A Conversation with Simona Monizza, Curator at EYE

The EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam
The EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam

In late February, 2013, I had the pleasure of speaking with Simona Monizza, Curator at the EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, formerly known as the EYE Film Institute. The museum embraces, exhibits and teaches about film on multiple levels. It serves as a space with both permanent and rotating exhibits and there are film screenings daily. EYE is devoted to film archiving, restoration and collecting.

Although she has worked with EYE for over 13 years, Monizza’s role with the institute has changed somewhat over the years. After graduating from the Selznick School in Rochester, NY, she worked for one year with the British Film Institute and then moved to Amsterdam to work for the EYE Institute as a restorer. Working as a film restorer her duties were quite diverse. She was in charge of doing all of the prep work for multiple projects. This involved collecting any materials which might have information about a title, comparing different film elements, writing condition reports, deciding the best path to take for a particular project, working alongside the restorers at Haghefilm and overseeing quality control. As there was a flurry of projects going on at this time, she was often overseeing multiple film projects in various stages simultaneously. At this time, both Haghefilm and EYE were located in the same building. She said it was really great to be working side-by-side individuals in this amazing lab. There was one year in which they restored 400 films. Given the copious amount of time and energy it takes for just one film, this is truly astounding.

Interactive exhibit at the EYE Film Museum
Interactive exhibit at the EYE New Filmmuseum

EYE has a large collection of silent, amateur, experimental, animation and mainstream films including the largest collection of Dutch films in the world. Each genre has its own Collection Specialist who works closely with that particular collection. EYE is continuing to add to their existing collection of 40,000 films, which Monizza is directly involved in. After working as a Collection Specialist, she is now the Curator of the Experimental Film Collection. For film, this involves preserving, collecting and cataloging. If there is a particular filmmaker whose films they want to have in their collection, she will actively go to them and try to get their material. This entails going to their house to check the condition of the film elements, creating an inventory and a contract. There have been many times when filmmakers don’t know where a lot of their elements are or their collections are very disorganized which only adds to the complexity of her role and tracking down crucial bits of information. At times there is a lot of sleuthing involved. Her focus however, is more on film collections not just individual titles. She said this is a very time consuming but exciting process because there are always new and interesting things to be discovered. Other times filmmakers approach her to see if their works can be taken in to EYE’s collection. In addition she develops programs at EYE to showcase these newly acquired films and finds ways to connect people to the exhibits. EYE also has a distribution branch which filmmakers can submit their films to. A jury watches these films once a month and can select titles they would like to integrate into their existing collections.

She discussed the difficulty in deciding what to digitize from their collection. “It’s not easy, some collections are easier to digitize than others” she stated, “and the experimental ones offer many challenges in this regard due to their material characteristics.” In order for films to be digitized, copies must be in good condition.

“The state of the film determines its preservation path. At the moment we still preserve on film but also digitize for access. Under access we understand many things, like making Digital Cinema Packages for distribution of short films, or giving online access to part of our collection through some websites.”

Many reversal prints need to be graded, which is another time consuming step that takes place in their lab. EYE is currently not able to scan nitrate or Super 8 films. As they are in many archives, things in the digital realm are progressing rapidly. Demand for immediate access is on the rise and EYE must try and keep up with people’s needs.

EYE receives roughly 80% of their funds from The Netherlands’ government. This contrasts largely to how archives are operated in the United States, which rely heavily on grant funding and donations for projects. In recent years however, not as much money has been devoted to restoration projects and more weight is being put on EYE to find their own funding sources.

Given that her background is in analog work, Monizza is not as excited about the future of digital worrying that it may replace analog completely.

“Both technologies are used in our restorations and the best results come from the combination of both, but it hurts to see so much knowledge and expertise on film disappear so quickly.”

As many individuals do, she feels that there is often more talk about what should be done about the death of film than there are actions being taken to prevent it. As her role has changed over the years and she has adapted, she is certain that she will continue to do so and carve out her own niche in the film world. Her last words of advice for anyone entering this field were to learn as much about the digital aspects of film preservation as possible, without forgetting what film is.

~Asia Harman

The Accidental Archivist: Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section, Library of Congress

Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress
Mike Mashon, head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress

“I never really intended to be an archivist,” says Mike Mashon, after recounting his diverse educational background.  Mashon, the Head of Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress, received his undergraduate degree in Microbiology from Louisiana State University, going on to pursue a Master’s in the same field at the University of Texas. Working for the Texas Department of Health, he was the first person the organization ever hired to conduct research on AIDS.  Yet the longer he worked with science, the less he wanted to make it a career.

