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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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.

Travelogue June and July, 2014: Zürich, Luxembourg, Bologna, Lausanne

It has been quiet on my research blog since April. In May I was busy wrapping up the spring semester’s teaching, supervision and research activities and in June and July I went to conferences and workshops in Switzerland and Luxembourg that each related to my research in different ways. Finally I also returned to the archival film festival Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. To mark the start of the new academic year, I provide a little travelogue containing some impressions from those events below.

Zürich, Filmpodium, June 5: Tagung Film im Digitalen Zeitalter

June 5, I attended the conference of the Diastor research team in Zürich – Tagung Film in Digitalen Zeitalter – which took place at the Filmpodium cinema centrally located in the beautiful Nüschelerstrasse. The conference had been organized to mark the mid-point of the Diastor research project of the University of Zürich – a project also mentioned in my previous post – on the restauration and presentation of historical film colours led by Professor Barbara Flückiger. Of a short one-day conference it provided an exceptionally rich and strong program consisting of a wide array of both international and national speakers, combining the kind of state-of-the-art research film preservation talks which one is most likely to see at the annual conferences for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in the US, with highly interesting contributions from Swiss film and media archivists.

While there were many fascinating talks I was particularly struck by two. Deputy Director at the Finnish Film Archive Mikko Kuutti’s presentation Scanning and Preserving Film Heritage – From Ideas to Daily Routine was a thorough technical and scientific reflection on the scanning work which is being done on a daily basis at the Finnish film archive, as well as the possible perception of this work in a cinema setting. First, Kuutti gave a walkthrough of the advantages and shortcomings of the scanning work done at the Finnish Film Archive, focusing – as presentations of archival digitization work mostly – on issues of resolution or contrast as parameters for assessing digitization work. Yet, what was particularly interesting in Kuutti’s presentation – I found – was that the question was also flipped around from focusing uniquely on how much we should be able to see to how much we actually can see when we are sitting in the cinema, watching the cinema screen from different angles and viewing positions. Guiding the attendants through mathematical layouts of possible audience experiences and perceptions of resolution in a cinema, Kuutti explained how we might reconsider and reframe the discussion of resolution standards in digital projection from this different perspective.

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Diagram from Mikko Kuutti’s presentation explaining his calculations of visions of the cinema screen from different distances in a cinema.

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From the Swiss archival world it was also an eye-opener to see the talk given by David Landoff, Director of the small predominantly volunteer-driven cinémathèque Lichtspiel Kino in Bern, which was founded in 2000 on the basis of the extensive collection of Bernese film technician Walther A. Ritschard. Lichtspiel Kino is a small film heritage institution with a broad scope of preservation of films, technology and film-related material, which stresses the importance of letting visitors interact with objects held in the institution’s collections, with – it appears – an almost invisible line between exhibition space and collection vault. To demonstrate how this interaction takes place on a daily basis, Landoff’s presentation was mostly made up of photos from screenings – with only very few comments, a feature of Landoff’s presentation which I think worked very effectively – and behind-the-scenes preservation work to display remarkable depictions of objects, workshops and screenings at the institution. The photo below which was a part of the presentation depicts the cinema of the Lichtspiel Kino which shows how closely these two spheres of the institution are connected.

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A screening at the Lichtspiel kino in Bern. More photos from David Landoff’s presentation can be found here.

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To explain the advantages of this setting, Landoff played a pun on filmmaker and co-founder of the Austrian Filmmmuseum Peter Kubelka’s idea of an Unsichtbare Kino – also more widely known in English as ‘Invisible Cinema’ – the cinema design which Kubelka made for the Anthology Film Archives in New York and the Austrian Filmmuseum in Vienna where one is completely immersed in a black box cinema and where the cinema seat is an actual booth which separates the spectator from the person sitting in the adjoining chair to create a complete immersion. What the Lichtspiel Kino instead proposes to an educational end is a Sichtbare Kino, a ‘Visible Cinema’, where he cinema apparatus and collection is visible to the audience simultaneously with the screening.

