Apr 28, 2017

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency by Nan Goldin, an essayistic slideshow of nearly 700 photos taken by Nan Goldin throughout the 1970s and 80s was recently taken down from exhibition at MoMA. In a scramble to see this piece before being taken down, I rushed the day before its end to wait in line and to see what my reaction would be. I had seen a small segment merely two days before, and found myself moved by the work in a way that I couldn't explain, and I needed to see more. So, on the 15th of April, i went to MoMA, wormed my way into the room where it was being shown to a packed and rapt audience, and sat through the entirety of the piece twice. And afterwards, I found myself so moved by the piece, so in need to preserve my connection to the work, that I immediately went to the bookstore on the premises and bought the photo book collection of roughly 250 of the photos from the work. To hold on to the memory of the work, and the powerful effect it had on me. I ended up crying three times that day, twice during the show itself and once hours later at the memory of the piece. I haven't been moved by art so strongly in some time, and that I was able to see this just days before it would be taken down, and unknown years before I would ever be able to see this work again, fills me with an energy and hope. To see it in its original 35mm slide format only enhanced the experience

Raananah Sarid-Segal

Apr 15, 2017

Floral Juxtaposition

Manon Gray

Over spring break I visited the de Young Art Museum in San Francisco. It happened to be during their annual Bouquets to Art. The museum invites florists from around the Bay Area to create flower arrangements that pair with art in the de Young's collection. I've been several times, and there's always been a large crowd. Picture taking of the flowers is so popular that the museum advertises photo-free hours in the morning. Bouquets to Art is a fundraiser, and, according to the museum's website, has "raised more than $6 million for the Museums' special exhibitions, conservation projects, and education programs."

I always find the level of excitement around the flowers intriguing.  It's tempting to conclude that people like flowers more than they like paintings, but I don't think that is it.  I think that the flowers make the art less intimidating. Often art can feel inaccessible without some understanding of its art history context. Since the bouquets are usually paired with a single work, they are interpretations. A visitor can easily compare the arrangement with the work. The arrangements are usually not figurative, so the comparison invites consideration of the piece's formal characteristics such as color and shape. The comparison provides structure for contemplation.

None of the works featured in Bouquets to Art were moving images, and I don't think flower arrangements would pair as well with them compared to static works. However, I wonder if a different juxtaposition could provide similar effects for the interpretation and appreciation of moving images.

Apr 14, 2017

Egyptian Theatre Screens Nitrate Prints

The TCM Classic Film Festival ran from April 6-9 this year, and like any other year, they aired time honored classics in iconic Hollywood venues, sometimes with the artists themselves as guests of honor. This year was entitled Comedy in the Movies, but that wasn't the detail that was particularly special about the event. This year, TCM screened four of their features using nitrate prints of the films. The short but exciting list consisted of the titels: Laura, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Lady in the Dark, and Black Narcissus. Even more exciting, the latter three films are color nitrate stock. Due to Kodak ceasing nitrate producing in 1950, color prints are far less common than earlier black and white films.

In order to accommodate this endeavor, the projection booth at the Egyptian Theatre, where the films were shown, had to be remodeled to be brought up to modern construction codes. This was a collaboration between TCM, Martin Scorcese's The Film Foundation, Academy Film Archive, and the American Cinematheque. Additionally, the project also modified two 35mm projectors: they were connected to a large emergency button. In the case of a fire, when depressed, the button shuts off the projectors and activates metal fire shutters that encase the projection booth to isolate the fire.

While the project itself is exciting enough, the long lasting effects are even more enticing: because the Egyptian is now up to code, they have future plans to show nitrate films in their programming from time to time. This is fantastic news for those who have never seen nitrate projected – which is a large number of younger peoples – and has implications for increased access not only at this theatre, but proves that with some motivation, it is a possibility for other theatres and venues (funding available) as well. 

