ACMI reopened in February 2021 with a new centrepiece exhibition that tells the story of the moving image. When you visit the exhibition, you're greeted by our friendly visitor experience guides. Working in the exhibition space, they get to hear firsthand our visitors' reactions and often find themselves in fascinating discussions about film, TV, videogames and art. With all those hours spent immersed in the exhibition, the guides have had time to ponder the themes and ideas it explores. And now they have a few questions for the people who put it all together.
Visitor Experience Guide Grace Quiason asks Curator Chelsey O’Brien
As part of the curatorial team for The Story of the Moving Image, Chelsey helped tell the story of the inventors, innovators and artists at the turn of the 20th century that wielded light, split time and captured motion, heralding a technological revolution that continues today.
Grace Quiason: In the Splitting Time display, we explore Eadweard Muybridge's experiments with capturing images that the naked eye could not see. Why did you choose to make this an interactive experience for visitors?
Chelsey O'Brien: It was always important to embed interactive experiences into the fabric of The Story of the Moving Image, and Muybridge, Étienne-Jules Marey and later Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton’s work into shutter speeds presented us with a match made in heaven. The interactive is very simple, using individual frames from a series of sequential photographs. Visitors can wind a crank and emulating the mechanics of a mutoscope, speed up, slow down or stop time. This was what was revolutionary about the work of Muybridge, Marey and Edgerton, they simultaneously reimagined our perception of time whilst propelling the dawn of cinema.
GQ: I've always found the bi-unial magic lantern projection to be so evocative and exemplary of how well analogue technology survives. How did you procure this piece and the slides?
CO: The stunning bi-unial magic lantern was something that took a while to source because we knew from the beginning that we wanted it to work in the exhibition. We wanted the technology to come alive and give visitors a greater understanding of how this incredible invention actually worked. This meant we needed to source one with working lenses, and one that could accommodate a modern light source needed for the install. It took over 12 months to find but we were lucky to work with the UK Magic Lantern Society to finally source the mighty bi-unial used in The Story of the Moving Image. Of course we could not have done any of this without the advice and support of the wonderful Martyn Jolly, an Australian lanternist and expert. We worked with Martyn to source the effects slides used in the exhibition and have also displayed a number of his narrative and panoramic slides in the display.
GQ: The supercut video that introduces the Sound and Colour section is a mesmerising look at how colour was introduced and used in film. How did you pick which films to highlight and is there any you didn't get to include that stand out?
CO: Wowsers this was probably the longest list in the exhibition when we first started! But ultimately it came down to what worked visually in the editing process. We knew that we wanted to give it a timeframe, this helped with the way the clips sat together, they didn’t look too visually disparate. It quickly dawned on us that less was going to be more in this situation. It could never have included everything even if we tried and so instead we created a highlights package which hopefully sparks viewer’s imaginations and encourages them to discover more. There are definitely some very recognisable films we have not included, but this means its an excellent conversation starter!
GQ: Visitors are always amazed by Pepper's ghost effect, triangles, cyan and red at the beginning of the Moving Pictures section. How did this work get envisioned and why start of the exhibition with an illusion?
CO: This was a work created by local Melbourne artist Taree Mackenzie. It was seen during her exhibition at Neon Parc and very immediately it was evident that the work fit with perfectly with the ideas we wanted to highlight across the exhibition but specifically in Moving Pictures. Moving Pictures focuses on the historical evolution of the moving image but we never wanted it to be ‘the homework’. We wanted this section to be engaging and wonderous, to invoke a sense of the Victorian era wherein science, art and illusion all seemed to exist in tandem. We also wanted to encourage visitors to think of these historic ideas and inventions as very much still relevant today. Moving Pictures is presented as an ongoing conversation between the past and the present. Taree’s incredible work manages to sit across time. Using historic technology, she has created something utterly contemporary. It was the quintessential work for this part of the exhibition, bold, playful and a little bit magic.
