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Super8 films by Peter Rubin

Welcome to the Peter Rubin Collection! My name is Hadley Kluber, a (now former) Curatorial Intern with the Peter Rubin Collection under the direction of Simona Monizza, Curator of Experimental Film at Eye. For information on the work of the previous intern, Eleni Tzialli, and a background on the Peter Rubin Collection, please see Blog Post #1.

By Hadley Kluber05 November 2019

Super8 film in the Peter Rubin Collection
Figure 1, from Super8 film in the Peter Rubin Collection.

For a little over a year I have enjoyed working the Peter Rubin Collection, first as a student in January 2018, later as a volunteer and eventually as a Curatorial Intern. The Collection is vast and diverse; I have worked with 35mm slides, Super8 and 16mm film, and VHS tapes. From the preservation, digitization and catalouging of slides to spending countless hours watching VHS tapes preparing each for catalouging and some for digitization. There is too much content to cover in a single blog post so this will focus on one format: the Super8 films.

Acquisitions

Peter Rubin’s materials have come to Eye on two separate occasions. In 2006 there was an initiative to preserve Dutch Experimental Film and, as Peter Rubin was both an experimental filmmaker operating in the Netherlands and the founder of Holland Experimental Film, he was contacted. Peter worked with Simona Monizza during this time and provided several of his films, of which preservation copies have been made. These films, Environment I (1978), Rhythmic Moves (1979), Environment II (1980), Holland/USA Studies (1980), and Browsers Welcome (1982) can be viewed on Eye-D, our digital catalogue, accessible via the Eye Study in the Eye Collection Center.

Unfortunately, Peter Rubin passed away in 2015. The second acquisition came to Eye in 2016, as a donation of his life’s work from his son, Seth Rubin. All of the materials I have been dealing with have come from the recent 2016 acquisition.

Bag one of Super8 materials from the Peter Rubin Collection.
Figure 2, bag one of Super8 materials from the Peter Rubin Collection.
Bag two of Super8 materials from the Peter Rubin Collection.
Figure 3, bag two of Super8 materials from the Peter Rubin Collection.

In the past, I have worked with Super8 films as a small-gauge film technician. Due to my previous handling experience, Simona and I made viewing, identifying and cataloguing all Super8 films a priority during my Curatorial Internship. Peter Rubin’s Super8 films comprise a relatively smaller aspect of the entire Collection - only 62 reels, most 15 meters in length. This smaller number allowed me to be apart of the entire process; from taking films out of their original bags to making decisions about deaccession or digitization. Figures 2 & 3 above show the 2 bags containing the Super8 films which also included unshot film, a grease pencil, and a matchbox from the nightclub MAZZO.

Set Up

The work was completed at the Eye Collectiecentrum in film viewing rooms on, depending on the material itself, a Super8 Steenbeck viewing table, a hand-crank operated Fujica editor, or a light table with a loupe.

Cataloging began at this first step. Before viewing, each reel was given an individual number. These numbers were temporary and served as an initial way to organize the films. I created this organizational method and a spreadsheet to document the process. At every step it was updated, ensuring as much as possible an accurate record of how and what information was acquired about these films. The spreadsheet has since been merged with the all-format-encompassing inventory on the Peter Rubin Collection.

The Fujica hand-crank viewer set-up.
Figure 4, the Fujica hand-crank viewer set-up.
Steenbeck Super8 table in action
Figure 5, Steenbeck Super8 table in action. Pictured: Simona Monizza

Content Categories

While each reel in the Collection is unique, general categories began to emerge, which helped to make sense of the films. The first reel of film belonged to what we called work materials: referring to the fact that the contents were related to a complete work by Rubin but included only excess fragments or ‘outtakes’ from the work.

Some reels were comprised of what we considered unoriginal materials, or materials not shot by Rubin himself. This included a small, badly faded and shrunken scene from Charlie Chaplain’s The Rink (1916), a tinted reel about Las Vegas entertainment from 1975, and, not surprisingly for Peter Rubin’s Collection, two reels of pornographic materials. Each reel yielded a new surprise.

