The many routes to accessing historical artefacts make research easier, it’s true.
As film journals and magazines come into the public domain, some folks have digitised them into searchable PDFs, like the superlative Media History Digital Library (*BEWARE* procrastination pit). Most historians of the media industries have spent days consulting unwieldy bound editions and scrawling through endless microfilms of trade journals at the BFI Library or the British Newspaper Library.
However, most will willingly admit that there are drawbacks to these access formats. Microfilm is a sturdy, resilient medium that is an utter pain to search and copy from (and most libraries charge for inky printouts). While online access is fun, free and (sometimes!) more efficient, large downloads can be a strain on smaller hard drives. Of course, sod’s law also dictates that your internet will disconnect as soon as you decide to do some concerted online research.
Which is why, sometimes, having your own personal library of original publications rules!
Through my eminent contacts (i.e. my boyfriend’s dad), I’ve managed to acquire several decades worth of the Monthly Film Bulletin, the BFI’s publication that reviewed every film on release before Sight and Sound took on the job in the early 1990s.
OK, it’s hard to illustrate just how exciting this is, as the MFB didn’t publish glossy portraits of stars and suchlike, just many pages of unbroken text. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to get stuck into reading and discovering the gems of British film criticism, printed on beautiful, tangible, smellable paper.
My new treasures could not have arrived at a better time. In making the transition from a student film archivist mostly interested in preserving, y’know, film formats to a TV-archive-historian type working in paper archives, I’ve found myself itching for the days when I had regular access to a winding bench and a Steenbeck. Paper collections like this remind me that film archiving means more than preserving the moving image, it’s about preserving its surrounding culture too.
I don’t intend on keeping this collection indefinitely; heck, I don’t have room in my Nottingham digs for it (it’s at my parents’ house in London at the moment). In a couple of years I’ll donate it to a university library that could use it. In the meantime, I promise to keep it in good knick!
A few vintage film and television related gifts I hope to see under my tree…
The Bioscope has a good list of books about the silent era. I’ve had my eye on Bryony Dixon’s 100 Silent Films for a while, but I hadn’t come across Reading the Cinematograph and it sounds right up my street: ‘It pairs eight intriguing short stories on cinema with eight new essays unveiling the rich documentary value of the original fiction and using the stories as touchstones for a discussion of the popular culture of the period during which cinema first developed.’
Since the Hugo hype, I figured that now is the time to read the original. For an entertaining and provocative addition to the current film projection debate, I wouldn’t mind curling up with Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex. On a more techy note, while it’s been out for a few years there can be no better time to finally get hold of Giovanna Fossati’s From Grain to Pixel and teach myself some more.
From ATVLand in Colour has been getting a lot of buzz within my local heritage scene in the Midlands, and I’m determined to become more familiar with all the ITV franchises as I work on my Southern Television project. Speaking of local heritage, being a Londoner I look forward to discovering the work of John Krish.
I haven’t got a Blu-Ray player, but I expect to upgrade soonish so I’m beginning to collect a few dual-format discs, beginning with Park Circus’s Charlie Chaplin series (I received Modern Times for my last birthday). Apparently, for whatever reason, only the 1940s version of The Gold Rush is included in Blu-Ray form, whereas the 1925 original is confined to DVD. Luckily, no such controversies dog City Lights or Limelight.
When I was little I used to collect paper dolls, and this collection of iconic 50s starlets would have been the perfect gift for my 8 year old self.
I would also like a Kindle-sized version of this felt iPhone cover, made up to look like a vaguely vintage television, as well as this cutesy faux-vintage camera case (though I’d rather have a genuine Trip 35, thanks!).
If I were rich…
Alack, I can’t really afford to get into the collecting game, though I would LOVE to own a range of small gauge projectors and prints one day. A good place to start would be Umit and Son. (Thanks to James F for alerting me to that particular gem).
