by Melinda Stone
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(Editor's Note: Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant motion pictures to the registry. The list is designed to reflect the breadth and diversity of America’s film heritage, thus increasing public awareness of the richness of American cinema and the need for its preservation. Last year, Sid Laverents' “Multiple Sidosis,” was chosen to represent the thousands of films produced by amateur cine clubs throughout the United States.)
Multiple Sidosis is a 1966 back winding, black-matting, mysterious and crafty film production of Sid Laverents of the San Diego Amateur Film Club. This film from Sid Laverents has garnered international acclaim within the amateur competition circuit. Sid's ingenious matting techniques, which have confounded all audiences, have been featured in several articles and have even prompted Sid to write a feature article in the PSA Journal* in which he meticulously describes the process of making the sedulously crafted film.
Danny Plotnick, a Bay Area film maker and film instructor, who was completely bedazzled by Multiple Sidosis to the point that he contacted Sid and requested a copy of the film and the article, explained to me later in a interview that, "When he sent me the tape of it, as I requested, he included the article of how he made the film. I couldn't follow it at a certain point. I understand in theory how he did it, but it is mind boggling and hard to believe- what an absolute labor of love that must have been. I could see conceiving of the idea of that film and then just saying forget it, its just too hard."
Like all of Sid Laverents' productions, Multiple Sidosis is preceded by a short animated title sequence of a dancing SNL monogram. After the highly stylized production credits given to SNL studios, a Christmas scene, complete with familiar carols, fades up. An exchange of gifts between Sid and his first wife Adelaide ends with Sid receiving exactly what he asked for: a new sound recording device.
The next scene features Sid pleasantly tinkering with his new sound recording gadget to the point where he starts a daydream sequence of all the numerous possibilities available. Fantastic psychedelic induced letters swirl in and out of the frame revealing a slightly blurred marquee with the title Multiple Sidosis. A steady and increasingly more audible metronome tick permeates the capricious hallucinatory title segment and finally dominants the film both as sound and image, introducing Sid's multiple image, sound odyssey. The single image of the metronome, moves to the left hand top corner of the frame, making room for Sid to strum on a ukulele. The ukulele image is replace by Sid whistling the same tune accompanied by the same metronome steadily keeping the beat in the left hand top corner. As whistling Sid moves to the right hand corner of the frame, ukulele playing Sid appears in a small box directly below the whistling Sid. Another box with Sid playing the banjo is introduced and appears directly below the metronome.
Within moments three small portals just big enough to contain three individual Sid images playing identical ocarinas line the bottom of the frame. Each additional Sid adds a layer of harmony to the song Nola, which Sid claims took him four months to perfect the whistling track due to the fast pace of the song which does not allow for much breathing space.
By the end of the song, eleven separate Sid's appear on the screen, whistling, strumming the banjo, plucking the guitar, blowing crudely fashioned wind instruments out of beer bottles, fingering a Jews harp, mouthing three distinct ocarinas, and three Sid's singing a soft barber shop background hum to round out the choral arrangement.
The film is visually stimulating and leads any curious audience member to ponder how the multiple images were produced. Unlike contemporary special effects laden films, Sid's film is not overwrought with a desire to showcase a new gadget without observing the necessity of strong story elements. Instead Sid's film was premised by his idea which propelled him to dedicate four months on pre production which included fashioning a special matte box and a unique device to coordinate his 12 track song with his multitude of superimpositions.
Sid could have had his film optically printed by professionals but the cost seemed prohibitive and the challenge to create the apparati in his own shop was part of the fun. His unusual technical prowess is integrated into each of his hilarious and ingenious shorts, never dominating nor hindering, but complimenting his uniquely quirky stories.
Plotnick provided a sincere and complimentary
report on Multiple Sidosis: "I thought
Mutiple Sidosis was great. One of
the things that most excites me when
I am watching film is A) that I am
totally amazed, and B) completely
baffled by how the film maker made
the film. I am pretty savvy and have
been around people who have gone the
big budget route and done things the
traditional fashion and have been
around people who in a no budget way
come up with some crazy way to pull
off some effect. I was just looking
at that film and was absolutely perplexed
by how he was doing all those effects.
It looked so good and sounded so good.
It was a beautiful looking film, with
its vibrant colors and really inventive
art design. It was also so much of
the time that people looking back
at it today it is a great little period
piece that had a sense of humor. Like
the little gag about throwing away
the ribbon and Sid's little aside
to the camera with the humorous soundbite.
He was making fun of the conventions
of the time, yet living within those
conventions. The writing of it was
really good. The song is just out
of control. All of those things coming
together made it a great film."
*Background information about particular aspects of Multiple Sidosis can be located in "Multiple Sidosis," by Sidney N. Laverents, P.S.A. Journal, March 1971, 37-40.