Aug 4, 2015

Identifying an 1897 flip book with fight pictures

The University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives has an excellent Tumblr site, on which it regularly posts animated GIFs made from objects in its collections. This one -- a second of moving-image photography showing a boxing sequence from 1897 -- caught my eye.

The animated Graphics Interchange Format suits flip book content very well.

The object in question is identified by an assigned descriptive title, Living Photograph Flip Book, Novelty Export Co, 1897. With the added description (from where?) "James Corbett and Robert Fitzsimmons championship boxing match." 

Having never seen these images before in my research on fight pictures and early cinema (and having thought I'd "seen it all"), I wanted to know more. Was this actually a film ["film"] heretofore unregistered in any history of cinema? I also recollected the rich discussion that ignited in 2013 among historians of early cinema (particularly on the Domitor listserv) when Variety magazine ran a report that a lost film by Georges Méliès might have been rediscovered from a surviving flip book. 

These photographs in the Iowa GIF are definitely not of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons championship fight of 1897. Nor are they from the Veriscope motion picture recording of that event. Nor are the boxing performers Jim Corbett and / or Bob Fitzsimmons. Nor do these pictures come from the Lubin company’s 1897 film “Fac Simile of the Great Fight.” (See below.) It’s clear the performers are meant to represent the pompadoured Corbett, the balding Fitzimmons, and the vested referee at the actual fight, George Siler. But the framing and mise-en-scene in this GIF of Living Photograph Flip Book match no films of the famed Corbett-Fitzimmons fight, nor any related films. 

Here are two more images from Living Photograph Flip Book the Iowa Spec Coll Tumblr posted after I inquired about the mystery. 

There's not yet a University of Iowa Libraries catalog record per se for the wee thing, but it is listed as one of seventeen "Miniature Artifacts and Objects" in Iowa's Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books. Most of the other flip books named are from the 1930s or 40s (or undated) and are juvenilia related to Hollywood animation (Walter Lantz, Disney). The only other metadata about Living Photograph Flip Book reads: "Front wrapper and maybe one page missing. Buckram container at base has been taped together." And "Descriptions for U.S. items published before 1901 have been checked against Robert C. Bradbury’s Antique United States Miniature Books 1690-1900 (No. Clarendon, Vermont: The Microbibliophile, 2001)." reveals that this flip book is held in at least three other libraries, although none use Living Photograph Flip Book as a title of the work. 

• The University of Virginia Library Special Collections catalogs it

as A Story without Words (Buffalo, NY: Gies & Co., 1897). Like the Iowa item, it’s printed with the notice “Copyright, M. Kingsland, 1897.” 95 leaves, 47 x 64 mm.

• University of California Santa Barbara Library’s Special Collections, uses the same metadata for its edition of A Story without Words.

• The Notre Dame Hesburgh Libraries’ Rare Books and Special Collections catalogs its item as A Story without Words: The Fight (variant title Fight: A Story without Words). Same publisher credits, but only 85 leaves; 39 x 58 mm. 

• Outside of Worldcat records, a Web search reveals that the Museum of the History of Science (in Oxford, UK)  holds a different edition of what appears to be the same (or nearly same) set of images, judging from the still image on its website. The museum assigns the title Pocket Kinetoscope ‘Series C’ Flip Book (London: American Jubilee Company, date “end 19th century”). 81 leaves (”photographic sheets”), 52 x 37 x 15mm. 

Left, Pocket Kinetoscope ‘Series C’ Flip Book.  Center and right, The Yankee Cop. Photos from Museum of the History of Science, whose website includes an excellent history of the flip book.

• A second museum item bears a title similar to Iowa Spec Coll’s -- ‘Living Photograph’ Flip Book -- and lists the same publisher, Gies & Co. ("USA c. 1897"). This one contains 84 photographic images and measures 60 x 40 x 22 mm, but shows a different subject. It’s inscribed with the title The Yankee Cop, also credited to M. Kingsland. It does show “two men fighting,” but they are not boxers. A policeman arrived "to hit the first man while the second man laughs.”

• Also, a private auction site sold a flip book it described as Story Without Words, The Fight - Finish [sic]. Despite the variant title, it too was from M. Kingsland and Gies & Co., “from their Living Photographs Series, 1897.” The "Finish" suggests the images showed an imitation of the punch with which Fitzsimmons knocked out defending heavyweight champion Corbett. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum includes a listing for a "flick book" of the same title and Kingsland authorship (but simultaneously describes it as a mutoscope[?]). 

The Iowa version, then, appears to be unique in its description of “James Corbett and Robert Fitzsimmons championship boxing match.” And also unique with its inscription from “Novelty Export Co.” A Wisconsin dealer once listed something on eBay as "Vintage Flip Book The Fight, Corbett/Fitzsimmons, Copyright 1897 M. Kingsland." However, I suspect that the Corbett-Fitzsimmons names were added after the seller saw the Iowa Spec Coll Tumblr. One of the earlier comments on the Tumblr was an inquiry from someone who said s/he owned a flip book entitle The Fight from 1897 and asked what the value of the item might be. (No one ventured a guess. The eBay book sold for $60.)