And finally, I would be ever so grateful to anyone willing to bid on this 16mm print of the previously lost Disney film Hungry Hobos for me – the estimate is only $30,000…
As part of the Pordenone Collegium, I’ve been tasked with writing a paper on the experience. The abstract for the paper is now overdue by a week. I’ve had my topic sorted for ages, and I kept scrupulous notes along with my festival catalogue. But now the time has come to get it down on paper… well, I just can’t seem to get it out.
Everyone at the Giornate del Cinema Muto was a cinephile of some description. Some were scholars, others professional archivists, and many regular festival attendees. Moreover, we were all there as collectors. Archivists displayed their lovingly preserved collections of films or related paraphernalia. Historians gathered the knowledge necessary to further their research. The rest of us were anoraks, dutifully ticking off screenings in our daily schedules. I don’t why we cinephiles do it, but we constantly quantify our hobby, through DVD collections, pub quiz accolades or (admittedly) blog posts, as evidence of our dedication to the cause.
Take, for instance, the Davide Turconi Project: a digitised library of 23,000 silent film fragments. The collection is incredible, and I’m sure to discuss it in more detail one day. Paolo Cherchi-Usai and Joshua Yomibe introduced the project to the Collegium in Pordenone, and my paper is in part inspired by Yomibe’s referring to film fans as (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘hoarders of cinephilic relics.’
Well, I am unashamedly a hoarder, and I doubt I would be a film archivist if I didn’t collect the relics of my cinephilia. I hoard the memories of my cinematic experiences more than physical artefacts. Someday, when this recession is over, I will amass great sums of small gauge prints and Photoplay annuals. For now, though, I present a small but deeply personal collection of Brief Encounter themed tourist attractions!
(Brief Encounter is my all-time favourite film, and I can quote it pretty much verbatim.)
Last year, when delving into microfilm copies of the Optical Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger (the precursor to the trade journal Kine Weekly), I came across this report from a projection fire, just a few years after the fatal fire at a Lumiere brothers screening in 1897. Note the way that the journal tries to alleviate any fears of further disasters by blaming careless projectionists…
‘Watch This’ is an occasional column whereby archive clips relating to a certain theme are picked from Youtube, Vimeo etc. This edition: British movie musical numbers.
British cinema: kitchen sink, social documentary, with a touch of classy costume drama. Well, not always! Occasionally we like to produce weird and wonderful musicals. I wish we would do it more often.
‘Over My Shoulder’, performed by Jessie Matthews
Evergreen (Victor Saville, 1934)
Jessie Matthews was a huge star, and it pains me to see so little of her online. Here she is in the finale to Evergreen, stripping off to prove that she isn’t her 60-something mother (don’t ask).
‘Alice Blue Gown’, performed by Anna Neagle
Irene (Herbert Wilcox, 1940)
Not my first choice for a Anna Neagle number (as Irene is technically an American film), but it was the only even partially complete clip of her singing on Youtube! The film takes a spectacular turn when it switches to technicolor mid-scene, showing off Neagle’s red hair.
‘A Swingin’ Affair’, performed by Cliff Richard and Lauri Peters (dubbed by Grazina Frame)
Summer Holiday (Peter Yates, 1963)
I was sceptical when a tutor of mine scheduled a screening of Summer Holiday as part of a ‘Spectacle in British Cinema’ module… But, though I’m no Cliff fan, the film itself is intoxicating with its technicolor location shots, innocent humour and snappy choreography by Herbert Ross.
‘All You Need is Love’, performed by The Beatles
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968)
‘High Cockalorum’, performed by Tommy Pender and, er, the lobster…
The Water Babies (Lionel Jeffries, 1978)
Everyone knows about ‘High Cockalorum’, the British 1970s equivalent to ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ or ‘Hakuna Matata’ – a musical song that just bores into your brain. Anyone remember who voices the lobster?
