Friday, February 27, 2009

Alone, Or With People

The Archives Trilogy - Part Two

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There's a social network that surrounds the showing of films. The coming together of people into a dark and cavernous place, anonymously and at the mercy of a loud and oppressive spectacle, shaping what you will feel emotionally for 2 full hours. It's a bit ominous.

There's waiting in line and eavesdropping on other conversations, eating and drinking before and after - if you're lucky there's something to talk about. And someone to talk about it with.

And of course, there is the battlefield in the parking structure, where patrons jockey for position and prestige, capital investments are parked or scratched, or fights break out - substances are consumed. Sometimes girlfriends are found. Or lost.

That social sphere was very much a part of finding and seeing a film, sometimes miles away, sometimes once a decade. There was a physical, financial, and temporal commitment. It helped to be able to talk your friends into it. Don't you want to come with, see if this thing is any good? I don't want to go by myself.

These modes of consumption has been taken over by the Internet. The social network that surrounded film-going has moved away from theatres, and from archives, which now remain stranded as the last bastion of curatorship for our cultural filmed heritage.

The old purpose of museums were to create a space in which archival behavior was kept and displayed for the edification of the public and scholars. It was a public trust, and a social space grew around them. It might involve Q & As with filmmakers, entire programs surrounding themes to create context and expert meaning. Sitting around coffee, ice cream, tuna melts or wine while talking about the film you'd just seen (often with strangers you met in the lobby, people who had worked on the film sometimes (they were there to see it again one more time as well), or even that cocky know-it-all usher) is a social network all itself, centered around that shared experience, shared together.

Such networking created an emotional context around and beyond the film itself. It was a community. And it added meaning.

But the shift to the www has moved these social behaviors away from brick-and-mortar coffee-hutches. Out of the bookstore alcove. What museum-spaces traditionally used to do - that is, collect and present the detritus and leavings of society, for a new and motivated audience to research - they're doing alone and empty.

They've found their role as arbiter of cultural memory, as the privileged altars of higher learning, stolen by the allure of online social interaction, easier, quicker, shallower but more far-reaching.

No one's in their playground anymore. The idea of being a gatekeeper has been blown off the hinges. There is no more gate, there is no need for a keeper.

The digital realm houses the new social fabric surrounding the presentation of moving images.

Without the social sphere to support it, any institution is doomed to deteriorate.

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