Conserving Hollywood History at George Eastman House

Posted by on Jun 03 2009 | Motion Pictures


One of the greatest films made about life in Hollywood is the 1937 masterpiece A Star Is Born. The nitrate print in the Eastman House Collection was on the top of my list of ‘films to inspect’ this week at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center.  
Showcasing the talents of Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, director William Wellman tells the story of a small town girl who makes it big in the glamorous world of Hollywood.   Basing many scenes on real-life incidents of film stars such as Norma Shearer and John Barrymore, Wellman gives an insider look at what is means to be famous.


To help illustrate the story he included many Hollywood landmarks of the time. Watching this film will make you feel like a time-traveler/tourist as it includes shots of the Club Trocadero; the Hollywood Legion Stadium; the swimming pool at the Ambassador Hotel; the Santa Anita racetrack and the Hollywood Bowl.   One particularly noteworthy scene was filmed in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, using crowds gathered for the preview of the United Artists’ release of Rembrandt.  


The museum’s nitrate print shows it has been projected many times since it was struck in 1937.   The torn sprockets, splices and excessive shrinkage makes for a delicate inspection on the work bench.  


Using a light hand, I spooled through the material to check for decomposition, odor, and discoloration.   Each of the 11 reels was checked, frame by frame for any foreign materials that may cause future damage to the physical object.   This includes but is not limited to: paper, plastic, non-standard adhesives and other acid-loving objects.  


What I like about this film is the bright color and its ‘modern’ setting.   It provides a glimpse into Hollywood production in the early 1930s but its  message still rings true today.   This nitrate print,  donated in 1958, still deserves its place in our vaults, for its potential value in future preservation, and for its wonderful peek into old Hollywood.

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    Deborah Stoiber is the Nitrate Vault Manager at The Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center. She graduated from The L. Jeffrey Selznick School in 1998. After graduation, she spent time at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY working on their 16mm collection.

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