Dec 26, 2012

Auld Lang Syne for Girl on the Bus


Dave Kehr's blog bids an end to 2012 with a Groucho intro to The Girl on the Bus and Decasia.


postscript to previous post:

A/V Geeks proprietor Skip Elsheimer provides the missing metadata about the acetate child crystalized into im/mortality by Bill Morrison. And thereby incidentally reminds us why collectors, geeks, and entrepreneurs are essential to film preservation, and, let's say, cultural heritage in general.

The Decasia shot comes from the A/V Geeks Archive's 16mm print of an educational film from the legendary Centron Corporation of Lawrence, Kansas:
logo from A Citizen Makes a Decision (1954)

Safety on the School Bus (1951)
released by Young America Films
11 min., b/w, sd., 16mm
OCLC no. 5913398 

Despite having been assigned a unique identifier number by an unknown librarian for the Online Computer Library Center (nonprofit producer of the glorious public access catalog, no libraries are currently listed in the WorldCat record as holding any kind of copy of Safety on the School Bus.  

How did the frame from this unique A/V Geeks print get to Decasia and how did the print get damaged? writes this Boxing Day morning, 2012:
It was damaged when Hurricane Fran [Sept. 1996] flooded my basement and knocked out power so the sump pump stopped working. Water damaged around 200 films. I was very depressed about it and didn't really want to go through the collection to assess the damage. Then I got a request from Bill Morrison, who was only looking for damaged material.  That gave me the push to find the bad stuff...

Saludos to Elsheimer and fellow Atomic Age men and women who collect films abandoned by their owners (first-, second-, and third-hand) and who hold own to them even after floods and hurricanes, having faith in their Orphic value.

courtesy of Skip Elsheimer.

Much more could be said, but for the holiday moment, I will just underscore the point about film preservation and access occurring outside of official channels of collecting institutions or copyright holders.

We do have an increasing amount of knowledge and appreciation about Centron and its kindred producer-distributors. (See Faye E. Riley's University of Kansas dissertation and her essay "Centron, an Industrial/Educational Film Studio, 1947-1981," in Hediger and Vonderau's Films that Work, 2009). However, even the most likely source of access to Centron films, the University of Kansas library in Lawrence, has only 5 records for Centron-authored works in its catalog. Tellingly, 4 of the 5 items containing Centron films are DVD compilations -- each of which Skip Elsheimer curated or produced or both:  Atomic Age Classics, vol. 1 and vol. 8, How to Be a Man, and How to Be a Woman. 

# # # #


What Skip Elsheimer et al. are up to 
in Raleigh, North Carolina, 
April 25-27, 2013:

Dec 24, 2012

Decasia/Fantasia; Nitrate/Acetate; 35/16; Tallow/Fat

Speaking of a film "where we experience impermanence" (see previous post), here's a Christmas Eve return to Decasia, the Fantasia of found footage feature film fun. Dave Kehr (love him long time) reminds us in his 12/21-23 New York Times column ("Symphony of Compostitions from Decomposition") that Icarus Films (ditto) presents Michael Gordon & Bill Morrison's (ditto) 35mm motion picture on Blu-Ray.

Two images continue to be associated with the promotion of Decasia. Each has its aesthetic value, whether in motion or as a still. However, each has a tiny "slippage" worth noting when thinking about "found footage" and how these images signify what they do.

The first, with its snow-flakey crystalline patterns, is seasonal today. However, it's curious that this particular frame enlargement is so often reprinted as representative of Decasia. The shot of the young girl on a school bus, seemingly looking into the camera, sticks out from most of the footage -- at least to viewers familiar with film stocks and aesthetics of varying historical vintages. credit reads:  Icarus Films
First, she sits in a mise-en-scene of a post-WWII world (albeit in 16:9 here!). Most all of Decasia otherwise has the veneer of the 1920s or 30s. And in fact its source materials were mostly born in that earlier time.

Second, because of the above, Decasia's display of decay is physically sourced to motion-picture film printed on stocks with a base made of cellulose nitrate (aka 'nitrate film'). Nitrate is famously beautiful and lustrous when projected and infamously (1) photochemically unstable and hence subject to rapid decomposition if not optimally stored and (2) highly inflammable (or flammable; one of those rare pairs of words that can be both synonym and antonym to each other). The characteristics of this material's decay are not like those of the later "safety film" manufactured on a cellulose acetate base. Decasia's bodies and things were shot in the 1920s and 30s, when nitrate was the norm. (It remained so until 1951.)

Therefore the Girl on the Bus looks to be from a later era because she was. The patina that covers her frame is also symptomatic of the later acetate film stocks. It's science, not magic. A fact, not a feeling.