Mashon’s early involvement with what would eventually become the South by Southwest Festival, as well as his presence on the University of Texas Film Committee, rekindled his long-standing love of movies and television.  Earning a Master’s in Radio/TV/Film at Texas, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1996, writing his thesis on the relationship between advertising agencies and television networks in the 1940s and 1950s.  After serving as curator at the Library of American Broadcasting, he became Curator of Moving Images for the Library of Congress in 1998, a position he held until being named the Head of the Moving Image Section in 2005.

The National Audio Visual Conservation Center
The National Audio Visual Conservation Center

At the National Audio Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC), Mashon oversees the cataloging, processing, physical integrity, storage and preservation of film and video, also conducting personnel management and setting goals and budgets for the fiscal year.  Mashon also attends National Film Preservation Board meetings, advising on which films will be added to the National Film Registry every year.  Although administrative work encompasses the majority of his duties (Mashon jokes he is a “mid-level government bureaucrat”), he is especially interested in outreach and access initiatives, particularly when it comes to the NAVCC’s online presence.

Since little moving image content has been added to the Library’s web site in the past decade, Mashon is working to expand the NAVCC’s web presence by creating a blog and making videos about the organization’s workflows operations.  He recently acquired an HD camera to start making informational videos about the preservation process at the NAVCC, following a film or tape through the entirety of the preservation process, with the finished product being the film itself available online.  Mashon notes that one of the goals of the NAVCC is to provide outreach services not only to the local community but to members of the archival field as well – these informational videos would undoubtedly be an excellent resource for fellow archivists.

With the Library of Congress beginning to change its web architecture, it is becoming increasingly efficient to get moving image content on the web.  Mashon spoke at length of the NAVCC’s more than 3,000 paper prints, which he deems “the crown jewel of our collection.”  Paper prints were used to establish copyright in the early days of cinema, between the years 1894-1912, and Mashon notes “[you] can’t really write a meaningful history of American film without referring to the paper prints.”  A number of the films in this collection have been transferred to other formats (16mm, 35mm), but only 500 of them – scans of 35mm reprints from the 1990s – are available online.  Mashon notes that the only way a person would be able to view the remaining 2,500 prints in the collection would be to go to Washington D.C. – his goal is to eventually have the entirety of the collection scanned for access, using technologies such as the MWA Vario to scan 16mm negatives in real-time.  Although the resulting files won’t be subjected to much digital cleanup other than speed correction, Mashon notes that the convenience of researchers not having to travel to D.C. makes this a worthy endeavor.

One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress
One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress

For those interested in film archiving work, Mashon advises that archivists starting out in the field need to be comfortable with digital technologies and metadata, as opportunities to use preservation experience skills will shrink over time. Many of the NAVCC technicians have degrees in library science rather than film preservation, emphasizing the importance of well-rounded skills.  Mashon remarks that while the physical work of film preservation requires no small amount of skill, cataloging conistently proves to be an enormous challenge.  Thus, a library science background will come in handy for the important task of information management.

Regarding the future of film preservation, Mashon remarks that he is slightly optimistic despite the inevitability of film stock production ceasing. He would like to see the creation of digital cinema packages at the NAVCC, noting that, while continuing to make prints would be ideal, only a handful of facilities would be able to screen these prints in the future.  One example is that of significant film-print restorations the NAVCC has undertaken, for films such as Baby Face and All Quiet on the Western Front.  While Mashon would like for audiences to be able to appreciate these films on the medium for which they were intended, he does not want to deny access to those facilities that may only be able to screen digital cinema packages.   “If you’re not going to make it available to people as widely as possible – you’re just going to shut it away in a dark archive – there’s hardly any point in doing it,” he adds.

Mashon finds his work fulfilling, and he is quick to note the hard work undertaken by his employees at the NAVCC:  “There’s nothing quite like being able to share the work of the Library of Congress with others. I’m always very humbled by that because I’m just representing the many wonderful people I work with who do the hands-on work.”

Perhaps most striking about Mashon is his passion about ensuring access for future generations of film lovers.  “Film, television and radio are such powerful communicative media that we feel that is definitely worth our best effort to make sure that it’ll be preserved for those future generations.”

