Archive for the 'Motion Pictures' Category

The Douglas Fairbanks Nitrate Still Negatives Collection

Posted by on Jun 23 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

As part of our studies through the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, I chose to work with the Douglas Fairbanks Nitrate Still Negatives Collection for my personal project.  The collection has been mentioned a few times on our blog, most notably in the past month in honor of 90 years since the release of The Thief of BagdadThe collection comprises nearly 10,000 nitrate still negatives that came from Douglas Fairbanks’ personal collection and were donated to George Eastman House by his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  The still negatives range from his early works such as A Modern Musketeer (1917) and Mr. Fix-It (1918) to most of his well-known works like Robin Hood (1922) and The Black Pirate (1926).  The collection features scene stills, character portraits, set designs and many other behind-the-scenes photos.

One of the most interesting titles I have worked with so far is The Gaucho (1927).  The title has nearly 1,600 negatives, one of the largest out of the entire collection.  The negatives have been wonderfully fascinating to study and work with, as they demonstrate the extensive range of the collection.  While the negatives had not been kept in ideal conditions before being donated to Eastman House, the quality of the photos is still quite impressive.

Lupe Velez is love struck by Fairbanks as the Gaucho (understandably so!)

Lupe Velez is love struck by Fairbanks as the Gaucho (understandably so!)

In addition to beautiful shots of scenes from the film, there are a number of stills showing paintings, pages from books, and prints used as reference for the film (much like a modern day photocopier.)   The stills show exactly what inspired and guided the costume and set designers for the film.  Within these stills are also photographs of the paintings of art director Carl Oscar Borg.  Borg was a Swedish painter who also worked as art director on Fairbanks’ previous film, The Black Pirate (1926).  The paintings are regrettably only documented in black-and-white, but it is interesting to compare them to scene stills to truly marvel at how well the set designers and decorators were able to capture Borg’s vision.

2

3

As noted in The Thief of Bagdad blog post, tests for make-up effects were a must during production.  For The Gaucho, they had at least five different versions of make-up for the ‘Victim of the Black Doom,’ yet in the final version of the film his face is never shown!
03

04

6

Processing and scanning of this collection has been ongoing for several years. The scope of my project is to continue inventorying the negatives, re-house them into new archival boxes for storage, create master digital scans of each negative, and perform file maintenance on existing digital files.

7

These various steps proved to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated. Improvements to the workflow over the course of the project has meant revisiting some of the previous work done with the collection, in order to keep things consistent. What may seem to be simple tasks on the surface are often in actuality very detailed and time-consuming, and one small change can set in motion a whole series of related tasks that need to be applied to the entire collection. While the process has had its challenges, it has been a great experience becoming familiar with rare nitrate stills, Douglas Fairbanks, and the amazing work that went into the making of his spectacular features.

8

 

 

2 comments for now

The Freshman

Posted by on Jun 19 2014 | Motion Pictures

The Freshman comes almost at the tail end of the Dryden’s “Gangsters” series (playing every Thursday in May and June).  And it certainly gives a strong wink and a nod to gangster movies, but it also pokes fun at academia, foodies, and a few other things along the way.

Here’s the story: Clark Kellogg, young man from rural Vermont moves to New York City to go to film school.  Almost as soon as he sets foot in the city he is suckered out of all of his belongings.  When Clark finally chases down the thief, the guy attempts to pay Clark back by offering him a job with his Uncle Carmine and that’s when things really start to get interesting.

Freshman-2-900

There are so many reasons to see The Freshman—not least of which is Marlon Brando, as Carmine Sabatini, parodying his own performance, as Don Vito Corleone, from The Godfather.  Brando plays his part with such charm and style that he overcomes the risk of it becoming just a one-dimensional joke.  Roger Ebert said, “There have been a lot of movies where stars have repeated the triumphs of their parts—but has any star ever done it more triumphantly than Marlon Brando does in The Freshmen? He is doing a reprise here of his most popular character, Don Vito Corleone of The Godfather, and he does it with such wit, discipline and seriousness that it’s not a rip-off and it’s not a cheap shot, it’s a brilliant comic masterstroke.”  Also, in this film, Marlon Brando ice-dances, yes, ice-dances, and it’s lovely.

