VARIATION(S)

On April 21, 2011, a twenty-two-year-old Basque film student named Aitor Gametxo uploaded this remix of D.W. Griffith’s one-reel Sunbeam (1912) to Vimeo:

Variation on the Sunbeam (Aitor Gametxo, 2011)

By the end of August 2011, Variation on the Sunbeam had begun to attract the attention of cinéphiles, professional scholars, and film historians.  On August 31, Kevin Lee celebrated the work as “remix video at its best.”  On September 5, Kristin Thompson posted the film—in a “bid to help it go viral”—on the blog she shares with David Bordwell, Observations on Film Art.  On September 6, Roger Ebert tweeted about Gametxo’s Variation with a hat-tip and link to Thompson and Bordwell.  On September 8, Luke McKernan shared the “singularly inventive film” on Bioscope, a blog dedicated to silent cinema.

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AIR IN SPACE

A little late to the moon party…

Lobster Films completed its restoration of a hand-colored Voyage dans la lune (Georges Méliès, 1902) in 2011.  The work took twenty years.  It is the most expensive restoration in the history of cinema.  The print premiered at Cannes with a new soundtrack by Air.  It will screen elsewhere this month (and can be found embedded in Scorsese’s 3D homage to Méliès, Hugo).  Here, one can see an interview with Serge Bromberg, the Director of Lobster Films, on the acquisition of the print (from Spain).  In the interview, Bromberg interestingly claims that the aim of the project was “to promote…and to revive the experience of ‘Trip to the Moon’.”  It would be interesting to put some pressure on the ellipses, to hear more about the promotional ends of this particular restoration and the experience promoters hoped to revive.  More interesting perhaps, is the way in which the hyper-national restoration, promotion and re-release of the film (from Lobster to Air to Cannes) conceals the transnational circuits that the film travelled before finding its way back to origin stories and national mythologies.

ENTHUSIASM

Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska have gathered the remnants of socialist Poland’s amateur film clubs and made this material available under a creative commons license.  From their site:

These licenses grant you the right to use, copy, sometimes modify and redistribute any film, text or image that you find of interest here. The most important operational clause within the license is that these rights -to copy, modify and redistribute- must be extended to others. The source material, and all derivative works will become in perpetuity, a legally protected creative resource. Artists and others will be able to use and re-use the material for future creative exchange, enriching rather than depleting the public domain. 

It is rare for a virtual archive to be so open, accessible, and self-reflexive (an extension, perhaps, of the counter-forces that made these amateur films possible amid “the breathless flow” of State-sponsored media).  The site is available in Polish, English, Spanish, and Basque.  Films are streamable, downloadable, remixable.  The archive includes extensive notes on the history of the project and Poland’s film clubs.  Interviews with the amateur filmmakers and film club members available here, along with a handful of essays on the cultural, political, and art/film-historical questions that these images pose.

“EVEN WITH A SMALL HEELED SHOE”

Four Female Acrobats (1934 / via Rachele Ceccarelli) perform in full costume for Robert Douglas Lockhart, a Professor of Anatomy from the University of Birmingham, and A.C. Fowler, a radiographer from the University of Aberdeen.  The female body appears in live motion, slow motion, and skeletal/radiographic stills.  Linda Williams’ reading of science and bodily spectacle (“pornographic answers proceed from academic questions”) seems like a critical starting point in understanding the confusion of visual/disciplinary registers, the fetish objects that accompany these bodies, and the shift from fleshy (flashy) surfaces to bony interiors.  It is likewise worth noting that these images arrive forty years after Muybridge: Williams’ own starting point in her study of machines of the visible and visual frenzies.

ARCHIVING THE HISTORIAN’S ARCHIVE

A new film collection has just been introduced.  It stretches from 1897-1944.  It is the product of 11 years of labor; preservation support from Giornate del Cinema Muto and the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House; and a collaboration between Paolo Cherchi Usai and Joshua Yumibe.

The relationship between this archive and history, early film, and other virtual archives is difficult to describe.  From the website:

This database is a record of the 35mm nitrate film frame clippings collected by Italian film historian Davide Turconi (1911-2005) from the Josef Joye Collection in Switzerland and from other unidentified sources. The collection consists of 23,491 clippings in total (usually two to three frames each). The vast majority of the frames cover the early years of cinema (from ca. 1897 to 1915); however, some items in the collection represent films produced as late as 1944.

Another history here.  The complete clip/fragment collection can be viewed here.  The Turconi Collection (a name that displaces/conceals the layers of collecting/archiving at work) raises a number of important questions for early film historians: what is the value of the (literal) film fragment? What history can we tell with a frame or two, multiplied by 23,491?  What kind of (imaginary, phantom) history does it allow us to write, encouraged perhaps by the dazzling colors of the collection?  The archive sends us down a rabbit hole of historical and archival exchanges: from Cherchi Usai to Turconi to Joye to the anonymous others in-between.  It also sends us to the mirror as we self-reflexively consider the (seemingly limitless) boundaries of the contemporary digital archive.

In honouring “Turconi’s belief that knowledge is a treasure to be shared,” perhaps we can also ask: what kind of knowledge is constituted here?  And what is its relationship to the visual treasure?

Correction: A previous version of this post referred to the Turconi Collection as the “Turconi Archive.”  Nowhere in the project’s description/site materials is this term actually used.

THE COSMONAUT

A trailer for a (not-yet-made) film with 3571 producers from Riot Cinema Collective.

I have a vague sketch for a film production course entitled “Cinema on a Shoestring.”  It would be an “obstacles” approach to practice.  First assignment: make a trailer for a film that you have not made/written.  How do you make the not-yet-made a creative asset, rather than a gaping absence?  Second assignment: make your film with one shot and no post-production.

At the moment, I use the Riot Cinema Collective (a group of young Spanish filmmakers and thousands of virtual supporters) in my Intro to Film course as a way of demonstrating new (global) modes/models of production and distribution.  The RCC posted this teaser trailer online and invited their community to remix and remake. There are now hundreds of trailers in dozens of languages for a film that does not (and may never) exist.

EXECUTIVE REALNESS

Wading through an (overdue) article revision has taken up a lot of time these last two weeks.  Lifted my head yesterday and came across this fashion spread in the NYT, this blog, and this short film.  Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi are the writers / designers / stylists / retailers behind it all.  They are 22 years old and their site receives a breathtaking 20,000 hits per day.  From the NYTimes article on the college students and fashion phenoms:

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CINEMA SIXTEEN

 

Only a handful of screening events make me jealous of New York City lives.  The Cinema 16 project is one of them.  Curator Molly Surno pairs local bands with obscure silent films. Musicians have one month to compose an original score.  Above, Nathan Mckee accompanies two animated works.  The video and sound are both terrible, and the camera apparently died halfway through the performance.  But.  I imagine it was wonderful to be there.  Lazaro Valiente accompanies the “furies” montage from Crime Without Passion by (Slavko Vorkapich, 1934) here.