May 29th, 2006


8 thoughts on Super 8

Home Movie Depot is the YouTube of Super 8 home movies -- a collection of fragile, stereotypical, unedited memories from about 1950 to about 1980. As you watch the films in the archive you're filled with a sense of reassurance, uneasiness, conflicting impressions of freedom and determinism. Here are eight thoughts about Super 8.

1. Everyone the same age, from the same country, really does share remarkably similar memories, framed by dead formats. Each generation's memories are "universal", and yet also pathetically specific.

2. There's a "determinism of infrastructure". Our memories are dictated by the tricycles we all rode in 1964, the cars we drove in 1971, the toys of 1984. There was a specific idea of "tricycle" and "car" and "toy" at any given point, and there was no opting out. You couldn't have a 1989 car in 1979.

3. But it isn't just cars, it's also living styles; carpets, clothes, hairstyles. We're terrible conformists, and we barely realize the extent of it. Socialization is impossible to resist; all we can do is spin it, or have different experiences of it according to our class and our culture. What were you doing in 1972? You had a beard, a ribbed yellow nylon poloneck jumper, sideburns. You were a sexy radical.

4. Paradox: As soon as we leave the consensus of a particular era, its conformist determinism of styles is shucked off. The detritus begins to represent freedom for another era. (The documentaries of Luke Fowler rummage around in other eras for just such glimpses of freedom.)

5. Neglect confers on conformism a sort of ostranenie, an alienation which begins to become liberating. One era's conformism can be another's eccentricity and otherness. Junk store chic. The meanings are all in new places because of the supervening context.

6. It's impossible not to be doing calculations in your head all the time as you watch these movies: that person must be dead 56 years later, that baby still alive but adult, that puppy dead. The more the joy (woman playing with crazy puppy in front of orange plastic chair, 1968), the more the pathos.

7. Earlier this year my friend Xavier Gautier (born 1974, married Anne Laplantine 2005) held an art exhibition at Galerie Alain Gutharc in Paris entitled "Family Films" which (as I reported back in October 2005) "spliced sequences from memorable or moving Hollywood films with Super 8 home movies his parents shot in the 70s. The result is a kind of "epic memory" in which life and media intermingle". Xavier's films are online here.

8. I've been watching these movies in tandem with The Private Life of Plants, the David Attenborough TV series from 1995. Trees, of course, can live hundreds of years. Watching humans, in comparison, is like watching something speeded up, fleeting. We're born, we reproduce, we die. We're gone in a flash; there's a yellow flare, some numbers, some leader and the spool runs off the bobbin.

But would I like to see the home movies of a tree? Actually, why not...