Synoptique special issue: Institutionalizing Moving Image Archival Training: Analyses, Histories, Theories

Together with my good friend Philipp Dominik Keidl – who is pursuing a PhD in Film Studies at Concordia University in Montréal and with whom I studied in the University of Amsterdam’s MA Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image between 2010-2012 – I have had the great pleasure of co-editing a special issue of Concordia University’s open access film studies journal Synoptique on the institutionalization of moving image archiving programs.

Since we graduated in 2012, we have met many graduates from other programs as well as film heritage professionals with different perspectives, gained experience and acquired new theoretical insights through our research. Building on those experiences we had wanted to work on a publication together for a while in order to reflect on the field’s status today and, hopefully, give something back to it. We wanted to do this by inviting people involved in training moving image archivists to reflect on the histories and philosophies of the programs they work with while mapping future challenges, directions, hopes and dreams. On Phillip’s suggestion this idea ended up taking the shape of a special issue of Synoptique which he has been involved with in the past few years through his research at Concordia. We are very happy with how the issue has turned out, the phenomenal line-up of contributors which we managed to put together, and the hard work (and patience) of the managing editors Philippe Bédard, Giuseppe Fidotta and Patrick Brian Smith in the making of the issue. I include the table of contents below. The entire issue can be accessed here.

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Institutionalizing Moving Image Training: Analyses, Histories, Theories

Philipp Dominik Keidl & Christian Gosvig Olesen, “Introduction”

Is Film Archiving a Profession Yet? Reflections 20 years on

Ray Edmondson, “Is Film Archiving a Profession?: A Reflection 20 Years On”

Caroline Frick, “What Price Professionalism?”

Eef Masson & Giovanna Fossati, “Interdisciplinarity, Specialization, Conceptualization. Archival Education Responding to Changing Professional Demands”

Benedict Salazar Olgado, “What Do We Profess To?”

Caroline Yeager, “The Jeffrey L. Selznick School of Preservation: Changing the Field”

Peer Review Section

Alejandro Bachmann, “Multiplying Perspectives: Reflections on the Role of a Curatorial Perspective within Academic Film Studies”

Simone Venturini, “Learn then Preserve. Historical and Theoretical Notes about the First Fifteen Years of the University of Udine’s Archival Training Program (2001-2006)”

Adelheid Heftberger, “The Current Landscape of Film Archiving and How Study Programs can Contribute”

Forum Section: Programs, Philosophies

Thomas Elsaesser, “A Look Back: The Professional Master’s Programme in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image and How It Came to Amsterdam”

Sonia Campanini, Vinzenz Hediger & Ines Bayer, “Minding the Materiality of Film: The Frankfurt Master’s Program ‘Film Culture: Archiving, Programming, Presentation'”

Ulrich Ruedel & Martin Koerber, “The Materiality of Heritage: Moving Image Preservation Training at HTW Berlin”

Oliver Hanley, “Upholding Tradition: The Master’s Program in Film Heritage at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF”

Juana Suárez & Pamela Vízner, “Education Through International Collaboration: The Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX) Program”

Rossella Catanese, “Learning From the Keepers: Archival Training in Italian Cinematheques”

Reviews Section

Giuseppe Fidotta, “Thomas Elsaesser, Film History as Media Archaeology”

Andrée Lafontaine, “Iwan Morgan and Philip John Davies, Hollywood and the Great Depression”

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EYE Residency 1 – Research and encounters with Vedrès’ and Crama’s visual film histories

This academic year I have been invited by the EYE Filmmuseum to be the institution’s first scholar in its new Artist and Scholar-in-Residence program. A press release was send out to announce this end November last year. The programme has been launched to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Collection. It gives one scholar and an artist the opportunity to work on and with material from the collection with access to its facilities and the great expertise of the Filmmuseum’s staff. Besides me, the artist Alexandra Navratil – whose work you can read more about here – has also been invited.

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A picture of me at EYE Filmmuseum’s Collection Center in Amsterdam Noord.

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It is a great honor for me to accept this invitation and also a unique opportunity for me to do research on parts of the collection which I have wanted to look into for a long time. The research I do in this context – while it is a small independent project on its own – nicely ties in with research I am currently doing within a few other projects which also involve EYE Filmmuseum. These projects are the video annotation project MIMEHIST which I have previously written about here – as well as the project The Sensory Moving Image Archive (SEMIA) – which I am yet to write about (blog posts about that will follow and are in the making). SEMIA is a project which aims to enable artistic and creative reuse of parts of the collections of EYE Filmmuseum and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. In SEMIA media historians and heritage professionals collaborate with computer scientists to extract data on different image features such as colour, movement, shape and texture to enable artists and creative users to make data visualisations of patterns and similarities in the collections in a non-evidentiary manner. Roughly this means that they can create video works and visualizations based on the collection which, rather than visualizing data for the purpose of supporting stylistic or aesthetic analyses – what scholars refer to as stylometry – seeks to visualize patterns in more intuitive and exploratory ways so as to potentially challenge the patterns which scholars observe. Yet, the project will also benefit media historical research in that it seeks to produce a search interface which allows to browse films and videos in the two collections based on visual features extracted with visual analytics software rather than with descriptive metadata. The SEMIA project’s emphasis on appropriation and artistic research offers the point of departure for my current research as Scholar-in-Residence at EYE Filmmuseum.

In this post I will offer context on my research, discuss some preliminary findings and comment on a few works by filmmakers Nicole Vedrès and Nico Crama which I have been looking into.

Research during my residency at the EYE Filmmuseum

My project as a Scholar-in-Residence takes the cue from the SEMIA project and builds on my longstanding interest in experimental found footage filmmaking, recycled cinema practices and current videographic film studies. After encountering filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky‘s work sometime in 2006 I became interested in the Austrian avant-garde and the ways in which found footage filmmaking keeps mutating and productively yields new insights into film historiography and archival collections and challenge traditional written scholarship and its assumptions. Reading Nicole Brenez’ succinct Cartographie du Found Footage (2000) around that time – one of the most formative film studies essays I have ever read – I have since sought to understand how film history and its development may be depicted and analyzed with various audiovisual means. This is something I have previously written about here.

