Every year, the EYE Filmmuseum inspects one of its three nitrate vaults in its entirety, in compliance with the requirements of the nitrate permit: all the cans are opened to check the reels for damage and decomposition and action is taken accordingly. If necessary films are ‘cleaned’ and re-canned and additionally cans are also moved or reorganised on shelves if necessary and sometimes other tasks are also performed, this year for example we could make a giant leap in terms of barcoding.
Last year there wasn’t any control week, because of the move to the new collection centre. Therefore, this year it was an extra exciting opportunity for me: as my whole internship revolves around nitrate film, this allowed me a break from the identification work I was doing in the Collection Centre, while at the same time I could get a different perspective or gain new skills on working with that very same material, so I felt particularly obliged to participate for the full week and see the process for as much as a I could!
This year, the vaults in Heemskerk were up for inspection. They consist of two bunkers, that were used by the Germans in World War II as a means to safely keep artworks (belonging to the Rijksmuseum) in case of bombings, for example De Nachtwacht by Rembrandt is said to have temporarily been stored here. The Filmmuseum took over these so called ‘Kunstbunkers’ (‘art bunkers’) in the early 1990s, one for storing nitrate prints and the other one for storing safety prints. As all the safety films were moved to the depots in the new Collection Centre last year, the second bunker (which has a higher/narrower door, through which oversize paintings including the frame could be moved in entirely) is now entirely empty, but in the future might be the new residence of all the nitrate films which are now in other vaults.
The tasks performed in the vaults varied from day to day, but the first three days mainly entailed the laborious side of the control: bringing down stacks of cans from the shelf, opening each can and lifting the reels out in order to check both sides, as well as the insides of the can. What we mainly looked for was any sign of decomposition of the reels or reaction of the film with the can. This could be either a powdery residue (to lesser or greater extent) seen on the reel or in the lid and bottom of the can, the appearance of ‘honey’ or ‘bubbles’ on the top of the reel, ‘hockey-pucking’ (the reels getting hard and stuck together), spoking (the film shaping into anything under 6 corners was bad), signs of rust in a metal can and signs of white ‘crystallisation’ in blue plastic cans. We also paid attention to the state of the cans (whether they still properly closed and weren’t too damaged), and looked to find things in the cans that did not belong there, which meant anything other than film: notes, papers, punched tape, paperclips, etc. This all happens under the supervision of our firefighter Chris who is responsible for our safety; he has been our regular fire officer every time in the past years, so he is part of our nitrate team!
In the part of the vault where me and my ‘nitrate buddy’ worked were mostly the larger sized cans, which means they are heavy and the reels a bit more difficult to lift out of the can, because of their larger size, especially if you don’t have big hands or a firm grip. Not only did we check the reels, but the cans in this section also had to be moved to another shelf/wall in the same section. We moved from up to down and from left to right and every column had around 5 or 6 stacks of cans, therefore involving a lot of lifting, climbing and bending, and additionally making sure the cans were in the same order as how we got them off the shelves. Though, as we work in teams of two, you try to do as little lifting and carrying as possible and keep the most restraining movement to a minimum, the first two nights I definitely could feel the ‘work out’ and I don’t think I ever felt as many muscles in my hands from lifting all those reels as in this week.
After a few days, I was promoted to ‘nitrate expert’ (which, if you remember my last ‘nitrate beginner’-blog, must be the fastest promotion I ever made!), a role which for the rest of the week mostly attributed to curators and other EYE Filmmuseum veterans. This meant that you would sit at a table waiting for the ‘runners’ checking the cans to bring you the ‘problem cans’. You then check the can for the ‘problem’, make a quick inspection report, writing down the issue and its severity, the vault number, title and amount of reels. In case there is powder or crystallization or ‘honey’, you would vacuum the top and bottom of the reels (and the cans) with a special vacuum cleaner for nitrate, getting rid of the worst dirt/damage. If a film or can is in such a bad condition that for example the film has ‘eaten through the can’, we would re-can the film. Other than that, the films are not necessarily ‘cleaned’ or ‘treated’ in any other way. What will happen is that the reports we made will be saved and in a few months, it will become someone’s special project to order all these ‘problem’ cans from the vaults, inspect their condition more thoroughly (for example by cutting out the ‘contaminated’ part of the film, e.g. if only the intertitles are decaying you can dispose of these and save the rest) and to confer with the curators whether the print can be disposed of or should get an emergency preservation.
Examples of the appearance of ‘honey’ or ‘bubbles’, ‘spoking’ and ‘powder’
Generally speaking, however – though the pictures may suggest otherwise - most films were in good condition and overall the ‘problem cans’ we found were not in the worst condition yet. Some were incredibly powdery and clearly decomposing, but they were not in the most disgusting of conditions I have witnessed during my internship so far (which must have been the box of soaking wet films I wrote about in my previous blog post). In that sense, it goes to show that these kind of bulk inspections do really work and the collection managers do witness a change: that the damage is less or less severe than before. Nonetheless, it provided for me (as an intern working with nitrate film) a very interesting overview of the possible types of decay in different stages, the ‘honey’ type of decay I hadn’t witnessed before, and the heavy powdering in which the film is starting to eat through the can was also a fascinating sight. Lastly, something I enjoyed about the process that by letting all these cans/reels go through your hands you also, in a very physical and material way, get a sense of (a portion) of the films that are in the EYE Collection. You recognise titles of films you have seen, or notice films being in the collection multiple times, hence making it to certain extent much more tangible, rather than seeing the collection as information in a database.
After the first four days of inspection, most of the nitrate control had been finished already and so for the last day our teams moved on to another task: barcoding. We put stickers with barcodes on all the cans in the vault and scanned them. Later on a barcode will be attached to the shelf, so that a film can be ‘checked in’ and ‘out’ of a location on the shelf and containers can be traceable. Again a very laborious task, but physically less demanding as opening all the cans and putting them back.
