Profile of a Film Archivist: David Francis

I recently had the pleasure of conducting an email interview with British film archivist, David Francis. Over the course of his prolific career, Mr. Francis has served as the Curator of the UK’s National Television and Film Archive (a division of the British Film Institute) as well as the Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress, in addition to other positions. I asked David to comment on his background and these experiences in order to paint a picture of the field over time.

Background

Francis was introduced to the world of film early in life. As his parents were members of a 35mm Film Society, the family attended film viewings regularly. This interest was later renewed through programming work for the Film Society at the London School of Economics, where he eventually received a BSc in Economics with a specialization in International Relations. In 1959, he began working as the Television Acquisitions Officer at the National Television and Film Archive, where he developed a television collection; a type of collection that had not existed in film archives until that point. He eventually worked his way up to the Curator position in 1974 where he remained until 1989, working on projects such as the J. Paul Getty, Jnr. Conservation Centre and the Museum of the Moving Image in London. In 1990, he left the UK to accept a contract at the Library of Congress. This turned into a more permanent position as became Chief not long after this contract ended. Francis stayed with the LoC until 2001.

Shot of the (former) Museum of the Moving Image in London.
Shot of the (former) Museum of the Moving Image in London.

Advocating for Moving Image Preservation

I asked David to comment on some his experiences advocating for moving image preservation. While at the British National Film Archive, he established the 24 Year Nitrate Preservation Scheme which allowed the Archive to duplicate approximately five million feet of nitrate film every year through government funding. He also organized a FIAF Symposium entitled “Cinema 1900-1906.”

“Up till that time (1978), film archives had been mainly interested in collecting the classic European silent and sound films. They were not interested in their national cinema…or in cinema before the coming of the first feature films. I had, however, always been interested in the relationship between the screen experience before 1895 and its influence on the first 20 years of the cinema’s creative development. We had acquired many titles from the first decade of cinema but could not make many of them available because we did not have the resources. I asked my archival colleagues around the world to send me all the films they had from the period at the Archive’s expense. I would then make two duplicate negative and two positive copies in our laboratory and send the original, one safety negative and a positive back to the archives and keep the others in our collection. In the end we assembled over 600 titles and screened them to a small group of international scholars. They then chose the titles they thought most interesting and these were screened at the Symposium. I think it would not be unreasonable to say that this Symposium paved the way for the study of early cinema.”

At the Library of Congress, Francis successfully implemented new legislation for the National Film Registry, which required the Librarian of Congress to conduct a “Study on the Current State of Film Preservation.” However, his attempts to do the same for television did not come to fruition.

“Congress indicated very clearly that as far as they were concerned film and television were not separate entities and they would not be prepared to fund a National Television Registry. Actually the film and television industries, although intertwined, are jealous of each other and would never have agreed to collaborate on a joint film and television programme.”

Comparing and Contrasting the BFI and MBRS

Having worked in both British and U.S. archives, Francis holds a unique perspective in the field. When I asked him to compare and contrast these experiences, he explained that while the two archives were similar in size, they remained different in other ways, particularly regarding funding.

“The British Film Institute was a QUANGO—a quasi autonomous non-governmental organization. It received funds from the government through the Ministry of the Arts but was not directly accountable for the way in which the funds were used. The Library of Congress is funded directly by Congress and considered by Congress as its library. However unlike most other archives in the United States the Library received some governmental funding although it had to also raise private funds if it was to meet its responsibilities. The National Film Archive section of the British Film Institute relied on private donations to build its film collections. The National Film Archive section of the BFI relied on private donations to build its film collections. There is no Statutory deposit for films in the UK. The Library builds its current collections through copyright deposits but relies on donations to fill gaps. The National Film Archive was a relatively un-bureaucratic organization and as Curator I was given a lot of freedom to achieve the Archive’s goals. I appointed all my own staff and managed all our budgets. The Library of Congress was very bureaucratic with checks and balances at every level. One had to compete for funding and staff with other Divisions.”

Changes Over Time

Beginning his career in 1959, Francis has experienced many of the great changes in the field. One he notes specifically is the improving relationship with film producers and distributors.

“In the 1960s one had to bribe producers and distributors to donate films. We organized a slap up party at Christmas and only invited staff from companies that participated. We invited the vault managers as well as the managing director because sometimes although we were refused donations officially, we received material unofficially from the vault manager. Another more dubious method of acquiring film was to bribe the driver of the Celluloid Products van who came to collect junk nitrate film for its silver value, to let us go through the films he already had on his van and substitute films of an equal or greater silver value. Even today, producers and distributors are still wary of film archives because they are concerned that they might screen copyrighted films without written permission. However they see the advantage of helping an organization that will store little used materials in ideal conditions free of charge.”