Such filmmaking practices are particularly topical today as it becomes increasingly accepted for scholars to make audiovisual essays as actual publications and research output as a consequence of the emergence of videographic film studies in recent years. While scholars may not be as artistically acute as the pioneering found footage experimentalists it is certainly refreshing to see how practices developed in an artistic realm inform contemporary scholarly audiovisual essays, videography and audiovisualcy and have paved the ways for new types of scholarship.

In a way, I feel the emergence of videographic film studies allows scholars today to explore a kind of audiovisualcy – to use the term advocated by the Vimeo group created by film scholar Catherine Grant – which cinephiles and film scholars have made the case for since the very early days. There are many examples which one may cite to illustrate how scholars have wanted to understand film with its proper means throughout the history of film scholarship. Personally, I find the following quote from G.-Michel Coissac’s 1925-monograph Histoire du cinématographe. De ses origines jusqu’à nos jours (Éditions du “Cinéopse”, 1925) fascinating in the way in which it highlights the instructive nature of Julien Duvivier and Henri Lepage’s film on film history La machine à refaire la vie (1924) (which I translate to the best of my ability here):

In the beginning of the year 1924, two young directors, Misters Julien Duvivier and Henri Lepage, made La machine à refaire la vie, a film approximately 3000 metres long, which, better than any text, allows to follow the accomplished progress and to observe them, by letting the different productions obtained from each period follow each other in succession on the screen. Nothing is more eloquent and instructive than this view of scenes from the same films made at years of distance and which are the best demonstration of cinema’s technical evolution.

Since that point in time, multifarious ways of exploring film history through filmmaking and videography have emerged and I feel it is pertinent to say this is a particularly crucial moment for film scholarship because we can finally rework (digitized) films quite easily to present arguments about them, instead of only writing texts.

Working on the SEMIA project – which will enable new data-driven artistic and historiographic practices of reuse – raises the question on how the outcome will complement current videographic practices and the appropriation works associated with the EYE Filmmuseum. Historically the Filmmuseum has been at the forefront of inviting artists to work with their collections to various ends – among them historiographic. It holds a special place in the history of found footage filmmaking, in particular because of its Bits & Pieces collection and the appropriations of its archival material in the works of artists such as Fiona Tan and Gustav Deutsch. Thus, taking the SEMIA project and my interest in found footage and videographic film studies as departure points, my research during my residency aims to critically understand the project in relation to earlier filmic appropriation works associated with the Filmmuseum. The goal is to offer historical context to the project so as to elucidate its historiographic potential and indicate productive future research avenues. In this regard, my research does not only look back at the found footage practices which emerged in the 1980s in a new light – which numerous scholars have already studied in great depth – but also considers the Filmmuseum’s earlier compilation films and documentaries which made use of its collection or which it programmed, so as to hopefully yield a more encompassing cartography of the reuse practices which the institution has engendered as a basis for comparative analysis of past and present practices. When the research is over this summer I aim to have produced a concise article which discusses three different practices and periods: first, compilation films and documentary works from (or acquired in) the 1930s to the 1960s; second, the 1980s and 1990s found footage practices mentioned above, which I will study in a new light by attending to parts of EYE’s business archive; and third more recent artistic data-driven projects such as Jan Bot and the outcomes of SEMIA.

In the remaining parts of this post I offer a few preliminary observations on the first focus of my research, compilation films and documentary works from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Compilations and compilation films at the Filmmuseum – Forgotten Histories?

The first part of my research looks at early compilation films on film history acquired or produced by EYE Filmmuseum between its earliest years and up until the end of the 1960s. In this period, the Filmmuseum made or acquired numerous films which reflected on film history to screen to audiences both to teach film history and emphasize the value of its preservation work. This could take the form of compilations of scenes or new works. Regarding the former, film scholar Bregt Lameris writes:

…the Filmmuseum deliberately chose to isolate specific fragments from the rest of the film because they considered them to hold specific importance for the discourse on the history of cinema. (Lameris, 2017, p. 50)

These works tend to receive little attention. They are seen as reflecting purely documentary and educational aspirations and as coming across as too overtly didactic, rather than exploring (film) history from subjective perspectives. Furthermore, they are often dismissed because of what scholars today  qualify – and in many cases for very good reasons – to be simplistic views on film history and unnecessarily teleological accounts of film history’s masterpieces.

Yet, as scholars increasingly embrace videographic film studies there seems to be a renewed appreciation of such films, in a pursuit to establish alternative origin points for contemporary practices in order to understand them in a broader spectrum of educational, scholarly initiatives. For instance, in a recent article film scholar Volker Pantenburg has made the case for going beyond the canonical essayistic works of Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard as touchstones for videographic film studies to reconsider the educational television documentaries of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in relation to contemporary videographic film studies. Along these lines, Pantenburg makes the case for doing new archival research to dig out and critically reconsider works which we seldom consider important.

It is in a somewhat similar fashion that I have been digging into the Filmmuseum’s archive to see what what films on film history are in there and what views on film history they represent, looking both at analogue and digital copies. In my research so far I have created a (yet non-exhaustive) list of compilation films and documentaries from the Filmmuseum’s Collection, which consists of the following titles:

  • Veertig jaar cinematografie (B.D. Ochse, Willy Mullens, Cornelis Simon Roem, NL, Haghe Film, 1936)
  • The Beginnings of the Cinema (UK, British Film Institute, 1938)
  • Film and Reality (Alberto Cavalcanti & Ernest Lindgren, UK, British Film Institute, 1942)
  • La naissance du cinéma (Roger Leenhardt, France, Les films du compas, 1946)
  • Uit de oude Doos (NL, Nicolaas Körmendy, 1948, Haghe Film (Den Haag))
  • Paris 1900 (Nicole Vedrès, Frankrijk, 1948 – 1949, Panthéon)
  • Eerste stappen (NFM, NL, 1954)
  • De Geboorte van een nieuwe kunst (Nederland, Nederlands Filmmuseum, 1954)
  • Het gebeurde gisteren (Wim Povel, NL, Polygoon Profilti Producties, 1957)
  • Aan de wieg der jongste muze (NL, Nederlands Filmmuseum, 1961)
  • Images fantastiques (Nico Crama, NL, 1962)
  • Het witte doek (Nico Crama, Nederland, Nederlands Filmmuseum, 1964)

Several of these films have been easy to find because they are labelled as “Film historical reflections” in EYE’s catalogue (“filmhistorische reflectie”), while others that deal with film history as a subject are less obvious even though they could clearly fit within this category.

