“Kahan’s site encroaches on the nascent landscape of a new mode of archival behavior, increasingly obligatory in and enabled by the digital age, in which archival collections move out of the physical tyranny of closed vaults, reconceived as virtual and dynamic, to empower a wider audience of users through hypermodern modes of informed and active engagement.”
Personal Archives in the Absence of a Corporate One
Prior to about 1980, Hollywood seemed perversely uninterested in its own history, inadvertently or intentionally neglecting its production materials (not to mention old film elements) that often were left rotting behind studio vault walls and taking up valuable real estate and given away or maybe dumped in the bay some foggy night. Since the advent of home video and the ever-increasing value of catalog titles, new digital (expensive to license, cheap to deliver) formats and the promise of the long tail, studios have increasingly strived to make their films and TV shows available to as wide an audience as possible for as long as possible, including offering merchandise that depicts the characters, graphics, and designs on any and all appropriate items from toys to smartphone cases. This constant upkeep of the presence of the brand of a filmed property in the culture keeps it in the public’s memory, perhaps motivating sequels, spin-offs, and other ancillary revenue. And all this has to be archived and kept careful track of.
In some rare instances, producers have maintained archives, private or set up as museum spaces to display props, costumes, and other ephemera.1 But examples of industrial archival curation are sparse, and while the films themselves may enjoy an afterlife in repertory houses or at museum screenings, physical archives are seldom open and, unless they involve Stanley Kubrick or some other storied career, don’t go on the road.2
Legacy production materials of motion pictures from draft scripts to set designs to production stills not intended for the public eye often end up forgotten, if they aren’t purloined from under the noses of archivists who never notice them missing. The majority of productions dating from before the 1980s suffer from almost nonexistent archival profiles, and have no cultural presence. As a result they remain invisible to cultural memory. In the absence of digital or other marketing engagements now common to recent cross-platform franchise properties, marketing ephemera surrounding the releases (“collateral” to use the marketing term) gets fetishized as the proxy for favorite films, and authentic original posters for such films as King Kong (1933) to Star Wars (1977) go for thousands of dollars on auction sites,3 signifiers of the original and authentic industrial marketing impulse and of the cultural moment in which these were the only legitimate proxy outside of actual viewership.
Ari Kahan’s website devoted to Phantom of the Paradise (1974), The Swan Archives (www.swanarchives.org),4 has curated a collection of marketing materials that reanimates the era of this forgotten film’s release. Launched in 2006 with the results of 30 years of collecting posters, stills, and other materials, the site functions not only as a resource for the film’s fan community but also as its only surviving archive that creates and even defines a new audience for the film. Made up of over 400 pictures of objects, screengrabs, and detailed narratives of the film’s genesis, production, marketing, and editing variants adding up to over 75,000 words, as explications of the film’s themes, subtexts, and historical context it presents a comprehensive, exhaustive, and passionately rendered archive of the history and reception of the film and a film of its type in the mid-’70s cultural landscape, all in the absence of any attempts by the corporate rightsholders to do so.
Objects, Their Meanings, and the Importance of Timing
Working online, within view but beyond the traditional reach of normal gatekeepers of intellectual property, Kahan illustrates a new mode of archival behavior and engagement possible in digital environments that revivifies obsolete (in this case, intellectual) property and curates and recontextualizes it. At the same time, Kahan’s efforts reflect a rather conservative and closed approach to how an archive is built and functions, in large part by taking pains to protect the assets from promiscuous sharing as well as the context in which they’re viewed. By dint of his existence in a landscape that is relatively unexplored, Kahan engages the tension between how audiences and corporate rightsholders control, negotiate, and create new meanings surrounding their properties. His site allows audiences to engage with artifacts outside traditional archival walls; investigates how archival activity affects digital, personal, and other casual engagements with film texts; and points the way in which such sites create new narratives around the texts themselves.
Phantom of the Paradise, written and directed by Brian De Palma and starring Paul Williams, William Finley, and Jessica Harper, was released by 20th Century-Fox in 1974. Appearing amid the rich cultural tapestry that also included The Godfather Part II, Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it was largely unsuccessful in finding a wide audience and was relegated to relative obscurity on the second half of double bills before being remarketed to secondary markets with a revamped ad campaign six months later.
A quirky, stylized, and fleet-footed if unwieldy blend of horror and fantasy taking place in a rock-and-roll setting, Phantom of the Paradise attracted the attention of horror film and science fiction fans rather than a teenage rock music audience. Its plot borrows predominantly from the 1943 and 1962 film versions of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera5 as well as the German legend of Faust (the music mogul Swan played by Williams sells his soul for success). By virtue of its pop sensibilities, its fanciful critique of corporate greed, and its stylized filmmaking techniques (a harbinger of the Grand Guignol style Brian De Palma would develop to greater effect in Carrie  and Scarface ), the film slowly built a cult following. As a meta-narrative about popular music as well as a satire of celebrity culture that parodies the very elements that audiences might enjoy about it (flashy rock production numbers, fan worship), the film likely alienated the audiences it expected to attract, until a revised ad campaign repositioned the film as a horror/thriller as opposed to a musical (the Style C poster tagline is “He’s been maimed and framed, beaten, robbed, and mutilated. But they still can’t keep him from the woman he loves”). Moderately more successful, it attracted enough attention to be written up in various science fiction and film magazines.
