More Les! Churchill Films and Pieter Van Deusen’s What Is Music?

As the films of Les Blank are inaugurated into the canon of “important classic and contemporary films” IU Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) brings to light some of his less well known work, as cameraman for a series of late 60s classroom films produced by Churchill Films and director Pieter Van Deusen. In late 2014 the Criterion Collection released Les Blank: Always For Pleasure, a DVD/Blu-Ray edition including 14 of the documentary maker’s films and a raft of supplementary material befitting a filmmaker with as long and varied a career as Blank. While this much deserved rediscovery of Blank proceeds and his own films are now more available to be seen than ever, the time is ripe to unearth these works-for-hire intended for the primary school classroom.

In the months after Blank’s death in April, 2013, numerous tributes and memorial screenings were organized around the country. In the midst of the season of celebrating Les, IULMIA staff processing newly acquired 16mm films from circulating library and classroom film collections noted some unfaded polyester prints of music education titles produced by Los Angeles-based Churchill Films in the late 60s. A little research and a flatbed viewing of the prints of these mostly innocuous-sounding educational films soon revealed that they are not only well-made works by a great ensemble of filmmakers of the era, but also contain excellent documentation of music performances and figures of the late 60s Californian milieu that Van Deusen and Blank were a part of. This post focuses on Blank’s notable contributions to the 1968 short film What Is Music? An upcoming post will profile New Sounds In Music and its documentation of experimental music composition happening at Mills College, Oakland, CA circa 1968.

Churchill Films distributed a series of music films for young audiences written, produced and directed Pieter Van Deusen. Thanks to the work of fellow-archivist Geoff Alexander and the Academic Film Archive of North America  in documenting the auteurs of educational film, there exists a biographical/filmography page on Pieter Van Deusen and his work. IULMIA holds prints of all known titles in the series, including: What Is Music?, New Sounds In Music, Wind Sounds, String Sounds and Percussion Sounds. Production credits on the music series of films included Robert Kaufman as director of photography (credited as one of the cinematographers on Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles), and the team of Les Blank and Skip Gershon as 2nd camera and assistant.

Recently IULMIA sought out Pieter Van Deusen to ask about his work on the music films for Churchill, and his acquaintance with Les Blank. Pieter and Les began working together very early in their respective careers, with both appearing in Blank’s 1960 student film Running Around Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off. While we hope to present a more in-depth conversation with Pieter Van Deusen in an upcoming post, he was gracious enough send this reminiscence:

Les Blank and I were good friends during the year we studied filmmaking together at USC Cinema.  We cast each other in leading roles in our student films and wound up as neighbors in Woodland Hills (at the far end of the San Fernando Valley).  Also Lisa and Gail (our wives at that time) both gave birth to two boys close to the same age. […]
In 1968, when I had the opportunity of making a series of music films for Churchill Films, I naturally turned to Les to do some of the camerawork.  When he showed up at one location in Hollywood (an Indian Music school), he had just returned from shooting one of his pig roast scenes somewhere in the south.  When he arrived at our location, he said that he’d been so engrossed in the easy-going life that surrounded his time in the south, that he’d been absolutely terrified during his drive along the freeway.  It may be just that combination of easy-going, almost meditative absence of thought and that heightened sensitivity to the experience of seeing that made his cinematography so remarkable.

What Is Music? includes a two and a half minute section (shown in the video above) composed of outtakes from Les Blank and Skip Gershon’s 1968 film The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins.  This was the first of the music and folk culture films that would become a hallmark of Blank’s style, and in some respects propelled his career from USC film school graduate freelancing educational film work, to making documentary films reaching broader audiences. According to Blank, the success of The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ was helped by its being programmed as a short playing before that 1967 art-house hit, J.L. Godard’s  Weekend. To the best of our knowledge the footage in the scenes found in What Is Music? appear nowhere in Blank’s work, found hiding away unassumingly in this educational film.

What Is Music? tours young viewers through a distinctly late ‘60s panorama of musical sounds.  We begin with the “accidental” sounds of nature and conclude with a long silent scene of a girl frolicking with dogs in a forest, as the narrator asks viewers to “try and imagine music of your own for a moment…what kind of music would be like this moment in life?” The Hopkins passage is framed as an example of “country blues” and African-American folk culture, appearing just after a segment with traditional Chinese instruments and just before a collage of aboriginal didgeridoo and Indian raga-psychedelia. The music track for the segment  is another in the style of the many improvised, riffing performances Hopkins gives in Blank and Gershon’s documentary. The song plays uninterrupted as Blank’s camera cuts between Hopkins’ performance, posed portraits of a churchgoing group somewhere near Centerville, TX, and country landscapes in the same region taken from a car window.

[Those interested in researching Lightnin’ Hopkins on film are advised of a 1971 episode of the National Educational Television series “Artists In America” titled Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, produced by Houston, TX KUHT-TV, which IULMIA holds several 16mm prints of.]