The films of original materials stand out to me the most. These include staged film shoots with optical art backdrops, coverage of historically relevant events in Amsterdam, as well as beautiful experimental films shot in a now easily identifiable Peter Rubin style: fast-paced, abstract and often shot at a slower frame rate, utilizing extreme close-ups on movements or reflections. These were filmed by Rubin in the Netherlands, New York City, Wales, and other unidentified locations. (More on these films and identifying them below.)

Another category (and a major challenge) has been reels made up of fragmented materials. These reels contained numerous fragments of various lengths of Super8 film, unconnected, wound together on a single spool. Viewing this material was not possible on the viewing table or hand crank viewer. Thanks to ingenuity and teamwork with Simona, viewing was done utilizing loupe and lightbox to view the ‘spaghetti,’ as seen in Fig. 6.

This creative viewing solution allowed us to determine if the fragments were work materials, or, as Simona and I predicted, used as Super8 film loops in performances in club MAZZO and elsewhere. (More information on how this suspicion was confirmed below.)

Fragmented materials or ‘spaghetti’ on a lightbox for viewing
Figure 6, fragmented materials or ‘spaghetti’ on a lightbox for viewing.

Identification

As a personal point of pride, I was able to identify the location of one of the films due to my extensive knowledge of the Collection. As I mentioned, I also digitized slides from the Peter Rubin Collection and remembered a page titled “Wales (castles, fortresses, etc)” and was able to link the slides with the images in one of the Super8 films, identifying the filming location as the ruins of the Llanthony Priory in Wales.

The remaining unknown content left many questions; Which train station is being shown in this film? Who is the person being interviewed? Which club is Peter filming in? Unfortunately I was not in Amsterdam (nor alive anywhere) during the time Peter Rubin would have filmed this material so my identification skills left much to be desired.

Fortunately the Collection Center is full of experts who are happy to spend a few minutes identifying film. Thanks to the colleagues and volunteers at the Collection Center we have identified an interview with Gerard Thoolen, an experimental film shot at Amstel Train Station, and a reel filmed on Rokin during the Amsterdam Coronation Riots on Queens Day, April 30th, 1980.

A number of reels included what appeared to be bands performing. The only thing I could tell about these films was that they were shot in the same location but the location and subjects remained unidentified by the colleagues and volunteers at the Collection Center. Simona and I felt strongly that they were related club MAZZO so additional specialists were brought in and the films were projected for the first time in decades.

Onno Petersen projecting Peter Rubin’s Band Films
Figure 7, Onno Petersen projecting Peter Rubin’s Band Films.

Identification screening

Together Simona and I coordinated a viewing day for these so-called Band Films with freelance filmmaker and expert projectionist Onno Petersen, Fig. 7. Joining Simona, Onno and I in the screening room at the Collection Center were Steve Green (DJ at MAZZO), Michel van den Bergh (an owner of MAZZO), and Jaap Pieters (Super8 extraordinaire) in addition to a few members of the Collection Center. It was incredible to be in a room of Rubin’s former colleagues viewing, speculating, and discussing these films. Much was learned and fun was had.

Thanks to the experts assistance we were able to determine the location, time period, and shooting processes of the Band Films; these reels were filmed in club MAZZO at a rear stage near the back bar on different Monday’s between 1982 and 1989.

Because the rear stage of MAZZO was dark, to allow more light to reach the film Peter shot these Band Films in 9 frames per second. The low frame rate coupled with Peter Rubin’s fast-paced, rapid-zoom, abstract shooting style, made it difficult even for our specialists to identify the bands or the musicians themselves. Below are the cleanest images we have been able to obtain so far, if you can help us identify these bands or musicians, contact info@eyefilm.nl.