Here's how the gold-standard research of the Image Permanence Institute describes the impermanence of acetate film.
Another consequence of base deterioration is the appearance of crystalline deposits or liquid-filled bubbles on the emulsion. This is evidence of plasticizers, additives to the plastic base, becoming incompatible and oozing out on the surface. They can appear on either the base or emulsion side of the film. Plasticizers are chemical additives that are mixed in with the cellulose acetate during manufacture. . . . The high plasticizer content of acetate films reflects a desire to make film as non-flammable [aka 'non-inflammable,' ed.] as possible. The second function of plasticizers is to reduce the dimensional instability of film due to solvent loss or humidity change. All cellulosic films will shrink under dry conditions and expand under damp conditions; minimizing this behavior is an important role of plasticizer additives.
           --  James M. Reilly, IPI Storage Guide for Acetate Film (Rochester, NY: Image Permanence Institute, 1993, rev. 1996), 12.  See also: D. G. Horvath, The Acetate Negative Survey (Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville, 1987);  C. R. Fordyce's article "“Motion Picture Film Support: 1889-1976, An Historical Review," SMPTE Journal, 85 (Jul. 1976): 493-95; and, from one of the inventors of 16mm film at Eastman Kodak in the 1920s, C. E. K. Mees, “"History of Professional Black-and-White Motion-Picture Film,"” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, 63 (Oct. 1954): 125-40.

The shot of the Girl on the Bus comes from a 16mm acetate print of a film in Skip Elsheimer's A/V Geeks collection. He has in fact done entire curated film programs about school buses -- shown while the audience travels in an actual school bus. At, find DVD compilations of his educational 16mm prints, including Extreme School Bus Adventure!

The second image often illustrating the nature of Decasia also appears in the Times notice, also from Icarus's Blu-Ray disc promotion. It looks like this. credit line:  University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections/Icarus Films
As Dave Kehr notes:
Mr. Morrison has clearly logged a lot of hours at film archives — including the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress and George Eastman House — in pursuit of particularly evocative instances of decay. Some shots seem almost too good to be true, as when an early-20th-century boxer spars with the shifting mass of nitrate rot that has erased his punching bag.  

Even TV Guide's capsule review refers to "such evocative scraps of footage as a boxer gamely pummeling a pulsating streak of bubbling emulsion."

Indeed this is a striking image, especially when set in motion. As the filmmaker himself has noted, it conveys a sense of futility and mortality that is Decasia's theme. However, it derives not from one of the Big 6 film archives, but from the notable nitrate collection at the University of South Carolina. The Fox Movietone News Collection was housed in what was known as the Newsfilm Library when Morrison was mining its massive contents. (Now it's called USC Moving Image Research Collections, and its glories are now appearing online as part of a developing "Digital Video Repository." See As noted elsewhere, more than half of the imagery in Decasia has South Carolina/Fox roots. This particular shot is not Movietone (sound-on-film, born in 1927) but silent-era footage from the newsreel service that was then known only as (wait for it...) Fox News.  :-(

Just as the strip of film has a physical referent in a particular place (the vaults in Columbia, SC), the emulsion on the nitrate strip was created originally by a particular real-world subject in front of the hand-cranked 35mm camera. For the purposes of viewing Decasia, Kehr is correct in describing the Man as "an early-20th-century boxer." Yet in recognizing that this shot was "found" (using an exacting cataloguing system!) in an archival collection, we can also wonder about its historicity. We could easily re-imagine this same footage (decayed or not) illustrating something about, say, the 1920s (the golden age of sports) or the history of prizefighting.

soundtrack CD (Cantaloupe Music, 2002)                                            limited edition DVD (Other Cinema) 

Sparring Man battling an amorphous abstract opponent is actually Sparring Man Willie Ritchie (born Gerhardt Anthony Steffen), training  (as the camera operator Lou Hutt knew when showing up to film the boxer) for a comeback title bout against then lightweight champion Benny Leonard (born Benjamin Leiner, he held the title from 1917 to 1925). Ritchie was lightweight champion of the world from 1912 to 1914, the "white hope" era, when Jack Johnson held the heavyweight crown. The original Fox catalog record is correct, but perhaps a bit misleading today, stating that Ritchie was training for a championship match with Leonard. Indeed the press of June 1923 (when this scene was filmed in San Francisco) reported that Ritchie was training for his comeback and wanted to a title match. But he never got it.

No doubt Morrison was drawn to the part of the updated catalog record that says "various scenes of Willie Richie [sic] training... including: jumping rope, using punching bag (emulsion deterioration)." And "Note: TBP [to be pulled or printed, due to physical condition]; emulsion deterioration, severe [yay!] at times." Had he been making a documentary on, say, the history of boxing, he might have been more drawn to the other Fox footage of Willie Ritchie. Both pieces of film (MVTN 3370 and 0930) have the assigned title, Boxing: Ritchie Trains, but the less deteriorated piece was shot by San Franciscan Sam Greenwald, almost a year earlier.

To tie up this posting in a bow, we might note that the last piece of silent film in the USC MIRC catalog attributed to cinematographer Hutt is MVTN 8567 (San Francisco, Dec. 27, 1928): Bust/Statue of "Santa" Made of Tallow/Fat.  The content summary reads: "Chef Gustave Milhan carves a "Santa Claus" from 500 pounds of tallow (fat). It took four months to make."

 # # #

This "stock" photo from Corbis company [100 million images] comes from the noted Bettman Archive [11 million photos], which it purchased in 1995.  According to the Corbis Images site:  "Original caption:1935- - Benny Leonard, Lightweight Champion, on a barn-storming trip, took on Willie Ritchie, ex-champion for four rounds at San Francisco and took a whipping. However, in a later fight in New Jersey, he knocked out Ritchie in 8 pounds [sic]." 
 I wonder if that 1935 date is accurate? Could be, if they were barnstorming. But they both look in fighting trim.

