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Posts Tagged ‘Film Archiving’

At DuArt Lab in New York, Thousands of “Orphan” Films

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

More proof, as if any were needed, of the fragility of film as an artistic medium.

As John Anderson writes in The New York Times, “the Midtown Manhattan building that houses DuArt, the premiere hatchery of American independent cinema for about 70 years, is 12 stories high. The elevator only goes to the 11th floor. To reach DuArt’s rooms of wonder, you need to take the stairs.

On the top floor, in one musty, institutional-green room after another, hundreds of film cans are stacked, floor to ceiling, each negative bearing the name of a long-gone production company, an obscure director or a title that may as well read ‘Dead End.’ This repository of broken dreams is also an orphanage, for movies awaiting adoption. Who made all these films? DuArt wonders the same thing.

With the rise of digital filmmaking and the subsequent demise of celluloid, DuArt in 2010 closed its photochemical division, which developed negatives and struck prints. At that point, DuArt had about 60,000 cans of film in its warren of vaults.

‘I have trouble throwing away film,’ the company’s chairman, Irwin Young, said. His father founded the company in 1922. ‘We never threw anything away. It’s because we were film people.’

Films by Woody Allen, James Ivory, Ang Lee, Gordon Parks, Tom DiCillo, Spike Lee, Susan Seidelman and more have been spoken for, but others remain unclaimed and the trail has gone cold on many of them, said Steve Blakely, a former DuArt vice president who has continued to track down filmmakers since 2010.”

Click here, or on the image above, to view the entire story; essential reading.

The Films of Jim Krell

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Jim Krell filming, Summer 1974, 3AM; Jeff Travers on sound. Photo: John Vasilik.

One of the most original and iconoclastic personalities of the New American Cinema, Jim Krell created work that is simultaneously so important, and yet so unknown, that the news that his complete works are being now being archived by Anthology Film Archives constitutes a major event, closing a significant gap in experimental film history. When screenings of his work will now appear is anyone’s guess, but the news that Krell’s original 16mm printing materials will now be safely archived is cause for a genuine sigh of relief.

Starting in the early 1970s, Krell created a series of mysterious and rigorous films that defy written description, visionary works that conjure up an entirely different vision of the physical universe. During that time, I had the opportunity to watch him at work on several occasions. What always impressed me (or perhaps “astonished” is a better word) concerning Krell’s shooting methods was the intrinsic speed and seemingly random technique he brought to his work, creating films with offhand precision that both challenged and engaged the viewer.

For one of his films, for example, Krell descended into a storm drain with a spring wound Bolex and a box of railroad flares; while shooting in the darkened tunnel, he threw lighted flares in front of him, illuminating the viaduct with rings of flaming red. For a projected film on the Patty Hearst kidnapping that was never completed, Krell shot two hours of sync-sound film in a single weekend, creating a film that, even in its unfinished state, worked both as a fictive narrative and a deconstruction of the events that led up to the affair.

In Paper Palsy (1972), one of his earliest films, archival footage of an amateur night performance at the Apollo Theater in New York is superimposed over blown up Super 8mm footage of scraped, baked, and chemically treated unexposed film stock, causing huge multi-colored blotches to interrupt the visual terrain of the Apollo Theater material at irregular intervals. The soundtrack is a recording of dolphins mating in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, played in reverse.

For his film Finally A Lamb, completed in 1976, Krell documented a performance piece by the German artist Hermann Nitsch of the Orgies/Mysteries Theater, which took place at Douglass College in the early 1970s, in which a dead sheep’s carcass was disemboweled in front of a stunned audience. For The Shoreline of China (1973), Krell shot two rolls of footage of a young woman walking up and down a beach on the coast of New Jersey at dawn, creating fades and dissolves in the camera during shooting. He then printed the color positive and negative images on top of each other in A and B roll format, with the images flipped so they cross over in the center of the frame, creating a disquieting vision of an alien landscape.

For yet another film, All Area (1978), Krell shot the shadow of a curtain on the floor of his New York loft for 30 minutes with ancient black and white Portapack ½” video equipment, then remastered the material on negative film stock with a professional film chain to achieve astonishing results in contrast, frame sizing, and the arbitrary duration of this reductive image. Soundtracks were composed out of found materials, or created electronically by Krell working with a homemade synthesizer. Running into many hours of finished work, Krell’s films would take several evenings or more to project, and have never received a fraction of the attention and critical commentary they deserve.

