Amateur filmmaker Sidney Laverents dies at 100
Sidney N. Laverents, an award-winning amateur filmmaker whose technically impressive and infectiously humorous 1970 musical short film “Multiple SIDosis” earned a spot in the National Film Registry, has died. He was 100.
Laverents, a Depression-era vaudevillian who performed as a one-man band and later became an aircraft engineer, died of age-related causes May 6 in a Chula Vista hospital, said his wife, Charlotte.
Laverents was in his early 50s and working as a flight test instrumentation engineer for the Convair division of General Dynamics in 1958 when he bought his first movie camera -- a 16-millimeter Bolex -- and took up filmmaking as a hobby.
Over the decades, the San Diego Amateur Moviemakers Club member made about two dozen films that became known in amateur circles for their technical expertise, creativity and humor.
“Most amateur filmmakers tend to do everything themselves, but Sid carried that to the extreme,” said Ross Lipman, a film restorationist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which has restored several of Laverents’ movies. “He not only wrote, photographed, edited and starred in his films, but he also custom-designed a lot of his own equipment using his engineering skills.”
Laverents worked in a variety of genres.
“He made some wonderfully eccentric nature films, which were highly honored at the time,” Lipman said. “They were in the style of the National Geographic nature documentaries, but there was always some unusual spin that made them more kind of a Sid film, as well as an educational film.”
In “Snails and How They Walk,” for example, “he painted numbers on top of their shells and had a snail race.”
Laverents also made broad comedies such as “It Sudses and Sudses and Sudses” -- a nine-minute 1960s film in which out-of-control canisters of shaving cream fill up every nook and cranny in the bathroom and, to the accompaniment of horror-movie music, the mass of foam forces the film’s shirtless and potbellied star -- Laverents -- to escape through the window.
“After I got started, I guess I just went a little deeper in it than most people,” a 92-year-old Laverents said of his filmmaking hobby in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2000.
That was the year “Multiple SIDosis,” the nine-minute film many consider his masterpiece, was listed in the National Film Registry.
It was one of 25 films selected in 2000, including Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.”
“It was chosen to honor the spirit, enthusiasm and good filmmaking done at amateur filmmaking clubs throughout the United States,” said Steve Leggett, program coordinator of the National Film Preservation Board, which advises the Librarian of Congress on the National Film Registry selections.
“Multiple SIDosis” was the fourth amateur film to be included in the registry since its inception in 1989 -- after Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, World War II-era home movies of the Japanese American internment camp in Topaz, Utah, and footage of the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse.
Laverents’ film, however, differs sharply from those amateur films.
“Multiple SIDosis” was a meticulously planned and executed tour de force.
The film opens with an older married couple -- Laverents and his third wife, Adelaide -- sitting in their living room at Christmas. Adelaide’s gift to her husband: a two-track, reel-to-reel tape recorder.
While trying out the new machine later, Laverents is shown recording himself playing a ukulele and whistling a jaunty tune, “Nola,” as a metronome on top of the recorder steadily ticks away.
After thumbing through the instruction manual and stopping to read the section on “Use of Sound with Sound,” Laverents digs out his banjo, an ocarina and a jew’s-harp and begins writing down a multi-part arrangement of the song.
Then “Multiple SIDosis” really kicks into gear.
Using multiple exposures and multitrack recording, Laverents begins filling the screen with up to a dozen different images of him playing various instruments -- as well as whistling, humming, blowing into bottles and providing mouse-like falsettos, complete with ears and whiskers.
The result of Laverents’ painstaking inventiveness in that pre-digital era has been called bedazzling.
“In terms of sheer entertainment value, I think that it demonstrated that one eccentric genius alone in his garage can rival the best of the Hollywood studios,” said Lipman, who restored “Multiple SIDosis” in 2002.
Laverents, who sold some of his nature films to schools and later self-distributed his films to fans, received other late-in-life honors.
In 2004, “Multiple SIDosis” was the centerpiece of “The Wonderful Word of Sid’s Cinema,” a retrospective held at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles.
And in honor of his 100th birthday last year, UCLA hosted a special screening of “Multiple SIDosis” and “The Sid Saga,” Laverents’ four-part autobiographical movie.
He was born in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Aug. 5, 1908. In the early 1940s, after performing in vaudeville, he went to work for Consolidated Aircraft, which later merged to become the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp., more commonly known as Convair.
After working on airplanes for the U.S. Army Air Forces in India during World War II, Laverents returned to Convair and later graduated from what was then San Diego State College. He left Convair in 1967 and worked for the aviation division of the Hughes Tool Co. until he retired in 1972.
Laverents wrote two books: “Raging Waters,” a novel based on the deadly 1929 flood in Elba, Ala.; and his autobiography, “The First 90 Years Are the Hardest.”
His fourth wife, Charlotte, whom he married in 1991, is his sole survivor.