What is the Archaeology of Cinema?
Avenues of Approach
Here we propose a number of ways of organising a research programme based on the material forms of cinema. These ‘avenues of approach’ to the archaeology of cinema are not meant to be exhaustive; other ‘ways in’ may suggest themselves. Nor are they meant to be mutually exclusive. We can well imagine, for example, an approach which looked at a genre of film, in a defined period, from a particular studio – say, horror movies made between 1955 and 1970 by Hammer Films at Bray Studios.
Certain films have become the focus of special academic, professional, and public attention. A case-study of a film – from conception to consumption – through its material forms represents one possible avenue of approach.
The director can be considered the main artist in film production (though all directors work as members of a creative team, and this avenue of approach need not be restricted to directors alone). Movies often bear the hallmarks of the director, and the oeuvre of a director often displays recurring themes, styles, preoccupations, and obsessions. David Lean, for example, was interested in the dramatic power of landscape, and his many outdoor locations, and the sets constructed within them, offer material forms for archaeological investigation.
Different types of film have different production needs, and these may give rise to different material forms. Remote location shooting and/or massive sets may be essential to give an epic the necessary sense of exoticism, grandeur, and scale, whereas local streets and a handful of interiors knocked up in a studio may be sufficient for a situation comedy.
The history of cinema has, of course, been divided by film historians into periods. This may be a valid approach for archaeologists; it may even be essential. One could imagine, for example, a major study, perhaps involving a consortium of contributors, that looked at cinema in the 1930s, the heyday of the picture palace, the ‘golden age’ of cinema, when there might have been several cinemas on a local high street, and several dozen across a major city.
The film industry is, of course, associated with particular locations – Hollywood and Elstree are obvious examples – while cinemas are ubiquitous.
The Material Form
All of the material form categories listed above – or rather, sub-categories of these generic types – offer avenues of approach. One might, for example, study all the cinemas in a small town, or the 1930s cinemas in major city, or the cinemas along a major street, or one cinema over time, and so on.