Mysterious Scenes

Today at work I came across a collection of Hollywood production stills, many from unidentified films of the Golden Age of cinema. When you think of a production still, you probably think of one that highlights film stars, but these are the opposite. This collection doesn’t show any posed people at all, only posed rooms and furniture.

Like model homes or furniture showroom floors, these images are familiar and yet false.

Places waiting for their people.

Out of focus, behind-the-scenes workers, accidentally captured by the camera.

Lonely placards in empty rooms.

The airport waiting room never looks quite this empty in the movies.

Charlie Chan visits Egypt, only to find it as quiet as a tomb.

How unnatural the thatched roof looks next to the kleig light. From 1948’s KIDNAPPED!

A faceless man.

Allan Dwan’s team has made ready the set for the lawn party; where is Shirley Temple? The cherub is already drunk.

A great view of the top.

Another one

Are any of these folks actors?

I’d like to visit the floating museum, created by John Ford’s team for Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)

Perhaps from Charlie Chan in Rio (1941). Director Harry Lachman had an interesting career, from successful post-impressionist painter to B-movie director.

Double exposure, exposing a structure made to muffle the sound of the camera, plus some equipment someone has left to be tripped over.

artist Katherine Weems

Today I’m working on some films belonging to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. I was happily surprised to come across the home movies of Katherine Weems of Manchester, MA, whose papers are at Harvard and the Smithsonian. She attended the Boston Museum School, and she was a sculptor who is responsible for some of my favorite public art on Harvard’s campus.

The Harvard Bio Labs, which are near the Peabody Museum, have a courtyard I adore. It boasts not only a volleyball court, but also buildings adorned with animal engravings and some unparalleled metal doors decorated with giant bugs. The doors are guarded on either side by some life-sized rhinoceros, named Bessie and Victoria. I’m sorry I missed their 70th birthday party, and even sadder they didn’t celebrate an 80th birthday, but maybe I’ll make it to their 90th.

The Smithsonian has put online some film of the Rhinos’ early days.

Cinecolor

Today at the film conservation center I inspected a 35mm print of the no doubt tedious but beautiful LOVE ISLAND (Bud Pollard, 1952). It’s an original release, Cinecolor print from 1953.loveisland_leader

Cinecolor was a low-cost, two color (red/green) subtractive color process developed in the 1930s and used through the 1950s. It was much less expensive than Technicolor, which was also in wide use at that time. The development of Eastmancolor in the early 1950s eventually put both processes out of business, and left the world with a lot of faded pink prints. Archivists and projectionists curse its name daily.

Poverty Row film production companies such as Monogram were the main customers for Cinecolor. It was inexpensive, but the trade-off was that colors were not as brilliant as Technicolor. The deeper pocketed studios didn’t employ it.

The colors tended toward blue/brown in prints, so were most often used for Westerns. LOVE ISLAND, however, is a B-picture set on a Pacific island, and Eva Gabor’s skin was darkened to make her look like she was born there and not in Hungary! It was passed by the Maryland board of censors.loveisland_couple

loveisland_girl

 

 

 

loveislandcensortagloveisland_girl2

Our blog is expanding!

Top of a film bench with inspection equipment

Harvard Film Conservation Center inspection bench

Greetings friends and followers from the blog-o-sphere! Here at the Harvard Film Conservation Center we work closely with the dynamic collections from the Harvard Film Archive, as well as all film collections from the greater Harvard Library. In the interest of representing our diverse projects and preservation activities, we are expanding our blog and giving ourselves a new look (sound familiar?) We hope you will enjoy our newly expanded HARVARD FILM CONSERVATION blog: News from the Harvard Library’s Film Conservation Center!

Please continue to follow us to get the latest news on our conservation work, incoming collections, interesting finds, new finding aids, and local events! You can also check with us on Twitter @HLFilmPreserve

Thank you, dear readers and see you at the movies!

 

Our annual holiday show!

Greetings film revelers! Our annual holiday show with treats from the vault will come a little early this year.

six minature penguins climb a whale's back in a still frame from an animated color film

Six Penguins (1973)

Join us SUNDAY 12/4:

4:30PM: VINTAGE HOLIDAY SHOW —  a FREE screening of shorts that is fun for the whole family.

This year will feature several shorts from the Boston Public Library Collection, as well as Vintage Holiday Show favorites THE GREAT TOY ROBBERY (1963) and A FIGGY DUFF CHRISTMAS (1978)

 

7:00PM: A VIDEO CHRISTMAS WITH GEORGE AND KAREN

George Kuchar and friend and fellow artist Karen Redgreen explore the San Francisco holiday season with hilarity and gusto!

An illustrated cut-out Santa Claus propped beside a coffee table with Halloween masks and a painted backdrop

Visit http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/ for detailed information and upcoming screenings!

See you at the movies!

October is Archives Month

October is the time each year when archival institutions across the country celebrate American Archives Month! Once again our crew here at the Film Conservation Center will be joining the revelry with participation in #AskAnArchivist Day on OCTOBER 5!

A graphic with several speech bubbles of potential questions for Ask An Archivist Day.

