301: Restoring HYPOCRITES (1915)

Archival Spaces 301

Lois Weber’s Hypocrites Restored

Uploaded 5 August 2022

Hyppocrites (1915, Lois Weber)

Several weeks ago, Phil Carli premiered his new Silent Cinema Salon (https://philipcarli.com/), presenting a new restoration of Lois Weber’s Hypocrites (1915, Lois Weber) in his Rochester living room with live piano accompaniment. Carli is, of course, very well-known in the United States and abroad as one of the premier piano accompanists for silent films. The film was streamed directly after Carli gave an introduction and is now still available on his site.

I first saw Hypocrites decades ago, when Kino International put the film out on VHS, and I was always a bit troubled by the somewhat confusing narrative structure. True, Lois Weber’s first directed feature is a pure allegory, mixing as did many films at the time, both a historical and a modern story, so continuity seems rather arbitrary. But in what order do these events occur? This becomes an extremely difficult question for film restorationists when only one original source for a film is known to exist. Without a script or other sources, archival practice prohibits changing the order of individual sequences or shots based on some film exterior logic, because of the danger of perverting film history; the most famous example being The Life of an American Fireman (1901), when a MOMA curator intercut two separate geographical spaces where none had existed, leading film historians to surmise that this was the first case of parallel editing.

Given its convoluted structure, film historians and critics for decades discussed Lois Weber’s film not only as an allegory but as a film that defies the conventions of what was to become known as classical Hollywood narrative. An original print of Hypocrites had been discovered in the 1970s at the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia and was repatriated to the Library of Congress’s American Film Institute Collection. That tinted version, which is available on YouTube was considered definitive. It opens with an allegorical image of a female nude walking through “the gate of truth,” then cuts to the minister Gabriel preaching to his congregation; after reading a newspaper article about a statue in Paris representing “Truth” that had been censored, he imagines himself a Benedictine monk who unsuccessfully leads his parishioners up a steep path of virtue, another allegorical scene. The film then flashes back to medieval times in the third reel where the monk has created a sculpture of a nude female depicting “the truth,” and is killed by an angry mob for blasphemy. The fourth reel has “the naked Truth” holding up a mirror to contemporary politics, society, etc., thus visualizing the congregation’s hypocrisy, before returning to the church where the minister expires.  

Hypocrites (1915, Lois Weber) with Margaret Edwards

However, when George Willeman, a preservationist at the Library of Congress restored the film last year, he was troubled by the film’s wonky continuity, until he realized that the first and third reels had been switched at some point, whether in the original Australian release version or later. Once he made the switch, the film made much more sense. Happily, the change was confirmed when Willeman found an original synopsis in The Motion Picture World (23 January 1915). Finally, in order to reconstruct the film’s tinting scheme, Willeman asked the Australians whether they had tinting notes and was told they had made a color negative back in the day.

Hypocrites (1915, Lois Weber) Hypocrites in church
Hypocrites (1915, Lois Weber) Holding up mirror to false love

The film is now presented in chronological order with the medieval tale coming in the first reel, followed by the church sermon, which is rejected by most of the parishioners. Afterward, the minister dreams that in the guise of the monk he is leading his flock, but most reject his more difficult path in favor of the broad road, which results in the monk, accompanied by the “naked truth,” holding up a mirror to society’s hypocrisy before the minister dies in the church.

Hypocrites: Holding up the mirror to Egoism
Hypocrites with Courtenay Foote as the Monk

While the film’s new/original structure makes more sense in terms of classical narrative, Lois Weber’s Hypocrites is still unique for its unabashed moral allegory and Weber’s aesthetic treatment, e.g. truth’s mirror is an oval iris shot that reveals politicians preaching honesty while collecting bribes in the back room. The film caused a scandal at the time of its release, because of the extensive female nudity of ‘truth,” shown in superimpositions, but still revealing specifics of the female form; it was outright banned in Ohio. But also of interest is the film’s cinematography by Dal Clawson and George W. Hill, the latter later the director of The Big House (1930), which utilizes a constantly moving camera to reveal hidden truths. Such overtly allegorical films would soon fall out of fashion, though isolated examples continued to be made, because they self-consciously called attention to their own artifice, rather than creating a seamless reality, the goal of classical Hollywood narrative..         

Lois Weber portrait at the beginning of Hypocrites

300: Film Scholarship Without Films?

Archival Spaces 300

Tel Aviv Symposium: A Film Scholarship Without Films?