Finally, not to be left unmentioned are the ‘excursion-like’ conditions under which we worked, outdoors in the natural reservation, which was definitely a huge difference from the way I work inside the dark nitrate room in the Collection Centre.
Though all in all it was a very busy and demanding week, it was also one that was very fun and educational, as I got to experience a side to working with nitrate that was complimentary to, but very much different than the nitrate identification I have been doing so far. I learnt much more about the possible ‘problems’ with nitrate decomposition and collection management and also the change of scenery to work in such a strange place, but also a place that is very specific to the work in archive did provide a lot of energy to return to my daily tasks of nitrate identification, and I will definitely be looking at all those reels in my own little project with entirely ‘new’ eyes!
By Ilse van der Spoel, intern at EYE CollectionsTag:nitrate film, nitraat, kluis, opslag, controle, inspection, film storage
As a strong believer in new forms of ‘collection outreach’, I’m very happy to have been part of an exciting collaboration with the prestigious Art and Design Academy ArtEZ in Arnhem. This year we commissioned an art work to Michelle van Ool, studying at the Interaction Design Department of ArtEZ, who was asked to find inspiration for her work in our collection. The brief was to engage with the material aspects of our film collection and to bring them under the attention of a wider audience. Without concrete goals in mind, we encouraged a reflection on the characteristics of the medium film. The student was quite free to choose any form or path that suited her.
During the following three months, Michelle was shown films from our nitrate and acetate collection with distinguishable and unique physical characteristics, as an inspiration source. It was clear from the beginning that as an interaction designer and a maker, she was interested in building a machine. Eventually she decided to focus on the technical process of film duplication and the importance of the negative as the ‘authentic’ carrier of information.
The result of this process is a machine called MEDIATED REALITY. This machine is able to perform film developing and printing in real time.
The idea behind MEDIATED REALITY is based upon Michelle’s fascination with the concept of visual perception and how reliable the medium of film is. With her machine she reveals the reproductive characteristics of the medium film and the loss of information inherent to the process of copying. Michelle concentrated her research on a specific film collection: the left overs of Naughty Boys by Eric de Kuyper. These left overs contained undeveloped footage locked in cans for more than 30 years.
In her own words: ‘Photographs often serve as proof of evidence in crime scenes. In the past, negatives were used because these are the first results of developing film. Mediated Reality is a machine that questions the reliability of this medium. This machine is able to both develop and copy film right away… By making a contact print of the original negative film, a positive copy emerges. During this process of copying, many other negatives are produced, which start to look completely different from the original movie’.
The machine allows you to watch in real time how a film reel is developed. The whole process of fixing and drying takes about 20 minutes. While some of us are familiar with this photographic process happening in the dark room of photographers, I was never able to see how ‘film’ develops before. Normally this process takes place in chemical tanks in film laboratories and is never visible. During the performance, the machine is working under the safe red light which allows the orthochromatic film stock (less sensitive to red light) to develop and copy itself unto another stock and produce first a negative and then a positive and then again a negative and so on. Every time the copy ‘appears’ under your eyes, it differs from the previous one. This is due to different factors like the chemicals getting older, the exposure time of the light source, the ‘slippage’ caused by the motor driving the film through the machine. All factors which are difficult to predict or even control and which give rise to surprising visual results when the copies are projected onto a screen.
The remarkable thing about this project is how Michelle van Ool, without prior knowledge of the film medium, managed to achieve these results by means of research and practical experimentation. In only three months she was able to get a grip on how the process of film developing and printing works and to design and build the machine from scratch.
The machine has been recently exhibited at the ArtEZ Academy as part of their final exam exhibition and I went there to see it working during a performance given by Michelle. Even though I had seen photographs of the machine before I was stunned to see how its complexity was translated into aesthetic beauty and functionality. MEDIATED REALITY is really well-thought and designed and it gives a fascinating insight into the magical world of the film medium from a young emerging artist’s perspective.
It is therefore an honour for us to add MEDIATED REALITY to our collection. Hopefully this machine will be exhibited and performed in and outside of EYE in the near future.
For this project I would like to personally thank Martijn van Boven, lecturer at the Interaction Design Department who has supported this collaboration from the start. Special thanks to Mark-Paul Meyer who guided Michelle in the difficult world of film development. And of course Michelle herself with her inquisitive and open curiosity towards our world of film heritage.
For more information and to see the machine at work, you can clcik here.
By Simona Monizza, Curator Experimental film, EYE Filmmuseum.Tag:experimental film, experimentele film, materialiteit, materiality, film medium, installaties, installation, interaction design, film stock
The greatest archival festival of the world is about to begin again in Bologna, from June 24th on! EYE is presenting films under different sections of the festival this year.
As the festival seems to expand continuously, the first screening actually takes place even before the festival begins: On Thursday 22nd, Donald Sosin accompanies Menschen am Sonntag on the Piazza Maggiore. The film is restored by EYE back in 1998, at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, curated by Martin Koerber. The festival is showing the digitally remastered DCP version by the Deutsche Kinemathek, as part of the “Sunday in Bologna” program curated by Neil McGlone and Alexander Payne.
During the festival, four films from 1917 are being screened in the “Hundred Years Ago: 1917” program, curated by Karl Wratchko.
On Thursday 27th, as part of the “Cinema Anno2; 1897” program, 16 Mutoscope&Biograph films from our collection are included. These films are screened from the 35mm duplication prints, that were made from the 68mm originals.
There are other EYE films or EYE-related presentations to discover throughout the festival. Among those, the new Cineteca di Bologna restoration of the film La Tragica fine di Caligula Imperator (IT, Ugo Falena, 1917) for which EYE has lent its nitrate print that served as reference for the re-insertion of the intertitles. Around this film two events take place: a workshop launching the new research project: “Il cinema muto italiano e le altre arti” on Sunday, and also a round table discussion on Monday morning.