Image courtesy of the Society of American Archivists

Write to us on Twitter @HLFilmPreserve with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist with your burning questions: What is the oldest item in your collection? The strangest? What is the best way to preserve my family films? Where do you store your films? How are you preserving new materials?

Want to know? Just ask and we’ll do our best to answer!

Many thanks to the Society of American Archivists for organizing this virtual event.

Home Movie Day update

Greetings Home Movie Day fans!

As many of you know, the annual Home Movie Day event occurs each October. Because of a hectic season here at the HFA we will not be hosting the event next month. Instead, we’ll hold an alternate HMD Boston next spring on MAY 6 2017!

May 2017 calendar with Saturday May 6 circled in red.

Details will be announced here on the HFA Collections Blog as the date approaches. In the meantime, feel free to contact us for home movie advice and questions regarding film care for your family treasures.

See you in May!

A baby pulls 16mm film loose from a film reel.

Kodachrome is the color of Home Movies

Today at work I looked at some anonymous home movies that are deteriorating, to decide if they’re worth keeping or not. Since every home movie is different, I had to watch them to gauge their worth – it’s impossible to tell quality from looking at them through a loupe on the bench.

Stack_of_home_movie_cans

This was a box of ten or so 8mm films from the 1940s-1950s, purchased by someone on ebay or something, and then they made their way here to the HFA. The cans have no information on them, although at some point someone, either here or there, put sticky notes on a few that say things like “1950s water skier, horseback riding, football arena, farm horse, snowlice (rabbit kill) spring (family), baseball game.” I don’t know about you, but aside from the “snowlice” (maybe it’s supposed to say “snow/ice”), I didn’t find this a particularly evocative description. Sounded rather dull.

I watched the first reel, which was OK. Beautiful Kodachrome, lovely 1950s rural scenes. People swimming in a lake, hanging out with animals on a farm, riding horses, etc.. It seemed like a family vacation reel. It was nice but nothing special. Then I watched a few more reels. I wasn’t expecting the whole box to be from the same family, but it is. The content is repetitive – spring baby animals and flowering trees, summer at the lake, swimming, bringing home dead animals from hunting, then it is winter and there is ice fishing and playing in the snow.

There are a lot of people in these films – many kids and adults. One kid manages to be the star, though. The house, with its made-for-Kodachrome red doors, was a lovely recurring scene. I couldn’t quite place it geographically – it looks like New England, perhaps Vermont, but could be some other northern spot where there is water and snow and hills and trees.

The mid-1950s Kodachrome film is a thing of beauty. It was a filmstock for all seasons, and this cameraperson knew it. It really showcases certain colors, transforming the natural world into art. Autumn leaves and blue skies, red doors and white snow, blue lakes and green fields. People in the films were dressed like they knew the magic of Kodachrome would preserve their visages for a century in red and black wool plaid jackets, blue cowboy shirts, and incredible bathing suits.

The more films I watched, the more I loved them. Yes, the same things were recorded over and over, but there was a touching intimacy to the films in addition to their colorful beauty. The family clearly loved animals, despite killing many black bears, bobcats, white rabbits, and a few things in between. They kept sheep and cows, dogs and cats, and tamed a deer and her baby (which led to a joke scene of a hunter being stalked by a deer). In one snowy scene, a young boy is walking in front of the house with something white stuck to his chest. Is it the baby we saw in the last scene?  He’s not holding the white thing, though; it’s just clinging to him somehow. The camera moves closer, and we see it is a giant white cat, which then licks the boy’s face as the film runs out. My eyes welled up. In another charming sequence, it’s lambing season, and baby lambs are jumping around all over the green pasture. Then the camera cuts to a baby crawling in the grass, dressed in white, looking like a little lamb.

It’s easy to love a well-shot film. Most scenes were correctly exposed, and the addition of a finger occasionally making its way into the frame only adds drama to the proceedings – who is holding the camera now? Who usually holds it? Sometimes the film is left to run as the arm holding the camera drops, filming a topsy-turvy world, most dramatically so during a toboggan run sequence, sadly underexposed.

To try to explain these films (this film?) by merely listing what has been recorded, which is often how home movies are explained in catalogs, is like doing the same for a feature film. It does not do it justice, and it does little to make sense of it unless you’re opening a stock footage mine. I wish I could somehow add smells to the description – the aroma of lobster cooking outside, the crisp autumn air, the flowering trees, the horses – the film is that evocative. The films are silent, but the sound of the projector is hypnotic. I feel like this is my own family and I feel nostalgia for this life before I was born.

Kodachrome is dead. LONG LIVE KODACHROME!

boy with cat

We have a new look!

Hello dear readers and welcome to our updated Harvard Film Archive Collections Blog!

We’ve changed the look and structure of this blog in the spirit of accessibility. Going forward, this blog will feature easier to read text and contrast, helpful alt text for our lovely images, and accessibility across platforms.

We hope that this change will provide better accessibility for all who wish to follow our work with the HFA film collections, special projects, musings on film history, and observations about the place of the archive in preserving the many aspects of media that surrounds us.

Thank you to the WordPress Accessibility team for providing the tools for this update, and thank YOU dear readers! We hope you continue to follow us in good health.

See you at the movies!