Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Inside the Director's Studio

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Inside the Director's Studio

Article excerpt


Screening Room, Art and Avant-Garde Cinema, and Television's Pedagogical Impulse

It's 1977. It's 1:35 A.M. You are at home in Boston, ensconced on your sofa. You turn on your television set, flipping to Channel Five. At first the screen is all black, with the sound of a couple arguing emitting from the set's speakers. While questioning whether something is wrong with the broadcast, a black and white image of a couple appears on the screen. As the couple fights, the image skips. Soon you fall into a rhythm with the image and sound; the fight getting at the frustration and repetition inherent in romantic bickering.

If you stick around for a few minutes, you'll learn that the film is Hapax Legomena III: Critical Mass (US, 1971) made by the experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton. The film was spotlighted on Screening Room, a late-night television program that aired from 1972 to 1981 on ABC's Channel 5 in Boston. An interview show hosted by Robert Gardner, a filmmaker and academic, Screening Room prided itself on thoughtful and thorough conversations between Gardner and his guest roster of experimental filmmakers, animators, documentarians, and scholars. Part of an overhaul of Boston's Channel Five (WCVB), an ABC affiliate taken over by the Boston Broadcasters, Screening Room emblematized television's potential as a pedagogical tool. Balancing interviews with precisely chosen films and film clips, the show covered a wide range of filmmaking styles, from early documentary styles to government-sponsored public service cartoons to the most difficult works of the avant-garde. Screening Room illuminates the relationship between programming shifts in television at large, the evolution of WCVB, and contemporary trends in the world of art and avantgarde cinema. While scholars like Lynn Spigel have laid groundwork in discussions of the relationship between modernist art and television in the 1950s and 1960s, Screening Room illustrates television's increased role as a vehicle for arts education in the 1970s. While it placed an uncommonly thorough spotlight on the world of avantgarde cinema, Screening Room also serves as an example of the deepening connection between avant-garde cinema, the academy, and shifts in television's approach to not only the avant-garde but also to film as a legitimate art.

With Harvard on our Side: A Brief History of WCVB

The road to Screening Room and WCVB was paved with legal battles with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that stretched on for seventeen years. On November 26, 1957, the Boston-Herald Traveler Corporation and WHDH radio founded the station WHDH-TV on Channel Five. Originally an ABC affiliate, the channel became a CBS affiliate in 1961. Almost immediately, the FCC began investigating allegations of impropriety in the granting of the television license, requiring WHDH-TV to renew their license every six months. As early as 1963, Robert Gardner, a documentary filmmaker and the founder of Harvard's Film Study Center, and Oscar Handlin, the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard University, applied to the FCC as the directors of the newly formed Boston Broadcasters Incorporated for the rights to own and operate a station on Channel Five. A commercial enterprise, Boston Broadcasters was focused on the potential of arts television programming

Throughout the 1960s, the FCC held a series of hearings to consider which corporation would be granted Channel Five's license. The Boston Television Corporation, the Charles River Civic Television Company, and the Hub Broadcasting Company also stepped up to fight for the channel's ownership. In 1969, Boston Broadcasters won a construction permit for a new Channel Five, but due to ongoing legal battles, WHDH held the license until 1972. After seventeen years, three Supreme Court decisions, two U.S. District Court of Appeals Rulings, and five rulings by the FCC, the war ended. The Herald-Traveler ceased publication three months after losing the station, crippled by its loss of revenue. …

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