Altogether it was a great day in Zürich which the Diastor team – including Claudy op den Kamp, David Pfluger and Franciska Heller under the direction of Barbara Flückiger – had put together. The program and presentations can be found here.

Luxembourg Ville, Université du Luxembourg, June 20-21: Dispositif workshop

Two weeks later on June 20 in the early morning I took a train from Amsterdam down to Luxembourg to discuss different variations of dispositif theory in philosophy and film theory at the Université de Luxembourg with a small group of dedicated researchers in architecture, philosophy and media studies coming from the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. The workshop was hosted by newly appointed Professor of Digital History Andreas Fickers at the Université du Luxembourg and was partly organized by the team of the collaborative research project of the Universities of Groningen and Maastricht on amateur film titled Changing platforms of ritualized memory practices: The cultural dynamics of home movies. The workshop provided a welcome forum for me to discuss many of the overlaps which the dispositif concept shares with related theoretical approaches such as Actor-Network Theory, Media Archaeology or just plain media theory for understanding techno-cultural networks and the agency of the elements which constitute them, which for me was one of the deeper concerns in the first year of my PhD-trajectory where I had to articulate a theoretical framework for my research. While it would go too far to depict the discussions in great detail here, my contribution discussed how the theory of history of French historian and anthropologist Michel de Certeau, which I find particularly interesting because of its emphasis on the agency of the tools and technologies with which sholars produce historical knowledge, could be combined with more recent rethinkings of the dispositif concept by film theorists and historians such as François Albera and Maria Tortajada as a way of understanding how digital formats such as DVDs, geomapping or videoessays in different ways sustain different discourses on film history.

A short report on the workshop written by one of the organizers, PhD Candidate at Maastricht University Tim van der Heijden, can be read here.

Bologna, La Cineteca di Bologna, 28 June-5 July: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014

I also attended this year’s edition of the film history festival Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, the twentyeighth of its kind. It was my fifth time at Il Cinema Ritrovato since 2006 when I first attended and it was perhaps the edition I enjoyed the most. Things had changed – it appeared to me – since I last attended in 2012. First of all the evening programming had been expanded. Where the evening programs used to only offer one screening at around 22.00 in Bologna’s main square Piazza Maggiore one can now choose between several programs, for example in the little court yard in front of the Cineteca di Bologna – the Piazetta Pasolini – as well as in the Cineteca Lumère’s two cinemas: Mastroianni and Scorsese. As if it was not hard enough to choose between the different screenings throughout the daytime already this expansion of the program made it even more difficult, while also encouraging one to follow a small number of series consistently instead of trying to get a sense of everything.

This year I mainly followed the series Polish New Wave and Cinemascope in the Arlecchino Cinemascope theatre which was an opportunity to see a string of masterpieces by directors such as Andrzej Wajda or Andrzej Munk for the first time. I also followed the series Germaine Dulac, a Cinema of Sensations curated by American film scholar Tami Williams which aimed at revealing a largely unknown side of the vast production of French director Germaine Dulac beyond her widely lauded abstract and experimental films from the 1920s: her documentary production and her now lesser known mainstream dramas which were quite successful in the time in which they were released. I also attended especially the second half of the series dedicated to American director William Wellman – William Wellman, Between Silent and Sound.

In these programs Wajda’s Popioly (Ashes, 1965) was certainly a personal highlight at this year’s edition; a four hour visually spellbinding war epic showing the havoc of the Napoleon wars in Poland which constantly takes narrative twists and turns to follow different characters and slowly build them up. A truly stunning film. While more playful and absurd in its storyline Wojchiech Has’ The Zaragoza Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie, 1965) provided a similar experience with its gothic style and constant narrative twists which in a  mise-en-abyme fashion jumps from anecdote to anecdote to add a new layer to the story over three and a half hours to a point where one almost looses track of the narrative thread while remaining curious throughout. The programme was also an opportunity for me to Andrzej Munk’s classic The Passenger (Pasazerka, 1963) and Wajda’s Samson (1961) which both deal with the Holocaust in striking ways.

