- The Remix AgeExhibition as Archive
At a time when online access to the origins and artifacts of the audiovisual past has become simpler than ever, these rediscovered traces have become increasingly numerous and popular on the screen. Think of Michel Hazanavicius’s L’Artiste (The Artist, 2011), a pastiche of Hollywood film history from the 1910s to the 1940s; Gus Van Sant’s Restless (2011), a subtle homage to the French New Wave; and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), a childlike compendium dedicated to the memory of Georges Méliès. These box-office hits, to name just three, provide evidence, if any more were needed, of the strength of a “heritage” aesthetic. Naturally, this is not unconnected with a discourse, in the broad sense, surrounding the archive. These narrative fiction films clearly are not direct outlets to the past, nor are they source documents, nor do they re-create the past. They do, however, provoke the difficult question, who can lay claim to re-creating the past?
Film restorers are facing head-on the possibility and desirability of creating archival “time machines.” Consider the complaints about the recent restoration of Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902).1 On one hand, many in the academic and archival communities felt that the restoration of a color version of A Trip to the Moon met few acceptable philological criteria. On the other hand, it succeeded in meeting the criteria of mass communication—screenings of this film are still very popular. The color version premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011. The nitrate color print, long considered lost, had been found in 1993 by a Barcelona collector, who donated it to the Filmoteca de Catalunya, which then traded it to Lobster Films. Two additional black-and-white prints belonging to the Méliès family and to the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) were used in the restoration. The digitizing of these two films was done at the Archives françaises du film. Questions were raised as to whether the digitally applied color scheme derived from the Barcelona original was appropriate and authentic for converting the existing footage to color.
Then there is the version of C’era una volta in America (Once upon a Time in America, Sergio Leone, 1984) presented at the 2012 Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna. Did lengthening it by twenty minutes to make it “the way it should have been” create a kind of UFO? If no one saw it like this in the primordial past, but someone is trying to make it now appear before our eyes, is it not an invention of our present time? As I said, there are no time machines to bring back the past, or magic wands. Rather, there are many paths, which, when taken in a fittingly disordered manner, will satisfy anyone wishing to hear the archive “speak.” In short, these examples that assemble pieces of the past by different and incomplete approaches to their original film objects nourish the cults of restoration and exhibition as means of diffusion.
Classical theories of film restoration, following the conventions set out, for example, in Cesare Brandi’s book on restoration and conservation of monuments, Teoria del restauro (1963), drew on concepts that remain pervasive even in today’s digital era: every intervention on a past object should be reversible [End Page 72] and documented. I would add that it should also provide an aesthetic experience. In exhibition theory, this is conveyed by two trends: the exhibition of objects and the exhibition of knowledge.2 The former refers to exhibitions that, by putting on view objects from the past, take them out of their context and offer them up in all their otherness. The latter refers to discursive paths made available by reading the past. There are audiovisual objects that balance these two tendencies, offer interesting avenues, and communicate certain dimensions of the past by working on the archive and turning it into an exhibition. In the following pages, we will see how constructing two new works out...