Archive for the 'Student Work' Category

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

Hair, film, and photography

Posted by on Aug 12 2013 | Photography, Student Work

Victoria Gao is an intern in our photography department.

Check our Tumblr, Dodge & Burn all week for more *interesting* hair in film and photography.

Hair often transcends categorizations of gender by transforming people into fashion icons or recognizable characters. Celebrities are often noted for starting hairstyle trends or for embodying them so well that their hair becomes as much of their celebrity as they themselves are.

Louise Brooks

Edward Steichen (American, b. Luxembourg 1879 – 1973), Louise Brooks, 1928, Gelatin silver contact print, Bequest of Edward Steichen under the direction of Joanna T. Steichen, ©Estate of Edward Steichen

For example, Louise Brooks, the American silent film star and the first woman to dance the Charleston in London, epitomized the Roaring Twenties with her sharp bob haircut. She popularized the style through her appearances in movies and advertisement photographs. Similarly, Charlie Chaplin, with his small bowler hat, baggy pants, and comical waddling walk, completed his “Tramp” look with the toothbrush moustache that was fashionable decades earlier but would come to define him throughout his career.


Charles C. Zoller (American, 1854 – 1934), Charlie Chaplin, ca 1917-1918, Color plate, screen (Autochrome) process, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Lucius A. Dickerson

Hair can also be used as a tool for masquerade.

Andreas Feininger (American, 1906 - 1999), Wig shop exhibits in store window, New  York, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Gift of the photographer

Andreas Feininger (American, 1906 – 1999), Wig shop exhibits in store window, New
York, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Gift of the photographer, ©Estate of Andreas Feininger

People use wigs to disguise signs of balding, aging, or illness, or to transform themselves into costumed characters for entertainment. The modern history of wigs is closely intertwined with the history of photography. Nineteenth century photographs of men and women dressed in elaborate, white-powdered wigs and other eighteenth century clothing were lighthearted sources of satire and comedy. Wigs remained largely out of fashion until the 1960s and 70s, when women’s bouffants revived the industry, but Andreas Feininger’s 1968 image of a wig shop draws close parallels with the famed street photographs of store window mannequin heads taken by Eugène Atget in the early decades of the mass consumer culture industry.

Richard Avedon (American, 1923 - 2004), Brigitte Bardot, 1959, Gelatin silver print, George Eastman House

Richard Avedon (American, 1923 – 2004), Brigitte Bardot, 1959, Gelatin silver print, George Eastman House, ©Richard Avedon Foundation

Above all else hair is a source of aesthetic pleasure, and film and photography have played significant roles in representing that. From the politically charged musical-turned movie Hair (1979) to photographs focusing on hair as an abstracted, formalist element throughout twentieth century art movements, hair has bewitched, provoked, inspired, repelled, and entertained us all.

-Victoria Gao


1 comment for now

The Roberto Pallme Collection and One Mystery Object

Posted by on May 31 2013 | Motion Pictures, Student Work

Guest post from Heather Harkins, a second year graduate student in the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House

My gloved hand holds a can as I inspect a Pallme film

My gloved hand holds a can as I inspect a Pallme film

The Roberto Pallme Collection consists of over five hundred reels of 35mm nitrate film and 9.5mm acetate film, initially acquired by a private collector in Italy and now part of the motion picture holdings here at the George Eastman House.

Some of the titles in the collection, like the Douglas Fairbanks comedy Mr. Fix-It (dir. Allan Dwan, 1918), are rare treasures that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In the Selznick program, each student is given the opportunity to pursue a personal project, and I wanted to work independently with a collection of nitrate films that would allow me to look at beautiful images– and the Pallme Collection satisfied all of my requirements.

Revue with more dancing

I spent several weeks at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center working under the supervision of brilliant Film Preservation Officer Anthony L’Abbate, and alongside my clever classmate Emily Wall (whose personal project tackled audition footage from Gone With The Wind).

In these first few months, I inspected reels of film, updated our database of information, and added hundreds of titles to the George Eastman House catalog. Twelve reels in the collection were completely unlabeled, so I devoted much of my time to identifying the material on those reels. It was an especially challenging task because each reel had a number of short films or fragments of longer films, and I wanted to identify every single one. One of these fragments was a short excerpt from the film La Revue des Revues (dir. Joe Francis, 1928) that was especially charming because each frame was colored using the Pathecolor stencil process, an early system for applying color to film prints.

Revue with dancing ladies

By the end of the year, I was able to identify fifty-four titles, and add them to our catalog, but a few still have me baffled. Perhaps one of the blog readers can identify the Technicolor cartoon that features this mysterious cupcake king presiding over a candy kingdom. What film is this, and who made it?