In 1975, Ari Kahan, then age 12, saw it for the first time and soon started collecting posters and stills as well as all reviews and published articles he could find. In the era before VHS and DVD, the only way to extend the experience of watching a film was in owning any merchandising related to it — if such materials even existed. Heavily merchandised films from 20th Century-Fox’s Star Wars (1975) to Pixar’s Cars (2006) have since proven that merchandising could extend the financial life of a film property and be more financially rewarding than the theatrical runs themselves.6 Other than its soundtrack album, virtually all materials associated with Phantom of the Paradise were directed to its theatrical marketing, including posters and stills of the three distinct ad campaigns, and were not made available to the public. Kahan placed ads and visited local comic book stores that sold movie memorabilia such as lobby cards and had soon acquired international versions of posters, half-sheets and lobby card variations, promotional fliers and ad slicks, and continued with every vinyl and (with the advent of home video) VHS release. He contacted dealers at science fiction conventions,7 becoming “that kid who’s always looking for Phantom stuff” (Kahan, 2011). He even bought a 16mm print from a private collector, and with the emergence of the Internet increased his circle of contacts and his ability to locate other scarce collectibles.
By 1995, Kahan had acquired over 400 items, many of them unique, including 16mm TV spots, 35mm trailers, and radio promos, on tape and from original film elements found at auctions or donated. The variants were instructive in how the same elements could be recycled, recast, and reworked, its own kind of scavenger hunt. But efforts to introduce the film to others met with “less than stellar results” (Kahan, 2011). Phantom of the Paradise was arguably an acquired taste, a baroque exercise by a director who had gone on to bigger things; one’s appreciation of the film seemed to depend upon the surrounding cultural circumstances in which it was released.
It also seemed clear that the material Kahan was collecting was of no interest to the original rightsholders — Harbor Productions (the original production entity) or 20th Century-Fox. Nothing was available in any corporate archives or collections, and most of the items Kahan found were in private hands. Fox itself, lacking any archives of its own on the film, borrowed elements from Kahan for a 2008 television special, with Fox Chairman Tom Rothman introducing the film as part of their “Fox Legacy” series.8 The film had outlived its commercially useful life, and the ephemeral material had become all but invisible to the larger culture.
The Archivist as Authority
In 2005, Phantompalooza, a convention celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the film, was held in Winnipeg, Canada, where the fan base had taken particularly strong root.9 Kahan lent many of his items for display in the theatre during the event, and subsequently played a principal role in organizing a second Phantompalooza in 2006, undertaking to unveil his entire archive, online, by then. While partly motivated by his love of the film, he also saw a way to legitimize his collection for those who would appreciate it.
Kahan wrote up narratives recounting the film’s production and history, initially about 20,000 words, and took hundreds of photographs of his collection, and the Swan Archives site went live a couple of days before Phantompalooza II. It was soon considered to be among the best film fansites online.10
The vast majority of the site is made up of press material and merchandising evidence of far-reaching provenance, updated regularly as new items are found. The collection has become self-propagating, supplemented by donations from craftsmen, photographers, and designers who worked on the film who send their rare and one-of-a-kind production materials to Kahan knowing they will have “a safe home”; there is no better place for rare and underappreciated Phantom memorabilia to be showcased. “[People send me things because] my enthusiasm and love for the film comes through,” Kahan writes (2011).
But Kahan envisioned more than a series of photo galleries on his site; he wanted to “editorialize, storytell, and construct something” (2011). The site’s name and approach takes its cue from a line of dialogue from the film that suggests Swan, the music impresario played by Paul Williams, is recording every detail of his life for “the Swan Archives” (the images of Swan are kept on videotape as part of a Dorian Gray-style pact with the devil by which the videotapes age instead of him). The splash page is written from the POV of a presumed archivist of Swan’s “legacy,” reconstructed in tribute to Swan after the destruction of Swan’s own archives in the fire (seen at the climax of the film), with the author identified in the indicia only as “Ari the Principal Archivist.”11 Appropriate, since most archival behavior begins after a public figure has left office or passed away, or a business has gone bankrupt or been dissolved, a summing-up after traumatic endings.
The Swan Archives forces an invisible and largely lost element resident in most cultural properties (the majority of studio films generate a similar amount of press materials) into the open and creates, and nurtures, a post-consumer post-release meaning constructed by passionate curation of the ephemera of marketing. Kahan revives leftover and obscure material and enables us to relive the time and context surrounding the film’s release, recasting advertising messages and other devalued cultural memories as historical and archival evidence of its cultural positioning at the time of release and of how it was received.
His tone is non-academic, but the breadth of his attention to the aesthetic ramifications of the behind-the-scenes post-production and release problems creates a powerful industrial-theory treatise of its own, worthy of any archival researcher. Kahan’s efforts have worldwide reach,12 and highlight how corporate rightsholders control, negotiate, and create meaning with audiences. In spite of having an unmolested free reign to collect and curate this material, Kahan works in an unstable and threatened environment challenged with legal uncertainties. He treads carefully and considers conservatively how archival curation best achieves its goals, in part in deference to the rightsholders, while stretching the bounds of fair use by posting hundreds of photos, film clips, and songs, albeit in low-resolution and watermarked form.
