header image

A Taxonomy?

In the context of archives whose collections contain Home Movies only by happenstance, and whose missions do not prioritize their cataloguing or preservation, the broadly monolithic term Amateur Film has generally been sufficient for categorizing them within these much larger collections. When Home Movies become a central focus of an organization such as the Center for Home Movies, or for a project such as a Home Movie Portal, or for scholars, artists, or consumers interested in mining this vast pool of moving image production, it is natural (and, perhaps, useful) to discern patterns and regularities within this conceptually undifferentiated mass of film production.

A request from the Library of Congress that a “Taxonomy” of Home Movies be produced as part of this Home Movie Summit has provided a timely impetus for this effort. As a practical matter, the request is born of a desire to identify outstanding Home Movies as candidates for the National Film Registry: how to identify and choose among this enormous mass of material exemplary films worthy of elevation to this list? “Best of Kind” is a natural approach to this sort of task, and “Best Home Movie” is an absurdly broad rubric.

At the same time, scholarly interest in Home Movies may suffer from a similar overwhelming. Films notable for capturing some already-significant event (e.g. Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII), or for presenting a compelling narrative on a topic of public interest (e.g. caring for a special-needs child in Think of Me First as a Person), or for dazzling us with home-made artistry (Margaret Conneely’s The Fairy Princess) readily galvanize interest through their exceptional qualities, a central conviction of the Center for Home Movies and Home Movie Day has been that the purely quotidian, nominally unglamorous productions of common folks with common experiences constitute an important cultural record worthy of preservation and study. The identification of genuinely distinct kinds of Home Movies might invite study and engagement, providing intellectual purchase on an otherwise amorphous landscape.

Finally, the request for a Home Movie Taxonomy signals a watershed moment in the acceptance of Home Movies as a significant moving image category. We’ve moved well beyond the need to argue that Home Movies are worthy of attention and preservation, so the question is no longer “How Come?” but “What Kinds?”