Archive for the 'Motion Pictures' Category

Nitrate Film: The Beginning

Posted by on Dec 28 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

December 28 marks the anniversary of the first-ever public exhibition of motion picture film in 1895. The film, a continuing advancement of image capture, production, and technology, was made of nitrocellulose base, referred to colloquially as nitrate. Close in chemical composition to gunpowder, this film was known to be inflammable, but was not considered dangerous. Still, for portability and ease of use, open flames were the best way to project the flickering images, and on that first day the projector was set up in the middle of the room, in the midst of the audience, daring the patrons to decipher its magic. It wasn’t until the following year, and the first devastating fire, that nitrate began to garner its unique reputation.

It was a Saturday evening 119 years ago, in a basement room known as Salon Indien of the Grand Café, located at 14 Boulevard des Capuchins, Paris, that the first paying audience, of around 100, viewed projected moving images on a screen. The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, exhibited ten short films, actualities and simple comedies, that each ran less than a minute. Versions of these films survive today, including, most famously, La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière a Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory) and l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled).



 l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled)

l’Arroseur Arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled)

The Lumières used their own version of the Cinématographe, an ingenious device that was not only the projector, but also the camera and printer of the film. Specious rumors abound about that first show and the audience’s reaction to it, including stories that women screamed and fainted, but as every good reporter knows (or at least every reporter who has seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
the Cinematographe

Like the film Thomas Edison was using for his peep show viewer the Kinetoscope, the Lumière film was 35mm in width and printed on a flexible nitrocellulose base. Unlike the Edison film, however, the Lumière film only had one set of circular perforations per frame. Edison’s film used four perforations on each side of the frame, the industry standard that exists to this day. The Lumière Cinématographe brought better clarity to the projected image by using an intermittent motion in the projector that had the film resting as much as it was motion, a feature that would be adopted by all future projectors and remains in use in the 21st century.

On May 4, 1897, a devastating fire broke out at the annual Charity Bazaar in Paris. The fire started in the section of the bazaar where film was being projected, and 180 people, mostly aristocrats, perished. Nitrate film got the reputation that it was a dangerous explosive, but the fire was actually the fault of the projectionist lighting a match while filling ether into the tank of illuminating fluid and not the fault of the nitrocellulose base film. From that day forward heavy restrictions were placed on how motion picture film could be handled, stored and transported, restrictions that are still in place to this day. The projector had to be placed within a fireproof booth, and since projected film was becoming a regular feature on Vaudeville programs, several theaters needed to be fitted with projection rooms.

For the next 55 years nitrate was the standard for producing commercial motion pictures. All silent titles universally recognized today, and the first 25 years of studio sound product, were created on nitrate film. Titles as enduring and varied as Cabiria, Greed, Sunrise, All Quiet on the Western Front, M, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, The Rules of the Game, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, and All About Eve were recorded and exhibited on nitrate stock.

As a film archive and a film museum, the George Eastman House is committed to conserving and exhibiting films as close to their original disposition as possible. This is why we have built vaults to hold and keep nitrate film from deteriorating over the years. This is why we have collected nitrate film since the beginning of the museum. This is why we maintain the Dryden Theatre and its projectors to standards that will allow us to project nitrate film and maintain safety for the audience.

Projectionist Darryl G. Jones getting ready for a nitrate screening at the Dryden Theatre.

Projectionist Darryl G. Jones getting ready for our nitrate screening at the Dryden Theatre.

This is why we train staff, and instruct students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, in the proper handling and projection of film objects. And this is the reason that we are embarking on The Nitrate Picture Show: A Festival of Film Conservation. We believe that film produced on nitrate should be seen on nitrate, and we are dedicating the weekend of May 1-3, 2015 to just this endeavor.

The legacy begun by two brothers in a basement in France 119 years ago this week continues at the George Eastman House in the present and in the future. If you would like to be a part, please visit eastmanhouse.org/nitratepictureshow.

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REBECCA Trivia

Posted by on Nov 06 2014 | contest, Motion Pictures

This Saturday, November 8 at 8 p.m., the Dryden Theatre will present a rare, nitrate screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (US 1940, 130 min., 35mm).

The first—and best—film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic mystery story was also Alfred Hitchcock’s American directorial debut. Filled with sunlight and shadow, fueled by elegant, pitch-perfect performances from Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson, this version of Rebecca remains unequaled in its moody rendition of how the past can overtake and destroy the present.

We’re celebrating this special screening by giving away our Rebecca poster from the Dryden Theatre lobby. But we’re going to make you earn it! The first person to comment below the correct answer to the following trivia question receives this classic poster plus two tickets to the Dryden Theatre to a film of your choice!

rebecca-poster

Good luck and see you at the Dryden!

QUESTION: The final scene of Rebecca was filmed with a variable area soundtrack as opposed to the variable density soundtrack of the rest of the film. Why did Hitchcock choose to shoot just this scene in this way?

