Time Travelers: Retro film series showcases fascinating, newly digitized Aspen film footage
Retro film series showcases fascinating, newly digitized Aspen film footage
What: Time Travel Tuesdays Retro Film Series (virtual)
Where: Vimeo, register at aspenhistory.org
When: Tuesdays through March 9, 7 p.m.
How much: Suggested donation $10/stream or $60 for the 8-part series
More info: Streams are available on-demand for 36 hours following the 7 p.m. start
With a new initiative to digitize vintage footage of old Aspen and a new streaming version of its popular Retro Film Series online, the Aspen Historical Society is taking viewers into a time machine this winter.
The eight-part weekly series runs through mid-March on Vimeo through March 9, buffeted by many newly digitzed and long unseen films.
In addition to the unearthed footage screening at the series, the archival team at the Historical Society is working to digitize much more for future viewing. The nonprofit recently earned grants from the Fred and Elli Iselin Foundation and the Colorado Historical Records Advisory Board.
That money is funding the digitization of some 8,000 feet of old 8- and 16-milimeter film in the vault, according to archivist Anna Scott.
“Once they are digitized we will be creating a film library with many of the films or film clips for people to watch,” Scott said.
The 2021 iteration of the Retro Film Series showcases the history of skiing and the evolution of the local resort from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Each showcase includes multiple short films. Among them are local classics like “Little Skier’s Big Day” (1955) and “Highlands Fling” (1975) and film from the 1950 FIS World Championships on Aspen Mountain, showcasing the insanity of early downhill ski racers as they bomb Spar Gulch, fly off of the Niagra cliff down Little Nell.
But the big draw for 2021 is the newly digitized films and unseen footage.
Next week’s presentation includes the fascinating 1964 travelogue “Big Week at Aspen,” narrated by star TV host of the day Jack Douglas for an “armchair vacation” series.
Filmed in color and professionally edited and directed, it’s an eye-opening survey of the town’s locals and resort amenities in the mid-‘60s before the hippie incursion, with glimpses of “Mad Men” style, a budding arts scene and old-school ski culture. It includes appearances by the legendary folk singer and activist Katie Lee and the novelist Leon Uris.
‘Big Week at Aspen’ (1964) and ‘Aspen Glow ‘(1969)
‘10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale’ (1940s), ‘1950 FIS World Championships’ (1950) and ‘Wintersköl’ (1955)
‘The Outrageous Ski School Movie’ (1975), ‘Aspen Dream’ (1975), ‘Many Faces of Aspen (1955) and ‘Aspen Summer Mood’ (1963)
Running 23 minutes, the film boasts vivid footage of Wintersköl shenanigans, early snowmobile (“skidoo”) trips up Smuggler Mountain, dog-sledding at Ashcroft, a ski-up bank teller window downtown and the original Lift One in action at its original configuration to Dean Street.
Its footage of Uris, whose Aspen exploits are scantly chronicled, shows the writer working at his typewriter at home and in an interview about why he moved his family here.
“I think the very name Aspen conjures an image of a mountain paradise,” Uris, the “Exodus” author who was among the most popular novelists in the U.S. at the time, says in the film. “My whole family are avid skiers. We have been coming here for four winters. And then we go back to the back to the big city and see the freeways grow a little more cancerous each year, the shopping centers a little gaudier, and somehow or another they always seem to be building a high-rise apartment in my backyard.”
The Uris clan tried Aspen for a winter, he explains, and then stuck around.
“It’s a wonderful place to raise a family and I think a better place to do my writing,” Uris says, later adding: “For a town its size, nowhere in the world today is so inhabited by people who love her as Aspen. Besides that, I think at heart I am a ski bum.”
There are glimpses of the Aspen Institute campus and a seminar in the Boettcher Building, the Hotel Jerome during its midcentury period painted all white and shots of West End Victorians (“treasured heirlooms that rarely go up for sale”). The miner John Herron (as in Herron Park), who had lived in Aspen since the 1894, spins a few yearns on-camera about Aspen’s mining heyday.
And the film captures Wintersköl in its wild mid-‘60s heyday, when the winter carnival was a boozy affair that seemingly enlivened all of town’s residents and visitors. As Douglas puts it, “New Year’s Eve is merely a warm-up for Winterskol,” in between scenes capturing the torchlight procession on Aspen Mountain, the parade of 40-plus floats (“the wackiest and most delightful parade we’ve seen”) and a brass band-led dance featuring oldsters doing the Charleston.
Katie Lee pops up singing a novelty tune about her first ski lesson for an attentive crowd at the Aspen Inn.
The film captures events like a “para-skiing” competition challenging skydivers to land on Little Nell and ski down the mountain along with a “Saloon Slalom” that pits costumed bar staff from the Red Onion versus the Golden Horn.
“These fun-loving ski bugs don’t know whether it’s Sunday, Tuesday or next week,” Douglas says of the boozy event. “They’ve averaged less than two hours of sleep for the last three nights.”
“Big Week at Aspen” also detours to profile a local chef at the Copper Kettle and artisans in downtown shops selling handmade bells and decorative glass (“imaginative but not far out,” Douglas assures viewers).
The travelogue lives up to the Time Travel Tuesdays moniker of the Historical Society series, placing you in some familiar local spaces among an earlier generation of locals who knew how to have a good time.
“Even people who never touch a ski come here for a winter vacation they’ll not soon forget,” Douglas says in the narration, “and some people become so enamored of Aspen that even when the vacation ends they stay on and decide to live here.”
The Retro Film series has been a popular staple of the Aspen Historical Society’s public programming in recent winters. In its most recent in-person form, screenings were held in the bar at the Limelight. For this season amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the series went to streaming online and the Historical Society partnered with Aspen Film to make it happen.
“The series is the perfect collaboration for the two organizations,” said Aspen Film executive and artistic director Susan Wrubel, “who have been looking for ways to work together to showcase onscreen Aspen history.”
Each screening begins at 7 p.m. and is available for 36 hours. Registration is required, with a suggested donation of $10 per screening or $60 for all eight.
“Historical ski footage stands out as some of Aspen Historical Society’s most treasured artifacts,” Kelly Murphy, president and CEO of the Aspen Historical Society, said when the 2021 series was announced. “We’ve prioritized efforts to digitize many priceless and often delicate film reels that have been donated to the AHS Collection and we’re excited to continue sharing this beloved part of local history with the public. Further, we’re honored to partner with Aspen Film to bring the past to life from the comfort of your home.”
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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