ReviewsIFC News. July 2010
Talk about family: Watchmaker Films has released the first of what it promises will be a series of DVDs collecting authentic home movies that have been gleaned from the global phenomenon called Home Movie Day, an annual celebration (first set in 2003 for the first Saturday in August, now in October) in which people all over the world simply set up venues where other people can bring their families' old small-gauge films and show them to rapt audiences.
The DVD, "Living Room Cinema Vol. 1," holds films shot on four continents and over eight decades (1920 to 1998), but shot by average people for their own reasons, with little or no sense of artifice, and focused almost entirely on family rituals and passing moments.
It's spellbinding, for obvious reasons -- this is history and life captured in amber, without a substantially controlling hand. It's time travel, pure and simple, but still saturated with rue and melancholy. (You watch baby footage from the '20s and you know it's likely that the child has already grown old and died, a realization that then infects even recent nursery photographs. Time passes, regardless of how much you photograph it to keep it still.)
There are weddings, too, and Orthodox Seders and bar mitzvahs, vacations to Miami and Havana -- a modern family even films the superstitious yard burial of their newborn's placenta. The film used ranges from 8mm to the bygone amateur stock 9.5mm to 35mm -- capturing San Francisco in the early '60s in CinemaScope, no less.
When you think about it, the implicit philosophy behind Home Movie Day and this nascent DVD series is so much more embracing and humane and genuine than the ideas that govern almost any other entertainment production. What's more important, anyway? It's fitting that the included booklet steers clear of contextualizing the films themselves (they all have commentary and titles provided by scholars and family members), but instead spends pages detailing how you, too, might organize and stage your own Home Movie Day.
Taking that cue, this October you could reawaken the pasts of dozens of forgotten families and generations' worth of ardor, hope, memories and drama, exactly as people around the world are doing the same thing.. (Michael Atkinson)
Film Comment. November/December 2007
If there's one sure axiom about the customs of family life, it's this: home movies are always boring. That being said, the people at the Center for Home Movies have somehow managed to crack this tautology of tedium with Living Room Cinema: Vol. 1, a collection of highlights from Home Movie Day events around the world that offers a novel exception: what about the home movies of complete strangers? With 22 films amounting to two hours of utterly non-boring footage that spans approximately 70 years, and optional commentaries by archivists, film historians, and the sometimes hilarious families themselves, Living Room Cinema proves to be much more than a cultural artifact, or a collectible item for film freaks and small-gauge enthusiasts; it'll really a must-have for anyone who's ever been captivated by the wordless draw of moving images, or the common intimacies of other people's lives. (Margaret Barton-Fumo)
Library Journal. February 15, 2008
Home Movie Day first commenced in August 2003 when a group of film archivists created a cultural outlet for the public display of private films. Similar gatherings have occurred annually worldwide. This diverse collection presents 22 amateur films, including a 16mm print of George Eastman and Thomas Edison documenting the use of Kodak's Kodacolor technology. It also contains films of utter anonymity, such as a Super 8 recording of carnival rides in action--the film's silver emulsion having decomposed so as to produce a psychedelic experience not unlike that of a kaleidoscopic acid rock video. If only commercially driven content such as America's Funniest Home Videos or "reality" TV were so curiously entertaining. Living Room Cinema's bits of personal history are engrossing because they were never intended for mass viewing. Spanning much of the last century, the films provide authentic voyeurism; conscious cinema verite this is not. Many of the clips are presented with optional commentary by various participants, family members, or discoverers of lost treasures. Alternatively, composer Donald Sosin provides original music scores recalling silent film-era accompaniment. Recommended for libraries serving film studies programs. (Eric Pasteur, Peoria P.L., IL)