Archive | October, 2012

The Great Depression

26 Oct

The Blackside series, The Great Depression, debuted on PBS on October 25, 1993. After the success of Eyes on the Prize, Henry Hampton set out to tell the history of the turbulent 1930s. As with Eyes on the Prize, Hampton wanted to look beyond the well-worn, familiar stories to find the individuals who were not in history books, but nonetheless could tell the story of that time in a way that had not been heard before.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange – 1936

Two of the people interviewed for the series were Norma Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh, the daughters of Florence Owens Thompson, who was the subject of Dorothea Lange’s iconic image, “Migrant Mother.”  In 1936, Dorothea Lange was working as a photographer for the Farm Securities Administration, documenting the devastating effects of the Great Depression. She photographed Thompson and her children at the end of a month-long trip of photographing migratory farm laborers.

Lange later said,

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. (Popular Photography, Feb. 1960)

The other images she took that day are from a further distance and show the tent and surrounding ground, but it is the medium close-up with Thompson in the center of the frame which became the iconic image.

When Blackside interviewed Norma Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh in 1992, they gave a fuller picture of their mother and their transitory life at that time.

Norma who was the baby shown in her mother’s arms in the photograph, said,

I remember just moving all the time. We moved. Even as a little child I remember we’d load up…the tent or sometimes just a mattress or whatever we had, and we’d load that up and went to the next camp. But I can remember that being really young, and I remember thinking, “We’re not going to be here very long, so we’re going to go on down the road…My mom would talk to the farmers and make the arrangements for us to all go work, and then she’d get us together. We’d get up at like four in the morning. We’d all head out to the field. I always considered my mom very, very strong. Looking at her, in the pictures a lot of times she didn’t look like a beautiful woman, but she really was…We knew that when we got up in the morning that there was going to be work, or there was going to be food, and the reason it was going to be there was because my mom was going to see to it that we were going to be able to survive that day.

Katherine McIntosh, who was four years old at the time of the photograph and is one of the two girls shown leaning against her mother, described their  life and circumstances at that time,

I felt that I had to contribute, all of us did. That was our way of life. If we wanted anything, of course we all hoped out life would get better, which it did when we got older. Anyway we followed the fields…and the story first was told that Mother was selling the tires off our car to buy food, and my mother denied that. My older brother said that the radiator on our car had blew up, and when this picture was made they,him and I guess my two brothers had gone into town to try to get the radiator welded, and that’s what we were doing there. But we were like everyone else. We were looking for work.

In the interview, Norma also revealed that Thompson was an early union organizer,

One thing Mom taught us is that, one of the things that she was involved in is that she was an early union organizer. Katherine remembers that more than I do, but remembers having meetings when we were living even in the fields. Mom was real interested in that because that was our ticket out, to organize the unions.

– All quotes from: Interview with Katherine McIntosh and Norma Rydlewski, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 9, 1992, for The Great Depression. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

The family eventually settled in Modesto, California. At the time, Lange did not record Thompson name and she was only identified as the subject of Lange’s photo in the 1970s by a reporter for the Modesto Bee, Emmett Corrigan. The digitization of Blackside’s transcript is part of a larger project to digitize all the original interviews for The Great Depression series. Digitization of the video interviews is almost complete and the Film & Media Archive is working to have the original transcripts online in the near future, in the model of the Eyes on the Prize: The Complete Series online transcripts.

Episodes in the series covered Henry Ford and political activities by Ford workers, the New Deal, novelist and socialist Upton Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for governor on the “End Poverty in California” platform, union activity, and the build-up to World War II. Other interviewees include Gore Vidal, Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis, Charles Dempsey Floyd (Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s son), Adam Clayton Powell, III, and many others.


Home Movie Day in St. Louis, October 20, 2012

19 Oct

Many filmmakers began making films with a Regular 8mm, Super 8mm or 16mm movie camera. In 1967, a young David Lynch made a 16mm home movie of his friend and mentor, Bushnell Keeler and his brother Dave Keeler. At this time, Lynch was studying to be a painter, but he already showed a flair and talent with film. This early film by Lynch is another example of why home movies are so rare and valuable.

Come join us this Saturday, October 20 from noon to 3 pm as 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. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies.

Washington University Film & Media Archive will be debuting a recently preserved film at Home Movie Day featuring the only known footage of the influential writer, editor, and critic, Ford Madox Ford, the George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford. We are proud to present this unique and never before seen footage of Ford Madox Ford which was preserved with a National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) grant.

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

Home Movie Day in St. Louis, October 20, 2012

12 Oct

Come join us for Home Movie Day in St. Louis!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

West Campus Conference Center

Noon- 3 pm

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. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies.