On a related note, the Iowa special collections library has the only record I can find for the rare book entitled The Greatest Fight of the Age between Robert Fitzsimmons and James J. Corbett for the World’s Championship at Carson City, Nevada, March 17, 1897. Giving each round in detail, also a full description of every legitimate hit, together with other valuable information in connection with the prize ring, written by Colonel William Thompson (n.p., 1897?). 

I still have no leads on who “M. Kingsland” was, but presumably a photographer working for the publishing and printing house Gies & Co. As I’m learning, Charles Gies’s company was among the best and largest multipurpose printing operations in the U.S., lasting from about 1871 to 1922. Mark Strong’s account says Gies & Co. operations in Buffalo, and later Pittsburgh, were “lithographers, engravers, printers, publishers, general book printers, wood engravers, electrotypers, blank book manufacturers, catalogue & pamphlet printers, job & commercial printers, and bookbinders.”

Both Gies & Co. and Novelty Export Co. appear in advertisements in The Phonoscope, a trade journal published from 1896 to 1900. 

High-resolution, searchable scanned copies of the Library of Congress run (through 1899) are available at the Internet Archive. However the final months (January - June 1900) are currently only searchable via Google Books, which offers low-resolution copies scanned from Stanford University Libraries. 
Consistent with the Iowa library catalog record, March and April 1897 ads in Phonoscope have the Novelty Export Co. (at 1270 Broadway NYC, near 33rd Street, to be specific) selling “Gies & Co.’s ‘Living Photographs.’” The ads did not tell prospective amusement vendors exactly what these things were, but say “Objects move and people act as if alive.” Comedy and novelty are emphasized. “New scenes” were promised weekly, including one ad teasing “The Bedroom Scene.” All on par with, for example, the American Mutoscope Company’s subjects for its flip-card peep-show devices.

But the novelties being exported here were not, near as I can tell, done as cinematography per se. Something more like Muybridge serial photography, very short sequences of action. Some editions of the Gies fight flip book say: “Pictures are taken by special photographic machinery invented by us.“ We don’t know much more about that machinery, although Gies promised high quality “pictures from first original plates.”

The revealing detail comes from an ad on the back cover of the March 1897 edition of The Phonoscope. Here again the vocabulary of sight and sound technologies is hybrid and confusing. “Living Photographs” are here identified as “a miniature kinetoscope.” The Kinetoscope was the Edison company’s well-known brand name for its peep-show viewing device, which showed loops of 35mm celluloid motion-picture film, marketed throughout 1894-96. By 1897, theatrical projection displaced peep shows and the brand name was used for the “Edison Projecting Kinetoscope.” Edison of course was also the inventor and seller of phonographs, which were also the focus of The Phonoscope monthly.

These March and April 1897 ads, however, do yield a definitive clue, making it clear how these flip books were connected to the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight alluded to in the Iowa description. Novelty Export Co. reproduced 4 still images from 4 different titles in its 12 newest scenes. The first is entitled The Great Fight and includes a photo/frame with what are surely the same three figures in the all-important Iowa GIF.  

The text is artful enough to not explicitly claim these are pictures of or from the actual championship fight between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, recorded by the Veriscope Company on 63mm motion-picture film, March 17, 1897, in Carson City, Nevada. That event was a sensation in all media that year. There were many attempts to cash in on its topicality. Veriscope’s was the first feature-length film in history and was widely seen for many months. Periodicals carried Corbett-Fitzsimmons news and pictures (photographs, drawings, engravings, lithos, cartoons) in abundance. Some were derived from frames of movies, such as this one (which bears more than a little similarity to "The Great Fight" image above). 

In another artful and confusing advertisement, adjacent to the Novelty Export ads were pitches for “The Big Corbett Fight.” “We positively guarantee to our customers that this is the only Miniature Kinetoscope published showing James J. Corbett in the ring as a participant in an actual fight.” The advertiser was “the Edison Phonograph Company.” However the address listed to which prospective buyers were to mail ten cents for a sample was 23 South Eighth Street, Philadelphia – next door to the Lubin film company’s headquarters at 21 S. 8th. The same Lubin that marketed a 35mm movie “fac simile” of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, a notorious fake. 

Screenshot from the ACLS Humanities e-book version of 
Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema (2008). 
The Phonoscope ad’s claim to have pictures of Corbett in the ring in an actual fight indicates that the “Edison Phonograph Company” was using the 1894 motion picture Corbett and Courtney before the Kinetograph as its source. That six-film set of kinetoscope productions was Edison’s most popular early title and was also sold for film projection in 1896-97, as the Fitzimmons fight approached. 

