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  • Wunderkino 2.0: On the Varieties of the Cinematic ExperienceNortheast Historic Film Summer Symposium July 26–28, 2012, Bucksport, Maine
  • Leo Goldsmith (bio)

Northeast Historic Film’s (NHF’s) Summer Symposium takes place each year in Bucksport, Maine, a small town overlooking Penobscot Bay, just down the road from Bangor. Housed in the Alamo Theatre, a main street movie theater that dates from 1916, NHF is a regional archive that holds roughly ten million feet of film and eight thousand hours of video in its monolithic Conservation Center (also known as the Cube), the outer walls of which also serve as an ad hoc screen for free outdoor screenings (showing the week of the Symposium: Smokey and the Bandit [1977]).

Much like the Orphan Film Symposium, NHF’s Summer Symposium leans less on conference protocol than on informal discussions among ardent scholars and archivists sharing curios and passion projects as well as resources and ideas (not to mention ice cream from the parlor just down the street). For the second year running, the symposium has served the function of a “cabinet of cinematic curiosities,” bringing together filmmakers, preservationists, archivists, and scholars to share rarely screened amateur and nontheatrical film, archival finds, and preservation projects. “Wunderkino 2.0: On the Varieties of the Cinematic Experience,” NHF’s thirteenth annual symposium, featured just over a dozen presentations, organized by Mark Neumann (Northern Arizona University) and Jennifer Jenkins (University of Arizona), with all of the thoughtfulness and fluidity of a lover’s mixtape, threading continuous themes between varied case studies of home, amateur, nontheatrical, and experimental media; alternate formats (such as 28mm and Polavision); and experimental uses of the archive.

The symposium’s format makes for a unique intersection of study and practice, the sort of gathering in which a presenter can pose her arcane archival query from the dais and have it answered on the spot, and in which curious points of connection are made almost subliminally. Finding some Maine-made Super 8mm at a nearby flea market, conference attendees Becca Hall and Julian Antos (Northwest Chicago Film Society) struck a deal with NHF executive director David Weiss that very afternoon, trading their finds for some deacquisitioned treasures from the archive’s basement. Walter Forsberg (Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, New York University) had only to mention that he had yet to find a copy of Dave Fleischer’s Filmack-produced 1951 New Year’s Eve snipe Auld Lang Syne Singing Reel, and theater manager Phil Yates called out that he would throw it up on the screen the following day.

Forsberg, who was the 2011 recipient of NHF’s William O’Farrell Fellowship, presented his research on the intermission reels often called snipes—from local business and theater concessions advertisements to countdown clocks to theater policy notices and beyond—drawn from the Donald C. Brown Jr. Collection housed in the NHF archive. Marginalized, hard to trace, and yet richly suggestive, this species of industrial and independent production is also wildly entertaining and often lysergically surreal, a parade of sponsored holiday well-wishes and anthropomorphic (and hungry!) stomachs, here narrated by Forsberg with all of the infectiousness of the tune of “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.”

Two intriguing presentations focused not on overlooked industrial subgenres but on forgotten formats. Dino Everett (Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, University of Southern California) made the case for the importance of Pathé’s 28mm safety film, which celebrated its centenary last year. Current archival protocol [End Page 127] would seem to dictate that original 28mm films should be blown up to 35mm or digitized, but Everett instead advocated preservation in the original format. To preserve, for Everett, means to project, and to drive this point home, his presentation was as much show as tell—with a screening of a one-hundred-year-old print on an original 28mm projector. Mining somewhat more recent hardware history, Graeme Spurr (University of Glasgow) presented his research on the apparently “failed” home movie format Polavision, an instantaneous film camera, viewer, and tape system introduced by Polariod in 1977. Plagued by technical issues (especially in home processing) and in direct competition with early home video systems...