I Love a Parade
by Snowden Becker — UCLA
October 17, 2012 – 00:00
For a class I taught recently on moving image archives administration, I bought some miscellaneous home movies on eBay. Students explored each reel from all angles: as material object, cultural property, archival asset; as a document with context, content and provenance to be (re-)discovered; as a potential donation or deposit. One reel generated particularly interesting outcomes for this project. It features graphic shots of a heifer giving birth in a field (schloooop! out comes a baby cow!) and an extended sequence of Manheim, Pennsylvania’s bicentennial parade in 1962. The latter enabled the students to identify and virtually repatriate the material, which was digitized and uploaded to the Internet Archive to be shared with the citizens of Manheim during their 250th anniversary celebrations in 2012.
If you watch many home movies, you will see many parades. The technological determinist (or faithful reader of old "Movie Makers" magazines) will point out that this is because parades are ideal home movie subjects, combining bright sunlight with colorful subjects easily captured in dynamic motion from a fixed shooting location. The social historian might list parades foremost among the rituals and public spectacles that film- and video-makers have simultaneously captured and consumed through their cameras for over a century. Some esteemed home movie-loving colleagues would add that they are also incredibly boring; I cannot agree.
Confronted at a Home Movie Day event or in the collections backlog with a jumble of films about which the owner knows nothing, I will ALWAYS plump for the box marked "Parade." The contents are virtually guaranteed to please the eye and deliver a historical-political payload, too. As Dwight Swanson has said elsewhere of Christmas morning home movies, "They’re all exactly the same, and they’re all completely different." For example, compare that Pennsylvania town square (likely shot by area resident Carl Felsburg or his second wife, Edith) with this footage shot halfway around the world at nearly the same time: A reel of 16mm Kodachrome shot by California gastroenterologist Harold Lincoln Thompson in Durban, where elaborately costumed Zulu rickshaw-pullers promenade amongst throngs of tourists and South African locals. Each is data-rich in completely different ways, representing their time and place provocatively and poignantly. Manheim hosts another parade this month, but Durban’s rickshaws were already disappearing in the 1960s; only a dozen or two remain.
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