FIFTEEN YEARS? (part 1: introduction)

Today, June 25, 2018, marks my 15th anniversary working as a film preservationist at the Academy Film Archive.

I had absolutely no idea that more than fifteen years ago, when accepting this job, I could possibly have stayed in it so long. I had at that point (2003) been working at Canyon Cinema for three years, where I’d gotten a major crash course in the aesthetic, anecdotal, and technical history of the avant-garde (not to mention where I met hundreds of amazing filmmakers, curators, academics, and others, many of whom have remained friends/collaborators over the years) when the job at the Academy came open. In part because the Academy Film Archive (specifically director Mike Pogorzelski and preservation officer Josef Lindner) had wanted to expand the work the archive was doing on experimental films, I found myself moving to Los Angeles.

Over the years, the amount of support, encouragement, and freedom I’ve had from my colleagues and supervisors at the Academy to focus largely on independent artists’ films has been really remarkable, and it has made the idea of working somewhere else seem kind of a ludicrous option. Plus I still really love L.A. So I’m still here, happily, a decade and a half later.

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Stan Brakhage’s Fire of Waters and sculpting in sound

Fire of Waters (1965) is one of Stan Brakhage’s more elusive films, even though it enjoys quite a good reputation among those familiar with it.  Its extremely striking, minimal, black and white imagery and very atypical and unusual use of sound make it fairly memorable, and yet it doesn’t seem to be as well recognized as one would expect.

Brakhage would continue to make films for another four decades, but Fire of Waters is actually one of his final black and white films, followed only by Song 12 (also 1965 and generally printed on color stock) and the even more elusive Sluice (1978).  The film’s overall comparatively spare minimalism prefigures some later works such as The Wold Shadow (1972) and Passage Through: A Ritual (1990), but it’s curiously out of step with the semi-maximalism of his other work of the early-mid ’60s (coming as it does right on the heels of Dog Star Man (1961-64)).

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Film in the Present Tense: Berlin, October 20-22, 2017

If you’ll be anywhere near Berlin in late October, please do consider coming to what promises to be a fantastic weekend symposium there, October 20-22, 2017.  Organized by the amazing LaborBerlin folks, Film in the Present Tense will seek to explore the myriad ways in which analog film continues to be crucial, relevant, and thriving as an art form and medium well into the 21st Century.

Here’s the link:

Here’s their own description of the event:
“In spite of claims of its obsolescence, analog film is still alive. It continues to exist as an inimitable artistic medium, put to use in myriad forms around the world. Nonetheless, in the context of our ever-expanding digital landscape, analog film faces new challenges that have forced it into a process of deep transformation. What steps do we need to take to guarantee that analog film will remain as a living-breathing medium? What are the alternatives to the idea of film as an obsolete, historical object? What new forms will film take and what will that mean for the culture that surrounds it? How do we keep analog film in the Now?

Organised by LaborBerlin in cooperation with the Film Institute of the Berlin University of the Arts, Film in the Present Tense will bring together filmmakers, artists, programmers, technicians and representatives from museums, independent film labs and cinemas to address these questions and formulate ideas, possibilities and plans of action for keeping film current and alive. In addition to six panel discussions, there will be screenings and expanded cinema performances presenting some of the ways in which film continues to exist “in the present tense”.”

I’m thrilled and honored to give the keynote presentation, as well as present two curated screenings and participate in a panel on the role of the archive in contemporary film.  There will be numerous other brilliant thinkers and artists in attendance, other screenings, more panels, and probably some wonderfully enthusiastic discussion late into the nights about everything.  Should be a really enlightening and fun event, and I hope you can make it!

out of sync / kinescopes / War is Hell

Picture/track synchronization is usually pretty important.  Even when a film doesn’t have actual recorded lip-sync dialogue, most films have a correct sync in their finished form, and obviously it’s an important thing for a preservationist to maintain and be observant of.  There’s a ton I could write about synching and sync problems, individual examples of weird or variable synchronization, or just the different ways we deal with sound sync in general, but for the time being, I’ll give this example, which is slightly atypical (at least in the world of experimental film – I have a feeling some TV archivists have seen this plenty of times!).

Many of you reading this probably know that usually, in film, sound and image are not only recorded separately, but also usually printed from separate picture and sound elements – these days, typically a picture negative and a track negative.  In the printing process, the picture element and the soundtrack element will usually have sync marks and/or hole punches at one or both ends of each which are used to match the separate picture and track rolls to the same printer start point, thus resulting in a new print with correct sound synchronization.

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more nasty splicing tape (+ Ben Van Meter)

Here’s an OLD tape splice on a 1965 7387 Kodachrome print of Ben Van Meter’s Up Tight… L.A. is Burning… Shit (1965):

Some brands or batches of splicing tape can have the effect you see here, often developing over many years, which is a kind of tarnishing of the silver in the print’s soundtrack.  Thankfully, it seems to be the minority of splicing tape stock that can have this deleterious effect, at least based on my own observations over the years.  Also based on those observations, this reaction seems to only really affect the silver in film, which is why it’s visible in the soundtrack here, but not the image, because even though the image is black and white, it’s on color (Kodachrome) print stock. Color prints are typically bleached of their silver content so only the color dyes remain, while conversely the silver would be retained in the soundtrack area to ensure a nice, dense, even track exposure, for consistent and good quality sound reproduction.

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