Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Be (Dis)Continued: An Archive of What Wasn't

In her book Dust: The Archive and Cultural History, Carolyn Steedman discusses the fragmentary nature of archives, and the stories they leave out. She says, “And nothing starts in the Archive, nothing ever at all though things certainly end up there. You find nothing in the Archive but stories caught halfway through: the middle of things. Discontinuities.” Every day on the inventory project we are in the middle of things – of some story we are unraveling about Kartemquin and its films. This can be difficult when you are digging through boxes of poorly labeled tapes, and film cans where the labels cracked off. 

KTQ staff, including co-founder Gordon Quinn, help us identify and understand what something is, how a certain film was made, etc. and we record that information in our database. We do as much as possible while leaving enough breadcrumbs on the trail.

A recent example of this is a film in the archive known only as Science Project. While looking for elements from another film, Lyra found a box labeled with this rather nondescript title. It begged a few questions.

Gordon explained:
It was a Kartemquin project. We were not able to raise the money to finish it but have the material to tell an interesting story about science and the drama surrounding it. We followed a group of U of C scientists lead by Leonard Wharton and my friend Danny Auerbach to build a linear accelerator for molecules. When they turned it on after years of work at first they were jumping up and down because they thought it was working and a huge breakthrough. As they continued testing it into the wee hours of the morning they came to realize that they were seeing a false signal and that the apparatus had a fundamental design flaw. My friend Danny loses his voice. It is a film about the outcome of most experiments—they fail. There is a rough cut of the film somewhere with workprint and track that was transferred off the Steenbeck in very low quality. The VHS of that may be over my desk.”

The irony is of course that Science Project (shot in the early 70s) is a film about failure that in its own way also failed. Potential funders would not support it. It is now housed in a room at The Hall with other projects not finished for one or another reason. Apart from the story each of these incomplete films intended to tell and never did, together they have become an unintended archive of the unfundable - an important, invisible history of independent filmmaking: a history of what wasn't.

As we approach this part of the collection during the inventory, we can only imagine the stories behind these abandoned projects which, if we are lucky, end with poor video transfers of rough cuts on VHS tapes over Gordon's desk. 

Post by Carolyn Faber 

  The Kartemquin Inventory Project is generously funded by:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Viva La Public Art in Chicago

Hello, my name is Lyra, and I'm in charge of the film elements in Kartemquin's archive. I handle all of the 16mm film and magnetic tape, with some open-reel audio and 70's radical newspapers thrown in.

Most of my time is spent digging through rusty cans for moldy film strips that smell so strongly of vinegar that I have to wear a dust mask. It's heartbreaking to open a box of original negative, a most precious resource, and find it in poor condition. Thankfully, the elements in the worst condition are generally the 'trims and outs' - tiny strips of picture and sound snipped from shots during the conforming process, too small for interesting outtakes, and usually duplicates of higher quality material. Of course, trims and outs are important too, and you never know when a two foot strip of film is the only existent copy of that recorded instant.

The elements that tend to be in the best shape are, thankfully, the most important ones. To make a finished print of a 16mm film, you need a master mix track and an edited negative. The negative can be in a number of different forms. Typically, you'd start with A&B rolls - multiple strands, made up of alternating shots, which combine when printed to complete a seamless movie. A&B rolls are the most precious materials because they're made up of pure, original footage - the very film that ran through the camera in the first place!

We're working through films chronologically, so my era falls between 1966-1988, with a few exceptions. Around 1974, I encountered the elements for the film Viva La Causa, a succinct look at murals in Chicago's Pilsen community, produced and directed by Teena Webb, one of the original members of the Kartemquin collective. Viva La Causa was shot on color reversal film, and I found all the necessary elements to produce a beautiful print, including A&B rolls in perfect condition.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I was handed another box, speculated to contain elements of Viva La Causa, with pristine A&B rolls inside! Public Art in Chicago and Teena Webb's name were all over the contents. Common knowledge held that Public Art in Chicago was an alternative title for Viva La Causa, and when I looked at the footage, I saw shots of the same murals that appear in Viva La Causa. But, while both films were the same length, and on reversal film stock, Public Art in Chicago was in both B&W and color, with a different credit sequence. Besides, having found A&B rolls of both films, I knew it was impossible that they shared footage. What had been assumed to be an alternative title ended up being a completely different film that nobody remembered!

It's still a mystery as to where Public Art in Chicago originates. The prevailing theory is that it's a personal project of Teena Webb's, made in conjunction with Viva La Causa - or perhaps a collaboration with the Public Works Commission of Chicago. As much as I'd like to know, we have to stay focused on the inventory for now and hope that along the way, further investigation will reveal some answers. In the meantime, I'll be chugging along, dusting off other gems lying within the rusty bodies of better-known works.

The Kartemquin Inventory Project is generously funded by:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hoop Dreams Pick Up Lines

Hey all, archive lady Jenna here.
I wanted to talk a little about the weird and sometimes surreal labels I find on project elements while sorting through boxes.

For the most part, a video tape will have written on it some pretty useful movie-jargon that helps us determine how to catalog it. But for practicality's sake and because a production team has to deal with SO much media, not every label is written with loving care- or legibly. Pieces of tape with handwritten abbreviations and processing-house labels with typewritten misspellings are translatable though,  I mean, I suppose it's my job understand them. But I won't pretend I don't let my mind wander on these prompts. Incongruous markings on any one tape begin forming narratives and ideas for bigger projects. Stay with me.

A Betacam tape labeled in ballpoint pen, "HD injury interview" could be a High Definition interview of someone's sentient head wound, but its not. I know it to be a camera master tape of Hoop Dreams' William, who injured his knee and gave interviews on the subject. But the other day, when I came across an audio cassette labeled "Hoop Dreams Pick Up Lines", I couldn't keep it to myself.

So, technically "pick up lines" are bits of narration and interviews that will be added to (or replace) parts of a movie's previously recorded audio. I told the Kartemquin staff, 'Let's ignore what we know this is and let the basketball-themed innuendos fly.' They came up with some amazing ones, and so did some people on the ole Facebook. So here is a collection of what I got back, a bunch of pick-up lines that may work on a honey who has recently seen Kartemquin's 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, or just really, really likes some b-ball.

- Get ready for a free-throw baby, 'cause I'm great for holding.
- Did you get recruited to St. Joseph's? 'Cause baby you got gaaame.
- I bring my towel on the court with me 'cause when I see you I can't stop dribbling.
- Baby you tryin' to recruit me? 'Cause I'm not tall, I'm just sitting on my wallet.
- Four years ago all I used to dream about was playing in the NBA. Now, I dream about you, darling. -Tim Horsburgh
- I have more bonus features than the Criterion Hoop Dreams DVD. Want to be in a deleted scene? -Zak Piper
- Girl, I wish Steve James was here so he could narrate what goes through my head when I'm with you. -Zak Piper
- I know we just met and all, but let's not re-create Hoop Dreams... do we really have to sit here for three hours before we get to the good part? -Zak Piper
- I was Hoop Dreamin' of you and guess what? I got a slaaaam dunk! -Dan Stewart
- I was a player, but I took a seat on the bench for you. -Kia Monét
- I know I got you on the rebound, but once I drove downcourt, it was a swish; nothin' but net. -David Depew
- Come on back to my place and we can get cozy... and we wont have to worry about turning the lights off. -John Facile

Post by Jenna Caravello

The Kartemquin Inventory Project is generously funded by: