Travelogue: DFI Film Archive, November 2018 – encounters with Kubelka and Dreyer

A few weeks ago, I made a brief visit to Copenhagen to participate in a one-day conference about cities, films, digital scholarship and film archives. The conference was organized by the European project I-Media-Cities and hosted by the Danish Film Institute’s Cinematheque. The program can be accessed here. It was a great day with several inspiring discussions.

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Cans and boxes at the DFI Film Archive.

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The day after the conference I got to visit the DFI Film Archive in Glostrup to watch a few films preserved in the collection – Peter Kubelka films in particular – and got a tour. The visit had been kindly prepared by film archivist and historian at DFI Katrine Madsbjerg, with help from curator Thomas Christensen in the preparation of prints. Below I share a few impressions and pictures from the visit.

The DFI Film Archive’s Peter Kubelka prints

I had known for more than ten years, that there were prints of filmmaker, preservationist and co-founder of the Austrian Filmmuseum Peter Kubelka’s films in DFI’s archive. For some reason I have forgotten where exactly I became aware of that fact (I am still searching in old notes to find out), but I remember becoming eager to see Kubelka’s films after familiarizing myself with and reading about Peter Tscherkassky and the Austrian avant-garde around 2007, and subsequently trying to find out where I could get to see the titles discussed. Yet, back then I never found a good occasion to seek out the Kubelka prints at the DFI, ended up moving abroad and finally got the chance to attend Kubelka screenings elsewhere (and was deeply fascinated by what I saw). However, my curiosity for the prints in DFI’s archive and their history remained intact. For this reason, I was thrilled when I was told I could request titles from the collection to watch during my visit at the DFI and, as a no-brainer, immediately asked for the prints of Kubelka’s films.

To understand why (some of) these prints are preserved at DFI, it is important to mention that there is a Danish-Austrian connection. I learned this in February 2012 when I took part in a film and food workshop with Kubelka in Amsterdam, organized by the Sonic Acts festival. On this occassion I had the possibility to briefly converse with Kubelka after his lecture (and get my copy of Christian Lebrat’s monograph on his work – Peter Kubelka (Paris Expérimental Editions, 1990) – signed), who affectionately told me about his friendship with Danish filmmaker Jørgen Roos (1922-1998). From then on, my assumption was that Kubelka’s connection with Roos was why and how some of his films had entered DFI’s film archive. In part this indeed turned out to be a correct assumption. For instance, while the DFI bought a print of Adebar (Austria, 1957) already in 1959, their print of Arnulf Rainer (Austria, 1960) was Jørgen Roos’ personal print and was acquired in 1997 the year before Roos’ death. Here are the Kubelka titles that the DFI has in its collection:

  • Mosaik im Vertrauen, Peter Kubelka, Austria, 1955.
  • Adebar, Peter Kubelka, Austria, 1957.
  • Schwechater, Peter Kubelka, Austria, 1958.
  • Arnulf Rainer, Peter Kubelka, Austria, 1960.

Getting the opportunity to watch the DFI’s Kubelka prints during my visit to the DFI archive filled a gap in my cinephile curiosity for Kubelka’s work and its preservation, while giving me the chance to watch some personal film favorites again. I had only seen Mosaik im Vertrauen once before – as part of a program curated by filmmaker Milena Gierke, one of Kubelka’s former students – at the old Filmmuseum in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam in November 2010. I was surprised to see (again) how great a film Mosaik is. While the grey Danish November sky was brooding outside, there were pure fireworks to be marvelled at in the viewing room in Glostrup! Below, I share a few photos I made of Mosaik im Vertrauen.

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Dreyer’s Editing Table and Set Designs for La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928)

The work of Carl Theodor Dreyer occupies one of the most central places in Danish film history and in the DFI’s preservation work. Last year, the DFI obtained the copyrights to the films of Dreyer produced by the company Palladium, when Palladium decided to donate their collection to the DFI. In addition to this, DFI has many film related materials which document the life and work of Dreyer. I also got the chance to see a few of these during my visit.

Perhaps the most incredible thing to see was Dreyer’s personal editing table, which is pictured on the two photos here below. I could not gather in which period exactly he made use of this table, but it is an editing table for sound films.

