Deb Stoiber's Posts

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.

Warning! Watching silent movies can be addicting!!

Posted by on Feb 26 2010 | Motion Pictures

Last week I received the March edition of Turner Classic Movie’s ‘Now Playing’ guide.  I always get excited when this arrives in my mailbox.  Breaking the seal, grabbing a highlighter and, like a kid in a candy store, I scan the rows of featured films.  I ask myself important questions, such as “How much open space is on the DVR?”  “How many can I watch in a day without drying my eyes out?”  But most importantly, I ask “What are the silent films of the month?”

 Most Sunday nights, TCM offers a silent movie, usually around midnight, Eastern Time.  This March 7th is one of my favorites-SHOW PEOPLE (1928). 

Directed by King Vidor and starring Marion Davies and William Haines, it tells the story of a young girl who goes to Hollywood to become a dramatic actress and finds herself cast in slapstick comedies.

  Cameo appearances are made by such popular actors as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, and Mae Murray.  A funny, sweet and revealing story, SHOW PEOPLE is a wonderful behind the scenes look at life in the movies.  But while the title says it is about the people of show business, that isn’t the only thing you will see.  According to the TCM website: “Studio scenes were taken at the, by then, derelict Essanay studios, where such comedy greats as Chaplin and Mabel Normand had gotten their start. Shortly after filming, the whole place was demolished.” 

 George Eastman House holds the original nitrate camera negatives for SHOW PEOPLE in its vaults.  It is not available on DVD or video, but is fully preserved at GEH.  For more information on SHOW PEOPLE (and to vote on the TCM website for its release on DVD) please see  Enjoy!

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In Appreciation of Film Collectors: Ted Larson and Harold ‘Rusty’ Casselton

Posted by on Feb 12 2010 | Motion Pictures

The George Eastman House has recently completed the preservation on THE OLD FOLKS AT HOME (Fine Arts Film Co., 1916.)  Directed by Chester Withey and starring Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Josephine Crowell, Elmer Clifton, and Mildred Harris [aka Mrs. Charles Chaplin], it is the story of the rural Coburn family, living a simple, yet happy, life on the homestead.  While John runs a modest campaign for state senator, his wife keeps their home and son in loving comfort. 

When the votes are counted, the family is thrilled to learn that Mr. Coburn has been elected!

Years pass, and we see the family in a new environment.  John is now running the state, and has little time for his former life.  Still, they go back to the homestead once a year, and try to stay in touch with their son, Stevie, who has turned to gambling and a scandalous woman.  Stevie becomes involved in a murder, and mother and father must make a difficult decision-help their son, or have him face the consequences with the state. 

The foundation for this preservation was a nitrate print brought to Eastman House in 2003 by Ted Larson and Harold “Rusty” Casselton.  These beloved film professors, historians, and film collectors were internationally known and respected restorers of rare and silent films.  Both collectors have passed on but will always be remembered for their enthusiasm and knowledge of film.  Ted and Rusty, on their way to Cinefest in Syracuse, NY, would visit Eastman House and talk to students of the Selznick School about film collecting and how they fell in love with cinema.  Over the years, the warm relationship with Ted and Rusty and the motion picture department evolved and an agreement was reached for some of their rare nitrate prints to be conserved at Eastman House.

 Although neither Ted nor Rusty survived to see the preservation of this film, the Eastman House is proud to carry on their work: to preserve, show and to inspire a love of film. (Preservation funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.)

Ted Larson


Rusty Casselton

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The Chinatown Mystery

Posted by on Feb 05 2010 | Motion Pictures

We conduct regular inspections of our nitrate motion picture collections. This week the list included a wonderful 10-part silent serial preserved in 2001 by the Eastman House, titled THE CHINATOWN MYSTERY. 

What is a serial film?  Basically it is a series of films telling a continuing story where the audience needs to return to the cinema week after week in order to see the entire plot.  In order for this to work, producers of these films knew they had to create enough suspense and drama in their plots to keep the public interested. If someone in the audience missed a week, a foreword was usually added to remind the audience of the previous action.  In modern terms, think of such television shows as Lost or Flash Forward. Both shows start each episode with a summary of the show plot, and ends with a twist, making the public demand more and more from the creators, and extending from season to season. 


But what makes a successful serial?  According to In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials by William C. Cline, “The basic ingredients of a good serial-already clearly ordained in the silent form-consisted of a Hero, a Heroine, a Villain, his Henchmen, a Prize, and the Perils. ….Optional additives were to make the Hero or the Villain-or both-a mystery figure whose identity was revealed only in the final episode, to give the Hero an able and compatible Assistant, to place in jeopardy a likable Pawn, and to surround the protagonists with a substantial cast of believable solid characters.”  

What makes THE CHINATOWN MYSTERY a good serial is that it has all these characteristics.  A strong Hero (played by Joe Bonomo) who finds himself in the center of the action: 

A lovely heroine (played by Ruth Hyatt [sp]) whom is vulnerable, but anxious and willing to help our hero: 

Our Villain (Francis Ford) who is attempting to make a formula to create diamonds: 

And our case of believe side characters to help move the story along:


What will happen next?  Will our Hero save the Day?  What, or who is the Mysterious Figure in the Chinatown Mystery?  I won’t give it away, but I will mention that in its heyday, audiences were definitely in for an on-the-edge-of-your seat ‘to be continued…’ thrill ride. See you next week!

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Why basements are not a good place for film

Posted by on Jan 22 2010 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

This week, the students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation had a lesson in working with reels affected with mold and water damage.  This material had been previously stored in a wet basement, causing the emulsion to swell, the image to distort, and mold to grow on the reel of nitrate film.  Unfortunately, the material had dried out too quickly, causing it to become brittle and the emulsion to remain stuck together in a solid mass. 

Amanda and Karin with moldy film

After donning the appropriate gear (approved mask, gloves, goggles, overcoat, and pulling their hair back) students Karin Carlson and Amanda Honeyman first wiped down all exposed areas of the reel with a mixture of approved cleaning solution and projector oil.  The cleaner is used to help remove the dirt and mold spores on the film, and the oil will assist in lubricating the film for gentle hand winding.  Working in the well ventilated area, Karin started by using a dull ex-acto knife blade to gently separate the layers of film.  With plenty of time and patience, Karin was able to separate the layers, while Amanda gathered the film for closer inspection.  Working together and trading off duties, the layers of film were slowly separated.  They found that some areas of the reel were harder to separate than others: perhaps water dripped on the reel?  

Separating brittle, moldy layers of film

Close up of bench work-brittle moldy filmBrittle film can be one the hardest materials to inspect by an archivist.  Light pressure on the material can cause it to break in many pieces.  Handling should be done with extreme care.  Quite often, the emulsion will crack, causing permanent damage to the image.  The sprocket holes are no longer able to support any equipment use.  Luckily, the title of this film was already preserved by the Eastman House, and this reel is kept for long term conservation and research purposes.  It is films such as this one that teaches new students, and reminds older archivists the importance of archival storage conditions-cool and dry.   

Brittle film

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Learning What to Do With a Decomposing Frankenstein

Posted by on Jan 15 2010 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

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.

L1000724editL1000754editWorking 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.)

Ken and Deb inspecting the reel

Ken and Deb inspecting the reel

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