Home Movies: The Aesthetics of Amateur Cinema

by M. L. Morrill

Home Movie Aesthetics
Michael Morrill

Good Morning!

I was drawn to the category of amateur art because of a recent unarticulated concept of mine, something that I call Home Movie Aesthetics. A category of movie making that is raw and untrained. The inspiration for this stems from Home Movies, Skate Videos, Documentary, and Experimental Cinema.
Growing up I my family was not on the cutting edge of consumer technology. We never had a video camera. And even in my study of photography, I stayed away from the moving image. It is only within the last year have I really used a video camera for more than a few seconds. My motivation for getting into film was purely just to do it. To me it is a form of art, that because of my relative ignorance, I am free of any constraints or baggage placed onto it from the larger cinema culture. However, as I continue working with movies, and gain knowledge of what works and what does not, I realize that this time of amateurity and beginner’s luck is finite.
My idea of the home movie as fine art cinema came after watching an early film by Experimental Director, Nathaniel Dorsky called A Fall Trip Home (1964). The film is a super colorful document of a visit to his hometown in New York State. The film was very touching in its display of saturated colors and mix of focused and un focused content. While it was shot on 16mm, Fall Trip Home has many of the style characteristics shared with smaller gauge films like Super 8.
Technically, Home Movies can vary from filmmaker to filmmaker; sometimes they exist as raw, unclipped footage, or as extremely edited footage that has been recorded over a few years. The image can be a deathly still tripod shot, or a vomit-inducing walk down the street. My films side towards the latter. The image can be clear or pixielated. The image can be neatly composed with precise framing or it can be filmed completely “from the hip” with minutes of walking feat, cut off heads, or the inside of a camera bag.
As ahistorical and uncritical as the aesthetics of Home Movies might want to be, Home movies do have a past. As a documentary device home movies have capture some important events in the history of the 20th century, including the death of Bonnie and Clyde, as well as the most watched single shot in history, the assassination of John F. Kenedy by Abraham Zapruder. The home movie is also subject to the contextual constraints of shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, RealTV, and now Youtube.
In its experimental narrative form, the Home Movie carries on its shoulders the weight of many filmmakers such as, George Kuchar, and Tom Palazzolo, and more recently Harmony Korine.
The first home movies were made in the 1920s with the invention of 16mm film that was not made of explosive nitrate based film. Since then as technology has advanced so has the home movie. After 16mm, film shrunk to 8 and Super 8mm. In the 1960s came the arrival of video technology, and with it, an age of extremely easy consumer level motion pictures. Today digital video has made us capable of making movies with our telephones, our computers, and tiny helmet cameras. The aesthetics of the home movie do not favor any medium over another.

The Home Movie does have its weaknesses. The first of which is its position as a recorded media, and therefore its dependence on the past. Which leads to its greatest weakness, which is the way, it skirts the line of sentimentality. Because of the Home Movies history as a device of remembrance, the amateur film risks its inherent sentimentality, and strives to overcome what is one of the most detrimental qualities an art object can have.

Thank You!