Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive

McRobbie Family Home Movies

Comprised of eleven globetrotting films, the McRobbie Family Home Movies are an expansive, surprisingly beautiful, and intimate account of the McRobbie’s travels from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s. Donated in 2016 by Michael A. McRobbie, Indiana University's 18th president, and family, the home movie collection is comprised of equal parts international tralevolgues from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America, and tender family footage of birthday parties, beach days, and backyard gatherings. Capturing compelling footage from the Territories of Australia to the Scottish Highlands, from the pyramids of Egypt to the Austrian Alps, and from the ruins of Pompeii to the wide expanses of the Grand Canyon, and so much more, the films are a sweeping example of one of the oldest of amateur filmmaking traditions: the travelogue.

They are also important historic and cultural snapshots, revealing, for instance, the rise of Nazism in Europe and WWII propaganda in London, farming techniques in Scotland in the 1950s, even the morning routines of Aboriginal children at a Lutheran mission in the Northern Territory of Australia. The staggering range of countries presented alongside the collection's focus on capturing everyday settings and people offers an enticing glimpse into the styles, customs, and habits of diverse cultures. The collection offers abundant sequences from all over Australia and England, but also includes footage from Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), Yemen, Egypt, Sweden, Scotland, and several other unidentified locations, as of yet.

Beyond their historic significance and familial importance are the films’ creative and often staggeringly beautiful compositions. The collection reveals an unassuming penchant for capturing the simple beauty of nature. A considerable amount of footage foregoes the customary amateur focus on historic sites or tourist attractions, although they are included too, for the vibrant beauty of a bed of flowers blowing in the wind, a burnt orange sunset closing out the day, or the surreal magic of watching the sea disappear through the porthole of a gently rocking passenger ship. Maybe even more enticing are the many portrait shots of family, friends, and strangers alike, as they stand awkwardly in front of the camera as their reactions shift from bemusement to embarrassment to discomfort; a style somewhat reminiscent of Warhol’s Screen Tests of the 1960s.  

The films also include a wide variety of creative and colorful title cards, cueing us to changes in location and shuttling us along from one scene to the next. These cards range from simple location markers to artfully composed and designed descriptors. A sampling of title cards can be found in this exhibit, under the segement, "Home Movies and the Art of the Title Card." Although, none of these films would have seen the digitized light-of-day if it wasn't for the tireless and meticulous work of Colorlab, a film laboratory in Rockville, Maryland. After being stored in a sweltering Australian barn for decades, the films were already in an advanced state of deterioration due to vinegar syndrome. Highly specialized equipment and conservation techniques were required just to digitize the films. To read more about the collection's conservation by Colorlab check out "Shrunken, Brittle, and Smelly: Extreme Conservation for a Deteriorated Collection."

You're encouraged to take a moment and journey back in time with this collection. To see through someone else’s eyes, to watch them struggle to compose the right composition, to get that pan or tilt just right, to pick and choose what to remember, lets you peek inside another mind and reveal what interested them, captivated them, charmed them. The films are full of popular locations and identifiable sites but also include mysterious places and never-to-be-known people, who are all connected now because of a camera running motion picture film. The McRobbie Family Home Movies offers you the opportunity to briefly see the world from a different time, place, and perspective, and that’s a wonderful, powerful thing.


Caleb Allison, Archivist Assistant