Not to be outdone is Matthew Broderick, as Clark Kellogg, who plays the perfect straight man whose been thrown into a crazy situation.  He is our utterly relatable and reasonable everyman trying desperately to stumble back out of the trouble that he has managed to stumble into and the audience is just happy to be along for the ride.  In addition to Brando and Broderick, the cast is rounded out with wonderful character performances by Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Frank Whaley (who sports an epic pompadour), BD Wong, and Paul Benedict.

Freshman-4-900

But, let’s also not forget the komodo dragon which, because komodo dragons are endangered, was actually played by seven water moniters.  One of the funniest, and surreal, moments in the film involves Bert Parks serenading the komodo dragon to the tune of “Here she comes Miss America.”  It is the endearing characters as well as moments like these that give this film such charm.

The Freshman playing June 19 at 8 p.m. at the Dryden Theatre.

Comments Off 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

Dryden Trivia – Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers

Posted by on May 06 2014 | contest, Motion Pictures

Tonight, the Dryden Theatre screens two of Les Blank’s most loving odes to culinary creativity, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers. These two lighthearted yet meticulously composed masterpieces are as endearing as they are interesting.

Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (Les Blank, US 1980, 51 min., 16mm)

In recognition of the screening, our friends (and fellow Les Blank fans) at the Red Fern restaurant will be featuring delicious garlic-themed dishes beginning on Tuesday, May 6 and running them through Sunday, May 11.
10351687_438827369553585_6553547605430538207_n
In addition, the Red Fern has generously provided a $30 gift certificate to a lucky Dryden Theatre fan who can answer the following garlic Trivia questions by tomorrow (Wednesday, May 7) at 5 p.m.

 

TRIVIA
Leave your answers in the comments below and we’ll choose a random winner from those with the correct answers. Good luck and don’t foreget to check out the rest of the Les Blank films screening throughout May at the Dryden.

1) When Satan left the Garden of Eden, which foot did garlic appear under?

2) Which ancient culture invoked garlic and onion as deities?

3) Nicholas Culpeper, the English herbalist and botanist, linked garlic with which planet?

4) Bonus question: Why are Vampires scared of garlic?

 

10 comments for now

Happy Birthday, Mary Pickford

Posted by on Apr 08 2014 | History, Motion Pictures

In honor of Mary Pickford’s birthday today, we look beyond her famous golden curls at her close association with George Eastman House and her early film preservation efforts.

01

On November 9, 1949, Mary Pickford was on hand to cut the ribbon at the ceremony for the opening of George Eastman House as a museum for photography and film. She was the sole celebrity representing motion pictures at the opening, but was joined by other noteworthy guests such as photographer Edward Steichen and poet Carl Sandberg.

Eastman House director Oscar Solbert, Mary Pickford, and Kodak president Thomas J. Hargrave

Eastman House director Oscar Solbert, Mary Pickford, and Kodak president Thomas J. Hargrave

In November 1955, George Eastman House held the first Festival of Film Artists (later called the George Awards). Conceived by the museum’s first director Oscar Solbert and organized by James Card, the first curator of motion pictures, the awards honored twenty living film artists of the silent era — five in each category of actor, actress, director, and cinematographer — “for distinguished artistic contribution to the universal medium of motion pictures” for the period 1915 to 1925. Ballots were sent out to people in the industry from that era, asking them to select their top five choices of film artists in each category. Pickford received the most votes by far of all the actresses on the ballot — 383 votes, the next highest being Lillian Gish with 236 votes.

03

04

 

Someone at the museum had the forethought (or curiosity) to note the name of the person who returned each ballot, so we can actually see how some of these luminaries voted. It’s good to see that Pickford had the class not to vote for herself. (There were many others on the ballot who did vote for themselves!)

Lillian Gish, Oscar Solbert, and Mary Pickford

Lillian Gish, Oscar Solbert, and Mary Pickford

Pickford flanked by emcee Jesse L. Lasky (far left) and two of her directors and fellow 1955 George Award winners: Frank Borzage (left) and Marshall Neilan (right)

Pickford flanked by emcee Jesse L. Lasky (far left) and two of her directors and fellow 1955 George Award winners: Frank Borzage (left) and Marshall Neilan (right)

The awards were repeated two years later in October 1957, this time honoring film artists for the period 1926-1930. Pickford was a second-time winner and returned to Rochester for the awards ceremony, which was again held at the Eastman Theatre.

