Here at MIRC, we invite our staff members to contribute to the feature video selection and write a blog piece about why they chose the film that they did. This week’s video and blog is by Brittany Braddock, our film scanning technician, who works magic with the 2k Kinetta scanner we have for our more delicate films. The feature video this week was a mystery film from a collection donated to us which is currently being processed in more detail. Film collections at MIRC can consist of a mixture of film content, some of which may need more investigation than others, as in this case and Brittany will explain more about this here:
I spend the majority of my time at MIRC in what we call the Kinetta room. It houses our high-definition, frame-integrity film scanner with which I am well-acquainted as well as a super fancy (industry term) film inspection bench, the Debrie. The latter is responsible for a great deal of distracted curiosity.
Often, our curators will inspect their collections in this room and I’ll hover over the more interesting bits or offer a hand with Google searches if we think we may be able to uncover more information about a film. This is one of my favorite things about working at MIRC. The film stock itself already offers a wealth of information encoded on its edges in the form of shapes and numbers that allow us to date the item, determine what kind of editing has been done, and in some cases tell us what camera was used to film it.
Several weeks back, our assistant director and curator, Heather Heckman was processing some of the Rubenstein collection. Our website offers this blurb:
“This collection is eclectic. It includes news footage, home movies, prints of major Hollywood productions (most 16mm), several hundred Castle films, Castle film distribution catalogs, and equipment.”
Heather came upon a film in Rubenstein that appeared to be shot on-location from two different film sets. The beginning of the footage is shot on a beach featuring men in various styles of military uniform while the end is a western scene complete with shoot-outs and attacks on horseback. A family appears on both sets and in the scenes that make up the middle of the home movie – beach vacation shots, Girl Scouts, tennis, etc.
It was enough to draw me in. I HAD to know what these films were. Days of searching the Internet ensued.
Aided by edge code, Heather and I were able to date the film stock to 1953 which I compared to the production dates of my movie candidates collected from the AFI, IMDB, and TCM movie databases.
I inspected my HD transfer of the film frame by frame, capturing the faces of actors and actresses that flashed on the screen too quickly in some cases to be seen at regular playback speed. Then I pored over photos of actors and actresses of the time comparing their features. I collected stills from the home movie and compared them to stills from my film candidates – which, by the way, was no easy task as there is not exactly a surplus of information about the films that I would eventually identify as the winners.
Heather had already proposed that the first film was possibly El Alamein (1953) directed by Fred F. Sears.
My quest to confirm it, was probably (as pointed out by MIRC curator and my boss, Greg) overly exhaustive. It took a half-second glance of a woman’s face captured in my frame-by-frame analysis of the first on-location shoot to appease me that in fact, the actress Rita Moreno, the star actress of El Alamein, was present.
A further search of Fred F. Sears’ work and production locations, a quick shot of a young boy’s hat from Camp Junipero Serra, and a meticulous study of actress Peggie Castle’s face were eventually enough to mostly convince me that the second film being shot at the end of the home movie footage is Overland Pacific (1954).
Whose home movies are these? I don’t know. Perhaps the family featured is in fact that of Fred F. Sears. Or, possibly, a crewmember he tended to work with on multiple productions. I’d need some pretty advanced resources to find that out. I have scrawled so many ridiculous notes in my search to solve the mystery and have only really highlighted here a minute selection of the evidence and theories that bore fruit. Either way, this film is a unique look at this family’s life. It encompasses all the mundane summer vacation details familiar to all home movie collections, but it is juxtaposed against these Hollywood productions that were also this family’s not so ordinary experience. It was a fascinating find. Feel free to pick it apart as well. Enjoy!
Blog written by Brittany Braddock, Scanning Technician at MIRC