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Reel Life: to serve and project

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Twenty-six-year-old James Bond is as gadget-mad, as unorthodox, and often as undercover as his secret agent namesake. "He's a maniac," says Dennis Couzin. "He carries all this equipment on his back; hundreds of pounds of this stuff."

Bond, a 1984 graduate of the School of the Art Institute, is a renegade projectionist and sound expert, as well as an independent filmmaker. But, says Couzin, "Bond loves projection more than filmmaking, there's no doubt about that."

Sharon Couzin, Dennis's wife, the national president of the Experimental Film Coalition and the recipient of a Cannes Silver Medal, agrees. "Bond is a fiendish purist about projection. He's obsessed with projection." Which makes him a perfect collaborator for the Experimental Film Coalition's first-ever outdoor screening, "Nocturnal Projections," Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, in Lincoln Park.

The obsession began early, while Bond was still in art school and toiling away at a part-time job for a rental company in 1981. He was making a delivery to an orphanage and saw the old-fashioned projector portholes in the orphanage's auditorium. He got the janitor to open the door to the projection booth and immediately fell in love.

"Inside the booth there were these mechanical monsters with these beautiful sculptural pieces," Bond says of the old-fashioned projectors he found and later bought from the orphanage. "I had to have them; I rebuilt them completely."

But it wasn't all smooth sailing. When Bond tried to join the projectionists' union, he discovered it's been more than ten years since they've accepted anyone into their apprentice programs. Between the laws governing projection and the demise of the big movie houses, Bond found himself unable to do the work he loved most.

So he set himself up as a free-lancer and began seeking clients in projection, sound reinforcement, and other technical matters. Some people have called him a scab; others feel he's a genius in a no-win situation.

"There are few projectionist jobs around, and since there are so many unemployed, older projectionists, and the laws all favor the union, it's really hard to make a living," he says. "Most of the laws are outdated: they have to do with dangerous chemicals that are no longer a part of the film or the projection mechanism. Worse, many of the older projectionists do not have the technical vocabulary to run a state-of-the-art screening. And nobody new is being trained in the art, and it is an art.

"My whole thing is showcasing great work," Bond explains. "The idea is to get the purest reproduction, the purest sound. I have a passion for quality and the pure representation of the director and filmmaker's ideals."

For those that think projectionists are just the guys who thread the film through the machine, Sharon Couzin explains that there is a whole school of film based around the goings-on in the machine. "There are some people that love the mechanics of film as much as making films," she says. "There's a whole science, an art to it. James Bond is one of those. He loves the celluloid, the machines, the sound. They can make a great difference in how a film is seen."

"Film--it's bigger than life. It's the most powerful medium of the 20th century," Bond says. "I feel about films a lot like some people feel about classical music--you know, that most of the great films have already been made. The rest is a matter of showcasing.

"I guess you could say I've got projection oil in my blood," he adds with a chuckle.

Friday's programs will feature 14 short films, many of them classics in the experimental genre, including Choreography for a Camera by Maya Deren and cartoons by Max Fleisher and Tex Avery. Also included in the program are Chicagoan Tom Palazzolo's Ricky and Rocky, a wacky look at a wedding reception, and The Scratchman, a wild, graffitilike view of a military man by Reader cartoonist Heather McAdams.

Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam's award-winning feature Brazil will be Saturday's offering. Both shows start at 9 PM on Stockton Drive just north of Fullerton Avenue. The screenings are free and seating is on the lawn.

The films will be shown on a 16-by-39-foot screen in Dolby stereo. The event requires three different projectors, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds. The organizers are bringing in their own power via 12-kilowatt generators.

"Nocturnal Projections," says Sharon Couzin, is an attempt to do something a little different. "We want to show what the vocabulary and range of experimental film is," she says. "These are not films made with commercial concerns. These are artists that pursue their own artistic tensions and visions. This screening is an attempt to show another way of seeing film."

And adds husband Dennis: "These are strictly family-fare films. I realize one of the cornerstones of experimental film is having nude friends to show, but we've carefully avoided that."

Other films on Friday's schedule include Connection by Toshio Matsumoto, Eaux d'Artifice by Kenneth Anger, America Is Waiting and Mongoloid by Bruce Conner, Choo Choo by Doug Haynes, One Minute Movies by Ralph Records, Landfall by Rick Hancox, Colour Flight and Colour Cry by Len Lye, and Necrology by Standish Lawder. For more information, call James Bond at 278-4940.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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