Image from “Sara with Kitten,” 1975, Berwick, Pennsylvania. Source: Amy Gallick. From the DVD Living Room Cinema: Films from Home Movie Day, Vol. 1.
I used to work for a major film archive, so right off the bat I’d like to share one of the concerns of the people who run the growing Home Movie Day movement. People, keep your originals! Many people spend mega-ducats to digitize their precious super-8 or 16mm home movies only to discard the originals. But transfer technologies are imperfect, and properly stored, that reel of celluloid will most likely outlast any commercial DVD-R.
Home Movie Day was begun by a group of film archivists in 2002. Film collector and historian Rick Prelinger of the Internet Archive contributes an essay to the DVD. Living Room Cinema: Films from Home Movie Day, Volume 1, which he calls “a reference point and a beginning, the first intentional compilation of distinguished, exemplary, surreal and funny home movies. It exposes the best of Home Movie Day to a broader world.”
Twenty-two home movies are featured in this collection, which are taken from submissions Home Movie Day events around the world. Their subjects include important historical figures: Thomas Edison is among those seen in “1928 Kodacolor Party,” filmed on the grounds of what is now the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester; as well as the lives of everyday people, from a wedding reception featuring hearing-impaired guests, to a 1950’s Bar Mitvah, to 1980 high shcool home movie (the last featuring a glimpse of former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome). The fragility of film emulsion is highlighted by the hypnotic “Decomposed Carnival,” a beautifully decayed record of the 1960s at leisure.
Much of the film footage shown is silent, so this is one DVD where the commentary is an essential part of the presentation. For most of these titles, the film’s owners can be heard narrating the footage, as if we’re visiting 22 living rooms across the decades.
In an age when sharing images is more and more ubiquitous, Living Room Cinema (the William Morris wallpaper used in the pacakging is a nice touch) is an crucial artifact, and one hopes there are more volumes to come. The brochure also includes advice on how to set up your own local chapter of Home Movie Day. The most important points to stress to attendees: Don’t throw away your originals, and please consider donating your films to an archive.