Dresden Engle's Posts

Dresden Engle is the Public Relations Manager for George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

‘A Trip to the Movies’ and the Oscars® with Méliès

Posted by on Feb 22 2012 | Other

As George Eastman House celebrates “Oscars® week” – culminating with the annual party this Sunday eve – we also celebrate our motion-picture collections and shine a spotlight on the ones that relate to this year’s nominees.

We have two close ties to the film Hugo, as its Oscar®-nominated director, Martin Scorsese, preserves his personal film collection of several thousand titles at Eastman House. And alongside those films are those of Georges Méliès (1861-1938), the filmmaker at the center of the Hugo storyline.

Eastman House holds one of the largest Méliès collections in the world, with 60 different Méliès titles across 129 elements, including production stills created under Méliès’ direction. The films includes Voyage dans la lune, the title that plays such an important role in Hugo, as well as preservations of titles, such as La Danse du feu (The Dance of Fire), Les Fromages automobiles (The Skipping Cheeses), Tom Tight et Dum-Dum, and Voyage à travers l’impossible (An Impossible Voyage).

Scene from ‘Voyage dans la lune’


And, further, the Eastman House’s senior curator of motion pictures, Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, is an expert on the work of Méliès, producing a book and exhibition on his work in the 1990s.

In the book A Trip to the Movies (George Eastman House, 1991), Cherchi Usai noted Méliès has a reputation among film specialists as an “author” in the strongest sense of the word, as well as the “creator of the motion picture performance,” according to Louis Lumière’s definition.

Georges Méliès was a professional magician trained in classic 18th-century theater. He first saw the new “moving pictures” in 1895, as presented by the Lumière Brothers. Soon after Méliès was filming and projecting his own creations, using stop-motion photography to incorporate visual effects and using techniques such as the fade-in, the fade-out plus the dissolve to create the first real narrative films. For this he has been regarded “the father of special effects.”

It is believed Méliès made more than 500 films and, when he put film production behind him, reportedly destroyed many of the originals. Yet, his films were monumental stepping stones for future filmmakers, such as D.W. Griffith, who said of Méliès, “I owe him everything.”

“Méliès constitutes an unprecedented case in film historiography with relevance going far beyond the chronological boundaries of the so called ‘silent period,” Cherchi Usai wrote. “Méliès indeed discovered a new vehicle for aesthetic expression, long before cinema realized it, but he was also the standard-bearer for an individualistic conception of filmmaking.”

A rediscovery of Méliès’ “lost” films was cause for celebration in recent decades.
The Pordenone Silent Film Festival, of which Cherchi Usai was a founder, presented in 1989 the world premiere of the restored Méliès film Le Chevalier Mystère (1899), which had been found in the vaults of George Eastman House.

“The screening was met with a standing ovation and newspaper reports used words such as ‘genius,’ ‘tiny jewel,’ and ‘one-minute masterpiece’ to describe 80-feet of film that had been saved under mediocre conditions and, given the state of the nitrate print, reprinted in the best manner allowed by current technology,” wrote Cherchi Usai.

Scene from ‘Le Chevalier Mystère’


Within a few years of the invention of film, Méliès “was coping with its possibilities and limitations, evidencing an attitude that will later become typical of artists like Cecil B. DeMille, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick: striving for absolute control of the moving image, for demiurgic power over the photographic reproduction of the visible world,” Cherchi Usai said. “Even today, it is hard to understand how Méliès, with the relatively fundamental technical resources at his disposal, could produce narrative mechanisms and optical illusions of such complexity: six or seven multiple exposures on a single strip of film; characters that multiply themselves and then ‘talk’ to their double with perfectly timed labial movements, pauses, changes of backdrops, and substitutions of objects.

“… The mind perceives the spectacle as an explosion of fireworks, with stories, digressions, and implied references, instead of sparkles. Instinctively, these images, previously labeled ‘primitive,’ become ‘up-to-date.’ Having been painstakingly saved by film archivists and slowly absorbed into the logic of the cultural ‘condition,’ early cinema has now become an indicator of modernity.”