He also mentions the changing role and intentions of the film archive itself.

“When I started at the National Film Archive, the role of an archive was to collect films made by the classic European directors not to concentrate, as today, on the films made in one’s own country. Also scant attention was given to the films made in the first two decades of cinema history, short films, documentary subjects, newsreels or amateur film. These categories are now recognized as just as important as the feature film and, in fact, more important because they will not survive without the help of archives.”

Future Implications for Moving Image Archives

To overcome the challenges of digitization,

“Archives must be more like museums. Archives still control important information although even this position is threatened as more and more 20th century productions are digitized. The screening of a unique restored print in the archive cinema must be an experience to treasure and look forward to. I personally still feel that archives should use digital media to make films available widely, as long as it is still possible to see celluloid copies of the same titles projected in archive cinemas or other approved venues. The digital experience often appears to be technically superior but it is a different experience from watching a film in a darkened auditorium together.”

Furthermore, he voices his concern about the future of celluloid.

“Archives don’t have access to changing technology. When they preserve a film on celluloid they know they can store it in a controlled environment and it will retain its quality and accessibility. It will always be possible to build film projectors because they are mechanical not electronic. A digital master might need to be refreshed every five or so years and archives may not have access to the funds or equipment to do this on a regular basis. If they miss one refreshment stage, the digital master may become inaccessible. A lot of people will argue against this view and we will not know who was correct until we reach the 100 year mark but I believe archives must be conservative and never put the future of the moving image heritage at risk.”

My final question to David asked his opinion of the skills today’s archivists should possess.

“Archivists today have to be politicians, fund raisers and film historians who have the stage presence to make their knowledge exciting to the general public. Even although they must ensure that an archive is supported financially, policy must be based on what they believe should be done not on what others want them to do. Archives should only be big enough to achieve what can reasonably be done. An Archive can be too large as well as too small. If it is too large the head of the archive may not be able to devote enough time to determining policy, explaining it to staff and encouraging them to be part of the archive team.”

francis

 ~Susan Bogner

Newsfilm, Tenite, Home Movies, and More: An Interview with Margie Compton

Margie Compton
Margie Compton, Media Archives Archivist, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection

Margie Compton is the Media Archives Archivist at the University of Georgia’s Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.  The archive holds a wealth of important material including several newsfilm and home movie collections and the Peabody Awards Collection, which includes the majority of entries from the beginning of the awards program to the present.  I spoke with her about film preservation problems and the challenges facing the field of moving image preservation in the 21st century.

According to Compton, newsfilm is important both because it serves as a historical record and because it is fairly rare, as many television networks destroyed newsfilm with the advent of videotape in the 1970s and 1980s.  The Walter J. Brown Media Archives is in the process of making its newsfilm collections accessible by digitizing them, breaking digital files down into clips and assigning each clip its own database record, she says.  This digitization project is also necessary due to the plethora of preservation problems facing newsfilm collections.  Compton describes a few of these: minimal information about content on a film’s container, damaging residue from masking tape, and curling of the film and loss of magnetic soundtrack due to storage on tight “pencil wind” spools.

Tenite reels
Reels exhibiting the deterioration of Tenite

Another preservation problem she mentions, and one that she believes is not often discussed, is the deterioration of “Tenite” film reels.  These reels, Compton says, are most often made of grey plastic, are found primarily in home movie collections, and usually hold 8mm, Super8, or 16mm film.  As this type of plastic ages, it exudes a white substance that can discolor or otherwise damage film.  While some people can handle it without issue, Compton explains that others (herself included) experience problems with their eyes, nose, throat, and lungs despite taking appropriate handling precautions.  This type of material also causes financial problems.  Compton cites a dilemma: should the archivist risk a physical reaction in order to determine the film’s content, or should s/he make the film a transfer priority and spend money to preserve it without knowing what it contains?

Moving image archivists face many challenges in the 21st century, and the majority of these issues revolve around digital technology and preservation.  For example, increased use of digital recording devices impacts not only the way in which moving images are captured, but also how they are archived.  Compton emphasizes the importance of a “planned digital infrastructure” to ensure that an archive will have the necessary funding and resources to preserve digital materials and to make them available for use.  She also believes that in addition to trained staff members, a modern archive needs “proper equipment, a budget to do preservation work, IT support to manage the terabytes of digital files created, and to tie that all in to institutional priorities.”

