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8 Not-at-Home Movies Christopher Castiglia & Christopher Reed Wes Anderson’s 2012 feature film Moonrise Kingdom won over critics and audiences with its quirky presentation of life on the islets and inlets of New England . This coming-of-age story struck a balance between aspirations to normality and appreciation of quirkiness, as between Down East hominess and cosmopolitan sophistication (signaled musically by the characters’ fascination with Benjamin Britten and French pop music). Certain images in Anderson’s film—maps animated with advancing dotted lines to plot the protagonists’ trajectory, bouncing views from the windows of airplanes and the bows of motorboats, loving looks at the domestic architecture of the New England seacoast—combined the intimacy of nostalgia with the distance of self-conscious aestheticizing. Some of the same images work to similar effect in the extraordinary amateur films made in the late 1930s by Cyrus Pinkham. Anderson and Pinkham, three quarters of a century apart and approaching filmmaking from very different trajectories, arrived at similar territory: a place between home movies and Hollywood cinema that we would be tempted to call a no-man’s land if it were not so concerned with the fraught transition of boys to men. This essay takes up Pinkham’s films to explore these issues in relation to the genre of home movies, the invocation of place, and the emotions associated with the aestheticization of time. Part 1. Genre Our claims for Pinkham’s films seem far removed from the sites and feelings usually associated with home movies, often thought of as an unselfconsciously transparent genre of visual culture. The interest of home movies usually lies in what’s in front of the lens. Any camera turned on that scene, in anyone’s hand, it seems, would have captured the same moment. Along with transparency of the genre, we expect home movies to offer easy identification with the family histories and domestic rituals they typically depict. But Pinkham’s films are not ordinary home movies. Writing about amateur films of the 1939 World’s Fair, Caitlin McGrath singles out Pinkham’s version as “markedly different” in its attention to aesthetics. Unlike other amateurs, 184 | Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed who began filming when they arrived at the fair, Pinkham planned introductory sequences featuring a montage of fair publications and an establishing shot of the Queens fairgrounds from the vantage point of the Empire State Building . And where other amateur films of the World’s Fair comprise eight to fifteen splices, McGrath reports, Pinkham’s editing resulted in ninety-six. Pinkham took to heart the advice in how-to guides published by Kodak and the Amateur Cinema League for filming the World’s Fair. These echoed the ideas Patricia Zimmermann has identified in industry-sponsored books and magazines for home filmmakers throughout the 1930s, which advocated the adoption of the “professional ” styles of direction, photography, and editing seen in Hollywood films. Both McGrath’s analysis of World’s Fair footage and Zimmermann’s broader study of home movies conclude, however, that most amateur filmmakers ignored this advice, simply turning on the camera, recording what they wanted to see, and presenting the result with little or no editing. Although McGrath interviewed Pinkham’s surviving friends and family members, and they reported “he had no formal training as a filmmaker, did not belong to a cine-club, and did not subscribe to any filmmaking publications,” she rightly observes that he “thoroughly absorbed classical Hollywood style and editing techniques and used them extensively.”1 Pinkham’s accomplishment within the constraints of the 16mm (silent) home movie camera and splicing equipment of the 1930s registers his powerful fascination with cinematic language and technique, a perspective Fig. 8.1 Montage of New York World’s Fair publications, 1939. From 16mm film. Cyrus Pinkham Collection, Northeast Historic Film. [Accession 2463, Reel 13] Not-at-Home Movies | 185 that returns us to issues of aesthetics. His films cherish the folksy family ways the camera records, but from an aesthetic distance informed by an identification with the glamour of Hollywood. From the start—the first film on the first reel of his movies—Pinkham complicates the transparency of both “home” and “movies” by introducing Hollywood style into what an intertitle announces as “PICTURES of the FAMILY .” The first “picture,” intertitled “Margaret,” features Pinkham’s sister, who was twenty in 1937. Far from looking like a kid sister, however, Margaret looks like a movie star as she glides across the lawn in a...


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