Feb 19, 2015

The 6th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar and NO MORE ROAD TRIPS?

by Dan Streible

More than coincidence -- it's serendipity.

In class on February 17, we not only referenced Rick Prelinger's work a few times (again), we also looked at a film from his collection, which was bequeathed to his archive by the filmmaker Henry Charles Fleischer in 2010.  Shot at the 1960 Robert Flaherty Seminar, the silent 16mm Kodachrome might be called a professional's home movie -- although it's not clear if or when Fleischer ever screened it for others. Seems logical he might have shared it with Frances Flaherty, if not also at a later Flaherty Seminar.

Out of class on February 17, this dropped:

LISTEN HERE: http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/the-organist/episode-47-no-more-road-trips

Out of the great radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, California, came episode 47 of the podcast called "The Organist." Rick Prelinger is interviewed (for 18 minutes) by Rob Walker (see robwalker.net/about and @notrobwalker). The web page tease reads:
Archivist, educator and filmmaker Rick Prelinger has a remarkable eye for the unexpected value of ephemera. A massive collection of educational and industrial films he collected under the auspices of the Prelinger Archives was acquired by the Library of Congress, and with his wife, Megan Prelinger, he co-founded the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, stuffed with printed material you’d be unlikely to find elsewhere. More recently he’s been working with old home movies — thousands of them, donated or otherwise acquired. This is basically material nobody else wanted, not even the descendants of whoever made them. He’s used it to build a remarkable series of films – one is made of footage from San Francisco, another from Detroit. Old home movies are mostly silent, and he adds no narration or even a score. Instead, he stands on stage at screenings, riffs about the clips, and encourages viewers to chime in from their seats. This actually works: the audience at Prelinger’s screenings are surprisingly vocal. Prelinger’s most recent is the more broadly themed No More Road Trips? Writer Rob Walker spoke with Prelinger about the film and his career in finding joy and insight in media most people eventually throw away.
Although the conversation is mostly about home movies per se and the ongoing screenings of No More Road Trips?, someone decided that the only video that would be embedded in the web page would be hehe's 2011 YouTube posting The 6th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, 1960 (SILENT). Same thing we watched. (For the record, that YouTube stream is an upload of the MOV or MP4 file ripped from the DVD-R that Prelinger sent to the Seminar; Prelinger Archives made the DVD from Fleischer's original 16mm reversal print. There's not yet a copy available from archive.org.)

Here's the trailer for the Prelinger production:

For further information, there's a blog: nomoreroadtrips.com

Feb 14, 2015

Rescue Operations: THE HOUSE IS BLACK & Alfred Leslie's BIRTH OF A NATION 1965

By Dan Streible

Here's the screening note that went with the 2001 Orphan Film Symposium session that coupled The House Is Black (1962) and Alfred Leslie's film Birth of a Nation 1965.  Although the Farrokhzad poetic documentary about lepers is memorable in any context, it resonates differently in this idiosyncratic pairing than in the teary setting of The Decaying Body quartet we screened in class on February 3rd.

The symposium program listed the session as beginning with a talk by Alfred Leslie, “The Artistic ‘Paraphrasing’ of Lost Films,” followed by a screening of his paraphrased version of his film. Next, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum introduced his undistributed (bootleg, one might say) VHS copy of The House Is Black, with the English subtitles as they existed then. A discussion and Q&A followed.

Leslie was the sole rights owner of his film and he himself made the "paraphrase" edition for his 1997 VHS commercial release entitled Beat and Beyond: The Films of Alfred Leslie (distributed by Facets Multimedia). Rosenbaum and his Iranian colleagues had not established the rights situation with Farrokhzad's film (indeed it was an orphan), but were able to show this ii in this educational, not-for-profit setting at the University of Soth Carolina. In 2005, Facets Multimedia released a DVD edition of The House is Black (also identified by its original Persian title, transliterated as Khānah siyāh ast).  This DVD, from the department's Film Study Center, is what we saw in class.