Engaged audiences in the digital era express their feelings about popular culture online; blogs, websites, and tumblr posts discuss themes, reveal behind-the-scenes stories and production anecdotes, and repost photos, graphics, and screengrabs, reblogged and remixed to obsessive and sometimes fetishistic effect. Art is often of the moment it was experienced as much as it is about what is depicted, tied to its own historical specifics (Heylin, 2003: 48), and critical responses to popular art most often originate at the point when audiences are first made aware of new works by seeing the marketing materials and messages. Posting critiques, ads, and remembrances stirs memories of first contact with the materials and inflects critical discussions with extra-textual and sentimental nostalgia for when they were first encountered.
Such fan efforts to liberate the ephemera relating to a film’s release exist beyond and outside normal publicity timelines and highlight the importance of the text and how the objects surrounding the text reflect it. Marketing windows — in which sanctioned and official books, posters, or official toys are released to brand and codify the identity of popular texts in the larger cultural consciousness — are limited.13 But while physical props and other objects may deteriorate or wear out through misuse or mishandling, or remain out of reach behind corporate vault walls, different categories of memorabilia enjoy a new life, virtually, when online. The Internet has socialized popular culture.
An additional benefit is community building — connecting like-minded people who otherwise would never encounter each other (except perhaps at 30-year-anniversary conventions). In-depth collections on increasingly rarefied topics reach wider audiences as people take it upon themselves to curate seemingly unsupportable hobbies. Christian Willis’s site devoted to the 1946 Disney film Song of the South (http://www.songofthesouth.net/index.php), a film not available commercially for over 25 years, and Marc Martin’s site devoted to the 1970s British TV show UFO (http://www.ufoseries.com/index.html), set in the not-too-distant 1980 at the time (and that technically became obsolete less than a decade after its production date) both illustrate niche but vibrant fanbases. New generations of fans supply detailed and seemingly endless analyses of scenes, such as on the Unofficial Pulp Fiction Movie Fan Site (at www.pulpfiction.com, using a domain name one would have guessed had been reserved by Miramax). Such sites create new communities around the texts, documenting new engagements based on a nexus of old memories and new insights, and beyond the limits of scheduled timeframes and outside archival walls.14 Arguably, such extended engagement positions fans as equally (or more) conscientious curators of the cultural memory and contexts as the corporate entities who own the originals, and not always with different or conflicting agendas.
Kahan understands the unstated responsibility he has to attract and possibly convert others to his obsession. After the opening splash page’s veneer of assumed identity and self-importance (“dedicated to preserving for posterity the legacy of Swan […] the most successful record producer and entertainment entrepreneur in history”), Kahan proceeds with a historical and investigative exploration of the film’s production and reception in playful but exacting language, exhaustive and exhaustively illustrated, a model case study for any mid-level film of the era. The site, grown since 2006 to over 77,000 words, also has video clips and 400 pictures, and is structured chronologically, traveling through the film’s life cycle from production to reception, with sections that proceed “in order,” from the production history (including a separate discussion on how the name “Swan Song” was deleted from the film in post-production); to the promotion (hundreds of stills, posters, and ads); to an explication of the main themes (pop music, celebrity, and the film’s exploration of public tragedy as performance); a page of Phantom and De Palma news; the extensive merchandising section (including photos of vinyl issues, DVDs (all international variants), toys, shirts, etc., all annotated and compared); a FAQ page and links; and finally a detailed scene-by-scene analysis, an obsessive-compulsive walkthrough akin to a written audio commentary.15 Organizing the analysis into six “monitors” that break up the film into segments Kahan writes on each scene with behind-the-scene details and trivia. It is a virtual run-through of the film.16
Kahan’s writing is rigorous in describing the film, conversant in everything from trivia to legal issues. He affects the royal “we” throughout but with a sense of humility that makes his exhaustiveness less arrogant or obsessive — it’s clear he knows his stuff but doesn’t assert it at every turn. He occasionally inserts asides to undermine his own authority, if unconvincingly. Of one poster variant he writes, “We admit we’re not completely sure what the hell this thing is…” yet goes on to describe the details of exactly why it’s different from ones that look just it and the likely reasons. Of the tone: “I was well aware that having a site like this would, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, make me appear like quite the nutcase. The self-awareness and self-deprecation is intended to dispel this notion, in the sense that someone seems less crazy if they seem to be aware that they’re crazy” (2010).
It is also in essence a closed text; there is no forum or comments capability. The site is designed as definitive and organizes its paths of entry and travel as a directed discussion, a walled garden of controlled and curated content. The Archives therefore manifests a conservative outlook to archiving of an arranged corpus with authority and context. It is for, but not a direct reflection of, the fan community.
Kahan’s been contacted through email by many readers, and some have sent him items to add to his collection. He has also developed relationships with many cast and crew members that have resulted in his obtaining much more inside information (and some entirely unique artifacts). Kahan ends up voicing and defining a specific persona of the obsessive fan as collector and as participant in archiving popular culture through this public display of his personal obsession.