Yet, beyond their place within this category it is not always easy to determine for some of the Dutch titles whether a film has been produced by the Nederlands Filmmuseum or just acquired by it for screening and distribution purposes. For instance, the two films Eerste stappen and De Geboorte van een nieuwe kunst are archived as Filmmuseum productions and also cited elsewhere as such. However, the prints’ physical appearance suggests something else. As Mark-Paul Meyer, Senior Curator at EYE Filmmuseum, who assisted me in the viewing of these prints, pointed out to me, it is rather peculiar that these two films – both dated 1954 – have a variable density soundtrack. This indicates they could be made much earlier. We tried to determine this by going back to the old title cards of the films to see when they had been acquired. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one. For this reason, some of the list’s Dutch titles cannot in a clear-cut way be considered as one corpus of films produced by the Filmmuseum, and I am currently still trying to establish the exact filmography details of them. Yet, their existence in the collection certainly reflect how films acquired and screened by the institution in a certain period also reflected specific views of film history.

Content-wise, several of these films do show a very traditional, teleological view of film history in the way they establish a birth-maturity pattern in their appropriation of the material they work with. One such instance is the film Aan de wieg der jongste muze, produced by the Filmmuseum in 1961 using materials from its collection, which states in its introductory title: “Film is only a lifetime old. At birth she was only futile and helpless as a baby”. This is not an isolated example and one can certainly see how this invites an understanding of them as quite old-school in their understanding of film history.

However there are also titles which do not fit into this picture at all. This concerns the works of Nicole Vedrès and Nico Crama which show more playful and essayistic approaches in their appropriations of archival sources. In the past few months I have been doing a bit of research on their work and am currently writing it up. In the concluding two parts  I share a few preliminary remarks.

Nicole Vedrès Visual Film Histories

During my research I came across a film which I have wanted to see for years since first reading about it but never got the chance to: Nicole Védrès’ Paris 1900 (France, 1947). This film has often been referred to as an early example of an archive-based production in a vein of essayistic and/or found footage filmmaking. For instance at last year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna where it had quite a revival in a recently restored version as part of a retrospective of Vedrès work curated by Emilie Cauquy and Bernard Eisenschitz  (a video recording of a round table discussion with Vedrès’ son Laurent Vedrès, Cauquy and Eisenschitz can be viewed here). Unfortunately I could not attend Il Cinema Ritrovato last year, but now I got the chance to make up for this by watching the Filmmuseum’s print which contains a Dutch introduction and titles.

Paris 1900 is a work consisting of archival footage which depicts Paris’ belle epoque and its intellectual and cultural life and habits, while tracing its decline and the emergence of conflict and war sentiments in the pre-WWI years. As such it interrogates a brief defining transitional moment in the twentieth century which invites us to think about the passage of time, our changing collective memory and power structures.

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Watching one of EYE Filmmuseum’s copies of Paris 1900 (Nicole Védrès, France, 1947) at the EYE Collection Centre in Amsterdam North.

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This title is particularly interesting for my research in several ways. First of all it intertwines in interesting ways with the Filmmuseum’s own history. As one can read in film historian and preservationist André Stufkens’ monograph Redder van de tiende muze. Jan de Vaal en het Nederlands Filmmuseum 1946 – 1987 (Uitgeverij IJzer, 2016) on Jan de Vaal – the Nederlands Filmmuseum’s director from 1946 to 1987 – the film was one of the first films bought by the Nederlands Filmmuseum – a very significant budget post at the time which necessitated loans – as a way to advocate the importance of film archiving. I would refrain from reading too much into this circumstance by aligning Jan de Vaal’s acquisition decision with Vedrès visionary appropriation of archival footage. Yet, I do find it exciting to think of this film’s early acquisition by the Filmmuseum as serendipitously establishing a beginning point for the institution’s strong commitment to lyrical and associative forms of filmmaking in the archive. The film’s simultaneously poignant historical portrayal and lyrical appropriation seems to nicely encapsulate the Filmmuseum’s origins in two very different collections which it merged with in 1952; the artistic and avant-garde repertoire films of the Uitkijk collections and the more overtly documentary collection of the Nederlandsch Historisch Film Archief. In any case, it is certainly a strong example of the richness of early filmic appropriation as a means to understand film history.

Going beyond the institutional frame of EYE Filmmuseum, Vedrès’ historiographical approach also, I feel, deserves much more recognition and attention for the visionary approach it articulated during WWII and in the immediate postwar years. In particular her monograph Images du cinéma français, which consists almost entirely of film images of French cinema’s history up to that point is a deeply fascinating work. Made as a dream-like exploration of film images in a surreal fashion – the book includes a foreword by surrealist poet Paul Éluard which stresses these qualities – the juxtapositions  of the images associate motifs of image features across periods, genres and styles. For instance, the volcanic eruption of Méliès’ 1902-film L’Éruption du Mont Pelée (if I am not mistaken also known as Éruption volcanique à la Martinique) is associated with images of the exploding Eiffel Tower in Luitz-Morat’s La Cité foudroyée (France, 1924).

As Eisenschitz has highlighted in an eminent background article on Images du cinéma français  in Trafic, the book suggests an a-hierarchical visual film history which may be considered as a counter-point to the more traditional masterpiece histories of the time which – in the way in which it used material from la Cinematheque française – also offered a blueprint for especially Henri Langlois’ exhibition practices. In brief, this is truly an astonishing and important work which Paris 1900 should be related to, in order to understand its visual analysis. I include a few scans from my own copy of the book below for an impression.