Coming soon from the IULMIA blog: we’ll discuss the Harry Partch instruments, Tape Music and prepared pianos in New Sounds In Music, and further conversation with Pieter Van Deusen.

We leave you with another excerpt from What Is Music?  The final segment in the film’s panorama of world musics, with dazzling animation credited to Roberto Chavez.

~Seth Mitter

Campus Culture and Gender Ideology: A Look at 1953’s Your Daughter at I.U.

your daughter at iu       your daughter at iu 2

Beneath the veneer of the seemingly idyllic 1950s America lay an undercurrent of social unrest, as postwar expectations of gender roles, particularly·in regards to receiving a university education, sought to reinforce traditions that had all but been upended in the previous decade.  Prior to World War II, admissions at Indiana University Bloomington saw men outnumbering women three-to-one in the classroom. During wartime, women outnumbered men two-to-one.

gi bill
Students register for classes using their GI Bill (1947). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Thanks to such measures as the G.I. Bill, the postwar years saw the majority male student population return to Indiana University, and images of female empowerment of the previous decade (perhaps best represented by the iconic Rosie the Riveter campaign) were replaced by images of docility, compliance, and traditional femininity, as women were once again being primed for futures as wives and mothers.

Your Daughter at I.U., a 1953 college recruitment video marketed toward the parents of prospective female students, serves as a striking representation of how gender roles were being negotiated in the postwar years.  As the film’s (male) narrator cheerfully proclaims in its opening moments, “modern life is complex…to meet it, our daughters need a many sided-education.” The result of such a well-rounded education?  “A woman may be the center of the home, bringing up a healthy, well-adjusted family in comfortable, attractive surroundings.”

your daughter at iu 4
“Students in the home management house care for a real baby…and as you can see, he gets good care!”

The film’s  exploration of career paths for Indiana University students highlights professions viewed as traditionally feminine – nurses, teachers, and other positions related to home economics and domestic work.  The university is depicted as offering courses in “basic subjects” including “arts and crafts.”  Further, such curriculum options are deemed necessary not for the student’s betterment, but for the eventual support of her husband and family: “[the woman] will do most of the family buying, and she will be her husband’s  partner in major decisions; therefore, she must understand financial matters and how to deal with them.”

your daughter at iu 5
“The modern woman may be a wage-earner until she gets married, or even after marriage. Or later, when her children are grown, she may help her husband in his business.”

Yet Your Daughter at I.U.’ s representation of traditional gender roles was incongruous with notable campus developments of the time.  Only one year before the film’s release, the Indiana Memorial Union Board began admitting women for the first time, despite the fact that the organization had been active since 1909. Also of note is the publication of Alfred Kinsey‘s controversial Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, which challenged conventional beliefs about female sexuality. The hiring of Eunice Roberts as Indiana University’s Assistant Dean of Faculties cemented the university’s status as one of the few colleges at the time employing a woman full-time to develop educational programs and services for women.

Kinsey
A student reads Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Such achievements in redefining gender norms were in direct contrast to university policy, which aggressively policed female students’ behavior. According to a 1947 social guidance booklet distributed by the university, female students were instructed to wear sweaters, skirts, ankle socks and loafers, and were forbidden from wearing slacks or shorts in the campus dining halls.  Jeans were also prohibited save for a few exceptions – lounging on Saturdays, at hayrides, or at picnics. Further, the Association for Women Students published a yearly handbook of mandatory moral and social standards, guidelines that were perhaps best expressed in the curfew policy.  Nightly curfews applied to all women, and expressly stated that women had to be in their dorms or houses by 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and by 12:30 a.m. on weekends.  Social Standards and House Regulations were distributed to dormitory residents in much the same way these other social guidance booklets were.

Arguably, the Indiana University of the 1950s was something of a microcosm of the United States at large, simultaneously reinforcing and questioning cultural expectations of gender roles, which would soon be on the cusp of significant transformation with the emergence of second-wave feminism in the early 1960s. Your Daughter at I.U. is an important work in understanding the intersection between conventional gender role expectations of the postwar era, how these expectations were reinforced in the context of receiving a university education, and perhaps most importantly, the gradual yet significant unrest in maintaining them.

Your Daughter at I.U. is held in the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive’s Educational Film Collection and can be viewed online via the university’s video streaming service. 

