Archive for the 'History' Category

Ingrid Bergman: From Rochester with Love

Posted by on Aug 29 2015 | History, Motion Pictures

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, US 1942, 102 min., 35mm)

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, US 1942, 102 min., 35mm)

When Ingrid Bergman first came to the United States in 1939 at the age of 24, she was already a star in her native Sweden and known throughout Europe. The great David O. Selznick, who brought her across the ocean, played it safe, casting Bergman in the English-language remake of her 1936 Swedish hit Intermezzo for her American debut. A mere two years later, and thanks mostly to her performance in the immortal Casablanca (1942), Bergman was Hollywood’s most beloved female star. Unlike most of her peers who exuded a thick air of nobility, inaccessibility, even arrogance, Bergman’s intelligence, warmth, and genuine modesty shone all the way through her physical beauty. She had that rarest beauty that Hollywood professionals at the time would call “bulletproof angles,” referring to the ability to be photographed from any angle while retaining all the allure and near-perfection.

The lightning speed of Bergman’s rise can unfortunately be matched only by the split second in which the American public decided to start ignoring her completely less than a decade later. All because of a single letter—one of the most beautiful letters in film history. In early 1948, Bergman, already an Oscar-winning celebrity, saw Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946), two masterpieces by founder of the neorealist movement Roberto Rossellini. Dazzled by his unglamorous, truthful, and radically non-Hollywood approach to filmmaking, and by the almost miraculous humanist spirit emerging from the ruins of post-WWII Europe depicted in these two films, Bergman offered herself to the Italian filmmaker in a two-sentence letter:

“Dear Mr. Rossellini, I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you. Ingrid Bergman”

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, US 1946, 101 min., 35mm)

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, US 1946, 101 min., 35mm)

The rest, as they say, is history. Bergman and Rossellini made five brilliant films together—the most famous being Journey to Italy (1954)—got married, and had three children. The only problem, at least for the morally righteous public at the time, was the fact that Bergman fell in love with Rossellini while she was still married to her first husband, the respected and pioneering Swedish-born neurosurgeon Petter Lindström. And here is where the story of Ingrid Bergman connects with Rochester, making this the second reason for our special retrospective (the first being the fact that Bergman, born on August 29, 1915, would have been one hundred this year). It was at the University of Rochester where Lindström received his degree in 1943, and where Bergman stayed with him and their daughter between shooting. The New York Times reported that Rochesterians loved her just a little bit too much:

“They took a small house in Rochester, N.Y., where he attended medical school. Whenever she was not working on a picture or appearing on the stage, she flew there. There was but one trouble. Her admirers of both sexes ran her and her husband ragged. They could not even go skating without a gallery.”

Join us in September and October at the Dryden Theatre for seven films with Ingrid Bergman:

Saturday, September 12, 8 p.m.:  Spellbound

Sunday, September 13, 2 p.m.: Intermezzo: A Love Story

Saturday, September 19, 8 p.m.: Notorious

Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m.: Under Capricorn

Sunday, September 27, 2 p.m.: Journey to Italy

Sunday, October 11, 2 p.m.: Elena and Her Men

Sunday, October 18, 2 p.m.: A Walk in the Spring Rain

As always, we warmly invite you step away from your tiny, solitary digital screens, and experience our offerings in the way they were meant to be experienced, on the big screen and in all their celluloid glory, with their emotional and intellectual impact preserved.

Only at the Dryden.



Comments Off for now

100 Stairs from the History of Cinema

Posted by on Aug 21 2015 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, History, Motion Pictures, Other

Little more than a month remains in George Eastman House’s exhibition Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location (on display until September 20). Now that some time has passed since the show first went up, I’d like to take a moment to convey some thoughts about its execution.

Greenaway intended The Stairs as a decade-long international installation in ten parts, each focusing on a theme related to cinema such as framing, audience, and time. Stairs 1: Geneva dealt with the theme of location. Stairs are uniquely poised to address such a topic, for not only are they pivotal elements in countless classic films, but are fundamental to the shaping and sequencing of space. Just as stairs cut through and segment space, they also bring otherwise disparate spaces together. If this sounds rather cinematic, it is because stairs are especially visual media. (Consider the homophony of “stair” and “stare”.) Of all architectural passages (e.g., doors, hallways, vestibules), stairs are the most conspicuous. We are rarely conscious of the doors or hallways we pass through, but stairs make their presence felt. They can even be spectacles in their own right, to the extent that they become centerpieces of a room. What better evidence of this is there than the films of Hitchcock, Sirk, or Lang?