Digital technology has also contributed to the decision of many filmmakers to end their production of film stock.  Since archives transfer content to new film stock as a form of preservation, this decision has broad implications for moving image archivists.  Compton explains this situation with a practical example.  If, she says, an archivist needs to preserve an 8mm film, but 16mm film stock is no longer produced as preservation stock, should the archivist blow the film up to 35mm?  While it is an excellent long-term preservation and access format, the difference between the 8mm and 35mm gauges means the film is no longer being preserved in the way it was originally shot and viewed.  So, she adds, the alternative is to preserve the film digitally, which comes with a new set of challenges.

According to Compton, another change awaiting moving image archivists is an increase in home movie research, an area she believes has only recently been recognized as important in film scholarship.  She says that, “I don’t believe we have yet seen anywhere near the amount of research home movies will eventually engender.  Scholars are looking at large collections of home movies to tease out truths about our modern lives and the fact that so many people captured the same tropes says something about how alike we are, crossing supposed borders of place, space, and time.  The ordinary can become extraordinary when examined, and that examination is being done now.”  In fact, an article in the Athens Banner-Herald (July 13, 2012) describes a home movie from 1917 in the Walter J. Brown Media Archives collection believed to be the oldest surviving footage of Georgia.

Film archivists like Margie Compton are at the forefront of moving image preservation and have the knowledge and skills to preserve history.  While digital technology has caused substantial change in the field, the 1917 home movie clip provides a perfect example of how that change can be for the better.

~Cathy Cooney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Access is the First Step to Preservation: An Interview with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks

banner2Skip Elsheimer’s interest in film and video dates back to his childhood. As a young man he owned a 16mm projector but could never get it to work. He shot film for school projects but was dissatisfied with the time it took to view his results. “No immediate gratification squashed my motivation” he said in a  February 19, 2013 interview. He had always been a collector of such ubiquitous materials as comic books, coins, stamps, and records. However, in college at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC in the 1990s, his interest in collecting reached a more massive scale, both space- and numbers-wise. It happened when he bought six palettes of audio and video equipment at a University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) auction that included U-Matic video decks, an open-reel tape machine, and a working 16mm projector. He was not a stranger to oversized collections at this stage in his life as he had already gotten into collecting large office machinery (copy machines and other discarded tools), but prior to this purchase, film had not been a huge part of his life.

One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder's rose mural.
One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder’s rose mural.

A trip to a flea market netted him a couple of 16mm educational film prints but also, and more importantly, a tip from the seller about an auction that featured quite a few more films. Despite not being able to attend the auction — he had to go to work —  he asked his roommates to go in his place. “I’ll pay you back” he said, and, upon returning home, was greeted by a pile of 500 educational films with subjects ranging from drinking and drugs to driver’s ed and Duck and Cover from the UNCG  Department of Human Resources. It cost him $50.

“Something clicked that these were awesome,” says Elsheimer, and his quest to build the massive 24,000+ educational film collection of A/V Geeks began. “Schools were beginning to make room for the computer lab and dumping films for space” he said, and recounts buying up huge lots of film from educational and other institutional entities all over North Carolina. Soon enough he had acquired most of North Carolina’s otherwise-potentially-doomed-for-the-dumpster collections. As college roommates started getting married, going to grad school, and otherwise moving out of their shared house, Elsheimer realized that if he was going to keep the thousands of films he had amassed, it was time to find them a home. He did, in a former boarding house in Raleigh, NC, where the archive lives to this day.

IMG_2991“I got [the films] for performance in the first place, to show behind bands,” says Elsheimer, noting that his collection was born with the idea that these films – however dated, faded, or forgotten – were still of interest, despite being orphaned by their previous owners. But their interest, he noted, extended beyond a moving psychedelic backdrop for music. Elsheimer started inviting friends over on Sundays for beer and film viewing, a tradition that remains to this day. “I enjoy [watching] them and see enjoyment in others when the watch them,” he said. Prior to his quest to collect and rescue film he had created zines and worked with a record label, two enterprises whose reason for being are to get content to the widest variety of people. Thus, A/V Geeks was born, a film archive based on the idea that, as Elsheimer says, “access is the first step to preservation.”

A view of the A/V Geeks' Flashscan film scanner at work.
A view of the A/V Geeks’ Flashscan film scanner at work.