~Kaitlin Conner

Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina

Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina
Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina

Greg Wilsbacher is the curator of the newsfilm collections at the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina. He earned his a PhD in British Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. His major area of focus was late fourteenth century vernacular poetry with a special emphasis on William Langland’s Piers Plowman. Wilsbacher’s dissertation explored the ethical nature of reading medieval poetry within the contemporary setting of the university at the turn of the millennium.  After receiving his PhD, Wilsbacher was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina’s Department of English.  He taught, “the types of English courses that most faculty teach.” He also served as the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies.  Wilsbacher began working at the University of South Carolina’s libraries in 2002. He began at the libraries with the intention of working as a Rare Books Librarian. However, library administrators asked him to take over the Newsfilm Library and begin the task of making the unit into a special collections library.  So, from 2004 to 2009 he served as Director of the Newsfilm Library.  In 2009, Wilsbacher became Curator of Newsfilm Collections at the Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) when the university reorganized the film archives to reflect the growth of collections beyond newsreels and television news.

After becoming a curator and archivist, he earned a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina. Wilsbacher’s duties as curator include, conducting foundational research on the newsreels, representing the collection in a number of external venues, selecting materials from collections for targeted preservation when funds are made available, and conducting “development activities to either assist administration in the raising of monies to support the unit or to acquire new donations for the unit.” He also maintains, MIRC’s “main online reference catalog and conduct[s] original cataloging for new elements,” in his collection area, provides instructional support to classes as needed, and oversees, “the operations of the 2K/4K scanner at MIRC,” trains others in its use, and “(yes) provide maintenance support for the scanner.”  Wilsbacher also has the responsibility to write grants and when those grant applications are successful has the responsibility of bring either the PI or Co-PI. He also oversees the “object collections” (antique cameras, projectors, etc.). Lastly, Wilsbacher stated, “there is a film handling station in my office that I use regularly – in other words, I’m still prepping, splicing, and repairing film.”

An image from the Fox Movietone Newsreel Collection
An image from the Fox Movietone Newsreel Collection

The University of South Carolina’s Newsfilm Library was founded in 1980 with the donation of the Fox Movietone News Collection. USC, “like Indiana University, has a long history as an important regional educational film library,” and in this way, “has been in the film business since the 1940s.” Since 1980, USC’s archival holdings have increased to approximately six-thousand hours of material, including local television news and commercials, home movies, micro-cinematographic nature films, and fiction and documentary films from the People’s Republic of China. MIRC , like most archives relies heavily on federal grants to fund their preservation projects. MIRC also has, “its own foundation account into which monetary donations are channeled.” The annual interest of its foundation account is used for, “active preservation projects (typically nitrate film preservation).” MIRC’s newsreel library holds, “some 11 million feet of 35mm films.”

Wilsbacher stated the principle challenge faced when preserving newsreels to be conveying to funders and others what is being preserved. Only about 10% of the some eleven million feet of the 35mm films is in the edited form once shown to audiences in theaters. “In some sense, preserving ‘the newsreel’ isn’t a very complicated task.”  The university owns nitrate fine grain master positives of two- hundred and six edited newsreels from the World War II era.  In the late-1970s and early-1980s, the nitrate fine grain negatives were used by Twentieth Century Fox to print acetate duplicate negatives, which the university now owns as well.  These negatives are, “to some extent already preserved.  We know that the acetate won’t last forever unless we find colder storage for it, but…you know, that work is essentially done.” In addition, all two- hundred and six newsreels are available online, “so, access, ‘done’.” The other 90% of the some eleven million feet of the 35mm films is, “where the excitement lies but also where others can get confused.”

According to Wilsbacher,

“Raw camera newsfilm isn’t always easy to watch.  It can be disorienting depending on how the cameraman went about filming the shots.  Really good cameramen could edit in camera and produce on the negative a story needing little editing. But they were the exception, not the norm.  Preserving this type of content requires clear communication with the funding source about the nature of the materials being printed.  At USC we preserve outtake and unused films “as is” without attempting to create something new.  If the film shows five different takes of a businessman talking about the stock market, we’ll preserve all five takes.   If, as we did last year, we decided to make projection prints of a films being preserved we will consider editing the content to create a print that would be enjoyable to a film enthusiast audience.  In one case we opted to make a projection print of one take of a story rather than insisting on two.”

