VdR 2017. Review of “The Kodachrome Elegies” by Jay Rosenblatt

San Francisco-based filmmaker and artist Jay Rosenblatt’s latest directorial effort is an experimental short documentary, “The Kodachrome Elegies”, that evokes the bygone era of Kodachrome’s apogee. It premiered in Competition (short documentaries section) at the 2017 Visions du Réel Film Festival.

Accompanied by the evocative and somewhat ominous classical piece by Beethoven (String Quartet n.15 in A Major, op 132: III, molto adagio, performed by the Busch Quartet), “The Kodachrome Elegies” combines archival footage and original images with no dialogue. It first proceeds to recount the origins of Kodachrome: it was a filmstock valued for its rich tones and vibrant colors. It was widely used in the 1950s and 1960s by both amateur and professional filmmakers. Rosenblatt then creates a triptych dividing his short doc in three chapters called “The Color of Memory”, “The Color of Dreams” and “The Color of Blood” respectively. The first and second chapters show 8mm Kodachrome home movies shot by presumably his parents, Jerome and Roberta Rosenblatt in the 1950s and 1960s. These images reflect perfectly the names of these chapters, thus evoking with nostalgia the end of an era and the loss of innocence that came with modernity. The third part shows the footage of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, shot by Abraham Zapruder on his 8mm Bell & Howell camera with Kodachrome color film. These three sections are intersected with black & white sequences of either hands holding a Super 8 camera or a woman cutting film reels and editing, thus evoking the very materiality of the film. Rosenblatt ends his short with the explanation that on 22 June 2009, the Kodak company announced it would no longer manufacture Kodachrome film, citing declining demand.

Rosenblatt finds qualities in film and “found” footage that lend themselves better than digital filmmaking to his method of assembling stories and themes. It is a more poetic and metaphoric approach with which he re-contextualizes his images and reels. The personal footage creates familiarity and makes his audience identify with it and thus understand better (the purpose of) his film. Behind a fundamentally poetic dimension, heightened by the title and the score, “The Kodachrome Elegies” not only shows a deeply personal point of view as the director follows his instincts, but is especially nostalgic in the fact that, with its stories – big and small – it is an account of a period that has now ended, of a North America that has been transformed forever. Even though that the personal footage, and even a shot that also appears in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious 1962 “Rabbia” – and therefore these elegies –, may at times make the film seem random, it is definitely not. These only bear witness to Rosenblatt’s perspective. “The Kodachrom Elegies”, much like the once brilliant Kodachrome colors, is a nostalgic and respectful testimony of a period, a lifestyle and even the making of History – a hymn to the lost filmstock.



Production: Jay Rosenblatt Films (USA, 2017)

Producer: Jay Rosenblatt

Director: Jay Rosenblatt

Screenplay: Jay Rosenblatt

Music: Beethoven (String Quartet n.15 in A Major, op 132: III, molto adagio, performed by the Busch Quartet)

Editing: Jay Rosenblatt

Color – 11 min.

Premiere: 27/04/2017 (Visions du Réel)

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