Progress Not Perfection: The Work of Ariel Schudson


There are a variety of ways to access archival moving image materials. One may seek them out through the archives themselves, engaging the services of specialists like May Haduong or Mark Quigley. One may take classes in a specialized program such as the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at NYU, Eastman House in Rochester or the Moving Image Archive Studies program at UCLA. It is possible to access archival images through the dedicated work of DVD companies such as Flicker Alley, the Warner Archive Collection and Milestone Films. Much in the way that Karen Gracy discusses the difference between “passive” and “active” preservation in her seminal work, Film Preservation: Competing Definitions of Value, Use and Practice, I believe there is such a thing as “passive” access and “active” access when it comes to the world of moving image exhibition. Applying her terms, both ways are useful means towards an end, but one is more productive with the materials than the other. From my stance, audience interaction is necessary for “active” exhibition and preferably a theatrical-type venue. While a decent sized home theater set-up and a good group of people present may seem suitable, that is not exhibition of the “active” kind. Film clubs such as those that Mike Pogorzelski discussed with us in his lectures do exemplify active exhibition, as do open student screenings and multi-media exhibits in museums that present pieces of a certain artist’s film work in context of other art works. In other words, it is about access and moreso, extensive public access to the archival moving image.

One of the most competent and lively examples we have in the moving image archiving community today is the exhibition work of archivist Rick Prelinger. His Lost Landscapes series allows audience participation and increases intimacy with the image. This is something that we have lost in most exhibition settings and experiences. As the curator of a film series for over a year, audience-to-image intimacy has been one of my primary objectives and Prelinger’s method is extraordinary. Introducing unfamiliar, archival footage and expecting a convivial response is not a simple task. Entertaining and educational, Prelinger’s way is a unique method of exhibition. it is active but it is an accessible experience due to his opening up of the space for audiences to become part of the experience.

The exhibition experience must be flexible. While it is worth remembering that seeing things on the big screen is, literally, a more expansive experience, it is not the only experience. As moving image archivists and individuals responsible for the care of dynamic content that changes daily, our ways of communicating visual work must continue to excite. While classical film exhibition structure is wonderful, even professionals there have seen the necessity for new and important archival content. The 2013 TCM Film Festival invited the Academy’s Lynn Kirste to present some of the Academy’s Home Movie collection to a packed house while in 2011 they invited UCLA Film & TV Archive’s Ross Lipman to present a talk about and screen the off-beat Multiple Sidosis (Sid Laverents, 1970).

Exhibition gives archival moving images an identity in a community that is just now learning of our presence. Within the screenings I have curated, audiences were introduced to the National Film Registry and informed that they have a voice in deciding what becomes a national film treasure. This kind of interactivity is the way that we make connections with a population that has felt ignored by an industry that is making entertainment product for them.

The moving image archiving world enjoys deep alliances. But many are for internal access. Do we not develop a kind of alliance with our audiences when we exhibit a restoration that we have completed? The audience response to films has always been an integral part of the experience and they can make or break it. In fact, that exhibition/audience connection has ended up inadvertently creating materials for the moving image archivist. As I found out in my discussion with Andrea Kalas about the Bluray restoration of Sunset Blvd, certain materials on that disc are a direct result of screenings and audience opinions in 1950.

The classical exhibition technique has become dangerous to the point of endangering access. When I wrote about VOD and the Digital Dilemma for Mark Quigley I learned some harsh realities about how often people reject the theatrical experience. I believe that exhibition is important and film is not dead like many have been saying. If we can participate as a group in that activity, the moving image will maintain a heartbeat, as I wrote in my piece on changing formats. After I took the archival administration class with Snowden Becker, I became aware that I had a opportunity to present archival moving image materials and make it an active experience. By the conclusion of my MIAS experience, not only had this series I curated, Something Old, Something Newdeveloped its own identity, but it had taught me how to repeat the process and expand its “active” access/exhibition process. I had been able to apply the things learned from archival administration and make them work.

While the average Something Old, Something New program paired up 2 films based upon theme but differing in time period, the final event was a moving image restoration blowout entitled Something Old, Something Saved. The 2-night extravaganza focused on a true audience-archive-access experience. Ross Lipman, a UCLA Film & Television restoration specialist was invited him to speak on his restoration work with the John Cassavetes 1959 film Shadows on the first evening and Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles on the second. On the Cassavetes night, we showed a short about the Shadows restoration process that had accompanied the film on the Criterion release and Lipman gave an illustrated lecture on the work of Cassavetes and Mingus that centered on a variety of primary archival materials. The film was then followed by a Q&A with actor Seymour Cassel.

The following evening we screened Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles which was followed up by a conversation with scholar and filmmaker Thom Anderson. Our final film extended the overall theme of marginalized film characters and commemorated the memory of Harvey Milk Day. Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk was introduced by Senior Programmer at Outfest, Alonso Duralde, who spoke of UCLA’s involvement with the Legacy Project in addition to Milk’s crucial importance. 

As this weekend drew to a close, a young woman came up to me. She said that she finally grasped what the term “restoration” meant and that it was really nice to see women programmers in the film community. Both comments were really meaningful towards my AMIA Student Chapter work, film series curation and my experience in the MIAS program particularly. To her, I represented the breaking of stereotypes and responsible positive gender concerns in our community, and our film series had given her access to knowledge she had never had before. Comments like this young woman’s are why I will always believe in the moving image archiving field and why there is truth to that axiom, “Preservation without access is pointless.” Exhibition is the ultimate access.

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