 Because The Stairs was intended as a reflection on the medium of film on its centenary, Greenaway wanted the number one hundred to operate as a frame tying together the installation’s various components. At the same time, this provided him with the opportunity to expand the purview of the project as a whole, for instance by staging a supplementary exhibit containing one hundred different types of the same object. We saw this as an excellent opportunity to draw a clearer link between the ideas behind Greenaway’s project and the mission of George Eastman House. This is how we came up with the idea for a display consisting of one hundred images of stairs from the history of cinema.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Because of their sheer ubiquity, it was not difficult to construct a sizeable collection of film stairs rather quickly. More difficult was the task of condensing that list down to one hundred stairs that function explicitly as “devices for display,” to quote Greenaway himself. My criteria for this was simple enough: the stairs had to occupy a central position in the mise en scène, to the extent that the shot in question would be unthinkable without them. One particularly expressive example of this can be found in the 1939 Technicolor classic Gone With the Wind.

Still from Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, US 1939)

Still from Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, US 1939)

The staircase is situated precisely in the center of the shot; one cannot even look at this image without looking at stairs. Everywhere around there is darkness, as if the stairs and the woman on them are all that exist in this world. This image attests to what a powerful stage stairs can provide, commanding and directing the viewer’s gaze. I mentioned earlier what a crucial role stairs play with regard to space, and this is no less true in film than it is in life. Consider this image from The Magnificent Ambersons.

Still from The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, US 1944)

Still from The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, US 1944)

The spatializing function of stairs in this case is clear right away. Here, we see two figures, each occupying opposite poles of a shot. Even without any familiarity with this film’s plot, we can deduce much from this shot thanks to the mediating role of stairs. The woman is explicitly positioned in a relation of power to the man, if only for the fact that she is located directly above him. But here that point couldn’t be made in a more visually literal sense, since (as with the previous case), image and stairs almost appear as one. Even though we don’t see the stairs themselves, they are as it were everywhere in this image. This notion of stairs as omnipresent and as activating deep space is brought to an even further extreme in this image from The Spiral Staircase, where stairs appear to decenter and consume even the human body.

Sill from The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, US 194

Sill from The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, US 1945)

All routes lead to stairs. Look at this shot from Poltergeist:

Still from Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, US 1982)

Still from Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, US 1982)

In this image, the stairs are the content and the form, even to the point where they assume a fetish-like quality. Incidentally, this was the most “meta” of all the staircase shots I was able to find in my wild stair chase.

While there can be no doubt that stairs are spatially oriented media, they’re also uniquely temporal. A set of stairs places demands not only on our bodies, but on our time. Stairs take time. This makes them powerful dramatic devices, sites of tension and suspense. Think of how long it takes Norma Desmond to make her descent into final madness in Sunset Boulevard, or for Lord Hidetora to make it down the stairs of his castle to face defeat in Ran.

Still from Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950)

Still from Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950)

Still from Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/France 1985)

Still from Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/France 1985)

Elsewhere, in Tsai Ming-Liang’s ravishing video Journey to the West, a man dressed as a monk makes a painfully slow ascent up a flight of stairs. Each step becomes a measure of time. Stairs not only take time, they make it.

Still from Journey to the West (Xi you, Ming-liang Tsai, France/Taiwan 2014)

Still from Journey to the West (Xi you, Ming-liang Tsai, France/Taiwan 2014)

Or consider this shot from Nagisa Oshima’s 1968 film Death by Hanging. The image is extremely powerful: a young man sentenced to hang sits atop a set of stairs, totally enframed by a noose.

Still from Death by Hanging (K?shikei, Nagisa Ôshima, Japan 1968)

Still from Death by Hanging (K?shikei, Nagisa Ôshima, Japan 1968)

In this instance, stairs do not measure a concrete span of time so much as they represent the inevitability of death. Stairs are the very fatedness of an ending.