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Another set of interesting items preserved at the DFI are set designs for La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928). As conservator Katja Rie Glud explained to me there is a great degree of uncertainty in establishing the creation date of these objects. The objects’ materially heteoregeneous composition suggest they are original set designs which have later been repaired and modified – sometimes haphazardly and heavy-handedly – in order to exhibit them. There still remains some research to be done before that can be established.

At this moment, the designs are kept in French security boxes made for an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in the 1990s. I post a few photos below. The DFI has also made a beautiful photo gallery with professional photos of the items that can be viewed here. Moreover, the designs can be seen in a short film from 1965 here, shot at the Danish Filmmuseum on the occasion of Dreyer being handed over a plate of honour for the selection of La Passion as one of the twelve best films ever made during the Expo 58 in Brussels seven years earlier. The plate is handed over by Ib Monty, then Director of the Danish Filmmuseum. (Thanks to Lisbeth Richter Larsen and Maria Knude Oldhøj Nielsen for pointing me to these resources!).

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All in all, I could hardly imagine a better way to spend a grey November Friday morning. Infinite thanks again to Katrine Madsbjerg for setting up the visit!

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Paris 1900 and the Filmmuseum: discoveries in Eye’s business archive

In this blog post, I share some of my findings on the history of Nicole Vedrès’ early landmark of archive-based filmmaking Paris 1900 (France, 1947) at the Filmmuseum. The findings result from my research as Scholar-in-residence at the Eye Filmmuseum which I am wrapping up at the moment. As I wrote in my previous blog post on my research at Eye I was surprised to discover that Paris 1900 played a key role in the Filmmuseum’s early collection building in the late 1940s – back when the Filmmuseum was not yet the Filmmuseum but still two separate institutions, led by Jan de Vaal, the Nederlands Historisch Film Archief and the Uitkijk Archief (NHFA/Uitkijk). Paris 1900 was one of the first films bought by the Filmmuseum and was a high-risk acquisition because it was by far the institution’s most expensive acquisition so far. Beyond being a film which Jan de Vaal obviously liked, Paris 1900 was also acquired to make the case for film archiving in the Netherlands and as a starting point for building the institution’s circulating film library from the income the film’s screening fees would generate in the Netherlands.

Because the film’s history at the Filmmuseum seems both a bit forgotten today and is certainly not widely known, I wanted to dig deeper into the specific circumstances of the institution’s acquisition and distribution of it. To this end, I have been doing extensive research in the Filmmuseum’s early business archive. In total, I have gone through the business archives from four years – 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1950 – looking for mentions of Paris 1900, Nicole Vedrès, Vedrès book Images du cinéma français (Editions du Chêne, 1945) and relevant correspondence with the producer of Paris 1900 Pierre Braunberger and his production company Panthéon. The business archives from these years amount to five boxes, of which the contents are ordered alphabetically – but nevertheless not very easy to navigate as there is no clear index. Moreover, the business archive also has many gaps, for instance missing letter attachments or sometimes entire letters, which is something I kept in mind when studying the material. The image below shows what the business documents from 1949/1950 look like today.

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Research at the Eye Collection Center. This is what the NHFA/Uitkijk’s early business documents look like, in this case documents from 1949/1950.

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I proceded by going through all of the documents from said years and transcribing every relevant letter in full, with the exception of two-three handwritten letters that were too hard to fully decipher. This has resulted in a document of transcriptions which is currently 115 pages long, divided into five sections – one for each box. This document maintains the order of the letters in the order in which I found them. At a later stage, I am planning to make a different version of the document of transcriptions where I order the letters into different categories – in particular acquisition and distribution – and arrange them chronologically.

In doing this research I found a lot of useful information on Paris 1900‘s history at the Filmmuseum and also made some rather unexpected and exciting discoveries. Below I share four of the findings that I found particular interesting. I hope that sharing them may help scholars abroad in understanding the circulation of Vedrès’ work internationally to a greater extent than hitherto, and that in doing so I can also contribute to broadening the perspective of the current (and much needed) rediscovery of her work.

