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  • Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories
  • Jim Lane
Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, 333 pp.

Beginning in the 1970s, filmmakers from both the independent and studio world systematically began to incorporate home movies in the visual tracks of their work. Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), Alfred Guzzetti’s Family Portrait Sittings (1975), and Michelle Citron’s groundbreaking Daughter Rite (1980) paved the way for both the commercial and independent uses of home movies in cinema. Home movies, amateur film, archival footage, and found footage have since enjoyed a broad popularity in commercial and non-commercial media work, and today are a visual staple of many films and videos.

Scholarship has curiously lagged behind in this area. Although Jonas Mekas’s lifelong dedication to the home movie aesthetic has often formed the basis for research in the avant-garde, rigorous intellectual inquiry into the history and nature of the home movie itself (and its ancillary “amateur film” cousin) has been intermittent. In 1986 the Journal of Film and Video dedicated an entire issue to home movies, and subsequently scholars such as William Wees (The Art and Politics of Found Footage Films, 1993), Patricia R. Zimmermann (Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film, 1995), Michelle Citron (Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions, 1998), and James Moran (There’s No Place Like Home Movies, 2002) produced book-length studies on the multifaceted areas of home and amateur film and video.

Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories promises to construct a historical collage of the home and amateur movie by bringing together “contradictory modes of interpretation” (22). Providing a range of approaches to the topic from a variety of people including media makers, theorists, historians, and archivists, editors Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann have collected a series of essays that both summarize a field of creative and academic inquiry and simultaneously open up the topic to a potential array of further study.

One of the book’s strengths rests in its willingness to change methodologies from one chapter to the next. This may prove daunting for some readers, but if open to this flexible approach to the topic, one can certainly gain added and frankly needed insight into a still-overlooked site of cultural production. The book provides a number of test cases and delves into actual films that utilize home and amateur films from several vantage points.

For instance, Robert A. Nakamura’s film Something Strong Within (1995) is considered in three separate chapters. First, the reader is provided the context for the production of the film by its makers, who discuss the use of home movies shot by inmates in a World War II American concentration camp built to incarcerate Japanese Americans who were considered security risks. As a former inmate himself, Nakamura carefully edited these home movies to evoke the strong memories of the camps and uses no interviews and few titles, choosing to weave together the footage with an original musical composition for a strong emotional and less intellectual impact. The rest of the essay provides critical still frames to present an ersatz version of the film for the uninitiated reader.

Robert Rosen follows this “visual essay” with a close analysis of the film, providing a sharp intellectual response to its original emotional impact. He argues the case for the original home movie takers, the subsequent filmmakers, and spectators acting as “memory workers” [End Page 56] who discursively engage through a clash of textual tones and arrive at a recovery of history borne out through the small acts of resistance of home moviemaking.

Karen L. Ishizuka follows the close analysis of Something Strong Within with a brief account of the history and mission of The Moving Image Archive of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. She argues that the Archive “contains a unique intersection of film, history, and culture that provides visible evidence of Americans of Japanese ancestry creating new cultural forms and indeed contributing to the richly diverse society that distinguishes the nation” (125). Thus, by providing...


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