Remixing Early Cinema: Historical Explorations at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands
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Remixing Early Cinema
Historical Explorations at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands

On April 4, 2014, the EYE Film Institute Netherlands (Amsterdam) celebrated its second birthday with a spectacular “Filmbal” party to mark the second anniversary of the Dutch film archive’s new venue. The futuristic EYE building stands out with its ethereal bulk and imponderable volumes in the new Amsterdam Noord quarter. In this temple of “remix,” visitors experience a composite encounter with different ages of film history and modes of engaging with moving images. Chief curator Giovanna Fossati describes the museum experience as follows:

When you are in the building you can experience every single dispositif that is present: by looking at the city from inside the building through the main window, which resembles a Cinerama screen; by diving in the collection in the “Panorama” and in the temporary exhibition; by walking the “EYEwalk”; and, finally, by watching a 4K restoration of, for instance, Lawrence of Arabia in Cinema 1 as the main feature of your whole experience.1

This article examines the development of these exhibitions’ strategies, in particular, those bringing increased visibility and access to EYE’s early film collections. It focuses on the years 2007 to the present, a period of significant experimentation in the fields of silent film restoration, preservation, and exhibition. During this time, EYE’s archival policies and practices shifted as the institution implemented a major project to digitize its audiovisual collections. This allowed it to reunite a series of experimental archival initiatives—some of which started more than twenty years ago—under a coherent set of digital exhibition strategies. These developments, I argue, have resulted in curatorial policies defined by a revisionist approach to film preservation. At EYE, this approach encourages visitors and users to engage with the history of moving images through remixing—a distinct curatorial strategy of presentation that recombines archival elements of different historical origin as a way to address contemporary audiences.

Remix developed at EYE alongside more traditional forms of film exhibition through initiatives linked by a common goal: “the ambition,” in Fossati’s words, “to present films in settings other than that of the movie theatre.”2 This objective took shape through a number of online projects, including a mash-up application called the Scene Machine, an internet database of the first forty years of Dutch film history titled Film in the Netherlands, and Celluloid Remix, a contest encouraging user-produced remixes of early films. These initiatives also included on-site digital installations such as the EYE Panorama, a 360-degree immersive exhibition of audiovisual samples from the collection, and the Pods, consoles for small groups of viewers. Each of these projects provides unprecedented possibilities for access to Dutch audiovisual heritage by deploying the potential of circulation allowed by digital technologies and the web. In this way, EYE offers users and visitors an interactive exploration through an on-demand “pull model” that privileges user [End Page 82] participation over the more curated forms of access to archival material of the “push” model.3

A certain degree of agency, which viewers enjoy while interactively exploring the archive, characterizes all of EYE’s most recent projects of digital exhibition and distribution. By examining them, this article considers digital interaction more broadly as a mode of historical experience that has come to play a critical role in the international archival community’s debates. EYE is not an isolated example of such significant investment in the digitization of collections and commitment to making them available online.4 What makes the Dutch case unique, though, is that these experimental practices have been accompanied by the theorization of a new way of thinking about the relationship between the archive and its users (students, historians, film buffs, filmmakers, etc.) that questions the very role of the film curator.5

The digitization of part of its collections, together with the creation of public databases and web applications, has allowed EYE to maximize the degree of user interaction with these images from the past, especially under the guise of remix/mash-up and reuse. For all of these projects’ novelty, the practice of remixing images is nothing new for EYE. Rather, remix has...