Another production where EYE has a strong presence is this year’s DVD; “I colori Ritrovati”, containing 36 colored non-fiction films from the 1910s, particularly dedicated to Kinemacolor, Pathecolor and Chronochrome. On this double DVD, seven films are from the EYE collection, including the Kinemacolor film Coronation Drill At Reedham Orphanage (GB, 1911), which is also part of the Kinemacolor screening on Tuesday.
EYE is also the co-producer of the film Rêve au Tuschinski by Jérôme Diamant-Berger (FR, 2017), featuring Max von Sydow. This film about the historical Amsterdam film theatre Tuschinski and its owner, will premiere on Friday within the section “Documents and Documentaries”.
EYE will be represented by several staff members this year: our director Sandra den Hamer, vault manager Catherine Cormon, silent film curator Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, programmer Leo van Hee and curatorial assistant Gerdien Smit will be in Bologna, along with many past and present student interns.
Here is the full list of the compilation programs and the DVD, mentioned above:
In “1897: year two of cinematography” (Mutoscope&Biograph program):
Changing guard (Berlin), Albany day boats, Keystone express, Battleships 'Maine' & 'Iowa', A Pillow fight, Fort Hill fire station, Place de la Concorde, Harvesting corn, Threshing machine at work, The Haverstraw tunnel, The Crookedest railroad yard in the world, The Military review at Aldershot, Passage des portiques, Jumbo, horseless fire-engine, A Camp of Zingari gypsies, Les Parisiennes
In 1917; Hundred Years Ago program:
Das Bacchanal des Todes oder das Opfer einer grossen Liebe, (DE, Richard Eichberg, 1917, Central Film Vertrieb), Holland in ijs - 1917 (NL, Willy Mullens, 1917, Alberts Frères), De Petroleumbrand te Vlissingen, (NL, 1917, Kinematograaf Pathé Frères), Kanalen en windmolens (NL, 1917, Kinematograaf Pathé Frères [?])
I colori Ritrovati DVD:
Barcelone, principale ville de la Catalogne (FR, Segundo de Chomón, 1912, Pathé Frères), Parc national de Yellowstone, Le (FR,1917, Pathé Frères), Culture de caoutchouc en Malaisie, La (FR, 1912, Pathé Frères), Récolte du riz au Japon, La (FR, 1910, Pathé Frères), Grande fête hindoue du Massy-Magum, La (FR, 1913, Pathé Frères), Chenille de carotte, La (FR, 1911, Pathé Frères), Coronation Drill At Reedham Orphanage (GB, 1911, Urban Trading).Tag:festival, filmfestival, archief, filmrestauratie, dvd. Mutoscope & Biograph, 1897, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Cineteca de Bologna
Back in mid-February I started my internship at the EYE Filmmuseum in the Department Film Conservation and Digital Access, where under guidance of Curator Elif Rongen, I started working on this year’s ‘nitrate project’, consisting of roughly 150 cans of films donated to the archive in 2013 and now known as the ‘Manshanden collection’. These films are now in the process of being fully registered, inspected and identified, on the basis of which further preservation decisions will be made. Over the course of the past few months I have been getting acquainted with film handling and dealing with specifically nitrate material: viewing films on the winding table (watching the film reels frame by frame), on the viewer (watching the films ‘in movement’) and more recently also watching sound films on our Steenbeck tables. During this viewing process, I write an inspection report on both the levels of the content and the material condition. If the film is not immediately identifiable (because the title is missing for example), I do further research online in databases of film companies, studios and newspapers or film journal. Based on this, I enter information into the EYE Collection database, as well as into the curator’s database, where I could for example comment more in-depth on the film style and why I feel the film might be relevant to preserve, or not ofcourse.
So far the collection and our findings are incredibly curious and varied (from different countries, and varying in years from the early 1900s to the 1950s) and there is not really one clear pattern to be determined, making it the ideal collection to work with for a ‘nitrate beginner’ like me! It is also really interesting to see the difference between watching a film on the winding table and seeing it in motion on a viewer: watching the film on the winding table, frame by frame, does sometimes not enable you to grasp the story, but does provide insight to details in the image (indications of country, setting, year, faces, clothing). Viewing it in motion (as a film is ‘meant’ to be seen) on the other hand, provides a different perspective and might allow you to read certain scenes differently, grasping the story in full. Identifying the films is a very exciting process as well, it is almost like working as a detective; acting on a hunch, a name or a detail and then perhaps finding out what a film is, sometimes after spending days on the case, must be one of the best feelings in the world.
With the French film Printemps fleuri (1912) for example, we found Pathe edgemarks (indicating a French film), but a German title (Fruhlingbluten) and intertitles. I managed to finally identify the film by searching for a French translation or equivalent of the German title of the copy and based on the resemblance of the description in the Pathé catalogue to the text (such as the French translation of the names of trees and flowers mentioned) in the intertitles. This was also immediately my favourite film I have encountered so far during this viewing process: a registration of spring, tinted pink with stencilling in the most luscious colours and showing beautiful flowers, trees, as well as lovely children, creating an overall visceral look and timeless attraction.
More information and a complete list of the (identified) films in the Manshanden collection will follow once we have completed the process!
Other archival encounters and oddities
Also strange ‘in-between’ projects or little things arise during my internship, such as when someone brought in some cans of nitrate film he bought of a seller and donated to the archive. We went through the cans in two afternoons, and it consisted of all kinds of (seemingly unrelated) bits and pieces, all rolled together in one big reel. We quickly went through it and took everything part, hoping to find pieces that might belong together. We took notes on edgemarks, colours and content and then put the post-its with the information on the small reels. This also gave me an insight on how, next to projects like the Manshanden collection (which was donated in 2013, so took 4 years waiting to be processed), the archive deals with small donations in-between all the other work and how we, on a Friday afternoon, in a few hours took apart and reassembled all of this material for it to be shelved.
