In the summer of 2010, in the vast remoteness of northern Michigan, Nicholas Rombes stopped to rest during a long journey at what he thought was an abandoned farm and orchard. He parked on the edge of a meadow, and walked through the tall grass and wild flowers, and then through a thick stand of trees, to a collapsed portion of the barn. Inside there was disused farm equipment in rusted heaps. A large red metal box appeared to have recently fallen through the rotted floor of the hay loft, breaking open. Inside were over a dozen old envelopes, stuffed with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of frames cut from an old 16 mm movie.
Back home, Rombes began to re-assemble the film, only to realize that it depicted some sort of ceremony in nature. Internal evidence suggested that the film dated from 1948-49. There were other documents, as well, that Rombes collected. Several of the envelopes were labeled DO NOT SCREEN.
Rather than re-assemble the film himself, he will, in the spirit of analog, snail-mail frames from the film as well as a url with a frame number to scholars, students, theorists, film buffs, cultural anthropologists, writers, artists, editors, and others. In collaboration with the Critical Media Lab, he will manage a database that will reassemble the film in its proper order, with each frame being activated as frame recipients log onto the website, enter their frame number, and offer a critique of the frame. The more people who enter their frame numbers, the more complete the film will be.
In his essay â€œThe Third Meaning,â€ Roland Barthes suggested that the film still/frame scorned â€œlogical timeâ€ and that it â€œthrows off the constraint of filmic time.â€ By collaboratively reassembling a fragment of this strange film frame by frame, Rombes hopes to inject what Professor Marcel Oâ€™Gorman so aptly refers to as curiosity into film studies in the digital era.
Rombes will launch the DO NOT SCREEN project and examine frame blow-ups from the film on April 7 at the new home of the Critical Media Lab.