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New Media Archaeology Bends My Mind
Consistent with Rick Prelinger's other work, indeed we might say his life-work (his cinematic output, curatorial projects, critical writings, public advocacy, articulate lectures, nonprofit organizing, legal challenges, alliance building) this multimedia iteration of his feature-length film Panorama Ephemera is infused with utopian spirit. The experience of scrolling through the provocative, often aphoristic, texts and encountering the inspiringly eclectic parade of archival film clips yields both pleasure and a sense of discovery. But it also begs a question: What is the project's argument? An opening text reflects "I feel challenged by" "a need to be precise," and "to make something that is open" but not "infinitely valent." Is there so much here that it overwhelms?
The opening section is entitled "Manifesto." Yet, unlike most manifestos, it asks itself an open-ended question before nailing its theses (e.g., "Archives are justified by use.") to the door: "Why add to the population of orphaned works?" Does the resulting piece answer the question to your satisfaction? Or do you, gentle surfer, find that the pleasures and discoveries of the panoramic experience are answer enough?
Is this not wonderfully, perhaps supremely, ironic: a piece that addresses the ephemeral nature of film and media is presented in a 'new media' form that itself might be far more ephemeral than the remarkable orphan films that Prelinger Archives has saved and presents here? (q.v.
Experimentally Produced 'Social Problem' in Rats (1939), Extra! Berkeley Burns (1923), etc. In fifty or one hundred years will Vectors pieces be archived and accessible?
- Dan Streible, USC/NYU, 04.25.2006
In 2004, Rick Prelinger wrote and directed the feature film Panorama Ephemera, a “collage” of ephemeral films produced in the United States of the 1920s through 1970s that uses images both familiar and mythical to depict the fears and hopes of the American populace during these times. His contribution to the Vectors Journal is an extension of this film that serves to further explain his theories and reasons for archiving ephemeral films. On the one hand, this project is a straightforward intellectual piece that directs the user to Prelinger’s three main topical considerations. The first is his declared project Manifesto where Prelinger flatly declares the work of the archivist as a modern savior to an overpopulated and over stimulated popular culture. The second aspect of his project, where the most substance lies, is in the delineation of the four aspects of archiving ephemeral films. Here he delineates the events in media history that have dictated the career of the ephemeral archivist. And, lastly, Prelinger concludes his work with a short essay describing and defending the role of the archivist as a position perpetuating and expanding the possibilities of art. On the other hand, Prelinger moves away from a completely argumentative thesis with his chronological exploration of significant events in his life alongside advancements in his archiving of ephemeral films. The juxtaposition of this element with a non-linear collage of ephemeral films from the feature film Panorama Ephemera serves well to lay out the various aspects of Prelinger’s interests and theories in a comprehensive study of the ephemeral archivist. However, without having previously viewed his feature-length film, it is difficult to understand the meaning and structure of this project in its entirety. The assumption that viewers of the project have seen the film and understand its basic premise seems to be taken for granted throughout the project. Perhaps if there were a link on the site to watch the film or learn about the premise of the film, the significance of the manifesto and timeline would be more apparent. Also, the dual scrolling format, while interesting and innovative, is confusing in terms of experiencing the work and navigating the site. At times, this dual scrolling format is useful for displaying the changing content of the main page, but makes selecting content in the “timeline” difficult. Perhaps, if the dual scrolling function was sensitive to the cursor position, navigation of the site could be a lot easier.
- B N, Los Angeles, 10.09.2007