Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Extreme acetate decay!

Sometimes some really horribly decomposed film turns up at the conservation center.

These pictures are of some extreme cases of vinegar syndrome.  The films are from the 1920s, and are a diacetate safety base.

crystalizing on the reel extreme diacetate decay 2 decomposing diacetate film


These white crystals are a result of the plasticizer pulling away from the base. We will see if a lab is able to work on them for us – they are also very shrunken.  These films are, of course, unique, so we hope to be able to get something off them.

MA safety film logo one frame

This is the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety seal, OK-ing the film for non-theatrical projection, although these were made to be shown at the local cinema.

Halloween with Castle Films

An afternoon selection of Castle Films: the perfect precursor to a Halloween movie marathon weekend. Intended for home-viewing, these one-reel, condensed versions of creature features would bring all the shock and horror highlights of a theatrical film to the living room screen.

Pictured below are some of the gems selected by our film conservation team.

Happy Halloween!


Several covers of Halloween-themed Castle Films, arranged in a mosaic boxes

Leader Ladies!

Projectionists and lab folk have long loved the ladies (and occasional gentlemen) who appear in most films, but are seldom seen onscreen.  Even when they are, they are only there for a split second, as usually they are printed in 4 frames (24 frames per second).

Nine Lives leader lady

Leader Ladies (more widely known as China Girls), have been used since at least the 1920s in color or density test frames made by labs to assure standardization of print quality.  In the image above, you’ll see the greyscale at the bottom of the frame.  Lab QC uses the greyscale to check the quality of their prints.

Most films used a standardized leader lady, Kodak’s LAD, but as you can see from our pictures and from others posted, there is quite a variety out there.

When I was a projectionist (ca. 1993-2003), my fellow projectionists and I collected these ladies, sometimes only one frame, from 35mm prints we showed.  We planned to make a film of them, but never quite got it together.  (We had never, by the way, heard the term China Girl, and when we did, assumed it was some Asian-lady fetishistic thing, which didn’t really add up considering the few Asian faces in these test frames.)

Back in 2005, the HFA’s former Film Conservators, Julie Buck and Karin Segal, made GIRLS ON FILM, an experimental film utilizing these lovely leader ladies.

You have perhaps seen them in the end credits (skip ahead to 2:25) of Tarentino’s brilliant GRINDHOUSE (leave it to Tarentino to put these faces on the BIG screen!).  After this film came out, we got a phone call from someone in the UK whose mother’s face appeared.  He was pretty thrilled!  There’s also a French film collage online, also using Chick Habit as the soundtrack!

Leader Ladies are all the rage these days among archivists.  Our friends at Northwest Chicago Film Society have been doing the best work with these gals, but others have delved into their world.

My favorites were always these weird 90s ones that look like Thunderbirds mannequins.

We are posting pix of Leader Ladies when we find good ones.  Keep your eyes on our flickr album!





Film Lab bags!

As you all probably know, the HFA collects 35mm, 16mm, 8mm & super 8mm film material (just to name a few formats…) for approximately 30,000 titles, as well as many posters, documents and ephemera.  What you may not know is that among the film ephemera we collect are artifacts from an era that is quickly fading away, including cans, reels, projectors, and finally, the subject of this post, film lab bags!

Film labs regularly returned films to customers in bags with beautiful and stylish logo art. Here at the HFA Conservation Center we’ve been saving an example of every unique lab bag we come across for years now.  Finally this lovely collection is available digitally and represents a time range that encompasses both film and video lab work on at least 3 continents.

Follow the flickr link to have a look at the entire collection and admire the lovely design.  Contact us if you have a lab bag collection of your own!  Add information about the labs in the comments section if you like. We’ll keep updating this set as we come across new Film Lab Logos.

[PS: we don’t permanently store film in bags…and you shouldn’t either!]

Internships available

At the Harvard Film Archive, we are often seeking interns who will receive course credit in exchange for an unpaid internship with us.

Current internships include:

* Organize, inventory, re-house, and create a finding aid for a filmmaker’s papers

* Inspect, identify, re-house, and create a finding aid for a small 16mm film collection

* Work with our public programmer to organize and upload a digital archive of promotional materials

If you are interested in any of these internships, contact Liz Coffey, the HFA’s Film Conservator.

We are full up for the Spring semester, but do have openings for the upcoming fall and next summer.