In order to fulfill the goal of making his 24,000 educational films as accessible as possible, Elsheimer has spent almost two decades becoming a recognized force for reformatting in the world of media preservation. Much of the reason these films are not accessible is because many never made it to consumer friendly formats like VHS, and even if they did, their material may be considered too irrelevant for modern formats. Reformatting equipment is expensive and experience is, too. “I learned the hard way,” said Elsheimer, referring to the fact that his knowledge of the field has put him in demand as a consultant for other archives who are seeking help with their digitization projects. But one of the goals of the work of A/V Geeks is to get as much public domain material as possible on popular media delivery websites like YouTube, The Internet Archive, and Vimeo, to ensure the most amount of views by the widest audience. In 2012 Elsheimer initiated an IndieGoGo campaign to digitize 100 miles of public domain film. He enticed donators with a list of films that he not only thought they would be interested in, but that he was also interested in. “Instead of me raising money to pay the bills I can raise money to digitize what I want to digitize,” he said. As of February 24, 2013, the campaign has raised over $20,000.

IMG_2998A/V Geeks is not only a giant, privately owned educational film archive but also a vendor of digitization services. They offer 8mm, Super8, 16mm, and 35mm reformatting services, as well as a variety of professional and consumer level video formats, including VHS, SVHS, Betamax, Umatic, and 1″ open reel. A/V Geeks also offers digital file reformatting, DVD duplication, and video transcoding to digital media. Elsheimer’s biggest client is the Internet Archive, particularly Geoff Alexander of the Academic Film Archive of North America and Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives. Universities  – his alma matter North Carolina State University and neighboring Durham’s Duke University, among others – have hired A/V Geeks for larger scale reformatting services. While higher-profile vendor activity nets more money than consumer services like home movie digitization, Elsheimer feels its just as important as such activity “imparts ideas about archiving to individuals.” Outside of digitization services Elsheimer puts this belief to practice as the president of the Center for Home Movies.

To further their mission of access, Elsheimer takes treasures from the A/V Geeks archive on the proverbial road. He regularly shows films at Kings Barcade in Raleigh, typically a rock venue, in addition to more (or less) traditional cinema environments. He also packages some of the public domain films into fun, thematic DVD sets, monetizing the content and also giving him something to sell at merchandise tables while touring and on his website. “I think the most important component of preservation is access” he says. “If you aren’t actually doing something to give access to people to make it important or introduce it to the world then you’re not doing preservation in the grand sense. It’s great keeping the original around … but there are ways now to share that information without impacting the original object by putting them online and making them available to someone even in another part of the world. That stuff is really important.” He continues “I could pay to have something preserved and it could sit on a shelf and no one would know, so what’s the point? Spend the time, energy, and money, and cheerlead it.”

AV-GEEKS-postcard-image1-300x248

~ Jason Evans Groth

 

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

Polygamists, Cyborgs, and Gay Marriage, Oh My! Orson Welles and Future Shock

The cover to McGraw-Hill’s teaching companion to the film, available digitized at IUFLA’s Facebook page.

“Our modern technology has achieved a degree of sophistication beyond our wildest dreams. But this technology has exacted a pretty heavy price. We live in an age of anxiety, a time of stress. And with all our sophistication we are in fact, the victims of our own technological strength. We are the victims of shock … of future shock.”

No, this isn’t a quote from a Huffington Post column on the Facebookization of modern communication. Nor is it pulled from an academic treatise on the phenomenologies of post-industrial existence. This statement was made by Orson Welles in the 1972 futurist documentary Future Shock, and, unlike some of the more dated elements of 1970s educational films, Future Shock remains shockingly current in verbalizing the concerns and anxieties that come along with rapid societal and technological change.

Could this poly-faced scene in Future Shock be a precursor to the F For Fake film poster?

1970s Visions Of A Dystopic Future

The 1972 documentary Future Shock was created as a companion piece to the 1970 book of the same name by author and social theorist Alvin Toffler. Toffler’s Future Shock posited that the accelerated rate of technological change in the modern world was leading to a largely dystopic and alienated society.  The book is hugely iconic, having sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVJrJk3q3MA

The educational film adaptation is useful in offering an audiovisual portrait of economic and social concerns of the 1970s, and from this, we can better understand the paradigms of consumerism and technology that we trade in today. Beyond that, it offers up intriguing archival scenes of 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, and transient free-lovin’ hippies, albeit offered as examples of precursors to a dystopic future of terrifying artificial intelligence and distance from the traditional morality of earlier decades. “The momentum is established, but the direction is up to us,” warns Welles. “Is there danger in the path we are taking?”

