Counter-Archive

Counter-Archive: Film, the Everyday, and Albert Kahn's Archives de la Planète

PAULA AMAD
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 408
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/amad13500
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  • Book Info
    Counter-Archive
    Book Description:

    Tucked away in a garden on the edge of Paris is a multimedia archive like no other: Albert Kahn's Archives de la Planète (1908-1931). Kahn's vast photo-cinematographic experiment preserved world memory through the privileged lens of everyday life, and Counter-Archive situates this project in its biographic, intellectual, and cinematic contexts. Tracing the archive's key influences, such as the philosopher Henri Bergson, the geographer Jean Brunhes, and the biologist Jean Comandon, Paula Amad maps an alternative landscape of French cultural modernity in which vitalist philosophy cross-pollinated with early film theory, documentary film with the avant-garde, cinematic models of temporality with the early Annales school of history, and film's appropriation of the planet with human geography and colonial ideology. At the heart of the book is an insightful meditation upon the transformed concept of the archive in the age of cinema and an innovative argument about film's counter-archival challenge to history. The first comprehensive study of Kahn's films, Counter-Archive also offers a vital historical perspective on debates involving archives, media, and memory.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50907-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    Most archives incite a fascination with a return to origins, beginnings, and sources. Yet they may also direct our attention in the opposite direction, toward an uncertain future. At the conception of every archive—traditionally understood as a repository for state, unpublished records no longer in use—there resides a gamble with time in general. The archive bets on its indispensability not only to the present (soon-to-be-past), but, more importantly, to the future, in the hope that its salvaged documents will be remembered, consulted, and studied. The researcher in the present, who is always removed from the archive’s own original...

  7. 1 WORLD SOUVENIR “MR. K“ AND THE ARCHIVES DE LA PLANÈTE
    (pp. 25-63)

    The above notice from the Journal du Ciné-Club is one of the very few contemporary references in the French film press to the kilometers of nonfiction footage that make up the film component of Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète. The publication in which it appeared, the Journal du Ciné-Club (1920–21), was founded and edited by the most influential film critic of his generation, Louis Delluc, and it played a central role in the intellectual and creative blossoming of French film discourse and practice in the late teens and early twenties. Given the magazine’s position at the epicenter of...

  8. 2 “KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN” FROM PRE-DOCUMENTARY TO DOCUMENTARY FILM IN THE KAHN ARCHIVES
    (pp. 64-95)

    In the opening pages of Tristes Tropiques, Claude Lévi-Strauss recalls with a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia the poorly attended anthropological lectures held weekly at Paris’s zoological museum in the 1920s. He drags out this half-forgotten scene of amateurishly illustrated lectures in the “dilapidated amphitheatre” of Paris’s Jardin des Plantes with a view to criticizing the more professionalized and mediated travel lectures that filled the Salle Pleyel in the 1950s. Lévi-Strauss’s distaste for the latter venue—whose commercial travel lectures were similarly targeted for criticism around the same time by André Bazin in an essay (“Cinema and Exploration”) that praised...

  9. 3 THE COUNTER-ARCHIVE OF CINEMATIC MEMORY BERGSONISM, LA DURÉE, AND THE EVERYDAY
    (pp. 96-132)

    In the first decades of their emergence, photography and film inspired artists and intellectuals to debate their implications for a diverse range of aesthetic, scientific, and philosophical issues. Underlying many of these debates was the impact of these new recording devices upon conceptions of memory. Both Baudelaire’s infamous diatribe against photography and Bergson’s equally renowned denunciation of photographie animée centered on the association of the new media with a debased if professionally useful form of memory. Proust’s related literary inquiry into photographic and cinematographic understandings of memory, whose first stirrings we find in the above fragment from his unfinished novel...

