Category Archives: collection update

A woman for all seasons: processing the Mildred Freed Alberg Papers

This is a guest post from our spring 2015 intern, Gabby Womack!

When I began my internship with the Harvard Film Archive, I knew that I would be working with the papers of a female television and film producer from the 1960s. In fact, Mildred Freed Alberg was one of the reasons I was drawn to the internship. I was curious about what her life was like, what kinds of shows and films she produced, and whether or not she was successful, because I had never heard of her before.

Star Intern, Gabby Womack holding a photograph from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection.

Star Intern, Gabby Womack, holding a photograph from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection.

Mildred Freed Alberg was a female film and television producer from the late 1950s into the 1980s. She began her work in radio and worked her way up to producing TV shows, telemovies, films/documentaries, and a play. She was best known for her work in shows such as Hallmark Hall of Fame (1955-60) and Our American Heritage (1959-62), as well as her documentary The Royal Archives of Elba (1980). Alberg also brought Shakespeare to television, despite much skepticism. Basically, she was awesome and ambitious.

I was excited to dig into her papers once I had an overall idea of her accomplishments. Of course, I was in for some very cool surprises once I began. After weeks of processing, I found a short letter discussing the cast schedules of the film Hot Millions (1968) starring Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith. Although the find was small, it made me excited. So many Millennials have only seen Maggie Smith in her later years and have come to picture her as Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter films, or Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey. I loved reading Alberg’s letter asking about whether the young starlet was going to become a part of the cast and begin rehearsals. I later found compelling letters discussing the possibilities of casting Muhammad Ali or Johnny Cash as a lead in a movie that never ended up being filmed (Rogue). There were many letters to and from Johnny Cash about the role, attempts to meet, and Alberg’s thoughts on those meetings. The part that I found pretty funny was the way she referred to him as “a young musician who is on the rise and well liked by the younger crowd.”

Promotional item from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection

Promotional item from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection

Mildred Freed Alberg also worked with notable author Elie Wiesel on scripts for the 25th Anniversary of the State of Israel in 1972. It seemed to me that Alberg wanted her work to be as authentic as it could be, and conducted thorough research into Wiesel’s work as well as biblical stories and Israel as a whole. In fact, everything she produced showed the same depth of research. In one episode of Our American Heritage, she received some negative feedback from someone who claimed that she had misrepresented some information on Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin. Alberg did not take kindly to this criticism because they had implied that she had not done her research on everyone in the episode. She wrote back to this person and shared her letter with the heads of the production company she worked for. The letter tore apart the recipient and detailed exactly where she found her information, all the way down to the page number and paragraphs.
Processing the Mildred Freed Alberg collection has shown me how this tough, but likeable, woman worked her way up to the top within the entertainment industry and never let anyone or anything stop her. Before processing this collection, I had no idea women were able to find work within that field besides acting and being assistants. She was an inspiring woman and I believe that she is a great example of what the industry is missing to this day.

The Five Year Diary (1981-1997)

small_Five_Year_Diary_original_boxes

This week I’ve been watching some episodes of Anne Robertson’s Five Year Diary with a visiting researcher.  It’s been great getting back into this work.  There were quite a few exciting finds among reels I’d never seen, including one with a soundtrack recorded during a review at Mass Art.  Anne discusses her work with her professors, Saul Levine and a second, as yet unidentified, man.  This episode is somewhat early in the work (1983), but the discussion is relevant to the work as a whole.

Part of my goal with watching more reels of the Diary is to prioritize reels for digitization.  Presently, 8 reels of the work have been digitized and are available for screenings.  It is our goal to digitize the entire work; we are prioritizing and hope to have more reels available this fall.

The final reel of the Diary (Reel 83, 1997), which was only accidentally so, includes some images that remind me of earlier reels.  There is some focus on weight, a theme from the beginning, as well as the family gravestones, holidays, and, as always the moon.  I’m going to have to watch the entire work – is there an episode without the moon?  The moon and Anne are the constant characters in the film.  Anne travels; her companion the moon meets her there.  Anne goes through cycles of mental stability; the moon waxes and wanes.

The Diary is most obviously a thorough evaluation of the self, but despite Anne’s obsessions about her own body and life, she is also a solid viewer of the natural world.  The moon is the face of it, but we see the seasons closely monitored, plant life, the weather.  Paradoxically, her romantic obsessions are found on television, and on programs that are anything but celebrations of nature.

