Archive | August, 2012

Home Movie Day – October 20, 2012

31 Aug

Washington University Film & Media Archive hosts the annual Home Movie Day, an international event that invites the public to share their Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, 16mm, VHS, and DVD home movies, on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

Home Movie Day is an international event now in its tenth year. The event was created by a group of film archivists who were concerned about the fate of filmed home movies created during the 2oth century. As people were transferring their films to VHS and DVD, they sometimes mistakenly assumed the digital or tape copies were more secure and discarded the film. To quote from the Home Movie Day site,

Original films (and the equipment required to view them) can long outlast any version on VHS tape, DVDs, or other digital media. Not only that, but contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie image, the original films are often carefully shot in beautiful, vibrant color—which may not be captured in a lower-resolution video transfer.

Participants of Home Movie Day can watch these unique, irreplaceable films and learn about how to care and preserve their 8mm, Super 8mm, and and 16mm films. In anticipation of the event, here is a home movie from Charlie Chaplin. Slightly more structured than most home movies, the film was shot by the young Alistair Cooke and shows Chaplin and his wife at the time, Paulette Goddard, clowning around on a yacht trip. The film has the same casual, spontaneous quality that many home movies have, even if the subject is one of cinema’s greatest comedians.

Home Movie Day will be held at the West Campus Conference Center from noon to 3 p.m. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies. We also encourage people to bring home movies on video or DVD, in addition to film.

Contact the Film & Media Archive at or 314-935-8679, for information about including your home movies in the program.

Student Assistants in the Film & Media Archive

24 Aug
Small film reels in the Film & Media Archive

Film reels in the Film & Media Archive

Original film boxes in the Film & Media Archive

Original film boxes in the Film & Media Archive

Elliot Wilson has been a student assistant in the Film & Media Archive for the past two summers. We have been very lucky to have him and other dedicated and knowledgeable students working in the Archive this summer. In a guest blog post, Elliot shares his experiences working on projects in the Film Archive including transcribing interviews from the Blackside series, The Great Depression. Thanks to Elliot and all our student workers for their valuable  contributions!

Elliot Wilson:

The end of my second summer at the Film & Media Archive snuck up on me. Yesterday, I suddenly realized that only a few days remained before I went back to school. I won’t have finished everything that I started – never the plan, luckily – but I can look back in amazement at the exciting projects that have progressed during my time here.

I’ve never felt like a student worker at the Archive. Sure, there have been days when I’ve considered changing my permanent address to the copy machine in the Cataloging Department, and I am certainly no stranger to the (squeaky) Archive shelving carts, but I have been lucky enough to spend most of my hours in the extremely engaging work of transcribing video interviews. As I tell my friends, I get paid to listen to old people talk. I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. For two summers, I’ve listened carefully to stories collected by Blackside Inc. for their 1993 documentary The Great Depression. The people interviewed include luminaries Gore Vidal (profiled here) and Maya Angelou; politicians and activists, like Congressman Hamilton Fish and United Auto Workers’ Victor Reuther; and countless others who survived hunger, unemployment, political unrest, and drought, and whose stories and names would have disappeared without Blackside. It’s both frightening and inspiring that almost all of these interviews were filmed before I was born – and that nearly everyone featured in The Great Depression has since died. A summer job in a library transformed into something much greater for me, an electrifying opportunity to immortalize the lives of those who enabled our own.

Indeed, so many of the men and women whose interviews I’ve transcribed feel alive to me: Ruth Ring Morgan’s loving memories of her uncle Pretty Boy Floyd paying for a poor family’s shoes jarringly contrast with John Lee Kelley’s, whose father, Erv Kelley, Floyd shot and killed. Joe Robinson, nephew of the Arkansas Senator by the same name, chuckles when he thinks about being a drunk passenger in a drunk airplane (“‘Lawrence, that’s the last time I’ll ever take a ride with you, old boy!’”). Dave Moore hauntingly remembers the Hunger March at the Ford River Rouge Plant in Detroit, where four marchers were fatally shot by local police and the plant’s private security.

Together, the other student workers and I have transcribed over 140 interviews, and are close to finishing the remainders. I can’t wait until they are all available online.

We’ve also made great strides cataloging the Dana Brown Collection, an assortment of film from a local legend who died when I was far too young to drink his Safari Coffee. We’ve also published the complete transcript, which I finished last July, of an interview with poet, journalist, and activist Frank Marshall Davis, whose friendship with a young Barack Obama has ignited light controversy.

I’ve been tremendously lucky to spend my summers here. I’ve learned so much about the civil rights movement and Great Depression, while contributing, at least in some small way, to work that will preserve some of the most important moments, big and small, in American history. That, and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a great team of staff, whose dedication, knowledge, humor, and baking skills have each contributed to this incredible Archive. I know that the work the Film & Media Archive does will last much, much longer than my wonderful memories of this place.

Film & Media Archive Vault

17 Aug
Film & Media Archive vault

Film & Media Archive Stacks

The vault in the Film & Media Archive at Washington University is a climate controlled environment specifically designed for film, audio, and video material. When Washington University acquired the Henry Hampton Collection in 2001, a climate controlled vault was designed and built to properly house and preserve this material. The Archive employs two Image Permanence Institute Preservation Environment Monitors and the Climate Notebook Software to ensure that vault temperatures remain within the ISO “cool” standards and that relative humidity remains between 30% and 50%. Temperature and relative humidity is monitored twenty-four hours a days, seven days a week. In addition to temperature and humidity controls, the vault has security and fire alarms.