More likely, the photo is from 1919, when Leonard was champion and Ritchie retired, serving in the U.S. military as a boxing instructor at training camps. In "Ritchie May Try to Stage 'Comeback'"  (Aug. 20, 1922), the San Francisco Chronicle noted Ritchie's "sensational four-round fight against Benny Leonard" in San Francisco, and "a longer match in Jersey, where Leonard handed Ritchie a  decisive beating."

The photo below, from a memorabilia dealer, is identified only as an "antique photo" from a 1918 charity benefit, showing Leonard shaking hands with Ritchie (left). The newsies' front page extras refer to Italy, Flanders and battle, confirming this is not one of the postwar Ritchie bouts.

Whirling Dervish Time Machine Dream Night

On December 21, 2012, (Bradley) Eros + (Jeanne) Liotta presented a screening/seance in the Maya Deren Theater at Anthology Film Archives, recognizing the 20th anniversary of the short Super 8 film Dervish Machine they made and toured with.

Light Cone will rent you a 16mm print for 31.
1992/16 mm / coul-n & b / son / 10 '00
          "Meditations on the movement and be developed and craftsmen inspired by Gysin and Dream Machine by Sufi mysticism and pre-cinema. Knowledge of the fragility of existence reflects the toughness of the material. The film itself becomes the place where we experience impermanence and reveals the moving image."

Cellphone video (12.21.12) of Anthology Film Archives projection of a video copy of the 16mm film entitled Towers, Open Fire (1963, Anthony Balch, Brion Gysin, and Wm. S. Burroughs).

The spinning cylinders are "dream machines" (see the useful

After a Super 8 projection of the original film, the duo reunited to present a series of films, drawings, objects, slides, performances, and texts that either inspired or were proto-parts of Dervish Machine. The idea is actually part of a series curated by Bradley Eros, described in the Anthology calendar this way:

CATALYSTS (or, EXPOUNDED CINEMA) is a new series wherein avant-garde filmmakers reveal the secret sources and inspirations for a specific film from their body of work by a show-and-tell presentation through readings, films, music, images, dreams, documents, private tales, or exhibits demonstrating the roots and branches of experimental personal cinema: Exegesis by demo. Experience the cultural and personal artifacts that influenced the works and unravel the process from initiation to completion of the creative dynamics that form a work of film art.

The audience included more than a few people who were part of that process in 1992 or before. Ken Jacobs was there, for example. His short color silent film fragment Death of P'twon (1963), the last he made with Jack Smith, was a rarity.

The notably un-worn 16mm film has some handsome footage of Mr. Smith that shows him in something like a 'documentary' light. (Not that it's not a totally performative piece of a film that was never completed.)

A few times during the evening Liotta mentioned working with or meeting painting student and soon-to-be filmmaker Bill Morrison at the Cooper Union School of Art. He helped Eros/Liotta do some hand-processing of film, using a handheld rotating drum.

Liotta's drawing of that spinning cylinder showed it to be part of the leitmotif of the whirling dervish / dream machine. It also reminded me of Edison's drawing of the original phonograph design, which was later the basis for the prototype for the Edison-Dickson kinetograph --
a spiraling strip of small celluloid images wrapped around a cylinder, here drawn with an eyepiece imagined as the viewing device.

When I read the description of Dervish Machine I thought of Bill Morrison's 2002 film, Decasia, now about as well known as experiment film gets these days. Having been around when he was exploring the Fox Movietone News archive for his creative work, I was aware that more than half of the footage in Decasia came from the University of South Carolina's Fox newsfilm collection. That large cache of 35mm holds some of the true treasures of time-machine cinema recordings from the 1920s and 30s, the early sound outtakes being some of the most interesting. On the second or third viewing of Decasia, I noticed that one of the newsreel shots of an actual "whirling dervish" bookends Morrison's film.  In the University of South Carolina's Moving Image Research Collections two catalog entries identify the footage:

MVTN 2-49: Egyptian Dancers (11 minutes) 
MVTN 2-50: Egyptian (Whirling Dervishes) Dancers (shot in Cairo, December 28, 1928) (4 minutes)

The latter is a partially edited story, with the era's stereotypical xenophobic intertitles about "strange" peoples of the East. The unedited footage, however, allows a more marvelous site (and sound!) of the performance and performer.

One can look at the Whirling Dervishes footage and understand its historical origins. It was part of the same shoot by the Fox newsreel crew of Brutt and Ellis. The camera and sound operators were in Bethlehem on Christmas day, recording Bethlehem Street Scenes. And the next day in Jerusalem filming Palestine Police Band. Earlier in the month they were in Gibraltar (How Britain Holds Pathway to India) and Naples (filming "native dancers" doing the tarantella. The first item in the catalog attributed to Brutt and Ellis is called Haymaking, shot in -- ironically -- Damascus [Pennsylvania], July 25, 1928.

