ROOSEVELT IN AFRICA

Taxidermist at Work on the Roosevelt Safari Specimens (1911, Smithsonian Institute Archives)

Posting has been slow and infrequent these last couple of weeks, mostly because I am lucky to be on research leave this semester and I have been trying to focus my writing energies elsewhere.  At the moment, I am in the middle of revising a chapter that examines the intersection between ethnographic writing and cinema.  It begins with the following excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt:

I almost always had some volume with me, either in my saddle pocket or in the cartridge-bag which one of my gun bearers carried to hold odds and ends. Often, my reading would be done while resting under a tree at noon, perhaps beside the carcass of a beast I killed, or else waiting for camp to be pitched; and in either case it might be impossible to get water for washings. In consequence the books were stained with blood, sweat, gun oil, dust, and ashes; ordinary bindings either vanished or became loathsome, whereas pigskin merely grew to look as a well-used saddle looks.”

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GSFF: AFTER THE ARCHIVE

Many thanks to Matt Lloyd and the organizers of the Glasgow Short Film Festival for organizing a wonderful day of all-things-archive.  The discussion(s) got me thinking in several directions through the archive (financial, physical, digital, conceptual).  My contribution to the discussion after the jump:

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REBIRTH OF THE AUTHOR

A follow-up to my last post on virtual conferences:

Over the last two to three years, the term “digital humanities” has displaced “interdisciplinarity” as a kind of new bureaucratic buzzword, a rallying cry for administrators under pressure to attract students, make an impact, and embrace the future, whatever that might be.

Anxieties are high among many of those who actually research and teach in the humanities.  What will the digital do to us?  And what can the digital actually do for the humanities?  Does the “digital” have any substance?  For film scholars, the digital poses a number of questions about the boundaries of our discipline, the future of our archives, and the ontology of our beloved objects.

In his most recent piece in the NYTimes, Stanley Fish takes up the term and offers his own skeptical position.  He begins:

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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.

CUT, PASTE, STUTTER, GLITCH

In 2009, the EYE Film Institute invited the public to remix 21 film fragments from the Dutch early cinema collection.  In 2010, Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) debuted his remix of Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Glaz/Kino-Pravda at the Tate Modern in London.  From Chandler McWilliam’s computer-generated Silent to Ross Whyte’s electroacoustic “glitches,” film’s first decades have been found and reformed online.  These remixes mark the proliferation of digital film archives and video-sharing platforms.  They intervene amid vigorous debates about copyright law, fair-use, and the aesthetic and political possibilities of remix culture.  But these films also raise crucial questions about the affinities between old and new media, early film and contemporary digital culture.  EYE gave the following explanation for their own (institutional) interest in a remix “contest”: Continue reading

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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(ONE) DEFENSE OF THEORY

Rupture of a Soap Bubble by a Projectile (Lucien Bull, 1904)

What is (film) theory?  Why does it matter?  Over the last year or so, I have had to draft responses to these questions (for students who would rather work on “real” films and colleagues who would rather do “real” history).  Though I am someone who takes pleasure in reading theory, arguments for pleasure (i.e., I enjoy it.  You should, too), or for the pleasures of departure (from “real” disciplinary concerns) are not all that convincing.  A first sketch of another argument:  Continue reading