Category Archives: new collections

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.


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






Images from the Soviet Film Collection

We have come across some compelling images in the Soviet Film Collection prints. Herewith a selection of our staff favorites, with photos from project film specialist Adrianne Jorge:



A Great Life (1939)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


Regina (1990)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


Watch out for the Automobile! (1966)


Malva (1957)


The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)


The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)


Tears Dripped (1983)


Unidentified film


Unidentified film


We are from Kronstadt (1936)


We are from Kronstadt (1936)


Native Blood (1963)


A Great Life (1939)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Unidentified film

International Archives Day!

Today marks International Archives Day! We are celebrating by working through our very last pallet of film prints from the newly acquired Soviet Film collection. Here are some before and after photos to show the processing work undertaken for the rehousing and preservation of these films:

The prints in their original containers

The prints in their original containers

Prints rehoused in new preservation cans

Prints rehoused in new preservation cans


Star project employee Adrianne Jorge, hard at work!


Cataloged and stored in boxes, these prints are ready for cold storage

Cbema film stock

While processing our recently acquired Soviet Film Collection we came across some stocks with unusual color fading properties. One stock in particular was perplexing: Cbema (or Svema.) Even new prints on Cbema stock frequently look faded to pink or orange, and often have extreme differences in fading between reels. Some research uncovered this great article about how these odd fading properties were utilized by filmmakers to communicate aesthetically the bleak realities many faced in former Soviet countries.


Although many of the Cbema prints we have encountered thus far have been faded, there are some titles with decent color, as pictured below.

















new collection alert: Arthur Freedman Video Collection

We are pleased to announce one of our more recent acquisitions, the Arthur Freedman video collection!  A familiar figure in the local Boston area rock scene for nearly four decades, Artie Freedman recorded over two thousand hours of rock performances on VHS, Hi8, 8mm video, and Mini DV from the late 1970s through the early 2000s.
The HFA’s portion of the collection is searchable though our finding aid: Arthur Freedman Collection, ca. 1985-2011 : Guide

Freedman pictured with a portion of his collection, photo by Patricia Ann Pelland

Inspired by the music he heard from the neighbor’s band in his hometown of Newton, Massachuetts, Arthur attended concerts on the Common, the Esplanade and venues like the Music Hall (now the Wang Center), the Modern Theater and the Orpheum. When Arthur reached 18, he began to explore nightclubs like Cantone’s, the Club, the Rathskeller, Jonathan Swift’s, Jack’s and many others. That band in his neighborhood, the Rockin’ Ramrods, would eventually back up the Rolling Stones on the Canadian leg of their first North American tour, and Freedman would eventually go on to not only attentively listen to many more bands but record a whole era of local culture.

Watching the bands in the early days of the local punk rock movement, he realized that each show was unique: he witnessed set, song and personnel changes, different arrangements for some songs and, tragically, untimely deaths of band members. Many of these independent, unsigned bands would never make it into the recording studio, and those who did may not record the songs he liked or sequence the tracks on the record like a live set.  Believing that the energy and exuberance of a live performance could never be reproduced within the controlled perfection based recording studio, Arthur quickly realized the critical need of chronicling the edgy and incredibly creative era of punk music within the scene he loved.  In the late 1970s, he bought a cassette deck with microphone inputs and two microphones and started to record all of the shows he attended. In 1984, Freedman bought a video camera. He was one of the only people recording or filming in the nightclubs of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville – as well as the occasional out-of-town venue. Often sighted in front of the stage, video camera in hand, he documented countless rock acts for posterity, including many bands and venues that no longer exist. Either with tape decks and microphones, video cameras or video cameras attached to video recorders, Freedman would often go from club to club recording multiple bands in one evening. He became a familiar figure in the local Boston area rock scene for nearly four decades.

Dedicated to the music and his craft, Freedman wanted the tapes to be always available to the bands he recorded.  However, magnetic media is subject to degradation over time. He alerted the public to the massive nature of this preservation proposal through multiple articles in newspapers; thus, Harvard University became aware of a once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate on an exclusive project and approached Freedman with a feasible way to preserve and make available the life’s work of a creative visionary.

