Home movies! It’s about time they left the home.
In the City of Melbourne’s public lounge room (Federation Square), in an open space paved with uneven sandstone tiles, the sun set behind Flinders Street Station as people gathered. They came to watch home movies which were screened as part of the Melbourne Festival. Some people stood while others were more comfortably seated in deck chairs to view short movies made by everyday people, and hear what they had to say about them.
Unlike photographs, films when projected, are not objects that can be held on to, passed around and read. Instead, they are fleeting, ghost-like recreations. In this way they mimic the transient and elusive nature of the modern world, where emails fly through cyberspace and are deleted to avoid overfilled inboxes. In the same way phone conversations and text messages come and go, without leaving a material trace as letters on paper do.
Although we cannot hold onto the home movies screened, by showing them as part of the Festival, we were able to see family memories, relationships and personal histories being played out on the digital screen. These were stories and experiences of ‘everyday’ people that had been recorded in the dominant medium of our time and were now being shared with the public.
When the movie camera was first produced on a large scale early in the 20th century, Thomas Edison predicted that moving pictures would predominantly provide entertainment in the homes of wealthy families. By seeing the home movies in Federation Square, we saw the very different reality that has eventuated. People of varied means have access to this technology and have used it to ably record and remember their past.
And as a community, this event enabled us to share these stories.
One night in the series of screenings, with master of ceremonies Rod Quantock, we heard the stories of the actors and filmmakers we saw on the screen. The screening began with images of the now not-so-everyday comedian Brian Dawe growing up in Adelaide. After the celebrity footage, the remaining films were made by and about less conspicuous members of our community.
We saw footage of Matthew King. His parents bought a film camera to record the Matthew as a child. His grandparents bought a projector to view the images of him. The family did this to share their lives with each other when they were geographically separated, by living on the opposite coasts of Australia.
Then we were introduced to the Robinson family. We saw footage of Barbara and Barry Robinson’s wedding in 1960. Silent images of a bride and her bevy of bridesmaids leaving a house were projected onto the screen and were followed by the newly married couple driving away from a church. Footage of the Robinson’s five children happily playing was also shown.
Barbara commented that her grandchildren take much delight in watching these movies, as it enables them to really see their parents as children. One of Barabara and Barry’s daughters, Joan, had written a commentary to accompany films of her childhood. She said that her mother would hold film nights where their home movies were screened in conjunction with segments of silent movies that Barbara had bought. Joan said that they would always laugh at their own antics being projected onto the screen.
Joan Robinson’s delightful film, Froggie’s Gone (1999) was also screened and greatly enjoyed. It was a beautifully told story of her aunt, Beryl Cameron, whose ceramic frog had been with her all her married life, but was stolen from the front porch of her northern suburban home. With the help of her vigilant, long-term neighbour Joe and two Victorian police members, ‘Froggie’ was ultimately recovered and now lives safely in Beryl’s back garden.
Beryl and Joe attended the screening, and spoke afterwards. ‘Froggie’, who had been repainted for the occasion, also made a special appearance. Beryl said she was so proud to be the focus of the film. Many members of the Robinson family were there to witness their family stories being shown cheering to show their support and enjoyment.
Home movies are normally screened to family members and friends within the home. What made these screenings really important was that the Melbourne Festival provided a space where home movies were allowed to break free from their usual confines and be seen by many people in public.
For one night, strangers were allowed a glimpse into the Robinson, King and Dawe families and were grateful to be allowed the opportunity to share and enjoy, albeit briefly, others people’s family stories.
Mary Tomsic has worked as a lecturer in Film and History and Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her current project is a history of amateur filmmaking in Australia.
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