A similar occurence of ‘on the spot’ dealing with something that comes into the archive happened when we received a carton box filled with reels wrapped in newspapers, some of them soaking wet. It was like a horrible Christmas present gone-wrong and as we unwrapped them, most of them turned out to be in a dismal condition and in an extreme state of decay, incredibly smelly, sometimes even muddy and breaking apart as we touched it. Not much was to be seen, except for some text on the intertitles, but as EYE’s policy is that "if there is image to be seen, we have to try to salvage it", we unwrapped them, cleaned off the worst dirt and mud and laid them in the nitrate cabinet to dry, hoping that something is still visible later on.
Next to this ugly side of decay that it is evidently horrible for the film, as objects these decayed reels can be aesthetically very interesting to look at. The reel in the pictures below looked quite disgusting and beautiful at the same time we unwrapped it, but as we touched it, it completely fell apart because of all the rot. It was fascinating to see how a reel in its final stage of decay can be so pretty, yet so fragile.
Similarly, though these films hardly carried imprints or ‘traces’ of reality themselves anymore, as objects they did show traces of their own ‘lives’ as decomposing artifacts in a very aesthetic way. One of the wet films wrapped in newspapers left beautiful circular traces of colours, the dye of the film tint leaving traces/rings on the newspaper it came in. And next to that, one of the films we lifted of the newspaper turned out to have a circular carton stuck to it (presumably it had been stored in a carton box), which showed the traces of the film reel touching the carton, leaving rings almost like a cut-out of a tree.
Ilse van der Spoel, intern at EYE Filmmuseum, Collections.Tag:nitrate film, nitraat, decay, identificatie, identification
In our daily lives, we frequently stumble upon cameras on the street: people taking selfies or recording videos is a common sight that none of us find odd. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, encountering a camera on the street was anything but normal – for many, it was an appalling surprise. One of these awkward moments is engraved on celluloid around 1900 at Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
De Dam te Amsterdam omstreeks 1900*, a little film from the Collection of EYE, shows Dam Square at the turn of the 20th century buzzing with trams, bicycles, and pedestrians crossing over the frame in all directions. What makes this little film so peculiar is the group of people that stand without the slightest motion at the centre of the frame, in great contrast to the fleeting passers-by. A municipality worker, a young boy, and a band of children – all seem stunned, looking directly into the camera. As being photographed would then require, they are doing their best to pose perfectly still to avoid a blurred image. Ironically, however, the machine before them is not a photography camera that requires stillness, but a film camera that is designed to capture movement.
Embalming this confusion and surprise, this little film testifies to the initial stages of a transformation in the visual culture brought by the influx of the film camera to everyday life. Portraying those that stand still and those that walk through the frame, the film captures the coexistence of stillness and movement at once. The transition from the still image to the moving image is rendered visible. The aesthetics of photography and cinematography are united in one single frame for over two minutes.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçı, curator of Silent film.
*This film was restored in 2014 as part of a crowd-funding campaign called Amsterdam in the Picture. Read and watch more here.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Altyazi, a monthly film magazine from Turkey. English translation by Asli Özgen Tuncer.Tag:Silent cinema, silent film, amsterdam, filmcamera, stille film, filmrestauratie, restoration
For many years our safety film collection was stored in several locations, the biggest one of them in a converted agriculture warehouse in Vijfhuizen (means “Five houses”) beyond the Schiphol airport .
At the beginning of 2016 we got the keys to our brand new collection center in Amsterdam Noord.
So we started moving people, equipment and collections to the new storage… Everybody lent a hand: volunteers, employees, professional movers… We stuck 210 000 barcode stickers on film cans and 22 000 barcode stickers on shelves. We have lost count of the amount of trucks and pallets that came in, but we put all the cans on the shelves and “bleeped” them in their new location. We didn’t move only film cans, but also video cassettes, film equipment, digital equipment, books, posters, photos, paper files, supplies…
And then we were left with all the “last little things”; those that eat up disproportionate amounts of time.
Finally, at the end of January we returned the keys to the owner of the converted agriculture warehouse.
Thanks, many many thanks to everybody who lent a hand, especially to the volunteers: we couldn’t have done it without you!
And… bye-bye, Vijfhuizen !
PS: the last can that we placed on the shelves, here in the proud hands of our Master Mover Ben, was from the film Een bloeiend bedrijf (A Flourishing Company). We call this “archival serendipity”.
Written by Catherine Cormon, Head of Collection Management, EYE.
Among the most rewarding activities of the EYE Filmmuseum collections, we can count our participation in various recent exhibitions. A few examples using films from our silent film collection are the Alma Tadema exhibition in Fries Museum in Leeuwaarden, Biskra exhibition at the Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the overview exhibition on the Turkish painter Feyhaman Duran at the Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.
None of these exhibitions is about film history, nor about the specific films it incorporates. Each exhibition uses the film fragments to enrich the context in a different way. The exhibition curators search for specific images, with the help of the EYE film curators. Certainly, the possibility to view the films (or fragments) from a distance and to deliver them digitally has made more of this kind of collaborations possible. Thanks to our digital platform (through which we can provide temporary access to professional users), our film collection (or at least the part that is already digitized) is within the reach of any museum curator around the globe.
By looking at each above mentioned exhibition in detail, we can see how the archival footage can be used creatively in different settings and made relevant to the audiences today.
‘Alma Tadema; Classical Charm’ exhibit has a special section about the relationship between Tadema’s paintings and cinema, curated by Ivo Blom. Here, the paintings that seem to have provided inspiration for the later film makers are hung right below the screens showing the film fragments, in approximately the same dimensions. The screens show the selected scene in a loop, demonstrating the similarity between Tadema’s style and the framing, sets and costumes and overall look of the films. Using scenes ranging from more than 100 years old films like Orgie Romaine (FR, 1911) up to recent Hollywood films like Gladiator (USA, 2000), this exhibition uses the film fragments to illustrate the relevance of Tadema’s imagery for today’s audiences. After a very successful run in Leeuwarden the exhibition will now travel to the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.
