AFW + NFSA #50 - Noël Burch | Correction Please or How We Got into Pictures

7pm Thursday 25 July | AFW/Arena, 2 Kerr St Fitzroy


'Correction Please or How We Got into Pictures', film by Noël Burch (1979) 50 mins. Screening on 16mm

Though known as a film theorist with a focus on early cinema, Noël Burch also made a number of documentary and theory driven films including Correction Please, or How We Got into Pictures.

Correction Please is a formally adventurous and rigorously philosophical essay on the nature of early cinema, made under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain in the late 1970s. The topic of Correction Please is the development of narrative cinematic language from film’s inception to the period of sound—what Burch has dubbed “the gestation of the Institutional Mode”—investigated through a series of tautly structured segments, including ten archival examples of so-called “primitive” films made prior to 1906, animated diagrams explicating these early works, quotations from Maxim Gorky, Christian Metz, and Lillian Gish, and, most dramatically, a series of five staged sequences that recapitulate and analyze emblematic formal properties of five different chapters in cinema’s evolution.

Shot with actors on a stunning Art Deco set, these scenes construct a tale of international intrigue, as a young man delivers a secret message to a mysterious and mesmerizing Countess. “For the record,” Burch writes, “I should indicate that while true pastiche is never intended, the periods alluded to in the five sequences staged by me are: the mature primitive years (ca. 1905), Griffith’s middle period at Biograph (ca. 1910), the more mature films which Reginald Barker made for Thomas Ince (ca. 1915), Fritz Lang’s Mabuse diptych (1922)—a crucial moment in the elaboration of the visual and symbolic structures of the Cinema Institution—and, finally, the era of ‘canned theatre,’ insofar as it is that of so many films made between 1929 and today.”

Despite its overtly didactic intent, Correction Please resists easy categorization as an educational documentary, presenting its arguments in an elliptical and evocative manner. “This film does not claim to ‘explain’ the evolution of cinema,” Burch writes. “Rather it is an attempt to suggest a few strands of reflection on that development and to favor the growth of a scientifically grounded, non-normative pedagogy. It is hoped that the viewer/user will undertake his or her own reading of the elements presented here, develop his or her own conclusions, perhaps without wishing or needing to engage with all of the various themes proposed.”

Accompanying the film will be notes prepared by the filmmaker to "clarify incidental obscurities for teachers and other users".

Notes pinched from the NFSA and Light Industry.