Please enter your answer in the comment section below.

 

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Walking the Camino at the Dryden

Posted by on Sep 25 2014 | Motion Pictures, Other

“Around 1 p.m. we were overcome with the paranoid notion that we were waiting for a train that would never come. We threw on our packs and headed out into the wasteland of abandoned buildings to find answers.” [Train station El Burgo Ranero headed toward Leon, September 24, 2013]

This is a journal entry by Jeff Stanin, George Eastman House staff member. Exactly one year ago, Jeff was in the midst of a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. This Saturday, September 27, at 8 p.m., the Dryden Theatre will be screening the Rochester Premiere of Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. The documentary follows six strangers from diverse walks of life walking this same journey, each with a unique story to tell.

Post-screening, Jeff will lead a discussion based on his unique journey across the Camino de Santiago. We hope you’ll join us!

For more information on the screening visit dryden.eastmanhouse.org

Jeff and wife Elizabeth at the Statue of the Wind-Battered Pilgrim

Jeff and wife Elizabeth at the Statue of the Wind-Battered Pilgrim

Sign marker of the Camino

Sign marker of the Camino

Church outside of Villalcazar de Sirga

Church outside of Villalcazar de Sirga

Setting out into the hot, dusty plains known as the Meseta

Setting out into the hot, dusty plains known as the Meseta

 

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The Dawn of Technicolor

Posted by on Sep 18 2014 | Motion Pictures

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, whose revolutionary color processes transformed cinema from black & white into a brilliant rainbow of color. As caretakers of the Technicolor Corporate Archive, George Eastman House is planning a series of events and collaborations to celebrate Technicolor’s enduring legacy. Particular focus will be given to the company’s formative years, which have remained largely in the shadow of its later success.

Two-color Technicolor camera. George Eastman House. Gift of Technicolor.

Two-color Technicolor camera. George Eastman House. Gift of Technicolor.

These events will kick-off at this year’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (commonly known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival), which runs from October 4-11, 2014. This specialist film festival takes place in the city of Pordenone in northern Italy, and attracts hundreds of film historians, archivists, academics, and silent film enthusiasts from all over the world. This year, film historian David Pierce and I will be presenting the series The Dawn of Technicolor, which includes a host of silent features, shorts and excerpts made using the two-color Technicolor process.

Inside the Teatro Verdi at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival

Inside the Teatro Verdi at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival

In total, there will be six “programs” of films over the week-long festival; four dedicated exclusively to Technicolor productions, and two consisting of shorts made using other color processes, such as Prizma Color, Handschiegl spot coloring, and Multicolor. These two contextual programs have been curated in collaboration with the “Colour in the 1920s” research project overseen by Prof. Sarah Street of Bristol University and Dr. Joshua Yumibe of the University of St. Andrews. Highlights of the series will include rarely-seen shorts and tests preserved by Eastman House; the earliest surviving Technicolor feature, The Toll of the Sea (1922); Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), which includes nine Technicolor inserts; the British Film Institute’s superior restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’s swashbuckler The Black Pirate (1926); and the recently “rediscovered” color print of The Mysterious Island (1929) from the Czech Národní filmový archiv.

The short film Manchu Love (Elmer Clifton, US 1929) has been preserved by George Eastman House and will screen in the Dawn of Technicolor series at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Frame enlargement from 35mm nitrate Technicolor dye-transfer print. George Eastman House. Gift of Alan D. Kattelle.

The short film Manchu Love (Elmer Clifton, US 1929) has been preserved by George Eastman House and will screen in the Dawn of Technicolor series at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Frame enlargement from 35mm nitrate Technicolor dye-transfer print. George Eastman House. Gift of Alan D. Kattelle.

Following the Giornate, David Pierce and I will present the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture at the BFI London Film Festival on October 15. This 90-minute archival talk will illustrate Technicolor’s origins during the silent era using photographs and documents from the Technicolor Corporate Archive and excerpts from rarely-seen Technicolor films of the 1920s.

Both these events precede the launch of Eastman House’s new publication, The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935, written by myself and David Pierce. This fully-researched and beautifully-produced book will be released in the new year and will include more than 400 black & white and color illustrations throughout. Furthermore, in January 2015, Eastman House will host the exhibition In Glorious Technicolor and a major three-month film series in the Dryden Theatre. We will be sharing more news of all of these exciting activities over the coming months.

Actor Richard Dix and cameraman Edward Estabrook inspect a two-color Technicolor camera during the production of Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, US 1929). George Eastman House. Gift of Connie Estabrook.

Actor Richard Dix and cameraman Edward Estabrook inspect a two-color Technicolor camera during the production of Redskin (Victor Schertzinger, US 1929). George Eastman House. Gift of Connie Estabrook.

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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.

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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!
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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.

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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.

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