1. Acquiring Paris 1900

The first finding concerns the dating of the acquisition of Paris 1900 and its circumstances. Based on my research I assume that Jan de Vaal and other staff members saw Paris 1900 for the first time in Edinburgh at the International Festival of Documentary Films in August 1948 – the festival’s second edition – and subsequently decided to acquire it. In a letter from 27th of July to Norman Wilson – one of the festival’s early key figures – Jan de Vaal asks:

…if it is possible to see the most important films, such as THE LOUISIANA STORY, EDGE OF THE WORLD, GERMANY, YEAR ZERO, THE GREEDY BOY, PARIS 1900, and eventually other important films during that week.

In addition to this correspondence there is little to be found on Paris 1900 in the NHFA/Uitkijk’s business archive from 1948. However, there are several significant letters from late December that year. In that period, Jan de Vaal writes to various film societies and cultural and educational institutions in the Netherlands – for instance the Volksuniversiteit in Rotterdam or the Katholiek Instituut voor Filmscholing in Delft – asking if they would be interested in showing Paris 1900 and, if so, how many screenings they would be interested in organizing. The idea in asking this was to get a sense of whether it would be financially feasible to acquire the film with loans and pay it back by with money earned with screening fees and, subsequently, acquire additional films with the income generated. Jan de Vaal received positive reactions to this inquiry, and the decision to acquire the film must have been taken at a point in early 1949.

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Promotional material for the first edition of Edinburgh’s International Festival of Documentary Films (now Edinburgh International Film Festival) in 1947. Paris 1900 screened at the second edition in 1948.

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Subsequently, de Vaal asked the Dutch Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences for permission to take out a loan amounting to 200.000 French francs at the Dutch Bank (Nederlandse Bank) for acquiring the film (I am still trying to find a good historical calculator to figure out how much exactly that would be today). The permission for the loan was given by the Ministry’s Department of the Arts in a letter from 25 April, 1949, signed by Dr. N.R.A. Vroom.

It is clear from correspondence with film societies and educational institutions in 1949 that the acquisition of Paris 1900 was associated with a high financial risk and was intended as a foundation and test for the future Filmmuseum’s success. In a letter from June 20, 1949 to the secretary of the Volksuniversiteit Rotterdam Ida van Dugteren – who was particularly enthusiastic about the film and with whom de Vaal frequently corresponded and organized several screenings – Jan de Vaal writes in response to van Dugteren’s inquiry about a possible future collaboration:

We must attempt to overcome the acquisition costs of Paris 1900, first then does a collaboration (…) become valuable. This is our first big experiment. If we manage to cover our expenses for it, then we as well as you and other film groups who are participating will have won in the first attempt, and then it will be possible to continue working with greater confidence. I sincerely hope I can count on your co-operation. (Own translation)

2. Subtitling attempt at Haghe Film

The Filmmuseum’s copies of Paris 1900 were initially not subtitled, but were given a short Dutch introduction at screenings, which was added by the NHFA/Uitkijk. The reasons for this were mostly technical and – to a lesser extent – aesthetic. In the correspondence from 1949 between among others Jan de Vaal, Ida van Dugteren and Haghe Film – then located in The Hague – it is discussed at great length if the film should be subtitled and if it was possible at all to do it. Technically, it turned out not to be possible for Haghe Film to do it – as staff members at the lab explain in a letter to Jan de Vaal from 5 October 1949 – Pierre Braunberger did not provide a soft print of the film, which they needed in order to do a subtitling. The correspondence with Braunberger is not in the business archive, but it is quite clear from other letters, that the delivery of the print was heavily delayed and initially not of a quality which the NHFA/Uitkijk had expected and which allowed for subtitling according to the most standard procedures at the time. In the end, the print was therefore not subtitled. The business correspondence suggests this solution was mainly a compromise, but was also perceived to have the advantage of not tampering with the film’s aesthetics. While the NHFA/Uitkijk initially seemed to be in favour of subtitling the print, Ida van Dugteren – who was one of the first to rent the film, on behalf of the Volksuniversiteit Rotterdam, after its aquisition – preferred it without subtitles. In a letter to Jan de Vaal from 30 June 1949, she expresses that she is happy to hear the film will not be subtitled, as she finds it would destroy the image. At the first screening of the film in Rotterdam on 30 September 1949 – also announced as the film’s Rotterdam premiere – Jan de Vaal was present himself and gave a commentary in Dutch. In this respect, the Filmmuseum’s prints of the film differ from other versions.

