Amateur Movie Making

Amateur Movie Making

Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915–1960
Edited by Martha Mcnamara and Karan Sheldon
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/22/2017
Format: Hardback 64 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02562-3
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Winner, SCMS Best Edited Book Award

A compelling regional and historical study that transforms our understanding of film history, Amateur Movie Making demonstrates how amateur films and home movies stand as testaments to the creative lives of ordinary people, enriching our experience of art and the everyday. Here we encounter the lyrical and visually expressive qualities of films produced in New England between 1915 and 1960 and held in the collections of Northeast Historic Film, a moving image repository and study center that was established to collect, preserve, and interpret the audiovisual record of northern New England. Contributors from diverse backgrounds examine the visual aesthetics of these films while placing them in their social, political, and historical contexts. Each discussion is enhanced by technical notes and the analyses are also juxtaposed with personal reflections by artists who have close connections to particular amateur filmmakers. These reflections reanimate the original private contexts of the home movies before they were recast as objects of study and artifacts of public history.

Author Bio

Martha J. McNamara is Director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program in the Department of Art at Wellesley College. She is author of From Tavern to Courthouse: Architecture and Ritual in American Law, 1658-1860 and editor (with Georgia Barnhill) of New Views of New England: Studies in Material and Visual Culture, 1680-1830.

Karan Sheldon is cofounder of northern New England’s moving image archive, Northeast Historic Film. She has curated screenings including You Work, We’ll Watch and Exceptional Amateur Films and given annual lectures in Regional and Nontraditional Moving Image Archiving for the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, Rochester, NY.


“There is an old idea that amateur art is the purest, because it is made without consideration of money or fame. Here is the proof—vivid slices of real life as rich and rewarding as any gallery of Old Masters, rescued from obscurity through the extraordinary efforts of Northeast Historic Film. The essays in this volume, written in plain language, provide fresh insight into this still underappreciated art form. Like great paintings, the films themselves are impossible to forget”
 — Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London

“This remarkable collection of essays both documents and brings to life the contributions of amateur filmmakers in the Northeast region of the United States….As a group these practitioners, and the record of their work treated here, have helped to define aesthetic choices and expectations that have so thoroughly permeated the twentieth century and present era as to be sometimes invisible. This important study, itself reflecting a broad range of voices, performs the important work of bringing them back into view.”
 — Anne Goodyear, Co-Director, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine

“This book is important because it is interdisciplinary on every level, it focuses on the materiality of the films, it pays attention to how the films are constructed and what they mean, and it grounds itself in regional space as a zone of overlapping discourses. ”
 — Patricia R. Zimmermann, author of Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film

“As the academic study of amateur and home movies enters into a more mature phase, it has become ever more apparent that such films can only be understood by understanding the various contexts of their production—who shot the films when, where, and why?—and their reception in the family or larger groups. Martha J. McNamara and Karan Sheldon’s Amateur Movie Making: The Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960, is the first volume to provide analyses of a group of amateur films which are available for study, making the volume an excellent reader for courses on amateur film.”
 —  Jan-Christopher Horak , Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive, Professor, Critical & Media Studies, Los Angeles

Amateur Movie Making is Visual History at its best.”
 — Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

“An invaluable contribution to the study of previously overlooked nontheatrical films, Amateur Movie Making is a welcome addition to the overall field of media studies. Its focus on the everyday aspects of the material culture of the past along with its highly accessible and engaging writing will appeal to experts and non-experts alike.”
 — Society for Cinema and Media Studies Best Edited Collection Award Committee. (2018 award winner)

“[I]t is the love of cinema that shines through in these essays and the films themselves, making this book a must read for all of us.”
 — UCLA Film & Television Archive

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Table of Contents

Accessing Moving Images
Foreword / Alice T. Friedman
Introduction / Martha McNamara and Karan Sheldon

Part 1: Locating Contexts: Archive, Material, History, Place
1. A Place for Moving Images: Thirty Years of Northeast Historic Film / Karan Sheldon
2. The Technologies of Home Movies and Amateur Film / Dino Everett
3. A Region Apart: Representations of Maine and Northern New England in Personal Film, 1920-1940 / Libby Bischof
4. A Strange Familiarity: Alexander Forbes and the Aesthetics of Amateur Film / Justin Wolff

Part 2: Creative Choices: Recovering Value in Amateur Film
Reflection 1. The Task at Hand: The Films of Ernest Stillman / Whit Stillman
5. Midway Between Secular and Sacred: Consecrating the Home Movie as a Cultural Heritage Object / Karen Gracy
6. "All the Wonderful Possibilities of Motion Pictures": Hiram Percy Maxim and the Aesthetics of Amateur Filmmaking / Charles Tepperman
7. Comedic Counterpoise: Landscape and Laughs in the Films of Sidney N. Shurcliff / Martha J. McNamara

Part 3: Everyday Lives: Home and Work in Amateur Film
Reflection 2. Perspectives on the Home Movies of Charles Norman Shay, Penobscot Elder / Jennifer Neptune
8. Not-at-Home Movies / Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed
9. The Boss’s Film: Expert Amateurs and Industrial Culture / Brian Jacobson

Part 4: Families: Private and Public
Reflection 3. "The Ring of Time" in the E. B. White Home Movies / Martha White
10. Opening the Can: Home Movies In the Public Sphere / Melissa Dollman
11. Layers of Vision in Amateur Film / Mark Neumann and Janna Jones
Selected Bibliography