July was a month of endless rain, many deadlines, and one fantastic screening of early film fragments at the Woodend Barn in Banchory. The highlight of the evening was Melancholia, a rescoring and reimagining of a film from the Miles Brothers by Ross Whyte (electronics) and Richard Craig (contrabass flute). The film captures a trolley ride through Main Street, San Francisco, just days before the 1906 earthquake. It is filled with remarkable (audio and visual) moments. Keep yours eyes peeled for the child in the back of a horse-drawn carriage who pulls back the curtain and magically appears.
The clip could do without the sound, but still:
From the creator‘s description:
The video captures an episode of the popular TV show in the act of being shared by thousands of users on bittorent. The video simultaneously acts as a visualisation of bittorrent traffic and the practice of filesharing and is an aesthetically beautiful by product of the bittorrent process as the pieces of the original file are rearranged and reconfigured into a new transitory in-between state.
“I hope history can realize that its significance is not in universal ideas, like some sort of blossom or fruit, but that its value comes directly from reworking a well-known, perhaps habitual theme, a daily melody, in a stimulating way, elevating it, intensifying it to an inclusive symbol, and thus allowing one to make out in the original theme an entire world of profundity, power, and beauty.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life”
“The film act means an open-ended film; it is essentially a way of learning.” Solanas and Getino, “Towards a Third Cinema”
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.
The Glasgow Short Film Festival is just around the corner (Feb 9-12). A symposium on the archive–Enter the Archive–will be held on February 10, followed by a screening of Frank Marshall’s work. I will be contributing to one of the panels (on archives and research). The whole festival program can be found here. It promises to be a fantastic series of screenings/discussions. Fingers crossed that archive theory and silent film historiography can live up to the standards set by the symposium’s title.
Michael Clayton, Vascular bundle of a fern rhizome (2010)
I have decided not to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in March. My reasons are largely financial. My institution has a limited budget for research expenses and I did not receive any funding for the trip. This particular year, I can’t afford to pay entirely out of pocket. The conference has become a major expense since I moved to Scotland in 2009: $200 for the conference, $800 for the plane ticket, $500 for several nights in a hotel in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, etc.
I will miss the SCMS conference. It offers a valuable snapshot of the discipline. I learn what people are working on and what subfields are developing. I meet new colleagues and potential collaborators. And: I catch up with old friends, colleagues, and mentors. It has become a kind of lifeline to an academic and social world outside of Northeast Scotland.
There are other conferences, of course. And some outstanding ones in Film and Media Studies across the UK and continental Europe.
But my decision not to attend the SCMS conference this year has me thinking about academic conferences (esp. the large, multi-day, many-paneled, state-of-the-discipline events) and the more inclusive, accessible, and environmentally sustainable alternatives that (I hope) are on the way.
This year, Kevin MacDonald will meditate on the uses of the archive. Perhaps he will discuss the economic benefits of youtube or the role that professionals can play in saving (us from) our amateurs.
The trouble with memorials and memorial lectures is that they take lack as a point of departure. They try to pay a debt (not make a profit or build a new product). They owe something (to history, memory, and ghosts).
BFI should skip the memorial. Surely, MacDonald can only increase the weight of our historical burdens.
A series of silent film/sound events, curated in collaboration with Ross Whyte and Professor Pete Stollery from the Department of Music at the University of Aberdeen. Events are free, open to the public, and participatory. If you are in the area, please join us for evenings of cinema, sound, and discussion.