Freedman maintained his archive of thousands of videotapes at his home until he donated his collection to Harvard in 2012. His audio recordings of local rock, dating back to the late 1970s, now reside at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library. The Arthur Freedman Collection at the Harvard Film Archive consists of over two thousand hours of recorded rock performances, recorded on 1185 VHS, Hi8, 8mm video, and Mini DV tapes. There are associated materials including fliers and set lists for some of the tapes.  Both Arthur Freedman and Harvard University welcome the help of legitimate band members to provide set lists, personnel listings, associated artworks, posters, records, tapes, cds, websites, Facebook pages and as much information about the bands contained in this collection as possible. By doing so, they would be able to access this collection while enriching its depth.
The audio and video recordings will be digitized at Harvard for access and posterity.

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.

Anne Charlotte Robertson

It is with mixed emotions the Harvard Film Archive announces an exciting new acquisition – the Anne Charlotte Robertson Collection.  Anne died this September in hospice after a battle with cancer, and left her extensive work to the HFA.  [obituary]

Anne Charlotte Robertson was a Super 8 filmmaker and diarist who lived in Framingham, MA.  She began making films in the mid-1970s as an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and earned her MFA at the Massachusetts College of Art (class of ’85).  Her main work is the 38-hour opus, FIVE YEAR DIARY, which she began in 1981 and kept far longer than five years.  Each episode of the diary, spanning varying numbers of days, is 27 minutes (approximately 8 camera rolls) and the diary is 84 reels long.  In addition to the FIVE YEAR DIARY, Anne made over 30 other (mostly diaristic) short films, including APOLOGIES (1990), TALKING TO MYSELF (1985), MAGAZINE MOUTH (1983), and MELON PATCHES, OR REASONS TO GO ON LIVING (1994).

Spirit of ’76

Ms. Robertson used a sound super 8 camera, and the films have many layers of soundtrack.  The original screenings were performances if Anne was in attendance.  There is the original sound on film, recorded at the same time as the picture, there are often also audio cassettes she would play with the film, and she spoke over the film as well.

Anne took the written diary form and extended it to include documentary, experimental and animated filmmaking techniques. She did not shy away from exposing any parts of her physical situation or emotional life.  She became a pioneer of personal documentary and bravely shared experiences and observations on being a vegetarian, her cats, organic gardening, food, and her struggles with weight, her smoking and alcohol addictions, and depression (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder).   Romance (or lack thereof) and obsession are long-running themes in the DIARY films, as is the cycle of life.  In the films, Anne sows seeds, reaps vegetables, cooks and pickles them, composts the scraps.  She buries family members and beloved cats, notes the changing seasons, contemplates suicide, has nervous breakdowns, creates films, pines for her celebrity crush (Tom Baker of Doctor Who), finds religion, and obsessively documents her own life in film, paper, and audio tape.

Anne didn’t shy away from documenting her own weaknesses.  Weight and diets are addressed throughout the work.  Her struggle with mental illness is investigated again and again.  She made a film while undergoing a nervous breakdown.  She talks about being hospitalized, taking prescription drugs, and fearing the next breakdown.  In the layered audio of the DIARY film, she explains what was going through her head when she shot certain things – here she is looking for signs in the everyday; here she is obsessively visually cataloging her garbage; here she is worrying she is causing pain to the root vegetables she means to eat – a problem solved by re-planting them.


Ms. Robertson’s films were shown all over the world, often at super 8 – specific festivals.  Her work touched many people, and inspired a number of women filmmakers.  In 2001, she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in Filmmaking.

The material given to the Harvard Film Archive includes the original films, film prints, video copies of the films, as well as the intellectual and distribution rights.  The collection also includes scores of hours of audio tape, papers (including diaries and letters), and photographs.

The HFA is working with the award –winning small gauge film lab Brodsky and Treadway to preserve these unique films by creating new digital masters, incorporating the disparate soundtracks, and will make them available for rental.  Anne had recorded her usually performed audio for some of the DIARY films, and masters have been created using both sound elements (the recordings and the sound-on-film).  She left scripts with some of her DIARY films, and requested that someone record the performed audio for future preservation work.

written by Liz Coffey

The following titles, as a condition of the will, remain unavailable until 2023:

SUICIDE (1979)


FRUIT (1985)

THE NUDE (1987)



WEIGHT (1988)

DIET (1988)

Some of the DIARY films will also be unavailable (titles forthcoming).

The HFA will be presenting a weekend of the works of Anne Robertson in September 2013 on the anniversary of her death.

For information regarding showing Anne Robertson’s films, please contact the Harvard Film Archive’s print trafficker, Mark Johnson at: mhjohns[at]fas[dot]harvard[dot]edu.

For more information about the collection, please contact the HFA’s film conservator, Liz Coffey: coffey[at]fas[dot]harvard[dot]edu