However, the 22-minute version of Alfred Leslie's Birth of a Nation 1965, exists only on the out-of-print VHS Beat and Beyond. As I discovered when I tried to recreate the Rescue Operations screening in 2011, Leslie's authorized DVD version contained a radically different work, running 40 minutes rather than 22. The disc was released as Alfred Leslie: Cool Man in a Golden Age: Selected Films (Lux, 2009), picked up by the Museum of Modern Art's program title, "Cool Men in a Golden Age: Alfred Leslie and Frank O’Hara," which Charles Silver organized that year. The DVD's audio track for Birth was a different recording, using must longer and more profane text from the Marquis de Sade. There were new end credits and different fonts for the subtitles. It no longer worked very well as a pairing with The House Is Black. The tone of the newer paraphrase (which was more like a new work) was much more abrasive.

If one wanted to show these works, it would require some effort to verify which  versions are which. There is considerable variability in how they are packaged and formatted. Catalogs and published descriptions are often inaccurate. The running times on Birth of a Nation 1965 are variously listed as 22, 24, 39, 40, and 41 minutes. The date of the re-edits are listed as 1988, 1997, 1998, among others. Film prints do not exist for projection, although the original was shot on 8mm film and blown up to 35mm for exhibition. Leslie says that some 14 minutes of footage, and few minutes of soundtrack, survived the 1966 fire that destroyed most of his life's work. The film is variously listed with the titles Birth of a Nation 1965, Alfred Leslie's Birth of a Nation, or simply Birth of a Nation. (I remain puzzled why the artist chose to evoke the 1915 racist epic The Birth of a Nation, since his 1965 film doesn't appear to reference it in any way. Another curator's challenge: how to make sure people don't think you're showing D. W. Griffith's atrocity?)

Here's what he writes on page 141 of the online book version of Alfred Leslie: Cool Man in a Golden Age (2009, an autobiography in verse).

As for The House Is Black, it has been presented with differing points of emphasis. A film by a woman (quite young) in an era when such was rare, especially in documentary. A sponsored film. A work by a filmmaker otherwise recognized as the greatest Persian-language poet of the modern era. The DVD liner notes assert that the film, produced before the so-called Iranian New Wave of the 1970s, has, since its rediscovery "heavily influenced the modern Iranian cinema of such great filmmakers as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who called it 'the best Iranian film.'" No less.  I prefer to introduce it to first-time viewers more modestly, letting its power surprise them. Often when a film is introduced as the best thing ever, a masterpiece, something you'll never forget, and so on, the viewing experience that follows is disappointing.

Alfred Leslie, born in 1927, still lives and works (painting, writing, editing video) in the East Village. Farrough Farrokhzad died in a car crash in 1967, at age 32. She was raising a son she adopted from the leper colony seen in her film. Several documentaries have been made about her, including the English-language I Shall Salute the Sun Once Again (Mansooreh Saboori, 1998) and a German film about her adopted son Hossein Mansouri, Moon Sun Flower Game (Claus Strigel, 2007).

HuffPo Caption: Alfred Leslie [2014] with a 2011 Portrait of a Younger Alfred Leslie.

See Elizabeth Sobieski, "Alfred Leslie: The Last of the Really Great Abstract Expressionists, Now a Master of 21st Century Digital Art," Huffington Post, June 3, 2014.

Feb 4, 2015

The Decaying Body & Its Reanimation

by Dan Streible

Here's the program of films we screened last week. 

The Decaying Body & Its Reanimation

Mouseholes (1999) 9 min. 
Helen Hill
“Anywhere. . .”
The House Is Black (1962) 22 min.
Farough Farrakhzad
My whole being is a dark chant.

Portraits of Anorexia (1987) 43 min.  
Wendy Zheutlin
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) 43 min.    
Todd Haynes
Before the rising sun we fly.

birth / death 
Scratch and Crow (1995) 4 min. 
Helen Hill
If I knew, I would assure you we are all
Finally good chickens
And will rise together,
A noisy flock of round,
Dusty angels. 

These temporary tattoos were given out at Helen's memorial service.
Her nickname from childhood was Chicken.

Among the other threads we might discuss is that, until Wendy Zheutlin got replaced by Todd Haynes, these were works by women filmmakers. Karen Carpenter's presence trumping Haynes, perhaps, that sex/gender theme remains pronounced.  

Other continuities? Poetic form. Experimental techniques. Voice-over narration. Spiritual and religious content. These films are also from early in the careers of young filmmakers. Two of them are MFA student films. Todd Haynes made Superstar while at Bard College; Helen Hill made Scratch and Crow as her thesis film at CalArts. Both made films in high school too (and in her case in elementary school). 

