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On a finer-grained level, there are recurring images and themes peculiar to Home Movies that catalogers might profitably note. “Baby in the Backyard” is one. “Moving landscape out the passenger window” is another. “Mugging for the Camera” is one more. The range of possibilities here is bounded only by the interest of the audience in analyzing these films. Tropes are “larger” than topical subject keywords, and often involve a combination of subject matter and camera posture not typically captured by subject-term keywords.

Some Tropes will be seen to echo Genre terms. While a Genre term would suggest the bulk of a “film” (itself in need of definition) devoted to the given endeavor, a Trope would appropriately capture a small passage or fleeting image within a larger work.

Researchers interested in plumbing the data embedded in large volumes of home movies for a very particular kind of information – say Left-handedness in Children or Holiday Gift-Giving – but unable to invest the time to personally screen thousands of hours of home movie footage could benefit immensely from a crowd-sourced approach to identifying and tagging relevant clips from the enormous body of home movie material channeled through a unified portal.

Such tropes would be best defined through expression of interest – otherwise the fields of potential interest would appear to be virtually infinite. Listed here is an initial brainstorm of Home Movie Tropes generated by respondents this summer. Many are playful in nature – and most are instantly familiar to frequent viewers of Home Movies.


The Long Pan – film sequence in which the camera sweeps across an extended vista.

Road shot –filmed “out the window” of a moving vehicle (see below, also)

Surveillance footage – the camera is intent upon capturing individuals without their knowledge or consent

Time Lapse footage et.al. – Each of the “Trick” techniques outlined in the popular How to Make Good Movies text published by Eastman Kodak in the 1940’s-50’s might be tagged as a separate Trope.

Title Cards / Intertitles – the presence of homemade or store-bought intertitles represents a deliberate commitment to home movie craft worthy of note.


Coming of Age/Childhood development /Milestone Moment: new baby, feeding the baby, baby standing up, learning to walk, potty training, toddler time, baby bath time, baby’s first steps, communion, bar/bat mitzvah, first dance party in the basement, etc.

The “Check out our stuff” motif: Family members (sometimes dad but just as often mom or the kids) posing with the new car in the driveway, or in front of the new house, new couch, Christmas tree with presents, little girls prancing in their Easter outfits, (members of) the family dressed up and standing in a group on the front porch before heading off to church, prom, etc.

Self-documentation/Self-aggrandizement: The budding genius capturing his/her greatness for posterity (or, sometimes, later self-examination and critique). One example of this is “Florence Vandertramp,”–a videotape screened at an Austin TX Home Movie Day event of a teenage girl swanning around pretending to conduct an orchestra while wearing her best Jessica McClintock violin-recital dress a playing a “Hooked on Classics” LP.

“Oh no he didn’t!”: Might fit into the “Look Ma, No Hands” category (see below), but more focused on youths doing/being gross things. Eating weird stuff, out-of-control partying, trying to get the dog stoned, etc. Overlaps with material of the same themes shot by adults at wedding receptions, house parties, and so on.

Images of the beloved: A film that shows the spouse/significant other–sometimes on vacation, sometimes in a domestic setting–in loving and lingering detail. Often includes extreme close-ups of the face or body, playful batting-away of the camera (person) by subject, flirty responses such as eyelash-batting, shirt-unbuttoning, skirt-flipping, dancing with the camera, etc. Not necessarily pornographic or prurient in effect, but definitely indicative of intimacy and absorbed regard.

“Mugging” for the camera – the phenomenon in which the subject conveys an overt awareness of the camera, responding with antic or exaggerated poses or expressions.

“Trainspotting”: Films aiming to capture “sightings” of prized ships, planes, autos, airshows, maiden voyages, etc. There’s a lot of this stuff out there, and it tends to get snapped up on eBay really quickly.

“Look Ma, No Hands”: Stunts and risk-taking captured on camera. Lots of skateboarding stuff from the ’80s and ’90s fits this category, but there are also jumping-off-high-places and other forms of messing around captured by the jumper/messer-around and/or pals. Girls’ stuff tends to have lots of gymnastics or dancing.

“Look, an animal! And it’s so close I can feed it a potato chip!”: Self-explanatory

Human Diversity as Curiosity – footage of people as an object of interest due purely to difference from the filmmaker – “Images of the Other”.


These examples would come closest to simply Subject Keywords, and perhaps would best be served that way. It might be desirable to identify a limited vocabulary of popular Home Movie subject matter – but this might best be done through routine subject-word tagging and then searching for the most commonly applied terms.

Parades: Specific, but common topic of home movie makers

Public event: Presidential visits, sporting events, concerts, etc. Showing that the person was there is at least as important as showing the event itself.

The Road (literally): people shot the road or highway, sometimes time lapse. Roadside Americana.

Gardens: This can be deadly but color film drove a lot of it; Northeast Historic Film has excellent garden/backyard in Shanghai footage, as well as Katharine White, author of “Onward and Upward in the Garden,” casually in her garden.

Special Weather: Freak (or just long-anticipated and gleefully enjoyed) snowfalls, floods, hurricanes, temperatures hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, etc.

Demolitions & Construction: Self-explanatory.


One of the truly provocative and perhaps profound aspects of Home Movie preservation is the notion that Home Movies might be mined for an untold variety of focused tropes of interest to a highly specialized audience. For instance, there might be behaviors involving food that are of interest to reseachers – of serving size, or of presentation. Or geographers might identify a certain feature of terrain, or human interaction with terrain that would provide a basis for scientific study.

The application of Subject Terms is not equal to the task of collating these notable occurrences in the absence of a directive as to what to look for. (A cataloguer cannot be expected to tag all details of potential interest). In this sense, a system of Home Movie Tropes might be conceived of as a working list of notable motifs. As such, a listing of Tropes should be flexible, open to addition, and appealing to crowd-sourcing constituencies of participants who might enjoy identifying and tagging such tropes.