This week on TCM Underground: The Sid Saga (1985-2003) and Multiple SIDosis (1970)!

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All too often we throw around the word “amateur” when we want to insult someone’s work as being slipshod or coarse, forgetting in our insistence on authenticity and professionalism that the word is derived from the Latin root “to love.” This week on TCM Underground, we focus our programming on Sid Laverents. Hobbyist. Movie maker. Amateur.

By the time he completed his four-part magnum opus, The Sid Saga(1985-2003), Sid Laverents had attained superstar status on the amateur filmmaking scene. Born Sidney Nicklas Laverents in 1908, his real estate speculator father had dragged the family back and forth across the nation in search of the next land boom, resulting in a picaresque education and an appreciably eclectic sensibility. Already a student of piano and drums, Laverents taught himself banjo, ukulele, and harmonica and supported himself during the Depression as a one-man band on the vaudeville circuit. Married for the second time and settled in San Diego before World War II, Laverents worked for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from 1941 until 1967 (apart from a stretch in the military, repairing planes in India for the United States Army). In 1956, he bought a 16mm Bolex camera to film his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary and two years later joined the San Diego Amateur Movie Makers Club. With exquisite patience, Laverents progressed from filming travelogues and garden snails to manipulating image and sound via sophisticated in-camera editing techniques. Prepared for exhibition at his film club, Laverents’ 9-minute Multiple SIDosis (1970), in which the filmmaker performs Felix Arndt’s 1916 ragtime instrumental “Nola” on uke, ocarina, Jew’s harp and other instruments, all depicted via multiple exposures (from two to ten), became a staple of film rental outfits and was included in the National Film Registry in 2000, when Laverents was 92 years old.

Multiple_Sid_002-550wThe bulk of The Sid Saga was completed in 1986, with the octogenarian adding small pieces to the autobiographical mosaic over the course of the next two decades, switching from 16mm film to video for the fourth and final component. Constructed chronologically and kicked off by a framing device in which friends of the family ask about a particularly beguiling scrapbook, Laverents guides the viewer through his early years as a busker, his vaudeville tenure, the breakup of his first marriage and union with his second wife Stella, his sidebar as a Fuller Brush salesman, his wartime service in Calcutta, the infidelity that destroyed his second marriage, his 1949 meeting of third wife Adelaide (costar of many of his 16mm short subjects), and his subsequent hobby of amateur filmmaking (illustrated with copious clips). An update in 1989 fills the viewer in on Adelaide’s death and sets up the saga’s shot-on-video coda, the whole package comprised of an invigorating combination of animation, still photography, and pre-digital photographic trickery. The film’s postscript finds a widowed Laverents assuaging his loneliness by fixing up his home, losing a hundred pounds, and submitting to a facelift in a bid to attract a life companion. The Sid Saga concludes with the filmmaker bonding with a Scandinavian woman 17 years his junior and enjoying his cinematic acclaim while expressing his wish to live to be a hundred.

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In January 2004, Laverents was given a career retrospective by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, titled “The Wonderful World of Sid’s Cinema.” It should not count as a spoiler to note that Laverents achieved his life expectancy goal – and them some – lasting to the milestone age of 100 years, nine months, and a day before his death on May 6, 2009. A year earlier, he had been thrown a centenary celebration at the James Bridges Theater, on the campus of UCLA. Fearful he would not be able to attend due to poor health, Laverents prepared a shot-on-video apology but managed to make the event, to gather kudos, bask in the acclaim, and present a double feature of Multiple SIDosis and The Sid Saga. Summing up the DIY filmmaker’s importance to cinema in The New York Times, Matt Haber championed Laverents as “a distinctively American artist: a rec-room tinkerer with the can-do optimism of someone who got through the Depression and found comfort in the suburbs. Following his own whims rather than any cultural movement, he turned himself from a one-man band into a one-man independent movie studio. Mr. Laverents makes multitalented feature filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh look like slackers.”

2 Responses This week on TCM Underground: The Sid Saga (1985-2003) and Multiple SIDosis (1970)!
Posted By Chris Wuchte : May 19, 2016 7:28 pm

I think this is the first time I’ve seen a post about the upcoming Underground showings not generate a bunch of comments.

I saw this when TCM aired it a couple years ago. It was… interesting. I looked up my rating on IMDB to see what I thought at the time, and I rated each segment a “5″. Which probably means I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Not sure if I’ll give it a second viewing, but I’m happy to see TCM setting aside air time for unusual things like this.

Posted By JoeS : May 22, 2016 7:17 am

It may be hard to quite convey to the modern viewer how much of a pioneer Sid was. Today, anybody can whip out their cell phone and document each and every day of their life. What the SID SAGA shows is the craft and dedication of a person who took the time over the course of his life to put together a filmed autobiography.

It’s a remarkable document.

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