Digging Up the Celluloid Pueblo and Finding Treasures

Jennifer Jenkins' smile betrays the fondness of someone talking about an old friend. Her language evokes indulgence of the Thanksgiving dinner variety. She leans in as if she were telling the juiciest of secrets, and her voice jumps up a couple pitches as she says film geeks would totally "gobble up" her "yummy" cellulose nitrate reels. 

Then, she stiffens up in her chair and tilts her head sideways. She's thinking.

"Film captures the way people present themselves to the world. So why do this? It's our cultural heritage. Plain and simple. I mean, it just plain is," she says.

"This" is media archaeology, the process by which Jenkins has spent years painstakingly bringing the old Southwest back to life. And "this" is referred to as archaeology because it involves digging.

Jenkins' book, "Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Film Service and the Invention of the Postwar Southwest," forthcoming from UA Press in the fall of 2016, invites readers into the Southwest's past lives that she has dutifully uncovered.

Jenkins graduated from high school in Tucson, went to the University of Arizona for her bachelor's and doctoral degrees and has remained in Tucson ever since. She is an associate professor in the UA's Department of English.

People are nostalgic for the Old West, but the short, nonfiction films Jenkins analyzed for her research project contain "such a wealth of information." They are more than just "retro curiosities" — they are visual time capsules.

"Issues of class, of gender, of race … who's onscreen and who isn't, who's in center frame and who isn't, who's given a bigger portion of the frame…. That gives us a lot of information about the attitudes and the culture of the time that's being filmed. You just have to know to look for it," she says.

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By: Emily Litvack, University Relations

Published Date: 

10/22/2015 - 11:28am