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.