Old-School Wonder: Color Moving Pictures and New Media Scholarship

(cross-posted here at the Scholar Electric blog)

Curators/scholars at the UK’s New Media Museum have unearthed what appears to the “the first colour moving pictures,” or, more simply, the world’s first color movie. Whoa. I’m not sure why, but this discovery really move me. And this morning, I find myself reflecting again on what it is that makes New Media so special to me. Watch for yourself…

So why do I (and why should you) find this film so fascinating? Mostly, because the color is messy. Weird, eh? Maybe that’s not exactly what I mean. The film is not in sharp focus. The contrasts are muddy, the compositions haphazard, and the subjects both private and pedestrian. It’s the color. It’s out of control, immature, bursting out of alignment within the frame. There’s so much energy to it. And it’s a certain type of energy that just isn’t possible in today’s world of taken-for-granted innovation and exponentially shrinking development cycles.

Sure, we can still feel glimpses of something shockingly new. I remember something special about unboxing my first iPad, but that leap of innovation stood on the shoulders of the touch-interactivity and portability of the iPhone/iPod. It was wonderful. Not shocking. Not like the Lumiere brothers screening “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” at which (legend has it) the audience, unaccustomed to moving pictures, ran from the room in fear at the site of the oncoming train. Check it out…

Of course I reflect on countless “firsts”: the first photograph, audio recording, talkie, radio broadcast, trans-atlantic radio broadcast, etc. Few people would label these technologies, including color film, as “new media,” Obviously, none of them are new media, but each of them once was. And each of them held a certain type of magic. Eventually each technology matured into something fit for mass audiences, innovators, masters, amateurs, and yes, scholars.

New Media scholars have the opportunity to trace the threads of innovation, the development of genres, and the wonder present at forgotten origins. But new media scholarship isn’t just about the past history of new media; it’s also about the present history of today’s new media. iPads, GoPro Sport video cameras, mobile apps, Twitter, Instagram, etc. That’s part of what I want for New Media scholarship is unearth the opportunities for those old-school types of wonder in these new technologies.