now, the in-depth dialogue continues…

IR: On “Inside the Actors Studio,” actor Alec Baldwin said something to the effect that acting styles are getting so naturalistic that lots of everyday people, like his dentist, now think they can do it. Do you think acting styles have changed?
CL: Yes, it might just be a product of old age but it seems that diction has gotten fuzzier … I more and more struggle with “what did he say?” (But) I still think acting is an innate talent that has to be developed.
IR: And I guess Brando was one of those milestone actors. People talk about how his acting changed things and opened it up for actors to do things differently, not as broad and stagey.
CL: Yeah, I think that’s true, but I think a lot of modern actors are enormously talented because they have to portray things that people think they know and they have to portray them in such a way that the audience learns something that they didn’t know about the story, the character, the situation. I’m thinking about “127 Hours.” It was so physically demanding. Acting has become so much more physically demanding that I think (actors) have to make it look easy as they do it.
IR: Have you ever wanted to collaborate on a screenplay or get involved in the film industry behind the camera?
CL: I don’t think so – maybe on occasion. I’ve made films with kids in school quite a bit and that’s fun to do, to allow their vision to come through. I work with a lot of filmmakers now and I’m always telling them, go for exactly what you want and only compromise when you can’t get what you want  – but start with the honesty of your own vision.
I think it’s a killer job though; it takes its toll. The culture of filmmaking, in general, in Hollywood as an industry, is really tough – really tough. You have to have a strong ego, or no ego. It’s pretty mean-spirited and competitive all of the time. So that’s never attracted me much.
IR: Have movies influenced you, your development as a person, your world-view?
I think that they always do. (Movies show you) things that you don’t know and can’t experience, imaginary worlds. I’ve never been in a war; I was in the Peace Corps and traveled in Afghanistan but with a war movie that’s really well-made, you experience some of the qualities of war second-hand.
We’ve been showing a lot of mountaineering movies. Yeah, I’m never going to climb mountains. I’ve done just a little tiny bit of using ropes and climbing and beyond that, I have no desire. But, (through movies) you can really experience some of what a mountaineer experiences … We see lots of cultures. There’s no culture that hasn’t been filmed, just about, and we can experience them without traveling very far.
(By the way), “Platoon” was a really wonderful anti-war movie (but) it was made 20 years too late. It really irritated me – it had no political affect to speak of because we still enter into wars pretty easily, it seems to me. But it was a wonderful approach to seeing all the qualities of war, particularly the negative qualities. So sometimes I think it is easy to ignore a movie, which is kind of sad if they have an important message.
But every year there are those movies that really challenge you to think, and as long as you open yourself to being able to do that, then it can really change your point of view. It can modify the schemata of your brain and how it takes information and organizes it so it can create new schemata, new patterns and frames to put the information in. And that really changes your attitudes and your way of thinking over time. It doesn’t have to, though. It’s something you have to cooperate with to make it really happen.
IR: When you first watch a movie do you like to view it by yourself or with others? And do you enjoy sharing favorite films with people who haven’t seen them? I get that new feeling back again by sharing.
Because I’m retired, I typically go to afternoon shows – then I’m not going to fall asleep, you see – and so I see a lot of films in the theater with just a few people in there which makes me feel special. But I do feel that when I’ve watched a movie here (at the Museum) by myself and watched a movie with an audience that’s responsive, it’s enriched the experience. When they laugh at funny places, it has helped me a lot to laugh at it also, it opens me up. And people have different reactions. I love it when an audience responds to a movie verbally, or you can sense they are reacting to it physically. So I think movies are meant to be seen in groups.
IR: April Zrelak had an independent theater (The Forum, in Lone Pine, offered live music and other entertainment as well as indies from 2005-2007) here for a while. Do you thing this area could sustain an independent theater again?
Economics works against that – it’s tough, everything from licensing to attracting an audience. It is hard in Lone Pine to get an audience to see anything. People say, oh I was going to see that but I forgot to. In Bishop there is more of an audience. At the Banff Film Festival there were 700 people. I went Friday night (March 31). It was just impressive. They seemed less critical and more enthusiastic.  It was a little like rooting for a team as opposed to watching the fineness of the game.
IR: In sci-fi there are these holographic rooms where people go for vacation and so forth. Is it possible we will ever be able to go inside the film. What do you see in the future for film?
