Category Archives: ephemera

Play “Movie”!

“You were given a booklet when you came into the theater.”

Play Movie 2

In the late 1950s, theaters were looking for gimmicks to pry people away from their television sets and get them into cinema seats.  We’ve all heard of the resulting innovations of widescreen, 3D, and William Castle-style exploitation, but what about games on the big screen?

Today at the Conservation Center, we watched the first half of a two reel oddity, PLAY “MOVIE.”

In 1958, you could go to a special show at your local cinema that combined a film with a game.  Although we are not sure exactly how this played out, it appears a double feature would be regularly interrupted, presumably at the reel change (every 20 minutes) by a segment of the game.  Divided into ten parts, a sequin-clad woman on the big screen would pull a ball from a tumbler, and a quintessential 1950’s man would call out the number, a-la bingo or powerball.

Play Movie 3

This “scientifically calculated” process would end when there was a possible winner in the audience, bells would ring, “MOVIE” would flash onscreen, and the movie would return.  One would have to wait until the 10 parts had played out to bring winning cards to the lobby to claim a prize.

“Shout MOVIE when you’re a winner!”

Play Movie 1

This film is from the Little Art Cinema Collection at the Harvard Film Archive.

copyright entry for this game.

Play Movie, Inc. 
1 l/2 reels, sd,, b&w, 35 mm. 
© Play Movie, Inc.; 
17Feb58; MP8879.

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.

Attention – film inspector!

A sticker on the lid of a red film canister reads: help! each foot of scratched film costs 35 cents. Please wind carefully.

We recently found the following urgent calls for help while processing a 16mm film collection. The collection contains many educational and instructional films. One can only hope the cards reached sympathetic librarians and classroom teachers, and not distracted AV kids (you know who you are!)

Based on the good condition of these films, it looks like the caretakers heeded the advice and treated each print with the TLC they deserved.


A form for alerting film distributors if a film needs extra care.

This was by far the most frequent form uncovered in this collection.


A form for providing information on a specific film print.

Many of the forms contained blank fields for both librarians and film inspectors. Often, the tasks of collection development, care, and screenings, were performed by one person, who may or may not have been trained to handle film.



An inspection form for the Heartland Film Library

Collective “weeding” and collection management.


A notice requesting borrowers to rewind film.

We must admit: not all the films arrived without a fair share of tape splices.


A form provided for documentation of film damage.

Sometimes, you have to be explicit!


A card giving instructions on what to do if film breaks.

Note the enthusiastic question marks!!!! Below: the pink card in question.


A hand designed note card with blank lines for indicating film damage.

Yes — the film “reels” do look just like hamburgers.


A printed card with blank lines to indicate film damage.

Check out the progression from hand-penned to sleek computer graphics on this form.


A form for removing unwanted or unusable films from a collection.

More on collective management of the film collections.

Anne Charlotte Robertson Papers


In addition to her films, Anne Robertson left us a wealth of accompanying papers, including:

  • scripts
  • diaries
  • film recipts
  • festival entry papers
  • clippings
  • items made for film screenings
  • correspondence

A few winners from today’s work are below.  I especially like William Davis’ notes about the Five Year Diary chapter A BREAKDOWN and AFTER THE MENTAL HOSPITAL


flier for Mass Art program small IAC competition Suicide smallerA Breakdown judge report smaller

local camera shop film cans

If you work with small gauge film, you’ve no doubt seen these local camera shop film cans.

The can itself if kind of generic – blue or grey steel.  The name & address  of the photo/film place is stamped on the lid.

These cans are small monuments to a commercial culture that is pretty much dead in this country as of this writing.  Time was, small camera shops and photo processing places were everywhere.  If you had shot some movie film, you could bring it down to your local photo place for processing.  Sometimes they would process the B&W film in-house, and almost always sent the color film out to a larger vendor such as Kodak.  However, most people never considered who was doing the processing, since it was returned to them in a film can with the name of the store stamped on the cover.

Here at the HFA we are taking pictures of these lids and posting them here for your edification on our flickr page.

Some are local, some are not, but all contained Super 8, 8mm, or 16mm film when they arrived at the HFA.

Although our main goal is to preserve film, we like to preserve as much of the surrounding ephemera as possible because it can give us more information about the film, and is often just plain cool in its own right.  Local film lab cans can help us understand more about the film.  For instance, we are currently working on a collection of home movies from all over the country.  They are not always well labeled, and didn’t come to us from the person who shot them (the collector was buying them on ebay, etc.).   Knowing they were processed at Cheskis Photo Center in Philadelphia leads us to believe the filmmaker lived nearby.

I should point out here that not everyone took their film to a local concern.  Many were sent in small mailers directly to Kodak, and returned in Kodak yellow boxes with the address of the filmmaker hand written on the label.

