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The Death of Films

La mort des films

Fragility of cinema’s material formats and lost films

Réflexions sur la précarité du support film et sur les films dits « maudits »

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Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 by Céline Guilleux

Summary

For the last several years, the spread of digital technology throughout the film industry has brought renewed attention to the fates of films after their release and distribution. Despite technological advances, cinema remains a fundamentally precarious art form. The “death” of a film can be caused not only by the disappearance of a copy, but also by its alteration, and the irreversible changes thus imposed on its content and possible interpretations. There are lost films, existing only as written projects, or as accounts in newspapers and magazines; incomplete films, deteriorated over time or damaged during a screening; unfinished films; films never actually produced; even phantom films shown only once to a limited audience. All of these “dead films” are an integral part of the history of cinema.

Announcement

Argument

For the last several years, the spread of digital technology throughout the film industry has brought renewed attention to the fates of films after their release and distribution. Film preservationists, researchers and archivists from across the world have demonstrated at conferences and festivals that digital technologies are anything but a panacea, highlighting their pitfalls and the multiple complex issues they raise. Any promise of “liberating” cinema from its material existence remains a utopian ideal, as the advent of digital cinema has only prompted further questions about conservation and future screening.

Despite technological advances, cinema remains a fundamentally precarious art form. Because of the fragility of cinema’s material formats—celluloid and digital alike—films can disappear at any moment. The “death” of a film can be caused not only by the disappearance of a copy, but also by its alteration, and the irreversible changes thus imposed on its content and possible interpretations. There are lost films, existing only as written projects, or as accounts in newspapers and magazines; incomplete films, deteriorated over time or damaged during a screening; unfinished films; films never actually produced; even phantom films shown only once to a limited audience. All of these “dead films” are an integral part of the history of cinema.

In the absence the original work, a film can be embodied by remnants found in film archives (location scouting footage, rushes, outtakes) as well as non-film materials (photos, drawings, written documents, oral accounts, collections of sets and costumes). “Dead” films teach us about artistic, economic and political decisions made during the development of film projects, and can provide essential information to help preserve films that are still “living.” They can even be more instructive than some (supposedly) complete films. In a world where the preservation of films is uncertain, how can “dead” films be brought back to life? And where do such works stand in the academic field of media studies?

Since the alteration—or outright disappearance—of copies often goes unnoticed, the question of which copy we are watching is fundamental. It has become even more important with the introduction of digital cinema: the plethora of formats and varying ethical standards have resulted in uses so diverse that it would seem impossible to speak of the “final cut” of a film (despite ubiquitous promotional hype to the contrary). As viewers, how should we think about the copy, and thus the version, that we watch?

The “death” of films therefore forces us to ask essential questions about the historiography of cinema. Since the basic fragility of films must be taken into account, should cinema be seen as a “performing art”?

In order to discuss this subject in detail, we would like to invite researchers and professionals to present representative examples and contribute to this theoretical analysis relating to the writing of history and film preservation.

Topics of interest:

  • Writing film history without films, or working from fragments : the status of “dead” films in media studies; oral and written transmission of these films;
  • The myth of the “finalcut” : how versions to be preserved and screened are chosen, critiques of primary sources of information about films, the different experience of digital cinema, screening as a unique event and the question of cinematic “performances”;
  • History and economics of film preservation : the evolution of the idea of film preservation, questions about single remaining copies, the influence of large-scale changes in the medium (change from silent to sound, introduction of color, switch to digital), the loss of technical expertise on film formats, the limits to film preservation (choices about which films to preserve).

Paper proposals

Proposals for 20-minute presentations should include a 300- to 500-word summary, a title and a provisional bibliography, as well as a few lines of biographical information including your position and institution. Please submit proposals by e-mail to mortdesfilms@kinetraces.fr

before January 5, 2015.

Finished versions of contributions should be received by April 13, 2015.

Presentations and papers can be in French or English. The proceedings of the conference will be published in late 2015.

Places

  • Paris 3 - Centre Censier - salle 49 - 13 rue Santeuil
    Paris, France (75005)

Date(s)

  • Monday, January 05, 2015

Attached files

Keywords

  • cinéma, film, restauration, inachevé, précarité

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Manon BILLAUT
    courriel : manon [dot] billaut [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« The Death of Films », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, https://calenda.org/310790

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