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Germaine Dulac’s La cigarette (1919)

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The Germaine Dulac programme was perhaps the one I had been looking forward to the most. Curated by film scholar Tami Williams as a follow-up to the Dulac programme she had put together for Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2006, it aimed at screening the many films – dramas, documentaries and newsreels – in Dulac’s production which are virtually unknown today. I remember following the Dulac programme in 2006 where I saw La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928) in the version restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum for the first time – a film and version which has since ranked among my absolute favourite films – so my expectations were very high. Perhaps too high, for apart from a few exceptions I generally found the part of Dulac’s production which was screened in this series somewhat a deception. At several times I just did not connect to the dramas on many levels, with storylines and cinematography which appeared surprisingly conservative, tedious and stylistically unimaginative to me, having only seen her more canonized abstract films. The gypsy drama La folie des vaillants (1925) was perhaps the only of the fiction films in the program which I found truly gripping with its high-strung story of impossible love between a beautiful young woman and a violin virtuoso ending in an unexpected act of revenge. Among the newsreels which Dulac produced it was very interesting to get a sense of her synchronous sound experiments around 1930 in films such as Celles qui s’en font and Ceux qui s’en font (both 1930) which tried to connect contemporary tunes to gramophone records being played on-screen.

Yet, while I was generally not blown away by what I saw and heard at the Dulac screenings it also left me with a wish to explore her films in greater depth. The last film in the program – Dulac’s earliest surviving drama La cigarette (1919) – was unpacked so well by Tami Williams after the screening, that I felt I should have invested even more effort in preparing for this program as the films appeared much richer than what I had experienced during the screenings after hearing Williams explain the films’ symbolism, references and political implications. Williams has very recently published a monograph on Dulac Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations (University of Illinois Press, 2014) which promises to be a true page-turner, and presents itself as an ideal opportunity to familiarize myself more with this side of Dulac’s production.

Outside of the programs which I followed consistently some single films and events stood out as particularly great experiences. One was the Italian diva film Fior di male (Carmine Gallone, Cines, 1915) starring Lyda Borelli. A film from EYE Film Institute Netherland’s Jean Desmet collection which is closely associated with a rediscovery of colour in early cinema, following its screening in Pordenone in 1987 (something which film historian Ivo Blom writes about in his excellent monograph Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade (Amsterdam University Press, 2002)). Being a great fan of Italian horror cinema it was also a great event for me to finally get to see Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1958) which has been on my list of films to watch for several years. A film which has currently not been restored due to a copyright issue it was screened in a magnificently scratched 35mm print from a private collection at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A choice which only contributed to the sense of a truly special event. I Vampiri was even better than I had expected it to be as a piece of gothic ‘mad-scientist-hiding-in-a-cave-and-needy-of-young-beautiful-women-for-experiments’ horror film. Set in Paris and outskirts, it inscribes itself perfectly in the fantastic strand of filmmaking of Louis Feuillade or the contemporary films of Georges Franju and Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Perhaps the absolute highlight of this year’s festival for me, was the screening of Austrian filmmaker and preservationist Peter Kubelka’s swan song Monument Film (2012), which I had not yet had the chance to see but which I had been following somewhat closely until now. In 2012, during the Sonic Acts Festival in Amsterdam, I participated in a master class with Peter Kubelka which comprised a screening of his entire oeuvre, except from Dichtung und Warheit (1996/2003), where Kubelka among other things explained his ideas for Monument Film and the effect that he wished to obtain with it. Monument Film is a project which departs from Kubelka’s metric film Arnulf Rainer (1960) which is a serialist film composition of a duration of approximately six minutes made up of the most elementary cinematic building blocks: light, darkness, silence and noise. Monument Film is in the following order a subsequent, simultaneous and combined projection of Arnulf Rainer and the exact counterpart its serial composition Antiphon, which Kubelka created in 2012. First one sees Arnulf Rainer which alternates between silence and white noise and black and white images. Then one sees Antiphon which does the same but being the exact opposite of Arnulf Rainer has sound in the places where Arnulf Rainer has not and vice versa, which is also the case for the images. After the subsequent screening, the films are screened next to each other in a double screen projection.