Two frames from a seldom-seen round of Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph (1894), including a moment when the boxers drift nearly off screen. These screenshots are low-resolution, but they're derived from a first-generation nitrate film fragment in the Library of Congress collection. They differ from the rounds most often seen from the Museum of Modern Art Edison collection or the Library of Congress's online versions (which derive from the Gordon Hendricks Collection previously held by the Smithsonian). For a good approximation of how vivid and sharp the various nitrate fragment of Corbett-Courtney look, see the two seconds or so included in the final montage sequence in Martin Scorsese's Hugo (2011). 
It’s a marvelous confusion of media archaeology. If this “Big Corbett Fight” “miniature kinetoscope” was ever actually produced, it must have been an attempt at a flip book likes those being made by Gies & Co. and distributed by Export Novelty Co. In fact, the website devoted entirely to the form -- -- begins its illustrated history of flip books with this small JPG, whose imprint indeed is from the Edison Phonograph Co., although it bears only the title Prize Fight. What images follow that cover? Who printed it? Gies & Co.? Were paper copies printed of frames from Edison's three-year-old 35mm film of Corbett-Courtney in the Black Maria? Or was the upstart film producer and "manufacturing optician" S. Lubin of Philadelphia involved? 

If its press is to be believed, the New York-based company Export Novelty was well capitalized and truly did business internationally. Its “Kinetoscope” was a paper booklet. It sold phonograph and gramophone records too. But Phonoscope also reported that Export Novelty made “the Automatic Photograph Machine, which produces a perfect picture in one minute.” ("Novelties Up to Date," The Phonoscope, April 1897, p. 7.) Was that perfect picture a still photo? Was that Automatic Photograph Machine the same as that sold by Mills Novelty Co. in 1905? 

Automatic Photograph Machine (ca. 1905).
Photo from Greg McLemore, via the International Arcade Museum website.  

Or perhaps it was more like this "Auto-Muto Picture Machine" manufactured by Caille Bros. Co. in that magic year of 1897? 
Auto-Muto Picture Machine.
Photo from Greg McLemore.
via the International Arcade Museum website.  

For media archaeologists to consider: this museum is not simply a creature of collectors of vintage mechanical devices. It is also part of a network that includes video games and contemporary media. Although McLemore, for example, is a collector antique coin-operated machines, he is also founder of and The museum's interconnected websites at include searchable databases, shared inventories, and histories from a few thousand affiliates. The organization is a museum, a library, and an archive -- all devoted to many strands of what we now call media archaeology. 

-- Dan Streible

# # # # 

Jun 26, 2015

Apply for the 2016 Helen Hill Award.

Independent filmmakers & media artists!   

Apply now for the 2016 Orphan Film Symposium's 

Helen Hill Award.

Recipients are funded to participate in the symposium and screen their work. NYU presents the next edition of "Orphans" April 6-9, 2016, at the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center's Packard Theater in Culpeper, Virginia.

The Orphan Film Symposium biannually confers its Helen Hill Award, jointly administered by NYU’s Department of Cinema Studies and the University of South Carolina's Film and Media Studies Program.

Established in 2008, this award honors work that affirms the artistic legacy, lived values, and everyday passions of the late filmmaker, artist, activist, and educator Helen Hill. In a media culture dominated by corporate interests and consumerist values, the Helen Hill Award supports independent, innovative filmmaking of exceptional talent. The award goes to filmmakers whose work celebrates and embodies such things as creativity, self-expression, animation, small-gauge film, homemade movies (and all things made by hand), collaboration, generosity, liberal spirituality, activism, love, play, community, and connection.

Recipients screen and discuss their work at the biennial Orphan Film Symposium, attended by an eclectic mix of media artists, scholars, archivists, curators, programmers, distributors, preservationists, educators, collectors, and other film enthusiasts. The award funds recipients' travel and accommodations at the four-day event. Past awardees: James Kinder and Naomi Uman (2008);  Danielle Ash and Jodie Mack (2010); Jo Dery and Jeanne Liotta (2012); and Werner Nekes (2014).

To apply, e-mail a PDF file to Laura KisselInclude:
  * your artist statement (150 words or less);
  * filmography (noting awards and exhibitions);
  * a link to sample works viewable online.

Indicate "HELEN HILL AWARD APPLICATION" in the subject line.

DEADLINE: September 4, 2015.

Questions? Write to Prof. Laura Kissel (USC Film and Media Studies)

May 9, 2015

Call for Presentations: 2016 Orphan Film Symposium

Call for Presentations

Orphans X   :||    Sound

NYU & LOC present
The 10th Orphan Film Symposium
Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation
Culpeper, Virginia
April 6-9, 2016

New York University Cinema Studies joins with the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center for the tenth international gathering of archivists, scholars, curators, preservationists, and artists devoted to screening and discussing orphan films (i.e., an eclectic variety of neglected moving images). Film, video, audio, and digital works from around the world will be showcased in the Library’s jewel-box Packard Theater, each presented with context provided by expert speakers and creative accompanists.  Evening screenings will be at the historic and renovated State Theatre.