3. Paris 1900 and Philips Experimentele Televisie

This is perhaps one of the findings I am most excited about. In a letter sent by Jan de Vaal on 23 June 1949 to the Philips department for Experimental Television (Philips Experimentele Televisie) in Eindhoven, it appears Paris 1900 was used for an early television broadcast on film archive work (filmarchiefwerk) on 21 June 1949. In the letter, de Vaal thanks the staff at Philips warmly for their hospitality and a great organisation while noting that Paris 1900 was delivered back on time.

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An impression of what it looked like to watch Philips Experimentele Televisie together in 1950 in the Eindhoven region (available via this concise historical timeline in Dutch). Might these viewers  also have seen parts of Paris 1900 when it was featured in one of the broadcasts in 1949?

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That this broadcast happened is quite intriguing for several reasons. Television in the Netherlands at that time was in its earliest, pioneering stages and still far from being institutionalized (and certainly not held in high regard). As detailed in several historical overviews Philips Experimentele Televisie broadcast three times a week and could only be received by people in a 40km (or approx. 25 miles) radius around Eindhoven who happened to own a television set in that region (that is: very few people). Between 1948 to 1951, Philips Experimentele Televisie made 265 broadcasts before television became considered a medium with a future and television production moved to Hilversum where the radio industry had flourished since a couple of decades already. I am still looking for sources and accounts which document the broadcast on film archiving from 1949. Recordings of some of the Philips broadcasts still exist, but the material I have been able to locate so far is not the easiest to access and does not give a clear answer as to what is preserved, so this requires a bit more research – something I am extremely excited about doing.

4. Henri Langlois’ research trip to the Netherlands for Paris 1900‘s sequel

Another interesting find relating to Paris 1900 is a correspondence which involves Jan de Vaal, Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque française and the newsreel film company Polygoon. In a letter to Polygoon dated 31 August 1949 de Vaal details that Henri Langlois is currently conducting archival research in preparation for a sequel to Paris 1900 (Henri Langlois had been a possible candidate for the direction of Paris 1900 but was ultimately not assigned the task). The idea of this sequel was to go beyond a French context to cover the time during and after World War I from a European perspective, including the Netherlands. In his work for the sequel, Langlois has asked de Vaal if Polygoon would happen to have material depicting various events in their possession – among others WWI insofar as it involves the Netherlands and Germany, the Hindenburg disaster, Dutch popular life and material thematically related to inflation. On behalf of Langlois, de Vaal passes this request on to Polygoon to plan a research meeting between Polygoon and Langlois. In the answer which de Vaal receives from Polygoon dated 5 September 1949, the director Brand Dirk Ochse replies that Polygoon unfortunately does not have footage of these events as the company was only founded in 1919. Yet, Ochse kindly agrees to meet Langlois all the same, but on the condition that de Vaal communicates a precise time and date well in advance because, as he points out, Polygoon has not been able to rely on Langlois when previously setting up appointments.

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As part of his archival research for a sequel to Paris 1900 Henri Langlois inquired the Polygoon company – via Jan de Vaal – about material relating to specific events and aspects of Dutch culture and life.

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At this point I have not found other letters relating to the archival research for this sequel – this is where the business archive seems to have some gaps. Yet, it is interesting to see that there was an interest from the NHFA/Uitkijk to partake in the research for a sequel to Paris 1900 in collaboration with the Cinémathèque française and – on a more general level – a willingness to support the making of (poetic) compilation films at a very early stage.

Conclusion and Further research

All in all, it is safe to say that Paris 1900 was an extremely important film in the Filmmuseum’s collection building and key to the institution’s very existence. Beyond the findings I have discussed here, I am also discovering paper clippings at the Filmmuseum and beyond to create an overview of the reception of Vedrès film-related work in the Netherlands. I plan to write more about this at a later stage either on my blog or in an article. I am also currently making my way through the small corpus of (extremely interesting) literature which has been published on Vedrès work in the past few years. A few months ago I read Laurent Véray’s recently published Vedrès et le cinéma (Nouvelles Editions Place, 2017) and am currently diving into to the fascinating research which Catherine Russell and Paula Amad have done on Vedrès.