The Archivist as Obsessive-Compulsive
The raison d’etre of the site is the display of the “marketing collateral,” with descriptions of the three different ad campaigns using lobby cards, posters (including original sketches), and international variants. The avoidance of more academic or a specific critical studies-informed analysis makes way for what Kahan seems most interested in — a narrative of the making, marketing, and merchandising of the film that not only exploits his extensive collection, but gets to the bottom of how this odd work of art was brought into existence. Kahan’s emphasis, properly in the context of positioning himself as an archive, is on displaying the detritus rather than formally mounting an analytical postmodern defense or academic autopsy. He is not a theorist deconstructing a text outside its exhibition origins nor treating the film as a sui generis object.
He’s built his “argument” through the traces present in the marketing evidence he’s acquired. Barbara Klinger identifies this impulse of cinephiles to collect objects as surrogates for favorite films in her Beyond the Multiplex (2006: 64-74), located before the ’80s and ’90s in which the consumer age of filmed media as commodity found its home on VHS and DVD and the films became available on home video formats and merchandising became driven by ancillary products. As we’ve arrived in what Gwen McKay calls the “post-consumer age” of media where most users access their content in or through the cloud (McKay, 2010),17 Kahan’s excessive display of such detritus online reminds us how a popular text attempted to enter into the public consciousness at the time, through the memory of its marketing efforts.
Kahan has also indulged in a focused and extremely agile deconstruction of the plasticity of the text through his analysis of the last-minute elision of the “Swan Song” logo and name from the film, motivated by a threatened lawsuit by Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin and co-owner of the Swan Song record company. This became possible only when Kahan managed to acquire what had previously been the stuff of myth: the actual outtakes to the film from the original lab, showing in many instances these transitional edits in the form they had existed prior to the last-minute modifications. In 2008, Kahan was alerted to the fact that some outtake footage still existed, abandoned at the original lab,18 and he acquired it and had it digitized. It consisted of about 45 minutes of alternate takes as well as much of the cut Swan Song footage.
His acquisition of the objects related to (though not actually part of) the text not only furthered a pursuit to vicariously “own” the film but also allowed him to investigate and illuminate its creation and construction.19 Using the evidence of the film itself with screengrabs and the deleted scenes, Kahan surmised initially what might have been altered through “uncharacteristic” edits and clues on signs, plaques, cameras, and papers seen onscreen as well as on-set photographs. On his “Swan Song Fiasco” page, he illustrates many instances where the director and editor cut out or matted over the logo (originally a fictional trademark of Swan’s company), creating choppy and sometimes ugly visual matches from shot to shot, and constructed a visual essay only possible by having access to a copy of the film and screengrab software. He has put small clips of many of these scenes on the website to illustrate the cut “Swan Song” logos and additional clips on an “Outtakes” page; this coup is the high point of his collection, unique from any other online fansite.
What started as an aesthetic inquiry and speculation in post-production decisions (something he could have no firsthand knowledge of) turns into a full theoretical reconstruction and a new analytical text “deconstructing the construction” and its subsequent partial dismantling, and enlightening the conception behind some of the film’s subtext to a startling (if partially inadvertent) degree.
By ultimately relying less on an explicit analysis of Phantom‘s text (a critical studies approach) rather than evoking an industrial model approach to explain its genesis and character, he manages to fairly explicate a structural criticism of Phantom‘s influences and cultural references (supported by numerous citations to De Palma’s previous and subsequent work), citing signifying patterns, relationships, and technical codes that De Palma employs (from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  to Touch of Evil ) in a more classic academic manner. Yet this is never Kahan’s stated intention, and only occasionally does he tackle reception studies (primarily in the “Themes” section).
Kahan’s exhaustive presentation of marketing materials and artifacts indeed ends up facilitating a corporate criticism as much as a cultural survey. Such a subtext is certainly easier to display online with collections of photographs and multimedia links rather than describing it in hundreds of words. The “Scene-by-Scene” section also pulls together signifying patterns into a narrative structural arc as effectively as any print-based text, and not only illustrates visual motifs and backstage details but teases out textual and semiotic resonances as the film “plays,” effectively and visually, written commentary “running” alongside. The site most resembles a thick, full-color “Making Of” book with highly interactive elements.
All content is curated and vetted and sourced as appropriate, and informed by traditional archival behavior in that the information has an order (generally, chronological) and provenance. The site displays every manner of evidence in the best possible order based on the creation and chronology, avoiding almost all personal details about the custodian of all this material (this article is a partial remedy to that omission) but for where various objects were found or acquired.20 Traditional archival practices demand the primary focus of an archive, particularly one with cultural elements, is not only to collect evidential remnants but to preserve the circumstances of their collecting; this “original order” reflects not only the what but the why it exists as it does (often strong evidence in itself for what was perceived as valuable — and by whom). With its galleries of pictures and the complete recounting of the production and subsequent cultural life of the film, including the “written” commentary track (the Scene-by-Scene), it serves as the most complete virtual museum devoted to any film in memory, in effect reclaiming the film from the original rightsholders.
The Corporation, the Fans, and Web 2.0
Kahan’s site encroaches on the nascent landscape of a new mode of archival behavior, increasingly obligatory in and enabled by the digital age, in which archival collections move out of the physical tyranny of closed vaults, reconceived as virtual and dynamic, to empower a wider audience of users through hypermodern modes of informed and active engagement.