The theme of “Orphans X” is SOUND, broadly conceived. We invite proposals for presentations on the history, use, and preservation of recorded sound (with or without moving images). The symposium will consider technological, aesthetic, social, industrial, and cultural issues. How have audio and audiovisual media recorded and deployed sounds -- music, voices, effects, noise . . . silence? What neglected cinema artifacts or orphaned media should we review, re-hear, and reconsider in order to better understand the world? What orphan works document significant events or creative acts? How are media makers, researchers, and institutions using, reviving, and transforming remaindered audiovisual material?

Throughout the three days and four nights of the symposium, selected speakers will lead presentations, screenings, and discussions. Proposals that include the screening (or playback) of rare, rediscovered, or recently preserved works are encouraged. New media productions using archival or orphaned material are also sought, as are technical presentations on audiovisual archiving and preservation.

E-mail proposals to Proposals should: summarize (in 500 words or fewer) the argument or rationale; identify AV materials to be presented (and their format/s); include a title; and be e-mailed as a file attachment (.docx or .rtf, not .pdf). Include your surname in the file name (e.g, OFS2016_Name.docx). Questions to

First round of proposal review begins July 10, 2015.

Save the dates: April 6 - 9, 2016. The symposium kicks off on Wednesday evening, followed by three full days and nights of screenings, talks, food, and beverage. Early arrivers may sign up to tour the Library’s astounding technical facilities, where LOC collections -- 1.5 million moving image items, 3 million sound recordings, and digital objects by the petabyte -- are being preserved, conserved, and digitized.

Feb 20, 2015

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi on "The Colour Fantastic" at EYE, March 28-31, 2015

Guest blogger Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi previews a major conference coming up in Amsterdam. Exactly one year after hosting the 9th Orphan Film Symposium (thank you again!), EYE joins with scholars, archivists, and artists for a rich four-day event. Registration is open.  

The Colour Fantastic: Chromatic Worlds of Silent Cinema
March 28-31, 2015

In 1995, the Nederlands Filmmuseum (NFM; now EYE) organized the Amsterdam Workshop “Disorderly Order: Colours in Silent Film.” This became a milestone event due to the subsequent shared efforts of the archivists and scholars who attended this event, at which dozens of colored films from the Filmmuseum's early cinema collection were screened. A book followed in 1998. However, NFM had already committed to preserving silent-era cinema in color, beginning with its restoration of the Italian feature film Fior di Male (1915), premiered at the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone in 1986. 

In the mid-80s, while working on the now-famous Jean Desmet Collection, NFM curators were surprised to see how many prints from the 1910s had been distributed in color, regardless of genre, length, or content. Deciding to preserve the films on color stock was a visionary idea that would change the perception of the silent cinema in the years to come. Upon seeing Fior di Male in color, the Giornate audience split between those who were pleasantly amazed and those who reacted in anger, calling the presence of color a distraction. Peter Delpeut recalls that in 1987, only ten out of the 350 works screened in Pordenone were presented in color. Three years later he completed his own color-filled Lyrisch Nitraat (Lyrical Nitrate), a compilation film using Desmet Collection fragments dating from 1905 to 1915. When it premiered at the 1990 Giornate, the audience was again stunned. Even the most ardent devotees of silent cinema were collectively still adjusting to viewing color prints. All this made Amsterdam the natural place to hold the Color Workshop in 1995.

Today nearly all archives preserve films with their original tints. Therefore, twenty years on, EYE has once again organized an international conference on color, designed to show, tell, and evaluate what has been done in the last two decades. How are archives coping with the original colors? What are scholars studying now that color in silent cinema is not a taboo? What publications and research projects are under way? What have we learned so far from these early colors?

The conference creates platforms for archivists to show and discuss their best practices (as well as their failures) to duplicate the early colors. The last decades have seen many technological developments: the initial method used by the NFM (simply to copy the nitrate print onto color negative and to make a color answer print) has been abandoned completely, in favor of the Desmet Method, developed in the late 1980s by the coincidentally named Noël Desmet of the Royal Belgian Film Archive (now CINEMATEK). This technique allows restorationists to make a black-and-white negative and a color answer print by adding colors during the last stage of restoration. Subsequent digital technology has of course made other color adjustments possible, varying from the simple digital addition of a tint to minuscule corrections within a frame.

Jean Desmet (Belgian-born Dutch film distributor)  &  Noël Desmet (Belgian film restorer)
Images from   & 

In the academic field, the discussion of the presence of color has progressed into researching the areas of overlap and mutual influence among the cinema, other cultural forms (such as posters or paintings), and even industrial products (such as clothes or calendars). Film historians are also eager to unearth and understand obsolete color methods, collaborating with archivists who restore such films.