The temporary exhibition ‘Biskra, Sortiléges d’un Oasis’ at the Insitut du Monde Arabe (curated by Roger Benjamin and Eric Delpont) incorporates cinema in a different way, as the exhibition aims to show the photogénie of this Algerian region and illustrate in which ways it has influenced the arts and culture. The exhibition is divided in sections about photography, architecture, music, cinema, tourism, etc. To screen the films, a small cabin is situated in the middle of the main hall, where a few visitors at a time can sit down, while others can stand behind to watch the films. The selection varies from exotic documentaries showing the region (like the 1923 travelogue selected from EYE) to fragments of well-known fiction films like The Sheik (USA, 1921) starring Rudolph Valentino.
The third example is the exhibition ‘Feyhaman Duran. Between Two Worlds’. Duran (1886-1970) was a prolific painter from Istanbul, who studied in France until 1914. The exhibition is an overview of his career spanning many decades, in which the curators Nazan Ölçer and Hüma Arslaner highlight “the influences that shaped the art of Duran, who left [the Ottoman] empire on the brink of collapse to arrive at the home of art in Paris and returned back to a country in revolutionary transformation. Duran, greatly influenced by impressionist movement during his Parisian education, took up the habit of carrying his canvas to various spots across the city to just sit back and paint. Duran’s landscapes of Süleymaniye, Bosphorus and Istanbul’s islands, provide a comprehensive glimpse of Istanbul’s history.” The exhibition uses documentary footage found at the EYE collection, showing Istanbul and Paris in the early decades of the 20th century, to remind the visitors of the atmosphere of a century ago of these two rapidly changing metropoles. The films are thus used to evoke what the painter had seen, and reflect on the urban development that has taken place in the meantime.
Why is this type of collaboration rewarding for EYE?
This kind of cross-medial use of the early cinema collection confirms the very motivations behind our film collection and preservation policy. Particularly with the silent cinema collection we believe that every meter of film counts; that every holding is unique in its own way, and that it is part of the global collective memory. For this reason, in essence, we do not differentiate between a very short scene showing a farmer’s market in the Balkans around 1914 and the ‘best documentary of all times’ Man with the Camera by Vertov. We find both items worthy of attention and restoration. Sometimes even the smallest fragment of a foreign fiction film can provide the key to an urban restoration project elsewhere, as in the case of Shoes (USA, 1916) and the Pershing Square. Or a seemingly conventional coverage of a news item among many others can turn out to be among the only surviving moving images of an influential event, like the capsized SS Eastland in 1915, or the occupation of the Estonian city of Tartu by the Germans in 1918.
In terms of presentation, we believe that the images we preserve must reach out to the biggest number of viewers as possible. Normally we prefer to present our silent films with live music, on the big screen. In museum exhibitions, although the images are shown on relatively small screens without music (often in a loop), the images get to be seen by thousands of visitors over the course of months, as opposed to the single theatrical screenings scheduled on one specific day and time.
Last but not least, collaboration with other musea and curators from different fields enrich our understanding and provide further inspiration to view our films under a different light, and help strengthen our conviction to treat every single item with special care it deserves.
Films from the EYE Collection used in the above mentioned exhibitions:
From June 23 on Bologna will be the dazzling centre of activities for the moving image collection, archive and preservation professionals. On June 23, the 72nd Congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) will kick off in Bologna, Italy. The congress, consisting of official meetings and a symposium about archival matters, will gradually give way to the 30st edition one of the biggest preservation film festival of the world; Il Cinema Ritrovato. As every year, EYE Filmmuseum will be in Bologna with films and presentations. EYE's films are mainly from the silent period, and make part of different sub-programs, like '100 years ago;1916', a tribute to Norma Talmadge, celebration of Dada's 100th birthday (in which also the Bankroet Jazz, co-produced by EYE will be screened) and in Lumiere, the 1896 season, where some examples of EYE's earliest films will be screened. The festival dates are June 25 to July 2. The program is online.
The Lumière Brothers exhibition curated by the Institut Lumière in Lyon celebrates the invention of cinema and will open its doors to the public on June 25 in Bologna.The exhibition will be open until January 2017. Like in the past years, this year too the FIAF Summer School will be convening in the city, to educate and embrace the young generation of film archivists, organized by the Cineteca.
EYE is also contributing films to this years festival DVD; Grand Tour Italiano. 9 films from EYE are part of the double DVD on short films showing Italy through the camera lens. Industrie des marbres à Carrare (FR, 1914), Exploitation du sel en Sicile (FR, 1912), Sestri Levante (IT, 1913), De Italiaansche Riviera di Levante (IT, 1912), Fiat (IT, 1925, Istituto Luce) and from the Desmet Collectie, Amalfi (IT, 1910), Il Pescara (IT, 1912), Salti e laghi del fiume Velino (IT, 1912) en Het groote plateau van den Carnische Alpen (FR, 1912)
A complete overview of the films from the EYE collection at Il Cinema Ritrovato:
In the program 'The 1896 Season', films from our Mutoscope & Biograph collection:
Shooting the Chutes
Ten Inch Disappearing Carriage Gun Loading and Firing, Sandy Hook
Stable on fire, A
Hard wash, A
American Falls, Luna Island, The
Empire state express
View on Boulevard, New York City
Wrestling pony and man
Nuit terrible, Une (FR, Georges Méliès)
In the program 'Cento Anni Fa (Hundred Years Ago 1916)':
Camp of gouda (our Belgian refugees in Holland)
Heidenröschen (D, Frans Hofer)
Hawaii: the Paradise of the Pacific (US, Lyman H. Howe)
Signori giurati (IT, Giuseppe Giusti)
Jaloersche vrouw, De (onbekend)
Uit het leven van twee chimpansees. Napoleon en Sally houden de kogels tegen. (US)
Entdeckung Deutschlands durch die Marsbewohner, Die (D, Richard Otto Frankfurter, Georg Jacoby)
Statendam / journaal / Hollandiafilm
And in the Norma Talmadge tribute:
Fathers hatband [Desmet Collection]
Safety curtain, The
Lady and her maid, A [Desmet Collection]Tag:festival, restoration, archives, dvd
Joost Rekveld (1970) is a Dutch artist and experimental filmmaker. Since 1991 he has been making abstract films and light installations. In his early days he worked intensively with the medium of film, experimenting with all aspects of the process from printing, to manipulating, to developing the images himself. In 1994 he was already using a computer to make an animation film by writing his own software; a practice he returned to later on in his career.