It is important to note that Kahan’s role of “archivist” extends primarily in the digital realm as collector and curator. His collection is not open to visitors or for research (except under extreme circumstances), and his storage strategies, while archivally sound, depend entirely on one person’s ability, devotion, and resources to survive.
The value of behind-the-scenes ephemera, extra footage, and sketchbooks has changed in the era in which most audiences encounter such material on consumer products, as extras on DVDs in the form of “Making Of” features. Indeed much of this material is created specifically for release on ancillary platforms, no longer technically archival or specific only to a limited marketing cycle.21 Prior to the ’70s, the cultural era in which Kahan’s interest is located, such materials had no such intent — we might conclude the value has been posthumously attributed by fans such as Kahan. A struggle to create, claim, own, or control the inherent worth in these legacy objects is at odds with the objects themselves, often poorly printed (and intended to be disposed of after their purpose – advertising the film – had been accomplished) and even carried notices insisting that they be destroyed after use.22
The underlying and prevailing tension to Kahan’s publishing of all this marketing material is that he has no explicit right to publish images of the material, and certainly no underlying rights to the images or property. In fact, marketing materials were typically not registered for copyright protection on their own (and until 1976 were not automatically protected by copyright law once created or fixed in a tangible medium of expression23.))), and press materials often include text stating they could be published in magazines or newspapers freely, presumably in conjunction with reviews (language seen more often prior to 1970).24 They are widely distributed in order to cultivate as much publicity as possible, and this was the prevalent use, understanding, and precedent. A recent opinion in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit also observed that many publicity photos are created and distributed separate from and prior to any actual film’s copyright protection.25
Duplicating copyrighted materials online is a contentious practice, and, as the Swan Archives’ primary presentation strategy, it heightens the potential for unwanted corporate attention. Rights are hard to harness as digital copies can proliferate promiscuously, “perfectly,” and without attribution. Harbor Productions retains the rights and continues to be listed as copyright owner although now is apparently just a holding entity. (According to IMDB they produced films from 1973 to 1976 including such titles as The Mack , The Parallax View , and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold ). 20th Century-Fox retains the distribution rights and has control of where and how the film is exhibited. Kahan’s use, however, is clearly for the purposes of commentary about the film, a so-called transformative use protected by copyright laws under “fair use” provisions.
The site’s status as a research archive and for the greater good (pointed out by Kahan in his slightly facetious statement to “preserve and make available to the public” Swan’s legacy) underlies its approach toward copyrighted images and fair use. Rather than posting items in a manner that may invite lawsuits or takedown notices (for example, by supplying full-size high-definition and downloadable files) or hiding his items from rightsholders behind a paywall or password, Kahan’s approach is transparent. Nothing to hide here. He cites standard fair-use doctrines on his FAQ page as well as noting that the site does not generate any income for him or run ads (and therefore does not compete or take away from rightsholders’ possible commercial prospects); and his use does not diminish the value of the work (and it could be argued is increasing it). He also protects the photos and film clips by having a “The Swan Archives” watermark appear over all of them when they’re clicked on to view, and he intentionally cripples the film clips of the outtakes by encoding them to run at a choppy 10 frames per second and play in low-definition flash format, making them difficult to download and repurpose elsewhere.26 Kahan would like to see a reputable DVD company remaster a special edition using his 35mm footage and points out if his hi-definition clips were available on the site there would be no reason for anyone to spend the money to reissue the film with such extras.
“I have positioned myself — ‘open’ — here I am and they know I have it — but they don’t care yet,” Kahan says (2010). He doesn’t know what footage or outtakes exist in Fox’s vaults but states he would be more than happy to turn his over if asked.27
With proper attribution and safeguards to prevent theft, Kahan has proceeded with the certainty that he doesn’t need permission. While “unpublished” work (outtakes) that predate the 1976 Copyright Act are not considered copyrighted under the original creation of the complete work that is officially distributed, the underlying characters, music, and plot elements would be, and Kahan’s possession of the footage does not transfer any of these intangible rights. Moving images are more prone to infringement suits in that they are more clearly a produced manifestation (if unused part) of the completed work, not just a marketing derivative (like stills, printed separately for that purpose), and almost always clearly not licensed for any distribution. Good thing this is all covered under “fair use” doctrine.28 that test the outer limits of fair use. These unauthorized “reconstructed” versions of films are powerful examples of how fans appropriate properties for their own uses, creating new value within and outside the traditional texts (and in the process, subvert the power structures between producer and audience) (Jenkins, 2010; 948). Some peer-to-peer (P2P) sites facilitate users who upload VHS and DVD rips of films that are out of print, were never available commercially, or that are unknown or niche genre films as centralized aggregators (along the model of Napster, Cinemageddon a prime example of a centralized service that distinguished itself with an aggressive take-down policy and rigorous rules that ensured all files were designated as “safe” legally (which usually means not available in any legal format or in print) before being allowed to be hosted. As of early 2011, the site was not accepting any new registrations and as of late 2011 seems to be no longer functioning. (The site http://www.cinemageddon.net/ still has rules posted — at http://cinemageddon.net/docs/rules.txt — as a “public service” but is otherwise unresponsive). Others take no heed of legalities and store their links in digital lockers or hiding links in comment threads to avoid easy Google searching. Sites with music bootlegs and OOP recordings are particularly egregious in this practice.))