In recent debates on whether to colorize black-and-white archival footage, some have argued that adding color to monochrome images creates a deeper empathy in audiences today. The British documentary series World War 1 in Colour was first broadcast in the UK in 2003. The television network TVO in Canada focused even more on its archival achievements in the five-part Apocalypse: World War One (2014): “culled from more than 500 hours of archival material. This is WWI as you have never experienced it before: artfully colorized in a painstakingly researched process that brings the footage to life with unprecedented impact.” TVO scrupulously offers explanations for how it colorized the monochromatic record, and why it did so. Its website answers the question "Where does our footage of WWI come from?" Short videos include “Lionel Kopp talks about the emotional impact of the colourization process on B/W film." 

A century ago, the same idea might have been at the root of the highly sophisticated Pathécolor system, used for productions varying from short war reports to melodramatic feature films such as Maudite Soit la Guerre (Belgium, 1914). 

Maudite soit la guerre [Damn the War]. Produced by Belge Cinéma Films, Pathé.
Restored by Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique and EYE.

Addressing all these matters, the conference in EYE will combine panels and paper presentations with film screenings, including the now digitally revised version of Peter Delpeut’s Lyrical Nitrate, the 2014 restored version of Maudite, and a variety of shorts. Delpeut will give one of three keynote talks, along with Vanessa Toulmin (National Fairground Archive / University of Sheffield) and Tom Gunning (University of Chicago).

EYE will also present its new book Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema (Amsterdam University Press), edited by Giovanna Fossati, Tom Gunning, Joshua Yumibe, and Jonathon Rosen. 

The conference begins on Saturday evening, March 28 (attendees are also invited to an earlier program that day, at which EYE curators will present current projects) and concludes on March 31.

Register now at

"The Colour Fantastic: Chromatic Worlds of Silent Cinema" is co-organized by EYE, Giovanna Fossati (University of Amsterdam/ASCA), and the Leverhulme Trust research project Colour in the 1920s: Cinema and Its Intermedial Contexts, run by Sarah Street (University of Bristol) and Joshua Yumibe (University of St Andrews / Michigan State University). 

Elif Rontgen-Kaynakçi is Curator of Silent Film at EYE, where she has worked since 1999.

Jan 26, 2015

42. Update to entry "Update: How many women filmmakers are represented on the National Film Registry?"

With the announcement of the 2014 additions to the National Film Registry, we can add a short update to the question previously addressed here in 2010 and updated here in 2014.

How many women filmmakers are represented on the National Film Registry?

The three titles added this year bring the total, by my count, to 42 (out of 650).

The newly registered films include two little-known shorts and a better known silent feature that was long unavailable until its digital restoration was completed in 2010.  Shoes (1916), directed and written by Lois Weber at Universal, merits a place in the canon. Unmasked, co-directed by its co-stars Grace Cunard and Francis Ford, is a rediscovered one-reeler made at Universal the following year. Animator Lisze Bechtold's artful short Moon Breath Beat (1980) was added to enrich the list of student films on the Registry.

Shoes (1916) 
The Library of Congress press release:
Renowned silent era writer-director Lois Weber drew on her experiences as a missionary to create Shoes, a masterfully crafted melodrama heightened by Weber’s intent to create, as she noted in an interview, "a slice out of real life." Weber’s camera empathetically documents the suffering her central character, an underpaid shopgirl struggling to support her family, endures daily—standing all day behind a shop counter, walking in winter weather in shoes that provided no protection, stepping on a nail that pierces her flesh. Combining a Progressive Era reformer’s zeal to document social problems with a vivid flair for visual storytelling, Weber details Eva’s growing desire for the pair of luxurious shoes she passes each day in a shop window, her self-examination in a cracked mirror after she agrees to go out with a cabaret tout to acquire the shoes, her repugnance as the man puts his hands on her body, and her shame as she breaks down in tears while displaying her newly acquired goods to her mother. The film, which opens with pages from social worker Jane Addams’s sociological study of prostitution, was acclaimed by Variety as "a vision of life as it actually is ... devoid of theatricalism."
Before the restoration was done, Shelley Stamp (UC Santa Cruz) gave a great "Orphans 3" presentation in 2002, which she entitled “Shoes and The Unshod Maiden, or Giving Progressive Cinema a Good Talking To: Unmaking and Restoring the Films of Lois Weber.” The symposium screened the Library of Congress's 35mm print of the painfully odd comic cutdown of Shoes, which Universal released in 1932 as The Unshod Maiden. Its ten minutes of visuals are all taken from Weber's 1916 film; its soundtrack consists of a wisecracking male voiceover making fun of the supposedly dated movie and the unfortunate heroine, a poor shop girl who sells her virtue to the villain in exchange for decent shoes. Like many of these sound-era studio reworkings, The Unshod Maiden treats silent movies as if they were an ancient phenomenon, even though talkies were still new. Such a perspective is more understandable in later lampoons, like Richard Fleischer's "Flicker Flashbacks" series of the 1940s. But for 1932 it sounds odd. The Unshod Maiden is especially painful to listen to because Shoes is a powerful expose and touching melodrama. It also ends on a truly bizarre line. As we see the lead character, Eva (played by Mary MacLaren), looking forlorn in the aftermath of her encounter with the cad, Cabaret Charlie, The Unshod narrator quips "And that's how Mary learned to play the saxophone." Is it an absurd non sequitur? or a suggestive double entendre?

