Archival Spaces 258
Edward Stratmann (1953-2020)
Uploaded 17 December 20
Edward Stratmann, my colleague and friend, has died. His distinguished career in film archiving began almost at the same moment in the same place as mine, making us life-long fellow travelers on a remarkable professional journey into what was then still a field in its toddler stage. Even though we were never close friends in the 45 years I knew Ed, we had a relationship of mutual respect while he worked for me that turned into a deep sense of caring and warmth, once I left Rochester. Edward was one of the most down-to-earth people I ever met, absolutely honest, loyal, discreet, and extremely good-natured. In the rarified academic atmosphere of the museum, Ed was a nuts-and-bolts practitioner, who learned film preservation from the bottom up.
Born November 29, 1953 in Biloxi, MS at Kessler Air Force Base, he moved to Rochester with his large family, where he graduated from high school and attended Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1975, he started working for Seymour Nussbaum, the facilities manager at George Eastman House, then transitioned to the film department. It was in September 1975 that I came to Rochester on a National Endowment for the Arts post-graduate internship in the film department, where I spent a year working for the legendary James Card. Ed was already reporting to Assistant Allan Bobey, so he would often hang out with us film dept. grunts, including projectionist Bob Ogie, while Card was often absent.
When I returned to Eastman Museum in 1984, Ed was handling vault management and shipping, as well as sometimes projecting films when no one else was available. I almost immediately took over programming the Dryden Theatre from Kay Mcrae, Director John Kiuper’s secretary, so I had to work closely with Ed to traffic prints. At that time, as later after I had become head of the department, I spent a lot of time hanging out in Eddie’s Dryden Theatre office, usually to have a cigarette break (still smoked back then), since I could always rely on him having a smoke.
In 1987, I asked Edward to become our preservation officer with the title of Assistant Curator. Although he had no professional training, I knew he was a quick learner and I was confident we would learn together. One of our first projects was Maurice Tourneur’s The Blue Bird (1919), a beautifully tinted nitrate print from the Cinémathèque Française. Ed also started accompanying me to the Association of Moving Image Archivists conferences, where he happily mingled with other film preservation technicians, soaking up their expertise. In 1998, I had the privilege of successfully nominating Eddie for AMIA’s Dan + Kathy Leab Award, given to film archivists for their contributions to the field of film preservation.
But the project Ed was really passionate about was the reconstruction of The Lost World (1925) with stop-motion animation by Willis Obrien. We had a very good tinted 16mm print, which had been cut down for its Kodascope release, which we blew it up to 35mm, producing the most complete negative available, though still only 40% of its original length. Then in 1992, we discovered a 35mm nitrate material in Czechoslovakia, probably struck from the original foreign negative. I left Eastman before the lost material arrived, but Ed followed through, working with Paolo Cherchi-Usai to crowd-source $ 80,000 and eventually produce a magnificent new negative and print that was now missing only about a reel, much of it consisting of shortened titles and only one major sequence, namely the attack of cannibals. The reconstruction premiered in 1997 and was one of Edward’s proudest achievements and a major contribution to film history.
While continuing his work overseeing the Film Department’s film preservation work, Ed also became a teacher after the founding of the Jeffrey Selznick School in 1996. As the instructor of record for the school, Ed was lionized by the students, especially because of his story-telling prowess. Ed organized annual student trips to John E. Allen, to the Library of Congress, to Syracuse Cinefest, where Ed would invite me to give impromptu talks to the students. Since its founding, the school has graduated more than 280 archivists from twenty-eight countries in its one-year certificate and two-year Master’s programs. Just how much the students idolized Ed became clear when more than seventy-five alumni attended his retirement party, held in May 2016 in conjunction with the Eastman Nitrate Film Festival. Indeed, many of today’s most prominent younger generation moving image archivists received their training with Edward, including Rita Belda, Jared Case, Liz Coffey, Brian Graney, Andrew Lampert, James Layton, Heather M. Linville, Regina Longo, Brian Meacham, Anke Mebold, Paul Narvaez, Cyndi Rowell, Ulrich Rüdel, Vincent Pirozzi, Christel Schmidt, Albert Steg, Dwight Swanson, and Katie Trainor.
Seeing Ed in 2016 at his party, I realized his health was extremely fragile and was the main reason for his retirement. However, until this last week, I was unaware of the fact that he had been in and out of the hospital several times this last year. Edward Stratmann passed on 10 December 2020 in Greece, New York. For me, it is the end of an era.