Thursday, May 31, 2012

Personal Archiving

As a cinephile who spends considerable time on the Internet, I accumulate, without realizing it, a staggering number of bookmarks. (I discovered recently that I've filed away over 2500 links in the last 2 years!) I manage to read only a small fraction of the pieces I bookmark, so I’ve always longed for a good archiving tool that would allow me to call up and work with this material efficiently.

Of late I’ve been using a free service called Diigo to build an archive of bookmarks, and have been appreciating its convenience and its features. Diigo is what they call a “cloud-based database management system”. It allows you to store all your bookmarks on the web (and off your computer). You can tag them anyway you like, and you can even “highlight” passages that you find particularly important or worthy. I’ve begun to chip away slowly at archiving (or disposing of) those 2500 links in the past few weeks.

* * *

In the last few months, I’ve begun another process of archiving: I’ve been recording, in a personal film journal, a couple of pages of notes and thoughts about every single film I see, within 24 hours of seeing it.

I’m shocked by the discrepancy between how forcefully a film and its elements can sometimes register with me immediately after I’ve seen it, and how quickly these impressions (so vivid and strong the day of the viewing) can evaporate from memory. Flipping through my journal today, my eyes randomly alight on a note I made a few weeks ago: that two Italian films of the early 1960s, Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto and Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer, both begin with rural Italian mothers rousing their teenage sons from sleep very early in the morning because the world of work calls. It turns out that by chance, the two films contain several correspondences, alignments and oppositions which struck me only because I happened to watch them back to back one evening by coincidence. If I had not made note of these details, I honestly know that I would have little memory of them today. This is more than disconcerting: I find this aspect of the film experience — a movement from strong registration and impact to fogginess and oblivion in just a few days or weeks — to be positively frightening. I suppose that recording and archiving my immediate impressions is a small gesture against this terrifying ephemerality.

* * *

I would love to hear from cinephiles about personal archiving practices — both traditional (paper) and online. What kinds of material do you archive? Do you have any system or regimen for recording and storing cinema-related materials, e.g. a personal journal? How do you manage the incredible amount of material that a cinephile encounters — especially in this Internet/DVD era? I’m curious to hear your thoughts and accounts.

* * *


-- David Hudson rounds up the Cannes award winners.

-- Kevin Lee has made a short video of Jonathan Rosenbaum speaking about Satantango, one the films on his Sight & Sound list of greatest films.

-- Catherine Grant posts a tribute to recently deceased film scholar Paul Willemen; and a collection of Antonioni links to mark the centenary of the filmmaker's birth.

-- Nicole Brenez's essay "Ultra-Modern: Jean Epstein, or Cinema “Serving the Forces of Transgression and Revolt”" in the recent collection published by  Amsterdam University Press has now appeared at MUBI. An Epstein retrospective starts up soon at Anthology Film Archives.

-- Brooklyn-based Punctum Books has released a new "small book" by the filmmaker Milcho Manchevski called Truth and Fiction: Notes on (Exceptional) Faith in Art, with an afterword by Adrian Martin. The book is available for free download and for purchase at this page. Adrian himself has a book coming out soon in the same series; it's titled Last Day Every Day: Figural Thinking from Auerbach and Kracauer to Agamben and Brenez.

-- At the blog Beyond the Canon, an international group of cinephiles and critics lists films that deserve wider attention. (Lots of obscure and interesting titles here.)

-- I revisited an old post by Miriam Bale at MUBI on Resnais, Rivette and games; and a Matthew Flanagan post that excerpts from interviews with James M. Cain, Thomas Bernhard and Godard.

-- Jaime Christley has a post comparing Netflix and Hulu streaming services, ending with an informative list of movies available to stream at Netflix.

-- The Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindo has died. (I'm reminded by Aaron Gerow that he was also a film historian and the author of several books on Japanese cinema.)

-- The late Carlos Fuentes on Buñuel's The Milky Way.

-- Just discovered that the great film scholar Francesco Casetti has a website.

-- There are several articles from back issues of the Canadian film journal CineAction available to read online, including Peter Harcourt's "Analogical Thinking: Organizational Strategies Within the Films of Jean-Luc Godard".

-- Michael Koresky is writing a weekly blog column called Here & Now & Then.

-- At the Frieze blog: "Who Do You Write For? A Survey of Art Critics in the Media".

-- Patrick Keiller has curated an exhibit called "The Robinson Institute" at the Tate Gallery.

-- Imogen Smith on Erich von Stroheim at Alt Screen. 

-- Dennis Lim rounding up Cannes at Artforum: "All told it was hard not to read the jury’s conclusions as polemical. In picking Haneke’s Amour over Carax’s amour fou, Moretti and company opted for an allegory of the death of the art film (and its audience) over a glimpse of its possible future reanimation. Maybe this isn’t such a bad fate for Carax, a cinéaste maudit in his youth and clearly no more assimilable in middle age. He gave no interviews in Cannes and, at his press conference, was asked one inane question after another about the meaning of his film and the wisdom of making something so strange for a movie-going public. With one terse, haunting response he captured the moribund gloom of this year’s festival: “I don’t know who is the public. All I know is it’s a bunch of people who will be dead very soon.”"