Of course, I could go on. Each frame from this montage of one hundred images represents a unique instance of “stair-ness” from film history. Each testifies to the diversity and importance of stairs as a subject of cinema, and the affinity that these two media have for one another. But from my perspective, ultimate meaning here lies in the many rather than any single instance. In other words, what finally defines the experience of this display lies in the curious relationships and dialogues that occur between its images. I should point out that we decided to arrange each of these one hundred images in chronological order. This seemed like the best course of action, in large part because we wished not to freeze these images within the frame of a given curatorial commentary. But even without much interpretive intervention on our part, when placed together these one hundred images came alive.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Still, we had some room to play. This is because many of the films contained in our list were released during the same year. In some cases, as many as six films shared a year of release, which meant that within a sequence of six or so images we could experiment with various configurations. This allowed us to reveal intriguing formal affinities amongst images, such as the relation between the stills from The Godfather and Rocky below.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

Detail of “100 Stairs from the History of Cinema,” a montage of frame grabs on display as part of the George Eastman House’s exhibition entitled Peter Greenaway—The Stairs: Geneva, the Location.

These images are strikingly similar, but are inverted in a number of important ways. Both men have ascended a set of stairs, their arms now raised up above their heads. And yet, one man is frozen in a moment of triumph, while the other twists into a death pose. One body is heroic and lively, while the other is moribund. There is perhaps no better example than this to sum up my own conception of montage: clash through similarity.

I hope that you take the opportunity to visit our exhibition during its final month to experience Greenaway’s singular vision. While you’re there, I invite you to spend some time with our display of one hundred stairs to notice some of these relationships, and to discover some of your own.

Comments Off for now

George Eastman and Bicycles

Posted by on Oct 06 2014 | Exploring the Archive, George Eastman, History

Far be it from me to compare myself to George Eastman, but there’s at least one thing we have in common: We both had stages of our lives in which we were enthusiastic about bicycling.

My enthusiasm started last year with the coinciding of ROC Transit Day and the breaking down of my car. I figured it was worth a shot bicycling the mile and a half to and from Eastman House. I saved up for a decent bike and gave it a try. I haven’t regretted it since. In addition to the 10 minute ride to work, I use my bike to meet up with friends, grocery shop, and get to Red Wings games.

Several employees and students at Eastman House commute regularly on their bikes. The racks are full on nice days.

Several employees and students at Eastman House commute regularly on their bikes. The racks are full on nice days.

Here are some neat facts about George Eastman and bicycles:

George Eastman bicycled to work – not just in his young banking days but even when Kodak was well-established. In her biography of Eastman, Betsy Brayer notes that “up until the turn of the century, Eastman rode a bicycle to work in good weather and parked it in the basement of the Kodak Office at 343 State Street.” The ride from Soule House (the residence he and his mother lived in before he built his mansion) to Kodak State Street was a 2.6 mile ride each way.

Eastman and his bicycle ca. 1910.

Eastman and his bicycle ca. 1910.

Eastman and some companions cycled throughout Europe several times in the 1890s. In addition to having fun with friends, Eastman used the trips to explore locations for potential Kodak branches.

Eastman also bicycled through the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Eastman had an endurance I haven’t built up to yet. A close friend of Eastman’s wrote him in July 1892 saying, “You must be having a very elegant time on your bicycle trip. You must be getting as strong as an ox, if you are making fifty-seven or eight miles in a day.”

On one of his transatlantic trips, Eastman met Albert H. Overman, creator of the Overman Wheel Company and Victor Bicycles. The two struck up a friendship that lasted over three decades. Eastman enthusiastically rode Victor Bicycles and bought them for friends and family. Eastman and Overman went in together on a hunting property in North Carolina called Oak Lodge. Eastman eventually purchased Overman’s share and vacationed there multiple times a year for the rest of his life.

Eastman’s horse carriage struck two cyclists in 1899: “a small boy” on Park Avenue and an older gentleman on State Street. Eastman was quick to point out in correspondence that neither accident was his fault – they had swerved into his carriage. Eastman paid for the young boy’s bicycle wheel to be repaired.

