Reel Families

Reel Families

A Social History of Amateur Film
Patricia R. Zimmermann
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 07/22/1995
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-20944-3
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Amateur film has been seen as the junkheap of private culture. Yet music videos recycle home movies as authenticity; commercials copy its style to sell intimacy; documentaries use it to recount history "from below."

Reel Families is the first historical study of amateur film, the most pervasive of media. Patricia Zimmerman charts the history of this medium from 1897 to the present, examining how ideological, technical, and social constraints have stunted amateur film's potential for extending media production beyond corporate monopolies and into the hands of everyday people. She draws on an array of sources—camera manufacturers, patents, early film and photography technology journals, amateur filmmaking magazines, professional magazines, and family-oriented popular magazines—to investigate how the concept of amateur film was transformed within evolving contexts of technology, aesthetics, social relations, and politics.

Author Bio

PATRICIA R. ZIMMERMANN is Professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography at Ithaca College. She is also the author of States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies and has also published articles in Screen, Afterimage, Journal of Film and Video, Cinema Journal, The Independent, Genders, Wide Angle, and Current Research in Film.


““One of the most original and stimulating academic film books to come out this quarter. Zimmermann perceptively links feminism, sociology and film theory with spectacularly thorough research . . . Economical but ever lucid with theory, her prose is always elegant as she unfolds this fascinating and under-examined history.” —Sight and Sound “This fascinating study examines amateur film, filmmaking, and equipment from the late 1890s to the present, focusing on the emerging and changing discourse of aesthetics, creativity and innovation, and standards of production. . . . The book features excellent analysis of actual amateur films and video. It deserves to be read by anyone who has ever used an amateur film or video camera.” —Choice The first historical study of amateur film, the most pervasive of media. Patricia Zimmermann examines the history of the medium and why ideological, technical, and social constraints have stunted amateur film’s potential.”

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Table of Contents


1 Pleasure or Money

2 Entrepreneurs, Artists, Hobbyists, and Workers: 1897-1923

3 Professional Results with Amateur Ease: 1923-1940

4 Cameras and Guns: 1941-1949

5 Do-It-Yourself: 1950-1962

6 Reinventing Amateurism