Perfectly Boring? The Public Afterlife of Private Films
Home movies are now viewed in a variety of public contexts, a shift that entails a loss of their original meanings. In order to consider the impact of exhibiting these private documents, this thesis analyses the use of home movies within recycled footage productions, archival curation and online video-sharing. Investigating a variety of formal and informal screening contexts through close readings and archival research, it asks: what meanings do home movies acquire in new contexts? How might the reuse of home movies affect our understandings of their production and the past they portray? Does a perception that home movies could appear boring influence how they are framed or altered for public audiences? Due to their form and content, home movies may seem ill-suited to public exhibition. Popular discourses about home movies during their heyday of production reveal a widespread belief that they were boring (for outsiders) to watch. While recent literature has assessed home movies more favourably, it has tended to overlook their potential to bore viewers who have no personal relationship to them. Drawing upon theories of boredom, this study argues meaningfulness is the principal factor determining whether a viewer finds a particular film interesting or boring. In their original form, home movies may appear relatively meaningless and therefore boring to public audiences. Recycled footage films re-edit images, however, to create engaging viewing experiences through narrative and affect. While more experimental productions frequently question the evidential value of home movie images, television documentaries tend to encourage audiences to perceive footage as authentic or nostalgic. Narrative and affect also feature in the exhibition strategies of moving image archives. Curated public programmes provide informative and enjoyable viewing for general audiences, but almost inevitably promote certain understandings of the past by offering specific interpretations of selected films. Moreover, the affective appeal of home movie images may outweigh other forms of meaning for viewers, particularly in community or participatory screening contexts. Online video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, which are curated by algorithms rather than human expertise, feature numerous home movies without any kind of framing or description. While this might seem profoundly boring, viewer comments suggest meaninglessness can foster imaginative and empathetic responses to home movies, often expressed as nostalgic longing. This propensity of home movie footage within different screening contexts to encourage nostalgic sentiments, or a belief that life was better in the past, has implications for collective memory and understandings of history. Moreover, the ability of at least some viewers to enjoy home movies in relatively contextless spaces suggests that in certain instances qualities associated with boredom may not be a significant impediment to meaningful experience after all.