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Profiles Resurrected: Bringing a Film to Light

“And the second place winner in the documentary category is…Laughing Stock!”

When Richard Jon Levy ’75 heard those words at the awards dinner of the Pocono Mountain Film Festival, he could hardly believe his ears.

After all, Laughing Stock, which Levy helped produce for a filmmaking class at Albright in the early ’70s, hadn’t seen the light of day in nearly 30 years. “I was stunned,” says Levy, who entered the contest on a whim, never expecting the film to receive any recognition. Only months before, the film, in its original 16mm form, had been sitting in a can in a closet in Levy’s house, deteriorating, unwatched and unappreciated.

“It all began because my computer has the equipment needed to copy DVDs,” Levy says. With that technology in mind, he started thinking about the film and how interesting it would be to show it to friends – something that couldn’t be done as long as it remained in its original form. “I didn’t want to take the chance of destroying the film,” which is what could have happened if he tried to use a projector to show it. That left Levy, a psychology major who now works in the mental health field, with one solution: convert the film to a different form.

After finding a company that could restore the film and transfer it to DVD, Levy sent the film in, still with no intentions other than to have it to show to friends. But when he called and spoke with the company, they asked him what he was planning to do with it. “They encouraged me to enter it in a contest,” Levy says. Coincidentally, a friend had recently mentioned the Pocono Mountain Film Festival. Levy hadn’t seriously considered entering the film, but then thought, “Why not?” He submitted Laughing Stock at the very last minute—just in time to have it included in the film festival’s program.

As he watches the film now, in its resurrected form, Levy can’t help but think back on Interim of ’73. He and fellow students Costa Mantis ’74, Randall Gallo ’75 and Professor Gary Adlestein were enrolled in a filmmaking class led by Tony Conrad, a visiting instructor. Their assignment was simply to make a film. “Tony let us do what we wanted,” Adlestein says. “He inspired by example.”

With no specific topic required, the students looked around for a suitable subject. Mantis, who had recently become a vegetarian, jumped at the chance to make a film with a message. “It was an opportunity to make an emotional, impassioned statement about meat eating, and I always was opinionated,” he says. When it came to filming, the tasks were divided among the group, with Levy controlling the sound and special effects, Mantis taking the director’s chair, Gallo behind the camera, and Adlestein editing the film.

The film begins with a shot of a woman in a restaurant, cutting a steak. The woman is Adlestein’s wife. The scene is The Crystal Restaurant, for years a local institution on Penn Street in Reading, Pa. The Crystal was owned and operated by Mantis’s parents.

The title of the film also ties to the restaurant: After Mantis stopped eating meat, his father would joke with him when they sat down for family dinners there. “My father would say, ‘How ‘bout a nice steak?’” Mantis recalls. “So I thought, ‘Here’s my joke!’ That’s why it’s called Laughing Stock.”

The shot of the restaurant changes shockingly to a scene in a slaughterhouse where cattle are being butchered. Levy recalls waking up early one cold, January morning, driving to a local slaughterhouse, and filming the process. After seven minutes of gritty realism, during which the audience can hear both the sounds of the slaughterhouse and other solemn, heavy sounds (Levy confesses that they’re actually the sounds of him stomping down the stairs in Master’s Hall) the scene again changes abruptly.

The next shots are of the countryside around Albright, and the scene eventually focuses on a calf and its mother. This emotional scene is then contrasted by shots of the meat aisle in a local grocery store. Adlestein recalls doing the shoot in the grocery store down the street from Albright, saying, “We weren’t really supposed to be filming there, so we shot on the sly with the camera in a cart.” Close-ups of packages of meat are then eclipsed by a montage of neon fast-food restaurant signs and shots of people devouring hamburgers. Then, at the last moment, the film returns to the woman cutting her steak and finally taking a bite.

At the conclusion of the film, the message is clear. So clear, in fact, that it convinced Levy to stop eating meat. “We went to McDonald’s after shooting, and I tried to eat a Quaterpounder but I just couldn’t do it. I stopped eating meat after that.”

While Levy’s future with regard to meat is certain, the film’s future is still unfolding. Because it was cited in the Pocono Mountain Film Festival, it’s currently being shown on the Blue Ridge Cable Company’s “Video on Demand” channel, where it’s receiving the greatest number of hits. Levy also gave a copy to a friend who’s a producer in Hollywood, and someone suggested that he submit it to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). While the attention may seem a bit overwhelming, Levy remains unruffled. “I just think the film should be seen,” he says, “and its citation at the film festival shows that it can still have an impact today, even though it was made in 1973.”

– Loren A. Morgan ’05

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