Kodak focused a great amount of advertising toward cyclists in the early days. Kodak had a line of Bicycle Kodaks. Just as cyclists today purchase mounts for their smart phones, cyclists back in the 1890s purchased cases to attach their cameras to their bikes. Many ads featured a bicycling man with the slogan “Take a Kodak with you.” Kodak encouraged photo-taking by cyclists by promoting the adventures of Thomas G. Allen Jr. and William L. Sachtleben, two American college graduates who set out to travel the world on their bicycles. Their narratives and Kodak photos were featured in The Century and later as the book Across Asia on a Bicycle.

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Kodak ad from the 1890s

Eastman remarked to a friend in 1895: “They are getting bicycles down in this country to marvelously low weights. Crouch has just bought one…that only weighs 17 lbs. You can take it up in one hand and swing it over your head…Such a reduction of weight must add very materially to the pleasure of touring.” Eastman would get a kick out of the plethora of folding bikes that are now on the market.
The Legacy Collection at Eastman House has three bicycle plates from George Eastman’s bicycles. Two are manufacturer’s plates (Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works of Fitchburg, MA and Pierce Cycle Co. of Angola, NY). The third is a personalized name plate the he had made.


5 comments for now

What Does Identity Mean?

Posted by on Aug 27 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, Exploring the Archive, History, Other, Photography

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose — by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare wrote these lines for Juliet to speak in the play “Romeo and Juliet” and the question they pose is sometimes relevant to the cataloguing of a photograph.

Images such as “Migrant Mother,” “Powerhouse Mechanic,” and “Afghan Refugee Girl” are familiar to us by these acquired names, sometimes merely descriptive, sometimes alliterative and even poetic ones.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 – 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

But it is also human nature to want to look behind the curtain, to know the narrative behind the iconic image, “just the facts, Ma’am” (as Sgt. Friday on the TV show Dragnet would say), the who, what, when and where of that image.

In the past year or so, new information about the identity of a solemn, bearded man in a brimmed hat in a Lewis Hine photograph has brought both clarity and resolution as well as prompting some consideration about the significance of a title and of inscriptions and the overall meaning and impact of certain historical photographs.

The portrait, now titled by Eastman House “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” and dated 1926 in the exhibition Lewis Hine-from the Collections of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film was the springboard of these discussions. The image is a powerful one and like the familiar saying it “speaks a thousand words.”

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 - 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 – 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

In the case of this man’s portrait however, this road led to conflicting pieces of information for the cataloguer, creating, for a time, more confusion than clarity.

In 1901, Hine was one of several mid-westerners that progressive educator Frank Manny brought with him when he took over the position as supervisor of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine began to photograph at Ellis Island in 1905 and wanted his pupils “[to] have the same regard for contemporary immigrants as they have for the Pilgrim who landed at Plymouth.”

As former Eastman House curator Alison Nordstrom tells us, “he was not on assignment in those years and he did not expect to make a living at it. His photographs were not “mug shots,” he strove to enoble-and not to accuse. He established a connection with his subjects and wanted the resulting images to tell their stories.”

We also know that in response to the new US government imposition of immigrant quotas, he returned to Ellis Island to make the same kind of portraits of new-arrivals in 1926.

The Eastman House’s Lewis Hine archive contains over 7000 photographs and 4000 negatives, along with manuscript and other materials and is generally acknowledged to be the most comprehensive collection of his work in the world. However, one should not be surprised that his work is widely represented in other museum collections and at historical sites, including the New York Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the University of Maryland and other places. Photography is, after all, a reproductive and a disseminating medium, and one negative can yield up many prints. What gives significance and value to most photographs is not that it is the only one, but that it is a vintage one, made by the photographer himself or under his close supervision, around the time the negative was exposed. And, not incidentally, a good print in fine condition will be valued over a poor one.

There are 2 small negatives of the bearded man at Ellis Island in the Eastman House Collection, each taken from a slightly different angle, probably moments apart. There are also 2 vintage photographs that correspond to each of these negatives.

This particular image is generally known through past exhibitions and their catalogues by the title “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” and is sometimes dated 1905 and sometimes as 1926. An enlarged image in the second floor Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Monument bears the evocative caption, “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” 1926, followed by: “This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period.”

Eastman House cataloguers were contacted in April 2010 by a visitor to Ellis Island, a man with an interest in Turkish history, who questioned this caption information on multiple fronts and argued dispassionately and persuasively that all of these facts could not be right at the same instance: nationality, religious affiliation, date, and historical events in the sequence and timing of last years of the Ottoman Empire.