‘Nessun Dorma’, performed by Jussi Björling and the Rome Opera House Orchestra
Aria (various, 1987)
What to say about Aria? To be quite honest, I’ve never made it all the way through in one sitting. But a British musical round-up wouldn’t be complete without Ken Russell, who directed this bombastic blood-fest.
Finding those clips took forever. It’s amazing how little attention is paid to the musical in Britain. And yet, I still didn’t shoehorn in any Gracie Fields, Richard Lester or Alan Parker. A favourite of mine has to be Catch Us if You Can (John Boorman 1965), featuring the music of the Dave Clark Five. Sadly, there were no clips that I could find, so instead I just ordered myself the DVD.
By the middle of the week at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto I was a little starved of Vitamin D and spent more time outside the cinema than usual. I did, however, see the second screening of shorts from the Corrick Collection, as well as the triumphant evening event of Chaplin’s The Circus. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to catch a rediscovered fragment from Victor Sjostrom’s The Divine Woman (1928), featuring a tantalising kiss from none other than Greta Garbo.
Some other things I enjoyed about Pordenone (aside from the films):
Spritz Aperol – the amazing drink that looks (and tastes – sorta…) like alcoholic Irn Bru.
Little doggies – Pordenone is full of tiny dogs, particularly poodles, pugs and chihuahuas. Felt just like Hollywood.
Getting up in time to have a cappuccino with my book (and trusty film nerd bookmark!) before the first screening.
Festival tote bags – this year’s bags were a festive shade of metallic red, with Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin. A touch camp, perhaps, but attractive nonetheless.
On Thursday I was back on cinephillic form, and was in the cinema at 9am in time for Sjostrom’s The Secret of the Monastery (1922). As Eric from Silent Toronto says, there is ‘nothing like a cuckold revenge story to get the day going.’ Historical dramas from any era tend to leave me cold, and this was no exception. Not that it’s a bad film, just a little heavy for that time of morning.
The afternoon was a bizarre and educational programme largely consisting of sound films (surprisingly). First came the experiments of Sven A:son Berglund – a pioneering sound engineer who presented a strip of film synched to a separate film bearing an optical sound track to King Gustav V in 1921. The following year, he was paid to go to Germany and carry out more experiments for Ernemann AG. The presentation in Pordenone came from those Dresden tests, including music, everyday noise and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The sounds have been rediscovered and preserved by the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, and were presented alongside images of the optical sound repeated across the screen (i.e. lots of wobbly vertical lines). The effect reminded me of some of the more experimental sound animators, such as Len Lye or Oskar Fischinger.
Speaking of animation, Thursday brought a welcome second dose of Japanese cartoons, courtesy of the National Film Center of Japan. The second selection pulled away from the cut-outs, silhouettes and tints of the silent period and instead displayed some bold and abstract examples of sound and colour. There were too many films to discuss individually, but I think the one that made the greatest impression was the eerily prophetic A Day after a Thousand Years (1933) by Shigeji Ogino – a Kafkaesque, monochrome vision of the future where Tokyo is renamed Central City. The protagonist is (according to the programme notes) an animated version of the animator, who wakes up in the futuristic afterlife having been killed in the ‘Great War of 1942′. Remember, kids, this film was made before the onset of WWII – spooky!
The evening brought a welcome return to silent features with The Canadian (William Beaudine, 1926). The urban/rural divide is a repeating motif in American silent cinema; in this film, recently impoverished London resident Nora (Mona Palma) arrives at her brother’s farm in the Canadian wheatfields and spontaneously decides to marry local farmhand Frank (Thomas Meigham). Initially a marriage of convenience, Nora is forced to be uncomfortably close to Frank in their two-roomed cabin, and the tension boils over one fateful night…If this story sounds awfully close to The Wind (the festival’s closing gala screening), that’s because it is – so much so that Kevin Brownlow notes ‘one could almost regard MGM’s The Wind (1928) as a remake.’
More on The Wind tomorrow, as well as reflections and personal favourites from the festival.