- Amateur Filmmaking: The Home Movie, the Archive, the Web ed. by Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young, Barry Monahan
Edited by Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young, and Barry Monahan.
Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Currently the most fashionable way to start an academic essay on home movies is to note the tremendous growth in amateur film scholarship in recent years. Amateur Filmmaking: The Home Movie, the Archive, the Web does not buck this trend either in its introduction or in several of the essays within, but it is a more than welcome addition to the literature of amateur film, because much of the recent scholarship has been individual essays. Full-length books on home movies, conversely, though on the increase lately, are still not exactly straining the shelves of film studies libraries. This new volume functions as a concise overview of the world of amateur film scholarship in 2014, introducing us to the main areas of study under way in the field today. Or perhaps more accurately, it is an overview of 2010, because the collection is largely an outgrowth of papers presented at the “Saving Private Reels: Presentation, Appropriation, and Re-contextualization of the Amateur Moving Image” conference, which took place in September 2010 at the University College Cork and which was funded by the Irish Research Council. This connection is only mentioned in passing in a few footnotes, which is curious, because the Cork conference was a very significant moment in the young history of the field. Maija Howe, who also contributes an essay to the current volume, reviewed the conference in The Moving Image in 2011. Looking back at the lineup from a distance of four years, the scope and sheer size of the conference were quite remarkable, and the names of presenters at the conference and contributors to this collection read like a who’s who of amateur film scholars. And it may well end up also being a list of the field’s heavy hitters ten years from now.
The book’s twenty-three essays are divided into six thematic sections. Part I, “Reframing the Home Movie,” is the most wide ranging and delves most earnestly into theoretical approaches to amateur cinema. “The Home Movie and Space of Communication” by Roger Odin (one of the keynote speakers at the Cork conference, along with Patricia Zimmermann) is a rare opportunity for non-French speakers to read his semio-pragmatic approach to understanding home movies. In the essay, Odin rejects the older idea of a “home mode” for constructing and viewing family films as being too simplistic and instead describes the “private mode” and “intimate mode” as two ways of describing how, through recent changes in technology and the institution of the family, families receive and reevaluate their home movies, giving agency not just to the filmmaker (often, but not always, this is the father) but also to the family members who are being filmed.
Liz Czach, in her piece “Home Movies and Amateur Film as National Cinema,” examines the role that home movies play (or should play) in constructing the idea of a national film culture. Czach, a Canadian, looks most closely at the development of her country’s film history. After 1939, this was centered on the state-funded National Film Board of Canada’s output, but a thriving amateur filmmaking scene of the 1930s preceded, she points out, this governmental support structure. Films by Amateur Cinema League members Leslie [End Page 120] Thatcher and Frank Radford “Budge” Crawley, as well as the early works of Norman McLaren, are described as being “easily incorporated into a national cinema model underpinned by auteurist and aesthetic considerations” (35). Conversely, Czach argues, home movies (which she helpfully differentiates from amateur films by listing their various attributes) are much more resistant to current nation-centric models and methodologies.
Australian Maija Howe roots her chapter, “The Photographic Hangover,” in the amateur advisory literature available to the serious amateur filmmaker of the 1930s through 1950s. Periodicals such as Ciné-Kodak News and books such as The ACL Movie Book: A Guide to Making Better Movies were quick to offer up rules to...