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Thorne’s ‘Helen’ is a new classic

Lights dim, reels roll as Celluloid Bainbridge returns to Lynwood.

The strains of Mouret’s “Rondeau” are instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater.”

Bainbridge High School graduate Ned Thorne’s movie “Helen,” playing Feb. 8 at the sixth annual Celluloid Bainbridge film fest, opens with the familiar melody that signals the onset of High Culture.

Thorne, as host “Richard Thurgood” and seated in the obligatory wingback chair, turns to face the camera.

“Tonight is a rare event in the history of cinema,” he intones. “We have what is believed to be the only extant copy of Helen based on the tragedy of the same name by Euripides...a juxtaposition of Greek melodrama against the conventions of 1920s cinema...the Helen of Euripides as imagined by Mortimer Bolderwerk.”

Fade to the opening scene of the film-within-a-film: Katy Imbeau, Thorne’s movie collaborator and classmate at Whitman College, is draped over a cemetery headstone. Eyes outlined in black, her red, cupie-doll lips mouthing inaudible lines, the actress telegraphs Helen’s dilemma – marry the evil Egyptian pharaoh? O merciful heavens! – with the over-the-top body language of the silent film era.

Thorne and Imbeau created the 12-minute movie as a project for a class in Greek theater. The notion of using silent film as the somewhat unlikely vehicle for Euripides’ 412 B.C. tragicomedy emerged from the friends’ discussion of the stylized acting in ancient Greek drama.

The descriptions in historical records reminded the pair of early 20th century silent films.

“We thought it would not be fun to do a ponderous rendition of it, so we made it funny,” Thorne said.

Helen quotes early film, from a Snidely Whiplash-style villain to Charlie Chaplin.

They conscripted another classmate for cinematographer, while Thorne was both director and actor. Not having lines to learn made filming relatively easy, he says, but another factor in the one-day wrap may have been his familiarity with the form; Helen may be playful satire - but it is an informed romp.

Thorne began making movies in seventh grade, as a casual after-school activity, “a way to hang out and kill time.”

“A friend named Joey, he had a video camera,” Thorne said. “The two of us and his brother started making films, usually adventure stories in settings around Joey’s house. They usually boiled down to a dummy being beaten up, or thrown off a roof or dragged behind a car.”

But while the emphasis was fun, not filmmaking, Thorne came to realize he truly loved cinema.

He began to learn about the components of filmmaking.

“I’d read, and not just about the movies themselves, but about the role of the cinematographer, the screenwriter,” he said.

Still, Thorne was in high school before he connected the dots between his love of writing stories, his interest in photography and his enjoyment of acting.

“It took a while to realize that film combines all those things I like to do,” he said.

Last summer, Thorne worked as production assistant on “Tony and Kina’s Wedding,” filmed in New York.

When he graduates from Whitman in 2005, he hopes to enroll at University of California at Los Angeles to learn more about the technical aspects of filmmaking.

“I want to do what a lot of people want to do, write and direct feature films,” he said, “ I think a lot of ideas I have for films revolve around trying to show people a culture, a piece of earth, a slice of humanity they don’t think about a lot.”

* * * * *

Take a seat

The Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council presents the Sixth Annual Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Lynwood Theatre. Co-sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council and the Historic Lynwood Theatre, Celluloid Bainbridge is an all-day festival of movies that were either filmed on Bainbridge Island or feature an islander in the cast or crew. Admission is by donation.

“Kid-friendly” films will be shown between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. For a complete schedule, call 842-7901 or visit www.artshum.org.

Festival highlights:

• 3 p.m. “The Red Pines.” Award-winning Bainbridge Island filmmaker Lucy Ostrander documents the struggle of Japanese-American immigrants on Bainbridge Island.

• 3:35 p.m. A special screening in memory of longtime community leader John Rudolph of his 1989 docudrama, “Bad Day at Circle K,” of the first (and last) cow pie lottery held on Bainbridge Island.

• 4 p.m. “G-Sale.” Seattle filmmaker Randy Nargi’s mockumentary on the wacky world of garage sales features the Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery.

• 6:30 p.m. “A Relative Thing.” The second full-length feature by Garrett Bennett and the Hat Factory Studios tells the story of five estranged siblings whom an anticipated family death reunites at their childhood home on Bainbridge Island.

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