Local film can lids are no longer being made (we assume) although local filmmakers carry on.  These days, just about everybody sends their film out through a website, and the film returns to them in more disposable packaging.  Nowadays packaging doesn’t tell us much about the filmmaker.

UPDATE: We’ve made a flickr group so you can add your own lids.




collections update: Warren Sonbert

This is a guest post from our esteemed intern, Max Goldberg, who recently completed processing the collection of Warren Sonbert.

A born bon vivant, Warren Sonbert was the rare experimental filmmaker to thrive touring film festivals and cinematheques. “There’s no way to sort out whether [Warren] traveled to make films or made films to travel,” Amy Taubin wrote after his death in 1995, “but he spent a good deal of time circumnavigating the globe, showing the film he’d just completed while accumulating material for the next”—and sending postcards all the while. The majority of the 1200 postcards held in the HFA’s Warren Sonbert Collection were mailed to Sonbert, but the frequency with which one encounters some variation of the same sheepish apologia–“Finally, I visit a place exotic enough to send a postcard to you”—leaves little doubt that the filmmaker more than held up his end.

Warren Sonbert to Ray Larsen front

Warren Sonbert to Ray Larsen back

Among the 1200 are 48 that Sonbert mailed his longtime partner, Ray Larsen, and more than 200 sent to his longtime friend and fellow filmmaker Jeff Scher. Handwritten or typed to the edge, Sonbert’s dispatches report on aesthetic experiences and social gossip with equal gusto. More than ten years after Scher completed Sonbert’s final film, Whiplash (1995/1997), he cut together a montage of his former teacher’s messages (“Postcards from Warren”). Scher wrote of this piece, “While assembling these postcards, I almost felt as though I was making a posthumous self-portrait of him.” Indeed, one finds many affinities between Sonbert’s postcards and films: their far-flung itineraries, droll treatment of public spectacle or otherwise “typical” views, and public conveyance of private messages. In a characteristically witty admission of the touristic impulses firing his films, Sonbert leads into Carriage Trade’s (1971) mosaic montage with an image of an Arab man standing next to a postcard carousel. In splicing together his own views, however, Sonbert sought something more like an epiphany than a souvenir.

The first-name basis of the postcards, their tangle of shared references and inferred meanings, strikes another chord for a viewer absorbing Sonbert’s work at a generation’s remove. A vivid sense of familiarity is one of the hallmarks of Sonbert’s films—one always finds gem-like shots of family, friends, and lovers playing themselves with varying degrees of direction. Sonbert insisted that it wasn’t important for viewers to recognize these figures, that the formal concerns of the montage outweighed this layer of personal significance.  Of course one can never replicate the initial frame of reference for any work of art, and yet the fragrant presence of the many fleeting walk-ons populating Sonbert’s films proves an enduring lure to curiosity—one that’s only compounded with exposure to the postcards and attendant hopes of matching names to faces.

These questions of familiarity and recognition coalesced for me one afternoon as I was arranging a stack of postcards mailed to Sonbert in the early 1980s. The week before, I had revisited a film he made in this era called Noblesse Oblige. Towards the conclusion, there’s a cluster of images depicting two young men sitting for coffee with an older gentleman with a refined air. Recognizing the younger men as filmmakers Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, I wrote to Dorsky to try to satisfy my curiosity about identity of this older man who so obviously commanded their reverence. After a little friendly teasing, Dorsky let on that it was none other than Douglas Sirk, one of the key influences on Sonbert’s conception of film style. Embarrassed by my failure at “name the auteur,” I was cheered to find a postcard mailed to Sonbert from another notable experimental filmmaker postmarked October 28, 1982 that read, in part,

Incidentally, who was the older man towards the end wearing sun glasses having tea with two others??? Felt a certain reverence for him…”

Peter Hutton postcard front

Peter Hutton postcard back

From the very first screenings, the husk of intimate knowledge began to come away. Sonbert may have maintained that the viewer can understand the image without identifying its players, but as a lover of gossip he surely would have been sympathetic to the desire for privileged information—one of many at play in his dazzling form of montage.

-Max Goldberg, November 2013

The Warren Sonbert Collection is now fully processed and searchable in a new finding aid.

Hello, cool world!

Due to some administrative quirks of our previous blog, we have started this newly renovated blog for your enjoyment.

Please update your RSS feeds and bookmarks, and check back often!

Our old blog is still available here.  Use the “categories” links below each post to find more related posts.

Read all about our visiting directors audio recordings here and here.

Here and here you will find information about the Hollis Frampton Collection at the HFA.

Some posts about the Doc Burr Collection are available here (regarding the collection in general);  here we talk about ephemera in the Burr Collection; here and here we look at the film containers we found in this collection.

The Lothar and Eva Just Film Stills Collection gets a lot of attention.  View previous posts here, here (access), here (winter greetings),  here (Lederhosenfilm), and here (hand colored lobby cards).

Scroll through the old blog to find all the in-between and un-categorized posts!