Apr 8, 2014

"it is undeniably the legacy of Hoos Blotkamp at work here."

Here is a humbling but touching reminder of all the work that has come before us, regarding what we now call orphan films, their preservation and re-presentation to the world.

Today EYE published notice of the passing of one of its foundational figures.

Hoos Blotkamp, former director of the Dutch Film Museum, died last Thursday in The Hague where she lived. She had been ill for some time. Blotkamp, a former senior official at the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture (WVC), succeeded Film Museum director Jan de Vaal in 1987. Under Blotkamp’s guidance, the slumbering film archive in the Vondelpark was ‘kissed awake’, in the words of Dutch writer Annemieke Hendriks. The number of screenings increased spectacularly, while funds were also found for preservation and restoration activities. Blotkamp left the Film Museum – EYE’s predecessor – in 2000. She lived to the age of seventy.
Included were remarks by filmmaker Peter Delpeut, who was also a deputy director and programmer for the Netherlands Filmmuseum from 1988 to 1995. It was during that time that Delpeut made the landmark found footage film Lyrisch Nitraat / Lyrical Nitrate (1991). The production's use of both beautifully preserved and beautifully decayed film prints was a new phenomenon.

Watching a 35mm projection in a large theater (the Ima Hogg Auditorium, yes, really!) while at the University of Texas at Austin, I was captivated but also a little perplexed. Although I knew nearly nothing about film preservation and archiving during these graduate school days, my viewing led to one of my earliest publications (a review of Lyrical Nitrate for The Motion Picture Guide: 1992 Annual). I was most struck by the lengthy passage from a stencil-colored crucifixion scene from a Pathé life of Christ film, dated ca. 1906. Nearly twenty years later, Bill Morrison presented a found fragment from another life of Christ film, also Pathé, also stencil-colored. He spoke as the last presenter at the 2010 Orphan Film Symposium, introducing this short fragment showing not the crucifixion but the Ascension, with the rising body of Christ uncannily obscured by smeary clouds of decay.

Lyrical Nitrate (left)  meets  Just Ancient Loops

That screening ended at the stroke of midnight. A poetic moment.

Bill Morrison's artistic career has unfolded and blossomed in time simultaneously with the Orphan Film Symposium. His Ascension fragment became part of Just Ancient Loops (2012), with live performance by cellist Maya Beiser at "Orphans Midwest" in 2013. His acclaimed Decasia (2002) had an Orphans projection too. His 2003 short The Mesmerist with its bubbling patterns of decay in a nitrate print of The Bells (1926, with Lionel Barrymore) premiered at an Orphans screening at the Margaret Mead Film Festival. In the audience was an NYU visual anthropology grad student, Emily Cohen, who was inspired to write a lengthy piece in American Anthropology. She called it (unbeknownst to us) "The Orphanista Manifesto."

And so it was with great delight that I by chance was present when Bill Morrison and Peter Delpeut met for the first time.  At last week's Orphans 9 in Amsterdam, they met by happenstance in the lobby of EYE during one of our lunch breaks.

Morrison / Decasia  meets  Delpeut / Lyrical Nitrate 
outside the EYE gift shop, April 2, 2014.
3264 × 2448 JPEG, BiMo iPhone 5c, color profile sRGB IEC61966-2.1, exposure time 1/20th sec.
Both of these films are momento mori ('remember that you will die'). And so it is sadly fitting that Delpeut today wrote "Remembering Hoos Blotkamp." He described her as someone
for whom thinking and acting were two sides of the same coin. Under her directorate, the Film Museum’s archive grew into the most innovative institution in the world. To her, archiving and preserving of films automatically involved collecting and presenting them. It was a philosophy which she had acquired working in a museum and as a trained art historian, but for the film world in the late 1980s it was an entirely new approach. 
Her spirit is still present in the archive, as was all too obvious recently at the opening of the international Orphans conference at EYE:  technological know-how, subject-matter expertise and resolve, and above all, creative ways of presentation still characterize the work of the present staff – I am touched by this, especially at this time, because it is undeniably the legacy of Hoos Blotkamp at work here. “Let’s get on with it, people," she would always end the meetings she chaired.
I too am touched. And greatly humbled by such work and such colleagues.

We are sometimes cognizant of André Bazin's argument that the desire to capture people on film is the human attempt to stave off the reality of death. Yet we are also, in the best moments of movie watching, aware that a collective cinematic experience can be a great celebration of the vibrancy of life. We are animated. Animated by the pulsating Polish "non camera" newsreels of the great Antonisz and the raw footage of Egyptian whirling dervishes performing for a newsreel camera a century ago.

USC MIRC Fox Movietone News Collection                         Filmoteka Narodowa 


Perhaps we should give the last word on this to the late filmmaker Helen Hill. In a too-fitting serendipitous moment, she began her 20-second animation The Low-down on Love (1997-98) with this answer to the narrator's question "Looking for a different way to say 'I love you'?"