Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

British Landmark Music Videos and the BFI National Archive

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

British Landmark Music Videos and the BFI National Archive

Article excerpt

Introduction

Music videos are a unique part of moving image production. Succinct and culturally savvy, they capture the Zeitgeist and, at their very best, define the attitudes and styles of the moment. Commissioned to accompany recorded music with arresting visual images, the music video lies at the cutting edge of advertising and promotional film, creating pop culture out of commercial imperative. The creative tension that lies between art and commerce applies to all aspects of professional moving image production, and pop promos embody this acutely. Indeed, a history of moving images would be remiss without reference to the daZZling and daring innovation of music video.

Until recently, however, scholarly work on pop video has been scant. Music videos have existed in a kind of cultural vortex within the moving image industry, neither wholly integrated nor fully recognised by the larger film and television sectors. Despite providing employment for many in the moving image industry across several decades, and regardless of the cultural influence that the aesthetics of pop promos have had on other forms of moving image production, music video has yet to achieve extensive critical appreciation as a valid moving image art form. Academically, the body of scholarly work engaging with music video is relatively small. The first wave of academic writing came in response to the MTV phenomenon (see Laing, 1985; Kaplan, 1987; Denisoff, 1987; Goodwin, 1992; Frith et al., 1993) and was characterised by issues of cultural representation and video's status as promotional paratext, heavily inflected with debates about its postmodern credentials. Too often, as Goodwin and Grossberg (1993) noted, the music itself was marginalised, as was any thorough-going consideration of the industrial context of video's production and distribution. Post-millennial scholarship has re-examined music video's form, aesthetics and authorship (Vernallis, 2004, 2013; Donnelly, 2007; Railton & Watson, 2011), its production base and creative processes (Reiss & Feineman, 2000; Hanson 2006; Caston 2012, 2014) and its historical development (Austerlitz, 2008; Beebe & Middleton, 2007; Keazor & Wübbena, 2010). In industrial (as well as cultural) terms the format has suffered perception as being niche or merely a stepping stone for creative talents to feature and TV production. And, from an archival perspective, music video has failed to gain serious consideration for preservation and conservation. Originally conceived as little more than pop ephemera, music videos, unlike movies or high-end television, are still fighting to be recognised as worthy inclusions in the moving image canon.

For these reasons, the BFI has been keen to contribute to the 'Fifty Years of British Music Video' project with University of Portsmouth, University of the Arts, and the British Library. The project is a reappraisal of British music video from 1965 to 2015 and has, as one of its central tenets, a revaluation of music videos and their importance to the history of British film and moving images. In his cornerstone essay 'The Canon', Peter Wollen alerts us to the importance of archives in understanding film history: 'Archives decide which films to preserve and, through their film programming policy, which to screen. Preservation, of course, is the foundation of the whole enterprise of evaluation' (2002, p.219).

Central to the 'Fifty Years of British Music Video' project is an understanding of the vital role film archives play in shaping moving image history. One of the key project outcomes is the conservation of '100 British Landmark Music Videos', a curated selection of significant pop promos chosen to be digitally preserved at the BFI National Archive. Conceived by the 'Fifty Years of British Music Video' project team, the landmark titles have been curated by the BFI and Professor Emily Caston in collaboration with British music video practitioners. This, in turn, has prompted the BFI to reassess its archival approach to its wider music video collections, revising the way it acquires and preserves pop promos to ensure the genre finds its rightful place in the UK's moving image heritage. …

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