Kahan also insists on not soliciting any funds through the site, whether by placing ads, Amazon links, or donations-for-bandwidth requests to create the appearance or reality of making any money off the efforts of the people behind Phantom. It keeps him agnostic and his relationship with his readers and the filmmakers uncontaminated. Kahan also doesn’t relay any gossip or disparage any department or person (except perhaps Peter Grant and the film’s marketers). “I don’t want to embarrass them” (2010). Kahan keeps and curates this corporate intellectual property at his own expense and hasn’t kept track of the amount of money he’s spent over the last 35 years (nor does he wish to give an estimate). The price of his obsession is paid back by the enabling of a new community of Phantom fans he could not otherwise have reached without his efforts.
The Pedigree and the Legacy of Online Archives
As DVD sales drop and old library titles struggle to remain visible in a changing mediasphere, such films as Phantom of the Paradise that seem to resonate with current popular cultural trends have a charm not replicated by newer Hollywood storytelling. The self-aware postmodern design of recent blockbusters seems overdetermined as cross-platform, “multiformat” franchises. Media properties such as the Pirates of the Caribbean films (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011) seem conceived to exploit any remaining possible avenue of exploitation, based as they are loosely on a 45-year-old amusement park ride rather than any personal artistic statement. Jenkins’s “convergent communities” — his description of audiences who influence, co-opt, and participate in media creation and engagement — no longer need to struggle to find each other outside the fringes; the work is being done for them by marketers who build the hooks of fannish passion into every property imaginable, and co-opt the fringes of cult fandom (such as Comic-Con) specifically to build early and cross-demographical awareness (Jenkins, 2006), hedging against the fickle whim of audiences. In some instances, these meta-narratives become self-creating, laying the seeds for their own cultural engagements outside the multiplex and within their own texts that connect in preplanned ways with audiences, and become the fuel that generates the text itself, such as in the online ancillary activity around the Lost TV show (2004-2010) and the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix series of projects.29, creating a creative feedback loop of sorts. The Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999-2009) cycle famously exploited its cult potential and fractured attention of fans, spanning three films (1999, 2003, 2003), nine animated “Animatrix” animated shorts (all 2003), and the computer game Enter the Matrix (2009) that filled out backstory to the other iterations as intentional “bait.”))
Kahan negotiates the tension between an authentic and personal enthusiasm for an artwork (in this case the film) and the corporate representations and positioning of the avatars that represent the original (the marketing collateral), often in conflict with the subtext of the work, the thematic exploration of commercial exploitation of artists, itself. Kahan resorts to collecting artistically suspect marketing objects to document a larger hidden industrial process that uses visual and aural remnants to attract customers.
De Palma has fallen out of favor in the last decade with the critical and financial disappointments of Mission to Mars (2000) and The Black Dahlia (2006), and his typical Grand Guignol style, adapted in different ways but still foregrounded in Redacted (2007) and his recent Passion (2013), is often criticized as overly baroque. His early ground-breaking work remains underappreciated, although a Criterion Blu-Ray release of 1981’s Blow Out in 2011 has inspired a significant amount of critical attention and reevaluation.
A Broadway musical remake of Phantom has been rumored for over 10 years, and a remake was listed on producer Edward R. Pressman’s website as “coming soon” for a while, but has since been removed. Being a drama with music rather than a “musical” (like similar recent remakes Fame  and Footloose , both of which struggled at the box office), it is certainly not as well known as cult rock-and-roll musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), also of its time and more representative of a different cultural engagement also not really appropriate to update.
Kahan’s affection for the film is tinctured with anxiety over the possible loss of the artifacts and historical perspective he had unearthed, and he has built a public resource as a result, shaped by a conservative approach to curation and sustained as a result of momentum and of personal responsibility. Tolerated and even embraced by the corporate rightsholders, his efforts reflect the current cultural value of legacy marketing materials in corporate production offices.
More importantly, the Swan Archives demonstrates how personal archives now function as public archives, how they not only preserve and reflect increasingly obsolete cultural engagements and context, but spawn new audience interactions, create new contexts and narratives, and may motivate other archivists and curators to do the same.
Chmielewski, Dawn C. and Rebecca Keegan (2011) Merchandise Sales Drive Pixar’s ‘Cars’ Franchise. Business, Los Angeles Times. 21 June.http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/21/business/la-fi-ct-cars2-20110621 (accessed 30 November 2011).
Gluck, Keith (2012) Selling Mickey: The Rise of Disney Marketing, The Walt Disney Family Museum website. 8 June. http://www.waltdisney.com/content/selling-mickey-rise-disney-marketing (accessed 14 December 2012).
Gray, Jonathan (2010) Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press.
Heylin, Clinton (2003) Bootleg: The Rise & Fall of the Secret Recording Industry. London: Omnibus.
Hills, Matt (2002) Fan Cultures. Oxford: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Oxford: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.
Jenkins, Henry (2010) Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: An Annotated Syllabus.Continuum, 24,6. 943-958.
Jenkinson, Hilary (1966) A Manual of Archive Administration. Humphries, Percy Lund.
Kahan, Ari (2010) Phone interview. 14 July.