~Kaitlin Conner

A Conversation with Caroline Frick

Caroline Frick currently juggles responsibilities for no fewer than three positions, which include the Founder and Executive Director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Austin, and President of the Board for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

After studying history and film at the University of East Anglia, Frick worked for the National Archives, Library of Congress, and Warner Bros., and ran the Film Preservation Festival for the AMC cable television network.  She then moved to Austin, Texas where she earned her PhD in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at The University of Texas at Austin in 2005.   While working on her PhD, Frick founded the Texas Archive of the Moving Image in 2002: “My educational and professional experiences contributed very much to starting a regional film archive; most importantly, the master’s program I attended was housed in a regional archive,” she says. Also influential in her decision to found TAMI was her work running the National Film Registry Tour for the Library of Congress, in which major Hollywood features were screened alongside more obscure footage produced within the state. “Many times, there were longer lines for local film events than Hollywood’s most famous titles” she says, before adding, “The US has an incredibly rich moving image history that is still undiscovered and unwritten.  Industrial filmmaking, educational productions and advertising materials provide equally valuable insight to our historical past…by the time I got to Texas, I was primed and interested in this type of material. Texas is unique because it has been so highly profiled – often erroneously – in Hollywood films.” Frick’s work with TAMI blends both her personal and research interests in Hollywood history and local materials.  For her academic research, she finds it fascinating “how different national or regional contexts have defined preservation –related terms and how different contexts have similarly or differently taken approaches to preserving materials.”

Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914
Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914

“What TAMI aspires to be is a hub to bring together people and organizations interested in ensuring long-term preservation and access to moving image,” she says, noting that the expense of preservation often ensures it remains a low priority. TAMI’s access-driven mission aims to raise awareness of the value of films in historical collections: “People need to see this material to understand the value of it,” Frick notes. “One of our current projects is to raise money to revamp the look of our curated collections, especially with an eye towards greater use by K-12 educaters and so-called ‘lifelong learners.’ There’s nothing more fulfilling than introducing our content to people who’ve never seen it or thought about it before – the realization in their eyes and the excitement.”

Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925
Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925

Outreach initiatives at TAMI include the Texas Film Round-Up, a free digitization service for any individual or organization with state-related audiovisual materials. Once digitized, the films are added to TAMI’s online library, and the supplying organization receives a copy as well as the original artifacts.  A small museum exhibit denoting both the history of film and broadcasting in the region as well as preservation techniques travels with the program.  The Texas Film Round-Up often screens collection material which helps dispel some of the erroneous notions people have of the state’s media history.  “For example, a lot of people think of Texas film and think of Hollywood cowboys – our collection reveals so much more!” Frick notes.

Bloom (2012), produced as part of TAMI’S Mess with Texas program

Another initiative, Mess with Texas, is a collaborative effort between TAMI and Texas art museums, in which video artists are given audiovisual materials and encouraged to “mess with them.”  The project’s name is a clever nod to the Don’t Mess with Texas environmental campaign.

Having served as President of the AMIA board since 2011, Frick sees her current roles within both TAMI and AMIA intersecting with one another: “Sometimes when you’re working on something that’s more narrowly focused with a refined, geographically-focused mission, it really helps to keep abreast of what’s happening on national and international levels…[AMIA gives us] a unique, level playing field for us to talk with one another.”  As AMIA board members represent various components of the organization’s membership, “having a sense of where many of our different voices come from is quite helpful.”

Much like her work with TAMI, Frick wants to see AMIA work further to raise public awareness of the value of AV preservation.  “The fantastic work of our members helps communicate to the public why [film archivists] are here, what we’re doing, and why it matters.” Last year’s beta test of the Festival of the Archives, in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival, helped raise awareness of the preservation efforts undertaken by media archives around the country; it’s something Frick hopes to see continue in the future. “Just because you turn on the television and you see a black and white movie doesn’t mean it’s going to be there forever…ultimately, we try to keep material alive for as long as possible.”

Frick argues that, as the preservation field continues to grow and evolve, with formats becoming increasingly obsolete, “there’s going to be more awareness over time for the need of this kind of work, coming from a variety of different sectors.”  Frick hopes that AMIA will continue to bring together divergent voices from a number of professional settings, but remarks that engaging with diverse groups can sometimes be a challenge: “What I fear is the increased tension between those who are very much dedicated to conservation of film material and those who are advocating for constant migration of data. (i.e., what do we prioritize, content vs. carrier?) My biggest hope is to see that all of us are talking about the same thing.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Frick argues that “there’s no better time to get involved with the media preservation community. There are so many exciting opportunities developing in so many different sectors if one is open to the ways audiovisual preservation can be defined.”

~Kaitlin Conner

Carolyn Faber of the John M. Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Carolyn Faber, Film and Media Technician at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
Carolyn Faber, Media Collections Manager at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

Carolyn Faber is the Media Collections Manager at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Located in downtown Chicago, just a few blocks away from the Art Institute, Carolyn maintains a circulating collection of 16mm film prints, with access restricted to faculty and students. Carolyn had been a part of the field for several years after having studied filmmaking in college and working a variety of production jobs around the Chicago area before landing in a film archive. She has worked with film and moving image collections for 16 years due to her knowledge of 16mm film, including how to safely handle and repair it (meaning inspection, cleaning, and splicing), her familiarity with assessment and minor repair work of videotape, and her knowledge of digitization technologies and workflows. A few years ago, Carolyn decided to return to school for a master’s in Library Science. About this decision, she says, “It was mostly to expand on my existing skills and learn more about library environments – where I think some audio/visual collections can get kind of stuck in Special Collections ‘purgatory.’ But it was also practical – I wanted to get into higher-level jobs and saw that I was being passed over for lack of an advanced degree – I needed to be more competitive.”

