Archive | May, 2013

Inside the Film & Media Archive – Film Inspection

24 May

Film inspection is an integral step in the workflow of a film archive. Inspection must be done before a film is projected, sent out for preservation, or any other treatment. Other aspects of film inspection can involve cleaning the film, repairing splices or tears, and the completion of a Film Inspection Report.

Here, Irene Taylor, Film and Media Cataloging and Preservation Archivist, inspects the film, A Regular Bouquet, a documentary by actor and filmmaker Richard Beymer made during Freedom Summer in Mississippi (1964). Portions of this film appeared in episode five of Eyes on the PrizeMississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964). 

The National Film Preservation Foundation has an online guide that talks about the special handling, care, and equipment that is needed to safely inspect a film. Filling out the Film Inspection Report is a vital step in this process where the archivist can record specific data about the film. Is it a positive or negative, how many feet is the film, what is the gauge (16mm, 35mm, etc.), is it silent or sound? The archivist can also note if the film needs major repairs, has many scratches or perforation tears, if the film has shrunk, or has vinegar syndrome, a process where the film degrades and gives off a strong smell of vinegar. With this knowledge the film archivist can make decisions on future care or treatment of the film.

Irene Taylor, Film and Media Cataloging and Preservation Archivist, inspects a reel of film.

Irene Taylor, Film and Media Cataloging and Preservation Archivist, inspects a reel of film. Photos by Alison Carrick.

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Filmmaker William Miles, 1931-2013

17 May
Filmmaker William Miles at the Film & Media Archive - Washington University

Filmmaker William Miles at the Washington University Film & Media Archive

Filmmaker William Miles has died at the age of  eighty-two in New York.

William Miles was born in Harlem, New York in 1931 and became a documentary filmmaker whose work focused on the cultural experience and achievements of African-Americans. The subjects of his films ranged from the unique history of Harlem, to the under-reported contributions of African-Americans in the military, the space program, sports, and their role in migration out to the West of the United States.

As a young boy, Miles lived across the street from the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, and was aware of the vibrant African-American culture and equally aware of how the media of the dominant culture ignored contributions by African-Americans.

During a visit to the filmmaker archive shortly after the Film & Media Archive at  Washington University acquired his collection in 2005, he talked of going to the movies as a young boy and asking, “Where are our stories?” This question led him on a life-long pursuit to bring the stories of African-Americans to the screen. Materials from the collection include interviews, stock footage, manuscripts, correspondence and a large collection of photographs.

In honor of Mr. Miles the Film & Media Archive created an essay contest and prize. The William Miles Prize is awarded to the best undergraduate or graduate research paper that utilizes primary source material from the Archive.

William Miles worked for 25 years restoring archival films and early feature classics for Killiam Shows, Inc. and the Walter Reade Organization in New York City, and this experience led to his work as an independent directory and producer of documentary films. Based at Thirteen/WNET in New York City, he wanted to document the rich history of Harlem, and to highlight little-known stories of African American achievements in the military, the arts, sports, and in aerospace and exploration.

His first major production was Men of Bronze (1977), the little-know story of the African American soldiers of the 369th combat regiment, from Harlem, who fought with the French army in World War I. Denied the right to fight in the American forces, the regiment chose to fight with the French, and at the end of the war were awarded high military honors from the French government.

I Remember Harlem (1981), was a four-part series on the history of Harlem, from its beginnings in the 17th century to the early 1980s. With segments on the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression in Harlem, the civil rights movement including Malcolm X’s time in Harlem, and the challenges and problems of the 1970s, I Remember Harlem, is a comprehensive look at the rich and unique history of this borough.

Mr. and Mrs. Miles view newly arrived manuscript boxes from the William Miles Collection at the Film & Media Archive - Washington University.

Mr. and Mrs. Miles view newly arrived manuscript boxes from the William Miles Collection at the Film & Media Archive – Washington University.

Other major films by Miles are The Different Drummer: Blacks in the Military ( 1983), Black Champions (1986), Black Stars in Orbit (1990) Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II (1992),  and The Black West (date).  Miles also co-produced James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989) an episode of PBS’s American Masters series about the American writer.

Miles won an Emmy Award, was nominated for an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) for his outstanding contributions to the history of African Americans in the medium of film.

Inside the Film & Media Archive

10 May
Equipment and film reels from the Film & Media Archive - Washington University

Equipment and film reels from the Film & Media Archive – Washington University. Photos by Alison Carrick.

We are introducing a new feature to the Out of the Archive Blog where we open up our vault and stacks to give you a glimpse of the equipment, materials, and items we work with in the Film & Media Archive.

Pictured here is a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite. Eyes on the Prize I, shot on 16mm film, was edited on this system. Now housed at the Film & Media Archive, the editing suite is in working order and can handle two optical tracks and three magnetic sound tracks.

When Henry Hampton began filming Eyes on the Prize I, film was still the dominant medium for documentary productions. Technology changed rapidly and between Eyes on the Prize I, completed in 1987, and Eyes on the Prize II which aired in 1989 Hampton changed his editing technique. Eyes II was shot on film, as were the other series Blackside produced, but when it came time to edit the Steenbeck was not used. The film was transferred to 1″ video, edited, and then transferred back to film for the theatrical release.

Even though the majority of editing is now done on non-linear digital editing systems, the Steenbeck is still extremely useful when a film print needs to be inspected or viewed as it is much more gentle than projection.

 

The Harry Wald Collection

3 May
Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection

Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection. Photo by Alison Carrick.

In Fall 2012, the Film & Media Archive acquired The Harry Wald Collection, an assemblage of burlesque films largely from the 1930s to the 1960s. The collection consists of 250 reels of 35 mm film, including the original negative of Tijuana After Midnite (1954).

Harry Wald owned and operated theaters in the St. Louis area for many years, including the Grand Theater, formerly located downtown on Market Street near Broadway. The Grand Theater produced burlesque and comedy shows from the 1940s until 1963 when it was demolished.

The World Theater, formerly located on St. Charles Street and now demolished as well, went through many changes over the years. Under Wald’s ownership, the theater showed risqué movies and also produced stage shows. The collection includes the original negative of Tijuana After Midnite (1954), a film produced by Wald, and  Dance Hall Racket (1953) written by and starring the comedian, Lenny Bruce.

This collection will provide not only a cultural history of mid-twentieth century America but is also part of St. Louis history, and documents the burlesque and variety shows which were produced at that time.

Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection

Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection. Photo by Alison Carrick.

Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection

Film cans from the Harry Wald Collection. Photo by Alison Carrick.