However, now I will ever look at the footage in Decasia as connected to a period a decade earlier, when Morrison was connected to Liotta and Eros and the Dervish Machine project.

The evening ended with a replay of the Eros + Liotta film, but in the form of the 16mm blowup by maestro Bill Brand of BB Optics.

Dec 21, 2012

more about the 2012 National Film Registry

A post-script to yesterday's post:

CBS News online has a nice gallery with images from each of the 25 titles on the 2012 Registry, as well as some stills about film preservation.  This was the only source Google image search found for an image from Parable.

CBS News also has like galleries from 2010 and 2011.

a frame grab from Parable (1964).  Rumors of this film presenting "Jesus as a clown" were obviously exaggerated. 

Dec 20, 2012

About PARABLE: Watch Mark Quigley's interview with Rolf Forsberg.

Guest blogger Mark Quigley is Manager of the UCLA Film & Television Archive's Archival Research and Study Center, who modestly describes himself as an "access archivist." As an adjunct faculty member, he teaches in UCLA's Moving Image Archive Studies master's program.  

Born in 1925, Rolf Forsberg began his career in the arts as a playwright and director in the Chicago theatre scene. (He was married to Second City improv master, Josephine Forsberg from 1945 to 1965). As a filmmaker, Rolf has written and directed dozens of productions, most notably, a number of innovative sponsored religious films, including Antkeeper (1966) and Stalked (1969; featured by archivist Skip Elsheimer on his “A/V Geeks Educational Archive Religion" DVD).  Rolf also co-directed the 1979 feature documentary, The Late Great Planet Earth, narrated by Orson Welles. Rolf is still working today, writing documentaries about the U.S. National Parks.

Parable (1964) made Rolf’s career as a writer/producer/director of sponsored films. Commissioned by the New York City Protestant Council of Churches for their 1964 World's Fair pavilion, the short film with a European art house feel was controversial, daring to use allegory in depicting “Christ as a clown.” Despite threats of violence and protests from numerous factions -- including objections from Robert Moses, president of the New York World’s Fair -- audiences embraced the strange, powerful short, with Newsweek calling Parable “very probably the best film of the fair.” Parable remained controversial, making local headlines in 1971 for its temporary removal from the Los Angeles Library system for promoting, “anti-establishment type things.” The film ultimately became a best seller in the religious 16mm market, successfully meeting the church’s aim of reaching secular audiences, and paving the way for Rolf’s hire on many subsequent film experiments to be funded by church organizations.

Watch Rolf Forsberg talk about Parable. (5:53)

Orphan films beget Orphan films.

In 2003, the UCLA Film & Television Archive acquired nearly the entire run of the ambitious religious TV anthology series, Insight (1960-1983), which also enjoyed distribution on 16mm to classrooms and churches. In 2006, I received a call from writer Paul Cullum, who was looking for a disturbing religious film (a dystopian take on government food assistance) that he had seen as a teen in Sunday school.  We both thought it was likely an Insight episode, but after much research it turned out to be a 1971 Lutheran short titled, And Then They Forgot God, made for the production company, Family Films. Our search for that obscure film is chronicled in the Dan Streible-edited Orphan Film issue of The Moving Image, vol. 9, no. 1, (Spring 2009).

Through that deep research, we came upon a fortuitous red herring -- recurring references to “Rolf Forsberg” as a “maker of odd religious films.” After tracking Rolf first in Chicago, and my later meeting with him in California, the UCLA Film & Television Archive became home to a number of Rolf's personal prints of his films. Our continued interest in Rolf's complex body of work, which is simultaneously surprisingly secular, expressionistic, and independent, has led to an extended dialog with the kind filmmaker, including a few rounds of an informal oral history (on digital video as well as good ol' audio cassette) and an even greater number of extremely enjoyable Sunday get-togethers for sharp reminiscences of a golden career. 

Thanks to Dan Streible and the Orphan Film Project for creating and nurturing a dynamic forum where talents such as Rolf Forsberg are embraced for rediscovery and reaffirmation.  Earlier this year, the "Orphans 8" symposium at Museum of the Moving Image featured a brief overview of Rolf's sponsored films, including a screening his provocative classic, One Friday (1973), which imagines an all-out race war. From that Orphans exposure came a BAMcinématek screening of Rolf's prescient ecological film Ark (1970), which played before Douglas Trumbull's partially Ark-inspired Silent Running (1972).

This momentum, of course, has now culminated with the Librarian of Congress naming Rolf's Parable to the 2012 National Film Registry.

-- Mark Quigley

* * * * * * * *

Primary documents, from the Times of New York (1964) and Los Angeles (1971).

Sharyn Elise Jackson's 2004 NYU honors thesis "International Participation in the New York World's Fair 1964-1965," mentions Parable. 

* * * * * * * * 

A:  Parable is available from EcuFilm (United Methodist Communications) for $44.95., (888) 346-3862's record for Parable documents libraries holding it in 16mm, VHS, and DVD versions. Here's one library record, for the DVD. 
Parable [videorecording] / The Protestant Council of the City of New York
written by Rolf Forsberg; produced by Fred A. Niles; directed by Tom Rook, Rolf Forsberg.  Produced by the Council of Churches of the City of New York"--Back cover
Originally released as a motion picture in 1964.
--> Filmed with the cooperation of Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin.[Nashville, Tenn.] : United Methodist Communications: EcuFilm, [2005?].
(22 min.) : sd., col. ; + 1 leaders guide (11 p. ; 18 cm.)