-- J. Hoberman on 16 mm: "The colors in 16mm movies are denser and more concentrated while black and white 16mm seems more ethereal (yet at the same time, rawer and more material). There’s a sense in which 16mm, which is naturally more impressionistic or even pointillist than 35mm, photographs atmosphere. The pronounced film grain makes the image softer and more forgiving—not only of faces but mistakes which, as retakes are limited, cannot but be accepted."

pic: A drawing of Jean Epstein by Jean Mitry.


Blogger Michael Guillen said...

Leave it to you, Girish, to help guide the way for the cinephilic adventure in coming years. Diigo sounds like an invaluable tool to archive interests.

As you know, my cinephilic interests spring from a lifelong journal project inspired by the work of Anaïs Nin. Not only did Anaïs instill in me a sense of the moviegoing experience as one worthy of chronicling, but she also inpsired me to dive into the creative hub of things by interacting with artists/creative agents and their artistry/creative agency. The Evening Class is just one phase of this ongoing journal project, which earlier has explored the personalities involved in psychology, religion, anthropology, archaeology, music, etc.

Because I have vainly presumed that the posthumous publication of these journals will be my most creative act, I have taken great care to archive my writing by way of subject and name indices. That practice has followed through in my cinephilic interests by way of Word documents grouping film writing into different categories for easier reference.

I'm intrigued also by your comemnt that you are editing out some of the bookmarks and I'm wondering what it is that has made these links no longer viable for you? I went through a similar process when I was packing up and moving away from San Francisco. I had about 10 beacon boxes full of printed-out material that I had to process. I determined, first of all, which links were still active and which were broken and--if they were broken--I kept the paper copy. Otherwise I reduced them back to their working urls under specified categories.

I find it fun to be a librarian of my own interests and thank you, as ever, for insight on how to hone the practice.

May 31, 2012 1:56 PM  
Blogger Sabman said...

Your post inspires me to have a little log of viewing notes of my own. Anyway, coming back to your question I recommend for bookmarking. It comes with an optional yearly fee of $25 for archiving web pages so that you don't lose the content if the web page ever goes down or gets lost in the digital world.

May 31, 2012 3:27 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Interestingly, though I too forget almost everything about every movie I see, I find that my recall is still quite sharp even two or three days later. I wonder when oblivion sets in. I also wonder whether it's really oblivion: sometimes I suspect that I retain an intraconnected experience of films somewhere, but that I've lost the ways in to the memory. At any rate, I've taken in recent years to putting detailed notes on all the films I see into my diary.

May 31, 2012 4:11 PM  
Blogger Brian Doan said...

For about two years, I'd keep track of the films I'd seen in a journal, with star ratings next to them-- no comments or anything, just the title, year of production, star rating, and general headings of dates seen (so, I wouldn't mark each film, but they'd be under monthly/yearly headings-- "March 2007" or whatever) and whatever rating I gave it. It was mostly just a way to keep track of what I'd seen-- people would ask me "what's good recently?," and my sieve-like memory would draw a blank, so I started jotting down titles right after I'd seen them.

Even without any comments next to the films, just seeing the titles could bring back a rush of images and memories-- not just of the film, but of when and where I saw it, what was happening in my life at a specific time; and it also let me see how I moved from movie to movie in various strange orders, so Charlie Chaplin would be rubbing up against FAST AND THE FURIOUS-- TOKYO DRIFT. Keeping this journal was also a way to get me to watch the films more regularly, instead of letting netflix discs sit unwatched while other things intruded. For awhile, I would blog pretty quickly after watching something, to capture the impressions of what I'd seen, just as you describe.

In the last few years, as real-life stuff has intruded, I've watched less and stopped doing the journal/blog thing so much, but my wife just gave me a lovely, highly organized film journal for my birthday, so I'd like to start doing it again.

May 31, 2012 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use MUBI everyday to keep track of films I still have to watch and films I watched. But your post here pointed out how poor my method this: I don't record every opinion, every idea a film put on my mind. So basically I need another way to save my impressions and don't forget them, as you say, few weeks later.
I think a journal, a quick note after the end credits, is the best approach.

June 01, 2012 2:39 AM  
Anonymous Jurgen said...

I'm not keeping a lot of notes on my viewingn these days but what you're describing sounds like a job perfectly suited for Evernote. You can clip websites, type, jot, or record voice notes, scan pdfs, and evertything is tag- and searchable. I just got a premium account and I'm loving it so far. Maybe I should start a notebook for movies seen...

June 01, 2012 6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been searching off-and-on for something to help me organize my online life a bit more as well as my research in general; I'll have to check Diigo out and see if that is an option for me.

