Last night was the official launch of the Time/Image project and we marked the occasion with a screening at London’s renowned Somerset House. Chief Executive of New Deal of the Mind Martin Bright, Head of Digital Domesday Paul Gerhardt and Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint all gave wonderful speeches pledging their support to the work we’re currently undertaking. We screened London 1942, Steel Goes to Sea and World Garden, which were all met with great interest and applause from the 50 strong audience who came to celebrate along with us. As well as the films, Jon spoke a little about the nature of the project and our aspirations regarding where we go from here, there was also a Q&A session headed up by Sam and Jonny Mundey from New Deal of the Mind. After the success of the screening we toasted the project with much mulled wine and mince pies smothered in brandy butter. Sore heads all round at the office today … keep checking back for updates on Time/Image events and progressions in the near future.
Cataloguing the expansive selection of films that form the British Council’s documentary archive was always going to be a complex task. There are a number of considerations to take into account, from deciding on methods of categorization, to deciphering the date of release if different to the date of completion. With this in mind when reviewing back issues of the BFI’s Sight & Sound journal in the BFI Library, it proved intriguing to stumble across an article titled Cataloguing the National Film Library by E. H. Lindgren from the Autumn 1940 edition.
It seems a number of common themes translate across the seventy years since this article was written, as Lindgren states ‘[U]nfortunately, there are all sorts of practical difficulties which prevent a film being made available so easily’; however spectacular advancements in technology create a world of difference in the considerations necessary for access. Whether for the ‘single research worker, the historian of cinema, or the student of modern social history, who wishes to consult the other and larger part of the Library’, the great privilege we have in the present day is an abundance of digital technology, particularly the immense information giant that is the internet. Already we have a total of 13 films digitized and in place on the Time/Image website, these become transferable documents transcending the limitations of celluloid or nitrate, ready to be viewed on systems around the world without ‘the wear and tear caused by certain types of movieola’ that have not been approved for purpose. However, this sort of freedom does not come without its own complications that are born of the ‘digital age’, the intricacies of copyright, ownership and appropriation seemingly the most pressing.
As a fairly new medium of the time, 1940s strategies on how to best organise the storage of films were under debate as there was a lack of recognised ‘procedure’ to follow. Thoughts of a Dewey type structuring system were raised but soon discarded as ‘the weight and bulk of films, and the fact that they have to be stored in small vaults of standard size, [made] it quite impractical to store them in any subject order’. It was time for a ‘new application of cataloguing principles’ which incorporated storage methods based on the numbering of films as they were acquired, along with a numbering and lettering system ‘to denote separate reels’. Cataloguing would rely on information taken on the film’s title, theme, country of production, date of production etc., a system that has withheld the test of time and is still present today.
No matter how useful this system has been in suggesting a standardization of approach, it does not help all too much with answering the questions cataloguingraises, those that grow from the complexities of the individual works that are to be ‘tamed’. For instance, would The Life of the Rabbit be recognised as a film about nature, about reproduction or could it be classed under the umbrella title of ‘education’? It’s a tricky business and not one that advancements in technology can necessarily improve, it appears more a matter of opinion, a personal reading of the film and the resonance that it makes with the individual, the ‘intimate’ language of the film as it were. As we continue the process of organising, curating and debating themes that resonate within the works, we are not suggesting a prescribed method of approach to the archive itself. We are demonstrating the individualised interaction film can enact, highlighting routes into the archive and illustrating the multitude of ways viewing can be approached regardless of whether it’s on television, a smart-phone or in a viewing room on 35 mm.
Lindgren comments at the end of his article, ‘the task is an important one and in view of the absence of precedent cannot be too carefully undertaken. I must therefore conclude by saying that if any interested person regarding these notes feels that he can help us with suggestions we shall be most grateful to receive them.’ The concept of cataloguing and the archive is constantly evolving, largely down to the ways in which we use available resources, therefore it seems appropriate to re-iterate Lindgren’s statement and once again encourage comment, debate and discussion on methods of collection and collation of material. If you have any thoughts on the matter … please let us know!
Lindgren, E., ‘Cataloguing the National Film Library’ in Sight & Sound, Vol.9, No. 35, Autumn 1940, pp. 50 – 51.
The TIME/IMAGE team love a success story and we are always on the look out for an unsung hero amongst the BC Documentary Film Archive. This time round, however, we may have found someone with a status worthy of being deemed a superhero…
Geoffrey Unsworth OBE is one of, if not the most decorated member of all the BC Documentary Film alumni. One of the very first shorts that he worked on is the BC’s very own World Garden. Plying his trade as a cameraman and cinematographer, Unsworth, like many of the BC Documentary Film graduates, used the short film format as an experimental playground before making his way into features. During this time spent working on documentary shorts Unsworth established working relationships with other talented individuals who have worked on BC films, and who went on to continued success thereafter; most notably Ken Annakin, Ralph Keene and Jack Cardiff.
Following World Garden, it took a little more than 5 years to pass before Unsworth made the transition into feature film. A career that spanned nearly 35 years and involved working with names like Minnelli, Lumet, Powell, Pressburger, Olivier, Attenborough, Boorman, Polanski and Kubrick (the list goes on, believe me!), resulted in masterpieces like An American in Paris, Murder on the Orient Express, A Bridge too Far, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Cabaret; and to top it all off earned him 5 BAFTAs and 2 Oscars.
Geoffrey Unsworth was arguably one of the greatest cinematographers of his generation. His final feature Superman, completed before his death, was dedicated to him ‘with love and respect’, crowning off a career littered with achievements from a talent that continually soared.