His works display an intimate and embodied understanding of our technological world. They are deeply inspired by science and technology and the systematic dialogue between man and machine. By exploring the various spatial and sensorial aspects of light projection his works intrinsically relate to the early history of optics and perspective and, in many ways, can be understood as a type of visual music. His animated films are often mechanical compositions whereby the computer acts as a controller, orchestrating the precise movement of each optical element of the film-work or installation. Rekveld’s current works-in-progress include a number of projects that relate to his interest in the nature of “Open-Ended Machines,” the philosophy of technology, and the sensory nature of our material environment.
Over the past three decades Rekveld’s works have been presented at many international festivals. Most of his recent films have premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and His film “#11, Marey <-> Moire” was the first Dutch film to ever be shown at the Sundance Film Festival. As well as festivals he has screened works at a wide range of venues for experimental film, animation and short film including the ICA and the Tate Modern in London, The Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. He has presented a number of programmes about the history of abstract animation and light art, most prominently the 9th edition of Sonic Acts: Sonic Light 2003. Rekveld has a long history of curating programmes about abstract animation, visual music and the interaction between art and science and he is a regular guest at our weekly EYE on Art series where we present the history of the avant-garde. He has been giving lectures since 1993, and has been teaching interdisciplinary art since 1996. From 2008 to 2014 Rekveld was head of the ArtScience Interfaculty of the Royal Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. He is currently a board member of Sonic Acts (Amsterdam) and of the Centre for Visual Music (Los Angeles).
The Filmmuseum’s relationship with Joost dates back to 2004 when he was commissioned to curate a program and an installation called “A House in 4 dimensions”. In 2015 Rekveld’s films were added to EYE’s collection and we began the restoration and preservation of a number of his early works. These included #2, 1993, VRFLM, 1994, #5, 1994, and #7, 1996. The restoration work has been a joint venture between Joost, Simona Monizza, curator of experimental film and Gerard de Haan, the digital grader of Haghefilm Digital; the lab we used for this work. From the beginning we decided to opt for digitally restoring these films as well as producing digital projection copies. Two factors informed this choice. The first is that for most of Joost’s early films there were already existing negatives in relatively good condition; these form good elements for long-term preservation. The second reason was the wish to enhance the screening possibilities of these films in an era where 16mm projection becomes more difficult or unreliable.
In light of the premiere of these restored works, which will take place at EYE on Tuesday 17th May at 19.15 as part of our regular EYE on Art series, Ruth Sweeney asked Joost Rekveld to share his thoughts on the process of preserving his early film works. We’d like to share this short interview with you.
RS: How do you feel about having your work preserved by a National archive? What is the importance to you of preserving the works in this way?
JR: Hmm..How do I feel? I feel old! No but seriously…during the preservation process we talked a lot about one of the things that I found rather confronting. That was, especially with my first film #2, that I was more or less forced to revisit the mistakes I made 20 years ago. I mean it was my first film so I had no idea about lots of stuff. Technical things especially I had no clue about at that time. What came across during the preservation is that many parts of the original source material is really underexposed so in the lab you have this experience where somebody is looking at the material and saying “Oh that’s really underexposed!”. So yes, that’s very confronting.
In general I am very happy that people are interested enough to actually go through with this restoration and preservation work. For me, as a maker, what I like about film is that when they're finished they're really finished. I’m not really keen to be involved again. These are old films. I’m not distributing them myself and I’m happy to leave that to others so I can focus on new work. Im happy that other people can take control of preserving these films in order to keep them alive and make sure they can still be shown. In that light, however, one thing I do find difficult is that preservation is very archive centric. I want to make my work accessible. That’s very important to me.
RS: How did you feel about revisiting your early work with two other people in the room, the curator and the technician, who may have different perspectives and judgments as they are not filmmakers themselves?
JR: It did feel for me that in some way the restored films are indeed reinterpretations but the aim for me was always to stay as close as possible to the original material and my original intentions. In terms of preservation the goal for me was always about making these works accessible again in a world where technologies have shifted and evolved quite dramatically. Film used to be an easy choice as a medium but now it’s something that is actually rare. 16mm projections are hard to come by now.
Back to your question…the preservation process itself was very technical for me. It was about identifying obstacles and looking for solutions. In that sense I didn't feel that the perspectives of the curator and technician were alien, but rather I was happy to use their expertise. I used to be scared of the grading process because it was so expensive but now I know what I want and there has been some progress in my dialog with graders over the past 25 years.
RS: How do you feel about giving over your film cans to the archive and not having the physical film object with you and in your presence?
JR: I don’t mind really. I’m happy to not have to care so much! If you take the baby metaphor.. the children leave the house and they're on their own. I might be in touch once in a while but yeah..it’s OK they're out the house!
RS: Your early work is defined by the use of the film medium with its laws, rules and flaws, all inherent to the process of filmmaking. With this in mind how do you feel about having these early films now made available on digital format?