Pickford and husband Charles “Buddy” Rogers are greeted at the Rochester airport by Oscar Solbert and James Card

Pickford and husband Charles “Buddy” Rogers are greeted at the Rochester airport by Oscar Solbert and James Card

Pickford with fellow 1957 award winners Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, and Lillian Gish

Pickford with fellow 1957 award winners Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, and Lillian Gish

Pickford receiving her award from emcee Rouben Mamoulian at the Eastman Theatre

Pickford receiving her award from emcee Rouben Mamoulian at the Eastman Theatre

As a result of the connections made during the first and second Festivals of Film Artists, George Pratt, assistant curator of motion pictures, embarked on an oral history project in 1958 whereby he interviewed 27 pioneers of the silent film era, including many of the winners of the George Awards. Mary Pickford was one of them and the interview was conducted at Pickfair, her legendary home in Beverly Hills.

During the interview, Pickford recounts her early days on stage with David Belasco and on film with the Biograph Company, her less than favorable experiences with director Ernst Lubitsch (whom she brought to the U.S. from Germany to direct her in Rosita), acting with alligators in Sparrows, and cutting off her hair in 1928 (at the age of 36):

I wanted to be free of the shackles of curls and playing little girls. And I thought that was one step toward it. Of course I had the most indignant letters, insulting letters. And I thought, if that’s all, after all these years, a lifetime in the theatre and motion pictures, if it’s a bunch of eighteen curls that’s keeping me on screen, it’s about time I retired.

Perhaps one of the nicest moments, caught on tape during the testing of the tape recorder, is Pickford telling Pratt that she thought “Mama, Lottie, and Jack ought to be with us” during the interview as well, referring to a photograph she had with her of her mother, sister, and brother, all long ago deceased.

In 1959, James Card wrote an article for Eastman House’s Image magazine, assessing Pickford’s career. He felt compelled to counter the prevailing remembrance of Pickford’s performances as “the epitome of saccharine banality, sweetness and light and all permeated with the philosophy of Pollyanna,” due in large part, he believed, to the unavailability of her films at that time for screenings at film societies and festivals. He firmly defended her as:

. . . a battling hellcat, morally and physically committed to all-out attack against the forces of evil, bigotry or malicious snobbery that sought to frustrate the proper denouement of a triumphant, lovely girl appropriately presented in stunning close-up, her incomparable curls backlighted and the Botticelli smile shimmering through the last glittering remnants of any left-over teardrops.

10

Pickford struggled with the idea of preserving her legacy on film. In 1931, and with what turned out to be only one more role on screen in her future, she told an interviewer for Photoplay magazine, “[W]hen I go, my films go with me. They are to be destroyed. I am buying all my old films for this purpose. I would rather be a beautiful illusion in the minds of people than a horrible example on celluloid. I pleased my own generation. That is all that matters.” Fearing that she and her films would be misjudged according to modern tastes — sound films had recently supplanted silent films as the industry standard — she reacted in this extreme manner. Fortunately, she had a change of heart and by the mid-1940’s was negotiating with the Library of Congress for the donation of her nitrate films for preservation. Much bureaucratic wrangling with funding and reorganization within the institution, however, made the preservation copying of her films from nitrate to safety film stock a decades-long endeavor.

George Eastman House played a significant role in the preservation of some of Pickford’s films during this muddled period. In 1951, Pickford allowed Eastman House to assist in the stalled copying of her films at the Library of Congress, and in five years eight of her feature films were copied by Eastman House onto acetate film. To further speed up the process, Pickford donated funds to Eastman House for the preservation of 26 additional feature films and 25 Biograph shorts. Card concludes his article by assuring us that:

Mary Pickford’s pictures are shown repeatedly to the public in the Dryden Theatre of Eastman House. In these continuing encounters, Mary’s art stays wonderfully alive . . . . For Mary still charms and always will. The poet [Vachel Lindsay], too, was right – there is something heavenly about Mary Pickford. It is a quality, we must admit, most uncommon in motion pictures.

And so today, we celebrate Mary Pickford’s legacy in motion pictures, and her foresight in preserving her films for future generations to study and enjoy.

11

All images are from the George Eastman House Collection, Moving Image Department.

Comments Off for now

Next »