Unknown Technicolor

In my second year of study, I decided to continue my work with the collection and make it the focus of the master’s essay (offered in partnership with the U of R).

I have been researching the history of the collection, and tracing its journey from a small community outside Naples, Italy, to Rochester, NY, by way of the Netherlands. I have spoken with incredibly helpful sources, including Oscar Pallme (a relative of Roberto Pallme) as well as freelance film historian Roland Cosandey, and continued to inspect prints from the collection by hand. It has been a joy to study this collection of films, and I appreciate this incredibly rare experience which could only be possible here at George Eastman House.



Comments Off for now

The Tale of the Tapes

Posted by on Nov 29 2012 | Student Work

The climate-controlled vaults in the George Eastman House archive and the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center are home to the Motion Picture Department’s collection of over 24,000 films.

But there is one shelving unit that holds important moving images in a non-film format: analog tape.

The department holds over 200 videocassettes in varying standards, with most of them in the obsolete three-quarter-inch (or “U-Matic”) format. The tapes contain things such as television recordings from the 1970s to the 1980s, interviews with filmmakers and actors, archival footage, and early video transfers of films from the collection. While not ultimately as critical to the collection as film material, there is still an urgent need to examine the content on these tapes and digitally preserve what is deemed important.

This urgency stems largely from risks to the physical materials themselves; most of the tapes are at least twenty years old and suffer from increasing levels of decay due to the shedding of the magnetic oxide recording layer on the surface of the tapes over time. Also, the obsolete broadcast-quality decks required to play the cassettes are becoming scarce and more difficult to properly maintain. Time, technology, and the looming potential for a zombie apocalypse are therefore driving the need to preserve the analog tapes.

The students of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation are assisting with this ongoing project. As part of their training in digital preservation, students are using the video capture equipment in the department’s digital lab to convert many of these tapes into lossless digital video files. These “digital masters” will then be tagged with metadata, cataloged, and stored in the vaults on archival-quality LTO-5 tapes.

One interesting subset of tapes – the original BetaMax cassettes of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation raw footage – are on extended loan to George Eastman House by the filmmakers and have recently been digitally preserved. This process will be examined more in an upcoming post by the Selznick students who preserved the materials.



Comments Off for now

Nitrate film inspection happenings with the Selznick School of Film Preservation

Posted by on Oct 10 2012 | Student Work

The new school year is in full swing, and this year we have nine new students in the Motion Picture Department, learning the finer details in archiving and preservation. One of the greatest prides of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation is the ‘hands-on’ experience given to each student during their time at George Eastman House.  Even if the student has never handled film before, or comes to us with years of experience, it is important to always start with the basics.  Recently three of our new students, Almudena Escobar Lopez, Amber Bertin and Shannon Fitzpatrick were able to sit down on a work bench and begin their student careers with nitrate motion picture film. Each of the students were given various elements from the collection to inspect, catalog, label, and of course, each found unique conservation issues to address during the inspection process.

Almudena Escobar Lopez is attending the Master’s Program in conjunction with the University of Rochester.  Originally from Ourense (Galicia) Spain, Almudena started her first week of archival studies cleaning film with a slight mold problem.  Using the approved cleaner and taking proper care the area she was working, Almundena cleaned the edges of her film and the inside of the film cans to reduce the mold spores stored with the film.

While it may look like a lot of films needing inspection, Amber Bertin was able to meet the tasks assigned with inspection of a duplicate negative and part of a fine grain master.  Her detailed work help clear up one record incorrectly marked from the wrong country!  A native of Houston, Texas, Amber is also enrolled in the Master’s Program here at George Eastman House.

Shannon Fitzpatrick, our Master’s student from San Antonio, Texas found quite a problem in two of her reels-mechanical damage.  This film has been torn previously by a machine or from poor handling, and in this case, it was never correctly repaired.  Shannon began by peeling off the old tape, cleaning the damaged area, and applying new tape correctly to prevent further damage.  Although the frames will never be perfect, they are greatly improved.

The Nitrate Vaults currently houses more than 23,000 reels of nitrate film, making it necessary to have clear and concise records for each and every element.  Learning and understanding the location and retrieval system is important to prevent misplaced reels or lost paperwork.  At the end of the first week, these three students were able to pull and retrieve materials, continuing the conservation process for the rest of the Selznick School class as they too will be spending time over the next few weeks here in the Nitrate Vaults.





Comments Off for now

Next »