At SAIC, Carolyn’s role is to keep fragile and damaged film prints in projectable condition, a tough job as commercial support for 16mm film continues to erode, she says. Replacing films with better quality projections can only be done once or twice a year, if at all, due to the challenge of cost and availability. When it comes to projecting the film, Carolyn has students and faculty trained and authorized by the Technical Managers in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA) department’s certification program. The school also has numerous projectors available in several classrooms, but the main building where much of the requests come from has a media center available for students and faculty to check out projectors for viewings in empty classrooms – equipment never leaves the building; only the film cans travel. In the library, the film collection is kept on a separate floor from the book collection, on top of storage shelves in the staff work area. Lining the perimeter are several library staff offices, including Carolyn’s. Inside her office, Carolyn has a desk, film projector, screen, film inspection bench, various video decks, and a monitor. Every film is inspected before going out in circulation. Up until this past August, Carolyn’s job was primarily a part-time student-worker position. With her role expanding, the position has been bumped to a full-time management job with one student assistant working eight to ten hours a week. Thanks to her assistant, Carolyn has been able to catalog the backlog of DVDs in the library’s collection, assess the 16mm film collection, work more closely with the media held in special collections, and foster relationships with frequent users of the collections, like the FVNMA department. Her assistant, meanwhile, handles the film print inspections and projection request schedule. Assessing the collection has been important for determining short- and long-term goals. About developing the collection, Carolyn says, “Space is at a premium so we have to consider acquisitions very carefully. I do handle purchasing of new prints but as to the curatorial aspect of developing the collection – that is done in collaboration with senior staff.”

FlaxmanFilmCans
Films in the John M. Flaxman Library stacks.

Even though Carolyn and her assistant do all of the conservation work, she says there is not much more they can do to prevent damage from happening each time a film is checked out. Carolyn believes creating access to the collection for use in teaching includes keeping some damaged prints for use in preservation, media genealogies, and material studies classes. About the collection, Carolyn says, “Many prints in the collection have been so battered from their years in circulation that all we can do is make sure they project without breaking.” While she has all of the typical tools of a film archivist – a shrinkage gauge, splicer, film cleaner and cloths, Moviscope viewer, perfix tape, and white gloves – work is not extensive on the films due to time and the possibility of better prints being available elsewhere. When a print is red, she will tell the instructor and “nine out of ten times they won’t show it.” These are cases when Carolyn has to borrow from other collections, like Canyon Cinema, to maintain access. With the intent to make the most of the film collection at SAIC, Carolyn plans to conduct an overall evaluation of the collection to determine which prints the library could consider replacing, if they are in fact replaceable, and which newer 16mm film works they can consider purchasing and entering into the circulation collection, all in the name of access.

~Erin McCall

Access is the First Step to Preservation: An Interview with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks

banner2Skip Elsheimer’s interest in film and video dates back to his childhood. As a young man he owned a 16mm projector but could never get it to work. He shot film for school projects but was dissatisfied with the time it took to view his results. “No immediate gratification squashed my motivation” he said in a  February 19, 2013 interview. He had always been a collector of such ubiquitous materials as comic books, coins, stamps, and records. However, in college at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC in the 1990s, his interest in collecting reached a more massive scale, both space- and numbers-wise. It happened when he bought six palettes of audio and video equipment at a University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) auction that included U-Matic video decks, an open-reel tape machine, and a working 16mm projector. He was not a stranger to oversized collections at this stage in his life as he had already gotten into collecting large office machinery (copy machines and other discarded tools), but prior to this purchase, film had not been a huge part of his life.

One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder's rose mural.
One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder’s rose mural.

A trip to a flea market netted him a couple of 16mm educational film prints but also, and more importantly, a tip from the seller about an auction that featured quite a few more films. Despite not being able to attend the auction — he had to go to work —  he asked his roommates to go in his place. “I’ll pay you back” he said, and, upon returning home, was greeted by a pile of 500 educational films with subjects ranging from drinking and drugs to driver’s ed and Duck and Cover from the UNCG  Department of Human Resources. It cost him $50.

“Something clicked that these were awesome,” says Elsheimer, and his quest to build the massive 24,000+ educational film collection of A/V Geeks began. “Schools were beginning to make room for the computer lab and dumping films for space” he said, and recounts buying up huge lots of film from educational and other institutional entities all over North Carolina. Soon enough he had acquired most of North Carolina’s otherwise-potentially-doomed-for-the-dumpster collections. As college roommates started getting married, going to grad school, and otherwise moving out of their shared house, Elsheimer realized that if he was going to keep the thousands of films he had amassed, it was time to find them a home. He did, in a former boarding house in Raleigh, NC, where the archive lives to this day.

