July 15, 2014

Leader Ladies!

Projectionists and lab folk have long loved the ladies (and occasional gentlemen) who appear in most films, but are seldom seen onscreen.  Even when they are, they are only there for a split second, as usually they are printed in 4 frames (24 frames per second).

Nine Lives leader lady

Leader Ladies (more widely known as China Girls), have been used since at least the 1920s in color or density test frames made by labs to assure standardization of print quality.  In the image above, you’ll see the greyscale at the bottom of the frame.  Lab QC uses the greyscale to check the quality of their prints.

Most films used a standardized leader lady, Kodak’s LAD, but as you can see from our pictures and from others posted, there is quite a variety out there.

When I was a projectionist (ca. 1993-2003), my fellow projectionists and I collected these ladies, sometimes only one frame, from 35mm prints we showed.  We planned to make a film of them, but never quite got it together.  (We had never, by the way, heard the term China Girl, and when we did, assumed it was some Asian-lady fetishistic thing, which didn’t really add up considering the few Asian faces in these test frames.)

Back in 2005, the HFA’s former Film Conservators, Julie Buck and Karin Segal, made GIRLS ON FILM, an experimental film utilizing these lovely leader ladies.

You have perhaps seen them in the end credits (skip ahead to 2:25) of Tarentino’s brilliant GRINDHOUSE (leave it to Tarentino to put these faces on the BIG screen!).  After this film came out, we got a phone call from someone in the UK whose mother’s face appeared.  He was pretty thrilled!  There’s also a French film collage online, also using Chick Habit as the soundtrack!

Leader Ladies are all the rage these days among archivists.  Our friends at Northwest Chicago Film Society have been doing the best work with these gals, but others have delved into their world.

My favorites were always these weird 90s ones that look like Thunderbirds mannequins.

We are posting pix of Leader Ladies when we find good ones.  Keep your eyes on our flickr album!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized on 15 July 2014 at 12:41 pm by conservator1
July 3, 2014

Robert Flaherty’s lost Irish Gaelic film found at Harvard

Documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty directed the first film made in the Irish language, Oidhche Sheanchais (“A Night of Storytelling”) in 1935 during the production of his now classic film Man of Aran.

Cited in nearly every history of Irish cinema, this short (11 minute) film has been missing, believed lost, since a fire destroyed the only known copies in 1943. A nitrate print of the film, purchased by the Harvard College Library in 1935 at the request of Harvard’s Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures, was rediscovered by Houghton Library curators during a cataloging update in 2012.

IMG_0563

Oidhche Sheanchais, a fascinating distillation of Flaherty’s belief in cinema as a kind of folkloric art, depicts a typical Irish hearth, where the main cast members of Man of Aran sit, listening to an ancient tale told by famed Seanchaí (storyteller) Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin. Oidhche Sheanchais is Flaherty’s first work in direct sound and the first “talkie” in Irish Gaelic. It was filmed in the same London studio where the Man of Aran cast had already gathered for the recording of post-synch sound.

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS fireside scene one frame with perfs

The Harvard Film Archive, in collaboration with Houghton Library, the Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost, has preserved Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and digital formats.  The film had a short run in Ireland and was never subtitled in English. Harvard has had the film translated and both subtitled and non-subtitled versions will be available.

2 OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS title card one frame

Today (July 3), the new 35mm subtitled print has its premiere at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna—one of the most prestigious showcases for rediscovered and restored films—with introductions by Harvard Film Archive Director Haden Guest and Irish Film Institute Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn.

We are grateful for everyone who helped make this exciting project possible, and hope you come see the film when we screen it on the big screen!  The film will be available for loan as 35mm or DCP once it has had its Harvard premiere.  Stay tuned!

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS boy on floor one frame with perfs

Posted in lost film, rare on 3 July 2014 at 4:42 pm by conservator1
April 25, 2014

Re-discovering Amiri Baraka’s THE NEW-ARK (1968)

As you may recall, a print of an early film by the poet Amiri Baraka was discovered at the Harvard Film Archive back in January.  It had been belived lost for decades.

