Soaked in Nostalgia | On Archive Footage

How a moment captured in 1967 can find itself immortalised in a music video in 2017.

You might not know this about me, but I am a filmmaking graduate.

It was over the course of my studies that I came to understand the untapped potential of archive footage; almost 100 years’ worth of long-forgotten adverts, the dusty nostalgia of a stranger’s family movies, the eerie meditative stillness of Vista stock roles…

Like many others, I fell in love with the touch, the feel, of the film format. There’s something precious about the delicacy of – even digitised – film reels; something special about the damaged negatives, stored in a cupboard or drawer for decades.

As part of my degree, I made a documentary that relied heavily on archive footage and voiceover work. The documentary itself didn’t really work as a narrative but my tutor commented on how well I used the archive footage. In all honesty, I relied so heavily on the archive material because I could use it for free. For a student with more outgoing and incoming money, the fact I could complete the entire project for free from my bedroom appealed hugely. (I applied the same logic when I opted to write a screenplay about Priscilla Presley for my graduation piece!)

The point of this is I have been working with archive footage for quite some time now. When I started making music videos, I searched my own archives of collected footage that I had gathered in the years previous. I am by nature nostalgic, a little detached from reality, and living with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, never quite fully Present. It seemed to fit that the music didn’t document the current moment but wasn’t quite an ode to the past either.

What I love about the technique is – aside from the aforementioned budget requirements (read: none) – it rediscovers and re-homes a moment captured in time, sometimes over half a century ago, and revives it. Home movies are particularly emotional to work with. Someone thought this moment (this road trip, that person’s face, that dog, this cat, those flowers, that baby!) special, precious enough to document it on expensive film. You start to see patterns, especially in American footage. Then, 50 years later, I stumble across it and find it equally special enough to use it as a visual accompaniment to my music. There is something about that relationship – between documenter and ‘appropriator’ – that is not quite lost on me.

I think I will write more on this in the future! In the meantime, if you also use archive footage in your projects, I want to hear about it!

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