JR: That’s a good question! The thing is they also still exist as prints and these are good enough to project. I wouldn't hesitate if people wanted to show those print versions. I see the digital format as a new version of the film but not a replacement. I also understand that in 25-30 years from now it could be just these digital versions that are the ones that are available. Naturally I have thought about this. What I will say is I used to see myself as a film fundamentalist but that has changed. I now realise that these things are not at all binary. For a long time I've made films writing my own software and code so it isn't necessarily a historical progression for me, but instead this transition to digital is much more fluid.
RS: What were your original expectations when we started with the digital restoration?
JR: Well not so long ago I had DCPs made of some of my more recent films, for example #11, Marey <-> Moire which was originally shot on 35mm and had a certain aesthetic. I was actually really happy with the results. I will say I do miss the hummmm of the projector with a digital projection but visually, I’d say it’s different but I don’t miss anything.
RS: More specifically, how do you feel about the digital version of #7, one of the more complex films you made as it involves a hand painted roll?
JR: Yes - that’s a different story! The thing with this film is that it was basically an original that I had given up! I remember bringing it to EYE and thinking you can have it if you want it but to me it looked like a tree trunk because of the way it was all packed together. The paint was totally stuck! I thought I’m never going to touch this myself. I assumed that if we were ever going to restore this that it would have to be from the print copies I made back when I produced the original. In the end we did use the original though and I’m a bit ambivalent about this because unpacking it did do some damage. Sometimes I think maybe we should just roll it up and keep it as a tree trunk! I remember when I made this film. I didn't have money and I wanted to make a 30 minute film as cheap as possible which is why I arrived at this technique with the paint. I was only thinking about production rather than how the film would be stored or preserved. I didn’t store it properly at all and also hardly screened it. The original isn't the most audience friendly film!
RS: Would you say that since you've been through this process of restoring and preserving these early films that you now think more about preservation when making current works?
JR: Yes. I think I do. With the digital stuff, all the code etc I definitely think about it but I don't have secure practices in place. I lose stuff. Things disappear. Actually it’s hopeless. There’s a media artist called Rafael Lozano-Hemmer who makes very complicated installations involving technology and he has an amazing guide on how to preserve your work as a media artist. It’s amazing, very wise. I do think about formats too. I only use open source formats because this is advantageous for preservation. I remember talking to Bart Vetger about code and this open source thing. He was already working in a certain software environment. I remember at some point thinking specifically about what code language I would choose to work with and what would be the best long-term option.
RS: Can you say something about the changing of formats that took place due to the restoration and preservation process of for instance #2, which was originally shot on Super8. Do you regard this as an ethical issue?
JR: No, not anymore. I have done in the past but, like I said, I’m no longer a film fundamentalist. I remember when it was irresponsible and unethical for a programmer to ask an experimental filmmaker to provide a video version of a film work. That was unthinkable! In the beginning when films were scanned to video the quality was a load of crap! It was terrible! Now with HD screening digital versions are much better. What I have also noticed over time is that 35mm is much more stable than 16mm now. It’s more reliable to screen films on 35mm because 35mm projectionists are all trained and know exactly what they're doing. The 35mm projectors are all standardised and I rarely have trouble with 35mm projections. 16mm it’s a totally different story! It is rarely perfect. The reality now is that 16mm projections are mostly crappy so digital projections are preferable because they are much better quality. I see that there are still pockets of film fundamentalism that remain but for me, I now see working with film as a passing phase in my career. I do think about how to make work accessible online. I think it would be great to do, and platforms like vimeo are making this easier but still…what is made available online simply is not the film. It’s so far from the visual experience I want people to have.
RS: In your 2010 essay “Conversations with Machines” you talk about expanded cinema as compositions: “Many of the historic expanded cinema projects are compositions for two or more projectors in which the focus is on the compositional opportunities of several film “voices”, analogous to musical voices. These films necessitate a conscious focusing of attention, so that each spectator has his or her own experience.” How do you feel the restoration of #5 and the conversion of the work to a single-channel piece has effected the nature of the work?
JR: The thing is with #5 is that it was originally made to be shown in a gallery space, not in a cinema. What I liked then is that I could sort of reconfigure the work and adapt the screening format to the space. This posed an interesting challenge when the piece started to be integrated into film programmes, either with my other work or other single-channel works. I then found myself needing to present the work in the standardised space of the cinema. After some trials and experimenting I found that this single-channel screening is actually the optimum way to screen the work in the cinema space. I see this preservation as a way of freezing that choice in time in a way. The prints do still exist so it can still be shown in different ways and we also talked about making digital copies of each of the individual “tracks” as it were so there could still be various screening options. In a gallery space for example it still makes most sense for it to be screened as a three-channel work. I like to keep these possibilities open!
RS: Also in relation to #5, you mentioned before that you like the hummmm of the projector. With this in mind how important was it for you to consider the lack of the 16mm projector in the new digital version?
JR: For me, presenting #5 was always so exciting! However, it’s an excitement that I know the audience wouldn’t have experienced because for me it was about the anticipation. When I would screen this work using three projectors I would do a test run and figure out delays and syncs. There was always a lot of tension for me then. I would be anxious about if the projectors were running at the same speed. It was exciting in the same way a horse race can be! The projectors are three horses approaching the finish line and will they be in sync?! This moment gave me a sort of nervous excitement! Like I say this is purely personal and the audience don't know about this element or experience that tension. For that reason now when I think about the digital version of the film which is perfectly synced it’s actually just boring! I’m totally aware that there is no change here for the audience…for the audience it’s boring all along!
RS: So the final question is how do you feel these early works - in their restored form - relate to your current work?