-- Melanie Miller

Apr 12, 2017

'Casablanca' in the Age of Trump

Last week, I attended an event hosted by Eugene Lang College and The New School; specifically, the Department of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts and the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, as well as the Department of Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research. The event included a screening of the classic 1942 film Casablanca, and was titled "Casablanca at 75: A Refugee Story."

I was incredibly excited about the event for two main reasons: Casablanca is one of my favorite films, and one of my primary passions concerning cinema is the ability to recontextualize stories across time, culture, etc. in order to invoke new meanings from them. In the age of Trump and the divisive rhetoric surrounding immigration, this screening event appeared to be the perfect antidote and opportunity for discussion around "new" meanings of a classic film.

The event was also to include a conversation with Noah Isenberg, a Eugene Lang College professor of Culture and Media and the author of We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie, and Alexander Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School. The conversation was to be moderated by A.O. Scott of The New York Times. Honestly, I cannot think of a set-up for an event that could possibly excite me more than this one; when I discovered it on Facebook, I immediately registered (it was also free).

Unfortunately, the event fell incredibly short of my expectations. The venue at The New School was nice and there were about 40 people in attendance (fewer than I had anticipated). The screening was fine - the film seemed to be played via DVD - but there was no real introduction beforehand. When the three men took to the stage after the film ended, no introductions were made. There was also no program or pamphlet, and so I had no idea who was who and had forgotten exactly which each person's expertise was supposed to be. They launched into a too-casual conversation that talked some about the film's renewed relevance in the current political climate, but it felt more like a chat between friends and we all just happened to be there, too. While I think a casual discussion at at event like this is often fine, introductions were definitely necessary and it would have been nice to have felt more addressed as audience members. The conversation lasted 25 minutes or so, with nothing all that substantial to contribute to the relevance of the film.

I had high hopes for this sort of recontextualization of such an iconic film - it felt like it would be the perfect event - but it seemed to fall short based on poor planning and execution. It might have been a really impactful conversation, but I left feeling like I had watched a film I had seen a hundred times before with no new insight. It's unfortunate, because obviously these men have remarkable expertise on the topic. With more proper planning, it might have been a really special experience.

- Sarah Dawson

Apr 9, 2017

On a Mission to Rescue Home Movies and Orphan Films

     “Home movies too often have been perceived as simply an irrelevant pastime or nostalgic mementos of the past, or dismissed as insignificant byproducts of consumer technology”.  Patricia Zimmerman and Karen Ishizuka say it best in their book Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Home Movies.  I am a firm believer of this, that home movies serve a much greater role outside of the families that they belong too.  The Center for Home Movies proclaims on their website that “you may be surprised to learn that your home movies can hold great interest for a much wider public, including local historians, international scholars, and artists. Popular celebrities or historic events that appear in your films would be obvious examples, but in fact it is the record of normal human beings being themselves in everyday circumstances that may be of most historical value.” This brings me to the questions: Can someone curate home movies and only home movies? This question stems from a paper I wrote for my final assignment in Howard Besser’s Culture of Archives, Museums and Libraries class in the spring of 2016. In this paper, I surveyed three historic houses located on Long Island, New York. A historic house can be defined as a building, where people can go to learn more about their local history of the town they live in.  Some of those houses represent a single family that once owned most the land at one point in time.  These types of houses are common throughout Long Island and much of the country and I was wondering if I could draw common threads between them and analyze what they might be lacking and in need of.  It turns out that none of them considered themselves historic houses but rather variants of that name.  More importantly, they are all in need of an archivist. Some houses had small moving image collections that were known to exist but had never been inspected or assessed of their value.  It is a hope of mine to survey as many of these houses as I can to bring these materials to light and show the people of New York what wonderful things lay dormant on film and maybe stumble upon something special that no one knew existed before.
     This is the beginning a project that will be based on Long Island that involves surveying not just historic houses but libraries, museums, local television stations, town halls, schools and colleges in Nassau County for home movies and orphan films. The end goal of this project is exhibition of this material in its original form as well as creating awareness of the potential of this material. This could be a good way to drum up attention for home movies and preservation of local history in general. I believe that if enough home movies are discovered, we could curate events using those home movies. We could get local musicians to score the home movies and perform alongside them as they are screened.  Historical societies and libraries are always in search of new and varied events to hold that are also educational.
     Another impetus for this project occurred over the summer.  While interning at Indiana University Libraries’ Moving Image Archive in Bloomington, Indiana, I was given the task of beginning the inventory of the Edward and Naomi Feil Collection. During that time, I was intrigued by a film can that read, “World’s Fair 64-65”. To make a long story short, Edward Feil took his camera into a theater at the fair that was showing a film, Think. Ed captured three minutes of this ten-minute film and I was aware that the Library of Congress was working on a restoration of the film.  There were still questions surrounding the film’s original exhibition and some of the images within it. These questions were answered in Edward’s home movie from the World’s Fair. This re-discovery got me thinking. What other wonders lay dormant on home movies throughout the country? Throughout the world? How could I go about figuring this out? How could I obtain the funds to do it? How can I rescue home movies that have been orphaned over the years? Could I stumble upon something as equally as important as Edward Feil’s home at World’s Fair?