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The Georges

Posted by on Feb 16 2012 | Other

Guest Blog by film critic Jack Garner

Silent film legend Buster Keaton was long known as “Old Stone Face” because he never cracked a smile, even while houses collapsed around him and tornadoes blew through town. However, at least one thing was known to put a smile on his face: his George Eastman Award from Eastman House. Author Marion Meade noted in his biography, Cut to the Chase, the great comedian considered his Eastman award more prestigious than an Oscar®.

Keaton was part of the astonishing first group of winners of the aptly nicknamed “George” award, on Nov. 9, 1955. He joined an all-star roster that included Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Ronald Colman, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, and Lillian Gish. Though not all came to Rochester for the honors, many did, including Keaton, Pickford, Swanson, and Gish. They attracted a sellout crowd at the 3,000-seat Eastman Theatre.

Lillian Gish speaks from the Festival of Film Artists stage at the Eastman Theatre in 1955.

In the more than a half-century since, Rochester and George Eastman House have been host to a sparkling array of Eastman Award winners, from Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart to Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, and Meryl Streep. The award ceremony is held every few years, the centerpiece of a night of black-tie celebrating and important community fundraising at the Eastman House and its Dryden Theatre.

The event adds prestige to the Eastman House film archive, generates awareness and enthusiasm for the collection and the Museum’s motion picture preservation activities among important Hollywood figures, and is a great excuse for a grand party.

And sometimes, the honorees return the favor with important gifts to the museum. Director Martin Scorsese, the 1994 honoree, now stores some 8,000 titles from his world-class film collection at Eastman House, where they are often scheduled for screenings and will eventually be a permanent part of the Eastman House collection. And the 1997 honoree, actress Isabella Rossellini, has made Eastman House a repository for films by her famous father, Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini.

The awards began in 1955 as an idea by the Museum’s first director, Gen. Oscar Solbert. Founding film archivist James Card recalls in his memoirs that with the proliferation of film festivals in 1955 — and the growing popularity of the Academy Awards® — he should have foreseen that the “PR-conscious director” would conceive of a ceremony of his own. Card wrote that he was called into Solbert’s office: “ ‘We will award Georges,’ he announced. I firmly believed he was confident that in a manner of time, the Oscars® would be superceded by Georges.”

Certainly, that hasn’t happened. Yet the awards, which are held in high regard among those who’ve been honored, and probably a few who wish they would be honored.

First called the Festival of Film Artists Awards in both 1955 and 1957, the name was changed to the George Eastman Award “for distinguished contribution to the art of film” soon after but has had the nickname ‘The Georges” on and off since.

“The George Eastman Award was the first token of recognition established by a US cultural institution to pay tribute to the artistic achievements of the leading artists of the film industry,” says Patrick Loughney, a former Motion Picture Department curator at Eastman House, and now at the Library of Congress. “In terms of longevity and the prestige of past recipients, only Oscar® stands in comparison.”

Part of the initial attraction of the Georges was that the 1955 and 1957 honors were awarded to stars, directors, and cinematographers from 1915 through 1930, and were selected through extensive balloting, organized by Card, through mailings to any and all significant surviving participants of that important period of film history.

After the initial flurry of the 1955 and 1957 honors, the complex and difficult balloting process was put aside, and the museum directors, archivists, and boards began the process of selecting the stars, which were usually just one per ceremony, and usually about once every two or three years. The new process began in 1965 with Fred Astaire, and continued in the ’70s with Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller, Blanche Sweet, and director George Cukor (who, before becoming Katharine Hepburn’s favorite Hollywood director, honed his craft in the ’20s at Rochester’s Lyceum Theatre).

This reporter’s observance of the Georges began in 1978, when the incredibly likeable Jimmy Stewart was honored. As part of the ceremony, the Dryden Theatre hosted a screening of the then-rare and out-of-circulation Vertigo, which drew film aficionados from around the world.

1978 Eastman Award honoree James Stewart poses playfully on the site of the Schuyler C. Townson Terrace Garden while touring the Museum grounds.