The screening of Superstar has something of an aura because it cannot be commercially distributed or publicly exhibited due to its copyright infringement on the music of The Carpenters (not to mention Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Leon Russell, Gilbert O'Sullivan). Haynes never sought permissions or did clearances; when Richard Carpenter sued, he of course won and the film has since been contraband. Nevertheless it has enjoyed a cult following, mostly via VHS bootlegging. 

The quality of the VHS dub experience is at the heart of Lucas Hildebrand's great essay “Grainy Days and Mondays: Superstar and Bootleg Aesthetics,” Camera Obscura 57 (December 2004) [written while he was a cinema studies PhD student at NYU]. Also of note is Hildebrand's dissertation-turned-book Inherent Vice [catchy title, eh]: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Duke University Press, 2009). Prior to Facets releasing The House Is Black on DVD in 2005, a small number of quasi-bootleg VHS tapes were the only way to see the Farrakhzad film. 

Contrasting VHS aesthetics of Superstar (low-resolution, nth generation dub, now enhanced by the very noticeable drop out in the image) with the beautiful look of the preserved (in 2007) Helen Hill films was another consideration in putting this program together. Although Helen was in part a DIY artist (forced to become a DIY archivist-preservationist when Hurricane Katrina floods destroyed much of her work in 2005), the films also have a fine arts quality to them, particularly Scratch and Crow.  Such rich color!

For more about this remarkable soul, I point you to two pieces I published: “Media Artists, Local Activists, and Outsider Archivists: The Case of Helen Hill,” in Old and New Media after Katrina, ed. Diane Negra (Palgrave McMillan, 2010), 149-74; and "In memoriam Helen Hill,” Film History 19.4 (2007): 438-41. 

Read about the Helen Hill Award conferred by the Orphan Film Symposium here:  http://www.nyu.edu/orphanfilm/orphans8/helenhill.php

Job ads for film curators

Here's a sampling of actual job ads for positions specifically defined for curators of film/motion pictures/moving images.

(These and others are in a folder at the NYU Classes site.)

For capital C Curators at large insitutions (GEH, LOC, AMPAS, MoMA), you'll see that the lists of duties are long and diverse. Do everything. And raise money. 

-- posted by Dan Streible

Curator of Motion Pictures

The staff and trustees at George Eastman House have committed to lead one of the premiere museums in America to a new threshold. The Museum now seeks a curator of motion pictures to join a team committed to strengthening the heritage of the world's oldest museum of motion pictures and photography, to introducing new media to its international audience, and to articulating the relationship of these media to history, culture, and the technologies that made them possible.

The Curator of the Motion Picture Department reports to the Director, and has responsibility for collection acquisitions and preservation; cataloguing; programming; exhibitions; and The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. The curator enjoys an appointment as an adjunct through the University of Rochester English Department Film Studies Concentration and is expected to teach 4 credit hours each semester.

George Eastman House seeks a motion picture curator eager to support, strengthen, and develop its great collection, someone dedicated to finding new ways to express traditional forms and exciting ways to interpret motion pictures through exhibitions, publications, and the world wide web.  The successful candidate will be passionate about preservation and eager to lead the expansion of our film vaults and restoration of our theatre. The position requires collaborative work, both within and outside the museum, particularly with the museum's participation in the International Federation of Film Archives. The curator will supervise a staff of 13 full-time and 5 part-time professionals and work closely with board committees. The successful candidate will have the capacity to engage broad issues of culture, will enjoy fundraising on behalf of the museum, and will be eager to serve both the region and the world.  Excellent communication skills, a terminal degree, and significant curatorial experience are a must.