Kahan, Ari (2011) Personal email. 3 September.
Kahan, Ari (2012) Personal email. 7 December.
Klinger, Barbara (2006) Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies and the Home. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lindelof, Damon & Carlton Cruse (2007) Lost Writers: “Like Putting Down a Harry Potter Book in the Middle,” WGA Strike Blog, Variety website. 5 November.http://weblogs.variety.com/wga_strike_blog/2007/11/lost-writers-li.html (accessed 20 October 2011).
MacDonald, Nancy (2006) The Phantom Strikes in Winnipeg. Entertainment. Macleans.ca website. 19 June. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/entertainment/article.jsp?content=20060619_128781_128781 (accessed 1 November 2011).
McKay, Gwen (2010) The Post-Consumer Age. Shift: Journal of Alternatives. 17 May. Website.http://www.shiftjournal.com/2010/05/17/the-post-consumer-age/ (accessed 28 September 2011).
Pomerantz, Dorothy (2010) “Harry Potter” Catching Up to “Star Wars” Franchise. Website. Forbes, 30 September. http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/29/star-wars-harry-potter-business-entertainment-movie-franchises.html (accessed 7 October 2011).
Schatz, Thomas (1988) The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. London: Faber and Faber.
Swan Archives. Website. http://swanarchives.org/ (accessed 1 November 2011-21 December 2012).
Thompson, Kristin (2011) Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills. Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society for Cinema Studies. Society for Cinema and Media Studies, 1993 conferencehttp://www.cmstudies.org/resource/resmgr/docs/fairusefilmstills.pdf. 20 October.
Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (2008) Reading Rocky Horror: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Popular Culture. New York: Macmillan.
- These are generally motivated as marketing events. Sony Pictures/Columbia’s Culver City offices have numerous full-sized props on display in the ground floor lobby, more a display of controlled corporate self-congratulations than a strictly historical presentation. These marketing events also tend to generate their own merchandising; travelling archives such as the Tim Burton exhibit at Los Angeles Museum of Art (page at http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/tim-burton, accessed 4 October 2011) begat new opportunities to publish (and visitors to purchase) books, replications, posters, and reissues of Burton’s films as well as souvenir programs of the exhibit itself, and the Lucasfilm Archives’ coffee-table book makes portable many cultural objects previously inaccessible to the public (Mark Cotta Vaz and Shinji Hata’s From Star Wars to Indiana Jones: The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives, Chronicle Books, 1995). [↩]
- Stanley Kubrick’s papers and archives (initially installed in 2007 at the University of the Arts in London) had a tenancy at the LACMA in 2012-2013 (and was also presented online at http://www.arts.ac.uk/about/departments/kubrick-archive/ (accessed 11/01/2011). [↩]
- A King Kong Style B 3-sheet just fetched an astounding $388,385 at a November 29, 2012 Heritage Auction in Dallas (reported at http://movieposters.ha.com/). [↩]
- While the landing page ends in a “.org” suffix (suggesting a nonprofit organization rather than a commercial site) the “.com” also forwards to Kahan’s site, as does “phantomoftheparadise.com”. [↩]
- In Leroux’s original the Phantom was disfigured from birth. The idea that he would become disfigured as part of the story because someone had stolen his music originated with Universal Studios’ 1943 Claude Rains film and was repeated in the 1962 version (also Universal) with Herbert Lom, in which the Phantom goes to the printing press before meeting with misfortune. These specific differences from the novel apparently gave rise to infringement claims by Universal, which were settled before the film was released. [↩]
- A 2010 article on Forbes.com estimates the total gross from the Star Wars franchise at over $24 billion, with $20 billion of that from merchandise (Pomerantz, 2010). Cars generated over $10 billion in merchandising, per Disney (quoted in Chmielewski and Keegan, 2011). The Walt Disney Corporation is the epitome of this impulse, marketing Mickey Mouse effectively since 1929 (and to generations of children who have never actually seen a Mickey Mouse cartoon) (Gluck). [↩]
- In the days before San Diego Comic-Con became overly and irreparably corporate (generally 1997, the year of Men in Black, Titanic, and Batman and Robin), comics and science fiction conventions were closer to swap meets than marketing extravaganzas with the goods on sale more geared to aficionados and niche fans, often gray market and not well policed. [↩]
- The bare-bones official US DVD edition issued in 2001 had no extras, not even a theatrical trailer. The French HD Blu-ray issued in 2009 used Kahan’s 35mm trailer as a supplement when one could not be found through Fox. [↩]
- The possible reasons Winnipeg seemed to enjoy the timing, serendipity, and intangible cultural factors to become a hotbed of Phantom fandom are explored at Winnipeg-based “Phantomoftheparadise.ca” (at http://www.phantomoftheparadise.ca/why.html, accessed 11 September 2011). [↩]
- Besides numerous citations all over the web (such as at http://vinnierattolle.blogspot.com/, http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blog/, http://garywarnett.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/at-least-the-french-get-it/, etc.), Kahan’s site has been vetted by Brian De Palma, John Alvin, and Paul Hirsch as well as Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, and all three Juicy Fruits (Kahan, 2011, 2012). [↩]
- Positioned as a biased (and likely unreliable) archivist/”narrator” as a minion of Swan, Kahan also reflects one of De Palma’s primary obsessions of exploiting or confounding different POVs to tell a story, as in his prevalent uses of split screen throughout his career. The resonance to De Palma’s fondness for conspiracy theories (going as far as to credit a shot of the Phantom in the final conflagration to “Abe Zapruder, Jr.”) demonstrated in films such as Greetings (1968) and Blow Out (1981) is also no accident. [↩]