The film industry is always looking to new things. All of a sudden 3-D has become a major feature, whether you need it or not. But a lot of people like to put on the glasses and pay extra because they think they are getting a more realistic experience. I don’t know where film is going to go, but it is going to go, I can tell you that. I don’t see any reason why we won’t have those kinds of experiences where you are in the film or the film is in you. I’m not quite sure which will win but different kinds of virtual experiences, that’s just going to go on and on – more and more amazing. Economics will be the only (limiting) factor. If the world economy can’t flourish we won’t be able to afford a lot of the stuff. But we’ll spend money on film before we spend money on a lot of things because we need to be entertained, we’re trained, we’re even wired to need entertainment.
IR: As a species?
Yes. And film has that advantage, I think, although it might not be film anymore. I don’t know what we’ll call it. Even now, I struggle for (the right terminology). Film really refers to celluloid but now it’s all digital so film is becoming like Kleenex is to tissue.
IR: I’ve heard that Quentin Tarantino is a film encyclopedia.
He is. That was one of the things I really like about him. He has enormous respect of what has gone before. Where some people in film who don’t seem to notice too much.
IR: Did you get to meet Christoph Waltz (Oscar-winner for “Inglorious Basterds,” on location locally to shoot “Django Unchained”)?
Yes. He’s a very quiet guy, small, not very big. And very gentle. Same thing with Jamie Foxx. I thought he was a very gentle-seeming person. Very sensitive to stuff, respectful, probably thoughtful. He had questions about the museum so we showed him some of the things he had asked about. He seemed interested. Not many people get to hang out with people like that so that’s very fun.
IR: It must be wonderful not to be star-struck but to have knowledge, to actually converse with them. I mean, you are working in the film industry in a very real way so when you talk to these people you are not seeking an autograph.
Most of them are very interested talking about issues and things like that. Quentin was delightful because he was a very everyday sort of guy. He was a character, I suppose, but he’s very interested in film and was very interested in the film museum and he seemed like a guy you could talk to for an awfully long time. A lot of energy, however.
IR: How long have you been a professional in the film industry?
I told you about the film commission  but before that we started the film festival in 1990. My job was to show all the films and work with all the actors who came – Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and people like that. Then I became the on-site person to help build the museum because I had the history in my head, number one, and number two, because I was retired and everyone else was working.
I’ve been writing the column in the paper – I think I’m up to 232 now; I write 28 a year, (one) every other week, for eight or nine years … It’s all going to be gathered into books.  
I wrote a book about Lone Pine, which is in the museum, and I wrote a book about Mt. Whitney that publishes May 22, (“Lone Pine” and “Mt. Whitney”). The Mt. Whitney one is about the history of the discovery and development of the mountain, and the writers, and artists and photographers and recreation (involved). It’s not about how to climb Mt. Whitney. It’s about the plants and animals, as well. It’s good. And there’s also a chapter about film in there, too. I have four other books in the works about the film history in Death Valley, the film history in Lone Pine, and the film history in the Eastern Sierra.
… It was the Alabama Hills that made me really start to think about landscape and think about why people come to film. It’s because it is an inexpensive place to film. It’s got high production value because of the scenery.
IR: It’s versatile, isn’t it.
Yes, it was interesting to me. I began to realize what a relationship humans have with their landscape. Landscape forms you and you form the landscape so it’s a very reciprocal relationship and extremely important because the more and more we go ahead, the more and more we are going to be worrying about our land and our landscape and the earth in the biggest sense. Movie-making has enriched all that for me. And it’s been a long time of thinking and writing about it.
IR: When did you teach?
I started in the Peace Corp teaching from 1966 to 1968.  I taught with my wife for two years in a public school house on the coast in a mining camp called New Idria, about an hour and a half south of Hollister where there was a mercury mine. I’ve been retired 10 years, since 2002.
IR: Was it high school?
No, some high school but mostly middle school, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade. We worked on teaching history with primary sources so my wife and I were fellows down in UCLA at their geography and history class in the summer and that allowed us to do some major innovative projects up here.
Then we became fellows at the Library of Congress (working) with the librarian as he uploaded collections onto the Internet for teachers to use.  Then I went on and was a Fullbright Fellow in Japan …
IR: When you taught you said you infused film into the curriculum.