The HFA worked with Anthology Film Archives to make a 2K scan of the print, and we are pleased to announce the film is now available digitally will be available for loan soon.

THE NEW-ARK, not screened publicly for over 40 years, was shown in Newark this week.  (Read the local news story here and here.) and the new 2K DCP will screen at Anthology Film Archives in New York City on May 16th and May 18th as part of a tribute to Baraka.

The HFA will be showing the movie in the fall.

HOW IS A LOST FILM FOUND?

We’ll be writing more about this soon, but here is the short story of this particular film.  THE NEW-ARK is part of the James E. Hinton Collection at the Harvard Film Archive. The material in the collection has been cataloged, re-housed and sent into cold storage, and a finding aid was created.  I know, I know, “finding aids are boring”  (or so I’ve been told), but they are effective tools for seeing into larger collections.

Despite what you might think, the processing archivist doesn’t get to watch every film that comes through his or her hands.  The film is generally inspected on a rewind bench, identified by printed credits, rehoused into archival containers, and sent into storage.  Unknown titles are sometimes viewed for content identification if there is time and the condition of the material allows.

Two separate independent researchers discovered the Hinton Collection, and were interested in delving into the material.  The HFA benefited from their work, because they were able to give us detailed descriptions of the films they viewed.  Credits for THE NEW-ARK were transcribed, and the director was noted as LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka).

Still, the presence of a sought-after, lost film went unnoticed.

Whitney Strub, of Rutgers University, was researching films made in Newark, NJ, and came across the title in the published work of one of the aforementioned researchers.  He wanted to show it in New Jersey.  He spoke to archivists at the HFA and at Anthology Film Archives about it following Baraka’s death, and together we brought the film out of the dark.  Whitney’s article in Bright Lights Film Journal is linked here, and here is a brief radio interview with him.

This is a fairly typical story of how a lost film can be found in the collection of an archive.  The HFA processed the film as part of  a larger collection, but did not realize its significance.  We put its title out for people on the internet to find via the finding aid, and someone who was looking for it found it.

Our thanks to everyone who helped make this re-discovery possible: Lars Lierow, whose research at the HFA led to an article in Black Camera, “The ‘Black Man’s Vision of the World”cites the existence of the print, to Chuck Jackson who also worked with the Hinton Collection, and especially to Whitney Strub and Andy Lampert (of Anthology Film Archives).

Another of Baraka’s early films BLACK SPRING (1967) remains lost.  If you should come across it, get in touch!  He is, no doubt, credited as LeRoi Jones.

 

 

Posted in African American, James Hinton Collection, lost film, poet, rare on 25 April 2014 at 11:03 am by conservator1
February 7, 2014

clip & save … at the Harvard Film Archive !?

A newspaper coupon we found today, dated 1991:

Sorry folks, it’s expired!

Posted in Uncategorized on 7 February 2014 at 1:28 pm by conservator2
January 14, 2014

The New-Ark by Amiri Baraka

We discovered another rare film in the Harvard Film Archive’s collections this week.

THE NEW-ARK (1968) was written and directed by Leroi Jones AKA Amiri Baraka (1934-2014).  The HFA has a print, possibly unique, in the James Hinton Collection.  Hinton was cinematographer on the film.

THE NEW-ARK is a creative documentary about Black Education, urban public theater, and political consciousness-raising in Newark, NJ, set inside and outside of Spirit House.  Spirit House, also known as Heckalu Community Center, was a Black Nationalist community center in Newark, NJ, under the leadership of poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka (known at the time as LeRoi Jones).  Includes shots of Baraka reading “Poem to Half-White College Students.” There are shots of Spirit House Community Black School including the teaching of the Black Alphabet.   The film contains footage of street theater performances, political rallies, rehearsals, martial arts practice, discussions, dance and musical performances.  (blurb based on a description by Chuck Jackson)

The 1968 Ektachrome print is in decent condition and the HFA plans to partner with Anthology Film Archives to digitize the print and make it available for screenings.

