On The Origin Of The Video Essay

It was during this project that we became aware that, independent and mostly unaware of this history, something quite similar to the forms that we were interested in started to emerge and proliferate on the internet, in weblogs like Kevin B.Lee’s Shooting Down Pictures, or Matt Zoller Seitz’ House Next Door.***Apart from the historiographic interest in German television and its relevance to contemporary video essays, there is a larger research horizon of this topic.As a child and adolescent in the 1970s and 1980s it thus depended quite heavily on your location as to which kind of television program you were exposed and what kind of cinephile discoveries you could make on television.I can tell from my own experience that a retrospective of Jack Arnold Films in autumn and winter 1983 was a formative event – especially since it comprised ‘Jack Arnold relates…’, where the director, around 70 years old at the time, would explain the historic background of his films, the special effects for , etc.Against the comfort of clicking one’s way through what is available online, it is a tedious and cumbersome endeavor to explore these treasures: one has to travel to the archives, to make appointments with complicated institutions, and to pay substantial fees to get the opportunity to screen historical programs.Without institutional backing and substantial funding, this is almost impossible to realise.

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All three WDR examples featured in this dossier take us back to the mid-1970s. This is only a tiny selection of a vast body of work lying dormant in the vaults of the television archives.In those days, since there were no VHS recorders, people asked for transcripts of the programs.So our office was always filled up with piles of manuscripts to send via mail.French school television, the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), founded in 1974, and later film educational activities by Jean Douchet, Alain Bergala, and others also provide fertile ground for a reconsideration of the contemporary video essay’s past.There is, I would argue, a strong need for a European perspective on this.Since WDR is the biggest amongst the third programs it had (and probably still has) a bigger budget at its disposal than Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Hessischer Rundfunk, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and the like.Using their production budget to run the film department like a Cinemathèque, the WDR Filmredaktion organised retrospectives and accompanied them with analytic and contextual programs directed by Hartmut Bitomsky, Harun Farocki, Helmut Färber, Frieda Grafe, and Enno Patalas, to name only a few.The consequence to be drawn from this is simple: this particular segment of television history, but also television history in general, needs to be more accessible to enter the historiography of digital practices.Since the programs in question were produced with public funding (the taxpayer’s money), it is hard to understand why they should not be available to the public for non-commercial educational and research purposes.And most of these went to cities with four digit postal codes – not the big cities, but small cities and villages.We found out that the people in the countryside were really hungry for culture.[5]***Investigating the WDR as an important precursor and initiator for what later became known as videographic film studies was one of the goals of the independent research project Kunst der Vermittlung in 20.

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