Here in Cambridge, the summer is drawing to a close.  It’s made most obvious by the return of the students, clearly demonstrated by traffic and restaurant crowds, but Anne’s films remind me to look to the trees that are beginning to brown, the flowers that are going to seed, the vegetables that will require harvest before the frost.

~Liz Coffey

FYD 2 reading definitions of fat and thin

New collection of Soviet films

Checking films_3

Over the next few months the HFA will be processing a large collection of feature films from the former Soviet Union. This collection of Soviet Cinema prints was collected in the 1990s by several collectors in Latvia. There is a great range of titles from the silent era to the late 1990s. 14 pallets of 35mm film canisters came in to the Harvard Depository, our offsite storage facility, this morning, and we brought some select titles back to the conservation center to begin work immediately.
We’ll be posting more about this collection and any unique findings as we process the films.

First batch brought back to 625

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Leak_8

anamorphic format Nachalo

Stay tuned!

 

Collection update: Caroline Leaf

The Caroline Leaf Collection experienced many moments of closure last week. To begin with, it is now processed, encoded, and the finding aid is up online. I really enjoyed working on this collection and becoming so familiar with Caroline Leaf, the innovative Canadian-American animator and filmmaker, and her work. Her animated and live-action films demonstrate a consistent and delicate balance of whimsical artistry underlined with dark themes. And throughout all of her art, there is willingness – nay, resolve – to invent new methods and execute them beautifully, no matter the time commitment. These qualities are well represented in her collection as well, which is full of drawings and test samples that reveal her extensive processes.

Some snapshots of Caroline Leaf during the making of Interview.

 

Serendipitously, Caroline Leaf herself traveled from England to visit the Harvard Film Archive last week in order to approve a new answer print of Sand or Peter and the Wolf. There had been a protracted back-and-forth creating the new print because the coloring wasn’t quite right for a while. Her visit just happened to coincide with the finishing of her finding aid, and I had the exciting opportunity to meet (and lunch with!) her. She even gave some feedback on the finding aid, which is a rare opportunity for both a processing archivist and the person for whom the collection is about.

If you haven’t had the chance to become more familiar with Caroline Leaf’s work, check out the finding aid or watch some of her shorts on the National Film Board of Canada web site.

-Tricia Patterson

Two Sisters: The Long Evolution of a Short Film

This is a guest post from our fall intern, Tricia Patterson!

The past few weeks, I have been processing The Caroline Leaf Collection. Leaf is an award-winning Canadian animator who also spent some time teaching animation at Harvard University between 1996 and 1998. She is most known for innovative animation techniques, such as using sand to illustrate characters and movement or scratching images directly onto film.

In 1991, she produced her short film Two Sisters (or Entre Deux Soeurs), for which she won 12 awards, including First Prize in the 5-15 minute category at the prestigious Annecy International Animation Festival. As I started sorting through the collection, I found it actually contains many of her original development materials for Two Sisters (as well as other works), including storyboards, test film strips, and other stuff. But I came across one illustration and what looked like an accompanying short story along with a note that I found quite confusing.


Specifically, the line “adapted from The Master and Margarita” was baffling because it just so happened to be one of my favorite novels. But I had watched Two Sisters, and frankly had detected zero similarities between her short, the book, the illustration, and the short story. Further, none of the other pre-production materials suggested a connection either. EXCEPT: nestled in the box there also happened to be a copy of the book itself. Yet, I felt it had to be some sort of mistake – some accidental tenuous connection made during the inventory. I set it aside, determined to investigate at a later point.

And then I found it: while going through her collection of VHS tapes, I found a talk she gave about her work for ASIFA, including an in-depth narrative of how Two Sisters developed!

It turns out, Caroline Leaf also fell in love with the book, particularly the idea of a devil character that enters a story and changes all of the characters’ lives in some way. In 1979, she attempted to write a radio play version of it, but she ran into the problem of wanting to keep every detail in the story and not really having enough room. So she took a different approach and wrote a one-page story about a family going for a drive and stopping to pick up a stranger that ends up staying with the family for six months and altering each of their lives in a different way. Enter: the illustration and short story I found.