Other key titles from Krell’s extensive filmography include Coda/M. C. (1975), Wolverine Kills T. V. (1975), 30 Days: Speed Or Gravity (1976); Action Past Compassion (1976), Four Rolls (Rarely Pre-Dated) (Tribute to Marcel Duchamp) (1976), Fur (But Less Fun) (1976), Shame, Shame: Dallas Diary, 1964 (1977), Thank You/Your Receipt (1977), All Area (1978), (Kozo Okamoto’s Quote) (1979), and Second Thoughts (1980). But there’s a lot more on top of this, and I’m glad to see that his work will finally get the care and recognition it deserves.

Now living in Italy, Krell has long since moved on to other pursuits, but during the white hot period in which he turned out one amazing film after another in a veritable torrent of work, Krell created a singular vision that is all the more impressive because each of his films is entirely different from any other of his works; he never does the same thing twice. So the chance to see, and save, his work, is something that isn’t to be taken lightly; if nothing else, Jim Krell is a genuine original, in every sense of the word.

For more free articles and videos, visit my website at wheelerwinstondixon.com

Don’t Throw Film Away – The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) 70th Anniversary Manifesto

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

“Motion picture film forms an indispensable part of our cultural heritage and a unique record of our history and our daily lives.

Film archives, both public and private, are the organizations responsible for acquiring, safeguarding, documenting and making films available to current and future generations for study and pleasure. The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and its affiliates comprising more than 150 archives in over 77 countries have rescued over two million films in the last seventy years. However for some genres, geographical regions and periods of film history the survival rate is known to be considerably less than 10% of the titles produced.

On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, FIAF offers the world a new slogan: “DON’T THROW FILM AWAY”. If you are not sufficiently equipped to keep film yourself, then FIAF and its members will gladly help you locate an archive that is. Film is culturally irreplaceable, and can last a long time, especially in expert hands.

While fully recognizing that moving image technology is currently driven by the progress achieved in the digital field, the members of FIAF are determined to continue to acquire film and preserve it as film. This strategy is complementary to the development of efficient methods for the preservation of the digital-born heritage. FIAF affiliates urge all those who make and look after films, whether they be professionals or amateurs, and the government officials in all nations responsible for safeguarding the world cinema heritage, to help pursue this mission.

The slogan “DON’T THROW FILM AWAY” means that film must not be discarded, even though those who hold it may think they have adequately secured the content by transferring it onto a more stable film carrier or by scanning it into the digital domain at a resolution which apparently does not entail any significant loss of data. Film archives and museums are committed to preserve film on film because:

• A film is either created under the direct supervision of a filmmaker or is the record of an historical moment captured by a cameraman. Both types are potentially important artifacts and part of the world’s cultural heritage. Film is a tangible and “human-eye readable” entity which needs to be treated with great care, like other museum or historic objects.

• Although film can be physically and chemically fragile, it is a stable material that can survive for centuries, as long as it is stored and cared for appropriately. Its life expectancy has already proved much longer than moving image carriers like videotape that were developed after film. Digital information has value only if it can be interpreted, and digital information carriers are also vulnerable to physical andchemical deterioration while the hardware and software needed for interpretation are liable to obsolescence.

• Film is currently the optimal archival storage medium for moving images. It is one of the most standardized and international products available and it remains a medium with high resolution potential. The data it contains does not need regular migration nor does its operating system require frequent updating.

• The film elements held in archive vaults are the original materials from which all copies are derived. One can determine from them whether a copy is complete or not. The more digital technology is developed, the easier it will be to change or even arbitrarily alter content. Unjustified alteration or unfair distortion, however, can always be detected by comparison with the original film provided it has been properly stored.

Never throw film away, even after you think something better comes along. No matter what technologies emerge for moving images in the future, existing film copies connect us to the achievements and certainties of the past. FILM PRINTS WILL LAST – DON’T THROW FILM AWAY.”

You can read more on FIAF’s essential work by clicking here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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