Here is EYE’s trailer for the Shoes restoration.

And here is Rob Byrne's essay about Shoes for the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Unmasked (1917) co-directed by and co-starring Grace Cunard.
The Library of Congress press release:
At the time Unmasked was released, Grace Cunard rivaled daredevils Pearl White ("The Perils of Pauline") and Helen Holmes ("The Hazards of Helen") as America’s Serial Queen. In the film, Cunard is a jewel thief pursuing the same wealthy marks as another thief played by Francis Ford, brother of director John Ford and himself a director and character actor. Cunard, in the mode of many women filmmakers of that era, not only starred in the film, but also wrote its script and parlayed her contributions into a directorial role as well. Produced at Universal Studios, the epicenter of female directors during the silent era, Unmasked reflected a style associated with European filmmakers of the time: artful and sophisticated cinematography comprised of complex camera movements and contrasting depths of field. With a plot rich in female initiative and problem-solving, Cunard fashioned a strong character who does not fit the image of traditional womanhood: she relishes her heists, performs unladylike physical exploits, manipulates court evidence, carries on with a man who is not her husband and yet survives the film without punishment. In essence, the character Cunard created echoed the woman behind the camera.  
Grace Cunard

The film -- not yet online -- was preserved by George Eastman House and with the New York Women in Film and Television's Women’s Film Preservation Fund. Thanks to Antonia Lant, who brought Unmasked to the attention of the NFPB, the NYU Department of Cinema Studies recently screened a digital copy, with an improvised piano score by Stephen Horne, who played for the film sight unseen. 

Moon Breath Beat (1980)
The Library of Congress press release:
Lisze Bechtold created Moon Breath Beat, a five-minute color short subject, while a student at California Institute of the Arts under the tutelage of artist and filmmaker Jules Engel, who founded the Experimental Animation program at CalArts. Engel asked, hypothetically, "What happens when an animator follows a line, a patch of color, or a shape into the unconscious? What wild images would emerge?" Moon Breath Beat reveals Bechtold responding with fluidity and whimsy. Her film was animated to a pre-composed rhythm, the soundtrack cut together afterward, sometimes four frames at a time, to match picture with track, she says. The dream-like story evolved as it was animated, depicting a woman and her two cats and how such forces as birds and the moon impact their lives.  
As an animated student film made at CalArts, this work is a Registry sister to Helen Hill’s great short Scratch and Crow (1995).

It should be noted that four members of the National Film Preservation Board -- John Ptak, Caleb Deschanel, Ben Levin, and Simon Tarr -- researched student films, created a database of several dozen nominees for the Registry, and got several universities and filmmakers to put them on a Vimeo site for the Librarian of Congress and the NFPB to study.

Dec 3, 2014

Kattelle's ACL filmography in FILM HISTORY 15.2 (2003)

The filmography of Amateur Cinema League Ten Best films, referenced several times in recent posts, can be found in this issue of Film History.  Its author Alan Kattelle (1919-2010) left an important collection of films, cameras, papers, and ephemera to the archive of Northeast Historic Film. His legacy also includes the essential reference book Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979, published in 2000 and still available for purchase at NHF.

The other contributors to this 2003 collection have all continued to research, publish, curate, collect, preserve and make movies about home movies and amateur films.

Here's the 2003 Table of Contents, with updates about contributors.

Film History, vol. 15, no. 2, Small-Gauge and Amateur Film (2003): 123-272.
edited by Melinda Stone and Dan Streible

Dwight Swanson, "Inventing Amateur Film: Marion Norris Gleason, Eastman Kodak, and the Rochester scene, 1921-1932"
⇥ ⇥  His Facebook posting of December 5, 2014: "My curatorial project for the year, Home Grown Movies (an online collection of films from Home Movie Day 2013), begins anew with a home movie of Elias Savada in costume as Sputnik on Halloween in 1958. Thanks to Eli for his help and his commentary. We'll be posting new films every week for the next few months at"

Anke Mebold and Charles Tepperman, "Resurrecting the Lost History of 28mm Film in North America"
⇥ ⇥ Mebold co-edited Film History 19.4, Nontheatrical Film (2007). She is now a film archivist and restorer at Deutsches Filminstitut. At the 2006 Orphan Film Symposium she presented an unidentified 28mm fire insurance industrial film (ca. 1924), restored for the occasion by Peter Limburg and Haghefilm. At the 2012 symposium, she presented the DIF restoration of a 1921 German feature Die Hochbahnkatastrophe (The Elevated Train Catastrophe).

