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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Cross

Archives in the Movies: Dead Ink Archive

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

This was an interesting find. I mean, I'll likely give any short film with "archive" or "archivist" in the title or description because I'm curious as to how writers and filmmakers interpret those words. In the case of David C. Schendel's Dead Ink Archive, this is a sweet, if somewhat unfinished-feeling short about Jim, a janitor who cleans the Hollywood venue hosting the Oscars. The film takes place in 1975 and Jim is a man searching through the discarded trash post-show, compiling "artifacts" and torn paper in order to piece together and record the acceptance speeches not given.

Title and tagline seen in the short, "Words are just dead ink until spoken," may be a rephrasing of a Robert Louis Stevenson quote, "All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer." For Jim, he's more interested in the unspoken words and giving them a home in his self-created Dead Ink Archive.

It's an interesting look at the drive some people have to collect and preserve what we don't see. Jim, according to everyone in the short, has turned down promotions and seems to deny himself recreational fun and relationships due to his hyper-focused dedication, at least on this one night in particular. How he records the unread and untelevised speeches is a bit over-the-top as well, but adds to the presentation of the film. Jim is giving the words the pomp and circumstance they would've received had Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor for Lenny. He's recreating an atmosphere even if it's for an audience of one.

There are definitely unanswered questions bouncing around my head after watching this: Why is Jim doing this? Why do the people around his treat this hobby with a measure of reverence? Are they humoring him or do they see value in what he's doing? Is Jim planning to make his Dead Ink Archive accessible? What's his five-year plan?

So, I guess what I'm saying is David C. Schendel is now obligated to do a follow-up short film if only for my own amusement and gratification. Sorry, I don't make the rules.


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