Announcement of the video availability of Parable came in a 2004 press release. 

For some reason the record's item summary and subject listing are in French. 
Pantomime mettant en scène un clown qui prend la place des exploités dans une troupe de cirque. Bande sonore originale.
Subject: Morale pratique.
The leader's guide is available for free download at the United Methodist Communications web store. The catalog description reads: 
A timeless classic of service and self-sacrifice, Parable was the groundbreaking, award-winning film that astounded crowds at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Using only strong visual images and music, Parable continues to speak volumes to contemporary audiences about compassion, combating injustice, and selfless giving. Simple. Direct. Sure to affect any age or ethnic group and spark endless discussion. This is one film that your class will remember for years to come. Free guides are available for each title under the Free Study Guide section. Council of Churches of the City of New York.
Audience: Youth and adults
Suggested Settings: Sunday school, retreats, youth groups

The leader's guide also suggests showing the film to an audience either twice, or with "interrupted viewing" for discussion.  Another suggestion: "After a showing, you might leave the room darkened and comment: Let’s think for a moment about what we have seen...."  

Dec 19, 2012

PARABLE and other neglected films on National Film Registry

The Library of Congress today announced the 25 films added to National Film Registry for 2012.

Many in archiving, preservation, and orphan film circles are particularly amped about this year's list. Librarian of Congress James Billington, offered up a quite diverse set of American films, the most eclectic group of 25 in his 24 years of being the sole arbiter of all 600 titles now on the Registry.

Among those with an orphan or non-Hollywood status (15 as I count them), there are riches. So too among the Hollywood 10 (if I may). Classics enshrined on the Registry cover a variety of genres and eras. "Just in time for Christmas," the LOC gives us the boomer touchstone A Christmas Story (1983), followed by the Delmer Daves-directed Western drama 3:10 to Yuma (1957), the iconic Siegel-Eastwood cop drama Dirty Harry (1971), a George Cukor comedy remembered as Judy Holliday's best, Born Yesterday (1950), a Blake Edwards comedy absolutely owned by Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961; map the novella and movie here!), the Penny Marshall-directed comedy best remembered for a man's line (Tom Hanks: "There's no crying in baseball!"), A League of Their Own (1992), a William Seiter-directed Hal Roach comedy starring Laurel & Hardy, Sons of the Desert (1933), and the franchise/zeitgeist movie about which nothing more need be said here because it's all around us all the time, The Matrix (1999).

Add to the Hollywood-distributed titles two features we might call "independent" in today's sense. Otto Preminger, truly a trouble-making independent supported by the studio system, made Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with a Duke Ellington score, Saul Bass titles (great poster!), and a cast of big name actors. The New Yorker published Lillian Ross's long and memorable profile of Preminger in 1966, when he was suing distributor Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems for -- get this -- cutting up his 160-minute movie so that commercials could be inserted during television broadcasts of Anatomy of a Murder! Much lower down the fiscal chain of command comes Monte Hellman's low-budget ($800,000) road movie cum cult picture, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). Our leading men? James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson! -- who don't play music, sing, or score the film! Shot on stretches of Route 66, from California to Tennessee, it works on a time-capsule level as well. 
AND it's about to be released on BluRay by Criterion.  See also "Ten (sixteen, actually) Reasons I Love Two-Lane Blacktop," by Richard Linklater, another 2012 Registry honoree.

The 15 other films are a great gumbo.

Of the silent-era picks, the entry listed as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title [sic] Fight (1897) is by far the oldest. I don't know how the stray word Title got into the Library of Congress press release. But there it is. And so more than 2,000 websites have already repeated this little error. The Veriscope Company's moving-picture recording of the heavyweight prizefight between Jame J. Corbett and challenger Robert Fitzsimmons is not exactly an unknown film in histories in cinema -- where it is conventionally known as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight everywhere from Wikipedia to the Internet Movie Database. Actually, there was no official title for the work, so far as I know. No copyright record exists (although the Veriscope Company claimed to have filed for copyright. And there was likely no on-screen title printed into the celluloid in 1897. Newspaper ads used varying descriptive titles.

Thanks: Daniel Dempsey.
In terms of preserving the Veriscope film, the BFI's National Film and Television Archive and the Museum of Modern Art have preserved copies on 35mm, but neither is anywhere close to complete. Fight film collectors Jim Jacobs and William Cayton's salvaged the knockout portion of the recording from a brittle print in their Big Fights, Inc. collection (sold to ESPN/ABC).

Other fragments of The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight exist elsewhere. Just this year I received a note from someone who found his father owned a six-frame clipping of an original print.

As you can see from this scan the collector sent, the image was of an unconventional dimension. The film stock was 63mm wide (rather than 35mm) and the wider aspect ratio about 1.66:1 (rather than 1.33:1). All told, Enoch Rector's ability to capture the entire event -- 14 three-minute rounds with one-minute breaks, plus action before and after the bout -- on his unique format was unprecedented. Three cameras were said to have exposed some 10,000 feet of film. The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight was the only film made using this technology. The investors made a fortune on the roadshow exhibition and left the show business.