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Nico Crama’s Film History Films

Another filmmaker’s work I am looking into in my research is that of Nico Crama. In the Netherlands, and in Dutch film scholarship in particular, Nico Crama is a quite well known filmmaker because of his significant and pioneering contribution to animation and documentary film as well as his work as a producer, for instance of works by Frans Zwartjes and Paul Verhoeven. Crama made a few films – Images fantastiques 1962) and Het witte doek (1964) in collaboration with the Filmmuseum which highlighted different aspects of the institution’s activities while offering reflections on film history’s development. While the didactic aspirations of these films are clear they are far from being stale teleological tales of cinema’s birth but are rather playful in their approach showing clear affinities with the New Wave sensibilities of the time.

Het witte doek – which can roughly be translated into the white screen (or canvas to be exact) – is a four-part documentary which focuses first on early cinema, then on the relation between film and literature, la nouvelle vague and the human on film. The first part is particularly interesting as a film historical reflection in the way in which it takes the cue from the Lumière brothers first train films to dissect a contemporary documentary production taking place at the Gevers Deynoot square in Scheveningen, The Hague, where a tram is seen arriving and the activities on the square filmed. The film takes a reflexive approach almost reminiscent of contemporary cinéma verité filmmaking as a way to pedagogically show what film production entails and where it came from explaining it to contemporary audiences in a historical perspective.

Images fantastiques is, I think, a little gem. In its first part, Images fantastiques playfully incorporates archival material from the Filmmuseum’s collection – for instance poster material from the Jean Desmet Collection – into an animated sequence which shows differences in cinema-going at three points in time: first early cinema, then at around 1930 and finally at the point in time the film was made, when New Wave and modernist filmmaking were prominent in film programming. The film’s second part documents a screening of the Filmmuseum’s traveling cinema installed in The Hague, focusing on the encounter of a modern audience with a museal restaging of early cinema exhibition practices. In its depiction of the differences, the film is at the same time instructive and highly entertaining. In the animated sequence, the three different eras of cinema-going are depicted in three episodes where a spectator is seen leaving home, entering a cinema hall – richly illustrated with typical cinema posters of the time – to watch different films and responding to them in different ways. These episodes go backwards in time from the 1960s to early cinema. In the 1960s sequence, a glass-wearing deadpan intellectual is seen watching Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (France, 1959). In the early 1930s second sequence, a spectator is amused by Josef von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel (Germany, 1930). And finally, in the early cinema sequence, a spectator laughs out loud from watching the Pathé Frères comedy Rosalie et son phonographe (Roméo Bosetti, France, 1911). While clearly indebted to the time’s New Wave filmmaking, Crama’s Images fantastiques seems to suggest that film-going might have been more fun in the early days and may thus be taken to challenge the view that saw this period as merely a primitive forerunner. I include screen grabs from the three sequences below to give an illustration.

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While EYE Filmmuseum has a few titles by Crama and also holds his paper archive in its collection, Crama’s filmic work is preserved by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum. The institute has made several of his works freely available for viewing online here among which both Het witte doek and Images fantastiques.

These are just some of the films I have been looking into and which have surprised me in my research. By considering these titles within a broader reflection on moving image appropriation and artistic reuse I hope I will be able to yield a more fine-grained picture of the Filmmusuem’s commitment to videographic film studies in a past and present perspective, from its early days and leading up to the SEMIA project.

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Eisenschitz, Bernard, “Le film de papier (Images du cinéma français de Nicole Vedrès, 1945)”, in Trafic, no. 100 (2016)

Lameris, Bregt. Film Museum Practice and Film Historiography – The Case of the Nederlands Filmmuseum. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017.

Pantenburg, Volker, “Towards an alternative history of the video essay: Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne” in Necsus, Vol. 5, No. 12 (2017)

Seligardi, Beatrice. “Cinema Ritrovato 2017: “Paris 1900” e Nicole Vedrès, pioniera del found footage”, blog post on Cinefilia ritrovata, July 1, 2017.

Stufkens, André. Jan de Vaal en het Nederlands Filmmuseum 1946 – 1987. Utrecht: Uitgeverij IJzer, 2016.

Vedrès, Nicole. Images du cinéma français. Paris: Les Éditions du chêne, 1945.

Introducing MIMEHIST: Annotating EYE’s Jean Desmet Collection

After successfully defending my dissertation in May, I have been busy working on and preparing a few new projects which I will be involved in, in the next couple of years and which are all very exciting. Now that a new academic year is beginning I thought it was about time I began telling a bit about them. The first project I will discuss here is the MIMEHIST project, which aims at developing a scholarly annotation environment for EYE Filmmuseum’s Jean Desmet Collection.

There is a very brief presentation of MIMEHIST on the website of CLARIAH (Common Lab Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities). However, the description is very general and not very detailed which was also a reason for me to write a blog post. In this post I will describe how our project builds on earlier multimedia annotation projects in media studies, discuss some of its theoretical underpinnings and how these may nurture new ways of using annotation in film historical research. The focus in this post is mostly on theory, methodology and functionalities. The historical case studies of the project will be described in greater detail in another post.

CLARIAH and MIMEHIST: Annotating EYE’s Jean Desmet Collection

Towards the end of February I received a grant for a video annotation project which will last a bit more than a year – from April 2017 to June 2018. The project is called MIMEHIST: Annotating EYE’s Jean Desmet Collection and is a pilot project within the larger research program CLARIAH (Common Lab Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities) which aims at developing a national research infrastructure for  humanistic disciplines and the arts in the Netherlands. Within this research program there was a call for pilot projects last year, which invited applications focusing on digitized collections and different historical research questions and case studies. The cases and collections will be embedded in the Media Suite developed by CLARIAH in order to advance digital research methods in media studies. It will be available for scholars in the Netherlands with a Dutch university login.

With help from Liliana Melgar, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, I wrote an application in the fall of 2016 focusing on developing an annotation environment for the Jean Desmet Collection of EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The project officially started in April and I am working on it together with Liliana Melgar who is in charge of defining the user requirements with me, as well as Willem Melder from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision who works on data interoperability and Roeland Ordelman and Jaap Blom who are taking care of the software development and engineering within the project. After the project’s beginning we also had the great luck of being joined by Ivan Kisjes, who works as an archaeologist and programmer at the University of Amsterdam’s CREATE project, and who will be doing OCR work and text mining in our project.

