BFE 2013 sights and sounds

Andrew Lampert’s Bastard Film Invocation

We are buried by
We are drowning in
We cannot get out from under
The 20th century and the moving image

We are residents of 2013
Spacemen to our ancestors
Ancient to the future
Inheritors of countless reels
In all gauges and lengths
Shrunken, brittle, vinegared, broken
Musical and visual magnetic tapes
Captured on formats short-lived
Lost in our own time

We are generators of terrabytes, data dumps
Crowding the cloud with
Files named “final” and “final final”
Building labyrinths for our children’s children
Moving forward, accumulating backlog
Piles overflowing on palettes
stacks rising atop heaps
Films gathered from all corners of the world
Filling every cubic square foot of our cellars
Barely alive in dead storage
Cataloged with the barest of information
Mysterious unseen images in musty unmarked cans
That smell of boredom
Offering improbable entertainment value
Dated social significance
Negative production value
Subjective educational quality
Limited artistic integrity
Subpar acting
Unintentional surrealism
Stupefying content
Flawed construction
Questionable intentions
Dubious execution.

We are outnumbered.

For all the films canonized
listed on registries
taught in classes
Obtusely analyzed in syllable heavy dissertations
Read by no more than four people on planet Earth
For every certified classic
There are two million turkeys
In all sizes, styles and budgets
Not abandoned, but rejected
Unthinkable sums of movies
For which eyes are scarce
Life is fleeting
Films are rotting

We are witnesses
Protectors of analogue ways of seeing
Pioneers of digital access
Driven by altruism
Fueled by good will
Bound by our belief in

We gather together
Drink in hand
Asking each other
How can we get ahead
Keep pace with
Catch up to
The endless clutter of moving images
Demanding our attention
Depleting our resources

The solution is time and money
But this is not an answer
There will never be enough of either
Our orphanages are running out of beds
Preservation is privilege
And let’s be honest
Not all films were made equal.

If we look
In the attics of widows
There will be cans
In New Jersey warehouses we will find negatives
On a reef in the Pacific Ocean prints are oxidizing
Films will be discovered in the North Pole, and Antartica, too
It is said that Kim Il Sung assembled a mammoth collection of stag movies.
Where are they today?

What is to be done with those films and by-products
Burdening institutions
Crushing collectors
Held in such low esteem by their keepers
That when we speak of them
All we do is lament the space they occupy?
Existence and irrelevancy is not a given

My fellow Bastards
It is time for us to acknowledge
Our most misguided
Our most banal
Our most deviant
Our least expected
Examples of
Cinema gone wrong
Because we can only declare what is good by knowing what is bad
And having the evidence to prove it

Film is not the truth at 24 frames per second
It is proof that can be played at any speed.
Quality is illusory
This weekend we will prove it

To save and project?
To project is to save
If not for the public at large
Then for present company
Whose collective memory
Will usher these failures forward
To oblivious researchers
Inquisitive viewers
Hopeful future audiences
Who will demand to see what we have shown
Who will be curious to find out the who what where why and when
Well after we are gone
If not sooner

However honest we can be with ourselves about
Relative merit and historic record
We persist to find interest in the niche
See context in the whole
Recognize what is important and what could be if given a push
Our preferences and opinions
shape our impulses
And cannot not be ignored in the course of our work
We seek objectivity
But we are cheerleaders
We play favorites
Wishing to save everything
Wanting to make it all available
Knowing that we cannot
We are tour guides pointing fingers who
must ignore prevailing conventions of taste because
It will change
It always does

We save masterpieces
We preserve relics
We do this for history
We do this for the future
And in salvaging we must continually
Problematize the record
Ignore the facts
Wrestle with bureaucracy
Follow our assumptions
Question our initial negative reactions
Set aside some garbage rather than throw it away
Yes, even polish a turd
Because if we cannot save it allLets at least hold onto
Representative samples of our worst moments
Which in hindsight might be
Our golden hour

George Lucas’ Statement to Congress (March 3, 1988)

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tommorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.

I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art—as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.”

You can’t handle the tooth

“It is an odd thing, yet although I can take off a shattered limb, open a man’s skull, cut him for the stone, or if he is a woman deliver him of an uneasy breech-presentation in a seamanlike manner and without a qualm – not indeed with indifference to the suffering and the danger but with what may perhaps be called a professional constancy of mind – I cannot extract a tooth without real agitation. It is the same with Macmillan, though he is an excellent young man in every other respect. I shall never go to sea again without an experienced tooth-drawer, however illiterate he may be.”

“I am sorry you had such a disagreeable time,” said Jack. “Let us both take a cup of coffee.”

—From The Nutmeg of Consolation, by Patrick O’Brian. (But it might as well have been overheard at Bastards, 2013.)