According to 306 Hollywood (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, Oct. 5), a house is a lot more than just a home – it’s also a library where a person’s life is recorded and catalogued. A few decades of hoarding can provide fascinating insights into how people lived in the not so distant past.
Annette Ontell spent 67 years at 306 Hollywood Ave. in Hillside, New Jersey until her death in 2011 at age 93. Every Sunday, Annette’s daughter would bring grandkids Elan and Jonathan Bogarin to visit, and the children would spend countless happy hours creating their own fantasy worlds in Annette’s expansive back yard – a swath of wild greenery offering a sharp contrast to their tidy, constricted Manhattan apartment.
After Annette died, Elan and Jonathan began preparing the house for sale – but in the process became more and more fascinated with the six decades worth of detritus their grandmother had collected: reams of paperwork (husband Herman had been an accountant), half a dozen vacuum cleaners, Bandaid boxes filled with loose change, and scores of handmade dresses (Annette had been a dress designer, and had kept one of each design for herself).
Rather than immediately selling the house, the siblings gave themselves eleven months to carry out an archaeological dig of sorts: cataloging its contents, recording the project on film, and integrating it with interviews they’d conducted with Grandma Annette over the final decade of her life.
The result is more than just a cinematic memorial to their grandmother. The Bogarins also used the film to come to terms with her passing, and in the process acquired a newfound appreciation for the work of professional librarians and archivists, exemplified here by the man responsible for preserving a 110-year old piece of wedding cake. The cake doesn’t look very appetizing, but 306 Hollywood is a pretty sweet treat.
The widespread adoption of sound technology spelled the quick demise of silent cinema in late 1920s America and Europe, but silence would remain golden for years to come in Asia. Pacific Film Archive’s series ‘Chinese Cinema Classics: Screen Idols and Stardom Reexamined’ will introduce viewers to a few of these incredibly rare features, commencing with a screening of Wu Yonggang’s 1934 weepie Shennü (The Goddess) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5.
Though crudely made and resolutely set-bound, The Goddess succeeds thanks to a superb performance by lead Ruan Ling-yu, here cast as a woman of the night raising a child under trying circumstances. The radiant Ruan delivers a nuanced performance that stands in sharp contrast to that of co-star Zhang Zhizhi, who devours the scenery as wicked gambler Zhang. He’s a lot of fun to watch, but subtle he ain’t.
There are some worthwhile bonus features on offer at this screening: the film will be introduced by Chinese cinema expert Paul Fonaroff and accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano. If you’re a fan of Hollywood films based on the novels of Fannie Hurst (e.g., Imitation of Life, Back Street), you’ll derive similar pleasure from The Goddess.