Visitor Experience Guide Iacopo Tozzi asks Videogames Curator Arieh Offman
Arieh curated the videogames content in the Games Lab Presented by Big Ants Studios, a space dedicated to profiling the best local and international videogame talent.
Iacopo Tozzi: What do you think are the key elements of the continued growth in popularity of videogames and their embracement by new audiences?
Arieh Offman: One of the key elements in my opinion is the continual growth and evolution of technology means that the kinds of games that we make, and the stories that we can tell with them are growing continually more sophisticated, nuanced and diverse. This appeals to wider audiences who discover the joy of the only screen medium that is truly interactive to the audience. And it is this interactivity that is the crux of what makes games so appealing – you are not just watching or listening to stories but become part of them. You control the characters, you make the choices –they become your victories and your defeats, and the sense of achievement that a player feels is unique to the medium of videogames.
IT: We have seen movies moving toward the interactivity of games like with BlackMirror: Bandersnatch. What do you think this means for entertainment and storytelling? Will these two worlds ever merge?
AO: This is interesting as we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of this type of format – but it is not a new development. Throughout the 1990’s we saw a lot of experimentation with filmed content or ‘full motion video’ as part of the evolution of videogames in games like Wing Commander and the infamous Night Trap. Multipath movies were a format that was quite similar to the Black Mirror Bandersnatch episode and mirrored the ‘choose your own adventure’ pathways of this kind of storytelling. Modern game developers like Sam Barlow are continuing to experiment with how film and videogames can intersect with games like Her Story. In a way, the two worlds have already merged to some degree – one needs only to look at popular franchises like Spiderman that exist across film, animation and games to see that there is significant crossover between the mediums. These worlds won’t ever replace each other, but rather continue to inform each other in the way that they evolve techniques, conventions and stories.
IT: Why did you choose Dragon's Lair and The Simpsons as arcade machines for the exhibition?
AO: There are many reasons why I chose to curate these particular arcade games. One common element for both is nostalgia – for those of a certain age the sight of either of those games will take one back to an arcade or a pizza joint, losing handfuls of pocket money.
Dragon’s Lair features animation from iconic animator Don Bluth, responsible for memorable films including The Land Before Time and An American Tail. At the time, it was the most expensive videogame ever made, and was the birth of a mechanic that is controversial and still in use to this day – the ‘quick time event’.
The Simpsons was an iconic beat ‘em up by one of the masters of the genre, Konami. It also speaks to the way that screen mediums intersect, with television and movies proving fertile ground for gamemakers – and of course vice versa. It was also one of the first arcade cabinets to feature digitised speech, a feature that is commonplace in almost every videogame today.
Visitor Experience Guide Iacopo Tozzi asks Chief Astronomer Matt Millikan
Matt leads the content creation and curation of the Constellation, a large-scale interactive experience in The Story of the Moving Image that connects exhibition objects to fascinating streams of interconnected moving image works.
Iacopo Tozzi: How did you decide what content to include, the possibilities seem endless?
MM: The possibilities are indeed endless! One of the main intentions of the Constellation is to acknowledge that no exhibition on screen culture can include everything, so the Constellation connects what visitors collect on their Lens to the broader cosmos of moving image content.
To make the experience meaningful, we developed both a practical and curatorial framework for them. Each Constellation would contain at least two different types of work (film, TV, videogame, artwork etc), one woman featured prominently, one non-English language work, and one mainstream work for visitors use as an entry point. As the process developed, the framework evolved into guidelines, rather than rules, as it was sometimes a square peg, round hole situation.
We also learned from audience testing that Constellations were more enjoyable when they had an overarching theme, whether that’s women who own the narrative, the use of fake blood in cinema, or how light and shadow – the core of the moving image – is used in First Peoples films and documentaries to illuminate stories that have, for too long, been kept in the dark.
IT: What kind of connections were important in that decision?
MM: The connections between works in Constellations are, as mentioned, innumerable. Some are pretty linear and some are completely left-of-centre – hopefully they’re always surprising and satisfying! We decided what was important by categorising them into three main connection types.
