Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: "Amateur Cinema: The Rise of North American Movie Making, 1923-1960" by Charles Tepperman

An excellent survey on the origins and developments of amateur filmmaking, from its rise following Eastman Kodak's introduction of the 16mm gauge in 1923, to its decline in the postwar period. Charles Tepperman frames the survey largely through the history of the Amateur Cinema League, an organization that offered amateur film enthusiasts the opportunity to connect and share their work, and did much to promote the art of home-made films.

Tepperman draws on articles from Movie Makers, the official publication of the Amateur Cinema League to present a vivid portrait of the movement, including common types of films, the demographics of home movie camera enthusiasts, and the relationship of amateur cinema to Hollywood. He also includes a solid overview of key filmmakers in the movement. Of particular interest is his chapter on Theodore Huff, a film historian who also worked in the documentary and avant-garde modes in addition to his contributions to amateur cinema.

Tepperman wisely avoids drawing too many comparisons to the present day situation with YouTube and online video, though he does address the way in which these new media are an outgrowth of the ideas of democratizing production and using the camera as a tool for personal expression, which originated with the founding principles of the Amateur Cinema League. Overall a fine study into a much-neglected area of film history that has much to offer for filmmakers and historians alike.

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