Archives are central to the field of film and media studies. scholars and historians of film have utilized archival resources for decades in a wide variety of research. Yet in recent years, multiple scholarly discourses have taken a turn toward problematizing the roles of archives and the actions of archiving, including Karen Gracy’s Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use, and Practice (Society of American Archivists, 2009), Caroline Frick’s Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation (Oxford University Press, 2011), and Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2003), amongst others.
Increasingly, the concepts of archives and archival practices have come into further focus, with scholars and practitioners questioning the very forms, ideas, and locations that archives may take up and reify. From traditional to affective, from practical to theoretical, from institutional to everyday, archives serve as interfaces between past and future knowledge. Thus, the 71st issue of the Velvet Light Trap—“The Archive”—explores the complex nature of archives, both traditional and nontraditional, as well as the histories of the materials that form them.
Apparent across the articles here is the fact that no singular theory or concept of “the archive” may justifiably be found. Rather, archives present a plurality of subjectivities in a multiplicity of forms, and the historical narratives that may emerge from archives and their collections are many. The authors here revisit historical narratives and their associated archival media in order to interrogate the histories constructed from these materials, whether performed, rewritten, institutionalized, or appropriated in artistic work. Major changes and challenges in current practices of archiving film are also discussed in an interview with archivist and scholar Caroline Frick. Altogether, this issue engages archival research with new perspectives on media archives. Looking beyond the traditional areas of preservation and conservation, the authors reconsider the meanings of archives and their materials not only in terms of visible evidence but also with regard to their implications for framing the histories that emerge from the use of archival collections.
Focusing on the confluence between archival and performance-based knowledge, Sylvie Jasen’s “The Archive and Reenactment: Performing Knowledge in the Making of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen” discusses the aforementioned film made by the Canadian Inuit production company Igloolik Isuma Productions and the ways in which the film’s production integrates archive and performance in order to reenact a traditional way of life for pedagogical purposes. Reenactment, according to Jasen, describes practices beyond the screen that include elements of production that perform traditional skills modeled after historical referents. By prioritizing reenactment and the incorporation of archival resources, the production of Journals offers a unique exploration of how knowledge and preservation of the past engage with performance. [End Page 1]
Anuja Jain, in “The Curious Case of the Films Division: Some Annotations on the Beginnings of Indian Documentary Cinema in Postindependence India, 1940s–1960s,” examines historical method when engaging with archival materials and ideologies from state-run documentary film production. Jain explores this history through archival research into the practices of the Films Division of India during the first two decades of its establishment in 1948 in order to consider how international aspirations, colonial lineage, and postcolonial demands shaped the workings of the Films Division as a statist institution.
Utilizing archival resources as an intervention in the popular discourses surrounding Hollywood icon James Dean, Justin Owen Rawlins counters mainstream perceptions of Dean by interrogating the cultural production of his image and the role of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in constructing preferred interpretations. In “Over His Dead Body: Hedda Hopper and the Story of James Dean,” Rawlins suggests that Hopper exercised power in the negotiation between producers and consumers and, in turn, functioned in an archival position through her persistent efforts to manage the meaning of Dean. Archiving, in this sense, is an act of power and practice that shapes the enduring legacies of particular modes of cultural production.
Offering a practical view on film archiving in an interview with the editors of the Velvet Light Trap, Caroline Frick discusses changes in the profession and practice of film archiving, digital preservation and access technologies, and organizations associated with...