NECSUS Interview on EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ Bits & Pieces

The latest issue of NECSUS – European Journal of Media Studies, #4 with the theme ‘Waste’, has been published today. For this issue I interviewed silent film collection specialist Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi and senior curator Mark-Paul Meyer at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands on their work with the unique Bits & Pieces compilations of film fragments. I have included my introduction to the interview below, the entire interview can be read here.

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Frame grab from Bits & Pieces fragment no. 417.

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“Since the late 1980s, EYE Film Institute Netherlands (formerly the Nederlands Filmmuseum) has been collecting and preserving unidentified film fragments from its collection to create an ongoing series of compilations titled Bits & Pieces. The compilations consist of fragments which the majority of film archives would tend to disregard in favour of restoring complete films, but which EYE considers to contain a certain kind of cinematic beauty which deserves to be preserved and shown. Currently, the series counts 623 fragments, each of which has been assigned a number, and spread out on 56 reels of 300 meters.

The initiative to create Bits & Pieces was taken at a time when film archives increasingly developed different institutional deontologies of preservation and when film historians went into film archives in a revisionist spirit to rediscover neglected directors, actors, exhibition practices, and technologies. The Nederlands Filmmuseum – then headed by deputy director Eric de Kuyper and assisted by staff members Peter Delpeut and Mark-Paul Meyer – gained a significant reputation at this time by propagating the view that film historians continued to neglect the fact that film archives contained a substantial amount of film fragments which could not be attributed to an author or fit into an aesthetic school. Pointing to a discrepancy between the theory of film history and film archival practice, the Filmmuseum’s staff began to plea for new forms of presenting and valorising the fragments they found, which ultimately materialised in the Bits & Pieces project.[1]

Since then, Bits & Pieces compilations have been in high demand. They are continuously programmed in festivals and have provided source material in numerous filmic appropriation works – uses that have received widespread attention in literature on found footage and recycled cinema. However, it remains relatively unknown how the curators work with the collection on a daily basis and how their selection has developed since its launch. In this interview the current curators of Bits & Pieces – silent film collection specialist Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, involved in Bits & Pieces since 2000, and senior curator Mark-Paul Meyer – met for a conversation about the appraisal of fragments at EYE and the initiative’s imperative in a past and present perspective. The interview took place in the nitrate identification facilities of EYE located on the outskirts of Amsterdam.”

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013

I am currently waiting at Schiphol airport before taking off to Pordenone for the 32nd edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. It is the second time I attend, the last time being 2010. I am not sure as to whether this year will be able to top the Soviet silents of especially Mikhail Kalatozov screened in 2010 which were incredible, but the program looks impressive nonetheless and there will be a lot of Soviet silent cinema to dive into. I am especially looking forward to Viktor Turin’s Turksib (1929) and to the programs of early Soviet animation films which I am sure will be incredibly entertaining. The full program can be found here.

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Poster for the 2013 edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

Film Art on a Rainy Day

In an article I recently read, Pierre Durteste’s “Faut-il oublier Georges Sadoul?”, I came across a quote by a young Georges Sadoul on the appreciation of film art, and rainy days, in the newspaper L’Est Républicain from 1923, written in his years as a young cinephile critic in the French town of Nancy. Though such a view was in no way unusual for its time, I keep being surprised by how articulate cinephile critics were in the early 1920s in their pursuit to legitimize film as an art form, and it makes me think to a still greater degree that the foundation of film archives in the 1930s, as has become a more widespread explanation in the last decade, has more to do with the emergence of critical discourse on film as an art form than with the transition to sound, which has been a standard view. I include the quote below with a picture which alludes to the tastes of later cinephile critics of the 1950s and 1960s to play a pun on it:

On raye le cinéma du nombre des arts, dont il est cependant l’un des plus intéressants, en le jugeant trop souvent sur un vieux film américain vu, par hasard, un jour de pluie.

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Cinema is crossed from the number of arts, of which it is nonetheless one of the most interesting, by judging it too often on an old american film seen, by chance, on a rainy day.

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Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain (Dir.: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952)