Richard Myers knows why he's not a household name like Steven Spielberg. The experimental filmmaker and Kent State University professor emeritus structured his often-autobiographical works, produced between 1961 and 2002, much like dreams: free associations of fragmented memories and ideas both conscious and subconscious that combine past and present. They take some effort to understand.
"They're not entertaining films," the 76-year-old Munroe Falls resident stresses. "I'm concerned about the way the films look in the black and the white, the flow of the film, the rhythm of the film."
This year, Myers won the Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award and the Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is restoring many of his movies for its permanent collection.
Myers' seminal film is set in a composite burg of Akron, Kent, Massillon and Cleveland. "That's why I spelled [Akron] different," he says. It illustrates the fears, frustrations, hang-ups and hopes of a young couple struggling to make their way in a corrupt world. "What is the future going to bring? What do I want to do with my life? What don't I want to do? That's part of the fears of all young people," Myers says.
The first of Myers' few color films demonstrates "the ways in which we're killing ourselves" by depicting what a young man sees while driving through a nameless town. "Some of it is following funeral processions around," Myers says. A television set in the car shows various scenes. "There are images of the Kent State [shootings], cemeteries, people standing on the street, people falling down."
"It's one of my favorites just because it's so much about family," Myers says. His three children, parents and grandmother all appear in the movie. "It's about my childhood a little bit as seen through the child in the film." The child — Myers' son, Kelly — travels through time in a vintage chauffeured Cadillac. The title consists of the year Myers was born and the year the film was shot.
Jungle Girl (1984)
This tribute to the early career of Frances Gifford, star of the 1941 serial of the same name, uses an interview Myers conducted with the then-60-something actress as a soundtrack to the film. "I was just taken with it as a child," Myers says of the original Jungle Girl. "It had everything that kids like — trapdoors and witch doctors and lions and tigers, all that kind of stuff. Plus it had her — she was terrifically good-looking."