The plan for tomorrow during the workshop (#doingdah14) is to strategize about the kind of collection building or utilizing that will be necessary to form the foundations of our projects. This I know, as a Visual Resources Curator who has been engaged in image repository building for over 10 years. But this is also where I feel like my particular project, centered as it is on commercial Hollywood films, is also behind the eight ball. The eight ball being the MPAA in its lobbying form, which has worked to make copyright for film so restrictive that many scholars who work in film studies can’t even obtain the appropriate film still photography to accompany their arguments in books and essays because the film studios who own and distribute that material just don’t feel like making those stills available to you, “but here is a set photograph of a totally different moment in the film that you can have because we already had that one ready to go.”
For teaching, the situation is somewhat better relative to copyright. Because of fair use, and in particular because of specific language written into the DMCA of 1998, I can show brief chosen film clips or whole films in my courses. However, my students have to check out DVDs from our extremely supportive but hamstrung Media Resources Center (2 copies on reserve per course), or rely on their own private Netflix accounts to watch full films, and the ongoing UCLA legal case regarding streaming films for a course leaves undetermined the consequences if I should choose to make a film available for streaming on my own through the course management system (Blackboard or Sakai or the like). And very few online repositories are engaging in film collection building beyond what is already available in the public domain. There I have options, usually the best being the Internet Archive. Silent films I can have access to online. Everything else is questionable. And potentially illegal or expensive or unsustainable (I wonder how many people know that films currently on Netflix might not still be there tomorrow. And how efficient is it to have to access whole films rather than the specific clips you wish to analyze and read closely?)
There is always Youtube. Films uploaded in ten-minute increments of terrible quality (HD is now becoming somewhat more common) and of questionable legality because a single take-down notice from MGM (or more likely Turner Entertainment Co., who owns the MGM back catalog) can get it removed instantly and the onus is on the uploader to prove their fair use to get it put back again.
So part of my project is to again grapple with collection building of a very different type. To utilize multimedia CMS platforms such as Omeka or Scalar, and repository storage sites like the Critical Commons in order to compile many examples of moments, scenes, comparisons across films, across genres, across eras, in the way that makes the most sense for film studies, as they play out over time. Use fair use to bolster my case as for why a repository that includes a 3-minute clip of Joan Crawford taking a bath in The Women (1939) is neither an excessive excerpt nor adequately substituted for analysis and pedagogy by a still image. And hope that it can prove useful for wider public engagement on the topic of censorship in our society (aided and abetted by the official MPAA stance on copyright). And, ok, maybe not see the MPAA as the enemy altogether, since they have made their archives (especially the written records of their predecessor and creator of the Hays Code, the MPPDA) accessible online here.