Orson Welles As Host And Narrator

A somewhat spooky example of genetic engineering and robotics.

Welles gamely engages with the hyperbole of the narration, sternly discussing how technological innovation has led to broken communities, morally apathetic individuals, and disposable objects. Director Alexander Grasshoff uses his host as a voice of authority and inciter of paranoia, imbuing the film with the same kind of gravity and solemnity as Welles’ early and iconic The War of the Worlds broadcasts.  But certainly, the visual element carries with it some elements of the kitsch – as current as Welles’ theoretical concerns sound, it’s hard to reconcile them with some of the now-irrelevant or dated issues (see again: 1970s artificial limb innovations, modular architecture, transient free-lovin’ hippies).

A Futuristic And Fusionist Musical Score

Future Shock’s score was created by Gil Mellé, a baritone saxophonist and film composer who spent the 1970s and 1980s experimenting on musical arrangements for film and television that fused jazz, electronic music, and avant garde classical minimalism. His work on the theme for the television program Night Gallery was notable for its use of an all-electronic score mimicking the conventions of an orchestra, and he specialized in science fiction and horror films such as The Andromeda Strain and The Sentinel.  In Future Shock, the combination of strings, horns, and electronics ebbs and flows, switching from the urban groove of funk to the industrial Moogisms of early modern electronic music to create moments of urgency and mystery.

Future Shock discusses “nontraditional” relationships such as homosexuality, evidenced in this scene documenting a 1970s wedding between two men.

Indiana University And Orson Welles

This 16mm film is part of the recently acquired Oregon Collection of 12,000 educational films.  In addition, it is significant to the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and Indiana University in general because of its relation to the greater collection of Orson Welles materials that are housed here, from the papers and lacquer discs at the Lilly Library to the film elements at the IULFA. In watching this legendary actor and personality grapple via performance with the social concerns of the day, we are given a deeper understanding of both the Welles himself, as well as historical and current imaginings of change and innovation in society.

  • Read more on Preserving Orson Welles at Indiana University here.
  • Learn more about the Oregon Collection at IULFA here.

~Josephine McRobbie

20th Century Treasure Hunt: An Adventure With Jacques Cousteau

Screen shot of Cousteau looking at a found object.

In the early 1970s, Jacques Cousteau and his team made a series of programs entitled The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Each episode takes a closer look at Cousteau’s favorite subject: the ocean. The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive received ten of these titles as part of the Oregon Collection including Those Incredible Diving Machines, The Water Planet, Coral Jungle, and The Water Planet. Cousteau was well known as a leading expert in oceanic life, and his many television programs all take a closer look at some form of ocean life or adventure. He began making films in 1942 and continued, almost non-stop,  until his death in the mid 90s. His first film was shot with his own 35mm Kinamo Zeiss camera that he put into a waterproof brass box with external cables to control the focus and aperture. In 1943, with the help of engineer Emile Gagnan, Cousteau developed the aqua-lung, one of the first incarnations of modern scuba diving equipment. This apparatus, which advanced technologically over the years, enabled Cousteau to breathe underwater while filming. Cousteau went on to create many other inventions, all of which were based on a passion for underwater filmmaking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2E34QrDzAg

A closer look at the episode Sunken Treasure with Jacques Cousteau reveals an inside look at a 20th century treasure hunt. Note the difference in time between the full episode and our classroom version, which was catered to fit a specific lesson plan: 50 minutes compared to 20.  Rod Serling narrates the treasure hunt for silver and gold worth over one million dollars believed to be aboard the The Lady of the Conception, a ship from the Spanish Armada fleet which sank after crashing into a coral reef in 1641. Cousteau and his crew, while aboard his ship, Calypso, use maps to navigate the choppy seas of the

Placing markers next to artifacts.

Caribbean to the site of the wreckage. Scuba divers are seen swimming down to the sea floor and raking through sand and coral debris. In time, pieces of the rigging are found along with other items from the ship. Using a 200 horsepower air compressor to suck up and then disperse sand, silt and debris, the crew can get to pieces of the wreckage more easily. When Serling describes the machinery as “so powerful it can suck up a man’s arm. The airlift could literally suck out a man’s blood through his skin,” he sounds like he is back in time, narrating The Twilight Zone. In total, 300 tons of coral debris were sifted through to find cannon balls, a ceramic jug completely in tact with the stopper still in it along with a syringe, a metal plate, tin and pewter plates, soup bones, cups and bowls stacked together. Additionally, cups made of Chinese porcelain, which had been transported to Spanish ships via the Philippines, were found along with the remains of a hand guard to a sword. The crew also discovered that, when the ship crashed, the cannons were loaded and ready to fire.