Yes, I started making Super 8 films with kids down in Olancha – I originally taught down there 1973-1977 – and then we did films up here. And some of the kids have gone into the film industry so it was fun.
IR: How wonderful, how exciting, how fun. So, what is your opinion on film-as-contemporary literature?
I think they are two very different formats. A book doesn’t necessarily suggest that it should be turned into a movie.
(The museum) is putting up a comic-book movie exhibit that I’ve been working on … (Langley’s first column about exhibit was in April 12 paper) You would think that a comic book, because it has … visual images telling a story, would easily adapt to movies but that’s not (necessarily) true. Some movies, adapted from comics, are very successful but it’s not because they are similar – they are  quite different in many ways.
The same thing with a novel. First, you have to  eliminate half the novel … so that’s a challenge. A movie doesn’t have the advantage of language, obviously, nearly as much as a novel does (and movies) give you images pre-built so if you’ve read the book first you’ve created a visual image that the movie doesn’t match… at all…“that isn’t the way the Emerald City was supposed to look” and so on.… Some of the best movies converted from written material seem to be based on short stories rather than novels. The integrity of the story (remains).
Reading a novel takes a lot more interaction than watching a film; it’s much more participatory. You can be much more passive with a movie; the images flash through and you don’t really have to talk about it unless something particularly intriguing engaged you.… (But) it’s hard to say you read the book if you didn’t participate in it.
IR: Do children need education about movies? As you said, there’s some very advanced, graphic stuff in films and they’re watching without a filter, right?
Yes, parents are supposed to be that filter. If parents aren’t keeping them from seeing it, they should be sitting with (children) and interpreting for them.
IR: So what happens if people follow their bliss, follow their passion? Would you recommend it as a philosophy?
Oh absolutely. This museum was a project of passion and certainly I was not the only person working on it. But a lot of it came out of my head because I’ve become the film historian so I decide what stories to tell and then Rob (Barron, the museum director) decides how to present them. He’s very good at that. He’s been developing the comic book exhibit. After we built it, I said I wanted to be involved but I didn’t want to be here eight to five, because that sounded like I wasn’t retired. So I come and go.
IR: What was your experience of your April 25-29 Short Film Festival?
The build-up to the Short Film Festival has been exciting because so many filmmakers have comes forward with so many visions to share. We have environmental films, family films, and strange and puzzling films. There is even an erotic animated film based on Greek mythology. Four local filmmakers have come forward with work shot locally. As a Film Commissioner, that excited me, mixing local talent with out-of-state and out-of-country talent. There are three international films from Belgium, Canada and Brazil.
IR: Were there any obstacles, challenges or rewards that surprised you?
That we got so many diverse films surprised me. Also there are a lot of female directors, which bodes well for filmmaking careers in the future. I shouldn’t be surprised but I was glad so many people sent in entries late in the game.
IR: How has the festival experience influenced you as a film and/or as a film professional?
Generally the visual and technical quality was brilliant, the acting and scripts less so. Still many of the ideas were new and inventive and as the artists mature, (it) indicates there could be a future supply of interesting movies coming along …
I expect the film festival to grow each year. I think we have a remarkable film environment here, long and diverse, yet still vital. I like bringing the outside here instead of just focusing on films made locally. I think everyone will be a winner and stimulated by being in our visually-astounding landscape.
IR: Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t touched upon?
I’m having fun, a great deal of fun. I really enjoy meeting filmmakers. From my angle it’s very enjoyable.  If I were more within the industry I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it. I think it would be wonderful to be a filmmaker but I don’t see myself being a filmmaker. The relationship between the history of film, which a lot of filmmakers don’t know in film today and tomorrow, is very interesting to me.
The Inyo Register expresses its sincere gratitude to Langley for his generous gift of time in this interview.
In an event to benefit the Museum, David Steinhart will perform Magic You can Believe on May 6 and May 19 at 2:30 p.m. $20 for adults, $10 for students.
Cowboys and their Horses films currently run Thursdays at 7 p.m.  Cowboy Cavalcade films currently run Fridays at 7 p.m.
For more information about current and upcoming exhibits and weekly themed-film presentations, call (760) 876-9909.

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