Heather Norris Nicholson, "British Holiday Films of the Mediterranean: At Home and Abroad with Home Movies,
 ca. 1925-1936
⇥  ⇥ In 2012 she published the book Amateur Film: Meaning and Practice 1927–77 (Manchester University Press).

Alexandra Schneider, "Home Movie-making and Swiss Expatriate Identities in the 1920s and 1930s"
⇥  ⇥ At Orphans 9 in Amsterdam, she presented a video program she curated with Wanda Strauven, "Children as Media Archaeologists." In September 2014 she became Professor at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. 

Dan Streible, "Itinerant Filmmakers and Amateur Casts: A Homemade 'Our Gang', 1926"
⇥  ⇥ began a term as director of NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program in 2014.

Janna Jones, "From Forgotten Film to a Film Archive: The
 Curious History of From Stump to Ship
⇥ ⇥ She located a surviving Ten Best film, Navajo Rug Weaving (E. Tad Nichols, Tucson, Arizona, 1945), which is housed at Northern Arizona University, Cline Library, Tad Nichols Collection, 1931-2000.  Jones's essay "Starring Sally Peshlakai: Rewriting the Script for Tad Nichols's 1939 Navajo Rug Weaving," appears in the new book Amateur Filmmaking: The Home Movie, the Archive, the Web, edited by Laura Rascaroli and Gwenda Young, with Barry Monahan (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Jesse Lerner, "Consumed by a Fever: The Small-gauge 
Cinema of Orizaba's Sergio Tinoco Solar
⇥ ⇥ Sandra Rosental and Lerner released the feature-length La Piedra Ausente (The Absent Stone, 2012). Using archival materials (including home movies), animation, and contemporary interviews, the documentary explores how, in 1964, the Aztec monolith known as the Tlaloc Stone was moved from Cuatlinchan to Mexico City -- and how the carved stone has become an icon of national identity.  Trailer here.

Laura Kissel, "Lost, Found, and Remade: An Interview with Archivist and Filmmaker Carolyn Faber"
⇥ ⇥ While making her documentary Cotton Road (2014), Kissel found Amateur Cinema League leader in the Beijing Documentary Film Studio archive, associated with the title Shanghai in Torment (also the title of a 1937 book). During the 2010 Orphan Film Symposium, Kara Van Malssen interviewed Carolyn Faber (media librarian at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) for NYU MIAP's "MISL" project Moving Image Specialists in Libraries: ("I had been collecting home movies . . . .").

Brian Frye, "The Accidental Preservationist: An Interview with Bill Brand
⇥ ⇥ With filmmaker Penny Lane, Frye used the Super 8 home movies (more than 500 reels shot by White House aides  H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin during 1969-73) as the basis for the documentary Our Nixon (2013). Bill Brand's BB Optics did the preservation of the original films for the National Archives. At the 2014 Orphan Film Symposium, Brand and Benedict Olgado presented "Restoring the Fragments of On the Way to India Consciousness, I Reached China (Henry Francia, 1968)," excerpts of which can be viewed here

Melinda Stone, "'If It Moves, We'll Shoot It': The San Diego Amateur Movie Club
⇥ ⇥ Dr. Stone is a professor at the University of San Francisco. She tracked down a pair of the amateur cinema Ten Best awardees made in San Francisco: Moods of a City (1972, Westwood Movie Club) and Tuneful Wings (1975, Dorothy Orr & Othel G. Goff). Stone's screening of the former at the 2011 Robert Flaherty Film Seminar inspired Walter Forsberg to initiate our project about amateur city symphony films. Movette Film Transfer digitized the 16mm print of Moods of a City for the project. 

Alan D. Kattelle, "The Amateur Cinema League and Its Films"
⇥ ⇥  Read about his life in David Weiss's In Memoriam of 2010. 

Margaret A. Compton, editor, with Katie Trainor, Karan Sheldon, Dwight Swanson, and William O'Farrell, "Small-gauge and Amateur Film Bibliography"
⇥ ⇥  In 2013, Margie Compton appeared on NBC's national newscast with a 28mm home movie from the University of Georgia. It includes 1919 footage of a "plantation league" baseball game involving teams of all African American players. Watch the NBC Nightly News video here

Pebble Hill Plantation Film Collection (ca, 1917-1976), Walter J. Brown Media Archives, University of Georgia Libraries.

Nov 29, 2014

Charles Tepperman follow-ups: Follow the leader, FOLLOW THE GIRLS, Follow O'Farrell

Guest blogger notes by Charles Tepperman, commenting on the previous posts here about our Orphans at MoMA program of November 18th, "An Amateur Cinema League of Nations." [Asides added by Dan Streible.]

Re: The Amateur Cinema League leaders: I love this section of the previous post. I have some other versions of ACL leaders. While I’m tracking down my 1930s examples to see if the one you describe is there, here’s a down payment, one from the mid-40s. [Watch here, from Chicago Film Archives.]