The most basic explores cast and crew who worked across connected works, and how they were informed and influenced by their creative collaborations. We tried to avoid well-known connections such as ‘Scorsese and De Niro’ to focus on the less obvious, like John Polson and Robert Connolly reuniting 22 years after The Boys to make The Dry.
Works that share common themes, ideas or concepts, which could be something like the evolution of AI from Metropolis to Halo 4 or how Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS uses remix as resistance just like a 1941 mash-up music video that ridiculed the Third Reich.
The connection and influence of craft and storytelling techniques between works, like the impact of Akira Kurosawa on Stars Wars or how the style of ancient shadow puppets is used in everything from the first animated feature film to the recent Candyman.
IT: How many works are linked and how varied are they?
MM: There are over 250 Constellations and over 1600 links between works within them. They’re incredibly varied, encompassing music videos, websites, Tweets, Reddit threads, Instagram posts and Tumblr sites, along with your standard films, TV shows, videogames and artworks. There are, of course, a number of recurring works, which seem to anecdotally reflect the impact these works had on others or that they feature in The Story of the Moving Image as a collectible display. For instance, the top three works that appear in multiple Constellations are: Blade Runner (in the exhibition), 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sweet Country (in exhibition). The Favourite and Cleverman also feature in the top five and appear in the exhibition.
Works that are not in the exhibition that feature in the most Constellations include TERROR NULLIUS, Star Wars, Redfern Now, Romeo + Juliet, The Mandalorian, The Crown, The Shining, Mr. Robot, Taxi Driver, Metropolis, The Wizard of Oz, The Simpsons, Psycho and The Aviator. On the flip side, there are over 1400 works that appear once or twice, so the top 60+ like the ones mentioned above that reappear a lot are firmly in the minority and the variation, represented by those 1400 that appear once or twice, is pretty huge!
IT: One of our visitors gave what I consider a great definition: “it’s like picking up inside my own brain”, what would be your definition?
MM: Because the Constellation is human-curated, I’m not surprised visitors might look at them and think, “Oh cool, someone can see the same links I do between films and TV”, whether that’s an actor who pops up in the background in a bunch of stuff or homages to shots in movies from the past. I think people naturally look for connections to create meaning – it happens all the time in conversation when someone is like “that show’s a bit like this other show” or “that videogame looks like that film” when recommending something.
But, back to the question. Not to be reductive, but I always found the easiest way to explain it in a sentence is that it’s “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon but for everything”.
Visitor Experience Guide Tim Woodward asks Curator Thara Krishna-Pillay
Thara contributed to the curation of the Moving Australia section of the exhibition.
Tim Woodward: As a VX Guide I see firsthand how much our visitors enjoy the installation of two wonderful (and sizable!) ACMI collection items, the Mad Max V8 Interceptor replica, and the fantastic Bush Mechanics ‘Ngapa Car’, painted with Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming). How did we get the idea to slice and splice these two iconic cars?
Thara Krishna-Pillay: The idea of putting the two half cars together came from the Director of Exhibitons & Touring. We wanted to be able to tell the story of car culture on screen looking at both Mad Max and Bush Mechanics while making the most of the space available in the exhibition by only having “one” car. From the suburbs to the Outback, cars have become essential to Australian identity, especially in cinema, where they represent independence, freedom and status. Both Mad Max and Bush Mechanics explore Australian ideals of masculinity, but while George Miller's interrogates an undercurrent of toxic machismo, Bush Mechanics reinterprets car culture to represent the ingenuity, adaptability and innovation of Aboriginal Central Australia. We think they work well together to tell "two sides" of the story.
TW: Looking at this hybrid car leads me to wonder, how did ACMI source the two car halves?
This is a collection item unique to ACMI as the two halves were created specifically for The Story of the Moving Image. We tasked Mad Max replica specialist Cameron Manewell with creating just one half of an Interceptor for us. In the video below he says, "as it turns out, it's about twice the work of building a full one."