IMG_2991“I got [the films] for performance in the first place, to show behind bands,” says Elsheimer, noting that his collection was born with the idea that these films – however dated, faded, or forgotten – were still of interest, despite being orphaned by their previous owners. But their interest, he noted, extended beyond a moving psychedelic backdrop for music. Elsheimer started inviting friends over on Sundays for beer and film viewing, a tradition that remains to this day. “I enjoy [watching] them and see enjoyment in others when the watch them,” he said. Prior to his quest to collect and rescue film he had created zines and worked with a record label, two enterprises whose reason for being are to get content to the widest variety of people. Thus, A/V Geeks was born, a film archive based on the idea that, as Elsheimer says, “access is the first step to preservation.”

A view of the A/V Geeks' Flashscan film scanner at work.
A view of the A/V Geeks’ Flashscan film scanner at work.

In order to fulfill the goal of making his 24,000 educational films as accessible as possible, Elsheimer has spent almost two decades becoming a recognized force for reformatting in the world of media preservation. Much of the reason these films are not accessible is because many never made it to consumer friendly formats like VHS, and even if they did, their material may be considered too irrelevant for modern formats. Reformatting equipment is expensive and experience is, too. “I learned the hard way,” said Elsheimer, referring to the fact that his knowledge of the field has put him in demand as a consultant for other archives who are seeking help with their digitization projects. But one of the goals of the work of A/V Geeks is to get as much public domain material as possible on popular media delivery websites like YouTube, The Internet Archive, and Vimeo, to ensure the most amount of views by the widest audience. In 2012 Elsheimer initiated an IndieGoGo campaign to digitize 100 miles of public domain film. He enticed donators with a list of films that he not only thought they would be interested in, but that he was also interested in. “Instead of me raising money to pay the bills I can raise money to digitize what I want to digitize,” he said. As of February 24, 2013, the campaign has raised over $20,000.

IMG_2998A/V Geeks is not only a giant, privately owned educational film archive but also a vendor of digitization services. They offer 8mm, Super8, 16mm, and 35mm reformatting services, as well as a variety of professional and consumer level video formats, including VHS, SVHS, Betamax, Umatic, and 1″ open reel. A/V Geeks also offers digital file reformatting, DVD duplication, and video transcoding to digital media. Elsheimer’s biggest client is the Internet Archive, particularly Geoff Alexander of the Academic Film Archive of North America and Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives. Universities  – his alma matter North Carolina State University and neighboring Durham’s Duke University, among others – have hired A/V Geeks for larger scale reformatting services. While higher-profile vendor activity nets more money than consumer services like home movie digitization, Elsheimer feels its just as important as such activity “imparts ideas about archiving to individuals.” Outside of digitization services Elsheimer puts this belief to practice as the president of the Center for Home Movies.

To further their mission of access, Elsheimer takes treasures from the A/V Geeks archive on the proverbial road. He regularly shows films at Kings Barcade in Raleigh, typically a rock venue, in addition to more (or less) traditional cinema environments. He also packages some of the public domain films into fun, thematic DVD sets, monetizing the content and also giving him something to sell at merchandise tables while touring and on his website. “I think the most important component of preservation is access” he says. “If you aren’t actually doing something to give access to people to make it important or introduce it to the world then you’re not doing preservation in the grand sense. It’s great keeping the original around … but there are ways now to share that information without impacting the original object by putting them online and making them available to someone even in another part of the world. That stuff is really important.” He continues “I could pay to have something preserved and it could sit on a shelf and no one would know, so what’s the point? Spend the time, energy, and money, and cheerlead it.”

AV-GEEKS-postcard-image1-300x248

~ Jason Evans Groth

 

Reflections on AMIA from a First-Time Attendee

A view of Seattle from the conference hotel.
A view of Seattle from the conference hotel.

One month ago, a small gathering of film enthusiasts and archivists came together for a few days in Seattle to partake in the 22nd annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference. On an oddly sunny Tuesday morning in the Pacific Northwest, AMIA kicked off with the ffmpeg4archivists Workshop held by Dave Rice. And so it was, my first AMIA conference had officially begun. After soaking in some ffmpeg knowledge, it was off to The Reel Thing to catch a glimpse of some recent restoration projects along with some groundbreaking and interesting new technologies.

At the Newcomer’s Mixer, Stacy Doyle of the Black Film Center Archive and I had breakfast with an audio engineer from Sony. This was followed by a humbling and inspiring video from AudioVisual Preservation Solutions (AVPS) and New York University Moving Image Archive Program (MIAP) students, showcasing their trials during the aftermath of Sandy at Eyebeam. The next three days were packed with interesting topics including everything from colorspace, ephemeral TV content and Digital Cinema Distribution Masters (DCDM), to working in a digital world, access, and preservation through reuse.  It was very difficult to decide which session to attend or which two the hour and a half period would be divided into. It would be a disservice to attempt to recap the entire conference but this will be a stab at narrowing it down to a few highlights.