Figure 8
Figure 8
Figure 9
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 12
Figure 13, all three members shown in Figs.
Figure 13, all three members shown in Figs. 10-12.
Figure 14
Figure 14
Figure 15
Figure 15
Figure 16
Figure 16
Figure 17
Figure 17
Figure 18
Figure 18

After the projection, Steve Green viewed fragmented reels on the light box. He noted that during nights at MAZZO, Peter was known to play loops of Super8 film and that the contents on the ‘spaghetti’ reels were most likely from those loops. This confirmed what Simona and I had suspected and provides insight into Rubins performances at MAZZO and gave some method to the madness that are the fragmented reels.

Super8 Collection Status

In the end, Simona and I determined that 36 reels of the 62 total would be kept. The selection process was based on whether or not Rubin was the filmmaker or if the materials were used by Rubin in some unique way; either as a part of his personal collection or to his work as a V.J. or ‘Video Jockey’ at club MAZZO and other locations.

The 36 reels accessioned resulted in an additional 12 unique Peter Rubin films and collections, and were entered into Eye’s catalouge, Collection Eye (C.E.), as 12 new Filmwerks. Among those Filmwerks are two edited and perhaps complete films from Rubin, each of which had several smaller work material reels associated with them.

The first, Bad Girls, is a roughly 60 meter film which is edited and complete with title. Shot in a yet unidentified club location, this film shows drag queens and models applying makeup, standing near a car inside the unknown club. (Fig. 9) This film demonstrates classic Rubin shooting style as the extreme close up shots of the subjects are intercut with blue and purple lights reflected in a saxophone. The heavy coloration present in this film is also classic Rubin, he often uses color in his VJ performances to help convey his works message and evoke emotion.

Still from Bad Girls film
Figure 19, still from Bad Girls film.

The second film, at 125 meters, was edited but had no title so it was given the title Amsterdam / New York City Super8 Film. This film shared a similar structure to the previously accessioned and digitized Rubin film Holland/USA Studies (1980), but did not seem to share all of the same footage. This film demonstrates the delightful experimental film style and interests of Rubin; he stands on a bridge in Amsterdam shooting the canal and while the canal and bridge change, the shot composition does not, creating an interesting montage of similar yet different views of canals in Amsterdam. This is followed by other classic shots; from a mirror across a busy New York City Street, building facades, extreme close up children’s paintings on fences, as well as ducks swimming, cows grazing and sheep sleeping back in Holland.

Films selected for the Collection have been catalogued in C.E. and have been properly stored, barcoded and transferred out of the depot into vaults for preservation.

P.S. for P.R.

While passive preservation of the Super8 films are complete, the work is not yet over. Due to the cultural significance and the uniqueness of the materials, it is my sincere hope that these films will soon be digitized to join the other digitized Rubin films and VHS tapes currently available to view on Eye-D. But how do we digitize short fragments of Super8 film or construct a currently deconstructed film loop? Additionally, consider that the Super8 films do not exist in isolation - they are a part of the larger Peter Rubin Collection which has no less than 6 other formats - some of which are catalogued, some not. How can the Super8 films be conceptualized with the other aspects of this Collection, in what ways can we see Rubin’s vision beyond format specificity? These questions remain for future interns, researchers, artists, and scholars. Hopefully my work provides a foundation for research, reconstructions, or exhibitions of Rubin’s work.

From the 16mm film in the Peter Rubin Collection
Figure 20, from the 16mm film in the Peter Rubin Collection.

P.P.S. for P.R.

My work at Eye with the Peter Rubin Collection has come to a close but my connection to the Collection remains. This summer in July I presented at the Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium in Bucksport, Maine where I discussed my work with the Super8 films and the wonderful gems they contain. It was a pleasure to discuss American-born Peter Rubin with an audience in the United States and to promote this Collection further. The suggestion and support for my speaking at this Symposium came from Catherine Cormon, Dorette Schootemeijer, and Simona Monizza and to them I am grateful for the experience. It has been a joy to learn and grow as an archivist with this incredibly unique Collection and I can only hope it provides the same to another intern or employee.