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The origins and early development of the National Film Library : 1929-1936 by Christophe Dupin (2006) Research Assistant on “History of the British Film Institute” @ University of London Presentation by Gisèle Herrmann
Summary • Historical description of the development of the National Film Library (in the BFI) • Heavy use of primary sources from the archives • Emphasis on struggle between educational, preservation and exhibition focus • Detailed description of financial and staffing proposals and subsequent denials as well as organizational (re)structuring
Contemporary Comparisons • Alludes to other film library efforts in Europe and the US • Comparison is primarily temporal • Does not focus on differences in development, funding or collections • Few exceptions: failure to purchase particular personal collection, lack of pedagogical materials on film theory, technique and development
Ideal Type Comparison ? • Author continually asserts surprise at dominance of “educationists” in the development of the NFL • His “Ideal Type” National Film Library would seem to function in the same way the British Museum Library (for books) functions • The “essential film repository” p. 209: to store copies of every item produced in the country and other items of interest for preservation purposes • Not to distribute films for educational purposes • Is this really a classic “Ideal Type” comparison? OR…
An example of being “Outside the contemporary fabric”? • How else would films be distributed for educational purposes at the time? • How could one propose throwing funding at an institution with few practical benefits to offer and immense storage needs? • BFI distribution wing currently exists as distributor for educational purposes • Comparison to other contemporary national film libraries would show a great emphasis on pedagogical uses of film – author alludes to this point on occasion • These issues can be attributed to the lack of consultation to secondary sources
Vagueness & citations • Many facts that should be cited are not • Some would appear to be personal knowledge: “Some of the most ruthless representatives of the trade…” p. 203 Tendency to destroy prints after use to protect asset p. 199 • Some appear too detailed to be personal knowledge Comparison between proposed levels of staffing vs. actual levels p. 207 Detailed description of Ernest Lindgren becoming BFI’s first financial information officer p. 205 • Some information is clearly from specific works/documents, but page numbers or descriptive locations are not provided p. 207
Story Telling • Dramatic story telling occasionally contradicts evidence • Frequently stresses unrealistic nature of early proposal • Enumerates a series of defeats in detail (financial, government sponsorship and repository-related) over a span of more than 3 years • Claims “The initial plan drafted by the Sub-Committee on the NFL suddenly became a rather unrealistic one” p. 208 • Overlooks possible “silences”– was the initial proposal perhaps purposefully unrealistic?
More Story Telling • “It had soon become obvious to Lindgren that public screenings of films in its collection were inherent to the work of a modern film archive” p. 213 • It is not revealed to the reader (1) how Lindgren came to this conclusion (2) how the author came to know of this sudden realization • Serious gap in analysis as this is one of the primary distinctions between educational and repository/exhibition functions
Analysis & Conclusions… • Article has narrative style, blurring facts & analysis • Includes epilog, praising Lindgren and early NFL • Credits his personality for its creation and genesis into a house of preservation and exhibition • Doesn’t explicitly create link between critical junctions: (1) lack of government funding resulting in (2) dependence on personal donations of films which (3) grew exponentially because of Lindgren’s keen ability to publicize donors through exhibitions. However, (4) the personal donations were largely irrelevant to pedagogical needs of educational borrowers, resulting in preservation/exhibition focus