Since Wilsbacher has been working in film preservation, the single biggest change has been, “the meaning of the word ‘preservation’.” In 2004, “the unquestioned gold standard for film preservation was traditional photochemical reprinting onto polyester-based stock.” Even though Wilsbacher was given the job of bringing the Newsfilm Library into the “digital age,” he is still

“saddened by the collapse of the photochemical option. Traditional optical printing practices in the hands of a skilled technician could work wonders with 80-year old nitrate negatives.  Those days are over.  Even when you want a photochemical print as the end product, most shops are scanning to DI and then making a final film out.”

Wilsbacher stated a concern regarding the scanning of negatives to DI:

“We’re still trying to figure out how such new processes are impacting the preservation work.  The DI world has brought with it a new wave of patents and proprietary knowledge, so it is not as easy to get labs to describe in detail the process and equipment used to make preservation elements.  I think, however, we have a right to know what we’re paying for.”

Greg Wilsbacher at work.
Greg Wilsbacher at work.

Wilsbacher curates, “over 8 million feet of nitrocellulose films stock and another 8+ million feet of acetate film,” so from his prespective, there is no “end of film”, and film “isn’t going anywhere.” He does have concerns about equipment but also hopes 3-D printers will make repairing some types of film handling equipment easier in the future. Wilsbacher also believes, “as long as someone makes quality film stocks, we will make polyester preservation prints of high priority films.”  When asked how the end of film will affect his work, Wilsbacher replied that his

“biggest concern lies in the loss of an essentially open work environment where patents didn’t lock down the most basic elements of our jobs.  To be sure, the film world fought these patent fights long ago but we’re facing them again. I think that we have to fight for open-source tools so that we can control the work we do.”

~Megan Brant

Katie Trainor of the Museum of Modern Art

Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

Katie Trainor is the Film Collections Manager at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Since the founding of the museum in 1928, MoMA has placed great importance on representing and introducing “the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century.” The first chairman of the Museum’s Film Library, David O. Selznick sent then curator of film, Iris Barry, to Hollywood to try and persuade industry leaders to donate prints. An innovative idea for the time, Hollywood soon responded- studios, actors and producers such as  Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney,  William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks donated prints to the infant archive. Barry would later travel through Europe and the Soviet Union collecting international films and making connections with many European filmmakers. In 1937, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the Museum with an award for “its significant work in collecting films . . . and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts.”

Now, eighty-odd years later, the collection consists of 25,000 titles and “ranks as one of the world’s finest museum archives of international film art.” The archive represents every major artist of the silent era- as well as many of the innovators of sound technology.  Films by artist such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Paul Strand, along with animators and experimental filmmakers, expand the collection past feature films and enhance its already astounding cultural significance  The donation of films continue today with many of the industry’s best directors and producers, such as Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, and many others, donating their films. Due to the size and preservation needs of the Film Collection, the Museum opened The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in 1996. Located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, the center offers a “flexible system or temperature- and humidity- controlled vaults, which can adapt as the collection increases and preservation techniques advance.”

The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, opened in 1996.
The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, PA, opened in 1996.

Katie’s position as Film Collections Manager has her managing “the preservation pipeline, supervising the preservation Center in Hamlin PA, collaborating with other FIAF archives [International Federation of Film Archives, of which MoMA is a founding member] on preservation…” as well as managing non film related materials. After handling film at the Harvard Film Archive where she worked for eight years, Katie attended the Selznick School at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. She has since worked at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a projectionist, at the Harvard Film Archive managing the Cinema and archives, at the Jacob Burns Center as Director of Operations, the IFC Center managing the theater of operations, and, presently, MoMA. Katie made it clear that she “was and still [is] an archival projectionist.” She credits the handling and the projecting of film at the Harvard Film Archive for her love of the artifact that is film and it is where her desire to “take care of it” was formed.

As a member of the museum culture, she is but one person in the Curatorial Department. In a large institution such as MoMA, inter-departmental collaboration is essential. The acquisition process in a museum archive is also different from other archives. Films are often sought out by a curator or member of the curatorial department, researched, and then pitched to the Curatorial Board where they discuss whether or not the film fits in to the current collection and/or the future direction the collection would like to go. If it is, the museum makes plans to acquire it. In an institution like MoMA, there is a mission statement to follow and an image to consistently project and, because of this, they may be more selective about the films they take and also about the films they prioritize for preservation.

