One of the most important subjects we teach in the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation nitrate vaults is how to identify, inspect, and treat decomposing nitrate film. The students in this year’s class took to this task willingly, learning not only WHAT causes decay, but how to treat films within the various stages of decomposition.
Take, for instance, a small reel of FRANKENSTEIN, (1931) donated to Eastman House in 2002. This material belonged to a collector who had a small portion of the feature film, mainly, the ending sequence. When Selznick student Ken Fox took on the task of inspection and reporting the condition of the reel, he was able to capture some of the famous monster’s face, with the signs of the decaying film around him.
Working together, Ken and I talked about what was happening with this film as it was decaying, and how the cold temperatures and humidity’s used at the Conservation Center help slow down this process. While no one likes to see these materials disappear, it is important to keep these films as a learning tool for hands-on knowledge, and hopefully prevent other reels from the same fate. (Photos taken by Ken Fox and Holly Foster.)
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.