Memory, Images, History
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Blog post written by Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive
There is a paradigm shift of enormous proportions going on in the real world, and in the archive world. We are moving away from a culture of objects to one of electronic bytes. The very materiality of traditional media will become obsolete. Now some of us may see this as an advantage, others will perceive the loss of that materiality as a fact to be mourned. How many theories of art, of photography, of cinema, are in fact grounded in the specific physical characteristics of the media? How will these media change when they no longer exist in any form other than as free-floating information in cyberspace? Archivists are by nature conservatives – at least in the sphere of art, culture and technology. This is true, because as archivists it has traditionally been our job to conserve cultural artifacts in their original state. While commercial enterprises are constantly improving technology in the interest of efficiency and cost, in order to produce higher profits, archivists are usually governed by the notion that moving image media have had an intrinsic aesthetic or perceptual value, apart from their informational content
As we speak, there is already more information being stored digitally, than on all other surviving information carriers together. But, personally, the death of materially based moving image media in general and movies in particular causes me great pain. Although I love my computer, I hate the thought that motion picture film has become a totally obsolete medium in my lifetime. I have spent a good portion of the last thirty years of my life preserving film, as well as discovering its evolution as a film historian. I am passionate about the film projector, the carbon arc lamps that used to create a warm light, the chemically-based shades of black and white and color, the space of the cinema, the audience in a communal activity, defining themselves collectively and individually through the subjectivity of the viewing experience. I spent much of my twenties at repertory cinemas and other spaces showing avant-garde and film classics. As 21 I was blown away by Mizoguchi and Shansho the Baliff at the late TLA Cinema in Philadelphia. Later that year, I saw Hour of the Furnaces at the late Bleeker Street Cinema in New York. At 23, I discovered Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Merchant of Four Seasons at the late Orson Welles and Godard’s Pierrot le Fou at Brattle Cinemas in Boston. I remember the smell of these places in the semi-darkness, as I imbibed images that remain with me today, but also the sense of discovery with the people around me, whether I knew them or not.
All that may be lost with the digital, as capitalism’s ever-greater push towards the atomization of social life keeps us alone at our computer screens.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Blog written by Jan-Christopher Horak, UCLA Film & Television Archive
While the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival has only shown a few documentaries that one could characterize as "wildlife films,"this genre certainly speaks to the environmental concerns of the festival.
We are now observing a paradigm shift in the functionality of wildlife documentary films and television. For nearly eighty years, filmed images of the natural world conformed to the classic documentary aesthetic: Moving images were perceived to be
1.) an expansion of human vision
2.) a means of entering into a world that was invisible to the human eye,
3.) an extension of the physical body of the subject
4.) the creation of visual pleasure by bringing animals in their natural habitat closer to humans.
And while it is true that such visual documentation of animal life entailed narrative conventions that communicated overt and covert ideologies, these images referred to a real, physical world in which animals existed along side humans.
But we know than thousands of species are near extinction and many more are threatened. And how does our culture confront the extinction of animals, such as the polar bear?
One can legitimately ask, whether the growing obsession to document visually the animal world isn’t at least partially a desperate act "to save" wildlife for a virtual world? Today, the goal of wildlife filmmakers has become "preserving" animal life in a virtual world, so that society and science have a record of what might be lost.
Indeed. the urgency with which "the end of nature" is present in the master narratives of many recent wildlife documentaries, indicates that the worst fears of humanity are no longer unthinkable and may even become a reality.
Every moving image can potentially be the last "living" image of a species, in the truest sense of the word. In the not so distant future, then, our culture will possibly only see wild animals virtually.
Yet, rather than calling for collective action, for social protest, most wildlife films focus on individual naturalists, working in the wild. On television channels such as "Animal Planet," the trope of animal rescue is obsessively played out in the sphere of the private, allowing audiences to feel as if progress is actually being made, while the more difficult larger questions go unanswered.
In the digital world of animals, viewers glimpse the exotic and the familiar, the dangerous and the uncanny, the sweet and the cute, while anthropomorphism allows viewers to consume both the cute and the threatening without discomfort.
In the archive, animals continue to "live" in images.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
By Jan Christopher Horak, UCLA Film & Television Archive
According to Michael Foucault, the totality of intellectual activity over time within a given culture constitutes the archive of human knowledge. The archive in the real world gathers together in physical form the articulations of our culture, whether books, papers, films, video, art objects, and all other accumulations of human labor. Archives generate history.
Archive, libraries, and museums, then, have always been somewhat sacred places where we go to find the raw data for historical inquiry, where (re)searchers study and examine objects to seek the truth.
The creation of the internet, however, has changed all that. With each passing day, more and more objects are being digitized, knowledge from the physical world is losing its corporality. The Archive is now virtual, rather than physical.
The question is, how does knowledge change in cyberspace?