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Time Machine: Personal 8 mm Film and Video by Jerome Robbins
I have an inordinate love of 8 mm film. Not just because of its familiar 4:3 TV aspect ratio that so many of us were raised on, but because it was the first medium many of us used for time travel. The persistent click of the pull down claw is a rhythm from memory that can lull us into the past. Occasionally, I feel that I have been the subject of an archival Ludovico Technique and have watched so many pas des deux that when ordinary non-dance material offers me a brief glimpse of the outside world it captivates me.
Jerome Robbins made his professional film debut as the co-director of the 1961 film West Side Story based on his 1957 musical of the same name. It was his only effort as director of a major motion picture and he won an Oscar. Robbins was a versatile artist and a perfectionist known for long rehearsals. I have also been captivated by his more relaxed ventures in Super 8 film, his home movies that are included in the Jerome Robbins Collection. The film stills in this blog are frames from *MGZIA 4-6523 JRC, a compilation of personal Super 8 rolls shot by Robbins.
Robbins was comfortable with a camera, whether film or video. The earliest Robbins video recordings we have are CV recordings of the ATL project, an attempt to dramatize the Warren Commission Report. Meters in these early portable black and white cameras attempted to average the exposure of the various elements in the frame to middle gray; they did this very effectively and the result is usually a limited contrast image ranging from light gray to a darker gray. My favorite Robbins made video is a sparsely but reverently narrated open reel video tour of the office he shared with George Balanchine, he pans about the office holding on points of interest. In the video we see multiple pictures of Balanchine's cat Mourka.
Mr. Robbins once brought an open reel tape to my studio which was then crammed into a small patch of the old Dance Collection conservation lab. He sat with the tape while I cleaned and transferred it for him. I complimented the condition of the tape and he told me that he had a vault in his home for film and video. I honestly cannot remember the tape; I would like to think it was this one. After his death my colleagues and I emptied that vault and brought those materials back to the Dance Division. While I am inclined to show you his camera searching for patterns and textures in clouds, dune grass and even a section snow fence in the dunes, I will instead show you Annie and Nick his dogs and a quick still of Balanchine's cat.
There are more touchstones in small gauge time travel, including Single8, Polavision, Richard Leacock, Super 8 Sound in Cambridge and Lenny Lipton, but that will be in a future post from the Audio and Moving Image Preservation Labs of the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division.