Uploaded 21 July 2022

Back in the early 1980s, my colleague and friend, Ute Eskildsen, and I organized an exhibition and published a catalog on Helmar Lerski, the New Realist photographer in Weimar Germany and a pioneering filmmaker in Jewish Palestine. Out of that research, a historical essay grew, “Zionist Film Propaganda in Nazi Germany” that described German-Jewish filmmakers involved in Zionist propaganda filmmaking in the 1930s, after their expulsion from Berlin; for the project, I conducted research in the World Zionist Archives in Jerusalem and combed through microfilms of German Zionist newspapers. I was continually reminded of that work while attending virtually the symposium, “A Film Scholarship Without Films? Reimaging the History of Israel Cinema Culture Through the Archive,” held at the Steve Tish School of Film and Television at the Aviv University on 5-6 July 2022.

Avodah (1935, Helmar Lerski)
Zionist Propaganda Poster

Taking its dictum from Eric Smoodin’s seminal essay “As the Archive Turned: Writing Film Histories without Films,” which describes American film studies’ historical turn in the 1980s to archive research-based film history, the Symposium hoped to effect a similar sea change in Israeli film studies. According to conference organizers Dan Chyutin and Yael Mazor, conventional narratives of Israeli cinema history have relied almost exclusively on close readings of the films themselves. In contrast, a cinema history based on archival research, on the analysis of advertising, posters, company production records, balance sheets, interviews, and other non-filmic documents would result in a much richer history of Israel film culture that could also gauge the cinema’s impact on larger political issues.

Chyutin in his following conference presentation analyzed Israeli film fan magazines to theorize that these publications deviated from the austere 1950s Zionist project of national sacrifice to embrace the consumerist ideology of Hollywood. Next, Boaz Hagin details film theoretical, technical, and practical discourses in modernist Hebrew language art magazines, contrary to the conventional narrative that Israel film discourse prior to 1970  had been a wasteland. Olga Gershenson, on the other hand, discussed her research methodology in researching the production, distribution, and exhibition of an Israeli horror film wave post-2010.

El Eldorado (1963, Manachem Golan)

Giora Goodman began the next panel with an analysis of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s film politics, which again a counter-narrative theorizes that they were more interested in international commercial hits than in Zionist propaganda, which meant only films about the Arab-Israeli Conflict; that sold tickets abroad. Naomi Rolef and Hilla Lavie described archival documents, specific to their research. Rachel Harris’ contextualized close reading of Menachem Golan’s film noir thriller Eldorado (1963), Elad Wexler’s reconstruction of script changes, both aesthetic and political, in Hole in the Moon (1965),  and Iddo Better Pocker and Orit Rozin’s dissection of the commodification of Israeli history in Manahem Golan’s Operation Thunderbolt (1978), all argue that these films existed outside the box of the Zionist project.

In the final session, Israela Shaer-Meoded analyzed the film career of Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker Edna Politi, whose 1973 film about the Yom Kippur War is known throughout the world, except in Israel. Finally, David Shalit contrasted Menachem Golan’s own constructed legend of his film career with the reality of Golan’s Americanization.

Edna Politi (1973)
In the Empire of the Senses (1976, Nagisa Oshima)

Wednesday morning began with a panel on Israeli film censorship issues. Jonathan Yovel began by noting that there is no general theory of censorship because cases are too varied, but that censorship records tell us not only what is removed from public review, but also the taboos and obsessions of a culture, then discussed a number of foreign film censorship cases, noting that the Israel State Censorship Board’s decisions were often completely arbitrary. Ori Yaakobovich followed up with the more than two-decade-long struggle to get Oshima’s In the Empire of the Senses approved for public screenings in Israel, due to the Board’s intransigence in regards to sexual content.

The remainder of the symposium was largely informational. The late morning saw a roundtable of film archivists from the Israel Film Archive, the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, the Yad Tabenkin Research Center, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the University of Texas Library, and the Israel Testimonial Database, discussing methods of access and contents in their respective archives. In the afternoon, Christian Olesen and Sarah Dang introduced the digital databases of the Amsterdam Desmet Collection of early cinema and the Women Film Pioneers Project, respectively. While the former includes films and metadata, the latter offers biographical information, as well as numerous analytic visualizations of the data.

The symposium concluded with Eric Hoyte’s keynote in which he introduced various American film magazine databases, including Lantern and the Media History Digital Library. The construction of such digital archives depended on 1) what kind of research questions govern them, 2) Which historical sources are potentially available, and 3) what kind of inter-disciplinary research collaborations can such databases generate.

As the conference amply demonstrated, archival research is clearly migrating to cyberspace with ever more magazines and other paper documents becoming available. Israeli scholars are therefore much better equipped to make the historical turn, than American film historians three decades ago, when historical research still meant traveling, e.g. to the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, as I had to do in the early 1980s.    

