Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960

Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960

Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960

Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960

Synopsis

A compelling regional and historical study that transforms our understanding of film history, Amateur Movie Making demonstrates how amateur films and home movies stand as testaments to the creative lives of ordinary people, enriching our experience of art and the everyday. Here we encounter the lyrical and visually expressive qualities of films produced in New England between 1915 and 1960 and held in the collections of Northeast Historic Film, a moving image repository and study center that was established to collect, preserve, and interpret the audiovisual record of northern New England. Contributors from diverse backgrounds examine the visual aesthetics of these films while placing them in their social, political, and historical contexts. Each discussion is enhanced by technical notes and the analyses are also juxtaposed with personal reflections by artists who have close connections to particular amateur filmmakers. These reflections reanimate the original private contexts of the home movies before they were recast as objects of study and artifacts of public history.

Excerpt

For historians, and no doubt for many other people as well, the opportunity to actually see worlds long past through the eyes of contemporaries is the stuff of fantasy—something longed for, perhaps, but hardly imaginable. We toil away in archives, reading through letters, inventories, and descriptions of people and places, and we peer at paintings, maps, plans, and old photographs that offer tantalizing glimpses of the way things looked to observers and storytellers in past years, decades, or even centuries before our own. Thus the survival and diligent preservation of amateur films and home movies, and the scholarly attention given to them by the essays in this collection, are an incomparable gift— accomplishments to be not only supported but also celebrated. Amateur films offer not simply historical “facts” and images from the past, but also stories, narratives, and representations—often tantalizingly brief—of the ideas, values, and dreams of the people who made them. They open up new vistas, enabling us to see the world through long-ago lenses and look through eyes now closed by the passage of time. Through them, loss and absence are magically transformed into animated presence, no matter how fragmentary and brief the view. the study of this medium—as historical artifact, new technology, work of visual art, or dramatic narrative—is indeed rich with possibilities.

It is therefore a particular pleasure for the Grace Slack McNeil Program for Studies in American Art at Wellesley College to have been a part of this project since its inception. Thanks to Karan Sheldon, cofounder of Northeast Historic Film, and Martha J. McNamara, director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program at Wellesley College, students of the rich textual and cinematic materials offered by this volume and the accompanying website can not only have access to a wide range of significant examples of the genre, but will also benefit from the careful analysis, personal reflections, and new methodologies offered here. These represent the very best work to date in this area of study.

This volume brings together the research of distinguished historians and scholars from a variety of fields, and the essays in this collection cover a wide range of subjects, from preservation, to technologies of production, to the complex analysis of cultural and artistic meanings embedded in the films themselves. Focusing our attention on everyday events and objects, presenting us with the look and “feel” of landscapes, families, work, play, and comedic mise-en-scène, the amateur films studied here open up a vast array of topics and questions, not only about the material culture of the past, but about the medium itself and its . . .

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