Apr 6, 2015

The Outtake

 A brief response to Jaimie Baron’s The Archive Effect: Archival Footage as an Experience Reception

Reading Jaimie Baron’s moderation of the ever transforming conception and object of “the archive”, I began to think of Leo Hurwitz’s 1948 Strange Victory that we all experienced in class together. Indeed, it is a film that works quite neatly to summarize Baron’s argument of both temporal and intentional disparity: Strange Victory is almost entirely about the here and there, the now and then; in order to construct its arguments, it laces images from so many different social spaces and challenges the intended use of many of its archived documents. Consequently, the weight of the archive image, the quality of “foundness”, and the evidentiary authority Baron so emphasizes interact on screen to build a repetitive, direct argument that does displace the viewer, that certainly has its intended effect.
Watching the film, and especially in the very beginning of the screening, I was astounded by how crisp and fluid the WWII images were, how well-preserved they seemed. To be honest, at first, I almost immediately assumed that some of the images were staged-- I questioned the source for I had never seen them before, they had not registered in the many times archival footage of the War was shown to me. In our discussion with Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, this very unfamiliarity was acknowledged and partly explained: Hurwitz managed to acquire archive materials before many others had and the film that he was choosing was more graphic, more startling, and so less sought after. It seemed to constitute, if not an alternative, a deeper dig into the then and there of WWII and the concentration camps of Europe.

This understanding of the alternative, Hurwitz’s decision to choose the material more explicit and indigestible, summons Baron’s mention of Michael Zyrd’s “outtake”; what separates the official historical record and the outtake, archival footage and found footage? Although Baron makes the argument that “foundness” is a constituent of all archival footage (whether it was ever considered archival or found), and the outtake is actually just as part of the official record, I wonder if this alternative account | archive elicits more evidentiary authority than the official archive in our time. Thinking of the footage news stations try to obtain through Twitter and YouTube to tell their stories, often the only actual footage that exists of certain events, and classifying that footage as the alternative to the official (maybe even the exact definition of its antithesis as a public, largely unregulated media collection), which images can we say we trust more? The ones that are filtered through the newsroom or the ones that come moments after a fatal arrest of an innocent man? The images that are deemed worthy enough to be catalogued meticulously and preserved immaculately or the images that show the perspectives that have somehow always been missing? The official or the alternative?

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