299: Orphanistas Gather

Archival Spaces 299

NYU Orphans Film Symposium

Uploaded 7 July 2022

I attended my first Orphans Film Symposium in 1999, which was also the first iteration of what has become an important event in the moving image archival field. Orphan films refer to films that have fallen out of copyright or have never been copyrighted, their owners long gone. But OFS has expanded the meaning to denote all those moving image works which have been neglected, lost, invisible in cultural memory, therefore under-utilized and under-appreciated. Founded and still directed by Dan Streible, professor in the Moving Image Archive Program (MIAP) at NYU, the Symposium from 15-18 June this year was held in and co-organized by Concordia University, Montreal. I attended via Zoom, which meant I was blacked out of a number of screenings. The theme for the Symposium was Counter-Archives, which potentially entailed reading the archive against the grain, discovering hidden archives, addressing practices of repurposing “found” film materials, contextualizing their historical and ideological origins, and articulating community ownership in the light of new media economies. Or as the Orphans website notes: “We mean to invoke a disposition toward ‘orphan films’ that foregrounds not just abandoned materials but also stories, themes, and peoples often underrepresented, absent, or silenced by historical struggles for power, access, and survival. We aspire to include orphan films redressing historical injustice in its many forms and contexts, and to embrace films that offer such communities a voice and visibility.” 

Albert Kahn Archives of the Planet
Albert Kahn Archives of the Planet

The concept of a cinematic counter-archive was first articulated by Paula Amad in her study of the Albert Kahn Archives in Paris, the first Google Earth-type project; beginning in 1912, and running for almost twenty years, Kahn hired a whole battery of photographers and cameramen to visually document the planet, the way cartographers mapped the world, producing 183,000 meters of film. According to Amad, the counter-archive consists of Bergsonian images from memory that have no utilitarian or evidentiary purpose, but merely exist to be forgotten. In its focus on the incidental, the everyday, the non-essential information at the fringes of the image, the Kahn project constitutes a counter-archive.  

De Ciera Manera (1972, Sara Gomez)
The Navajo Moves into the Electronic Age (1968)
Totem Land (1927)

Thursday morning began with two cataloging and preservation projects focusing on Latin America: 1) The Sara Gomez restoration project – Cuba’s most famous female documentarian – at the Vulnerable Media Lab at Queen’s University, and 20 the Columbian project to preserve video from the Atrato and Columbia Pacific Archive (1994-2008) which documents Native and Afro-Columbian community protests against the government’s war on leftist guerillas, during which they became collateral damage. The next panel discussed two Native American projects, which attempt to create community-based counter-narratives to mainstream images of those communities: The Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project recruited members of the Diné community to produce commentaries on a collection of films about the Navajo, while Tom Child of the Kwagu’t First Nation has been preserving the estate of George Hunt, his ancestor who worked with ethnographic filmmakers Edward S. Curtis (Land of the Headhunters) and Franz Boas, but never received proper credit. 

Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom (1964, Lebert “Sandy” Bethune)

The afternoon began with a presentation from the Smithsonian African American Museum (NMAAHC) about Lebert “Sandy” Bethune’s unfinished film Pan Africa (1972), while the Media Ecology project explored “the idea of Africa” in American newsreels and other found footage, noting that western images of Africa only produce a self-portrait, depicting the Continent as an exotic land without history or culture, and only civilized through colonialism. Next, we returned to America to explore the Willie P. Jackson collection at NMAAHC, which documented life around Solomon Lightfoot “Elder” Micheaux’s Church of God in Washington, DC., and viewed a compilation of a police-recorded press conference given by Malcolm X in 1962, after a deadly police riot killed unarmed Black Muslims; the tape had been long suppressed by L.A. P.D. but is now held by UCLA Library. The afternoon ended with striking Kodachrome home movies from 1947 of the Melungeons in East Tennessee, a mixed-race ethnic community of European, Native, and African American lineages.

Otisvillle Fim Club: A Mad Man’s World (1978)
seeds of Discontennt (Detroit Audio Project)

 Friday morning focused on previously hidden collections in private hands, including a selection of home movies about the Canadian resident schools, where First Nations children were incarcerated for decades, the Portable TV collection in Rochester, N.Y. focusing on the racist urban renewal policies of city government in the 1960s/70s, and Canadian gay men’s tapes by artists who died of AIDS. In the latter presentation, the speaker accused mainstream archives and the Orphans Symposium itself of homophobia in preserving AIDS estate collections, a claim only partially justified, given the decades-long work of Jon Gartenberg and the AIDS Estate Project. The last two presentations of the morning discussed the New York State Otisville Training School for Boys film club films, and the discovery of a Detroit audio collection, involving interviewing discontented black Detroit youth, the latter now available online at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research.

