A musician, scholar of film and performance artist, Andy Ditzler has presented 153 Film Love screenings over the past 15 years at venues such as Eyedrum and the Michael C. Carlos Museum, “with very few repeats.” Ditzler said his screenings at the High Museum’s Hill Auditorium and the Rich Theatre will serve as a kind of Film Love retrospective. EMILY HANEY / EMILY.HANEY@AJC.COM
Photo: Emily Haney
Photo: Emily Haney

Outside cinema moves to center stage

Andy Ditzler brings avant-garde Film Love series to High.

One of the things you notice during a December visit to Andy Ditzler’s extremely tidy, spacious house in Grant Park is that there are hardly any movies there.

In the living room, which has 25 linear feet of vinyl albums in one shelf, there is a screen up on the wall, but that’s for projecting the lyrics to Christmas carols. This is to help celebrants at his upcoming Christmas carol party singalong.

The room is full of chairs, but they are arranged in a strange hollow square. Later conversation reveals that this was for the shape-note singing that has just occurred.

When Ditzler finally takes you to see the few DVDs and video cassettes that’s he’s collected, they all fit on the equivalent of a nightstand.

Andy Ditzler most often doubles as curator, commentator and projectionist at his Film Love screenings. CONTRIBUTED BY ANDY DITZLER
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This is curious, because the man has dedicated much of his considerable energy to studying, curating and screening films. For 15 years, he has presented the Film Love series, searching out movies from the edge and showing them to audiences at Eyedrum, Emory and other venues.

On Thursday, he will bring his taste for the experimental and the avant-garde to the Woodruff Arts Center, putting the Film Love series in front of a mainstream audience monthly through May 9.

The first film in that series, “Rose Hobart,” is by the contemporary sculptor Joseph Cornell, better known for his shadowbox assemblages and for being, in the 1960s, the steady partner of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Cornell made this movie, a silent film usually screened to the accompaniment of old 78 rpm recordings, by cutting up another movie, a jungle adventure flick called “East of Borneo,” and throwing away every scene that didn’t feature his crush, star Rose Hobart.

So, in other words, it’s not “Mary Queen of Scots.” It’s weird. It’s also played (with a 16 mm projector) in slo-mo, through a blue filter. How does Ditzler get people to show up for these edgy flicks?

His friends and colleagues say he does it by being Andy Ditzler, and by loving these films so much that you love them too. Half the show is listening to Ditzler’s eloquent introductory words. “Once people come in the door and hear Andy speak, then the sky’s the limit,” said Matthew Bernstein, chair of film and media at Emory University.

Ditzler has taught film students at Emory, and also has a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from the school, which frequently co-sponsors his Film Love screenings.

Another attraction of the screenings are the discussions that take place afterward. “That’s become crucial,” said Ditzler, sitting in his empty living room, an understated man in khaki trousers, print shirt and a neatly trimmed graying beard. “We have the benefit of each other; it’s a social activity. It was the case in the very beginning, and it is still the case today. People stayed after the shows; people are still there an hour later.”

“I don’t want to watch movies by myself,” he said. “I want to see them with other people.” That, in Ditzler’s words, is a form of film preservation — preserving the moviegoing experience, in an era when more and more people are watching movies at home, on their computers or even (God forbid) on their phones.

Another reason for his minimalist collection is that Ditzler loves movies that simply don’t exist on DVD or Blu-ray or Netflix nor can they be seen in any theater. They must be rented from the artist’s estate or from an academic library. “I dig around and I find out you have to get a 16 mm print from a museum in Texas,” which is how he found “Pull My Daisy,” a film that features Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg made by the famous photographer Robert Frank.

In the course of hunting down rarely seen movies, Ditzler has engaged in long conversations with the filmmakers themselves, often inviting them to screenings. Thus Film Love events have taken on a Sundance quality.

This is one way he’s able to attract an audience to a movie such as “Hold Me While I’m Naked,” a low-fi, faux-exploitation movie by George Kuchar; he brought Kuchar to speak at a screening in 2008.

Andy Ditzler will bring his passion for avant-garde and experimental film to a mainstream audience when the High Museum of Art hosts his Film Love series. EMILY HANEY / EMILY.HANEY@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Another part of the draw is Ditzler’s quiet magnetism. He has been a performer since his undergraduate days at the University of Indiana, where he trained as a symphony percussionist and also worked as a rock drummer. While earning his doctorate in interdisciplinary studies at Emory University, he inaugurated a kind of performance/research hybrid, documenting certain episodes in Atlanta’s gay history, and restaging them as art events.

One of these involved projecting drag-show video footage inside a pitch-dark portable refrigerated semitrailer. Attendees experienced a sensory re-enactment of events at the Ponce de Leon gay bar, the Joy Lounge, which was subject to repeated police raids in the late ’60s, forcing drag performers to hide in the beer cooler.

“It was cramped, cold, comical and sad,” said Joey Orr, Ditzler’s collaborator in these performances in a collective they call John Q. Their work has been supported by Flux and was honored in 2011 with a $10,000 prize from the nonprofit arts organization Artadia.

A true polymath, Ditzler put all his abilities together when he wrote and performed a one-man show, “Yes and No,” at Clayton State University and at Push Push Theater in 2002. It featured nine original songs, including “Another Customer,” about being on hold with customer support.

(He’s still recording songs, in his double-walled studio in the basement.)

Film Love seems to be his greatest love, and he sees a thirst for the puzzling experience in his audience. People like to sit in a group and concentrate on difficult movies and then talk about them afterward, he says. “I am never trying to have some specialized event for a (small audience),” said Ditzler. “What I need is curious people to show up, and it turns out there are a lot of them.”

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