- While the site has about 100 visitors a day, it has been visited hundreds of thousands of times (Kahan, 2011). [↩]
- 1977 is usually cited as when merchandising became an important adjunct to film culture with Star Wars‘ toy and product ubiquity reportedly adding over $20 billion to the value of the franchise (see Forbes, 2010). [↩]
- And some have gone so far as to write fiction based on the original characters with added explicit sexual content scarcely alluded to in the originals, “slash” fiction, an unauthorized and (generally) underground form of engagement in which audiences are moved to become participants and unauthorized collaborators, finding alternate points of entry into the industrial narrative. Whether intended or not, these inherent possibilities Matt Hills suggests are shaped alongside of and without intentional conflict with the original corpus, merely as additional (deleted or unrated) material (his concept of hyperdiegesis (2002; 137-8). [↩]
- This supplement, added in December 2010, increased by almost 27,000 the number of words in the site, to more than double the previous count; at http://www.swanarchives.org/SceneByScene.asp. [↩]
- Kahan’s approach is all the more admirable when contrasted with two other Phantom of the Paradise sites. The Canadian http://www.phantomoftheparadise.ca/ is a fan site without much about the film itself and is mostly devoted to remembrances of it as an early popular favorite in Winnipeg, positioning itself as a marker of cultural memory without wider-ranging discussion. Joanna Oznowicz-Davis’s “Phantom of the Paradise (A retrospective)”, a ProBoard site (no longer online as of this writing) was built on a “forum” template that allowed her to construct her narrative in the form of a book, a bloggy diary with “chapters” that relay a loose collection of personal narratives seeing the film and being at Phantompalooza. Again, personal nostalgia is the predominant focus of the discourse. [↩]
- Heylin in his history of bootleg recordings identifies the attachment fans have to objects and how it authenticates their desires. When music becomes digital (and intangible), he suggests “ownership” of mere digital files lose its power to change our lives. [↩]
- Kahan credits his site’s notoriety to the tip leading to the forgotten 35mm footage. [↩]
- And while such post-production fiddling is common, Kahan’s demonstration of the elaborate changes for other than aesthetic reasons is the first of which this writer is aware. [↩]
- Kahan positions himself simply as “the Principal Archivist,” practically anonymous. The personalization “To Ari” appears on the occasional still, the closest the site gets to identifying his full name. Small photos of him have appeared, including one with De Palma at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival on the News page (at http://www.swanarchives.org/News.asp September 14, 2012’s entry). [↩]
- Peter Jackson authorized “extended home video” versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) on DVD with footage shot specifically for the platform — Jackson understood the difference between the two viewing locales and experiences and designed two different versions (both, incidentally official and director-sanctioned and coexisting, as opposed to one being a revision or restoration of a faulty variant). [↩]
- National Screen Service (NSS) produced and distributed virtually all theatrical trailers, and eventually posters and stills, for all major studios from the 1920s until 2000. Multiplex theatres and international day-and-date releases reduced the variety of display options and market-specific materials, and studios slowly took control of the production and distribution of their marketing materials. [↩]
- In 1976, the Copyright Act was revised to protect all works “fixed in a tangible form of expression” created after January 1, 1978, without needing a notice of copyright affixed (in “U.S. Copyright Office — Information Circular” (PDF), (www.copyright.gov/circs/circs03.pdf [↩]
- Kristen Thompson (1993) proposes a liberal interpretation for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, an audience interested in publishing film stills and actual frame captures in academic texts. [↩]
- See http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/11/07/101743P.pdf. [↩]
- A fan (who goes by “Dr. Sapirstein”) had done just that and made available a “Swan Song” edit using Kahan’s low-fi clips of the missing shots intercut into the film as a fan-edit on the well-trafficked FadEdit.org site. It no longer exists there, raising the question of who requested it be taken down. [↩]
- And he has brought it up — particularly and specifically to return the footage to Brian De Palma himself if he was interested. In April 2012, Kahan met De Palma at a premiere of his Passion (2012) and, reminding him he had the footage, was told, “It’s better in your hands” (Kahan, 2012). [↩]
- Other sites posting films hide behind legal justifications, duplicating or offering for upload copyrighted materials or selling alternate versions or fan edits (actual complete films, recut by fans to either “fix” or restore deleted scenes, or change narrative strategies — see FanEdit.info, at http://www.fanedit.info/unews.html (accessed 6 October 2011 [↩]
- As in, for example, what seemed to be an endless iteration of plot ripples in the Lost TV series in the third season before the producers began to attain, and exercised, the wisdom of providing an ending that gave some kind of thematic closure, responding to and feeding a fevered interest online in the story’s intentional and suppressed setups and red herrings (exacerbated by the 2007-2008 writers’ strike that reduced Season 4 by eight episodes (see Lindelof & Cruse, 2007 [↩]