Home Movies: Reel Time

abstract: 

Home movies have escaped the domestic confines of family gatherings, lounge-room walls and dark cupboards, to enjoy a renaissance within contemporary, image-saturated society. Why this relatively recent shift in attitude and representation of historical home movie footage within media production and archival practice? I'm interested in exploring how home movie footage and aesthetics have been incorporated into Australian screen practice, particularly documentary film and screen-based art, since 1998. By focusing on several case studies and examples of work, I want to see who is telling stories; how they are inserting home movies back into public history and what are the social implications.

author/s: 

Many old home movies have escaped the domestic confines of family gatherings, lounge-room walls and dark cupboards, to find a new life within contemporary, image-saturated society. In this thesis, I am interested in exploring how home movie footage has been incorporated into Australian screen practice, particularly screen-based art and documentary, since the late 1990s. I want to ask if there has been an aesthetic shift in attitudes towards and representation of historical home movie footage within contemporary media production. By focusing on several case studies, I will examine a number of questions including: who is telling these ‘new’ stories; how are they inserting home movies within a more public history; and what are the social implications of this activity?

The home movie has always been the poor cousin in the cinema family, with popular discourse marking it out as synonymous with a conventional mode of production, aesthetic, ideology and identity. It generally reveals aspects of social history and represents private domestic culture. Largely the product of the enthusiastic amateur, it was dismissed for its often shaky camera work, dodgy light exposure and ordinary, everyday subject. So when did ‘ordinary’ get promoted to ‘extraordinary’? In the image-saturated contemporary world, if ‘old home movies’ is no longer a term of derision, or a metaphor for ‘bad, boring, amateur films’, and these movies instead have currency as ‘cultural artefacts’ and value in facilitating ‘alternative histories’, how does this mirror broader changes in social attitudes and historiography when home movies are used in contemporary texts to reinterpret specific private histories and memories, as well as public ones? Most of the films I am examining in this thesis recontextualise images from home movies produced between 1925 and 1975, concentrating on appropriation practice since its ‘reappearance’ within Australian feminist films during the early 1970s. T

his thesis comprises three chapters. Chapter one deals with a range of issues including my specific connection to and experiences of viewing home movies, and provides a critique of the writing previously published on amateur film and home movies, particularly those materials that deal with the Australian context. In Chapter two I will give a brief introduction to home movie usage and practice in Australia and analyse several works which are important antecedents to the current wave of home movie (re)use in Australian screen practice. Chapter three will focus on 21st century narratives, digital distribution, cultural institutes (e.g. the National Film and Sound Archive) and future developments in home movie reuse. I will perform a textual analysis of work by the video artist Shaun Wilson and several episodes of the documentary series Homemade History (2003). I will look at the changes brought about by social media, in particular YouTube, and investigate specific instances of how home movies enter the public realm. I will also examine contemporary archival practice and discuss home movie reuse ‘projects in development’.

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