Celebrating Earth Day with South Carolina Wildlife Films

In celebration of Earth Day we are highlighting the South Carolina Department of Wildlife Films Collection. The collection, which contains over a thousand rolls of 16mm film in several hundred cans, was shot by the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department* from the 1950s to the 1980s. The majority of the materials are pre-print elements including original camera footage, work prints, answer prints, outtakes, and sound tracks. The footage consists mostly of local animal species and locations, and was used to create TV spots, educational films, and PSAs. MIRC volunteer Jesika Brooks, who has been working on the collection, tells us more about it.

The SC Wildlife Collection paints a subtle portrait of the natural world in South Carolina. Given the scope of the collection, with hundreds of cans filled with hundreds more reels of film, it’s like a longitudinal study of the state’s flora and fauna in the ’70s and ’80s.


Frames from an edited work print for “Ducks on the Wing.”

Footage was shot across South Carolina, although the focus of the films shifts between natural sites and the wildlife itself. There are rolls upon rolls of ducks, the breeds carefully cataloged. There are reels devoted to explorations of ponds, marshes, and lakes. There are outtakes of South Carolina landmarks in their natural state.

While some of the films in the SC Wildlife Collection are narrow in scope—for example, the large number of elements used for the production “Ducks on the Wing,” a film intended to teach viewers to identify various species of ducks—other films are less discriminating. The description of one can of film mentions ospreys, cougars, elk, red foxes, doves, cardinals, black bears, and more. That single can is only a fraction of the collection, but its images showcase a veritable menagerie of South Carolina wildlife.


Frames from roll of film labeled “Baby Turtles”

Peppered throughout the stacks are rolls of film filled with shots of baby animals such as turtles, pelicans, and ducks. One film is even called “Wildlife Babies.” Baby animals have the lion cub’s share of attention on- and off-line, so it’s not difficult to imagine how this footage was later incorporated into wildlife TV shows. Animal Planet’s “Too Cute!” is a testament to the overwhelming popularity of young wildlife.

Animals aren’t the only subjects of the collection, although they get top billing. Some of the films showcase outdoor sports in South Carolina. A number of films are about fishing, unsurprising given the number of people in the state that like to fish. The titles of these films range from “Saltwater Fishing” to “Trout Fishing” to the enthusiastic “Fish On!” It’s interesting to see how this pastime has retained its popularity even through the decades.


Still of a peregrine falcon from “Endangered Species.”

Some of the films in the SC Wildlife Collection paint a less than flattering portrait of man’s interactions with nature. One film in the collection depicts illegal turkey hunting. Another one depicts an illegal deer kill. These films stand alongside “Hunter Ethics” and “Endangered Species,” which documents local species considered threatened in the early 1970s.

The footage in this collection is a vibrant record of a particular location at particular point in time, and will only become more significant as South Carolina landscapes and ecosystems continue to evolve. Whether viewed for purely entertainment purposes or employed to help illustrate the importance of environmental conservation efforts, the South Carolina Department of Wildlife Films Collection is a wealth of unique material with a variety of potential uses.

~Written by Jesika Brooks, MIRC volunteer

*In 1994 under the S.C. Restructuring Act, the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department merged with several other agencies including the Water Resources Commission, Land Resources Commission, State Geological Survey, and S.C. Migratory Waterfowl Committee to become the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

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How George Lucas May Have Saved Babe Ruth

The following post was written by MIRC Post Production Specialist Brittany Braddock, detailing her work on Fox newsreel footage of Babe Ruth for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball Hall of Fame Senior Curator Tom Shieber’s research on another newsreel from the MIRC vaults, depicting Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig from June 1, 1925, was recently highlighted in the New York Times. MIRC footage of Babe Ruth was also featured in the 2011 opera, Bambino, by USC Aiken professor Dr. Richard Maltz.


Still image from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

In the late 1970s, Fox had a bit of a problem. Their massive collection of Movietone newsreel footage on cellulose nitrate film was aging, and certainly not gracefully. There were several factors that led to the destruction of a vast majority of silent and newsreel footage from this era. Nitrate film was highly volatile. When kept under anything but the most carefully controlled conditions, it was liable to burst into flames or, in less extreme circumstances, degrade past the point of recognition. The disastrous fire of 1978 that destroyed much of the Universal newsreels (over 12 million feet) brought to the forefront the need to act quickly to ensure the safety of nitrate newsreels, the stories they held, and the facilities that housed them. When it wasn’t erupting into flames, nitrate was decaying. As cellulose nitrate ages, it emits acidic gases that break down the film base and cause can rusting. The base becomes tacky and sticks to itself, over time forming a solid mass that I like to refer to as “rock candy.” The emulsion image begins to separate from the clear base and a piece of filmed history quickly becomes irretrievable.

Still from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

Still from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

Up until recent decades, much of the film used by both Fox and their peers was kept under unsustainable conditions for a number of reasons. Nitrate was not considered valuable enough to hold onto, as safety film using an acetate base was seen to be more desirable due to less volatility, and some would argue that the intrinsic value of this record of the past was not yet fully recognized. However, thanks in large part to the priceless images of World War II caught by Fox Movietone cameramen, and possibly in part to a space opera, much of the collection would survive, including a few gems featuring the Sultan of Swat himself.


