Archival cinema

Authored by: Paolo Cherchi Usai

The Routledge Companion to World Cinema

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138918801
eBook ISBN: 9781315688251
Adobe ISBN:


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Michelangelo’s frescoes at the Sistine Chapel in Rome are not called “archival paintings”, and the Ishtar gate at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin is not “museum architecture”, but Georges Méliès Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902, France) is generally regarded as an “archival film”. The roots of this blatant disparity are to be found in the cultural dictionary of the moving image, characterised by an inherent tension between professional and non-specialised language. The occurrence is all the more remarkable in that film professionals do not have control over the terminology pertaining to their own field of expertise once their work is translated into mainstream jargon. This gap between conceptual accuracy and convention is particularly manifest in the discussions about the reuse of cinematic images. “When I fixed upon this subject I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that there was no name for it”, wrote Jay Leyda in a book that is still regarded as a key reference work on the topic; “the proper term would have to indicate that the work begins on the cutting table, with already existing film shots.” By his own admission, the focus of his work could only “be referred to […] in various inconsistent ways” (Leyda 1964: 9).

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