Saturday, April 12, 2008

Robbins Barstow's Disneyland Dream

I'm a fan of Internet Archive, a "non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format."

Part of that noble mission includes Our Media, "an initiative devoted to creating and sharing works of personal media." That includes home movies, both old and new, good and bad. I've long been fascinated by video's contribution to family folklore and have come to cherish the Super-8's my Dad shot of my own family.

Corey Doctorow at the blog Boing Boing brought my attention to one of Our Media's gems, a 1956 home video made by Robbins Barstow, father and husband of one of the 25 lucky families to win the national Scotch Brand Disneyland contest--a week-long, expenses paid vacation to California and, of course, Disneyland.

The video's summary reads:

In July 1956, the five-member Barstow family of Wethersfield, Connecticut, won a free trip to newly-opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in a nationwide contest. This 30-minute amateur documentary film tells the fabulous story of their fun-filled, dream-come-true, family travel adventure, filmed on the scene at Walt Disney's "Magic Kingdom" by Robbins Barstow.

For a piece of amateur documentary filmmaking, it's beautifully crafted. Given that Barstow himself made it himself, it demonstrates a surprisingly canny understanding of narrative construction and editing on the fly. I suppose he could have spliced some of the footage together later (my Dad did some splicing about 15 years back on some of our own Super-8's), but I imagine much of it was simply shot linearly, the scenes filmed planned out by Barstow beforehand. And the amount of collaboration, especially at the beginning of the documentary when the family's neighbors gather round their car en mass, throwing confetti and seeing them off on their grand adventure, is pretty remarkable. And while Barstow, along with his wife Meg and his three children, is behind the camera for numerous scenes, there are just as many others where somebody else, one of those neighbors, a willing flight attendant, a Scotch Brand representative or a kind, willing stranger must have shot the footage, following Barstow's directions.

The recently added, enthusiastic narrative by Barstow himself (I'm not sure when, though a reference to the trip being "40-years ago" makes me think it must have been added sometime in the late 90's, if not 1996 itself), is perfect. Accompanying the visuals, Barstow lovingly retells the story of his family's Scotch Brand sponsored vacation. It's loving, corny, modest, completely lacking in irony and sprinkled with a gee-whiz vibe that's completely endearing.

Completely inspiring stuff.

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