Film Comment

As They Lived and Breathed

THE FAVORED MARKETING NARRATIVE ATTACHED TO FILMS THAT ARE HEAVILY comprised of archival footage usually includes the word “lost.” There’s an obvious romantic appeal to unearthing decades-forgotten boxes buried in basements and attics—one that I very much understand. But I also think there’s an overemphasis on “newly discovered material,” to which we assign an inherent and prurient value, and far less attention is given to how the meaning of older materials (rare and otherwise) alter once they are detached from their contexts and reapplied. There’s also the information embedded in who was doing the film recording, what it was shot on, who paid for it, who has decided it deserves preservation, and why. I think the most powerful use of archival material is found in films that try to wrestle with some elements of this.

Accordingly, one of the major tensions in my work as an archival researcher is

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