|Alan Goble is unique. It is not too much to say that in the whole history of the cinema he is unequalled for the extent of data he has gathered and recorded, single-handed. His vast filmographical volumes and CD-ROMs can only be compared with the Herculean enterprises of the great pioneer bibliographers, like Alexander Cruden who compiled the first concordance of the Bible in the eighteenth century.
Only those who do not understand the process would say that his achievement has been made possible by the availability of digital technology. It is true that computers and databases enable him and us to do much more with the data, to sort it this way and that, to extract new meanings and illuminations from it. But the basic business of collecting it all together in the first place remains the same as it always was, a dogged labour for the eye and the mind and the memory and the hand - even if the hand now manipulates a keyboard rather than a pen. The names, the titles, the dates and all the other facts that now so obediently perform their permutations on our computer screens, thanks to Goble's CD-ROMs, had first to be painstakingly gathered and sifted from a vast amorphous mass of pre-digital records. The process that has ended in these neat and easy reference tools began with endless trawls through old books, filmographies, magazines, programmes, cuttings - never letting a fragment of ephemera go by without scrutiny, in case it yielded a lost credit.
Alan Goble's greatest quality distinguishes him both from the journalist and the academic. The journalist deals in the instantly available. The academic traces around himself circumscribed limits within which he can be safe and certain. In contrast, Alan Goble's temperament always takes him to the very limit. The user of his CD-ROMs, searching in the more rarefied fields, sometimes encounters the frustration of finding a thoroughly obscure title with little more than a date or a single name attached to it. He can be reassured that if this is all that Alan Goble has found, no-one else is likely to discover more. Other filmographers might not even bother to retain such fragments; but Goble loves information far too much to ever heartlessly abandon an orphan fact. If he finds it, he records it.
David Robinson, film critic, historian and
Director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.