4th of July with Cinefamily and 'Jazz on a Summer's Day'

cinefamily-bbq2.jpgCinefamily executive director Hadrian Belove hands out blueberry shortcakes at 4th of July party. Photos by Iris Schneider.

Since its formation in 2007, Cinefamily has created programming that is unusual to say the least and sometimes downright wacky. At the Fairfax Avenue Silent Movie Theatre, its headquarters, comedians often do their progamming and the goal of finding "exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films" gives them plenty of leeway to entertain.

At Cinefamily they believe that "movies are funnier, scarier and more meaningful when shared with others." Their screenings often include gatherings to meet and greet the programmers, directors, or stars in a very informal setting. On the 4th of July, I attended a free event that perfectly represented their mission: "to reinvigorate the movie-going experience by fostering a spirit of community and a sense of discovery."

In what may become a yearly ritual akin to the showing of "It's a Wonderful Life" every Christmas, Cinefamily held a free barbecue with live jazz in their courtyard, then screened "Jazz on a Summer's Day," a magical and little-known film shot principally by still photographer Bert Stern (of "Marilyn Monroe's last sitting" fame.) With beautiful footage of the performers and audience at the 1958 July 4th Newport Jazz Festival, the film was a visual and auditory feast.

check-berry-stern-iris.jpgChuck Berry in 'Jazz on a Summer Day.'

Performers Thelonius Monk, George Shearing, Chuck Berry, Anita O'Day, Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong and many others played over the three-day festival. The film documented not only the performers, but the audience at the laid-back show, dressed casually and swaying, dancing, snapping their fingers, smooching and enjoying the music and the day. The images are visually stunning in their intimacy, and veer far from the stage and audience into nearby apartments for intimate kisses and rooftop dancing. It was shot in 35mm Kodachrome which gives the film a muted palette. Whether catching a smile, a gaze, a hug between lovers, the silhouetted merry-go-round, cavorting children, and all that goes along with a picnic and jazz on a lazy summer's day, watching the film gave me new respect for fashion photographer Stern's eye and journalist's sensibility. Each frame had something special, and nothing recorded seemed unintentional.

After the screening, Hadrian Belove, a Cinefamily co-founder and the current executive director, was moonlighting as server, holding platters piled high with fresh blueberry shortcakes for the crowd to enjoy.

cinefamily-bbq3.jpgThe event was funded by IFC, and as a way of introducing its new "epic masterpiece" airing July 8, Cinefamily screened "The Spoils Before Dying," a mashup of film noir, Orson Welles and Masterpiece Theater. The first episode opened with a barely recognizable bearded Will Ferrell as Welles, swilling wine as he mumbles an introduction to the noir-ish film series starring Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and many other Funny or Die regulars. The segment is the first of what is billed as a three-night television event. It was a very funny start to a very charming afternoon.

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