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Jean Conrad Ferdinand Theódore Desmet (1875-1956)

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The Jean Desmet Collection, preserved at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, contains the archives of film distributor and cinema owner Jean Desmet (1875-1956) who was active mostly in the early period of silent cinema and its transitional years. The collection consists of approximately 950 films produced between 1907 and 1916, a business archive containing more than 120.000 documents (these will be OCR’ed in our project), some 1050 posters and around 1500 photos. Parts of the collection were acquired by the Filmmuseum shortly after Desmet’s death in 1957 and then gradually expanded throughout the years with additional acquisitions. The Desmet Collection is unique because of its large amount of rare films from the transitional years of silent cinema, and because of the richness of its business archive holds extensive documentation of early film exhibition and distribution practices in the 1910s. These features contribute to its immense historical value which was one of the main reasons why it was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011.

Most of the material in the Collection has been digitized in different projects throughout the years. In the past few months I have worked on a report to outline exactly how the digitization work for each of the Collection’s subcollections was carried out which will provide a fundament for embedding it in the CLARIAH Media Suite. For more information on the Desmet Collection, EYE Filmmuseum has made a dossier on its website. And, for a more elaborate history of the Collection, film historian Ivo Blom has written a beautiful monograph on Desmet’s business activities and life which is available as an open access book from the Amsterdam University Press in the OAPEN Library.

Scholarly background: Audiovisualcy, multimedia editions and film segmentation as interpretation

Where do the methods and assumptions of MIMEHIST come from and why are they important for media historians? This is what I will try to answer in this section.

Readers of this blog will know that I have a great deal of enthusiasm for multimedia editions of archival film which facilitate analytical interaction with film – or video versions of films. These formats work with audiovisual media in media res by insist on a certain kind of audiovisualcy – as film scholar Catherine Grant has aptly called it – as a basis for scholarly interpretative processes – be they critical or historiographical. A fundamental key tenet in this kind of scholarship is that scholars, instead of only writing about film, cite, segment and re-edit films in different ways and to different ends as a foundation for their reflection and interpretation. There are several projects and theoretical writings which MIMEHIST finds inspiration in, in this regard. I would like to highlight some of them here.

In particular, I have been inspired by the Digital Formalism research project carried out in Vienna. This was a research project on Dziga Vertov’s work and theory which ran from 2007-2010 involving media scholars at the University of Vienna, archivists from the Austrian Filmmuseum and computer scientists from the Vienna University of Technology. Through extensive manual segmentation and data visualization the project explored Vertov’s montage style in relation to his theories on film montage and rhythm. Moreover, I have previously written enthusiastically about the Hyperkino DVD series which aimed at developing a historical-critical presentation format for annotated versions of Soviet classics or rarities.

Before these more recent projects, there have been several advanced efforts to conceive scholarly multimedia projects for film historiography in the past decades. In the 1990s, for instance, there was a rich experimentation with what was then referred to as hypermedia in CD-Rom formats in film studies, in the US in particular. Several groundbreaking projects were developed such as Lauren Rabinovitz’ The Rebecca Project (1995), the multimedia textbook The Virtual Screening Room developed at MIT by Henry Jenkins, Ben Singer, Ellen Draper and Janet Murray between 1992-1999, as well as Yuri Tsivian’s CD-Rom on pre-Soviet silent cinema Immaterial Bodies: Cultural Anatomy of Early Russian Cinema (2000). The latter was released by the University of Southern California’s Labyrinth project in its groundbreaking series of Cine-Discs edited by Marsha Kinder.

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An original order form for Yuri Tsivian’s Cine-Disc Immaterial Bodies: A Cultural Anatomy of Early Russian Film (2000) which Marsha Kinder has uploaded to her great website.

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Conceptually however, one may trace the urge to work directly on films as a historicizing working method even further back, for instance to the 1920s when Parisian cinephiles would be making compilation films of moments of particular cinematic beauty – or photogénie – to mark the end of a year spent at the cinema with a critical hit list. Or for instance – as film scholar Michael Witt has discussed with great insight – to Jean Mitry’s Film sur le montage (France, 1965), as well as to a great deal of compilation and found footage films.

There are also several interesting texts written in the 1970s, which tend to be considered hermeneutical antecedents in today’s digital humanities and discussions on audiovisualcy. In particular, Raymond Bellour’s classic article Le texte introuvable (1975) – in English The Unattainable Text – is often cited as almost prophetic in its heartfelt plea for a format or situation which allows film scholars to cite audiovisual fragments and to manipulate playback speed and direction as a way to interpret films through segmentation and scrutiny. Elsewhere in his writings on film analysis – to be precise in the article “To Segment/To Analyze (on Gigi)” – Bellour has also beautifully highlighted film segmentation as a process of interpretation in which one constantly finds new meanings and layers:

…segmentation is a mise-en-abîme, a ‘plumbing of depths’, a process that has no end theoretically – which does not mean that it has no meaning, in fact, that is its whole meaning.

In recent years, Bellour’s ideas to a large extent provided the fundament for the brilliant scholarly video annotation software Lignes de Temps, developed by the Pompidou Centre’s Institut de recherche et d’innovation. Unfortunately, this software is no longer being updated.

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LignesdetempsYardbirds

Screen cap from Lignes de Temps (here I was busy analyzing the fantastic concert scene with the Yardbirds in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (UK/I/US, 1966))

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Another text which is less frequently cited today, but which I find immensely interesting, is an article written by film scholar and co-founder of the Harvard Film Archive Vlada Petric in 1974-1975, “From a Written Film History to a Visual Film History”, published in Cinema Journal in 1975. Different from Bellour’s hermeneutical approach to film analysis, Petric suggested a more scientistic, quantitative approach to especially the study of montage and style, as a way to create a more accurate empirical basis for film historiography. While the canon of films and historiographical assumptions underpinning Petric’s article may seem dated today, I think the article is hugely interesting in the way it articulates a special role for film archives and insists on an analytical situation in which scholars scrutinize film prints in archives to develop a “visual/analytical” approach to film analysis. As Petric wrote in his article:

…the appropriate methodology of film history cannot be attained in our time without the full cooperation of the film archives, which possess the prints and have access to technical facilities, without which it is impossible to grasp the cinematic structure of a film.