The information written on the 4 portraits of this man by Hine in the Eastman House did little to resolve the issue and his concerns, since the information Hine had written on the prints was indeed “Armenian Jew Emigrant at Ellis Island 1926” but in contrast, he had written on the envelopes containing the negatives “Syrian Jewish Immigrant, Photograph by Lewis W. Hine, Ellis Island, 1905” With 2 nationalities and 2 dates, one is left with 4 distinct possibilities for the title. We knew from experience with Hine’s conflicting notations on the material at Eastman House that this was not unusual: The same portrait of an elderly woman could be identified as “Slovakian Grandmother”, “Jewish Grandmother” or “Polish Grandmother for instance and all could be variously dated from his two forays into Ellis Island. Hine did not recorded the identity of the subjects he photographed, although in some cases (as with children working in factories), he noted their height or other physical attributes.

The question of the identity of the portrait of the bearded man was raised again from a different source in late 2013. A family from New York City who had long believed that the Ellis Island enlargement was a relative (and even posed under it for snapshots), decided to come forward after seeing the image used in a review of the Eastman House exhibit on Lewis Hine at the International Center of Photography, published in the Wall Street Journal. The Goldzweig family contacted the newspaper and one of the staff writers, Angela Chen recognized a good story and took on the project.

Naomi and Yitzchak Goldzweig seated, with Ariella, far left, and Mazal Goldzweig, look at photos and information about their loved one Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Goldzweig family look at photos and information about their loved one. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Cataloguing staff were naturally cautious. An identification made on a resemblance alone is often a subjective judgment and people often disagree, perhaps especially when the stakes are high (think… a portrait that “looks like” Abraham Lincoln). But in the end, all of the information provided by the family lined up nicely, and the “mug shot” (in this case) on a May 6, 1926 “Document of Identity to an Applicant who cannot obtain a National Passport” was compelling.

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

So, much was gained through this communication. The bearded man was Rabbi Shalom Haim Nadoff. He was the son of Rabbi Meir Elnadaf of Jerusalem and his wife Bedur who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen around the time of his birth in 1901. His family had produced generations of Torah scholars, some of whom had worked to preserve Yemenite Torah and religious works and heritage during the early waves of immigration to Palestine.

He was trained in the customary Yemenite order of Torah study before pursuing advanced studies at Yeshivat Etz Chayim in Jerusalem, with its emphasis on the analytical methods of the Eastern European yeshivot. He was ordained there in 1922.

He was also a graduate of Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem where he trained as a silversmith. He was an accomplished designer and craftsman of jewelry and religious articles, who exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembly, England in 1925.

Hine had noticed and photographed an educated young married man, an ordained Rabbi and a graduate of a prestigious school for craftsman. One might add that Rabbi Nadoff exhibited his works in silver at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1933. He and his wife Mazal Sofer Nadoff and their five children initially resided in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Chicago, Illinois where in 1933, he displayed his work at the Century of Progress Exhibition. In Chicago, he established himself as the senior rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation of the Portuguese Israelite Fraternity, where he served for the next forty years. During this period, the congregation grew to include Sephardim of Middle Eastern and Northern African extraction, in addition to the original Spanish-Portuguese constituency. Although of Yemenite heritage, he was familiar with Sephardic and Ashkenazic culture and practice. He did not favor Yiddish and conversed only in Hebrew, English and Arabic. He was also able to use some Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) with his congregation.

He was a dedicated proponent of the establishment of a Jewish State and in 1974, he and his wife became residents of Bayit VeGan in Jerusalem, where they lived for the rest of their lives. He died there in 1986, four months after the death of his wife.

All of this information is now in the catalogue record of the Eastman House Data Management System.

However, as noted above, the title of the photograph is “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” rather than the name of this man. The cataloguer’s reasoning was that this was also Lewis Hine’s photograph and the photographer was taking these images not as “mug shots” as stated above, not even as individual portraits (though he surely sought out an evocative face), but really to “ give a face” to the experience of an Immigrant to America in 1926.

