Category Archives: interns

Intern Report: The Bruce Ricker Collection

A new post from our fantastic Summer Intern, Derek Murphy!

Diving deep into a stranger’s records can be an intense experience. As the summer 2015 intern at the Harvard Film Conservation Center, I trawled through a career’s worth of documents from the life and work of Bruce Ricker. Ricker was primarily a jazz and blues documentary filmmaker. From his first pivot from law practice to filmmaking in 1974 until his death in 2011, he worked tirelessly to promote education about and appreciation for the music that moved him.

Last of the Blue Devils Japanese posterLast of the Blue Devils

 

The majority of the papers I organized originated from the production of Ricker’s films. His first feature documentary, The Last of the Blue Devils, saw him capturing and preserving some of the final performances the world ever saw from Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, and several other prominent musicians from the 1920’s Kansas City jazz scene. The film was treasured by jazz enthusiasts, eventually attracting the attention of Clint Eastwood.  A lifelong listener and performer of jazz music, Eastwood loved the film, and contacted Ricker out of the blue. The two met for dinner and began a friendship that led to the creation of several more films. Most notably, Ricker and Eastwood collaborated on one of Ricker’s most well-known films, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser. The 1988 documentary featured rare and previously unreleased archival footage of some of Monk’s later performances before illness ended his career, and eventually his life. It also contained interviews with many of Monk’s creative collaborators and loved ones after his death.

eastwood and ricker

Ricker and Eastwood’s collaboration did not end there. The two worked together on the production of documentaries about Budd Boetticher, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mercer, and Dave Brubeck. Additionally, Ricker directed two documentaries about Eastwood.  Ricker started Rhapsody Films, through which distributed his and other noteworthy films about jazz and blues.  As I got a handle on Ricker’s papers I saw marketing materials, catalogs, notes, correspondence, and research related to the company.

The Harvard Film Archive prioritizes multimedia holdings over papers when processing materials, so when I came on board, Ricker’s papers had been only partially described, and had not yet been arranged. The goal of my internship was to describe the papers that hadn’t yet been looked at, and arrange the totality of them into series to help create a finding aid for the collection. On my first day, I was given four boxes of papers straight from Ricker’s filing cabinets, still in their original order. Over the course of several weeks, I dove into these papers. I kept a spreadsheet where I entered information about the folders and papers I encountered, to aid in their later arrangement. This was a great learning experience. It was very satisfying to make connections between papers I’d seen in completely different boxes, and come to realizations about their place in Ricker’s oeuvre.

I was not familiar with Ricker or his work when I began my internship, but by my last day I felt a strange closeness to him. Even though I’ll never meet him, I think that my work at the HFA has given me a strong sense of his personality. I am working on my own feature-length documentary right now, so as I looked over his notes and production documents, I got a good feel for his process, and I felt a certain kinship. I even picked up a few good tips from looking at his workflow! It’s a bit uncanny, getting to know a man through the incidental papers he left behind, but I’m thankful that I got the chance to.

My internship at the HFA was extremely instructive for me, and the time I spent there was completely worthwhile. I was able to pick up hands-on skills in working with both paper and film collections. It really grounded the theory I’ve been learning in my archives classes at Simmons College’s School of Library and Information Science. In addition to the expansion of my archives knowledge, I also learned the basics of physical film handling, something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Both of my supervisors were very generous with their time, willing to answer any questions I had. They were extremely skilled and they were happy to help me pick up some of those skills myself. And, most importantly, they were a ton of fun to hang out with!

-Derek Murphy

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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.

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.