There's more about this in my book Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema (2008). Corbett-Fitz gets its own chapter.

Grant Lobban (
offers this detail:    
In 1983 the National Film Archive undertook the task of copying the original 63mm footage onto 35mm film. Using some material available from their archives together with extra reels provided by Jim Jacobs.... [The NFA] rephotographed the positive print cartoon style using a light box and register pins. Each frame being advanced by hand. The final 35mm print was of the masked frame type with an aspect ratio of about l,66:1 with the normal space being provided for a future sound track. . . [T]he fight film had also been copied by Karl Malkames Inc. in New York. In this case the printing was done using a special variable-pitch printer movement designed by Karl Malkames A.S.C. The final copy negative had a larger image extending the full width between the perforations.

The other silent movies on the 2012 Registry are from 1914: Uncle Tom's Cabin and Maurice Tourneur's The Wishing Ring. This version of the Harriet Beecher Stowe story was no doubt selected to stand on the Registry for the many film adaptations of what was 19th-century America's most popular theatrical production. Sam Lucas, who plays Uncle Tom, was the first African American actor to perform the role on film, and had been the first on stage as well. This arguably also made him the first black actor to play the lead role in a feature film. I've not seen The Wishing Ring, but it's an idyll of old England filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, by a newly arrived (and talented) French director.

Both 1914 films came from the new producer-distributor World Film Corp., co-founded by William A. Brady. Brady also headed Shubert Pictures, which produced The Wishing Ring. I doubt the coincidence was noted before both were selected to the Registry. (Or is this a Brady conspiracy? For Mr. Brady was the showman who managed the ring/stage/screen career of Gentleman Jim Corbett, making him a principal in the production of The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight  too!) Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to find William Aloysius Brady's fingerprints all over early cinema history. He was, after all, president of the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry from 1916 to 1921. In other words, Brady was the immediate predecessor of Will Hays, tsar of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (1922-1945).

In the next posting, we'll take up the un-Hollywood additions to the National Film Registry:

  • Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests (1922)
  • The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939) Prelingeriana
  • The Kidnappers Foil  (1930s-1950s) an amazing legacy of itinerant productions
  • Parable (1964) religious allegory made for the World's Fair
  • They Call It Pro Football (1967) from NFL Films, whose founder died this year
  • The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973, Ivan Dixon) wow!
  • Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82) by maestro Nathaniel Dorsky
  • Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990) Ellen Bruno's thesis documentary
  • Slacker (1991) Richard Linklater's low-low-budget indie that sparked a scene
  • One Survivor Remembers (1995) Oscar-winning documentary by Kary Antholis
  • The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) finally. . .

For now we can end with a tease:

Earlier this year, Mark Quigley (UCLA) and videographer Farzad Nikbakht recorded an interview with Rolf Forsberg, the veteran filmmaker responsible for the controversial but acclaimed Parable.

Nov 23, 2012

China Girls: The Unknown Faces of the Silver Screen

The Orphan Film Project and NYU Cinema Studies are cosponsoring this swell event at Anthology Film Archives, programmed by Genevieve Yue.  Join us!

Her notes from the Anthology Film Archives calendar:

The various faces of the “China girl,” sometimes called a “China doll” or “girl head,” have appeared in more films than any actress, though she is almost never seen, save for the fleeting glimpses an audience might catch at the end of a film reel.
These images of a woman, demurely positioned next to color swatches, have appeared on the leader of every commercial manufactured film since the late 1920s and continue in limited use today. The China girl image is instrumental in determining exposure, image density, and color balance, forming a kind of cinematic unconscious. Her essential but often overlooked role in film history has also made her a compelling subject for experimental filmmakers variously examining issues of celluloid materiality, the behind-the-scenes workings of the film industry, and the often marginal role of women. In some cases, the China girl is no less than the enigmatic icon of a vanishing medium.

Two programs highlight nine experimental films using the China girl, as well as a talk by programmer Genevieve Yue, and a projection performance by Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. (May we also say that Sandra Gibson is a 2010 graduate of NYU's M.A. program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation?)

Program 1    Thursday, November 29 at 6:45 pm   (ca. 80 minutes) all in 16mm

Owen Land, INSTITUTIONAL QUALITY (1969, 5 min)


Morgan Fisher, STANDARD GAUGE (1984, 35 min)

Michelle Silva, CHINA GIRLS (2006, 3 min)

Thomas Draschan and Stella Friedrichs, TO THE HAPPY FEW (2003, 5 min)

Brian Frye, NADJA (2000, 3 min)

Timoleon Wilkins, MM (1996, 8 min)

Mark Toscano, RELEASING HUMAN ENERGIES (2012, 5.5 min)

Program 2  Thursday, November 29 at 9:00 pm

“Blink and Burn: China Girls in Experimental Film”
A talk by Genevieve Yue
Projection performance by Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder
Gibson & Recoder at Orphans 2008


Illustration at top from "China Girls / Leader Ladies," web page created by Northwest Chicago Film Society

with images from Benjamin Tucker, Becka Hall, and Chicago Film Archives
including a moving image from CFA (16mm WINK)

See also

Julie Buck and Karin Segal's "Girls on Film" exhibition at Harvard

Watch the Buck & Segal movie, GIRLS ON FILM (2005) 

Nov 4, 2012

post-Sandy media restoration at Eyebeam Center (aka go MIAP!)