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Peter Kubelka in front of the screen while the double projection of Arnulf Rainer (1960) and Antiphon (2012) is being prepared.

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Then finally the films are rewound and the two prints are placed on top of each other and screened as such on a single screen. Contrary to what one may first assume this creates a film which consists only of white light and which has white noise on all of the soundtrack throughout. A truly stunning effect which creates a bombardment of the senses and serves as Kubelka’s passionate and ingenious manifesto against digital cinema suggesting that the light of analogue cinema may be eternal if we know how to appreciate and work with its most basic elements. In this manner Monument Film is something truly remarkable and conceptually extremely strong as a modernist piece of film art, and one could not wish for a more appropriate setting for the screening. The execution was flawless; the prints were perfect as was the projection and I am certain that this is the closest I will ever get to see Kubelka’s vision in its purest form. It is easy to get carried away by bombastic descriptors in trying to convey what it feels like to watch Monument Film, but sitting amidst the two projectors’ outpouring of white light and noise at the end of Monument Film having gone through the formal build-up, felt like being transported back to the future of an age where the potentiality of analogue film seemed endless and cinema a means for inducing trance and ecstasy. Today, Kubelka’s vision incites us to take this potential further and reminds us why the preservation of analogue film is crucial.

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Two projectors, a screen, and one of the world’s best cinémathèques, such is the appareil de base of Peter Kubelka’s Monument Film (2012).

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An equally monumental recent release is the three volume book set which the Austrian Filmmmuseum published this year on the occasion of their 50-year anniversary Fünfzig Jahre Österreichisches Filmmmuseum. 1964-2014. and which I managed to get hold of at Il Cinema Ritrovato’s book fair. A feast of articles and photo documentation from the institution’s history it should keep me busy on those long winter nights which are waiting around the corner.

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 My purchases this year at Il Cinema Ritrovato’s book fair.

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Lausanne, Université de Lausanne/École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, July 8-10: DH2014

July 8-10, I participated in the annual conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations in Lausanne, Switzerland. Here, I presented a paper together with Jasmijn van Gorp, Assistant Professor of media studies at the University of Utrecht, which was co-written with my supervisor Professor Julia Noordegraaf and Giovanna Fossati, Professor of Film Heritage and Digital Film Culture at the University of Amsterdam and Chief Curator at EYE Film Institute Netherlands. Our paper was part of a pre-conference workshop called Sound and (moving) images in focus, which hosted a discussion on the use of digitised audiovisual collections in e-humanities research, departing from the observation that the current wave of digital scholarship mainly has affected disciplines such as history, archaeology and literature in a manner which neglects the large-scale digitisation of audiovisual collections and their potential for researchers.

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Bruno Latour giving the keynote opening lecture at DH2014 in Lausanne.

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In the framework of this workshop we presented the outline of an incipient research project on EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ Jean Desmet collection; a collection which, inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register since 2011, has been vital internationally for scholars researching early silent cinema cultures and technologies. The project is titled ‘Data-Driven Film History: developing a demonstrator of EYE’s Jean Desmet collection’ and started this month – September 2014 – and I will be the Project Manager in it during the coming eight months. Hopefully it will produce a new way to look at EYE Film Institute Netherlands’ Jean Desmet collection with digital tools of analysis, currently however it is too early to tell exactly how as it is still ‘in the making’, but we plan to focus among other things on chromatic experience in silent cinema, thinking of a way to visualize how programs varied in their colour compositions in early cinema programming.

The conference also offered a highly entertaining keynote opening lecture by French sociologist Bruno Latour who presented some reflections on his latest book project In Inquiry into Modes of Existence from 2013.