When it comes to preservation, MoMA’s Film Archive currently does not digitize widely  They still preserve film to film and this is because of the museums interest in not only preserving the content of the film but also the art form of movie making itself. However this method of preservation can and will eventually need to be addressed by MoMA. As Katie acknowledged the “eminent demise of motion picture stock” is a major problem. MoMA will eventually have to address the idea of digital preservation, but as of right now they are “still very committed to photochemical preservation.”

My interview with Katie was very informative regarding how museums, specifically art museums, view film and the archive/preservation of that film. For them it is not only the content of the film which is significant to cultural artistic heritage and movie history, but also the film itself, as an artistic and creative artifact that belongs to a unique form of artistic expression. Certainly this is the case for other film archives, but perhaps a film archive located in an art museum, especially one with the reputation and legacy of MoMA, has the ability to see beyond the “film” as something that is only important because of the moving image it contains and more as an artistic medium that in itself  is culturally important and worth saving.

~Rebecca Stanwick

References

“Film Preservation Center.” MoMA. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Reflections on AMIA from a First-Time Attendee

A view of Seattle from the conference hotel.
A view of Seattle from the conference hotel.

One month ago, a small gathering of film enthusiasts and archivists came together for a few days in Seattle to partake in the 22nd annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference. On an oddly sunny Tuesday morning in the Pacific Northwest, AMIA kicked off with the ffmpeg4archivists Workshop held by Dave Rice. And so it was, my first AMIA conference had officially begun. After soaking in some ffmpeg knowledge, it was off to The Reel Thing to catch a glimpse of some recent restoration projects along with some groundbreaking and interesting new technologies.

At the Newcomer’s Mixer, Stacy Doyle of the Black Film Center Archive and I had breakfast with an audio engineer from Sony. This was followed by a humbling and inspiring video from AudioVisual Preservation Solutions (AVPS) and New York University Moving Image Archive Program (MIAP) students, showcasing their trials during the aftermath of Sandy at Eyebeam. The next three days were packed with interesting topics including everything from colorspace, ephemeral TV content and Digital Cinema Distribution Masters (DCDM), to working in a digital world, access, and preservation through reuse.  It was very difficult to decide which session to attend or which two the hour and a half period would be divided into. It would be a disservice to attempt to recap the entire conference but this will be a stab at narrowing it down to a few highlights.

Taken during <i> 28mm: A New Look at Old Films</i>.
Taken during 28mm: A New Look at Old Films.

Make It So: Initiating Audiovisual Preservation, was a talk by a group of relatively recent Master’s graduates that gave an inspiring look at startup projects from around the country and the challenges we are all facing with media preservation. They definitely gave a glimpse of hope for soon-to-be-graduates entering the job market.

A Decade of Home Movie Day contained personal stories from around the country and tips for starting one in your own hometown. Ruta Abolins, of the University of Georgia, was asked during one screening while touring the state, “Will you be here again next week?” For an annual event, this was definitely a compliment.

Access and digitization were hot topics in many panels. Members from WGBH and Northeast Historic Film discussed these areas in depth during Collaboration and Participation in Action – New Ways to Create Online Collections.

Skip Elsheimer, of AV Geeks, talked about CatDV, XMedia Recode, and MPEG Streamclip while Dave Rice of AVPS gave us his words of wisdom about preservation: “If you are a tape, and live in a cool, dry place, you will live longer” during their talk, Man vs. Machine, with Jimi Jones, Archivist at Hampshire College.

Walter Forsberg of NYU and Cassie Blake from the Academy Film Archive, presented their project on movie snipes as sociocultural signifiers. A wonderful montage with catchy tunes, animated food, puppies, and more hot dogs with mustard than one could imagine… by the end we were all ready to go the lobby and get ourselves a treat.

Walter Forsberg discusses movie snipes.
Walter Forsberg discusses movie snipes.

So many people I spoke with had incredibly varied backgrounds along with a multitude of life and job experiences that brought them to where they are now.  Some had been in the field for well over 30 years; one woman currently works for an oil company and is considering a career change; others simply have a passion for film.  At one point near the end of the conference I had one of those rare but highly sought-after moments in life — when we get to experience the feeling that says “I have found my people.”