Treasure map screen shot.

This film gives a great insight into what life was like at sea for these men: afternoon lunches in the hot sun with plenty of wine, Cousteau with the youthful energy of a kid on Christmas morning, and the crew clad in red caps, breaking up huge pieces of coral with sledgehammers. Mostly portrayed was the sense of camaraderie these men shared in their hunt for treasure. It can easily be seen how Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a tip of the hat to one of his heroes, Jacques Cousteau. At the end of the episode, we discover that the ship is in fact not La Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (which actually sank close to the Philippines) and carried no silver or gold. Although we do not get a glimpse of the Jaguar Shark, Cousteau’s films leave us with a closer look into his love of the ocean and his deep passion for wanting to share its beauty and mysteries to the world through film.

~Asia Harman

Reading Polls and Teaching Citizenship in American Political Behavior: Making Inferences from Statistical Data

The question of what predictions one can make from political polls has been a hotly contested one this political campaign. Despite the appearance of scientific certainty, who’s ahead in a poll is reliant on the demographic make-up of the polling audience. For example, when Romney was behind in the polls before the first presidential debate his advocates suggested that pollers were under representing his supporters.

Shirley Engle, a former Indiana University professor of education and director of the Social Studies Development Center (SSDC), addressed the issue of what exactly you can learn from polls in his 1969 educational film Making Inferences from Statistical Data, one of the educational films held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive and available for viewing online along with several other IU produced films. Okay, not a barnburner of a title and the film itself is rather staid. But stick with me here.

IU social studies professor Shirley Engle informs the young electorate.

No one said making well-informed democratically-minded citizens was a blast. Though leaning towards the functionally pragmatic in terms of filmmaking – the film is mostly a staged version of a class discussing polls and what they might have revealed about demographics and political beliefs – Engle was working to transform social studies from a rote memorization of facts to a politically engaged subject built off of the concerns and experiences of students.

Students heartily engaged in polling education in Bloomington, IN.

The film was part of a program to train social studies instructors in teaching the subject in this then new progressive manner. This particular module focuses on the limits of reading data. John Patrick, the director of the SSDC after Engle, leads a group of Bloomington -area high school students, all white, through data on how different demographics groups voted in recent elections. The students then attempt to infer whether these different groups were more likely to vote Republican or Democrat.  Showing the strong brand continuity of these political parties the general conclusions more or less hold true in 2012. Older people tended to vote Republican while younger generations trended towards the Democrats. Republicans attracted white voters while the Democratic Party was more closely aligned with minority voters.

Students forming their own opinions and conclusions about polling data.

But what is revealing about this film is the degree to which Patrick attempts to place the students’ findings in dialogue with each other. It might seem like a minor detail, but while he leads the class from one topic to another, it is the students who present the conclusions. Patrick doesn’t tell them what to believe. They analyze the evidence and come to a consensus on the limits of reading into polls.

Engle was greatly concerned that what he termed the “authoritarian school climate” would prevent students from growing into politically active well-informed citizens. To counter that dictatorial pedagogy, this film models a classroom where students come to their own conclusions, but, importantly for Engle, they are conclusions based on a considered reading of empirical data and are tested through group dialogue.

While as a piece of filmmaking Making Inferences from Statistical Data might mirror Engle’s button-downed appearance, the film and its maker were advocating for a transformation in how educators helped students become politically aware. In reading his writings from the time of the film, Engle almost comes off as a political radical despite his moderate appearance of a flattop haircut and grey suit. This gap between the film, created to instruct as clearly as possible, and the more revolutionary approach to pedagogy that undergirds it, point to the necessity in placing these educational films in the theoretical contexts in which they were made.

Engle smiles at the idea of helping students for their own political opinions.

This is the first blog post in a two-part look at how educational films addressed politics. Tune in next week for an examination of Study of Government.

~Andy Uhrich

Presenting … Marching Band Fundamentals Parts 1 and 2

“Everyone likes to watch and listen to a marching band as it goes swaying by in perfect rhythm. It looks easy, this marching and playing together.  It may look easy, but many long hours of practice were necessary to turn these already accomplished musicians into a crack marching outfit.”