In many respects, these projects and theoretical texts underpin the MIMEHIST project’s development of annotation functionalities for media scholars, working with the example of EYE’s Jean Desmet Collection. It would undoubtedly sound a bit grand to claim that MIMEHIST will fulfill all the ambitions articulated by them. However, it is certainly a theoretical lineage which we feel indebted to and find inspiration in, in developing video annotation for historical analysis in new directions. Working from these theoretical coordinates we try to nurture a historical methodology relying on video annotation which we may qualify as more open-ended and dynamic, something we will also try to achieve by drawing on annotation practices in other disciplines.

Open-ended and dynamic historical representations in annotated film editions

How are we planning to achieve this and how will this differ from previous multimedia editions of (archival) films or annotation software/projects?

There are several aspects in which we could say that our project wishes to create a research situation which allows for doing audiovisual analysis reminiscent of the projects discussed above but which also builds on them by drawing on annotation software and practices in other disciplines.

First of all, we will facilitate and encourage segmentation and labelling of films as a basis for interpretation of, in particular, stylistic and formal aspects of films. The annotation environment resulting from MIMEHIST should ideally allow scholars to analyze digitized films from the Jean Desmet Collection – and audiovisual material more broadly – through a process of segmentation and labelling. It will allow scholars to engage in a process of coding through labelling, in a manner which we consider congruent with the “plumbing of depths” of film segmentation as suggested by Raymond Bellour; a subjective interpretation process which is not finite, but which may have different end points for different scholars because they observe and annotate different aspects of a film. By creating different layers and timelines in the CLARIAH Media Suite’s Segmenting Player scholars may categorize shot types, scenes and sequences following a personal coding scheme. Furthermore, scholars may also use such a coding procedure to get a better grasp on the structure of films, as suggested by Petric, in order to establish firm empirical evidence for their interpretation. MIMEHIST will not facilitate statistical functionalities however – for instance shot boundary detection – but may allow scholars to annotate and count film features as they like.

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CLARIAHSegmentingPlayer

A first glimpse of the CLARIAH Media Suite Segmenting Player in its early development phase.

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In order to develop this, MIMEHIST also looks beyond film theory, and finds inspiration in qualitative methodology and Grounded Theory approaches used for coding video or audio interviews in the social sciences, anthropology and ethnography. What scholars in these fields often do is to use video/audio editing software to tag and label interview bits and organize them into different categories and color-coded layers on a time-line, while linking them to related materials. This work lasts until the researcher feels the material is exhausted in a subjective – or collaborative – coding process. The coding procedures of qualitative methodology may be considered somewhat similar to the mise-en-abîme-feeling of film segmentation as described by Bellour because it is an analytical process without a logical end point. For MIMEHIST this is interesting because it allows us to draw productively on a lot of expertise and practical experiences on interpretation of audiovisual material from qualitative methodology in order to develop film and media annotation further.

Beyond labelling and tagging, it is also the idea that scholars should be able to present an annotated version of a film with MIMEHIST and synthesize the main findings of their work in an edited and staged version for peers as a last step in their historiographical operation. This may be reminiscent of the kind of presentation format which Hyperkino developed. In particular, it will rely on links made between films and related material in the Desmet Collection which researchers can organize in a personal user space. Furthermore, the presentation format of MIMEHIST should ideally offer a kind of video playback mode in which annotations – or footnotes as they were called in Hyperkino – may be accessed by clicking on an icon. It will also differ in several fundamental aspects from a project such as Hyperkino. First of all, MIMEHIST will allow scholars to make different versions of the same film. Scholars may thus produce different – perhaps competing – interpretations of the same title. This should allow for a greater multiplicity of viewpoints to be expressed about the films in the Desmet Collection from various theoretical angles and will also, hopefully, nurture a more open-ended and dynamic historical interpretation of the films as well as representations of them. Whereas Hyperkino relied on the closed DVD-format to present one interpretation, MIMEHIST will not have the limitation of such a format. Furthermore, we also aim to make the scholarly annotation work more transparent. For instance, in addition to making an edited, annotated version available to other scholars, a researcher may also offer access to the work folder and coding underlying a version so as to allow other scholars to critically scrutinize exactly what they did or to engage in collaborative annotation.

Hopefully this will all work out. These functionalities are now in the development phase and what I have discussed above is the goal we are working towards. I will write more about the case studies which the project will focus on later. But as it looks now, I have lined up two types of cases: one case, which will focus on non-fiction films in the Desmet Collection, with particular attention to the representation of war during WWI and the films’ distribution in the Netherlands in this period. A second case study will focus on an incomplete film, to analyse how its form and distribution life may possibly be better understood by linking it to film-related material in the Desmet Collection. More about that later.

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References

Bellour, Raymond, ed. Constance Penley. The analysis of film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Gauthier, Christophe. La passion du Cinéma. Cinéphiles, ciné-clubs et salles spécialisées à Paris de 1920 à 1929. Paris: AFRHC and École des Chartes, 1999.

Grant, Catherine, ”Film and Moving Image Studies: Re-Born Digital? Some Participant Observations”, in Frames Cinema Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 (2012)

Olesen, Christian Gosvig, Eef Masson, Jasmijn van Gorp, Giovanna Fossati & Julia Noordegraaf “Data-Driven Research for Film History: Exploring The Jean Desmet Collection” in The Moving Image, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2016)

Petric, Vladimir, ”From a Written Film History to a Visual Film History”, in Cinema Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, Symposium on the Methodology of Film History (Winter, 1974-1975) 21.

Singer, Ben, “Hypermedia as a Scholarly Tool”, in Cinema Journal, vol. 34, no. 3 (1995)

Witt, Michael. Jean-Luc Godard. Cinema Historian. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

PhD Defense 10 May, 2pm

I am very happy to be able to announce the upcoming defense of my PhD dissertation. March 15, the PhD Committee approved my dissertation and with that also the defense date. In the Netherlands, the defense usually takes place approximately two months after the approval of the dissertation and is held as a public ceremony.

