Do Not Screen by Rombes

Sample of cut frames found in envelopes

Sample of cut frames found in envelopes

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.

Sample stills from film.

Sample still from film.

In his essay “The Third Meaning,” Roland Barthes suggested that the film still/frame scorned “logical time” and that it “throws off the constraint of filmic time.” By collaboratively reassembling a fragment of this strange film frame by frame, Rombes hopes to inject what Professor Marcel O’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.

Sample still from film.

Sample still from film.