     Could I do this in a pro-bono fashion? How can I get people who don’t care about home movies to care about home movies? So many questions and so few answers.  Over the course of my career as an audio-visual archivist and preservationist I hope to become part of the larger community of like-minded professionals who speak of and save home movies.
     Well, to keep costs down, preliminary work would be done on the phone. This will also be an easy way for others who want to get involved in such a project, to do so. Since I live in Nassau County on Long Island, I will begin there and begin with historic houses throughout Nassau County, which there are many, almost one for every town.  Sixty-three cities, towns and, villages make up Nassau County.  Almost each one has a library, multiple schools and historic houses that work towards preserving local histories.
     Having worked with my local historical society in Malverne, NY and a couple others in the recent past, this is the where we will start. The Malverne Historical and Preservation Society, for the past year, has shown interest in hosting an event using home movies found within the town. I have suggested that, to do this, we could use the local television station to reach out to local people and communicate the idea that home movies are important and relevant to not just the families who originally shot them. With enough home movies, we could program an event to show the development of Malverne over time. This could serve as an example of what can be done in any town with their home movies and could inspire others to reach into their closets, attics, and garages, dig up their home movies and allow them to part of this project.
     In the fall of 2015, I performed a collection assessment for my local television station of their tapes and found a box of VHS tapes of home movies. They broadcast them occasionally. These are films that have been reformatted to VHS by the families that owned them and it is no longer clear who gave the station these reformatted VHS tapes.  A quick search revealed that a film collection at Northeast Historic Film houses some other home movies from Malverne in the 1930s. 
     The first Wednesday of every month, Malverne holds a board meeting that the television station broadcasts live to discuss issues and the goings-on in the town.  During this meeting, there is a segment where anyone who wants to address the board can ask them questions, speak to the camera and address those who are watching.  Here I could make a plea for the opportunity to inspect and exhibit their home movies at an event at the Malverne Historical and Preservation Society sometime in the future.  I will also ask if those who have donated VHS tapes in the past if they still have the film.  I would love to use these home movies but the VHS tapes and DVDs I have seen are poor presentations of the material.
     Looking beyond Malverne, we could contact each historic house and library by phone or email.  For the purpose of this project, when discussing film materials, the term “moving image” will not be used in conversation.  Too often, I receive confused looks when I refer to film and video as moving image material. Below are some questions that could be asked of these places in an email, over the phone or in person:

  • How large are your holdings?
  • How is your material handled and stored?
  • Do you have any home movies on film or home movies that are now on tape or DVD that were born on film?
  • Are you ever approached by local people who want to give you home movies or film materials?
  • Do you have any film projectors in your holdings?
  • Have you ever had an archivist on staff?
  • Would you be interested in having an audio-visual archivist inspect any films materials?
  • Would you be interested in this project I am working on?
  • Do you know of any other places such as other historic houses or libraries that may have film materials that need inspection?
  • Would you be interested in hosting an event this exhibits home movies and/or orphan films?
  • Would you be willing to work with us to secure funds for the digitization of any home movies or orphan films found in your possession?
  • Would you be willing to provide broader access to these materials once they have been digitized?
     In the summer, after graduation from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program (MIAP) at NYU, I will work on answering all of the questions raised in this blog post.  In a hypothetical situation where this project is a success, minimally, we would end up re-discovering a few hundred home movies. The films that are in good shape will be exhibited in their original form with both 8mm and 16mm projectors that have been provided by The Malverne Historical and Preservation Society. Projectors that I help maintain and have access to regularly.  We will attempt to secure funding for films that have been inspected and appear to be in poor condition, shrunken, and are unable to be projected. Assuming we are able to project most of the films discovered, we could stumble upon something of importance. Using the example of Edward Feil’s home movie from the World’s Fair, one never knows how valuable a home movie could be.
     I’m already aware of two historic houses that possess home movies of the families that once owned them. These two houses happen to be Gold Coast mansions.  Gold Coast mansions are home located on the north shore of Long Island.  These mansions were built during the 1920s.  It would be interesting to exhibit these home movies in conjunction with each other.  One could witness how different families of affluent background lived at that time. One of the historic houses from my survey mentioned that they possess nitrate film in their holdings.  This project can also serve to connect local institutions that may not necessarily communicate with each other. Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, is a highly-populated area with great potential for home movies and orphan films to be re-discovered. Since most historic houses have material that is in need of archiving and preservation but no money for an archivist, I’m hoping the attention that the combination of events and the re-discovery of home movies and orphan films will highlight the need for archivists in not just on Long Island but all over the country. There is special material, both moving image and non-moving image that is waiting to be researched and re-discovered but no one knows what specials thing lay dormant for people to see.  Beginning with a few emails and phone calls, I am optimistic that this can be done with great results within a year or two. I am on a rescue mission so to save local history in the form of home movies and orphan films.

Sources Cited:

     Center for Home Movies. Web. 02 Mar. 2017. <http://www.centerforhomemovies.org/>.

     Ishizuka, Karen L., and Patricia Rodden. Zimmermann. Mining the home movie: excavations in histories and memories. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2008. Print.

Apr 3, 2017

Keeping an Open Mind at the Museum of Sex

Recently, some friends of mine came to town, and they decided they wanted to check out the Museum of Sex. I hadn’t been there before, and it wasn’t high on my list of things to do in New York. It always seemed like kind of a joke to me. As it turns out, the Museum of Sex is kind of a joke, but it also aims to provide an earnest presentation of art, biology, and sexuality.

The “OBJECTXXX” exhibition featured artifacts from the museum’s archive. My friend wondered aloud, “Wow, I feel bad for whoever has to handles these acquisitions.” I had to agree. These objects were various sexual devices, toys, dolls, contraceptives, and even Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket. On view in the center of the gallery was a bicycle contraption serving as a very complex sex toy, complete with footage showing how it worked. While the majority of these objects weren’t very old, some dated as far back as 1900, offering a historical perspective of human sexuality. 

“The Sex Lives of Animals” exhibition claims that “Sex in the animal kingdom is as nuanced as it is in the human realm.” Developed in collaboration with a number of scientists, evolutionary biologists, and zoologists, the exhibition was extremely informative. Text on the walls explained the behaviors of many different animal species, proving that sexual behavior in animals varies widely and goes far beyond the purpose of reproduction, which is true of human behavior as well. There were also a lot of sculptures and videos in this exhibition. My friends and I are no prudes, but even we felt a bit scandalized by the sights and sounds in the room.

I’m glad I went to the Museum of Sex and looked beyond my preconceived notions of it. A lot of people do think of this museum as a good place to have some laughs, and that’s fair. After all, for an extra charge you can jump around in boob-shaped bounce house. Yet having said that, my friends and I actually learned a thing or two in the hour we spent there, and I saw just how much work went into curating these exhibitions.