Here’s a New York update after the destruction wrought by last week’s hurricane (too terrible to be named “Sandy”).

Executive summary? Students and alumni from NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program are doing great things, including volunteering in disaster recovery efforts.

As I type this, some are on the ground at the recently flooded facilities of Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, a New York-based not-for-profit organization.

Here’s a post-Sandy e-mail several of us in MIAP received after the first wave of salvage and rescue operations. It’s author also wrote a MIAP thesis entitled “Disaster Planning And Recovery: Post-Katrina Lessons For Mixed Media Collections” (2006).

Subject: Eyebeam restoration (aka go MIAP!)
On Sat, Nov 3, 2012 at 9:12 PM, Kara Van Malssen (kara@avpreserve) wrote:

Dear MIAP folks,

Thanks so much to those of you who have come out to help at Eyebeam the past two days. You've been really incredible. We would never have got so far without your ingenuity, knowledge, skill and dedication. This has been an amazing learning experience for me, so I hope it has been for you as well. Nothing like a disaster to give you a crash course in disaster recovery!

BUT, we are not done, and we could really use your talents again tomorrow [Sunday]! Mornings have been slow, so the more of you who can come in the morning (starting around 10:15), the better.

If someone can forward the info to the 1st years MIAP students, that would be super.

Howard, Mona, Dan, Alicia -- you should be proud of the 2nd years (oh and a few faculty and alumni too, including Josh R[anger], Erik P[iil], Chris L[acinak], Seth A[nderson], Walter F[orsberg].... Hope I haven't forgotten anyone; it's been a real whirlwind could of days). Unfortunately, I don't have a group pic, but I've attached a few shots of people in action. 
Erica Titkemeyer

Dan Erdman

Kristin MacDonough, Shira Peltzman, Walter Forsberg

Erik Piil
Hope everyone who I haven't talked to is doing ok!

Thanks again,



On Sat, Nov 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM, Mona Jimenez, MIAP’s Acting Director, replied.

Wow!  Inspiring work, all!!  Forwarded to first years.

Mona’s message was followed by this:

On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 1:29 PM, (dan.streible@nyu) wrote:

Hi, Kara, Chris, Mona, Howard and Moving Image Archiving & Preservation heroes.

No reason not to shout this out to everyone.

This is just the most recent of many reasons I am so proud to be affiliated with the program and the individuals in it. Not only is your work inspiring because it is 'impactful' (as Jodie Foster said in Contact) but your works are continuing evidence of how freakin' HARD you work.

For those being introduced to this conversation, for the first time: the Subject line references the ongoing disaster-recovery actions being taken in New York by MIAP ally Chris Lacinak's AudioVisual Preservation Solutions with many MIAP alumni and student volunteers at the not-for-profit Eyebeam Art + Technology Center. For 3 or 4 days running now.

This volunteering of hard (skilled) labor by MIAP peeps is all the more laudable given how much MIAP students achieved the 4 previous weekends.

• Friday, October 5: NYU Cinema Studies Community Weekend – AMIA @ NYU game night; 
• Saturday, October 13: a student-generated Archiving the Arts conference at NYU Tisch; 
• Saturday, October 20: alums and students volunteer at Home Movie Day at the Museum of Modern Art; 
• Saturday, October 27: MIAP student-generated and co-hosted World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2012 as part of the Museum of Modern Art's annual international film preservation festival, To Save and Project.

And of course the conference and the WDAVH event involved months of planning. 
None of this was done as course work per se. These are impactful[!] events conceived and executed by MIAP students and their recruited allies.

No doubt I am omitting other amazing acts of professionalism and generosity these people have achieved in the past month. And of course many of these people were themselves undergoing the hardships of the hurricane aftermath. (You might be aware that one of the current MIAP students lost nearly all of her worldly possessions due to the flooding in New Jersey -- yet she remains part of the volunteer cohort!)

Even as MIAP/Cinema Studies students-staff-faculty-alumni remain international leaders in the field's theoretical and intellectual development, they are obviously kicking ass in practice. Making the world better for the living and their future descendants.

Also: Get some rest, all y'all.

Your admirer,

Dan Streible
NYU | Tisch School of the Arts | Cinema Studies | Moving Image Archive and Preservation Program


Looking back at Facebook postings, it seems to have been MIAP alum Peter Oleksik (now a video conservator at MoMA) who contacted Marko Tandefelt (Eyebeam's Director of Technology and Research) to set the work in motion.

See more photos of Team Eyebeam at work:

# # #

Oct 20, 2012


Sep 18, 2012

Rob Byrne (SF Silent Film Festival) visits the NYU Orphan Film Symposium (2012)

On the eve of the 8th Orphan Film Symposium, NYU Cinema Studies MA student (and now alumna) Daphna Jaglom was testing our new HD camcorder, straight out of the box. When
film preservationist Rob Byrne (also president of the board of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival) stopped by the Film Study Center at 721 Broadway, we asked him to sit for an informal camera test. He graciously agreed and talked about his previous Orphan Film Symposium experience in 2010.