In the end, the true beauty of AMIA was that all of our paths were brought together for a few days by one common interest.  Recent industry developments have led some people say that film is dead.  However, something can’t be dead if there is still so much life left in it.  If even a small number of these people have anything to do with it, this pulse will continue to beat for years to come.

Asia Harman

IULFA and FIAF

On November 20th, 2011, the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) was admitted into the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). To date, only 17 film archives in the United States are FIAF members. This blog post will discuss what FIAF is, a brief history of FIAF, and IULFA’s member status is a big deal.

FIAF was founded in Paris in 1938. Initially there were only 4 members. Though we might think of film preservation and archives as a more recent phenomenon, there was already a concern among cineastes, curators/programmers, filmmakers, and critics over the life of film. These sentiments had already existed in the 1920s. The Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art (NY) took an interest in film, adding them to their collection while

The exterior of the Cinémathèque Française

cinema was still a young medium. The original four members that banded together in 1938 included the Museum of Modern Art, the Cinémathèque Française, the British Film
 Institute, and the Reichsfilmarchiv in Berlin (however, this archive was ransacked by Soviet troops in 1945). Since its conception in 1938, the organization has expanded its membership to archives in over 75 countries.

FIAF stated aims are:

  • to uphold a code of ethics for film preservation and practical standards for all areas of film archive work
  • to promote the creation of moving image archives in countries which lack them
  • to seek the improvement of the legal context within which film archives carry out their work
  • to promote film culture and facilitate historical research on both a national and international level
  • to foster training and expertise in preservation and other archive techniques
  • to ensure the permanent availability of material from the collections for study and research by the wider community
  • to encourage the collection and preservation of documents and materials relating to the cinema
  • to develop cooperation between members and “to ensure the international availability of films and documents”.

Simply having a collection is not enough for inclusion into FIAF. In addition to collections, archives should have some kind of long-term and developed plan for preservation. This would include proper storage facilities. IULFA’s collections reside in the Auxiliary Library Facility. Because we have our collections in an environment that will prolong film’s life for 250 years we have one of the best archival storage facilities among FIAF members.

FIAF also encourages greater interaction and cooperation within the archival world. They are engaged in issues of film preservation and restoration, digitization, and access. Every year FIAF organizes the Annual Congress where members come to formally discuss business and participate in workshops. IULFA archivist Rachael Stoeltje represented IU at the Annual Congress in Beijing this past spring.  FIAF also publishes the Journal of Film Preservation.

IULFA is honored to be part of such an historically important organization. We are excited to be participants in the global conversation on the role  of film archives and preservation. FIAF membership will also lead other archival institutions to our doorstep. Being a member means we can develop relationships with other film archives and expose people to our collections and state-of-the-art facility.

~Sean Smalley

David Bradley’s Dragstrip Riot

One of the prize collections at the IUL Film Archive is David Bradley’s personal collection of 16mm films. Judging from the range and variety of the films it is clear that Bradleywas an eclectic and impassioned cinephile. On the Indiana University campus

David Bradley: Writer, director, actor, and film collector.

Bradley is primarily known for the 16mm collection that bears his name. However, Bradley was also an intriguing filmmaker who navigated through some of the wildest cinematic terrain of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The Bradley Collection runs the whole gamut: Short films, feature-length films, and home movies.

He made films professionally between 1938 and 1968. Almost all of his films were financed and distributed outside of the studio. After a series of experimental screen adaptations of plays (one providing Charlton Heston with his first on screen appearance!), David Bradley carved out a niche in low-budget, sensational genre pictures. Bradley’s genre cycle began with 1958’s Dragstrip Riot and was followed by the 1960 sci-fi movie, 12 to the Moon, and 1963’s infamous late-night cult classic Madmen of Mandoras (it was later re-edited with an extra 27 minutes of material for TV under the title They Saved Hitler’s Brain). This post will take a closer look at the first film in his genre cycle – Dragstrip Riot – and place it into a larger historical context and relate it to Bradley’s tastes and interests as a collector.

Dragstrip Riot fits firmly within two longstanding traditions of exploitation cinema: it handles something contemporary or topical with tabloid sensationalism and it attempts to cash in on successful mainstream films. While there has always been a youth market for studios and independent production companies to tap, it was never more pronounced than the 1950s. Films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One led to an explosion of juvenile delinquent films. However, it would be a mistake to look at Dragstrip Riot and its cinematic siblings as a crude aping of popular studio pictures. A closer inspection shows that independent films and studio films had a mutual influence on one another. Though Hollywood would often try to distance itself from the hucksterism of b-movies and exploitation films, many of the generic innovations from films like Shake, Rattle, & Rock! found their way into more mainstream features. These films also shown a venue often associated with youth: the drive-in.

