‘Useful Cinema’ and Its Methodological Usefulness for Cinema and Media Studies – Two Days of Exploration
Prof. Yvonne Zimmermann (Université de Marburg)
Need advice in cooking, workout, make-up, or operating a computer? YouTube tutorials provide help and guidance in almost every situation. Tutorials are among the most numerous and most popular genres on YouTube, but they are by no means a new phenomenon. Instead, they are part of a long history of utility films or ‘useful cinema’ (Gebrauchsfilm in German). The emerging scholarly field of useful cinema focuses on films that for a long time have been neglected, such as science and industrial films, educational and classroom films, home movies and advertising films, and explores the wide array of how films were put to use beyond the commercial movie theater.
The block seminar takes the recently established and currently thriving field of useful cinema as a starting point to inquire about its emergence, objects, sources and privileged approaches, and explores and critically questions its methodological productivity (or usefulness) to revisit and revise cinema and media histories.
On the one hand, the seminar will put useful cinema in relation to early cinema and to current digital media cultures (on YouTube in particular) in order to establish a media archaeological perspective. On the other hand, it will discuss examples that to a large extent are related to Switzerland. This is not for any patriotic reasons, but to illustrate how utility films have been part and parcel of visual cultures in institutional contexts (such as industry, school, tourism) way beyond commercial cinema circuits and notwithstanding the (non-) importance of national film industries.