Taken during <i> 28mm: A New Look at Old Films</i>.
Taken during 28mm: A New Look at Old Films.

Make It So: Initiating Audiovisual Preservation, was a talk by a group of relatively recent Master’s graduates that gave an inspiring look at startup projects from around the country and the challenges we are all facing with media preservation. They definitely gave a glimpse of hope for soon-to-be-graduates entering the job market.

A Decade of Home Movie Day contained personal stories from around the country and tips for starting one in your own hometown. Ruta Abolins, of the University of Georgia, was asked during one screening while touring the state, “Will you be here again next week?” For an annual event, this was definitely a compliment.

Access and digitization were hot topics in many panels. Members from WGBH and Northeast Historic Film discussed these areas in depth during Collaboration and Participation in Action – New Ways to Create Online Collections.

Skip Elsheimer, of AV Geeks, talked about CatDV, XMedia Recode, and MPEG Streamclip while Dave Rice of AVPS gave us his words of wisdom about preservation: “If you are a tape, and live in a cool, dry place, you will live longer” during their talk, Man vs. Machine, with Jimi Jones, Archivist at Hampshire College.

Walter Forsberg of NYU and Cassie Blake from the Academy Film Archive, presented their project on movie snipes as sociocultural signifiers. A wonderful montage with catchy tunes, animated food, puppies, and more hot dogs with mustard than one could imagine… by the end we were all ready to go the lobby and get ourselves a treat.

Walter Forsberg discusses movie snipes.
Walter Forsberg discusses movie snipes.

So many people I spoke with had incredibly varied backgrounds along with a multitude of life and job experiences that brought them to where they are now.  Some had been in the field for well over 30 years; one woman currently works for an oil company and is considering a career change; others simply have a passion for film.  At one point near the end of the conference I had one of those rare but highly sought-after moments in life — when we get to experience the feeling that says “I have found my people.”

In the end, the true beauty of AMIA was that all of our paths were brought together for a few days by one common interest.  Recent industry developments have led some people say that film is dead.  However, something can’t be dead if there is still so much life left in it.  If even a small number of these people have anything to do with it, this pulse will continue to beat for years to come.

Asia Harman

Polygamists, Cyborgs, and Gay Marriage, Oh My! Orson Welles and Future Shock

The cover to McGraw-Hill’s teaching companion to the film, available digitized at IUFLA’s Facebook page.

“Our modern technology has achieved a degree of sophistication beyond our wildest dreams. But this technology has exacted a pretty heavy price. We live in an age of anxiety, a time of stress. And with all our sophistication we are in fact, the victims of our own technological strength. We are the victims of shock … of future shock.”

No, this isn’t a quote from a Huffington Post column on the Facebookization of modern communication. Nor is it pulled from an academic treatise on the phenomenologies of post-industrial existence. This statement was made by Orson Welles in the 1972 futurist documentary Future Shock, and, unlike some of the more dated elements of 1970s educational films, Future Shock remains shockingly current in verbalizing the concerns and anxieties that come along with rapid societal and technological change.

Could this poly-faced scene in Future Shock be a precursor to the F For Fake film poster?

1970s Visions Of A Dystopic Future

The 1972 documentary Future Shock was created as a companion piece to the 1970 book of the same name by author and social theorist Alvin Toffler. Toffler’s Future Shock posited that the accelerated rate of technological change in the modern world was leading to a largely dystopic and alienated society.  The book is hugely iconic, having sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVJrJk3q3MA

The educational film adaptation is useful in offering an audiovisual portrait of economic and social concerns of the 1970s, and from this, we can better understand the paradigms of consumerism and technology that we trade in today. Beyond that, it offers up intriguing archival scenes of 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, and transient free-lovin’ hippies, albeit offered as examples of precursors to a dystopic future of terrifying artificial intelligence and distance from the traditional morality of earlier decades. “The momentum is established, but the direction is up to us,” warns Welles. “Is there danger in the path we are taking?”

Orson Welles As Host And Narrator

A somewhat spooky example of genetic engineering and robotics.

Welles gamely engages with the hyperbole of the narration, sternly discussing how technological innovation has led to broken communities, morally apathetic individuals, and disposable objects. Director Alexander Grasshoff uses his host as a voice of authority and inciter of paranoia, imbuing the film with the same kind of gravity and solemnity as Welles’ early and iconic The War of the Worlds broadcasts.  But certainly, the visual element carries with it some elements of the kitsch – as current as Welles’ theoretical concerns sound, it’s hard to reconcile them with some of the now-irrelevant or dated issues (see again: 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, transient free-lovin’ hippies).

A Futuristic And Fusionist Musical Score

Future Shock’s score was created by Gil Mellé, a baritone saxophonist and film composer who spent the 1970s and 1980s experimenting on musical arrangements for film and television that fused jazz, electronic music, and avant garde classical minimalism. His work on the theme for the television program Night Gallery was notable for its use of an all-electronic score mimicking the conventions of an orchestra, and he specialized in science fiction and horror films such as The Andromeda Strain and The Sentinel.  In Future Shock, the combination of strings, horns, and electronics ebbs and flows, switching from the urban groove of funk to the industrial Moogisms of early modern electronic music to create moments of urgency and mystery.