Esdras Baptista at work, n.d.
Memmortigo (1933, Delmir de Caralt)

In the afternoon session, panelists from Mexico and Spain screened student films from the 1950s, in the former case made by CREFAL (Regional Center for Fundamental Education in Latin America) to educate illiterate peasants in liberal democracy. Next, the Universidade Fluminense Federal in Brazil introduced the work of Communist filmmaker Esdras Bapitista who documented leftist political activity in Brazil for decades. Before Orphanistas viewed a selection of four films about or by radical worker organizations in the USA, Japan, and Norway, to end the afternoon, they discovered Memmortigo (1933, Delmir de Caralt), a newly restored avant-garde film from Catalonia. The title translates as Suicide, the film a metaphoric journey through life, its well-dressed hero on a walk through the countryside; employing the Kuleshov effect, in that whatever the young man sees in p.o.v cuts expresses his internal psychic state.  Memmortigo is an important addition to the international film avant-garde, especially as it intersects with amateur films.

Six et douze (1968, Ahmed Bouanani)

The first two presentations Saturday morning introduced the efforts of Cine-Archiv (Paris) to preserve the surviving fragments of Med Hondo’s first, never released Ballades aux sources (1965), and the establishment of the archive of Moroccan filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani, whose film Six et Douce (1968) – a city film about Casablanca – was screened. The next two sessions were dedicated to the Black Panthers: The Yale film archive screened Breakfast (1970) and other films by Josh Morton, a radical filmmaker allied with the New Haven Panthers at that time, and NMAAHC showed clips from a restoration in progress of Black Chariot (1971), a community financed fiction feature film by actor/ writer Robert L. Goodwin; the Christian inflected film about a Panther-like organization bombed in its Santa Monica premiere – in contrast to the contemporary Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) – and was considered lost for decades.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business…. (1978)
Inside Women Inside (1978)

The symposium’s final session was dedicated to Ithaca College’s Participatory Community Media Project, which screened several films, including Ain’t Nobody’s Business (1978) about battered women and Inside Women Inside (1978), about women incarcerated in the prison system, both as fresh and relevant today as forty years ago. The Project’s touring program of forty-one films, now available for universities and libraries, privileges use value over commercial value, short forms over long, collaborative authorship over individual creation, local/micro issues over global ones, small gauge over professional technology, thus creating new exhibition spaces and empowering both makers and audience. 

The Orphans Symposium is known for bringing archivists and academics together to discuss processes of collecting, preservation, cataloging, and access, and this iteration was no exception. Orphans’ vibe is non-confrontational, more about support and feeling good, or as one long-time presenter put it, “entertainment,” than critical discourse, which is its strength. However, there is an unexpressed notion that every piece of celluloid or videotape is valuable in and of itself, without presenters often communicating its significance, without contextualizing the material within history, thereby coming dangerously close to a fetishization of rare objects. This reservation aside, nowhere can one get a better idea of developments in the archival field than at the Orphans Film Symposium.   

Ballades aux source (1965, Med Hondo)

298: James Card Lecture

Archival Spaces 298

James Card Memorial Lecture at Nitrate Picture Show

Uploaded 24 June 2022

James Card ca. 1975 with one of his legendary sports cars

Below is an excerpt of my James Card Memorial Lecture at the recent Nitrate Picture Show at George Eastman Museum on 4 June 2022. As some people know, I started my career there:

47 years ago I began my career as a motion picture archivist, although at the time I don’t think I knew that was actually happening.  In September 1975, I moved from Boston to Rochester, New York, and began a one-year postgraduate internship in the film department at George Eastman Museum, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.  As far as I can tell, it was the first formal moving image archive training program in the United States. Getting the internship was more luck than anything else. I had finished my master’s degree at Boston University in May, having written a thesis on “Ernst Lubitsch and the Rise of UFA.”  Wishing to follow Lubitsch’s tracks to Hollywood, I applied for and received a fellowship from the Louis B. Mayer Foundation Oral History Program at the American Film Institute, in order to interview German Jewish refugees from the film industry who had fled Hitler after 1933.  While I was doing research at the AFI’s old Greystone Mansion, I got a call from Eastman’s assistant director, Andy Eskind, asking me if I would like to have a paid internship in GEH’s film department. Apparently, their chosen candidate had changed his mind and gone to Washington’s Folger Library.  When I asked how they had heard about me, I was told that they had called my thesis advisor, Prof. Evan Cameron, because he had organized a major film conference at Eastman a year earlier. I had written a paper about nitrate film preservation for Evan in a seminar after I had told him I wanted to be a film historian or critic, not a filmmaker.  

