THE BOOTLEG FILES: MULTIPLE SIDOSIS

BOOTLEG FILES 316: “Multiple Sidosis” (1970 short made by Sid Laverents).

LAST SEEN: Available on several online video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO:
It was once sold on VHS video in a mail order request.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS:
People keep copying and pasting it online.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE:
Maybe as part of an anthology of offbeat short films.

Every year, the Library of Congress announces a list of 25 motion pictures that it adds to the National Film Registry.  The lists are a constant source of wonder – and more often than not, you have to wonder what they’re thinking about over at the Library when they put their lists together!

Back in 2000, the National Film Registry had a number of films that are, without debate, recognized as milestone achievements in U.S. cinema history: “Apocalypse Now,” the Bela Lugosi “Dracula,” “Goodfellas,” the Judy Garland “A Star is Born” and the “Why We Fight” series. But also included on the list was an obscure short film from 1970 that was never publicly screened except in a few gatherings of long-defunct amateur film clubs.  That film was “Multiple Sidosis.”

Multiple what?  Well, the film was the product of Sid Laverents, a one-time vaudeville entertainer who spent his life pursuing a wide variety of work, ranging from dishwasher to sheet metal worker to aircraft engineer.  Laverents dabbled in amateur filmmaking and created a number of 16mm short films.  But in the pre-video/pre-Internet days, there were very few outlets were nonprofessionals could display their work.  For Laverents, the amateur film club circuit provided him with the audience that appreciated the D.I.Y. approach, and he became an active member of the San Diego Amateur Film Club.

In 1966, Laverents decided to make a light comic experimental film that combined the multi-track music recording popularized by Les Paul and Mary Ford with a multiple image trick photography effect used by Buster Keaton in his silent short classic “The Playhouse.”  Admittedly, this was above and beyond the usual amateur stuff.

“Multiple Sidosis” begins at Christmas, when Laverents (playing himself) receives a reel-to-reel recording machine from his unsmiling wife – and she sternly warns him to save the ribbons that decorated the gift-wrapping!  This is followed by a scene where Laverents is playing a banjo and whistling the catchy old-time tune “Nola” into a microphone that is plugged into his new gift.  A metronome is poised above the recorder, and its mechanical beating seems to inspire Laverents. He goes to a dresser and begins pulling instruments out of a drawer.  He returns to the recorder, rewinds a reel, and gets the metronome swinging anew.

Up until now, the film has a stodgy, somewhat dreary pace.  However, what happens in the next half of the film takes “Multiple Sidosis” out of the realm of mere amateur moviemaking.

With the metronome beating its rhythm, Laverents launches into a lively rendition of “Nola” – in which he plays multiple instruments, whistles and offers all of the background vocals. Laverents splits the screen into different sections, and he occupies every corner of the screen. He can be seen playing a ukulele, a banjo, a jaw harp and a guitar; he also creates impromptu instruments out of beer bottles, from which he blows out melodies.  In another section of the screen, keeps a jaunty whistle going.  He also lines up as the three background singers that keep a vocal hum active, and he makes them into different characters (including a Mickey Mouse look-alike, complete with saucer ears). By the closing credits, there are 11 versions of Laverents playing in unison.

To achieve the split screen effect, Laverents invented his own special matte box to accommodate the multiple images. Working from his home and self-financing his effort, Laverents took four years and 1,900 feet of 16mm film to create the nine-minute “Multiple Sidosis.”

Within the amateur film club circuit, “Multiple Sidosis” was extremely popular, and Laverents was invited to write an article for a trade journal on how he created the film. But beyond that very small orbit, the film and its creator never found any favor.

In 2000, film historian Melinda Stone came upon “Multiple Sidosis” while researching the subject of amateur film clubs.  She obtained a print and had it screened at a conference of film archivists, where it created a sensation.  At Stone’s urging, “Multiple Sidosis” was pushed for consideration on the National Film Registry. As luck would have it, the Library of Congress was on the lookout for amateur films to add to the registry. Even though the film was barely known by many film scholars (let alone the general public), it was honored.

Laverents was 92 years old when “Multiple Sidosis” was rediscovered. He lived to be 100, and he spent his remaining years enjoying a level of attention that he never experienced in his youth.  He also packaged “Multiple Sidosis” and other amateur films that he made for sale on VHS video.

After Laverents’ death in 2009, “Multiple Sidosis” was deeded to the UCLA Film & TV Archive, which has restored the print.  However, unauthorized copies of the film have popped up on the Internet, and it can be easily found via a casual search of the popular online video sites.

“Multiple Sidosis” is a charming and innovative short, and it is a shame that Laverents never found a way to channel his talents into the professional film industry.  But thanks to the National Film Registry, his unique work has achieved a degree of immortality and it will continue to find new admirers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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