Future Shock discusses “nontraditional” relationships such as homosexuality, evidenced in this scene documenting a 1970s wedding between two men.

Indiana University And Orson Welles

This 16mm film is part of the recently acquired Oregon Collection of 12,000 educational films.  In addition, it is significant to the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and Indiana University in general because of its relation to the greater collection of Orson Welles materials that are housed here, from the papers and lacquer discs at the Lilly Library to the film elements at the IULFA. In watching this legendary actor and personality grapple via performance with the social concerns of the day, we are given a deeper understanding of both the Welles himself, as well as historical and current imaginings of change and innovation in society.

  • Read more on Preserving Orson Welles at Indiana University here.
  • Learn more about the Oregon Collection at IULFA here.

~Josephine McRobbie

20th Century Treasure Hunt: An Adventure With Jacques Cousteau

Screen shot of Cousteau looking at a found object.

In the early 1970s, Jacques Cousteau and his team made a series of programs entitled The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Each episode takes a closer look at Cousteau’s favorite subject: the ocean. The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive received ten of these titles as part of the Oregon Collection including Those Incredible Diving Machines, The Water Planet, Coral Jungle, and The Water Planet. Cousteau was well known as a leading expert in oceanic life, and his many television programs all take a closer look at some form of ocean life or adventure. He began making films in 1942 and continued, almost non-stop,  until his death in the mid 90s. His first film was shot with his own 35mm Kinamo Zeiss camera that he put into a waterproof brass box with external cables to control the focus and aperture. In 1943, with the help of engineer Emile Gagnan, Cousteau developed the aqua-lung, one of the first incarnations of modern scuba diving equipment. This apparatus, which advanced technologically over the years, enabled Cousteau to breathe underwater while filming. Cousteau went on to create many other inventions, all of which were based on a passion for underwater filmmaking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2E34QrDzAg

A closer look at the episode Sunken Treasure with Jacques Cousteau reveals an inside look at a 20th century treasure hunt. Note the difference in time between the full episode and our classroom version, which was catered to fit a specific lesson plan: 50 minutes compared to 20.  Rod Serling narrates the treasure hunt for silver and gold worth over one million dollars believed to be aboard the The Lady of the Conception, a ship from the Spanish Armada fleet which sank after crashing into a coral reef in 1641. Cousteau and his crew, while aboard his ship, Calypso, use maps to navigate the choppy seas of the

Placing markers next to artifacts.

Caribbean to the site of the wreckage. Scuba divers are seen swimming down to the sea floor and raking through sand and coral debris. In time, pieces of the rigging are found along with other items from the ship. Using a 200 horsepower air compressor to suck up and then disperse sand, silt and debris, the crew can get to pieces of the wreckage more easily. When Serling describes the machinery as “so powerful it can suck up a man’s arm. The airlift could literally suck out a man’s blood through his skin,” he sounds like he is back in time, narrating The Twilight Zone. In total, 300 tons of coral debris were sifted through to find cannon balls, a ceramic jug completely in tact with the stopper still in it along with a syringe, a metal plate, tin and pewter plates, soup bones, cups and bowls stacked together. Additionally, cups made of Chinese porcelain, which had been transported to Spanish ships via the Philippines, were found along with the remains of a hand guard to a sword. The crew also discovered that, when the ship crashed, the cannons were loaded and ready to fire.

Treasure map screen shot.

This film gives a great insight into what life was like at sea for these men: afternoon lunches in the hot sun with plenty of wine, Cousteau with the youthful energy of a kid on Christmas morning, and the crew clad in red caps, breaking up huge pieces of coral with sledgehammers. Mostly portrayed was the sense of camaraderie these men shared in their hunt for treasure. It can easily be seen how Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a tip of the hat to one of his heroes, Jacques Cousteau. At the end of the episode, we discover that the ship is in fact not La Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (which actually sank close to the Philippines) and carried no silver or gold. Although we do not get a glimpse of the Jaguar Shark, Cousteau’s films leave us with a closer look into his love of the ocean and his deep passion for wanting to share its beauty and mysteries to the world through film.

~Asia Harman

Presenting … The Study of Government

This is the second (and final) part in our spotlight on educational films about politics and government – just in time for the 2012 Presidential Election. Our previous post looked at the ways in which polling can be used to predict election results and highlight the way certain demographic groups vote through the film Making Inferences from Statistical Data. Today’s film, The Study of Government, takes a more qualitative approach, which makes it a great companion piece. Like last week’s film, today’s was produced at Indiana University, is held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive, and is just one of several IU produced educational films IULFA streams online. It’s possible the film was used as a way to recruit students as political science majors.

