2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge (Book 5) Mining The Home Movie: Excavations In Histories And Memories

When one considers a notion of classic film they often find themselves looking back with great fondness upon Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman sharing an ill-fated kiss in Casablanca or a maniacal Charles Foster Kane uttering the seemingly incoherent phrase Rosebud.  These are sentimental favorites for cinephiles the world over, yet movies, or more specifically their function in our daily lives, at one time took on a layer of the personal through the home movie.  The home movie, often shot by a father hoping with great aspiration to capture the fleeting memories of his children and wife at Christmas, during the first day of school or moments of sheer wonder which occur during a first snowfall, are equally cinematic, to the previously mentioned attachment to an loaded phrase that turns out to be nothing more than a sled.  Home movies, much like Kane's Rosebud represent something lost that can never truly be reclaimed, or so it would appear.  The anthology, which discusses the nature of home movies, as well as where the major collections of such film are held within The United States and a handful of European countries that is Mining the Home Movie is nothing short of a revelation.  Edited by Karen Ishizuka and Patricia Zimmerman, Mining the Home Movie takes one one of the more enigmatic pieces in the catchall world of "orphan" films (all those cinematic works that fall outside of traditional realm of commercial filmmaking.  Indeed, as the editors and the many contributors to this text point out, the home movie takes on a very important cultural level in an era prior to the movement towards digitization, wherein anyone with an Iphone could become a chronicler of events, the recent inception of Vine making that a much more condensed and non-engaging endeavor.  Indeed, the home movie in all its personal appeal to the original recorder of the events, nonetheless, transcends the private space and often serves as a larger commentary for a social setting, images of gender during eras or as a few of the articles suggest detailed and rarefied considerations of what a racial minority might have experienced during an era of heightened segregation in various settings.  Mining the Home Movie is a wonderful text, because it takes something that has become almost antiquated in popular culture and breathes new life into its existence, suggesting that these decade old pieces of amateur documentary filmmaking are more pertinent than ever both in a artistic and social sense, demanding that the works, may of which have fallen into ill-repair receive equal if not greater attention than their commercial counterparts, because while it is amazing that Metropolis continues to obtain new sections of film when discovered in South American film warehouses, it is also worth noting that an entire filmed documentation of one families experiences in a Japanese internment camp continue to go unseen by large audiences.

As noted, Mining the Home Movie makes certain to draw upon both the artistic and social relevance of the home movie, first noting that as a frame of cultural production, the home movie does exist in a rather problematic state.  First off, as multiple authors note, the home movie exists in a state of hyper-fabrication.  Despite the amateur filmmakers intending to capture their family at their most intimate, the movie image in this context is quite similar to the photograph in that those filming sought to create an idyllic version of family life, only allowing the camera to roll when all parties involved were smiling and willing to engage with camera.  As such, many a home movie take on an ethereal state of impossibility, wherein domesticity seems far too perfect and children always in a state of perfect behavior.  Nonetheless, it is in this performance of reality that the collective of the book suggests that our understanding of a social reality is best drawn, not because it is true, but because it was the expectation.  Authors like Ishizuka, however, take this idea a step further and suggest that the reuse of this footage can help artists to challenge the establishment or canonical understanding of history by reconfiguring the images and narratives of home movies to draw out previously silenced voices and rework misunderstandings in the historical narrative. This is perhaps most true with the footage captured by one family during their time in a Japanese internment camp, which might seem quite arbitrary were one not given the context of the film.  Aside from one passing shot of a guard tower the footage, Ishizuka discusses takes on no level more than a family enjoying one another's company, however, not that it has been verified that it was captured during their time in the camp, when projected with this preface each work takes on a layer of meaning that was previously invisible.  To a degree this can only happen in the non-fiction film, although I will admit their are fictive exceptions and with each home movie that is uncovered one cannot help but hope that a cloud of uncertainty floats over the work, perhaps waiting to be uncovered and pieced together to reconsider the entire understanding of a moment in history.  In an era of over saturated documentation, things have lost a degree of sincerity and meaning that may never return and a work like Mining the Home Movie demands that we look back to what is being tossed to the way side in hopes that it will helps us not only reflect on the past, but also carefully navigate our future before it becomes far too detached to ever narratively reassemble.

Best Film Discovery of the Book:  I currently intern in a film archive and had been reluctant to get behind working with the home movie collections available, this work single-handedly made me reconsider how I should and could engage with such works.  It does not have a single filmic discovery, but exists as a call to look for a "new" type of film to discuss by reflecting on things considered extremely outdated.  This text is a necessity for any cinephile, even those strictly attached to the world of commercial narrative film.


  1. Wow this is fascinating! I was just thinking the other day about home videos and film preservation and while not completely related it is interesting studying home videos as an art form or contributor to art. These days with new technologies so many more videos are created too. This definitely sounds like a book I'd want to read. Thanks for your insightful review!

  2. You would be surprised how relevant your thought is to the world of home movies, particularly since it is usually on the shoulders of film preservationists to tackle the murky waters of the self-recorded home movies, which prove intriguing because they have a sense of the personal that exist in cinematic experiences, but considering that the personable nature of these unique works is contingent upon the initial filmmaker, certain scenes and sequences out of this familial context can become quite alienating and profound.