The popularity of rock n’ roll and the moral panic it caused became an integral element to so many juvenile delinquent films being released by independent companies (juvenile delinquency and rock n roll were often linked in the press). Dragstrip Riot bears some similarities to Rebel Without a Cause. Both protagonists are new arrivals in town, have a troubled past with the law, and come from a “dysfunctional” family by normal 1950s standards. That is where their similarities stop. Whereas Rebel sees itself as a serious character study on a group of alienated teenage misfits in a suffocating suburban milieu, Dragstrip Riot emphasizes drag races, malt-shops, and beach brawls with breaks in the narrative to stage rock n’ roll numbers (sung by a young and feisty Connie Stevens!).

Anyone with an interest in b-films, exploitation, and genre pictures would not be surprised to learn that Dragstrip Riot was distributed by American International Pictures. AIP saw itself as a youth-oriented production and distribution company. Indeed, they were a major force behind many juvenile delinquent and rock n’ roll films of the 1950s. Once a film cycle or sub-genre was exhausted they would latch on to the next big thing in youth culture. By the early 1960s they had created and perfected the beach party film, which proved to be their biggest success as a production company. By 1966 AIP began making films with counter-cultural themes and characters. It would be three years before a major studio had success with such themes and characters (the film is, of course, Easy Rider). AIP co-founder Sam Arkoff was known to use the ARKOFF formula to determine what kinds of projects to produce. It consisted of action, revolution (timely and sensational subject matter), killing (staged scenes of violence), oratory (at least one memorable speech), fantasy, and fornication. Dragstrip Riot fits this formula fairly well. The only thing it seems to lack is a notable oratory moment, though we as viewers are privy to a slew of 1950s teenage slang. Bradley’s film, like many AIP pictures, attempts to resolve the potential conflict between the timeliness of the subject matter and playing out youth fantasies.

Compared to glossy studio pictures which tend to dilute shocking subject matter, Dragstrip Riot feels like it achieves a greater verisimilitude because it does not hold back in the way studio pictures would (though it is still a long way from the wilder AIP juvenile delinquent films like Reform School Girl). James Dean‘s moody, existential tough guy persona in Rebel may have served as a model for young men to emulate and young women to swoon over, the iconic quality of Dean’s performance and the self-reflexivity of the characterization imbues Dean’s Jim Stark as a kind of mythical figure. Gary Clarke‘s Rick Martin is more of a banal everyman reflecting the world many teens may have felt they were growing up in. Like most teen pictures it also tries to fulfill teenage desire to see identifiable characters engaging in activities that disrupted the humdrum of daily life: car races, motorcycle chases, gang fights, or rock n roll performances in their favorite diner. And Dragstrip Riot gives us these in spades.

How are we to understand Bradley’s collecting habits in light of his film-making career? Are the two necessarily related?  A look through the Bradley collection would suggest that they are related. There is a strong representation of the established canon of American and European cinema – works that a student in film history would expect to see on their syllabus. Yet the Bradley collection also exhibits some idiosyncratic takes on film history. Brian De Palma has also occupied a marginal space in the histories of New Hollywood (when he is mentioned at all). If we were to read Bradley’s collection as his personalized take on American film history, then Brian De Palma would be the most important figure to emerge during New Hollywood. In fact, there are more De Palma films in Bradley’s collection than the number of films by Martin ScorseseFrancis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and Steven Spielberg combined. Whether Bradley’s collecting habits are calculated measures of his own reading of film history or iterations of a quirky taste (possibly both), it is undeniable that his eccentric taste had an impact on the kind of films he would make throughout his 30 year directing career. Bradley’s ability to move effortlessly through various cinematic registers (the avantgarde, Hollywood, exploitation films) as a director is reflected in his unique collection.

The films in the David Bradley collection can be searched by going to IUCAT, clicking “Advanced Keyword Search” and pasting Bradley, David, 1920-1997, former owner into the “keywords anywhere” box. Additional information such as film titles or directors can be searched to narrow results. The Lilly Library also holds the collected papers of David Bradley.

~ Sean Smalley