JR: That’s an interesting question. If we go back to the baby metaphor; the child leaving the house and starting a new life of their own etc but then, at the end of the day, they're still family! That’s how I feel about my films. I can definitely learn a lot from revisiting the films but it’s a new kind of interaction, and of course I still have a strong connection. If I take #2 for example, a film which, until very recently, I hadn't screened for a very long time. Just before we started the preservation process I screened the film in Japan as part of a retrospective type programme and it was the first time i’d seen it again in maybe 15 years. It triggered a lot of thoughts. I was writing a lot of proposals at the time I revisited it and I realised then that this film captures something that I've tried to do in all my films. Something I didn't realise until that moment. I thought in some sense I have always been making the same film, and actually continue to do so! What I mean by this is that I have a fascination with processes where forms emerge and structures come into being. I see that I was doing that in #2 and it’s basically what I'm always doing. I always think my projects are completely different but in fact they're not. In that sense revisiting the films has been very interesting.
RS: Which restoration do you feel happiest with?
JR: I think I would say #5. Thinking of how Tuesday will go I feel very confident and I feel like it’s going to be really nice and thats not easy to do with 16mm screenings. My films were made at a time when you could just rent film projectors but thats becoming more and more exotic. Preserving films gives them a new life. I’m happy that this preservation process makes my films more accessible. This is so important to me! I want my films to be seen!
Blog post by Simona Monizza, curator Experimental Film EYE & Ruth Sweeney, student intern.Tag:collection, experimental film, Rekveld, restoration, EYE on Art
Recently EYE was part of a quite exciting project involving the re-enactment of the software code filmmaker and computer artist Bart Vegter used to create his computer abstract animation film ‘De Tijd’ in 2008.
In 2011 after the filmmaker passed away, his complete archive was donated to EYE. We had already previously worked on the restoration of his films, but this was the first time we received a filmmaker’s archive made up of a diverse range of media testifying to the different image-making techniques he used during his lifetime; together with previously unreleased 16mm or 8mm early films, the boxes also included old hard-drives and floppy disks containing the software code he wrote to make his computer films.
As the expertise of our film curators and restorers lies primarily in the preservation of analogue and digital film rather than computer art the computer-based artefacts in Vegter’s archive presented us with a number of challenges. In order to bring us closer to understanding and appreciating the working method of Bart Vegter, and his use of the computer as a creative medium, EYE commissioned Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos to respond to this archive. We asked the designers to focus specifically on the preservation and access of the self-written software code. The result is ‘Machine Room’; a large-scale spatial installation which is a real-time visualization of the computer code Vegter used to make his 2008 film ‘De Tijd’ and at the same time a study of the life-span of software codes.
Who was Bart Vegter and why is he important to us?
Bart Vegter (1940-2011) was an experimental filmmaker who lived and worked in Rotterdam. He is often considered one of the pioneers of abstract animation in The Netherlands.Initially Vegter did not train as a filmmaker. In his twenties he studied Electronic Engineering at Eindhoven University and, following this, went on to work as an engineer for a number of large corporations. After working in this field for almost two decades Vegter decided he wanted a career change. In 1976 he began to channel his energy into experimental cinema. He started attending Frans Zwartjes’ Cine Workshop at the Psychopolis Free Academy of Art in the Hague (Vrije Akademie). During his time here he was introduced to the work of a number of prominent Dutch experimental filmmakers and animators. Jacques Verbeek, Paul de Mol and Karin Wiertz, as well as the artists associated with 1960s and 1970s American experimental cinema, influenced Vegter’s early film work.
During his first years as a film-maker, he worked mainly with traditional animation techniques. In 1981 he made his first experimental film, Horizontalen. This film, along with In Need of Space (1983), De Hemel is Vierkant (1985), and Four Moves (1987), was filmed on 16mm and made by using traditional methods like cuts-outs, cell overlays and other printing techniques. From the 1990's Vegter started to use computer generated images in his films, the first one of this kind was Nacht-Licht (1993). The films that followed, Space-Modulation (1994), Forest-Views (1999), Zwerk (2004), and De Tijd (2008) all were made using his self-written computer software code. These computer-made films were transferred back to film for projection copies on 16mm and 35mm. Vegter continued to make films using this technique up until his death in 2011.
Still from De hemel is vierkantStill from Horizontalen Vegter’s switch to computers was based upon his desire to combine his technical background with his creative interests and to be able to explore a new medium. Though Vegter’s use of computers changed the aesthetics of his films, his overall approach to filmmaking remained the same throughout his life. He was interested in exploring the inherent qualities/rules of processes present in physical realities or perceptual experiences. As Joost Rekveld writes on Vegter: “He had an eye for intriguing visual phenomena…He took many pictures of sand patterns in the dunes, enjoyed the rhythmic circular waves in a puddle when it was raining, admired the light projections on his wall caused by the sun’s rays reflected off windows and through trees, and wondered why he could only see the reflection of his cactus in the window when he was moving it…In a way, besides their beauty and originality, perhaps the strongest statement the films of Bart Vegter make is that they share his admiration, curiosity and above all his pure attention for the visual world.” The computer-made films of Bart Vegter are the end result of a long process which starts with a self-written software code that either creates or manipulates an image. These codes could be considered the DNA of the film but contrary to film, they cannot be read or easily accessed by third parties. Researching the Bart Vegter software code for the project ‘Machine Room’ is a first step into understanding how he worked with the computer and could hopefully provide interesting insights into computer art in general and its preservation, an area of interest not yet widely spread among film archives but in need of attention due to the speedy technical obsolescence of equipment and softwares. In the future we hope to develop and expand upon this area of research. For more information on this project you can watch the short documentary we produced for Art-Tube with interviews of Bogaerts and Vos, Martijn van Boven and Simona Monizza.
On Tuesday 15th March 2016, in collaboration with ArtEZ, EYE will present ‘Machine Room’, the EYE-commissioned installation by interaction designers Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos.
To know more about the project Machine Room you can watch this short video reportage by Bram Bogaerts and Jesper Vos.
Simona Monizza, Curator Experimental Film & Ruth Sweeney, internTag:experimental film, computer, digital, technology, interactive, interaction, archive