On March 17, 1930, a crowd assembled outside Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary to witness Al Capone's transfer to Chicago, where he would stand trial. Filmmaker Bill Morrison and composer Vijay Iyer worked with a single panning shot of this event, and the accompanying soundtrack, to create this 13-minute film on the nature of spectacle.
Director's Statement Collapse
This project came into being when Julie Courtney, an arts curator for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in Philadelphia, approached Vijay Iyer and myself with the idea of collaborating on an installation in one of the cells of the historic former prison on Fairmount Street. The concept had a lot of appeal to me. I was a fan of Vijay's music and had met him a few times through Creative Capital, an arts organization that had supported our work. We rode the train down to Philadelphia together and had a great time throwing around ideas. But our proposal for a virtual reality exhibition for a single viewer was rejected, and we went back to the drawing board.
I was researching another project when I came across the footage of a crowd assembled outside the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1930 to watch Al Capone's transfer from the prison, and another newsreel film depicting inmate life at Eastern State. The museum was not aware that this footage existed, and we brokered a deal whereby they would receive master copies of these films for their archives. Working with the Al Capone footage was extremely exciting for me, not only because of the remarkable quality of the film, but also because of its soundtrack, which faithfully conjured the sounds of the crowd, 80 years ago. I wanted to create an edit that allowed the viewer to examine the characters in the crowd, but also to revisit the audio events, while moving toward a climatic endpoint.
I gave my edit to Vijay, who based his design on the existing audio, and gradually transformed it into an environmental soundscape. The project will be on view at Eastern State Penitentiary for nine months, from March to December 2010. Capone was housed in an adjacent cell for nine months from June 1929 to March 1930. The mirrored format of the film reflects the mirror through time and location of the original event. The screening at Tribeca Film Festival is a theatrical world premiere.
About the Director(s)Collapse
Bill Morrison's films have been screened at festivals, museums, and concert halls worldwide, including Sundance, the Tate Modern, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. MoMA has acquired eight of his titles. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, two Bessie Awards, and an Obie Award.