It is not often that, while standing on a corner waiting to cross a street, you hear a car blasting “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. More often — especially at college football games or parades for any given given holiday (particularly patriotic ones) — you’re likely to hear Sousa being blasted by a marching band. Whether the average American thinks about marching bands very often may not be quantifiable. It is clear that those who are in or are an alumni of a marching band think about it a lot (if you Google “marching band sport” you’ll see plenty of passionate essays seeking to legitimize the activity to the mainstream and revealing just how difficult — and engrossing — it is)Major competitions happen often, and band members spend much of their free time rehearsing not just the music but the minutiae that a very long history of marching bands demand to create, as the narrator of the film says, a “crack marching outfit.”

Marching band member with tidy hair and clean uniform.

Marching Band Fundamentals, one of the many educational films produced by the IU Audio-Visual Center which is now held by the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA), explores this minutiae, yes, but more accurately serves as a live instruction guide for directors and “bandsmen.” For those of us who were never part of a marching band the details might be overwhelming. Notice the amount of military terms that occur before the six minute mark (“rank,” “file” “paces”, etc.). And, of course, the emphasis on shiny shoes and nice haircuts.

These “bandsmen” are actually women!

The observant viewer will notice many “bandsmen” whose haircuts may not be as tidy as the others; that’s because they’re women, referred to over and over again as “bandsmen” and “he.” This is not uncommon for educational films of this era, but the camera’s focus on these members of the band while the narrator uses gendered terms might be disconcerting for  the 21st-Century viewer or, at the very least, cause some confusion when curls spill out of members’ caps.

Perhaps an image that comes into the viewers mind as they watch the band go through their very specific motions is one of a stifling auditorium or gym filled with marching band members laboriously attempting to learn the commands from the film, as if they were dance instructions or a jazzercise video. Based on the very pedantic nature of the film it could have been used as such, so long as the projector was able to be stopped and the film rewound to repeat unclear commands. More than likely, however, it was for fledgling band directors in need of a refresher or for band director’s assistants who were in training. This assumption is made based on the work of the two men responsible for writing the film.

Daniel L. Martino came to Indiana University in 1948 from Ohio University where he quickly established four concert units in the Department of Bands. Famously, he was the director of the Indiana University Marching Hundred which was deemed by John Philip Sousa in 1925 to be “the snappiest marching and playing band in the country.” During Mr. Martino’s tenure as the director of the Marching Hundred the band made three consecutive appearances at the Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, and, in 1953, was part of Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural parade in Washington, D.C. In 1952 Martino released a book entitled Effective School Band Management which likely served as the textual counterpart to this film.

The Hobart City School Marching Band

Richard A. Worthington, Martino’s co-writer, was band director for Hobart City Schools, an Indiana town just South of Chicago, and was working on his doctorate at the time of the film’s creation. Later he took a position at Northern Illinois Teachers College. Their embrace of film for marching band education makes sense; diagrams, commands, and marching figures are much clearer on film, can be shown again and again, and were likely much more understandable to the newest members of any given band.

An interesting feature of this otherwise very specific and somewhat pedantic film is the use of slow motion. High speed cameras would become indispensable to the field of biomechanics in the 1970s, but this simpler version — showing movement required of band members — was likely a remarkable achievement in marching band education. Again, combined with the ability to stop and rewind the film, those members in stifling gyms or auditoriums would, hopefully, learn their steps quicker, and get to the learning and practicing of music — which does not come until there is less than a minute left in the film — faster.

The drum major looks on with grave intensity.

While perhaps not the most engrossing film for the casual viewer, Marching Band Fundamentals Parts 1 and 2 is a glimpse into the promise of group education through film. Its combination of live-action, animation, and slow-motion would have been a novel and very helpful tool for band directors used to relying on rote learning and militaristic methods alone. Imagine the sigh of relief the director might feel when given the opportunity to let the film do the talking for them, allowing them time to let their strained vocal cords heal enough to scream a little bit more at the drum majors as soon as the film had run its course. Additionally, the film sheds some light on the intensity of an activity that is often so well-rehearsed, it’s made to look easy. If you were a marching band member you already know all of this. Those of us — myself included — who never experienced it, can now understand a little bit more why committed marching band members were so intense about it. Come on, that looks pretty hard!

If you like this film there are plenty more Indiana University produced educational films streaming for your viewing pleasure. Check them out!

