Concours de Gourmand, 35mm, silent, Unknown Director, 1905. Courtesy of The Austrian Film Museum, Schlemmer Frame Collection

Alexander Horwath, Director of the Austrian Film Museum, believes that showing film as film respects the achievements of our cultural past, and acknowledges the needs of our cultural future

The Austrian Film Museum has the policy of exhibiting moving image works in their respective medium – meaning the way in which they originally entered the world: the ‘language’ in which they expressed themselves at the time of production and publication. Therefore, the Museum exhibits analogue film works as analogue film projections and digitally-released works as digital projections. Rights-holders and lenders are regularly informed that facsimiles are not accepted for exhibition.
There are at least two reasons for this policy, and both are relatively simple.
1. This is what museums do – and why they exist in the first place: to give access to cultural artifacts in a manner that keeps them legible and transparent, especially if these artifacts are no longer part of everyday life or mainstream industrial practice. Part of this activity – enabling access to historical works – is the attempt to not let the respective techniques, tools and materials be discontinued: the means that were used in the creation of the artifacts in question.
The basic motive is respect for the historical achievements of previous generations.
2. By continuing to give access to film as film, a film museum also partakes in a tradition that has supported human culture for many centuries: the notion that our heritage can actually remain generative, potent, procreative (the German adjective is ‘zeugungsfähig’) in relation to future artistic achievements. For this to happen, our cultural techniques have to be preserved as working systems, and our artifacts need to remain in a shape that can be ‘read’ by these systems. Only then will they continue to make sense. Their content or meaning – their potency – is not an abstract idea or ideal. It resides in the material shape and containment that the artifact took when it was made, and in the means that were employed during its making. While translation and transfer from one medium to the next can be useful procedures in culture (at the start, a new medium always feeds at the surface, at the most visible layers of an older medium), the original artifact never survives these procedures without loss: that which is generative, potent, and procreative in each work or medium is the first element to be lost. If we only had Shakespeare in German or Mandarin, we would still have found ways of putting his plots to good use. But we wouldn’t have him as a generative force for all future explorations of the English language and its poetry. And on our search path to where his writing came from, we would only find a broken thread – or a webpage that says “Sorry, this page cannot be found!”
The basic motive is respect for the needs of generations that are not yet born.

Image: Concours de Gourmand, 35mm, silent, unknown director, 1905. Courtesy of The Austrian Film Museum, Schlemmer Frame Collection