universities, bootlegs

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Feb 03 2006 - 22:00:51 PST

> There are universities in the US who make video dubs
> of every print they rent.

One of the reasons universities made bootlegs was because they could. Many
film programs were in the same departments as broadcasting programs, which
in the old days all had film chains in their studios including 5 blade
16mm projectors. This technology is now very passe, and I would guess that
as a result there is much less bootlegging going on now. Perhaps some of
the boot tapes that circulate now are taken from these tapes made in the
mid eighties. There was only a relatively short period in which the
presence of telecine projectors overlapped the availability of
videocassete recorders, as the later replaced the primary functions of the
former. I would guess that more recent bbotlegs originate from private
parties who have primitive telecine projectors or, as one msg noted, just
shot video of a standard projection, forget about the pulldown and live
with the flicker.

In the late eighties I gained brief access to the videotape archive of a
well-known university that had made a lot of bootlegs. They were all on
Betmax tape, which tells you something about the time of origin.. the
format was already obsolete by that time. There was a fairly large
selection of stuff there, but I wouldn't say they had taped every print
they rented. The titles seemed more selective with a bias toward the

To anyone who might be incensed that a University would do this, let me
note several things. These tapes AFAIK were never used in classes, and the
program certainly did not renting films for screenings. Access to the
secret stash was very difficult to obtain. It's purpose was clear-- to
allow serious scholars the opportunity to study films in detail or in
breadth of genre in a way that would have been completely impossible via
rentals. This only enabled more work to be published or presented at
conference about the films, which could only lead to greater interest in
the films and to more academics having reasons to rent them later on for

I shall confess that as a completely impoverished grad student with no
funds to rent films, I smuggled a couple tapes out of this library and
bootlegged the bootlegs. Oddly enough given this discussion, one of the
tapes I copied contained 4 Kubelka films. Arnulf Rainer on video was a
complete, joke of course. I had seen Adebar Schwecater and Unsere
Africareise on film several years earlier, and I must say I thought they
held up quite well on video FWIW. Now, I'll also confess that during my
first full time (but temp) teaching job I actually showed Schwecater to
one of my classes. Again, before the self-righteous gasp in disgust, let
me give some more context. This was not a class in experiemntal film, or
even in film. It as actually a class in radio production in a traditional
broadcasting curriculum. I was trying to interject some creativity into
this area and introduce some ideas from contemporary art, in the abstract
mainly, into the discussion. It was clear that the students weren't
getting it. I realized I needed some concrete example of something to
illustrate what I was trying to say so I grabbed the Kubelka tape on the
spur of the moment on the way into class the next day. The students were
suitably jarred, and it helped them.

So I think the people who decry the availability of films on video, and
would only have them shown in proper public screenings with legitimate
film rentals don't really understand education as a whole. I'll agree that
a course in the study of independent/experimental films with a set
syalabus and screening schedule should be taught with real film, properly
rented, whenever possible. But this is only the tip of the iceberg as far
as the possible educational value of these films in a broader context of
general education i concerned, and makes no account of the often
improvisatory nature of good teaching. And I would argue that it is
exactly this kind of usage, 'casual'and temorally direct, that the Fair
Use clause means to protect by 'educational use.' It is, in fact, a great
asset to our culture to have a wide selection of film materials readily at
hand in a way that they can be used on the spur of the moment in off the
cuff inspirational ways, both in teaching and elsewhere. I don't believe
this violates any artist's intent as the context doesn't say 'here you
have fully experienced this art in its true and complete form.' The use
isn't even ABOUT the work, really, just employing certain elements of it
to include in an intellectual stew and stir up the pot. And from these
acorns who know what trees may grow, whose interest may be piqued by the
ersatz version in a way that opens their interest to more of 'the real
thing.'? So I'm grateful that more and more material is being made
available in readily accesible forms so if I were able to find myself in
the same situation today I could grab something off my shelf that I
obtained legally on DVD and avoid any guilt feelings. Got plenty of wierd
stuff to interject if I need it. But call me nostalgic, I think all of us
-- students me, and even Kubelka -- would be better of if I had recourse
to that particular bit of metric wierdness in the putative form of a beer

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.