Already prior to the supposed moment that film was born, people were fascinated by pictures and by the artistic and economic possibilities that they offered. Itinerant showmen and scientists made use of optical toys, the Laterna Magica or the mechanical theatre, entertaining the amazed audience and so preparing it inadvertently for the triumphant arrival of
cinematography. While the ‘living photographs’ were initially part of the showmen’s entertainment programme, the first itinerant cinemas soon developed that placed their bets on the ‘miracle of cinematography’, capturing themselves images of places, people and regions, and travelling with their mobile cinemas through cities and countries. Thus in 1896 early traces of film are revealed in Styria too, just a few months after the Austrian ‘cinema premiere’ in Vienna.
The regional and local history of cinema and film, from the first cautious beginnings up to the end of the Second World War, resembles a hunt for cinematographic traces. Of the films produced at that time in Styria – private or professional, published or unpublished – only a fraction have remained intact. Similarly, filmic documents, photos, cinema programmes and posters are only still available in sparse numbers; the history of cinema companies from that era is barely documented. Yet can conclusions be drawn about what is missing from what has survived? Film history is never finished. In the contest with and against time, this exhibition aims to arouse enthusiasm and sensitivity among its public for this medium, which has left its mark on 20th century culture like no other. It sets out to create awareness for just how precious and worthy of preservation filmic material is. For films not only tell stories, they are always stories themselves, too. ‘New’ filmic sources rediscovered in cellars, lofts and ultimately in archives and museums as well, may not always rewrite history, yet they do expand it with important facets, filling in gaps and empty spaces, and questioning the authority of thosepictures and stories which hitherto have been considered valid and well known.
In the context of a larger history covering film, technology, culture and contemporary life, this exhibition thus does not draw a seamless story, rather it shifts to centre place individual aspects and facets of Styrian film production and reception, telling of historical events and mentalities, continuities as well as ruptures, thereby always questioning or emphasising the significance of documents in filmic form. Hence the exhibition takes as an additional theme the various functions of film and cinema, ultimately questioning the possible existence of regional ‘uniqueness’ in contrast to the general found at a supra-regional level. It stresses the way that filmic documents have decisively shaped images and notions of the past, effectively shaping our perception of history to the present day.