In other words, there is more to come and more to discover about Vedrès’ deeply fascinating work. However, one thing which surprises me is that I have found no direct correspondence with or reference to meetings with Nicole Vedrès in the Filmmuseum’s business archive – although Jan de Vaal went to Paris to sort out the acquisition of the film and posters for it. Usually, Jan de Vaal did not seem to hesitate to contact filmmakers directly (Jean Cocteau or Hans Richter for instance, to name some of the many directors I have come accross), to inquire about rights for or copies of films as well as related material, but not in this case. I guess that is to be continued…

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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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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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.

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Update: Digital Film Historiography – A Bibliography

Since 2014 I have been putting together a bibliography of scholarly literature which in one way or another addresses aspects of using and analyzing digitised archival film or film-related sources in research. In particular I have been interested in how scholars currently recast old traditions of film historical research or imagine new ones with digital techniques and tools of analysis. As the bibliography kept growing bigger I began to feel it was necessary to turn it into a thematic bibliography which in a clearer way shows which publications belong to different research traditions. To achieve this, I have recently grouped the publications into a few categories – eight in total. The categories are:

  1. Audiovisal Essays, Found Footage and Remix Culture
  2. CD-Roms, Historical-Critical DVD Editions and Annotation
  3. Stylometry and Cinemetrics
  4. New Cinema History, Databases and GIS
  5. Online Collections, Presentation and Curation
  6. Digital Film Restoration and Historiography
  7. Scientific Visualization, Visual Studies and Epistemology
  8. Digital Exhibition Design and Museology

While I find these categories fairly accurate and productive they are of course debatable, but this is how I felt the publications should be grouped together at this point. I think most of them speak for themselves but my choices of which publications to include in which sections do perhaps require some explanation. On the most basic level, it is a condition for me that a publication offers – in some way – a reflection on film historiography by discussing either a theory, model, method or representational practice which is computer-based or which uses digitised sources or digital means of analytical intervention. As a consequence many publications which discuss these categories/themes but which do not address digitisation or computerised methods have been left out. For instance for section one on “Audiovisual Essays, Found Footage and Remix Culture” there are many essays and monographs which in the past decades have dealt with the interrelation between filmic appropriation practices and film historiography but which fall out of my bibliography’s scope because they do not discuss for instance digital video editing techniques or the use of digitised film collections. The same goes for a section such as “Stylometry and Cinemetrics” which does leave out some of the fundamental reference literature for statistical style analysis from BC (Before Computers) in favour of more recent publications. Of course, it goes without saying that the bibliography is not comprehensive (suggestions and comments are more than welcome on c.g.olesen_at_uva.nl !).

When reorganising the bibliography I also updated all the links associated with the publications, when applicable, so they should – at least for the moment – be working fine and forward you to additional, useful information. In addition, this update provided an opportunity for me to add more publications which have recently come to my attention. One title which I am particularly excited about is the recent monograph by film scholar and archivist Adelheid Heftberger (Austrian Filmmuseum), Kollision der Kader – Dziga Vertovs Filme, die Visualisierung ihrer Strukturen und die Digital Humanities, on the computer-based visualization of structures within Dziga Vertov’s films. This is the outcome of Heftberger’s fascinating doctoral research and the Digital Formalism project in which she meticulously annotated the shots in a group of Vertov films using the open source software Anvil. By doing this it became possible to visualize structures in Vertov’s work using different kinds of scientific, visual analytics (such as MatLab and ImageJ). In her book she discusses the broader implications of these methods both for Vertov research and for the digital humanities. The book is published in a new series on Film Heritage (Filmerbe) directed by Professor in Audiovisual Heritage Chris Wahl at the Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf in Potsdam. Somewhat related – but fundamentally different in its approach and scope – I have also added and recently acquired film scholar André Habib’s book La Main gauche de Jean-Pierre Léaud (Les Éditions du Boréal, 2015). Habib’s book aspires to combine a more anarchic, cinephile tradition of film appreciation with contemporary, representational practices opening with a reflection on the evocative potential of the beautiful visualizations of among other films Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (USA, 1960) created by San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell. Made with ImageJ techniques (or, at least entirely reminiscent of scientific visualizations created with ImageJ techniques) Habib, I think, may with his book possibly be opening a path for film scholars who draw on cinephile theory to historicize films and who wish to define and appropriate such visualizations to their own ends within this tradition. It undoubtedly promises an exciting read in the near future!

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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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