The conflicting captions needed to be resolved, of course, as well as the misleading narrative used in the Ellis Island Caption. Both of the correspondents, the man with interest in Turkish history and the family of Rabbi Nadoff expressed satisfaction over these decisions. This information was shared with both the New York Public Library and the Ellis Island site. The Wall Street Journal published Angela Chen’s article, illustrated with photos of the Goldzweig family and using quotes from Eastman House on December 15, 2013 under the heading ”Rightly Identified – At Last.”

As a final note, the world was intrigued by the National Geographic documentary when photographer Steve McCurry returned to Afgahnistan after the removal of the Taliban government by American troops and local allies in 2001. He eventually located the subject of his compelling photograph, Sharbat Gula, then around the age of 30. Nevertheless, the photograph itself will probably never be known as “Sharbat Gula.” Like other iconic images, it stands for our collective, human identity, which in the best cases, transcends the identity of an individual.

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry

The exhibition Lewis Hine is on view though September 7, 2014 George Eastman House. This major retrospective of the celebrated documentary photographer, reformer, and educator features more than 150 original prints dating from 1905 to 1937, including “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine.”


2 comments for now

Music Cue Sheet Digitization Project

Posted by on May 28 2014 | Behind The Scenes, History, Motion Pictures, Other, Student Work

The experience of watching a silent film has never been truly noiseless. From the early teens well into the late 1920’s, silent films were almost always projected with some form of musical accompaniment, the nature of which varied according to the individual film and the scope of the theatre and clientele. Special releases premiering in big cities at important theatres were often accompanied by original scores performed by 40-plus piece orchestras, while screenings of the same film in smaller cities and towns might be accompanied by a single musician, usually a piano player or organist, improvising the musical accompaniment. Compiling, not to mention learning, enough appropriate music for countless reels of film was a formidable task that was resolved with two essential documents for the musician: music cue sheets and photoplay music.

Music cue sheets are highly detailed lists of musical suggestions, tailored to the narrative sequencing of a specific film. They were first produced by the Hollywood studios, but were also sold by musical entrepreneurs outside the studio system. Some, such as the “musical synopsis” for Across the Continent, simply listed the names of these musical suggestions along with their proper place in the film. Others, such as the “thematic music cue sheet” for Abraham Lincoln, featured the beginning melody of each suggested piece on a musical staff under the “cue” of an intertitle or action seen on screen.

Across the Continent


Abraham Lincoln

The second important element, photoplay music, is a sort of umbrella term. It is used to describe a series of compositions or musical arrangements, sometimes original but more often lifted from popular classical melodies, used to accompany a film. Photoplay music includes everything from venue and orchestra specific original scores for larger releases, to musical arrangements simple enough to be played by a single accompanist, but substantial enough to be fleshed out for small ensembles or large orchestras. Cue sheets suggested specific arrangements of photoplay music for a film but it was the conductor or accompanist who ultimately decided which photoplay music to purchase and what to play during the film.

Photoplay Example

Here at George Eastman House we have a valuable collection of both cue sheets and photoplay music, donated by the estate of the late Theodore Huff, a collector, archivist, professor, biographer, and silent film accompanist. Perhaps even more impressive than the sheer volume of this collection is the intersection between the two elements. An active silent film accompanist and music collector himself, many of Huff’s photoplay music scores correspond directly with the musical suggestions listed on his music cue sheets. And that’s where I come in.

Kate Scanning

I am a Masters student here at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the University of Rochester and I have spent the past few months initiating the process of digitizing this important collection. Cue sheets are still used to accompany screenings of silent films, but they are also incredibly useful research tools for archivists and scholars by virtue of their meticulous cataloging of running times, footage counts, projection speed, cues between scenes and more. Take for example the cue sheet for The Famous Mrs. Fair, which on just the first page offers up a wealth of information about the film. This is especially important for lost films for which music cue sheets constitute an important point of access, both in terms of technical specifications and narrative atmosphere as indicated by the musical suggestions, to films we might otherwise know nothing about.

Famous Mrs. Fair 1 Famous Mrs. Fair 2

The scope of the current project addresses the collection of music cue sheets for nearly 900 films. Once completed, we hope to continue into a second phase of digitizing over 1,600 pieces of photoplay music – the actual music pieces suggested in the cue sheets – for a comprehensive digital library of silent film music that will be accessible to archivists, scholars, musicians, and others. It’s a daunting but an exciting project and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get the process started.


2 comments for now

Next »