  10. 4 “NO MORE WRITTEN ARCHIVES, ONLY FILMS” EARLY DISCOURSES AND PRACTICES OF THE FILM ARCHIVE
    (pp. 133-163)

    In an article from 1910, one of the early literary prophets of cinema, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, came face to face with the inability of traditional storehouses of knowledge to acknowledge film when he made what appeared to be a shocking request at France’s foremost library, the Bibliothèque Nationale.³ Apollinaire attempted to access the library’s film-related documents stored somewhere at the venerable rue de Richelieu institution (just a few doors up from Kahn’s bank at 102 rue de Richelieu), only to discover he was the first person to have ever requested them. As it turned out, the collection (which included...

  11. 5 THE “ANECDOTAL SIDE OF HISTORY” TEMPORALITY, FILM, AND ANNALES HISTORIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 164-194)

    Beyond its photographic capacities, film’s arrival on the cusp of the twentieth century introduced for the first time the means for recording, storing, and reproducing motion—in other words, events as they unfolded in the fullness of time. Seizing upon the archival possibilities of this revolution in the recording of kinetic phenomena, Kahn and his collaborators adapted the positivist model of the nineteenth-century archive by incorporating into it the media of the twentieth century. As a result, they ended up mounting a threat to that model by virtue of the manifest counter-archival tendencies in film and the latent instability within...

  12. 6 SEEING “FOR THE FIRST TIME” THE REDISCOVERY OF THE EVERYDAY IN EARLY FRENCH FILM THEORY
    (pp. 195-225)

    It could be argued that the films made for Kahn’s Archive were “little spoken of” (as the brief notice in Journal du Ciné-Club put it) not because they were irrelevant or totally unknown but because French film culture simply had not yet formulated a language to comprehend the unique ambitions of Kahn’s archival project.⁴ This is perhaps why the notice mistakes an archive for a museum. Alternatively, the Journal du Ciné-Club’s disavowal of the project’s archival context and its more correct description of the films as films documentaires do suggest two discourses according to which the Kahn films did in...

  13. 7 ILLUMINATIONS FROM THE DARKENED “SANCTUARY” RECEPTION OF THE KAHN FILMS
    (pp. 226-260)

    No contemporary descriptions of the actual film screenings on Kahn’s Boulogne property have come to light. Nonetheless, the outlines of a typical screening can be reconstructed from the memoirs of Jean Brunhes’ daughter, Mariel Jean-Brunhes Delamarre, and from the extant projection register that provides the date, film titles, and names of audience members for every screening from March 18, 1921, to June 29, 1950. After having had a light lunch, a tour of the gardens and their color portrait taken, the personal guests of Kahn or the Société Autour du Monde, as described by Delamarre, would have “penetrated” the small...

  14. 8 THE AERIAL VIEW HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, COSMOPOLITANISM, AND COLONIALISM
    (pp. 261-294)

    If the microscopic view provided a privileged vantage point for rediscovering the everyday in early French film theory, then its opposite, the aerial view, held a similarly privileged role in the rediscovery of the earth for human geography. In the above passage from Jean Brunhes’ major work, Géographie humaine (1910), he summons his readers like a latter-day Jules Verne to accompany him on an “imaginary” ride above the earth, where the “facts” of human geography will for the first time appear fully to the human eye, or “better still,” to the “photographic plate.” Much like the visual revolution announced by...

  15. CONCLUSION TOUTE LA MÉMOIRE DU MONDE: COUNTER-ARCHIVAL TENDENCIES BEYOND KAHN
    (pp. 295-306)

    Siegfried kracauer’s recollection of Fernand Léger’s 1931 dream of a “monster film” in which every single moment of a day in the life of a couple would be recorded without their knowledge presents a dystopian version of the quest to archive everyday life that motivated Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète.³ This book has explored the two extremes of film’s archival longing for the everyday as figured literally in the Archives de la Planète and conceptually in the discursive context engendering Léger’s “monster film.” At one extreme this desire expected to unite humanity through a multimedia visual inventory of daily...

  16. APPENDIX
    (pp. 307-308)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 309-364)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 365-398)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 399-410)