Re: home movies and experimental film

From: Tom B Whiteside (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Jul 23 2006 - 20:10:43 PDT

It's not necessarily something I want to debate endlessly, but I do think
it would be worthwhile to consider a tighter critical description of "home
movies." I know that the basic call here was for examples that might show
some degree of genre-expanding cross fertilization (or somesuch....) but I
many of the other titles mentioned recently have anything to do with home
movies, and I think it's a disservice to both sides. I watch a lot of home
movies, and grew up with my own (first onscreen and later behind the
camera) and think that the genre is commonly defined too loosely, too
casually. Amateur film is a very large field, and a lot of artists worked
in that field. There is a great range of amateur film, it is practically
boundless. Home movies are a specific subset of amateur film; some artists
worked in this field. The limits are more clearly defined.

Going back to a Golden Age of Home Movies (baby boomers such as myself
were the subjects) consider this - the people on screen and the people in
the audience were the same. We watched ourselves, our families, our
neighborhood parades. And although the shooting locations might have
been in and around the same house as the screening location (the den? the
living room? where was the cinema in your house?) some shooting locations
were quite far away, as in the case of travelogues and vacation pictures.
Once I was very eager to watch the home movies of a guy who had lived his
entire life in the county to which I had just moved. He was an interesting
person, I wanted to know more about the area (Wilkes County, North
Carolina) so I watched his 30 and 40 year old home movies with him. They
were all shot in Hawaii, Japan, Grand Canyon, places like that. (I didn't
learn much about Wilkes County from what was on the screen, but I learned
a lot about him.) In any case, I think that the key element in defining
home movies might be this - they were made to be shown at home.

Jem Cohen was working for a much wider audience when he made LOST BOOK
FOUND - he didn't make it for the people who appear on screen. Even though
Ross McElwee's work has focused on himself and members of his family,
everyone thought he was simply wasting his time until he started winning
all those awards in places like Berlin and New York. There are many layers
of structure in NORTH ON EVERS, not to mention the technical bravura of a
hand-written text crawling across the bottom. When I think of this work
(and I love them dearly, one and all) I just can't think of much that
would connect them to home movies. LOST BOOK FOUND is a late city
symphony, McElwee is some kind of autobiographical genius, NORTH ON EVERS
is a multifaceted documentary that covers a tremendous range of issues and

Eveyone one knows it already, but it's worth repeating - home movies were
different from home video. Nobody ever let the camera run that long, you
never could shoot much in low light, and generally home movies were
silent. Some people still shoot home movies, in 8mm, S8, 16mm; however,
most people shoot home video. Anytime, anywhere, any light, just start
recording and let it go....shoot the entire parade in one long take.....
automatic sync sound whether you want it or not..... home video is a very
different kind of moving picture.

Wasn't it Jonas Mekas who said that home movies are the great folk art of
the 20th century middle class? (no, I don't remember where I read that...)

Full disclosure - in my first screen appearance, I peed on my grandmother.
Although she is long gone and my bladder control is faultless these days,
the Kodachrome has not faded.

        - Whiteside

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