From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Oct 15 2010 - 18:30:45 PDT
On Oct 15, 2010, at 12:43 PM, Steve Polta wrote:
> It is my understanding that the advent of exp. film on DVD (e.g.
> Brakhage) has negatively impacted the film co-ops' circulation of
> work, presumably due to schools' use of DVD in the classroom as
> opposed to renting films.
All I want for Christmas is for this cannard to die. At least Steve
tempers his statement with the qualifiers "my understanding" and
"presumably," gaining some distance from Scott MacDonald's screeds
about how the evil professors are destroying film art by not renting
from the co-ops, not projecting real _film_, yada yada yada. If only
the professoriat actually had the power to decide the fate of the
artform, for good or ill.
Let me explain one more time (please please please let it be the last)
how this actually works.
The reason teachers use DVDs in the classroom is because film
projection has become impractical for all but the big programs and the
superstar professors who get special treatment from the powers that be.
1. Most film faculty are on the low rung of the academic totem pole.
They don't get budgets for film rentals, and they have too many other
problems to spend what little political capital they have to fight the
administration in an attempt to get a rental budget. Unless they can
get the library to buy it, they can't show it. And the library will
buy a video if you ask them nice.
2. In the 'old days' every academic institution had extensive support
for 16mm projection as a general educational tool. That support is now
TOTALLY gone. Schools don't own working 16mm projectors. If you ask
the Media Services department to provide one, they'll tell you they
can't support a technology with so narrow a user base (because it's
really just you). If you dig up an old projector, there's not just no
one on campus who can do maintenance on it, there's no one on campus
who has any idea where to go to get maintenance on it. On the other
hand, you can get the school to spend a bucketload on a nice video
projector for the auditorium because it's 'sexy' new technology that
will impress everybody and lots of people will want to use.
3. At the risk of stating the obvious, film professors are in the
business of having students study moving-image art works, their duty
is to maximize learning, get the students to write better papers. And
the majority of things the majority of professors want students to
think about are a) as much present in a decent video copy as in a film
print b) easier to unpack and yield to inquiry with repeated viewing
of key segments -- which, of course, can be easily done with videos
but not with film prints.
4. To be blunt, film faculty are mostly academic grunts, proles in
masquerade, with more independence than workers on an auto assembly
line perhaps, but still relatively powerless and subject to the
dictates of their bosses. The professors do not define their own jobs,
create their own parameters of judgement. The institution does. Like
any worker, when faculty deviate from the prevailing dictates they put
their livelihoods in peril. Believe me, if Young Film Professor goes
into a review with the Dean or the T&P committee, and they ask, "and
what have you accomplished" and YFP says "well, I've helped support
film artists by consistently renting films from Canyon and FMC!"
they're gonna say, "Uh, supporting artists is not your job. You're
supposed to be getting the best learning results from your students."
And of course, in that, they would be right.
So if you want to show real films, first you have to scrape up some
money for rentals, which, if even possible, means you probably have to
sacrifice something else really important. Then you have to find a
projector - which you'll probably have to buy on eBay with your own
money, not that that's a big deal. Then you have to figure out to work
the projector, since no one else on campus knows hows and as a YFP you
saw lots of real films in grad school but you never actually touched a
projector. So then you thread up that print from FMC on your second-
hand Eiki that isn't really lubed and adjusted quite right, and you
discover the print is pretty much of a mess, with half-a-dozen tape
splices that are pulling apart (and were made sloppily to begin with).
So the film breaks and/or jumps out of the path, and starts piling up
on the not very clean floor. And you have no idea where you're going
to get the funds to replace the print without your department chair or
the Dean catching on.
Now I'm not a YFP. I'm an old geezer, I come out of a production
background from back in the day when we shot film and projected it
ourselves all the time. I even had a campus job as a classroom
projectionist when I was a freshman. And I'm a gearhead, tinkerer, DIY
kinda guy besides. I can disassemble a Filmo and put it back together.
I've made hundreds and hundreds of tape splices in my day, and I know
how to fix a bad one. And I've still gone through pretty much the
exact scenario described in the last paragraph. And it totally freaked
me out. And since i know more about what I'm doing with film equipment
than even most old geezer faculty, I have no clue how any YFP could be
expected to handle something like that.
So basically, unless you were hired explicitly with teaching and
writing about experimental film as a central aspect of your brief,
making the expenditures involved in showing real films, in terms of
its consumption of your operating budget, in terms of its demands on
your time, in terms of its threat to your fragile sanity -- amounts
not just to impracticality but a dereliction of your duties to your
students and the intellectual substance of your field.
Now, this is a relatively recent development, a corollary of the death
of 16mm as an 'AV' staple used to deliver educational materials. Not
that long ago, things were very different. We are talking about a
major technological shift here, against which the mere wills of
faculty one way or the other are essentially trivial. The coops will
change or die, because their operating model is dependent on the
existence of a customer base of a certain size being capable of
projecting 16mm as a matter of routine. That particular critical mass
is gone, and what is left will only continue to shrink. They don't
make projectors anymore. It's hard to get parts. People aren't
training to become projector techs, because it's not exactly a good
Am I happy about any of this? Not at all. You can take my Pageant when
you pry it out of my cold dead fingers (not that I have anything to
show on it...but...) In case anyone is wondering what I did in my
experimental film class... I did not do the prudent thing, which would
have been to schedule all of our screenings out of titles available on
video, and add something like an excursion to Anthology to provide at
least one 'genuine film' experience for the students. Instead, I
decided to show what I really wanted to show, and I used video if a
good copy was available (the Fantoma Anger discs, for example), and
rented prints if not ('Chronic' for example, and of course 'Christmas
on Earth'). This amounted to maybe 60-40. I had the luxury of having a
pretty healthy budget for the production side of the program that
allowed me to scrimp enough to fund the print rentals, and also the
'luxury' of not having to worry about the Dean, since he already had
no use for me or the Film Program anyway. So I busted my ass to keep
the projectors running, upgrade the projection, do all the paperwork
for the rentals (no secretarial support, nada), arrange to bring in
some guest makers... I put twice he effort into that class than any of
my other courses, not that I cut corners there. I just worked harder,
at the expense of increasing stress on my out-of-school existence.
Which contributed to the burnout/breakdown that ultimately led to the
loss of my position and what is most likely the end of my career. So
if you wanna get into pious blame-the-professors crap with me, you had
better have an asbestos cover for your tuchus.
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