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  • Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories
  • Yvonne Ng (bio)
Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories; Edited by Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann; University of California Press, 2007

With a few exceptions, including the Journal of Film and Video's special issue on amateur film in 1986, home movies did not emerge as an area for serious academic consideration until around the mid-1990s. The publication of this anthology, Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories in 2008, edited by two influential early contributors to the field, demonstrates the scope of research and investigation that has blossomed since that time.

Mining the Home Movie is a collection of twenty-seven essays by archivists, academics, and filmmakers offering a wide range of thinking about the home movie, from personal reflections to straightforward descriptive accounts of archival collections to more critical and theoretical approaches. The heterogeneity of perspectives and methodologies is one of the key strengths of this anthology, which seems to relish in rather than smooth over its polyvocal nature. Here filmmakers who employ home movies in their work share personal stories that are diverse and transnational, bridging differences in locale. Archivists describe home movies and collections that come from an array of international sources that are both nationally and regionally situated. Meanwhile, in the scholarly and theoretical essays, academics tackle material from multiple angles and challenge each other's assumptions about the nature of the home movie.

The editors have organized the essays in this collection to allow the multitude of perspectives and approaches to collide and resonate with one another. Though papers relating to the same film, geographic region, or subject area tend to be grouped together, these congruencies overlap, leading the reader from one train of thought to another. For example, Amy Villarejo's textual analysis of Juan Carlos Zaldivar's 90 Miles, a personal documentary about coming to the United States from Cuba in the 1980s, is followed by Steven Davidson's overview of the collections and programs at the Florida Moving Image Archive, which supplied footage of Miami's Cuban-American community for Zaldivar's film. Davidson's essay is followed in turn by four essays about home movies that document the personal experiences of individuals of another ethnic minority, Japanese Americans, during World War II.

Some essays in the collection discuss how home movies can be used, along with other forms of documentation, to shed light on historical situations. Karen Glynn contributes an interesting study of the racially mixed annual mule races that took place in the Mississippi Delta during the 1930s and 1940s, drawing from home movies by Mississippi families as well as oral history interviews and other public [End Page 149] historical documentation. Contrasting the oral history accounts she gathered from white and African American spectators, Glynn found that the white spectators tended to recall the fun of watching the unpredictable mules' behavior, whereas African American respondents tended to stress the skill of the African American mule riders and could recall the names of specific jockeys. The home movie footage of the races, all shot by white Mississippi families, on one hand reflects the point of the view of the white spectators and includes very few shots of the African American presence at the races. On the other hand, the footage of the African Americans jockeys on the racecourse reinforces and provides unique visual documentation of the African American memory of the event.

Lynne Kirste similarly demonstrates how home movies can provide important primary evidence of underdocumented aspects of history, in this case, again, race relations in the United States. She discusses a home movie from the Richard Brooks Collection at the Academy Film Archive that illustrates how these valuable accounts can be hidden in seemingly ephemeral footage. Selected without any knowledge of its content but simply because of the importance of the collection, the home movie in question included a three-minute segment of a baseball game that Brooks attended with other Hollywood luminaries. One might expect the value in this footage to be in the big names that Brooks counted among his guests that day, but after doing contextual historical...


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pp. 149-152
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