Flicker screens small format films with live music

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The underground film movement that’s been bubbling below the New York City surface has finally snaked its way through the tunnels of the F train and emerged in Park Slope.

Flicker, the regional small format film festival, has taken up root at Barbes, a dark, cozy bar on Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue.

Flicker joins an already budding underground film movement, including the Brooklyn International Film Festival, Brooklyn Underground Film Festival and the Rooftop Films series in Williamsburg. But unlike Brooklyn International, which screens larger format, mainstream films, or Brooklyn Underground, which privileges outcast or experimental films that are screened once a year in DUMBO, Flicker screens films on a regular basis.

And Flicker is dedicated to maintaining the presence and future of Super 8 movies ... all Super 8 movies. The kinds of films shown change from screening to screening, and range from high art to home movies. The films are culled from thrift stores, garage sales and garbage piles, as well as from filmmakers.

David Teague, organizer of Flicker’s New York chapter, says Flicker "provides a forum for people shooting small-gauge films," since most film festivals no longer screen Super 8 and 16-mm films. The Manhattan chapter, which meets bimonthly at The Knitting Factory, mostly screens pieces by local filmmakers, while the Brooklyn offshoot promises a more intimate and offbeat oeuvre at Barbes.

A live band improvises to the films at each Brooklyn screening, providing an impromptu soundtrack, and the band changes for each show.

"I usually meet the band and hear the music for the first time the night of the show, which is also a fun surprise and adds to the improvisational and spontaneous nature of the shows," says Teague.

At the last screening, in early July, about 30 people snuggled into the back room of Barbes to hear local Slope band Felnik (Barbes owner Olivier Conan, playing a Venezuelan Cuatro, sat in with the band) accompany Super 8 boxing movies.

And these weren’t just any fights; one film displayed a fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson. Another showed the historic 1936 spar between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling: "the greatest fight of the century" according to the film, and then their rematch two years later.

Boxing movies work especially well with live music, says Conan, "since boxing is already cinema and dance."

The films were gorgeous: grainy and slightly unfocused and acidic, like moving etchings. Teague controls the frame-rate - the speed at which the films are projected - but these movies are not optically printed or digitally remastered.

"Super 8 offers up a particular kind of look thanks to the grain," says Teague. "Small format is beautiful and often otherworldly, even when the subject matter is traditional or banal."

But the subject matter is hardly banal.

Upcoming shows will include old cartoons, travelogue films, and any number of movies from Teague’s personal collection, which includes home movies, educational films, stag and porn movies and silent films.

The next Flicker screening at Barbes is on Aug. 28, at 9 pm, and will feature silent-era comedies including Buster Keaton’s "Electric House" and "My Wife’s Relations," Charlie Chaplin’s "The Pawnshop" and "The Cure," Laurel and Hardy’s "Their Purple Moment" and "You’re Darn Tootin’" and more, with accompaniment by pianist Joel Forrester.

"It’s a rare treat to see these shorts that were a huge part of home entertainment before the introduction of the VCR," Teague says. "It’s a perspective on popular culture that is unique and of a format that is dead now on the commercial front."

But Super 8 is not dead to Teague, and he’s no Luddite. Instead of eschewing the glossy, instant gratification of digital video (DV) in favor of good old-fashioned film, Teague extols its virtues. Now you can shoot on Super 8 for the look, and edit on DV for the convenience and creative control.

"The more formats the better," he says.

Many festivals now rely on DV or VHS even for screenings, or, for the big-league festivals, require 35-mm prints - the kind you see in movie theaters. But Flicker opens the door for small-budget moviemakers who want to shoot on film, and ensures that the future of small-format cinema lives on.

Flicker nights will continue their dedication to Super 8 and the occasional foray into 16 mm, with different bands providing the live and unrehearsed soundtrack. Flicker has chapters springing up all over the country and even on other continents, from Athens to Austin, Bordeaux to New Orleans, Chapel Hill, Cleveland, Frankfurt and Prague.

DV hasn’t made a dent in filmmakers’ love of Super 8, and studio movies can’t kill the movement, either.

Says Teague, "I like [avant-garde filmmaker] Jack Smith’s sentiment that 35 mm should be used by underground filmmakers and all Hollywood films should be shot on Super 8."


"Flicker" film nights take place monthly at Barbes (376 Ninth St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope). The next event, showcasing silent-era comedies, is Aug. 28, at 9 pm. A donation of $5 is suggested. For more information, call (718) 965-9177 or visit the Web site at For more information about the Flicker Film Festival, log onto

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