Jeremy Spracklen is the Film Preservation Technician for the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at the Hamon Arts Library. He received his undergraduate degrees in History and Philosophy and recently earned his MA in History – all from the University of Texas at Arlington. Additionally, Jeremy is the Projectionist at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as well as the Traverse City and Telluride Film Festivals. Furthermore, he has served as the Technical Director for the USA Film Festival since 2002. In addition to his technical duties for film festivals, Jeremy has also put together commissioned tributes for visiting actors and directors, including Rob Reiner, Ed Harris, Carol Kane, Wes Anderson and Malcolm McDowell. Spracklen also recently presented his thesis Cinema I & II: A History of the Movies in Dallas as Seen through NorthPark’s Iconic Theater at this year’s Dallas VideoFest and also recently worked with 70mm Ultra Panavision format in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film The Hateful Eight.
When did you first become interested in films? What led you down this interesting career path?
I began working in movie theaters when I was in high school and was always fascinated by the behind-the-scenes technical operations. Coming from a technical theater background, my curiosity about the booth eventually led to a job as a projectionist. From there, my ability as a film projectionist led me to work at film festivals as well as overseeing the care and maintenance of the holdings of the Jones Film and Video archive here in the Hamon Arts Library.
Why did you decide to write your thesis on the General Cinema I & II at Northpark Center? What was your biggest challenge during the writing process?
Throughout the 1990s, The Cinemas at NorthPark acted as a meeting place for theater projectionists and managers to gather after hours and watch movies and I was lucky enough to be a part of those gatherings.
I have been interested in a new movement in media studies known as “New Cinema History” for a while now. This movement has the goal that the experience of cinema should take precedence over production and text-based analyses. Instead of trying to write a comprehensive history of movie exhibition, New Cinema historians typically write about the experiences of a single theater with the hope that once enough of these histories get written, a clearer picture of how people watch movies will be established.
For me, The Cinemas at NorthPark was the obvious choice for examination as part of this movement. Not only was it a great theater for the city, but it stood out as an exception in so many ways. Most notably, it was open for 33 years without ever modifying its structure or business model while most of its competitors were adding theaters, putting up walls in the middle of auditoriums to create more spaces or converting to dinner-and-a-movie places in order to capitalize on trends in the industry.
In researching this subject, the biggest challenge was finding documentation that supported some of the interviews. This was a place that had become legendary, and as such, some of the things that people remembered were not necessarily the way they actually happened and it was important to me to separate some of the stories from the history.
You recently presented your thesis at the Dallas VideoFest. What did you gain from this experience?
The best part of presenting in front of a group like that is the direct feedback that it offers. I was able to have a great Q and A with the audience as well as some really good follow-up conversations. Everyone there had their own stories of either NorthPark or a similar theater that struck a personal chord with them, which really highlighted the importance not just of movies, but of the places where they are shown.
What materials, if any, from the Hamon Arts Library or other libraries or archives were most useful to your research?
As part of the Jones 16mm news collection, I was able to find some footage of the opening gala at theater that no one has seen in almost 50 years and was able to use it to let the audience see what it was like for themselves. This included dignitaries such as General Cinema owner Richard Smith and ’20s era movie star Frances X. Bushman walking the red carpet and putting their hands in the cement.
In addition to this, the Dallas Morning News Historical Archive was essential, as it is currently the primary source for the city’s history. There is not another archive for local Dallas history that has a researcher-friendly index online.
Can you tell us about what you are working on right now in the Jones Film and Video Collection here at Hamon?
The vault is currently home to over 10,000 rolls of 16mm footage from local news stations, but this collection has not been inventoried or cataloged. We have begun the long process of repairing, cleaning and capturing these rolls on video so staff and volunteers can identify them. We then hope to build a database that will be available to researchers. Even with such a small sample size, we have discovered a rich and forgotten history of how Dallas experienced the late twentieth century. The content includes everything from the aftermath of the JFK assassination to Vietnam War protests and even Bill O’Reilly interviewing a young Jeff Dunham while he was working as a reporter at WFAA. Seeing these stories in motion provides researchers and documentary filmmakers with a valuable resource that they are not able to get from print materials. Furthermore, these are all one-of-a-kind pieces with no other known copies in existence.
Tell us about your work in The Hateful Eight, what was your role?
I was part of the team responsible for taking the 1000 foot 70mm film rolls from the lab, inspecting them, and assembling them into one continuous film print. About 90 of these prints were built and shipped to theaters around the country, which represents the first new movie presented in the 70mm Ultra Panavision format in over 50 years. Given my interest in writing about and working with historical film formats, this was an exciting opportunity to be able to work with the release directly before it even made its way to theaters.
Read more about the making of the 70mm prints of The Hateful Eight.
I know for a film connoisseur this might be a difficult question, but what are your top three favorite films of all time? Why?
First, Finn Taylor’s Dream with the Fishes. It is about two men—one who lives in a fantasy world of his own making and the other who lives in one that is far too real. The two decide to live out all of their fantasies before they die, and in the process, each cross over to the other end of the fantasy/reality spectrum.
Second, Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. The story focuses on three friends who have dreams of becoming criminals and do not let a little thing like not being good at it stand in their way. Not only was this movie filmed in Dallas (including a scene that was shot just across the parking lot from the General Cinema NorthPark I & II), but it was produced by Kit Carson, who worked with Bill Jones (namesake of the very film collection that I work on) to start the USA Film Festival. In another example of overlap, I have been the technical director for that festival for the last 15 years.
Lastly, Noah Baumach’s Kicking and Screaming. The film begins with a group of friends graduating from college and then follows each of them as they try to answer the question “What’s next?” Some choose a career and some choose to live abroad. Others go to graduate school because they just can’t leave the comfort and stability they have learned to enjoy from 17 years of being in school.
Though one is about two guys traveling through Northern California, one is about a group of friends trying (and failing) to be criminals and the other about that period where people are forced to figure out their lives after graduation, they all have one thing in common. They are all about the transformative effect that people have on each other.
What advice to do you have for Film and Media Arts students at SMU pursuing similar careers?
I recommend that a larger emphasis should be placed on the locations where media is consumed. So much research attention is given to content and even the medium (for example, the debate between film and digital as a way to exhibit movies) that so little attention is given to the places that these works are consumed. There is little doubt that the physical space that exists where someone sees a movie is often as important as the film itself. Nobody can argue that seeing a movie at home is a different experience from seeing it in a theater, but no two theaters offer the exact same experience. These differences should be explored in order to better understand that experience. Up to this point, most examinations of movie theaters have centered on old palace theaters, and most of these have been based on aspects of nostalgia and not spectatorship. A deeper understanding of what spectatorship is will help us not only better understand what happens when someone watches a movie, but will also help us better that experience and possibly make the power of cinema stronger than it is today.
What’s next for you?
In addition to working a number of festivals as well as a film series at The Modern in Fort Worth, I am continuing my research about the General Cinema NorthPark in order to expand it into a book.
Thanks to Jeremy for his participation!
Mariza Morin, Stacks Manager, Hamon Arts Library
Featured image: Interior of a NorthPark auditorium. Photograph by Brad Miller.