It’s an old cultural cliché that a party grinds to a halt whenever the hosts pull out their home movies, and that’s unfortunate. Outside of diaries and letters, the pictures we take of ourselves constitute some of our most personal art, and some of our least well-preserved. That’s the inspiration behind Home Movie Day, an annual event that sees venues around the world inviting people to exhibit their old films for an audience. A representative sampling of those films are now available on the DVD Films From Home Movie Day: Living Room Cinema, Volume 1, complete with commentary tracks—sometimes from the people who made the movies, sometimes from the people who appear in them, and sometimes from the offspring who inherited them. A couple of these films were professionally shot, and a few were made by shutterbugs or visual artists, but for the most part, these were produced in much the same way people still make home movies, with cheap equipment and a yen to capture a moment that matters.
To that end, most of the pieces on this disc feature children: having birthdays, celebrating Christmas, getting bar mitzvahed, and the like. And because the collection spans decades and regions, it’s a diverse record of how people have lived their lives over the years, and how they’ve chosen to present themselves. A girl’s third birthday party in the East Village in the late ’80s gets rendered as a jittery art-happening, complete with dismembered baby dolls, while a ’60s Christmas in Manhattan comes off as more lyrical, with lots of shots of twinkling window displays and adorable kids tugging at their pants. A hobbyist from San Francisco uses a Cinemascope camera to document the daily rhythm of the city circa 1961, while a high-school kid in early-’80s Connecticut drags her camera idly from the cafeteria to the local nightclubs, capturing her new-wave friends at play. Not all the films are that special, and a few too many focus on kids in diapers, shot during those few magic months when their parents still remembered that they had cameras. But when the program presents hauntingly decayed footage of a carnival, or a ’40s wedding narrated by the couple’s son, who admits, “I don’t ever remember seeing them dance,” it’s definitely no dull night at the neighbors’.
Key features: The aforementioned commentaries.