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