Though The Study of Government comes from an era that might seem distant to us today, the short film asks a question that lives on: How can the study of politics and government (aka political science) benefit our political process? Or, what role should political science and political scientists play outside of the academy?

The film starts out by mapping what political science looks like as an academic discipline. While political science departments continue to debate the merits and value of certain sub-fields, the structure of political science at the time this film was made still exists. The film identifies American politics, public administration/policy, political theory, comparative politics, and international relations as the major sub-fields.

An IU professor explains the different fields in political science to a potential major

The tone of the film and the way it describes the various sub-fields marks it as a clear product of the Cold War. It’s brief narration over political theory emphasize American political thinkers with concepts such as democracy, equality, and freedom while, inaccurately, linking figures such as Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Hitler as advocates of untrammeled state power (a strange and contradictory mix of people!).

The narrator, interestingly, notes the increased importance and complexity of international relations and comparative politics. This emphasis on individual rights and the increasing interest in world politics clearly come out of a Cold War mentality that ideas about state and economy are central in the new post-1945 geopolitical environment. The narrator emphasizes the necessity of understanding the political history and customs of other nations in order to have a successful foreign policy. It is very likely that comparative politics and international relations is highlighted due to Indiana University’s strong foreign language programs. Indiana University has retained this reputation, with 82 different languages having been taught within the last 10 years.

A seminar discussion on the ethical and constitutional ramifications of wiretapping.

The Study of Government closes by stating that knowledge about government and politics alone will not produce ideal, engaged citizens. Our narrator defends the idea that an educated citizenry needs a well-rounded base of knowledge. Having a basic understanding of other subjects such as literature, history, physical and natural sciences, etc. is essential for engaged participation in the American system. The final bit of wisdom our narrator imparts us with is that the study of political science has real world consequences – from lofty theoretical debates to mundane policy details.

~ Sean Smalley

 

Reading Polls and Teaching Citizenship in American Political Behavior: Making Inferences from Statistical Data

The question of what predictions one can make from political polls has been a hotly contested one this political campaign. Despite the appearance of scientific certainty, who’s ahead in a poll is reliant on the demographic make-up of the polling audience. For example, when Romney was behind in the polls before the first presidential debate his advocates suggested that pollers were under representing his supporters.

Shirley Engle, a former Indiana University professor of education and director of the Social Studies Development Center (SSDC), addressed the issue of what exactly you can learn from polls in his 1969 educational film Making Inferences from Statistical Data, one of the educational films held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and available for viewing online along with several other IU produced films. Okay, not a barnburner of a title and the film itself is rather staid. But stick with me here.

IU social studies professor Shirley Engle informs the young electorate.

No one said making well-informed democratically-minded citizens was a blast. Though leaning towards the functionally pragmatic in terms of filmmaking – the film is mostly a staged version of a class discussing polls and what they might have revealed about demographics and political beliefs – Engle was working to transform social studies from a rote memorization of facts to a politically engaged subject built off of the concerns and experiences of students.

Students heartily engaged in polling education in Bloomington, IN.

The film was part of a program to train social studies instructors in teaching the subject in this then new progressive manner. This particular module focuses on the limits of reading data. John Patrick, the director of the SSDC after Engle, leads a group of Bloomington -area high school students, all white, through data on how different demographics groups voted in recent elections. The students then attempt to infer whether these different groups were more likely to vote Republican or Democrat.  Showing the strong brand continuity of these political parties the general conclusions more or less hold true in 2012. Older people tended to vote Republican while younger generations trended towards the Democrats. Republicans attracted white voters while the Democratic Party was more closely aligned with minority voters.

Students forming their own opinions and conclusions about polling data.

But what is revealing about this film is the degree to which Patrick attempts to place the students’ findings in dialogue with each other. It might seem like a minor detail, but while he leads the class from one topic to another, it is the students who present the conclusions. Patrick doesn’t tell them what to believe. They analyze the evidence and come to a consensus on the limits of reading into polls.

Engle was greatly concerned that what he termed the “authoritarian school climate” would prevent students from growing into politically active well-informed citizens. To counter that dictatorial pedagogy, this film models a classroom where students come to their own conclusions, but, importantly for Engle, they are conclusions based on a considered reading of empirical data and are tested through group dialogue.

While as a piece of filmmaking Making Inferences from Statistical Data might mirror Engle’s button-downed appearance, the film and its maker were advocating for a transformation in how educators helped students become politically aware. In reading his writings from the time of the film, Engle almost comes off as a political radical despite his moderate appearance of a flattop haircut and grey suit. This gap between the film, created to instruct as clearly as possible, and the more revolutionary approach to pedagogy that undergirds it, point to the necessity in placing these educational films in the theoretical contexts in which they were made.

Engle smiles at the idea of helping students for their own political opinions.

This is the first blog post in a two-part look at how educational films addressed politics. Tune in next week for an examination of Study of Government.

~Andy Uhrich