Cinema Before 1300

Free Admission
Directed by Jerome Hiler.
US, 2023, DCP, color, 100 min.
DCP source: HFA

In 2017 I invited Jerome Hiler to the Harvard Film Archive to present Cinema Before 1300, an illustrated lecture he had delivered on several occasions whose title and subject intrigued me. A talk on medieval stained glass, accompanied by Hiler’s own still images taken over the years, principally in those cathedrals in France and the UK that today remain among the last repositories of this now lost luminary art and craft. The event that unfolded was mesmerizing and moving, a meditation on stained glass as a popular and devotional art, and as a precursor to cinema. Inspired, I invited Jerome to consider transforming his talk into a work of digital cinema that could be presented online, and thus experienced by a wider audience. We returned to this idea during the pandemic and Jerome generously agreed to expand his talk, rewriting and recording his own lecture. Leaving more room for additional images and for the personal observations and insightful musings that make this film so rewarding, this expanded version of Cinema Before 1300 is available to be experienced through the Harvard Film Archive website starting on December 14 and lasting until March 15. After this date, the film will remain available for online viewing upon request to HFA Collections staff. Although made for the smaller screen, Cinema Before 1300 is magnificent when seen in a theater. The HFA has also created a DCP version that is available for theatrical screenings, upon request. – Haden Guest

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More than eight hundred years ago, a confluence of technological, philosophical and financial upswellings converged to create the most advanced form of mass media the world had known: stained glass. Built en masse across France, Spain, England and Germany, great cathedrals were designed to display giant windows that told stories through light, color and form. Every day, thousands of viewers arrived to marvel at the glorious colors and hear stories recounted beneath their realization in light. Modern visitors to a cathedral would probably not suspect how many activities took place in these buildings during medieval times. They were truly community centers, and community members had the right to be there because they all took a great part in the construction of the buildings. This program looks at the first one hundred years (or so) of stained glass’s magnificent birth and culmination. It was during this fortuitous time frame that the most care, effort and expense were applied to the new art. By a sad irony, technological innovations making glass more uniform and the tasks of the craft easier destroyed visual interest and soon degenerated the art altogether. – Jerome Hiler

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