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Bob West and 'The Wednesday Children': Film professor's 1973 movie screens at Cinematheque
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2011, 6:00 AM
By Clint O'Connor, The Plain Dealer
Northeast Ohio film professor Bob West will screen and discuss his 1973 movie "The Wednesday Children" Saturday night at the CIA Cinematheque.
Spend some time with Bob West and you’ll feel like a five-star slacker. The man is a towering resume of accomplishments. Film professor, author, movie director, DJ, radio programmer, World War II veteran, jazz aficionado, poet, pastor, critic, actor.
He’s teaching or co-teaching four film classes this semester at Kent State University plus one at Cuyahoga Community College’s West Campus in Parma. There’s a sci-fi class, one on cult films and one titled “Hollywood Goes to High School.
At 85, when most people are retired or dead, West continues to teach. He does not seem bothered by the rolling walker he must lean on to get down the hallways, or having been recently diagnosed with a disease.
The Wednesday Children
What: A long-lost horror film from 1973 that was shot in Wadsworth,Ohio. Not rated. 80 minutes.
Who: Writer-director Bob West will answer questions after the screening, which will also include a reunion of some cast members.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29.
Where: Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, 11141 East Blvd.
Tickets and Info: $9; $7 for members; $5 for ages 25 and under. cinematheque or 216-421-7450.
Weekend scares and classic westerns
“I have Parkinson’s. I found out about six months ago,” said West before his film class at Tri-C earlier this week. “It’s a nuisance. You take your pills. My doctor told me to stay active. I can do that.”
Although West has extensively explored the styles of all the major auteurs, tonight he will be commenting on a film that he wrote and directed: “The Wednesday Children.” The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque will host a West salute with a 7 p.m. screening followed by a Q&A session.
“The Wednesday Children” is an extremely low-budget concoction that was released in 1973. “Released” is a stretch. It had its world premiere at John Carroll University, where West taught film from 1966 to 1976, then played briefly at the Wadsworth Theater.
“It was shown on Channel 5 on a weekend,” said West, “and then nothing happened.” The film was shot on 16 mm over several weekends in Wadsworth during the fall of 1972. The budget: $13,000. It follows the plight of a young boy named Scotty (Tom Kelly) whose father and step-mother (Donald E. Murray and Marji Dodrill) are kind of grouchy and don’t have much time for him. Tommy and his friends fall in with a creepy church janitor, who instructs them on how to rid the world of grown-ups.
“The Wednesday Children” is being billed as a Halloween weekend horror film.
“It’s not a horror film,” said West. “It’s suspense-fantasy.”
When he was writing and directing the movie, West said he adhered to the beliefs of film theorist Siegfried Kracauer and the old RKO horror films produced by Val Lewton.
“Lewton didn’t believe in showing violence or blood on screen, everything was suspense. Kracauer said if you’re going to make a fantasy, ground it in reality. Don’t gussy it up. So when I made ‘The Wednesday Children,’ there was no blood, no on-screen violence. It’s all implied.”
Local actress Dodrill was the only professional in the cast. The rest were friends, family, neighbors, community theater folks. Alan Miskell, who plays the creepy janitor, was a cameraman, “but he looked like a villain, so we cast him.” West plays the local preacher, which not only saved money but served as apt type-casting: he is an ordained minister who presided at the Universal Church of Westfield Center for 32 years. (Miskell, Kelly and some of the extras are also expected at tonight’s screening.)
After serving in the Army in World War II, West went to Kent State on the GI Bill and studied broadcast journalism. Following years working in radio, teaching and directing commercials for Wyse Advertising, he circled back to Kent in the mid-’70s and has been teaching there ever since. But before that, West gave himself the gift of one year - 1972 - and dedicated himself to a three-pronged creative plan: “I wanted to write a novel, write poetry and make a movie.”
The novel was never published but the book of poetry was. The film plays tonight in a theater for the first time in 38 years. It’s the only print on the planet.
“When Channel 5 showed it in 1973, we had to cut out 20 minutes for commercials,” said West. “So the only existing print is that Channel 5 TV print. That’s what they’ll show at the Cinematheque. The master print was burned in a fire.”
And the missing 20 minutes?
“We’ll never find that again,” he said. “But we’re better off. It’s a better movie without it.”
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