Memory, Images, History
Friday, July 2, 2010
Blog written by Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive
21 June, 10 AM, which happens to be 1 AM (California time), according to my body clock, and I’m standing in front of a group of eager film students. We are doing a one week academic seminar in and around PEOPLE ON SUNDAY to prepare five German film students (from the IFS) and five American film students from UCLA to spend the next five weeks making a film, which will be a portrait of Cologne, the way PEOPLE was a portrait of Berlin in 1929.
We start with an initial discussion of the film, made by Billy Wilder, Edgar Ulmer, Robert and Curt Siodmak, Eugene Schuefftan, Fred Zinnemann, and Seymour Nebenzahl, all of whom were exiled from Germany in 1933 and had high profile (or less substantial) Hollywood careers. Along with Prof. Dr. Gundolf Freyermuth (IFS) and Dr. Lisa Gotto (IFS), we discuss the incredible modernity of MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG, given its non-plot and hand-held camera, its amateur actors and documentary views of a vibrant city.
Next, I lecture on German speaking Jewish exiles in Hollywood, in order to provide a context for the week’s work to follow. As I told the students, over 1500 writers, directors, producers and other film workers were forced to leave Berlin, due to Hitler’s anti-Semitic blacklist. Interestingly, neither the German nor American students had any idea that some of Hollywood’s most famous directors were German born.
Screening Robert Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY (1948), starring Victor Mature, we see a film noir, but also a city film about New York. As we discover, Siodmak actually remade a shot from PEOPLE ON SUNDAY in CRY OF THE CITY. A productive discussion follows about the film’s moral ambiguity, so unlike American classical Hollywood narrative and so much like German films from the 1920s.
Our second day starts with my seminar on the history of the Weimar film industry, in order to place the production of PEOPLE ON SUNDAY into the proper historical context for the students. I’m surprised that most of the German film students know as little about Weimar cinema and history as the American students. Prof. Freyermuth lectures on documentary film, fiction film and what he termed “faction” film, the hybrid form that we are seeing with ever increasing frequency in the digital age. Lisa Gotto screens Edgar G. Ulmer’s DETOUR (1945), a classic film noir which fits into our thread on the makers of PEOPLE ON SUNDAY.
Wednesday’s lectures start with my presentation on American film noir and the role of German émigré directors, like Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Edgar G. Ulmer in creating that genre. In fact, we can see a direct connection between the crime films of the German Expressionist cinema and the American private eye movie in the work of these directors that goes beyond high contrast lighting and oblique camera angles to an atmosphere of dark fatalism and despair.
Gotto then lectures on the role of the city and urban space in not only German films, but also American films from the 1940s to the 1990s, ending with a recent rap video. Next, we screen Bill Wilder’s A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), a film that takes place in Berlin after World War II and features many location shots of Berlin in ruins.
On my final morning, Prof. Freyermuth lectures on stereotypical images of Germany and America, as found in the autobiographies of German émigrés in Hollywood. This is important for the students, because German American teams will have to work together on their films of Cologne in the coming weeks, so they need to know what kind of cultural prejudices each side is bringing to the project. Next, I lectured on German and European avant-garde films from the 1920s, since PEOPLE ON SUNDAY must be seen not only in the context of the Weimar film industry, but also in the context of the avant-garde, since it was made and released expressly as an independent and avant-garde film.
In the afternoon, we screen Billy Wilder’s ONE TO THREE (1961), another film about Berlin, but produced at the point when the Berlin wall was being constructed. It is a screamingly funny comedy about a Coca Cola executive in Berlin, winning the war the way we know best: with American consumer goods.
Now the students have to discuss their ideas for projects. I can’t wait to see the films.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
As we enter into the second decade of the new millenium, moving image archives have taken a few more steps towards complete professionalization by establishing formal training programs for moving image archivists. Not surprisingly, the major impetus for the yearly Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference had originally been the real need for training and the professional exchange of archival methodologies and practices for moving image preservation. Thus, the second official AMIA conference instituted workshops where older colleagues spoke to novices and younger colleagues, a sort of moving image archiving 101.
Beginning in the mid 1990s, then, film archives in connection with universities began for the first time to offer professional training courses for moving image archivists. One of the first programs in Europe was founded as an M.A. in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia in England. The Selznick School at George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., was established in 1997 as a one-year non-academic certificate program. The school now offers a Master’s Degree in conjunction with the University of Rochester. The first graduate degree program in Moving Image Archives Studies was established at UCLA in 2002, followed a year later by New York University’s Moving Image Archive Program.
These formal training programs which incorporate theoretical and research oriented studies with real world archive internships, move beyond the autodidactic approach that previously characterized training in the field. Many individuals presently working in moving image archiving and preservation have received on the job training and little else. I may be one of the few archivists of my generation to actually receive a semi-formal training in moving image archiving. In 1975-76, I spent a year at George Eastman House as a postgraduate intern, funded by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship program for Museum studies.
Now a young generation of academically-trained moving image archivists and curators is rapidly moving into the field. Most entry level positions in this still expanding field of moving image archiving are now filled by graduates from the above programs, as well as others established at the University of Amsterdam, in Germany, Italy, the University of Texas Austin, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Just this last week, my alma mater, George Eastman House, where I was the institution’s third curator, named Dr. Caroline Frick as its 6th curator of film. She is the first graduate of a film archive M.A. program to ascend to a leadership role in a major American archive.
These academic programs are important, however, not only to train film archivists, but also to establish methodologies and best practices. We have to remember that despite decades of practical work, moving image archival practice has until quite recently been based on nothing more than an informal set of anecdotally communicated “recommendations.” Few standards had been theorized or codified, even fewer practices had been formalized in a program of action. Most of what we call archival ethics and theory had been borrowed from other fields, whether the library and information sciences or curatorial practices in museums. AMIA’s founding in 2001 of an official journal, The Moving Image, began to change that, as over the last decade it has built up a body of literature on many aspects of archival theory for moving images.
Numerous contributions to The Moving Image originate at one of the academic institutions involved in the field. It is a project that must continue, if the field hopes to produce competent professionals, yet one that cannot be completed by working archivists alone. In fact, the establishment of codes and practices for moving image preservation, whether in the analogue or digital realm, must be conceived as a huge, collaborative project between working professionals, professors in academic programs, and students. By questioning informally established procedures, students force both working professionals and professors to explicate and rationalize their current use. Documenting these types of discussions in protocols, student papers, and formal academic articles will create a body of knowledge for moving image archive professionals and hopefully engender better technologies and methodologies for saving our visual heritage.