George Eastman Mansion
Old vaults in the basement of the mansion

In any case, I suddenly had my first archival job. The film department at Eastman was still run by legendary film collector and archivist, James Card, who immediately took a liking to me, because he had studied in Germany and was an incurable Germanophile.  He became my first mentor, as did George Pratt, the department’s assistant curator. The staff was tiny: Marshall Deutelbaum, who eventually moved to a professorship in film studies at Purdue University, Kay McRae, Card’s longtime secretary, Allan Bobey, and projectionist Bob Ogie.

James Card at old Strong Nitrate vaults at back of Eastman property

My first job at Eastman Museum that September was conducting an inventory of the nitrate vaults at the back of the property.  I think I spent three months in those vaults with Jonathan Doherty, the son of museum director Robert Doherty, diligently writing down all the information on every can.  We had absolutely no training on the handling of nitrate film, which is unthinkable today, given the many hazards to which we were exposed in the old nitrate vaults. The irony was that Jim Card was dead set against any kind of cataloging or inventory.  This was an era when the FBI was still looking for film pirates, and many of the films in the archive (as in every major American archive) were there semi-legally, often having been procured in the collector’s market. 

George Pratt, 1958, Theodore Huff Room
Theodore Huff Room, 3rd floor, Eastman Mansion, 1986

As an intern, I was involved in almost all departmental activities, including preservation and programming, and learned mostly by doing. I also spent almost all of my free time watching films from the vaults. My whole sense of film history changed.  Like most film students, I had a “greatest hits” notion of film history, meaning I had seen some of the classics from Griffith to Fellini, but now I was getting a vertical, as well as a horizontal view of film history. On weekends I would often project films for friends of Card who had come to see films or do research. I also spent a lot of time in the old library, reading film historical texts. Meanwhile, George Pratt educated me in the use of primary source material and its importance for film historical research, patiently guiding my way through the maze of files, books, film magazines, and photographs. We would begin with a particular filmographic problem and then, as if on some grand treasure hunt, ferret out all the relevant information, oftentimes resolving an issue after flipping through one of George’s legendary notebooks.

When I left Eastman, I knew I wanted to be a film historian working in an archive, but there weren’t really many jobs in the field back then.  I went to Europe and eventually started a Ph.D., while occasionally doing freelance work as an archive researcher.  Eight years later that I returned to Eastman Museum to become an associate curator of film, still guided by the lessons that Jim Card and George Pratt, each so different, had taught me. In a 45-year career, I’ve been privileged to synthesize those lessons, putting my archival work in the service of film history and film historical writing in the service of film archives.

James Card, 1970s
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919. Robert Wiene)

The first time I met Jim was in his office on the third floor of the old Eastman House mansion, standing in front of a photographic portrait of himself dressed as Werner Kraus in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In his autobiography, Seductive Cinema, Card wrote that a 9.5mm print of Caligari was the second film to enter his collection, bought in Heidelberg in 1936, when he was an exchange student in Germany. Later, Card would say that the only reason he had gone to Germany was to find a print of Caligari.  It was the same year that Langlois founded the Cinémathèque, supposedly by starting a collection of nitrate films in his bathtub.  Card’s first acquisition had been James Sibley Watson’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), F.W. Murnau’s Faust the third.  Could I have ever imagined then that I would reconstruct Caligari at the Munich Filmmuseum twenty years later or that Fall of the House of Usher would become a central piece of evidence in my book on the neglected early American avant-garde?

Nitrate film fire

Card’s example also has led me to treat nitrate with respect, but not with exaggerated fear.  He was always totally incensed when he spoke of the policy in certain national archives, such as the British Film Institute of destroying nitrate once it had been copied. While nitrate fires had occurred, and such fires were indeed extremely dangerous, nitrate could be handled safely. Contrary to what many younger archivists who have never handled nitrate material may think, nitrate will seldom self-ignite. If one is not smoking, nitrate film can not only be examined, but it can also reveal stories that disappear in preservation to polyester or digital. My own guilty pleasure at Eastman and later in Munich was to look at nitrate prints on an editing table, for cataloging purposes or in the course of reconstruction. Time has also proven Card correct in terms of nitrate’s longevity. While the American Film Institute’s battle cry of the 1970s was “Nitrate Won’t Wait,” the field now realizes that nitrate can wait, if it is stored properly and inspected regularly.  Indeed, RIT research in the 1990s demonstrated that nitrate will last hundreds of years.

Viewing film in new Eastman archive building, ca. 1992