Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Screen Decades Project (Introduction)

From the GCM Catalogue: "Last year the Pordenone Silent Film Festival highlighted the 30th anniversary of the Brighton conference, organized in March 1978 by the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). Eileen Bowser (archivist at the MoMA in New York at the time) and David Francis (then head of the National Film Archive in London) had the idea of putting together for the occasion a major program of 600 films produced between 1900 and 1906 scattered about in 17 film archives around the world. As is well known, the 5 days of screenings that resulted changed our vision of film history. This belated discovery of early cinema was the prime catalyst of a movement that opened the door to a whole new generation of film historians who, through their study of early cinema, have reshaped the way film history is studied.

This year the Festival is organizing something of a sequel to this tribute to Brighton, with the present program around the publication of two anthologies which are neither more nor less than an outgrowth of Brighton 1978. Not only is the first of these two volumes dedicated “To Eileen Bowser and David Francis, who made Brighton 1978 possible,” but Eileen Bowser has contributed an article to each of the two books. (For his part, David Francis planned to write a text for the first volume but in the end was obliged to withdraw.) The two books (American Cinema, 1890-1909, edited by André Gaudreault, and American Cinema of the 1910s, edited by Charlie Keil and Ben Singer, New Brunswick [N.J.]: Rutgers University Press, 2009) are part of a series of 10 volumes which form a sweeping history of American cinema of the 20th century. As the series editors Lester D. Friedman and Murray Pomerance write, “Each volume in the Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema series presents a group of original essays analyzing the impact of cultural issues on the cinema and the impact of the cinema in American society. Because every chapter explores a spectrum of particularly significant motion pictures and the broad range of historical events in one year, readers will gain a continuing sense of the decade as it came to be depicted on movie screens across the continent.”

The program of films shown at Pordenone, coordinated by the present author in collaboration with Lisa Pietrocatelli of the Groupe de recherche sur l’avènement et la formation des institutions cinématographique et scénique (GRAFICS) at the Université de Montréal, is just a sample of the hundred or so films given close scrutiny in the two volumes. Each volume contains 10 chapters written by specialists in early cinema in the United States, most of whom are regular visitors to the Giornate: Richard Abel, Jennifer Bean, Eileen Bowser, André Gaudreault, Lee Grieveson, Tom Gunning, Charlie Keil, Rob King, James Latham, Patrick Loughney, Leslie Midkiffe DeBauche, Charles Musser, Lauren Rabinovitz, Scott Simmon, Ben Singer, Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, Matthew Solomon, Paul C. Spehr, and Shelley Stamp. – André Gaudreault". - A

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