Here's a clip downsized to 480p. 

Four minutes of unedited DV, recording a conversation among Dan Streible, Rob Byrne, and (off camera) Cinema Studies student Christopher Insignares.

Note that all of the video shot during the April 11-14, 2012 symposium that followed is available at the Orphan Film Symposium Collection on the Internet Archive.

Getting all the DV files uploaded turned out to be not only labor intensive, but also a learning experience for several of us. At the time, not even the videophiles among us knew that the camera  --   a Canon VIXIA HF R20 -- saved its video files in the .MTS format. And few of the videophiles among us had dealt with MTS before.

What is MTS?  A high-definition MPEG-2 format in AVC (Advanced Video Codec), developed for HD camcorders by Sony and Panasonic. Turns out this Canon model uses it too. The image looks great, especially in this 1920 x 1080 dimension. However, most applications can not process MTS files. They had to be converted, in this case to MP4 files.  NYU MIAP students Jieun An and Kelly Haydon did the conversion, and uploaded several dozen pieces to the site.

Again, all of the "footage" (to use the film-inherited term) is unedited, but also available to download and use (under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial license).


Jul 24, 2012

Gentle colleagues:
Word from EYE Film Institute Netherlands today: it's official. The 2014 Orphan Film Symposium will be in April, dovetailed with the Amsterdam Film Biennale. 

However, we won't know for a few weeks the exact dates in April 2014. I'm guessing first half of the month. 

The theme of Orphans 9 will be announced in mid-October (this year).  But good ideas and pitches for presentations are always welcome.

Jul 21, 2012

An Avant-Garde(n) for Children

The image at the bottom of this posting is a screenshot of a Facebook invitation to today's event:  THE FILM-MAKER'S COOPERATIVE &  the 6TH STREET / AVE. B GARDEN present: The 2nd ANNUAL CHILDREN'S FILM FESTIVAL of the AVANT-GARDE(N) FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES!   <>

That a Film-makers' Coop event would promote itself with the wonderful Helen Hill-created image from Scratch and Crow (1995) is, well, something of a surprise. And a nice one, to be sure.

"Chickens are good animals...." 

In "Media Artists, Local Activists, and Outsider Archivists: The Case of Helen Hill" (published in the 2010 anthology Old and New Media After Katrina), I drew a distinction between the utopian experimental cinema of Helen Hill and the canonical American avant garde film world. 

  . . . However, there is also a gulf between the influential “essential cinema” of Brakhage’s cohort and the world of Helen Hill. The humor, love, whimsy, sweetness, and accessibility (even to children) of Helen’s films differentiate them from the experimental films usually taken as emblematic of the post-WWII American avant garde. The latter is generally represented by the work of structuralists, contrarians, and male individualists -- Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Kenneth Anger, et al. This artists’ film culture has historically been characterized as filled with conflict, internecine grudges, denunciations, and darkness. As the New American Cinema Group famously expressed in its 1961 manifesto: “we don’t want rosy films -- we want them the color of blood.”[1] Helen wanted -- and made -- rosy films, figuratively and literally. Flowers were a motif in her work. Throbbing red Valentine hearts were another.  And of course her pet pigs were Rosie and Daisy). Hers was, as Egan puts it, a cinema of optimism. Even when it dealt with death, resurrection followed. Scratch and Crow concludes with the written, biblical-sounding evocation “If I knew,/ I would assure you we are all / Finally good chickens / And will rise together, / A noisy flock of round, / Dusty angels.”
            Certainly Helen’s work also shares traits with the canonical avant garde. Like the Group, she preferred films “rough, unpolished, but alive.” She knew that Mekas, Brakhage, Jerome Hill (no relation), and other cineastes had long valorized the art of amateur cinema. (“I studied home movies as diligently as I studied the aesthetics of Sergei Eisenstein,” said Brakhage.)[2] Helen also taught her students the history of experimental animation, showing work by Lotte Reiniger, Len Lye, Norman McLaren, and other artists who influenced her. These two schools came together briefly when Anthology Film Archives, epicenter of avant garde American cinema, hosted a retrospective, The Life & Films of Helen Hill, in October 2007.

[1] “The First Statement of the New American Cinema Group,” Film Culture 22-23 (1961): 131-33.
[2] Bruce Jenkins, “Stan Brakhage: The Art of Seeing” (1999), Walker Art Center, See also, Jan-Christopher Horak, Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (U of Wisconsin Press, 1995), and Jeffrey Ruoff, “Home Movies of the Avant-Garde: Jonas Mekas and the New York Art World,” Cinema Journal 30.3 (1991): 6-28.

Perhaps the distinction is so blurry now as to be obsolete? Of course it is in many ways remarkable that the Film-Makers' Cooperative is still in operation, much less in such active form as it (like its sibling Anthology Film Archives) is. But perhaps no less remarkable than the huge impact that the late Helen Hill, the quintessential DIY filmmaker, continues to make on the world.