Film & Media Archive Stacks

Film & Media Archive Stacks

One of the Film Archive’s projects this summer has been to reorganize and shift items to create a more efficient shelving system, and allow room to grow for future collections. This involved detailed planning to maximize the space in the vault as well as the physical work of cleaning and reconfiguring the shelves, and shifting the items. The Archive currently holds 6,500,000 feet of film, 1,300 linear feet of manuscripts, approximately 20,000 videotapes, over 10,000 audiotapes and reels, and a significant library of books, CDs and DVDs. At the end of this project approximately 25,000 items will have been shifted and reorganized. This includes the majority of the video tapes, cassettes, DATs, 1/4″ audio reels, and all the books housed in the vault.

Film & Media Archive Stacks

Film & Media Archive Stacks

For more information on film preservation and proper storage and care of media materials the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) has numerous publications available as pdf downloads, including the guide, Film Preservation Manual for Home and Independent Filmmakers.

Photo Restoration and Disaster Response

8 Aug

Becci Manson: (Re)touching lives through photos

Becci Manson is a photographer and artist who used photographic restoration practices during the cleanup of the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan. Although trained as a photographer rather than an archivist, Manson saw an opportunity during the cleanup combine her knowledge of digital photographic retouching with disaster response to restore survivors’ photos. Disaster preparation and response are an integral part of an archivist’s training and Manson found a way to combine her knowledge of digital photographic retouching with disaster response to salvage family photos and memories.

In this TED Talk, Manson describes how the idea came to her while she was helping with the cleanup as a volunteer with in Tōhoku, Japan,

“During those 3 weeks of digging ditches and gutting homes I discovered vast amounts of photos that had been found and handed into evacuation centers. The photos were dirty, wet and homeless. As I spent my first day hand-cleaning them, I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be for me, my colleagues and my friends to fix some of them. So we did.”

After this, Manson began the Photo Rescue Project  while working with All Hands Volunteers. She enlisted a group of volunteers with similar skills to her own and began working to scan, retouch, and digitally restore the photos. Since that time, Manson has gone on to work on other disaster relief programs in Prattsville, NY after Hurricane Irene, and in Binghamton, NY after Tropical Storm Lee.

Disaster preparation and response are an integral part of an archivist’s training, and the Library of Congress has many useful online guides with information on how to care for your photographs. They also have advice and information on what to do if your family photos are damaged during a disaster, and a page on digital preservation.

Gore Vidal and “The Great Depression”

3 Aug

Photo of Gore Vidal by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Gore Vidal, celebrated writer and political critic, died on July 31, 2012. Vidal was an essayist, novelist, and screenwriter. In addition to his 26 novels and short story collections, Vidal frequently wrote for major publications such as Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Esquire.

Gore Vidal appeared in the Blackside series The Great Depression. The series first aired on PBS in 1993 and was a comprehensive history of that turbulent economic and political time. Vidal was interviewed in 1992 and the topics of the discussion included his memories of living in Washington, D.C. during that time, and the impressions he had as a child of his grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, and his father, Eugene Gore’s role in the Roosevelt administration as director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce. Excerpts from the interview are quoted below. The Film & Media Archive is currently in the process of digitizing the interviews from The Great Depression series, and will make these available to the public in the model of the Eyes on the Prize transcript project.

From Interview with Gore Vidal conducted by Blackside for the series, The Great Depression on April 21, 1992:

And my first memory was in the summer of ’32. I went with my grandfather from his house in Rock Creek Park—he had a big, long, black Packard car and a driver called Davis—and I sat in the back of the car. As we drove down Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides were the Bonus Army. Now I thought at six or seven that they were skeletons, like those skeletons you see at Halloween. And I realized that they were not from charnel houses, but they were from poor houses. As we approached the Senate side of the Capitol they recognized Senator Gore, a highly recognizable man as the stock footage will presently show you, and they began to stone the car. And from that moment on, I knew that it could happen here and that one day we might indeed have a revolution, and it would be rich against poor.

Then people like Harry Hopkins, who was a charming man—I remember my father became forty years old as Director of Air Commerce, and they gave a little party for him. It had cabinet rank at that time. It didn’t exist when my father left in ’36. But I remember Harry Hopkins’ gift for my father’s fortieth birthday was a box of dirt, which rather summed their view of politics, since neither one was really a very serious politician…I used to, my role in all of this, I would not say that I made any great contribution to the New Deal. I did fly an airplane at the age of ten for the Pathe Newsreels, and my father as Director of Air Commerce was promoting a flivver plane for every American citizen. We had the cheap automobile that Henry Ford had given us, so my father was working out prototypes of very cheap planes that anybody could afford. So he found one called the Hannon Flivver Plane that any child could fly. So I took it off, flew it around, landed it. Hit all the newsreels. My mother nearly moved out of the family when she found out I’d been flying this. My father was in great trouble over that. That was, my role was in mostly aviation.