 

Posted in James Hinton Collection, poet, rare on 14 January 2014 at 5:23 pm by conservator1
January 13, 2014

Funny….

Sometimes we just have to laugh at the things that come into the Film Conservation Center.

audio tape

 

note in box of film

We have to laugh because otherwise we might cry.

super 8 film in a bag

 

16mm film in a bag

 

Posted in comedy, super 8 on 13 January 2014 at 5:19 pm by conservator1
December 9, 2013

Collection update: Caroline Leaf

The Caroline Leaf Collection experienced many moments of closure last week. To begin with, it is now processed, encoded, and the finding aid is up online. I really enjoyed working on this collection and becoming so familiar with Caroline Leaf, the innovative Canadian-American animator and filmmaker, and her work. Her animated and live-action films demonstrate a consistent and delicate balance of whimsical artistry underlined with dark themes. And throughout all of her art, there is willingness – nay, resolve – to invent new methods and execute them beautifully, no matter the time commitment. These qualities are well represented in her collection as well, which is full of drawings and test samples that reveal her extensive processes.

Some snapshots of Caroline Leaf during the making of Interview.

 

Serendipitously, Caroline Leaf herself traveled from England to visit the Harvard Film Archive last week in order to approve a new answer print of Sand or Peter and the Wolf. There had been a protracted back-and-forth creating the new print because the coloring wasn’t quite right for a while. Her visit just happened to coincide with the finishing of her finding aid, and I had the exciting opportunity to meet (and lunch with!) her. She even gave some feedback on the finding aid, which is a rare opportunity for both a processing archivist and the person for whom the collection is about.

If you haven’t had the chance to become more familiar with Caroline Leaf’s work, check out the finding aid or watch some of her shorts on the National Film Board of Canada web site.

-Tricia Patterson

Posted in Caroline Leaf Collection, collection update, interns, women filmmakers on 9 December 2013 at 12:39 pm by conservator2
November 20, 2013

Two Sisters: The Long Evolution of a Short Film

This is a guest post from our fall intern, Tricia Patterson!

The past few weeks, I have been processing The Caroline Leaf Collection. Leaf is an award-winning Canadian animator who also spent some time teaching animation at Harvard University between 1996 and 1998. She is most known for innovative animation techniques, such as using sand to illustrate characters and movement or scratching images directly onto film.

In 1991, she produced her short film Two Sisters (or Entre Deux Soeurs), for which she won 12 awards, including First Prize in the 5-15 minute category at the prestigious Annecy International Animation Festival. As I started sorting through the collection, I found it actually contains many of her original development materials for Two Sisters (as well as other works), including storyboards, test film strips, and other stuff. But I came across one illustration and what looked like an accompanying short story along with a note that I found quite confusing.


Specifically, the line “adapted from The Master and Margarita” was baffling because it just so happened to be one of my favorite novels. But I had watched Two Sisters, and frankly had detected zero similarities between her short, the book, the illustration, and the short story. Further, none of the other pre-production materials suggested a connection either. EXCEPT: nestled in the box there also happened to be a copy of the book itself. Yet, I felt it had to be some sort of mistake – some accidental tenuous connection made during the inventory. I set it aside, determined to investigate at a later point.

And then I found it: while going through her collection of VHS tapes, I found a talk she gave about her work for ASIFA, including an in-depth narrative of how Two Sisters developed!

It turns out, Caroline Leaf also fell in love with the book, particularly the idea of a devil character that enters a story and changes all of the characters’ lives in some way. In 1979, she attempted to write a radio play version of it, but she ran into the problem of wanting to keep every detail in the story and not really having enough room. So she took a different approach and wrote a one-page story about a family going for a drive and stopping to pick up a stranger that ends up staying with the family for six months and altering each of their lives in a different way. Enter: the illustration and short story I found.