Progress Not Perfection: The Work of Ariel Schudson


Newer technologies give professionals access to an entire universe of abilities and procedures that they had never had before. It was not that it was a matter of replacement, but an addition. It was all about being able to have the choice. This was not something I had been able to understand until I was able to meet with these people in person and actually ask them questions about their work.

Archives depend on each other for help, and in this new digital age it is unwise to work without some level of higher technology. One may choose to do so, but doing so would go against the idea of moving image archiving: extending the life of pieces of cultural heritage  for future populations. As we enter the world of the DCP and 4K television, we would be foolish to think that it will stop here. But much like Rick Prelinger’s discussions on the flexible and evolving moving image archive, it is crucial to maintain that sensibility with technology. As Michael Friend noted in one of his lectures, we do not go to a movie to see the format, we go to see the content. If this is the case, as archivists, we have a responsibility to keep that content properly preserved, restored and archived, in the right way, with the right equipment.

But not everyone feels this way. After discussing the concept with Michael Friend during one of his lectures, I wrote a piece in response. As my knowledge about the industry has changed, so has my perspective. The historical texts that we have read, the lectures and guests that we have had, all point to one thing: as we move forward into new technological terms, we will not lose the film experience unless we let it become lost. This was my primary concern as a MIAS student curating a film series at a 35mm-print only theater for over a year. Thus, I presented a different argument than my first one discussing many things we had often tackled in our classes- the loss of Kodak, Fuji, 35mm print film. Format and technology should not make as much of a difference as access to films on a big screen. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. The possible death of the movie theater has big consequences and yet it upholds a different story for young filmmakers. As I mention in the work I wrote for Mark Quigley’s Access class, it certainly is a digital dilemma.

Material studies prompted me to engage the world of restoration and the digital landscape. My seminar with Snowden Becker in the preservation of heritage materials was the initial catalyst. Being able to physically interact with elements was an entirely different experience than simply dissecting a case study. Considering her course in tandem with a few of the guest lectures (Scott MacQueen from the UCLA Film & TV Archive and Bob O’Neil from Universal being just two) in Mike Pogorzelski’s course on the ethics of film restoration led me to pursue the topic of restoration further. For my final projects in Michael Friend’s seminar on the Archeology of the Media, I spoke to working archivists about 35mm photochemical restoration and digital restoration specialists and industry professionals about the procedure of digital restoration. At the conclusion of these projects, it became clear that for future generations to have access to moving image materials, we must use a steady and strong balance of both digital and photochemical work.

This realization tied in with a journalistic conversation that I covered about home entertainment materials and the way a digital film may be properly preserved, restored and then managed. One critical issue that came up within my studies in the MIAS program was that of product monetization. Depending on the archive, there are different considerations and as we learned in archival administration, larger studios may have different financial considerations than smaller archives applying for NFPF grants. However, this was a vital discussion. In this digital environment, being able to understand the technological process behind HD and Bluray work is crucial. While concepts of restoration vary depending on whether they are for Blu-ray and the home entertainment market, proper command of the technological issues is key.

Moving image archiving technology is certainly what the MIAS program has concentrated on, but its identity as a interdepartmental school allowed me to explore concepts of access and technology. Since the two are intimately linked, my experience in Gregory Leazer’s Information Structures class was informative and extremely helpful when it came to re-imagining ideas of interactivity and personal access alongside technology and information systems. While hypertext development and Vannevar Bush and folksonomic classification and tagging may seem to lie primarily within a library-centric and cataloging arena, they assist in the comprehension of post-production databases and data asset management software and are items used on a regular basis within the moving image archiving and production worlds. These areas are vital when it comes to examining multiplatformed moving images and the participatory nature of those libraries. While the tagging option is no longer an option on YouTube, the concept of the personal and the public moving image and how that relates to historical development fascinated me quite a bit when I went to revisit some of my own historical experiences about the L.A. Riots and explored what was available on YouTube.

Reading works like David Thompson’s Pandora’s Box and exploring the wonders of the Internet Archive tell me that this is one of the more exciting technical times to be working in the moving image archiving field. From what I have seen and the people I have met, the original technology seems to be equally important to maintain. The best technicians and archivists in the field right now began in the photochemical world. While we should be critical of all alliances offered, we must also be critical of the technologies we are being handed. While not everyone needs to handle film like an expert or be part of the copy-to-protect program, it is a technology that we should all be familiar and comfortable with alongside the new works that are coming in. If we are not, then we are lost. Much like the title of the film series I curated, Something old, Something new, that attitude is not a bad way to approach moving image archiving.

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