Sid Laverents' It Sudses, and Sudses...and Sudses!

Ross Lipman
UCLA Film and Television Archive

*Ross Lipman was unable to attend the Symposium and moderator Dwight Swanson introduced the film in his place.

Since his birth in 1908, Sid Laverents has worked as a street musician, dishwasher, vaudeville performer, Fuller Brush salesman, carpenter, sign painter, soldier, sheet metal worker, and aeronautical engineer.  But he is known first and foremost for his filmmaking.  His most recent film, a short introduction to a program at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, was completed last year, at age 95.  As one of the few amateur filmmakers to achieve national recognition, Sid’s work has even been included in the National Film Registry.

While his most celebrated works tend to be his trick films such as Multiple Sidosis and Stop Cloning Around, he’s in fact worked in wide variety of genres including nature documentaries, travelogues, industrial films, and fiction.  And of the fiction films, the most renowned is easily It Sudses and Sudses… and Sudses.

Made in 1962, Sudses is Sid’s first film intended for wider public viewing—prior to that he had made several home movie travelogues.  The film was initially made to enter a contest sponsored by the San Diego Amateur Moviemakers Club, for works shot on a single roll of film.  But much like the pressurized shaving cream cans which feature in the piece, Sid’s ideas and ambitions expanded a little beyond his expectations.

Shot on 16mm Kodachrome on a reflex Bolex, Sudses uses all of the technical and creative ingenuity that Sid was to show in his later works, albeit in an early, rough stage.  In general when looking at Sid’s working methods one finds a pattern of homemade, seat-of-the-pants solutions to any kind of problem that might arise.

Not only did Sid make and star in the film, but he also designed and built his own equipment and custom camera modifications, including a synchronous motor and ingenious sound cueing technique.

However, also in the amateur tradition, not everything worked.  Despite the efficiency of the cueing, the camera noise was too loud, so he ultimately used ADR—another classic homespun method--for the final film.  In subsequent years he built his own camera blimp to eliminate the noise, and in works such as Multiple Sidosis, perfected the cueing technique to an astonishing degree.

To edit, he modified his splicer to allow it to make invisible (or “negative”) splices, and came up with a technique of inserting black frames between shots to allow single strand editing.  This resulted in the flashes which you may notice between shots.  It’s the equivalent of reinventing the wheel in some ways, because many of these techniques were developed elsewhere professionally, but Sid did it on his own, without knowledge of that, in his garage studio for this film.

Sid was also ingenious in his creation of titles, here using a homemade system of pulleys, handcranks, and rotating color wheels at various points.  And lastly of course, there’s the Bubble Machine… as you’ll see.

Sid later learned more about what others were doing and integrated it into his own work—almost always with some personal twist or variation to make it entirely unique.  Sudses is an early glimpse of his process—before the technical mastery, but a sign of what was to come.

However the film itself is not just an exercise in technique, but also a great example of his wonderful, perverted sense of humor--which never lets one get too caught up in the genius needed to realize it.   Sid describes the film as “a comedy in the Robert Benchley tradition.”  Robert Benchley was a depression era humorist whose writing and sketches are described in one bio as being “mostly about people confronted with the complex absurdities of modern life.”

This is also classic Sid terrain—as in the household, and particularly, the bathroom—an area Sid gleefully explores again and again throughout his career, even to works made in his ‘80’s such as The Drip.

 Sudses is also archetypal Sid in the sense that it is in many ways two films put together.  The first being an introduction establishing Sid’s routine around the house, faithfully aided by his long-suffering wife Adelaide; and the second being a horror film, as Sid has some difficulties with the shaving cream.

Ultimately, Sudses is a classic example of DIY cinema.  It won the “Best Humorous Film” award from the Photographic Society of America in 1963.  UCLA was able to preserve the film with generous assistance from the National Film Preservation Foundation and Fotokem Film and Video, both of whom have a longstanding partnership with UCLA in the ongoing process of preserving Sid’s films.

 I’ll add as a footnote that it’s particularly nice to be able to show Sudses at the Summer Symposium in the same context as tonight’s Kuchar films.  I’ve occasionally described Sid as “the George Kuchar of the Convair Aeronautical Corporation.”  Although I suppose one could theoretically call George “the Sid Laverents of the fine art world” and be just as descriptive.  Either way it’s a compliment.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be here in person to present the film myself, but I’m sure Dwight has done a great job of introducing if he’s still in fact reading this.   I’d like to thank the folks at [NHF] for their great work on the Symposium.  I can’t think of a more appropriate place to show this film.  Have a great time in Bucksport, and enjoy the movie.

For more information on Sid Laverents check here.