draft document
(Moving Image Collections) Librarian, GS-1410-13

This position is located in the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC) in Culpeper, Virginia, which houses and preserves the moving image and recorded sound collections of the Library of Congress.  The Curator for moving image materials works collaboratively with others on the staff of the Library and with donors, collectors, and others to identify possible acquisitions, coordinate the acquisition of new materials, assess incoming collections, establish processing and preservation priorities, and design and provide content and context for exhibits and web presentations highlighting elements from the collections, in addition to public screenings, moving image symposia and other presentations. The Curator serves as a subject matter expert in his/her field and as the authority on the contents and condition of elements of the Library’s moving image collections.  The audiovisual collections of the Library of Congress consist of moving images fixed on film or magnetic video tape, and audio works fixed on disc, wire, magnetic audio tape, and cylinder recordings.  The Library also collects, processes and services works that are born digital or that are fixed in a variety of digital formats.  In addition to the audible and visible media, the collection also consists of associated catalogs, indices, scripts, contracts, agreements and logs pertaining to or describing the collections, as well as still photos, lobby cards, and other ephemera associated with the audiovisual works.  The Curator for moving images reports directly to the Head of the Moving Image Section.

Collections Development 40%
As a subject matter expert in film, television, and other moving image media, serves as the recommending officer for the moving image collections.  Coordinates efforts to acquire collections by gift, deposit, or purchase, and identifies potential funding for processing, exhibits, online presentations, preservation, and dissemination of the materials to researchers or through appropriate educational, cultural, and historical outlets. Designs and coordinates retrospective and prospective surveys and analyses in order to determine the collections’ strengths and weaknesses.  Develops new approaches for other experienced librarians to use in solving a variety of problems or in expanding services. Plans and develops programs to fill gaps and augment collections.  Recommends the establishment of new collections, selects new materials for existing collections, and prepares justifications for acquiring new or additional materials.  Interprets and advises on the contents of a collection.  Works collaboratively with the Interpretive Programs Office, the Development Office, the Office of Strategic Initiatives, and Library Services on exhibits, web presentations, on-site and online symposia, educational outreach tools, and other creative, innovative uses of unique Library materials from the moving image collections.

Setting Preservation and Processing Priorities 25%
Using project leadership experience in his or her field of expertise, works collaboratively with colleagues at the NAVCC and throughout the Library to set preservation and processing priorities for new and/or existing collections.  Oversees preservation projects and in coordination with the Head of the Processing Unit helps to determine the level of processing materials and collections will receive.  Works collaboratively with preservation and processing staffs to develop specifications and standards for all materials; monitors the physical quality of the moving image collections to ensure adherence to established standards and suggests appropriate treatments or approaches for deteriorating items and those requiring special needs.  Works with processing staff to understand and update collections data and collections inventories to reflect changes.

Working with Researchers 10%
Researches and provides in-depth information on items or collections, and provides expert advice on items and collections requiring specialized preservation treatments.  Oversees the loan of films and other moving image materials in accordance with established lending guidelines; established guidelines entail receiving loan requests, responding to the availability of the material, scheduling the loan of the material, arranging for shipping, and monitoring the program to ensure material is properly returned and is received in good condition.  Provides regularized outreach to the audiovisual communities and serves as an archival consultant regarding materials within his or her area of expertise.  Oversees preservation projects and provides research on restoration approaches in collaboration with the NAVCC preservation laboratories, the Chief Technology Officer, the Moving Image Section Head, and other managers within the NAVCC.  Identifies born digital materials that need to be acquired by the Library and works in concert with key players throughout the institution to design recommendations for what services the Library can most effectively provide to researchers.

Research/Exhibits/Special Programs/Publications and Professional Relations 25%
Designs, oversees, and manages all public programs provided by the Library at its various moving image exhibition spaces including the Pickford Theater and the NAVCC.  Drives the web content through close collaboration with NAVCC staff and others.  Is a visionary leader who helps determine content of the Library's moving image web site, constantly oversees the updating and refreshing of web pages to keep them vital, and is a key player in determining how web content will be packaged for the public and researchers.  As the gatekeeper for audiovisual web content, serves as the initial point of contact for decisions about what collections, elements of collections, or items will be digitized for the web.  Works closely with the Processing Unit Head and staff to develop appropriate finding aids. Performs information searches of a highly complex nature, using familiarity with in-house resources and primary source materials in other libraries, museums, and archives.  Conducts research and analysis on topics in field of expertise.  Analyzes complex customer requests, questions, requirements and priorities and suggest search strategies.  Makes presentations at conferences, symposia, and seminars. Prepares reports, responses to inquiries, and passes along to staff through effective mentoring knowledge of the subject field.  Works collaboratively with archivists, librarians, historians, scholars, technical experts, and colleagues in related industries to build strong, active relationships that nurture preservation programs and techniques. Hosts tours of the NAVCC and encourages students to explore audiovisual careers and studies.