The defense will take place on Wednesday 10 May, 2pm at the University of Amsterdam’s Agnietenkapel. On the committee will be  – apart from my supervisor and promotor Professor Julia Noordegraaf (UvA) – the following distinguished members:

Prof. dr. Vinzenz Hediger, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Prof. dr. Frank Kessler, Universiteit Utrecht

Prof. dr. Barbara Flückiger, Universität Zurich

Dr. Eef Masson, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Patricia Pisters, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Charles Jeurgens, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Giovanna Fossati, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Below is a glimpse of the cover of the printed version prepared for the defense. The cover image is a so-called summary visualisation of the film L’obsession du souvenir – a Gaumont production from 1913 starring Suzanne Grandais – which I created with the scientific visual analytics software ImageJ. There is more info about how and why this visualisation was created here.

More info on the event can be found at the University of Amsterdam’s and the Research School for Media Studies’ websites here and here.

Cover_Film_History_in_the_Making

Ken Jacobs and Early Cinema Studies

Tuesday next week I have the great honor of presenting a film program titled ‘Ken Jacobs and Early Cinema Studies’ around Ken Jacobs avant-garde classic Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (USA, 1969-71)in the EYE Filmmuseum’s E-Cinema Academy screening series. Apart from Jacobs’ film the program will feature works by Noël Burch and Peter Tscherkassky. Below you can read my description of the program and background essay which were posted on E-Cinema Academy’s blog.

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EYE on Art

Program Description

Tom, Tom

This evening presents a program dedicated to Ken Jacobs avant-garde classic Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-1971). The films in the program highlights its contribution to the revision of early cinema’s history, which occurred throughout the 1970s, and its repercussions in contemporary experimental filmmaking.

Ken Jacobs’ Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son appropriates cameraman Billy Bitzer’s homonymous film from 1905. When Jacobs rented an archival print of it for teaching purposes in the late 1960s, he was astonished by its composition which, not containing the conventional analytical editing of later mainstream cinema, made it difficult to discern the central action and characters. To explore and understand its form and modes of address, Jacobs began performing with the film on an analytical projector with a variable-speed function in reverse and forward projection mode, and to focus on details in the image by filming it from behind a translucent screen. The…

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Du cinéma autrement – 50 Years of La Cinémathèque de Toulouse

During the Christmas break I went to Toulouse in the South of France. I have family there so I go two-three times a year. Excitingly, this year my vacation coincided with the 50th-anniversary of the Cinémathèque de Toulouse which was marked by the exhibition ”Du cinéma autrement – 50 ans de cinémathèque à Toulouse”. As the Cinémathèque’s building in Rue du Taur does not have an exhibition space large enough for hosting an exhibition of this scale, it had been installed at the Médiathèque José Cabanis, close to the Gare Matabiau, on three floors.

The exhibition provided an insight into several of the core aspects of preservation and presentation in a cinémathèque with an emphasis on the collection building of one of its founding figures: Raymond Borde. Divided into ten sections the exhibition covered topics and collections as diverse as late-nineteenth century optical devices, the relationships between a cinémathèque, amateur collectors, directors and foreign institutions and their role in collection building, posters in different languages and the contribution of a regional cinémathèque in the creation of a local film culture.

Below are some notes, impressions and photos.

Raymond Borde and La Cinémathèque de Toulouse

The Cinémathèque de Toulouse was founded in 1964 and is today the second largest cinemathèque in France. Apart from La Cinémathèque française it is the only French film heritage institution with the status of a national cinémathèque (yet, there are plenty of other smaller cinémathèques in France in Nice, Perpignan, Marseille, Brest and Lyon for example…). As most cinémathèques it branched out from a ciné-club or film society – in this case the Ciné-club de Toulouse – and its foundation is mostly associated with its leading film critic and historian Raymond Borde (1920-2002). Borde was in particular an authority on Soviet cinema and on film noir, subjects on which his studies remain groundbreaking still today. Especially the monograph Panorama du film noir américain. 1941-1953 (translated into English as A Panorama of American Film Noir. 1941-1953) which he co-wrote with film critic Etienne Chaumeton is a defining film noir genre study.

RaymondBorde

Borde was also a fervent surrealist belonging to the circle of André Breton and a communist who wrote sulphurous critiques against practically any kind of bourgeois institutions and conventions. In this respect, Borde’s pamphlet from 1964 – L’extricable – had wide repercussions both in surrealist circles and in French mainstream culture. It was enthiusiastically acclaimed by Breton and Luis Buñuel and provided great inspiration for Georges Brassens whose enthusiasm for the pamphlet made him buy around fifty copies which he would hand out to good friends with dedications. Written in a deliberately cruel, aggressive and anarchist tone L’extricable contains ridiculing of anything from family structures, academic culture and consumerism.

The scholarly part of Borde’s literary output is more low-key and rigorous compared to his surrealist writings. Yet, there remains a distinct directness to his style which reflects his ideological and political concerns. In general, Borde was not a person to filter his opinions. Ironically, this would cause a backlash when as a consequence of 1968’s ‘Langlois affair’ he was excluded from surrealist circles because he went against Henri Langlois, La Cinémathèque française’s director, when the French ministry of culture, then headed by André Malraux, wished film critic Pierre Barbin to replace Langlois.

For the field of film preservation, Borde’s importance as a writer and historiographer has also been immense. His monograph Les Cinémathèques (L’age d’homme, 1984) arguably remains the most thoroughly researched and comprehensive historical account of the film preservation movement’s emergence from 1920s cinephile culture, its institional antecedents in scientific film archiving and the transformation of cinémathèques into state-subsidized institutions (in Europe at least) which created stronger ties to for example UNESCO to promote their mission of preservation.

Du Cinéma autrement – The Exhibition

With such a status and rich legacy the Cinémathèque de Toulouse certainly has something to celebrate with its 50 years anniversary and a good reason for creating an exhibition to mark the event. Not surprisingly, the role of Borde in the institution’s history was highlighted by showing how the different facets of his interests and activities have shaped the collection building of La Cinémathèque de Toulouse to this very day. The cinémathèque for instance has an exceptional collection of Soviet cinema, arguably the most important outside of Russia. As the current director Natacha Laurent – herself a great authority on Soviet cinema, author of a monograph on film censorship under Stalin L’oeil du Kremlin. Cinéma et censure en URSS sous Staline (Privat, 2000) – explains in the accompanying booklet which accompanies the exhibition, Borde and the Cinémathèque de Toulouse developed exceptionally strong ties to the Gosfilmofond and the Cinemateca de Cuba which its film and poster collections benefited immensely from. It was also via its connection to the Gosfilmofond that the Cinémathèque de Toulouse managed to repratriate the camera negative of Jean Renoir’s La grande illusion (France, 1937), which, according to legend, the Russians had taken with them from Germany immediately after the second world war.

