- Horrible Histories of CinemaArchival Outreach at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé
CINEPHILIA FROM PAST TO PRESENT
To arrive at the gates of the new Pathé museum in Paris is to be reminded, yet again, of the enduring value of cinema heritage to the French. Tucked away to the south of the city, in the lively left-bank thirteenth arrondissement, on a broad, bright boulevard off the place d'Italie, the Pathé site alerts us to yet another Parisian filmic hot spot. Focal point of the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, on the avenue des Gobelins, the area also reflects changing currents in the city's industries: once a thriving hub of textile manufacture, the neighborhood now houses a major film archive and early film theater as well as, just five blocks north, the prestigious international Gobelins animation school. Indeed, while less well known than the iconic ciné-clubs of Montmartre to the northwest, or the Cinémathèque Française, relocated to Bercy in the east, the Gobelins district is now a major destination for film historians and presound media scholars. But there is more going on here than initially meets the eye.
Encountered firsthand, the Pathé museum is a twenty-first-century living archive whose large repositories upstairs—production documents, historical promotional items, photographic records, industrial ephemera, century-old image technologies—are just one part of its engagement with a growing contemporary audience. In fact, its energetic outreach characterizes the foundation. This is a film archive with an open-door policy, welcoming anyone curious about early film practice and especially—remarkably—soliciting younger generations of potential enthusiasts. The museum's halls are appropriately varied: a large gallery of Pathé equipment, from cameras to editing flatbeds to projectors, as well as a beautifully designed screening venue in the basement down below, home to themed series of early cinema, complete with grand piano for live accompaniment from guest musicians.
Such attractions as these might seem typical fare, but the museum's habitual clientele is not. Visiting the foundation, especially on a weekday afternoon, often leads to encounters with crowds of children taking guided tours. While senior archivists toil on the floors above, the kids learn about the Lumière brothers' era, enjoying snacks in the lobby while viewing lurid early film posters and hearing tales of raucous early film screenings conveyed by skilled Pathé staff raconteurs. Most crucially of all, however, is these children's participation in regular screening events, spectaculars that use vivid magic lanterns and early films simultaneously, culminating in workshops for youngsters. There they rescore the music of the most pivotal sequences they've just watched, shifting the tone of the visuals from comic to tragic to bloodcurdlingly melodramatic. This is Pathé's flagship youth engagement initiative: Horrible Histories of the Cinématographe. Hugely entertaining, these multimedia performances are like 1920s and 1950s ciné-clubs, revived and recalibrated for a whole new emerging generation of cinephiles: kids habituated more to iPad apps than Georges Méliès's trickery.
Why has the foundation taken such unusual steps to open its doors to these youthful interactions? Why this commitment to projecting rare early films and displaying precious archival materials in the twenty-first century? One answer is that, across all its spheres of activity, the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé today contributes vigorously to France's sprawling and unrivaled film ecosystem. For whether it is through its network of cutting-edge film schools, its array of repertory movie theaters, its diverse film festivals, its constant public cultural debates about the moving image, or its efforts to distribute its locally produced media internationally, cinema matters profoundly, endlessly, to the French.1 A fulcrum of this system, and a keen creative catalyst, is in the celebration and dissemination of film history. For the French, a deep appreciation of films past breeds fluency in its cinema culture, [End Page 155] present and future—hence the need to inculcate cinephilia: the more fervent an appreciation of film craft, the better.
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