When Amalie R. Rothschild picked up a 16 millimeter camera to film her grandmother in 1974, she may not have known she was helping to make film history. The Baltimore native had intended to piece together some of the "missing links" of her stoic grandmother's life, and ultimately to make sense of her relationship with her own mother, the artist Amalie Rothschild.
The resulting film, "Nana, Mom and Me," turned out to be a revolutionary example of the kind of autobiographical, first-person filmmaking later made famous by Martin Scorsese ("ItalianAmerican") and Ross McElwee ("Sherman's March").
"At the time it was considered rather edgy," recalled Rothschild the other day. The filmmaker, who now divides her time between New York City and Rome, is in Baltimore to attend a rare screening tonight of "Nana, Mom and Me" and her first film, "Woo, Who? May Wilson" (1969).
When Rothschild's grandmother proved to be unforthcoming, the filmmaker -- then 29 -- turned to her mother, resulting in a fascinating portrait of an artist trying to balance work and motherhood, as well as dealing with the emergence of her own daughter as an artist.
"I dared to deal with the difficult issue of competitiveness and rivalry between mothers and daughters," Rothschild continues. "Obviously, if my mom and I had not actually resolved that issue and worked it through in some major way in our lives, I would not have put it up there, because it's too messy."
Rothschild has found success with her films -- most of which are about the lives of artists -- on the festival circuit and even the odd airline. Her film about muralist Richard Haas was seen on Cathay Pacific Airlines and British Airways. But that documentary, "Painting the Town: The Illusionistic Murals of Richard Haas," was the last movie she made, in 1990.
"I have no idea if I'll make another film, because I'm totally burned out on fund-raising," the filmmaker explained, adding that most of her films were funded in one way or another by the now-decimated National Endowment for the Arts. "I've never been very calculating in choosing my subjects. My films have never been about people who are famous enough to make my career easier."
In the past few years, Rothschild has resurrected her former career as a still photographer. During the 1960s and 1970s, she was the unofficial house photographer at Bill Graham's Fillmore East Theater in New York, eventually amassing a collection of 20,000 pictures of the musicians and artists who performed there, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
She assembled a show at the Govinda Gallery in Washington in 1997 and has since sold 110 prints, and her work has been used on record and CD covers. (Rothschild is represented in Baltimore by the Gomez Gallery.)
"I did the work because the Fillmore East was such an extraordinary place to be, not the rock and roll world but the theater itself," she said of her time at the legendary epicenter of 1960s culture. "I don't know why I began documenting it in stills. But I did, without any sense of foresight of how valuable those pictures would be. It's a phenomenal circumstance that in my 50s, work I did in my 20s would be supporting me."
"Nana, Mom and Me" and "Woo Who? May Wilson" will be shown at 8 p.m. at the Lodge, 244 S. Highland Ave. Admission is $6. The screening is sponsored by the Fells Point Creative Alliance.
On the 'Curve'
The trade publication Variety reported this week that "The Curve" (formerly "Dead Man's Curve"), the feature debut of Baltimore native Dan Rosen, has been purchased by Blockbuster as part of the company's new policy of acquiring films for exclusive video distribution. Yesterday, however, Blockbuster wouldn't confirm the deal. "The Curve," a dark comedy set on a college campus, had its U.S. premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year, then was picked up by Trimark Pictures.
'Lughnasa' on Sunday
Beloved Cinema Sundays founder and director George Udel will return to the Charles on Sunday to play host at the second screening of the winter series. Udel will present "Dancing at Lughnasa," about a group of sisters living in Ireland whose lives are turned upside-down when their brother returns from Africa. Meryl Streep stars.
WBJC radio host Jonathan Palevsky will lead the discussion. As always, coffee and bagels will be served.
Memberships are available for $84 ($70 for renewing members) for the remaining seven films in the series. Tickets are available at the door for $15 if seating allows. Doors open at 9: 45 a.m. for a 10: 30 screening. For more information, call 410-727-3464.
Pub Date: 1/22/99