The mission of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through art and film. One of the largest university art museums in the United States, in physical and budget size and attendance, BAM/PFA has developed an international reputation for presenting one of the most active and ambitious exhibition programs as well as for the quality of its art and film collections and research resources. BAM/PFA is an institution with a stellar history and an exciting future.

The Senior Curator of Film is responsible for leading an internationally renowned and dynamic cinema program that interests and engages the broad range of PFA and museum visitors. The Senior Curator provides overall vision and supervises the excellence, balance, and budget of the film archive program. The Senior Curator actively participates in fundraising and cultivation and represents the PFA locally, nationally, and internationally.

Duties: Conceptualizes and curates film and video exhibition programs. Writes and edits scholarly materials that appeal to the range of visitors. Organizes tours of exhibition programs. Works with UCB faculty to develop programs that support UCB course work. Plays a significant role in the design of moving image exhibition spaces for the new building project.  Supervises film and video curatorial staff, and has a significant role in film and video collection development. Team teaches annual graduate level course on film curating through Film Studies. Holds leadership role in the international film field, through FIAF, close working relationships with international curators, festivals, and filmmakers, and original scholarly research. Cultivates support and raises funds for PFA exhibition programs, PFA operations, and the future building project. Develops grant materials. Solicits gifts of film and video. Develops and oversees annual film and video curatorial department budgets.

Requires advanced degree in Film History or equivalent with extensive knowledge and appreciation for full range of moving image styles, both past and present. Advanced knowledge of and experience in international film and video exhibition curating and collection development. Executive-level leadership and management of a complex public film and video exhibition program. High-level cultivation and grant expertise. College-level teaching. Demonstrated project planning and execution. Long-term and strategic planning. Budget development and management. Excellent verbal and written communication abilities, including the ability to communicate complex concepts about films and film history to an audience that ranges from casual film goers to academics. Awareness and understanding of communities served, locally, nationally, and internationally. Intellectual curiosity, creativity, and enthusiasm for bringing scholarly research to a broad public in accessible ways. Ability to ensure the program responds successfully to changes in technology. Ability to cultivate effective relationships with artists, donors, and the international film community.

The Film Connection: (Seattle, WA)

The film curator position begins with a love of film, and a desire to use film as a powerful, familiar and accessible medium to promote civic engagement and positive social change locally, nationally and internationally. The film curator will expand and manage our film library, which includes feature, documentary and short films, domestic and international, covering a wide range of topics and subject matter. This position will develop our library through extensive film research as well as relationships with filmmakers, distributors, and other film programmers nationally and internationally. In addition, the film curator will develop film programs that focus on particular themes or topics such as international children’s issues, human rights, the environment, and homelessness.

Specifically, this position will:
Develop program concepts and partnerships with issues-based nonprofit organizations, film festivals, media organizations, et al.
Research and develop film catalogs in conjunction with our program partners or independently
Develop and manage program budgets
Work with filmmakers and distributors to acquire film
Secure sponsorship from foundations, corporations and donors
Develop promotion strategies to reach a national audience

The film curator position requires intelligence, energy and thoughtfulness in developing our film library and programming. The position also requires the ability to communicate and work with a wide range of partners and individuals. Lastly, the film curator will be part of a team and will assist other staff with projects and activities. The film curator reports to the executive director.

Specific areas of experience include:
Filmmaking and/or film programming
Library sciences and/or curating
Community development and organizing, and project management
Grant writing and fund development
Strategic planning and budgeting

Audiovisuals Curator

This is a professional position in the Archives/Library Division.  The audiovisual curator is responsible for processing, arranging and describing the Archives/Library Division audiovisual materials including: prints, drawings, photographs, sound recordings, motion picture film, ephemera and related audiovisual materials. These activities are intended to increase and improve access to collections on-site and online.

* Process, arrange and catalog AV collections.

* Implement inventory of current audiovisual holdings.

* Create finding aids and catalog records for AV collections.

* Convert existing finding aids to new online template.

* Provide electronic access to AV collections through digital imaging technology.

* Appraise new AV material acquisitions and re-appraise existing collections.

* Assist in preparation of exhibits and publications.