~Jason Evans Groth

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

Presenting … Handmade Materials for Projection (1956)

“This is like writing with light!” exclaims a young teacher in the 1956 instructional film Handmade Materials for Projection. What activity is she engaging in that was so exciting as to inspire her to reach for such an evocative metaphor? Well, if you chose scratching on a piece of carbon paper on an overhead projector for a lesson in how-to-write a business letter then you’d be right.

“This is like writing with light!”

That this rather mundane activity could prompt an educator to such poetic musings might be attributed to the often over-blown rhetoric found in educational films in the 1950s. However, I submit that moments such as these, which might seem corny to us now, are actually rather revealing insights into the ways that teachers and students thought about and experienced educational films. Or, to be more accurate, how the filmmakers imagined teachers and students experienced educational films. Examining these now out-of-date classroom films gives us an insight into how producers and educators predicted that the films would be viewed and utilized. As such, this affords us a chance to study earlier cultural assumptions about the pedagogical role of media, which, ideally opens up a discussion of the forces guiding our current digital mediation and technologization of education.

The film represents itself being screened in the classroom.

For a film that rather programmatically trained educators in how to inexpensively make their own slides and transparencies for projection in the classroom, the film is filled with these moments of wonder, even if they are occasionally tempered by the rational voice of the teacher. In addition to the example above, another instructor demonstrates a technique that she calls the dry dusting method. This tool allows her to accurately, and almost magically, trace shapes into carbon paper in front of her students. The filmed presentation at the 12:14 mark in the video does indeed have more than just a little of the fantastic about it. The drawing seems to appear before our eyes. As she states, her drawing on the overhead projector is more than just a representation of the object she is lecturing on. Instead, it’s “a living, meaningful diagram which developed with my lecture … as a way of capturing and holding the attention of my audience.”

“…A living, meaningful diagram…”

This quote gets at why teachers used, and continue to use, mass media in the classroom, an impulse that is essential to the creation of the films that are at the core of the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive. First, media, even something as unremarkable as an overhead projection, brings the lesson to life. Second, it’s not a frivolous animation but one that’s intimately yoked to the educational goal of the class. Third, and this is no small shakes here, the use of media in the classroom allows a teacher to keep the students focused on what she is saying. Classroom media was used to make a lecture exciting, had to have a clear pedagogical mission, and was deployed to regulate student behavior. (No students are actually seen in this film; the film presents no proof that these techniques actually interest schoolchildren which points to one of the great unknowns in educational film: what did the students sitting in the classroom actually think of these mediated instructions).

As this film and others like it such as Photographic Slides for Instruction (1956) and How to Make Homemade Lantern Slides (1947), both of which are embedded at the end of this post, suggest educational films were not just made for students, but also for teachers to instruct them in how to incorporate the then new media into their classroom. Further, educational films were part of a much larger infrastructure in media available for the classroom including filmstrips, records, slides, and overhead projectors – and eventually cassette tapes, videotape, and now Power Point. This is an important point to realize when watching old educational films. They rarely stood alone and were often part of a larger educational effort that might have included textbooks, suggested lesson plans, slides, etc. So while we will be mainly posting videos digitized from old educational films, please keep in mind that there was a larger media ecosystem in the classroom that these films are only one example of.

The film shows techniques for depicting 3-D objects with two-dimensional media.

In fact, the educational author of this film, Harvey R. Frye, published a very similar article in the August 1957 issue of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers called “Slide-Projection Materials on Minimum Budgets.” In comparing the article and the film, the advantages in each medium for teaching becomes quickly apparent: each has more or less the same information, but the journal article allowed a teacher to easily go back over the techniques of making slides while the film includes dramatized examples of teachers in awe at the process.

In fact, what each medium allowed a teacher to do was at the core of Frye’s efforts in training educators to use media for pedagogical purposes. As he and his co-author Ed Minor assert in the introduction to their 1970 book, Techniques for Producing Visual Instructional Media, having a sense of the specificity of each medium was the key to knowing how to utilize mass media in the classroom. They state unequivocally that, “materials should be prepared only when they will do the job of communicating better and quicker than any other method of communication available”.

“…Communicating better and quicker than any other method of communication…”

In the off chance that anyone reading this posting knew Harvey Frye or other filmmakers at the IU Audio-Visual Center please contact us. We are in the process of researching the production and exhibition of these films and any help would be much appreciated.

~ Andy Uhrich