The Eastman House also revisited the concept of honoring several stars at a large Eastman Theatre celebration in 1982, when several exceptional women were honored simultaneously: Joan Bennett, Dolores Del Rio, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Luise Rainer, and Sylvia Sidney.

The seventh of these legendary women was Louise Brooks, the silent screen siren who spent her last decades living in Rochester, and who had spent many hours studying films at Eastman House for her memoir, Lulu in Hollywood. The ill, apartment-bound recluse didn’t make it to the ceremony, but she sent word that she was thrilled with the honor — which came only three years before her death.

The Eastman House has continued to be remarkably successful in attracting prestigious names to receive Georges and to be the all-important magnets for the fundraising ceremony. Fortunately, the awards establish their own natural sort of celebrity networking. Martin Scorsese, for example, led Eastman House to his friend and former wife, Isabella Rossellini, which led to another award (and to important treasures for the archive).

Meryl Streep in the Dryden Theatre with her 1999 Eastman Award.


As Meryl Streep said when she was honored in 1999, “I can see I’m in very august company.” And, since she’s an Oscar® champion and arguably the greatest actress of her generation, she and the newest recipient to be named, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award winner Richard Gere, make the company even more august when future Eastman award recipients are determined.

The only time things didn’t work out as planned was in 1994 when Scorsese was honored and had to withdraw from attending at the last minute because of complications on the set of his movie, Casino. In his stead he sent Griffin Dunne, who’d starred in Scorsese’s After Hours.

On one of the grandest nights of Eastman Award history, on Oct. 24, 1987, recipient Gregory Peck was surprised by the appearance of one of his favorite co-stars, Audrey Hepburn. “I’m honored to bring to this ceremony the film industry’s admiration for your talent, their respect for your integrity, and the love they feel for you.”

Peck was delighted. But he also said he was happy because the Eastman House honors also put a spotlight on the Museum’s important role as a leading center of film preservation.

“For a long time, Hollywood didn’t realize the importance of preserving its films,” he told the audience here. “These old films are an invaluable source of information for film students. And, for the general public, they’re a window into the past.”

Audrey Hepburn shows her Eastman Award to a sold-out Dryden crowd in 1992, after its presentation by then-chairman of the Museum’s board of trustees Bruce Bates.

Five years after Peck’s ceremony, Hepburn would herself be honored with an Eastman Award. Though her adoring fans didn’t know it at the time, they witnessed history. Those close to Hepburn knew she was quite ill, though she put on a brave and stunningly gorgeous face. Ultimately, it was a bittersweet occasion, the last major public appearance by the Hollywood icon, who died four months later.

Jack Garner was staff film critic of Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle for 28 years and for 20 of those years was the nationally syndicated chief film critic of Gannett News Service. A fixture in Rochester journalism since 1970, he was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Attica prison rebellion in 1971. Today he is a member of Eastman House’s Motion Picture Acquisitions Committee and the Eastman House Council, and in 2007 was honored with the George Eastman Medal of Honor for his contribution to motion pictures and the community.

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Archiving the world with Clickworker and the Crowd

Posted by on Oct 17 2011 | Photography

By Mark Allen, Guest Blogger and Clickworker General Manager.

As a photo junky, I’m always interested in the works of the masters. The Ansel Adams and Jacob Riis’ of the world. That’s why I’m excited that Clickworker has the opportunity to take on the George Eastman House collection as our biggest pro bono project ever. Not only does George Eastman House hold collections from some of the most important photographers in the U.S., but also has become a go-to for international, historical, and documentary images from all over the world since the beginning of photography.

Nickolas Muray, Marilyn Monroe, 1952

Lewis Hine, Empire State Building Construction Worker Touching The Top Of The Chrysler Building, 1930


Though the extent of my own photographic experience has yet to go beyond vacation and cute dog photos, I can appreciate the scope, quality and documentation that the greats bring to the canon of photography. In short – photo museums are awesome. And what’s even better with this project is as our crowd of 120,000 clickworkers tag the more than 400,000 images, they become even more searchable and available online for researchers, enthusiasts, students – anyone! It is truly a perfect partnership to showcase our international services and, as a result, the world will have a more accessible visual library.

