Amateur video: technology, behaviour and practice, 1965-2015.

Spurr, Graeme R. (2016) Amateur video: technology, behaviour and practice, 1965-2015. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information:


In considering the once highly visible and vibrant amateur film club culture of the United Kingdom the 1980s is arguably a pivotal, but controversial, historical decade in accounts of marginal film history. These years witnessed the end of the Scottish International Amateur Film Festival, a perceived sense and feeling of decline in club membership and vitality, and even a displacement of the film medium itself, with the arrival of domestic-level, narrow-video technology in the form of Betamax, VHS and other multifarious magnetic formats. Distinct feelings of loss are evident in amateur film journals of the time, while memories of the era among surviving practitioners are often characterised by senses of watershed and narratives of betrayal and distrust with manufacturers and consumer technology. This thesis through the discovery, analysis, and criticism of original visual and written empirical material will counter such understanding of the 1980s amateur cinema period, by exploring changing nomenclatures, technologies and leisure trends in this era. It will begin to define an increasingly diffuse, ambivalent and problematic narrative of this period, where many assumptions about traditional cinematographic, celluloid technology, the arrival of magnetic recording, and digital editing can be challenged.
‘Common-sense’, popular and individual accounts of this transitory era tend to argue that video was a predominant factor in the overall cultural amnesia that the amateur social world experienced. The critical endeavour of this thesis will be to construct a sophisticated and nuanced narrative of this time that counters and challenges elements of these accounts. Rather than asking what magnetic recording, or video, limited, I will discuss what it inspired and what it promoted in a scene that contrary to popular belief actually flourished, and was invigorated, by the new narrow technology on offer. That there is such discordance between different methodological processes also poses a series of larger meta-historiographical concerns around the primacy of oral history and assumptions of reliability. Questions around the diffusion and dissemination of novel technology into existent specific cultural practices will also be at the forefront of analysis.
This project collates amateur film texts (archival and internet-based) and amateur journal material (Movie Maker, Making Better Movies, Videomaker and Amateur Film Maker) in providing an alternative narrative of these developments. Emphasis will be placed on both a specific canon of amateur videos identified within the holdings of the IAC Film and Video Institute Library, and by a collection of interviews with prominent amateur film-makers, whose practice has been permanently shaped by their experience of the transitions in the 1980s. Conjunctural readings of film form, technology, genre, aesthetics, production behaviour, and practice will be developed and illustrated through reference to this canon, with a view to extending the existing historiography of amateur cinema in the UK. Focus will be placed on periodising the amateur’s transitory practice, behaviour and language from the film, to the video, to the digital era, and challenging assumptions of decline, contraction and anachronism. Questions centre on three distinct phases of amateur cinematography and new practice indexed by technological innovation: the obsolescence of film technology in the late-1970s; the impact of early three-way video systems in the 1980s and; the use of computer editing software in the mid-1990s. Considering the prior status and vitality of UK amateur film-making, the thesis will expose a hidden history of amateur film-making post-celluloid, and place considerable emphasis and value on this under-researched and burgeoning area of interdisciplinary scholarship. In conclusion, the thesis will provide an important examination of the transitory stage between film and new digital technologies, and promote further public and academic engagement with this lost leisure community. With a recent focus on digital humanities, the bridge that early narrow-track video technology creates, between amateur cinema's celluloid-past and digital future, remains a significant area for exploration. Three narrative arcs follow, each containing an illustrative micro-historical case study, alongside critical writings on language, behaviour and practice specific to video technology and the magnetic image. These arcs will explore and extrapolate the larger attitudes and values of a social world that underwent technological shifts, not necessarily perceived as positive, or progressive.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available once any embargo periods have expired.
Keywords: Amateur cinema, film history, magnetic recording.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Supervisor's Name: Goode, Dr. Ian and Craven, Dr. Ian
Date of Award: 2016
Embargo Date: 11 July 2019
Depositing User: Mr Graeme R Spurr
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7473
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2017 10:44
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2021 16:07

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