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Session 16: Integrating Traditions: Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive

 The overarching aim of the AHRC funded Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (CMDA) project is to re-explore, re-arrange, and re-code the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain (CCINTB) archive, curated from the findings of the CCINTB research project (1991-97). Notably, CMDA also seeks to re-position the archive’s accessibility, with the development of a bespoke website allowing flexible and responsive access for both researchers and the general public. As such, the papers presented through this panel explore the methods and intended outputs of CMDA, with topics including tracing the conceptual and methodological trajectory of CCINTB to CMDA, the re-appraisal of the role of film texts within cinemagoing memories and film theory, and the potential for digital-audio walking tours to enable embodied engagement with place. In doing so, this panel particularly highlights contemporary contexts of cinema historiography, noting how methodological and theoretical developments within the field since (and inspired by) CCINTB can be utilised to extract fresh outputs, engagement opportunities and findings from this landmark archive.

Paper 1 - Annette Kuhn, Queen Mary University of London, The bridge and the passport: thoughts on the remembered cinematic experience.

The UK Economic and Social Research Council-funded project ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ was launched in the early 1990s with the objective of ‘investigating the ways in which films and cinemagoing figured in the daily lives of people throughout the [British] nation in the 1930s, and situating cinemagoing and fan behaviour in this period within their broader social and cultural contexts’. Alongside research in contemporary source materials relating to cinemagoing in the period, a key element of CCINTB involved memory work with surviving 1930s cinemagoers (then in their seventies or older). This memory work has generated–and continues to generate– fascinating and culturally significant findings concerning the nature of cinema memory as a distinctive subtype of cultural memory. The recently-launched ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive’ project revisits, and aims to extend and refine, our understanding of the workings of cinema memory. This panel contribution will trace the conceptual and methodological trajectory from a cultural-historical approach towards a cultural memory focus, and consider the value and potential for New Cinema History of work on cinema memory.

Kuhn, Annette (1996), ‘Cinema Culture and Femininity in the 1930s’, in Christine Gledhill and Gillian Swanson (eds.), Nationalising Femininity (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 177-92.

— (2002), An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory (London: I.B. Tauris).

— (2011), ‘What to Do with Cinema Memory’, in Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Philippe Meers (eds.), Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies (New Malden: Wiley-Blackwell).

Kuhn, Annette, Biltereyst, Daniel, and Meers, Philippe (2017), ‘Memories of Cinemagoing and Film Experience: An Introduction’, Memory Studies, 10 (1), 3-16.

Annette Kuhn FBA is Professor and Research Fellow in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London and Co-Investigator on ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive’. She was Director of ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’, and has written widely on cultural memory in relation to both photography and cinema.

Paper 2 - Jamie Terrill, Lancaster University, Filmgoing or Cinemagoing? The role of the film text within rural Welsh cinema memories.

This paper builds upon the recent arguments of Biltereyst (2018) and Treveri Gennari and Culhane (2019) who have called for a reassessment of the importance of the film text within new cinema historiography. Typically, new cinema history has been chiefly concerned on cinemagoing as a social experience, a focus that Harper (2019) warns can eschew the ‘vital function[s]’ of film, particularly its ability to feed a ‘social hunger’ (p. 690). By drawing upon written and oral testimony from the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain archive, this paper then explores the value of engaging with film focussed memories as a means of achieving a more thorough understanding of the social and cultural factors that inform cinemagoing histories. In doing so, this paper further presents the value of a project such as Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive in allowing for the reappraisal of existing data with a contemporary theoretical perspective.

Biltereyst, D. (2018). ‘Audience as palimpsest: Mapping historical film audience research’ Researching Past Cinema Audiences: Archives, Memories and Methods conference, Aberystwyth University (26-28th March).

Harper, S. (2019). ‘”It is time we went out to meet them”: Empathy and historical distance’. Participations, 16(1), pp. 687 –697.

Treveri Gennari, D. and Culhane, S. (2019). ‘Crowdsourcing memories and artefacts to reconstruct Italian cinema history: Micro-histories of small-town exhibition in the 1950s’. Participations, 16(1), pp. 796 –823.

Jamie Terrill is a Research Associate at Lancaster University, currently working on the AHRC funded project, ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive’. His recently submitted PhD thesis, completed at Aberystwyth University, explored the social history of rural Welsh cinemagoing, a topic on which he has also published.

Paper 3 - Richard Rushton, Lancaster University, Audience Research: Questions for Film Theory.

I once wrote that audience research ‘can tell us a great deal about what audiences of films have the capacity to do when they view films, but it cannot tell us much about what films themselves have the capacity to do’ (CineAction 72, 2007). Nowadays, quite to the contrary, I think audience research is precisely a matter of telling us what films themselves can do. Rather than telling us what specific films can do, however, audience research opens up possibilities for considering films-in-general. I want to suggest that some audience research can give us a view of films-in-general as comprised of sets of relations, both ‘world-relations’ and ways of ‘relating to others’. I argue these points in conversation with two influential articles from the 1980s: Valerie Walkerdine’s ‘Video Replay’ (1986) and Elizabeth Cowie’s ‘Fantasia’ (1984), while also engaging with some recent developments in audience research.

Richard Rushton is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Lancaster University. He is author of The Reality of Film (2011), Cinema After Deleuze (2012), and The Politics of Hollywood Cinema (2013). He is currently Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project, ‘Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive’.

Paper 4 - Sarah Neely, University of Glasgow, Cinema Memory, Sound and the Embodiment of Place.

This paper will reflect on the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive project’s plans to create new audio walking tours drawing from the CCINTB archive’s collection of over 200 hours of interviews relating to memories of cinema-going in the 1930s. Created by sound artist, Suzy Angus, in collaboration with project Co-Investigator, Sarah Neely, two new audio walking tours will be produced in response to the earlier project’s fieldwork in Manchester and Glasgow, combining extracts from the original interviews with contemporary field recordings, alongside more constructed forms of soundscape evoking the particular memories described in the interviews and corresponding to the everyday sounds of the period (e.g. sounds of modern city life, such as trams, automobiles, etc.). This paper, intended as an initial scoping exercise, will consider the potential for audio walking tours to enable a more embodied engagement with place, bridging the memories of past local cinema audiences with those of the present. The paper will take into account the sensorial dimensions of the user’s experience, including the pre-determined, pre-recorded aspects of the acoustic experience as well as the unforeseen sights and sounds that are likely to be encountered by participants as their own individual journey through the geographical area of the audio tour unfolds.

Sarah Neely is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. Her current research focuses on the areas of film history and memory, and artists’ moving image. She is co-investigator on the three-year AHRC-funded project, Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (with Richard Rushton, Lancaster University, and Annette Kuhn, Queen Mary) and is also leading on a year-long project celebrating the centenary of the Scottish filmmaker and poet, Margaret Tait (margarettait100.com). Her recent book, Between Categories: The Films of Margaret Tait, was published by Peter Lang in 2016.