As the photos below testify to the cinémathèque’s collection is however far from limited to its rich collection of Soviet cinema.

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Poster for Jean Renoir’s La grande illusion (France, 1937). The blurb to the left of the poster explains that the Gosfilmofond decided to give back the film’s original negative in the mid-1970s some 30 years after the Red Army – at least that is how the story goes – had brought the elements with them from Berlin as a war trophy. In the display case are exhibited cans from the Gosfilmofond as well as correspondences with Raymond Borde. It can be read in these letters that Borde would for example give copies of the film journal Positif, which he was involved in for many years, in exchange of elements from the Gosfilmofond.

la grande illusion

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As a surrealist collector who did not distinguish between high and low culture – an approach which is arguably in the very DNA of cinephilia – it is perhaps not surprising that Raymond Borde showed a great interest in the work of Jean Rollin, prominent French director of vampire sleaze (very often referred to simply – and somewhat unjustly – as the ‘French Jess Franco’). Next to the section on La grande illusion and the Gosfilmofond a display case with props and film related material from Rollin’s La vampire nue (France, 1970) had been installed.

Jean Rollin

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The section ‘Aux origines du cinéma’ displayed objects from different periods of silent cinema and optical devices dating from the period prior to cinema’s emergence. Below a manual for film tinting and toning (I believe from the mid-1920s and probably a Pathé manual but I did not write it down).

colour manual

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One of the most urgent tasks facing film heritage institutions in an era of transition toward digitisation is to convey the materiality of analogue film. The exhibition had gone for a very simple, pedagogical but also effective solution. Snippets of film in different formats from 8mm to 70mm had been mounted on a lightboard and could be touched and examined with magnifying glasses hanging next to it.

film formats

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A special, limited edition copy of the surrealist film journal L’âge du cinéma published under the direction of film critic and director Ado Kyrou. Six issues appeared in 1951-1952 focusing on avant-garde and experimental cinema. The signatures on the right page include among others Man Ray, André Breton, Jean-Louis Bédouin and Jindrich Heisler who contributed to the issue.

lageducinema

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Letter from Robert Aldrich to Raymond Borde from 1956 in response to Borde’s questions on Aldrich’s television works from 1952-1954.

bordealdrich

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The exhibition also included a section on the relationship between amateur collectors and the cinémathèque. For the Cinémathèque de Toulouse the extensive stills and poster collection would not have been quite the same without the indefatigable work of collectors such as Max Montané and Thomas Hill. Max Montané for instance build up a considerable collection of Hollywood still photographs of which he received a large part from Robert Florey. Often the relationships between cinémathèques and collectors are not widely discussed or transparent and yet cinémathèques have traditionally relied heavily on the idiosyncratic collection building of passionate individuals to enrich their own collections.

Lescollectioneurs

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This is what the facade of La Cinémathèque de Toulouse’s building in Rue du Taur 69 looks like. Once the home of Ciné Espoir which had close ties to the Spanish socialist movement that gained a strong foothold in Toulouse after the Spanish civil war, the Cinémathèque’s cinemas and research library are now located in this building. In the summer months the court yard is used for the annual open air screening series ‘Cinéma en plein air’.

ruedutaur

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Below is an image of the new film and DVD shop of the bookstore Ombres blanches (not a part of the Cinémathèque, but I had to post it here). Ombres blanches is a legendary bookstore in Toulouse founded in 1975. It has always been renowned for its extremely wide assortment and specialized staff who know exactly what they are talking about when they give advice. In the past five-six years Ombres blanches has kept growing and especially its cinema section has become more and more developed. Going to Toulouse at a 4-5 months interval I have been able to follow this first-hand and see how the book and DVD sections only expanded and got more specialized. This development has now culminated in the opening of an entire bookstore devoted only to cinema at a separate location (just in front of the old shop in Rue Gambetta) named Ombres & Lumières: shadows and lights. Below a frieze containing a list of classic auteurs one enters a haven of film books both classic and new. This is quite incredible in a time when specialized bookstores are often regarded as belonging to a bygone era. A must for the cinephile visitor!

ombresblanches

Data-Driven Film History at the FIAT World Conference 2014, Amsterdam

I am currently busy working on the project ‘Data-Driven Film History: a Demonstrator of EYE’s Jean Desmet Collection’ which is a small pilot project funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) running from September 2014 till May next year. The aim of the project is to develop a demonstrator tool which proposes new ways for scholars to research and visualize the Jean Desmet Collection held at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, a collection which has been almost completely digitized.

The Jean Desmet collection is an immensely important collection, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage in 2011, which contains approximately 950 films from cinema’s early years from between 1907-1916, 2000 posters, 700 posters as well as some 120.000 business documents. It is a collection which especially in the 1980s and 1990s through screenings at the silent film festival Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone in  Italy made film scholars aware of the great variety and richness of for example film colours in the silent era, and has been crucial in understanding the cinema distribution networks in the Netherlands as well as in Northern Europe. The Dutch film historian Ivo Blom who is one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the collection has written in more detail on this in blog posts and in book form (which can be downloaded for free!) here and here.

It is exactly the aspects of film distribution and colour that we wish our tool to address and which we are currently figuring out how could be done best. I will write about this later in more depth, when we have gone beyond the phase of deciding on the research design and determining exactly how the programming will be done. Yet, for those who cannot wait and are eager to know more about our project, I will be co-presenting a paper on the research questions and methods we have lined up so far, tomorrow at the world conference of the International Federation of Television Archives (FIAT) at the Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam with my colleague Jasmijn van Gorp from Utrecht University. The paper is co-written with Eef Masson (University of Amsterdam), Giovanna Fossati (EYE Film Institute Netherlands/University of Amsterdam) and Julia Noordegraaf (University of Amsterdam) and a livestream can be followed here, so there is no excuse for not tuning in at 3.30 pm CET!

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