Home Movie Day in St. Louis is a free event and will be held at the West Campus Conference Center from noon to 3 pm on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

This year we are proud to debut a recently preserved film featuring the only known footage of the influential writer, editor, and critic, Ford Madox Ford. Washington University’s Film & Media Archive was recently awarded a National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) grant to preserve the George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford. This 16mm film consists of images of Mr. Ford enjoying an afternoon with family members and friends on the grounds of Mr. Keating’s home in Plainfield, New Jersey, circa 1929. As the only known footage of Mr. Ford in existence, this rare portrait preserves the legacy of one of the most prolific writers of modernist literature.

George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

In addition to this rare find, and a program of films from the Film & Media Archive’s Collection, we will be screening participants home movies. Home Movie Day is an annual international event that was started ten years ago by a group of film archivists who were concerned about the fate and condition of the home movies of the 20th century. As technology changed people began to get their films transferred to VHS and DVD, and sometimes discarded the original films. Participants of Home Movie Day can watch these unique, irreplaceable films and learn about how to care and preserve their 8mm, Super 8mm, and 16mm films. As the Home Movie Day site states,

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.

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

James Meredith’s Mission

5 Oct

James Meredith by Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi. Meredith was an U.S. Army veteran who became the first African American to be admitted to the University of Mississippi. His enrollment was met with massive resistance from the state and local officials at the University, resulting in a riot and violence where two people were killed and over 300 injured.

One of the people who was instrumental in the successful enrollment of Meredith was Constance Baker Motley. Motley was interviewed for the series, Eyes on the Prize, which devoted a segment to Meredith. In her extensive interview, available online through the Film & Media Archive’s site Eyes on the Prize Interviews – The Complete Series, she talks about many of the legal cases she argued and won, including Meredith’s case. Motley described Meredith’s admission and eventual graduation from the University of Mississippi as the, “last chapter of the Civil War.” Motley gives great insight into Meredith’s background and determination to attend the University of Mississippi.

Constance Baker Motley in “Eyes on the Prize”

I think James Meredith had planned to be the Mississippian who would knock first on the door of the University of Mississippi. He spent nine years in the armed forces in the Air Force particularly before he actually made that application. He knew that he was not qualified initially so that while he was in the armed services he took every course available to servicemen, starting at the high school level because he didn’t qualify for college level courses. And after he convinced himself, that he had the academic ability, he took difficult courses like Chinese history and Russian grammar as I recall when he was stationed in Japan, at the University of Maryland’s Far East extension program. And once he convinced himself, as I’ve said, that he had the academic qualifications then he left the service and moved back to Mississippi from which he had been absent for nine years and made his application, of course with the aid of Medgar Evers who was the NAACP field secretary at that time. A lot of the Mississippians believed that we sought out James Meredith and paid him to do this, but that’s not true at all, it was his idea and his own preparation of himself which gave him the strength, the individual strength and endurance to see the thing through.

She also gives the reader a picture of the great mental and physical strain that Meredith was under at that time,

Yes, when I first met James Meredith, he was carrying a cane and he didn’t seem to me to need it. And so one day I finally said to him, “Why are you carrying that cane?” And he said “Well, I think that if I an attacked, I’ll need it.” He was a slightly built young man and he wasn’t very tall and so he thought that the cane would of course serve as a weapon…and so he walked with this cane because he was honestly fearful that he was going to be killed.

Motley began her legal career as a law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and by 1962 had extensive experience, including writing the original complaint in the Brown v. Board of Education case. She was the first African American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court in Meredith’s case, Meredity v. Fair. In her interview, she describes the political and social climate in Mississippi at that time and the resistance there which she had encountered in previous cases,

You have to understand that everyone expected that Mississippi would resist. Mississippi had long been the state which offered the most resistance since the Civil War to the idea of equality for blacks. You may recall that after the civil war, blacks were in control of the government of the state of Mississippi and the whites of the state resented that very such and when they were finally able to displace the Reconstruction government, which was predominantly black, they vowed that blacks would never again be in control of that government, and since blacks were I think the majority of the state’s population at that time, the whites offered a great deal of resistance to the idea of ending segregation. So it wasn’t a surprise at all that Mississippi would offer resistance. The government knew it, we knew it and so the government was hoping like everybody else, I guess they’d never have to face this. But ultimately they did and ultimately, as you know, President Kennedy had to send in federal troops to secure James Meredith’s admission.

The Film & Media Archive also has other material and interviews relating to James Meredith. For more information on this interview, or any other from Eyes on the Prize, please contact the Film & Media Archive at Washington University.