Nick has recently raised some important questions about the potentially false divide between the post-World War II avant garde and post-war home movie practices. Chris questions some of Nick’s arguments, stating that the difference is not merely discursive but registered in the films themselves.
I’m inclined to side with Nick in this discussion in that the framing narratives of DIY amatuer film production in the 1940s-60s are relatively similar to those found in some avant-garde film practices:
Both operated outside the realm of Hollywood. Both worked in genres that were largely absent from the big screen. Both experimented with the camera and openly embraced a logic of mistakes and trial-and-error. If today we associate the cinematic avant garde from that period with a handful of names, then this must be due, in part, to the movement’s self-canonization, which was made possible largely through writing
Nick’s comments primarily seem to emphasize production issues (how to use the tools available to you as a filmmaker) and have less to do with the individual content of the films. In other words, I don’t think the avant garde’s later “camp-ironic quotation” of the home movie matters as much as the practices themselves and how the filmmakers in both camps understood themselves. Nick’s arguments about self-canonization also seem persuasive to me, although I recognize my own complicity as a critic/scholar in replicating that canon, especially after attending a screening of some of Stan Brakhage’s films at the National Gallery of Art yesterday afternoon.
I think Nick’s questions about avant-garde and amateur practice are significant, and my still incomplete article on Capturing the Friedmans seeks to tackle some of these issues, especially regarding the documentary’s ambivalent relationship to the family’s extensive collection of home movies, most of which were taken in the post-WWII context that Nick discusses. The discourses that Nick is unpacking, in my reading at least, can have profound implications for how we think about practices of filmmaking, including the politics of memory often associated with amatuer filmmakers, many of whom saw their practice as a means of remembering and recording family life.