As for archiving my film watching, I carry around with me a small case full of 3x5" index cards; I devote a single card to each film I watch, noting where/how I watched them and then my thoughts. I've found that restricting myself to a limited space is more productive than staring at a blank Word Document or even a full journal page (which seems to inspire the desire to come up with "big thoughts," and then not writing anything in the end because of it). The goal is to later use that as a basis for a more formal review, but I have a lot of work to do on that end. :)


June 02, 2012 2:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!

I'm glad to hear about EVERNOTE and PINBOARD. Thank you for the recommendations.

Michael, to answer your question, I've been weeding out dead links in the archiving process but have also been doing something else: reading past the title and the first few lines that made me initially bookmark the link. But going beyond those first few lines, some pieces turn out to be not very substantive after all, and not worth archiving.

Dan, I still use a simple technique you taught me a few years ago, which is to go back to the beginning of a DVD after having watched it, and very quickly fast-forward through the film for a few minutes. This does wonders to affix the structure and individual scenes in my mind. A brilliant little aide-memoire!

June 02, 2012 5:02 PM  
Blogger Arion said...

I'd say I've bookmarked hundreds of links, but certainly not thousands.

Great blog by the way.


June 03, 2012 1:05 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

Girish, I've been using Diigo for a while too, and have found it very useful. Apparently Zotero is good for research purposes too. Wish I'd started highlighting (or archiving) material worth rereading a long time ago -- going through some bookmark folders recently, I was amazed by how many links turned out to be dead. No idea why I saved them in the first place, or what they contained...

June 03, 2012 6:03 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

Girish, I'm busily rebuilding Long Pauses right now in hopes of relaunching it later this summer. By "rebuilding," I mean reviewing every post and categorizing and tagging each as I go. I'm doing it partly as an incentive to do more writing, even if it's just the kind of quick, post-viewing notetaking you're talking about. But mostly I'm doing it to protect my archive--to move it all into a user-friendly database that I own and have better control of ("better" compared to Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) All of the social media tools are terrible archivers.

Reviewing all of this Long Pauses content, some of it more than a decade old now, I've been reminded again of the connection between writing, archiving, and memory. I've posted about maybe 5% of the films I've seen over the past decade, and my memories of those films are *much* more vivid. I've always kept running lists of every film I see, but I've never found the discipline to write even just a few words about each one. Maybe this time . . .

June 04, 2012 9:31 AM  
Blogger torontomovieguy said...

I do believe the greatest joys of cinema come through knowing a film so intimately that watching it again is like rediscovering your own heart. But years ago I made a pragmatic decision to emphasize coverage over depth – I watch a film a day, in one way or another, but less than 10% of those are repeat viewings, in some years less than 5%. Afterwards I type maybe 600 or 700 words on each – partly reading like drafts of formal reviews that will never be written, but also containing mundane observations I think for some reason might matter one day, or off-the-cuff reactions to things others have said about the film, or just giddy word-strings (the latter stand the best chance of striking me as valuable if I ever look back at them subsequently, but also the best chance of no longer making any sense to me at all). In the last few years I’ve started tweeting a daily review as well, which doesn’t really add much to the process, but I suppose amounts to waving some small flag of continued presence. This all gets to be a bit mechanical and tiring at times, but on the other hand, the films during the last few days encompassed Fassbinder and Godard and Moonrise Kingdom (and, sure, Dream House and Red State – as I said, I’m pragmatic about feeding my curiosity) so it’s like constantly reorienting and recalibrating my place in the world. I can’t imagine living without cinema, but I’ve come to think a certain amount of weariness, and even of terror as you put it, is the price you pay for the rest…

June 05, 2012 6:49 PM  
Blogger Mariaaj said...

I'm messy when it comes to archiving. I keep a notebook in my purse which I record immediate thoughts from movies and TV. I'm more interested in images though. So I have endless pings that accumulate on my desktop. I try to name the properly but really I never do. For films. I've been using Tumblr to archive things I like. That has to keep things organized. Good question personal archiving. HMMM

June 06, 2012 6:09 PM  
Blogger Steven Rybin said...

I used to keep a detailed journal of every film I saw. I soon realized that even this did not prevent forgetting. Weeks or months later I would go back to read my thoughts on a film, but the writing would soon become an abstraction, because I was struggling to remember those moments in the films that led me to write in the first place (despite the descriptions themselves, which were often very detailed!)

I've become more modest in the number of films I strive to remember. This is an alternative way to conceive top ten lists, for example: not only as an index of personal taste or a step toward a "canon," but simply a list of those films where there is enough at stake for you that you don't want to forget them. I find myself now writing less, but remembering more (about fewer films, of course. I still forget most of what I see).

June 08, 2012 3:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hello, all! And thank you for taking the time to share these accounts.

Darren, I look forward to the relaunch.

Matthew, I've heard about Zotero from my colleagues too; I want to check it out.

June 08, 2012 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

June 19, 2012 12:57 PM  

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