Movies

Sid Laverents, RIP

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The New York Times has a nice obit for Sid Laverents, an amateur filmmaker and Vaudeville musician who died this month at age 100:

Mr. Laverents was a jack of many trades, a perpetual self-inventor. He played a dozen instruments and supported himself through the Depression as a vaudevillian one-man band; he was also a sheet metal worker who helped build World War II airplanes, a self-published writer, a Fuller Brush salesman, a sign painter, a carpenter and an aircraft engineer.

But he was best known for the more than 20 movies he made from 1959 until his death, as a member of the San Diego Amateur Moviemakers Club. They included nature films (one about snails, filmed in his backyard), goofy comedies ("It Sudses and Sudses and Sudses," a "Sorcerer's Apprentice"-like tale about canisters of shaving cream run amok in the bathroom) and deadpan autobiographical stories, including "The Sid Saga," a four-part look at his own life…

Laverents' most famous film, the "technical comedy" Multiple SIDosis (1970), begins slowly, with the director receiving a reel-to-reel tape recorder from his wife and subsequently starting to tinker with it. And then, about four and a half minutes in, everything goes delirious:

For the rest of the film, Mr. Laverents puts to use not just the recorder but also his background as a one-man band, knitting together a soundtrack of several separate recordings of himself performing a jaunty Felix Arndt tune called "Nola." He whistles, hums, blows across bottlenecks and plays instruments, including a banjo, a jew's-harp and an ocarina.

It's a witty performance, but what is really unusual is the imagery that accompanies the music. Using repeated exposures of the same piece of film, Mr. Laverents kept adding different shots of himself playing the different musical lines. By the end, there are 11 different Sids on the screen, including a couple wearing Mickey Mouse ears and fake whiskers.

The skill, patience and fastidiousness of the filmmaking is extraordinary. Not only did Mr. Laverents perform all the individual parts beautifully, but because he was re-exposing the same piece of film again and again to layer on the next part, if he made a mistake on the eighth run-through, say, he had to begin again.

Watch it here:

For a detailed appreciation of Laverents' work, including a filmography, read Jake Austen's essay here. For Reason's coverage of ultra-indie filmmaking, go here and here.