Kodachrome 8mm animated logo  from Autumn Glory (1945; 20 seconds). (Chicago Film Archives)

Autumn Glory (1945)
John and Evelyn Kibar, silent, color, 8mm, 150 ft., 7'
(A companion 1/4"-inch audiotape not yet digitized.)

[Movie Makers attributed the film to "John R. Kibar, ACL of Racine, Wisc." and gave it one of ten Honorable Mentions (the only 8mm film on the list). One of the amateur organizations the Kibars belonged to was the delightfully named Ra-Ciné Club. CFA's website includes other Kibar films, such as This Is a Hobby?  (Evelyn M. Kibar, ca. 1958), a comedy about amateur movie making.]

The Kibars on screen. Frames from This Is a Hobby?  (Chicago Film Archives)
[CFA says the husband and wife "shot and starred in their own productions (Evelyn’s screen presence as the annoyed wife has delighted us for years now). . . . They began making films together in the 1930s, and were frequent visitors, presenters, judges and winners in both photographic slide and film competitions in Chicago and Milwaukee." From "Celebrating International Women's Day (all year round) at CFA," March 8, 2013.]

The Theisen [Triptych Poem] mystery is fascinating. My cursory search shows that Earl Theisen wrote occasionally for Movie Makers, mostly in the late-1930s. In 1936 and 37 he wrote a handful of articles about rudimentary film special effects (rear project, glass shots, trick shots) and one called “How Movie Tools Developed” (from 1640-1926!) in December 1936. This to reinforce your observations about his interest in technology. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more clues about this. . . .

It might interest other orphanistas to know more about the volume my Leslie Thatcher essay is in. Cinephemera (just out this month) is very much in the spirit of the orphans project.
Order from McGill-Queen's University Press
It includes a chapter about Crawley Films (dedicated to Bill O’Farrell, no less), travel films, and other Canadian film oddities. Bill O’Farrell used to say that Canada’s film history isn’t a story of commercial feature filmmaking, it’s a story of sponsored, amateur, and independent production. Cinephemera explores different facets of that story.

[Along with editors Zoë Druick and Gerda Cammaer, film scholars Joseph Clark and JoAnne Stober created the website "to create awareness of orphan media and to excavate, preserve, and contextualize a variety of alternative, non-theatrical, obscure or obsolete forms of Canada’s audio-visual heritage." All four have participated in past Orphan Film Symposium gatherings. The site's answer to the question "What is an Orphan Film?" is here.

For more about O'Farrell's contributions to the scholarship and preservation of amateur film, see "Tributes to Bill O'Farrell," The Moving Image (Spring 2009). It includes Tepperman's remarks about his mentor, as well as this illustration and caption.

Bill O’Farrell (in plaid shirt) with Eric Schaefer, Jim Henderson, and Tricia Welsch to his right, and Alan Kattelle and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley to his left, in Bucksport, Maine, at the 2000 NHF Summer Film Symposium. Bill holds the orb given to recipients of the Maxim Memorial Award for amateur movie makers. Courtesy of NHF. 
Karan Sheldon notes the "hefty spherical trophy" in O'Farrell's hand is the one that Judith and F. R. "Budge" Crawley of Ottawa received in the 1939 Ten Best contest for their film L’Ile d’Orleans. As Tepperman notes in his new book, the ACL created the award in 1937 to recognize the best film among the Ten Best.]

The Follow the Girls/Oscar Horovitz story is terrific and keeps on getting better. I managed to visit the NYPL Library for Performing Arts to watch the video before I headed home to Calgary. The film is colourful and engaging, but a little unusual for a Ten Best award-winner. The film begins with a quasi-educational voice-over commentary that defines and explains the cultural significance of the American musical comedy. Then, after introducing the stars it presents excerpts from the musical itself. The film doesn’t foreground any narrative structure (for one who doesn’t know the musical at least) but shows a series of scenes of solo and ensemble performance, singing and dancing.

Some features that are striking: Horovitz shoots from very good positions (a box or the orchestra pit) and distances, and cuts from wide shots to surprising close views of the singers and dancers. The colour values and lighting in the film are excellent and it’s clear that he only included the best material (something amateur guides were always harping on). Surprising: because of the technological limitations, the non-synch “music on disc” sound track doesn’t match up with the musical numbers we’re watching (I’m not even sure if they’re all from FTG!), which makes it a strange kind of record of the stage performances. But Horovitz manages to match the mood and tempo of the images with the songs on his sound track very well.

The Movie Makers citation for the film notes that plenty of amateurs make films of stage productions or other performances, but what sets Follow the Girls apart is “its sure sense of cinematics.” And it's true that the film’s cinematography and editing are what make it engaging. 

The Gift to Mother story is also a good one. From Melinda Stone to me to Maria, it’s great that this film eventually fell into the right hands. 

-- Charles Tepperman, author of
Amateur Cinema: The Rise of North American Moviemaking, 1923-1960