To get involved please register as a clickworker here.




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A brief encounter with Norman Rockwell

Posted by on Jul 29 2011 | Photography

By Tom Hoehn, Guest Blogger and George Eastman House member (“and proud of it!”)

My name is Tom Hoehn, a longtime member of George Eastman House. The current exhibit, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera,” (which, by the way, is just fantastic!) brought back a memory from my days as a kid in Rome, N.Y., that I wanted to share as guest blogger.

I was a fan of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, who wasn’t? As a kid I would write letters to people and almost 100% of the time I would get a
personal response. I couldn’t text them, “friend” them on Facebook, Google their address. I had to take a pen (or pencil in my case) to paper. My kids, who can’t comprehend a world like this, wonder if dinosaurs wandered the streets of my hometown at that time as well.

I had a print of a Rockwell painting, his well-known self portrait, featuring him peeking around the canvas at a mirror. I had the idea of sending it to him for a signature. Industrious kid that I was I put it in a mailing tube and carefully penned his name in his trademark block letter style hoping to get his attention.  I addressed it “Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.” It had to find its way to him. I was a kid, what did I know? I also enclosed two $1 bills for return postage.

A short time later I got a response! Unfortunately, it was my print, unsigned, with a letter stating he was under contract and couldn’t sign
prints. However, Mr. Rockwell took the time to send me this postcard.

I also noted he hand wrote his return address on the envelope. Taking time to personally respond to a kid. What a guy.

I was happy because I got my requested signature! But that isn’t the end of the story. About a week later I got another envelope from Norman Rockwell, again with a handwritten address. Enclosed was the reminder of my $2 — in 13-cent stamps!

That’s just so, well, Norman Rockwell!




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President Obama welcomes Norman Rockwell painting to the White House

Posted by on Jul 21 2011 | Other

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is on display at George Eastman House now through Sept. 18, and features photographs and illustrations related to the classic 1963 painting that now hangs in the White House …


By Jeremy Clowe, Norman Rockwell Museum

President Barack Obama opened the doors of the White House on July 15, 2011, for a special meet and greet with Norman Rockwell Museum Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt; Museum President Anne Morgan; and Museum Trustee Ruby Bridges Hall. The meeting was held to celebrate the White House exhibit of Norman Rockwell’s classic 1963 painting “The Problem We All Live With,” which was inspired by Bridges’ history-changing walk integrating William Frantz Public School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. President Obama requested the loaning of the painting from the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum to honor the 50th anniversary of Bridges’ childhood experience.

President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges Hall, Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt, and Museum President Anne Morgan, view Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office, July 15, 2011. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. Courtesy The White House. All rights reserved.


“It was deeply moving to hear President Obama speak with Ruby Bridges about her school experience and Norman Rockwell’s painting,” says Ms. Norton Moffatt. “He acknowledged Ruby’s walk to school and her mother’s courage as the direct heritage that made it possible for him to serve in the White House.” Ms. Bridges Hall replied, “we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”

From left to right: Norman Rockwell Museum Trustee Ruby Bridges Hall, President Anne Morgan, and Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt, wait outside the west entrance of the White House to meet with President Barack Obama. Photo ©Norman Rockwell Museum. All rights reserved.


During the afternoon meeting, the President showed his guests an original copy of The Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, hanging in the Oval Office over a bronze bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the same room, the group viewed Rockwell’s original painting of the Statue of Liberty, painted for the July 6, 1946 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, and donated to the White House in 1994 by film director Steven Spielberg, who also serves on the Museum’s Board of Trustees.


‘The Problem We All Live With’ will be on view at the White House through October 31, hanging right outside of the Oval Office.

White House blog “President Obama Meets Civil Right Icon Ruby Bridges”


Mr. Jeremy Clowe is the manager of Media Services at the Norman Rockwell Museum and originally appeared on their site. Mr. Clowe will be presenting The Stories Behind Rockwell’s Famous Faces at 2 p.m. Aug. 7 at George Eastman House.


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