Amsterdam March 31st – April 3rd 2014
The future of Cinema may well look like the EYE in Amsterdam. All windows, views, vistas, angles, exploded shapes, discovery, a perfect staging of Cinema and Architecture.
Once in Cinema 1 though its clear that the basic same arrangement is the same wherever we are; screen, rake, projected images.
I’m here at the 9th Orphans Film Symposium. A meeting of film archivists, artists and technicians, historians, philosophers and preservationists. Orphans events up til now have all been held in north America and that’s because they grew out of the activity of various departments and people at the University of South Carolina. This Orphans is the first one in Europe. The theme this year is :
The Future of Obsolescence
The event begins on the Sunday with a screening of East is West, 1922. Fully restored and presented digitally in 4K (more later on watching [old] film material presented this way) the screening was accompanied musically by Stephen Horne who was on hand during the whole event and did a great job playing along to just about everything.
The main symposium starts on Monday the following day at 9:45 with introductions by Dan Streible [NYU] , Giovanna Fossati [EYE] and others. There is a screening of a short news clip ‘Jospehine Baker Visits Volendam’ from 1928 which becomes a typical offering of the event, moving image material presented that has been forgotten, abandoned or neglected but that shows great history, meaning and value in any field of study.
Thomas Elsaesser presents a talk on Obsolescence that was impossible to take notes to. Read his books and you can get an idea of his areas of specialty.
After a break there are a series of talks with screenings. Giovanna Fossati presents 2 clips of ‘A Pretty Dutch Town’. One a fully digital, cleaned, restored version that impresses most people. The second one a photochemical restoration of the same film, presented on film. The difference is marked. The original clip had been hand coloured with stencils and in the digital version this process achieves a kind of ‘modernisation’ where the process is perfected, hidden, realised. In the celluloid version, besides the obvious grain and more contrasty image the actual stencil process is evident by the clear areas that are coloured.
Simona Monizza [EYE] presents a very interesting project about how electronic, or code based moving image work by the late Bart Vegter needed to be reassembled from obsolete hard drives and computer programs thus demonstrating the increased need to approach ALL media forms from the perspective of restoration and preservation.
After lunch there is a performance presented by various people from University of Groningen and Luxembourg and Maastricht called ‘Staging The Amateur Dispositif’ wherin various decades and eras of family home movie usage are humorously staged by an assortment of amateur players [drawn from the symposiums atteendees by the looks of it].
The later afternoon session sees presentation about lost leaders by Matt Soar. A talk by Benedict Olgada and Bill Brand about the restoration of ‘Tabula Rasa’ by the enigmatic Henry Francia 1968 and a colourful and hilariously surreal performance by Walter Forsberg and John Klacsmann from Anthology Film Archives where they do an improv noise soundtrack over one reel of a misregistered technicolour western where colour layers are out of synch producing a psychedelic blurry ghosting.
After dinner everyone returns to have the treat of seeing a large table on stage full of some pieces from Werner Nekes amazing early cinema collection with optical curiosities and toys. He is the Orphan9 recipient of the Helen Hill award and receives the award from Jodie Mack and Becky Lewis humbly.
After Werner had talked and toured everyone through some of the collection there was a screening of his early experimental film ‘Start’ 1966
restored from 16mm and presented digitally.
In the morning we are treated to an amazing piece of footage. Scanned from its original 35mm, a film called ‘Radio Bonfire’ can only promise something quite spectacularly peculiar and unbelievable. The sheen of its restored black and white and the sharpness and gritty aura of its analogue soundtrack all add up to something so good that one could almost imagine that it is a restaging, an Artists performance event. No, its a Fox-Movietone news reel from 19?? that shows exactly what it says on the tin. We see a big pile of old valve radio sets and a gathering crowd of people as more sets are unloaded off a van onto the am Mountain. A cluster of kids sit around one and discovering that it works talk about taking it home.
Then a burning rag appears and torches the whole lot! The crowd cheers and wails as the crackle and imploding furnace of radio electrics rages on into the night. If only they realised that each set would be worth hundreds of dollars today!
Perhaps one idea how to approach obsolete media??
This mornings proceedings kick off with a talk about Metadata by Mark G Cooper from U of South Carolina. This is interesting and dense and
there are many useful initiatives going on to help link Cinema related data together like the excellent Cinema Context and the US based Going To The Show.
Another thing interesting here is an example of ‘edge to edge’ scanning of film elements in order to reveal meta-data that is evident on parts of the film strip typically not visible during/on projection.
Karen Cariani from WGBH Archive presents a talk about obsolescence in tape formats and shows the kinds of material available on pre-broadcast recordings that never made air time due to limited scheduling and strict editorial.
Mark j. Williams from Dartmouth College finishes with another dense, database, meta-data driven talk/demo about the Media Ecology Project that seeks to provide more and better scholarly access to historical media.
After a welcome break we return to hear Bill Morrison talking about a piece of Fox-Movietone film from 1928, Egyptian Dancers (Whirling Dervishes) that he has used in his films.
This leads into a lively show by Evan Meany about his residency at a nuclear research facility. He talked about Bit Rot and Gravity Wells which ultimately effect the loss of electrons that constitute data and data storage. Addressing the idea and notion of obsolescence and preservation he and a team at the Oak Ridge facility developed a project called ‘Big Sleep’ where material digitised as data have an infinite storage life but the condition is that it can never be accessed again. Ever!
Heidi Rae Cooley then gives a presentation about a project that uses GPS and image tagging to create a distributed network of pictures labelled ‘Augustus’ after an amateur photographer in the 1950s who was obsessed with the word ‘Augustus’, the name of his home town and who travelled the land photographing anything called Augustus. see Augustus App
After lunch (provided by EYE and the symposium, many thanks) we come back to an afternoon programme of films and talks about amateur films and workshops from the Eastern Bloc.
The Film Studio of Ironworks Eisenhuttenstadt were amazingly well organised being equipped with film stock, cameras and other facilties by the state.
Useful Humour and satire under socialism
Czech anti-war shorts.
Soviet amateurs and the trip to Canada.
Transport and Technologies.
May Hadoung AFA. Aloha Wonderwell. To See The World By car. 1935-1937
Paul Spehr and MPM, Biograph 68mm films.
Jeff Lambert (NFPF)
Ned Thanhouser introduces Clarence Cheats At Croquet.
Bert Williams – Darktown Troubles
Jacqueline Stewart (Uof Chicago) introduces A Frontier Post, Fox Varieties 1925