Still image of Babe Ruth from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

It is a commonly held belief that after the box office success of Star Wars in 1977, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation came into some big money fast and was looking for a tax break – which would come in the form of a big heap of decaying film. After years of negotiations and the loss of much of the originally intended donation to either flame or decay, over a series of structured gifts, the University of South Carolina Newsfilm Library (today, MIRC) received 11 million feet of film, 7 million of which was nitrate. The original plan was to convert all nitrate to acetate safety film and then donate it to the University. Unfortunately, a great deal of nitrate original films were lost after their conversion. One of these films was outtake footage of the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, in which Babe Ruth was filmed hitting a homerun and rounding the bases on April 14, 1931.


Still image of Babe Ruth from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

This particular reel made it through conversion to its acetate copy just in time. However, it is nearly unwatchable. The nitrate had to have been so damaged that it could barely even make it through the printer. The image dances across the length of the film base in a nauseating, repetitive manner. Huge portions of the optical soundtrack are lost and much of the frame registers as a blinding white where the emulsion had migrated off the base. One of the most iconic images in baseball history, Babe running the bases, was nearly lost.


Still image of Babe Ruth from Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed on April 14, 1931.

When the senior curator of the Baseball Hall of Fame based in Cooperstown, New York found out about the Movietone outtakes, the value was not lost on him. He saw the condition of the only surviving record of this film and asked if there was anything we could do about it. Currently, the archive relies on the program Adobe After Effects to do much of our stabilization work. It is a time-consuming effort that is not entirely foolproof. This method is used to stabilize footage that, when passed through the high definition scanner, adopts a consistent bouncing effect to the image in the frame. When I was approached with the Babe Ruth footage, it was clear that the usual stabilization process would not suffice to make the film watchable, and certainly not to such a large museum audience in Cooperstown. The task at hand became clear. Each of the 4,293 frames would need to be taken into Adobe Photoshop, individually adjusted to align the frame to roughly its original position, and then exported as a tiff file that could then be reincorporated into a tiff sequence and then passed through the stabilizing software. In total, the process of adjusting the images took 30 hours.

When I spoke to Tom Shieber via email following the delivery of the final product, he was thrilled with the result. “Now this wonderful sequence of Babe Ruth homering and circling the bases back on April 14, 1931, can be shared with the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to our museum each year,” he said.

There is a level of tedium that comes with the work that we do here at the archive. When the material is in poor condition it requires care and time that I’m certain its original creators never could have imagined. I’m proud of so much of the work that I’ve done here, but this project in particular will definitely rank among my proudest efforts. We are all very happy when previously unseen films can make it to a wider audience, in this case the baseball community who will be sure to appreciate these images for years to come.

Written by Brittany Braddock, MIRC Post Production Specialist

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New Orleans Jazz Artist Identified in Fox Movietone News Collection

Possibly a young CoCoMo Joe Barthelemy.

Possibly a young CoCoMo Joe Barthelemy.

In these Fox Movietone News outtakes filmed in December 1928, two boys dance in a New Orleans park while a third plays music on a homemade drum kit. Greg Lambousy, Director of Collections at the Louisiana State Museum, believes he has identified the drummer in the clip as New Orleans jazz artist “CoCoMo” (sometimes KoKoMo) Joe Barthelemy. Lambousy offers as evidence a photograph of CoCoMo Joe on Royal Street in 1981, playing a drum set like the one pictured in our film. While we cannot affirm the identity of the musician with absolute certainty, the date, location, age of the boy, and the makeshift drums, in particular, argue persuasively for the case of CoCoMo Joe.


Another shot of the drummer that may be CoCoMo Joe.

Published information about CoCoMo Joe is limited, though a New York Times article about his funeral is available here. Born in New Orleans in 1913, Barthelemy was a street performer and a fixture in the French Quarter until his death in 1990. He was known for drumming on a handmade kit of metal cans attached to a wooden crate. The Louisiana State Museum holds one of these homemade kits its music collection.

When CoCoMo Joe died he was given a traditional New Orleans send off, a picture of which can be found here.

A photo of Barthelemy as a young man would provide the best evidence to support this identification. If you know of such a photo or have any additional information that may help, please contact us at mirc@mailbox.sc.edu. Many thanks to Greg Lambousy and the Louisiana State Museum for making the discovery!

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The National Film Registry and the Director’s Cut of “Take This Hammer”

In 1988, the National Film Preservation Board was established to identify films for preservation in the Library of Congress. Every year, the Board advises the Librarian of Congress on the selection of up to 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” for the National Film Registry (NFR) to increase awareness for preservation and protect America’s rich and diverse film heritage.

Over 600 films have been added to the Registry since its creation, including Hollywood classics, orphan films, newsreels, independent and experimental films, short subjects, serials, home movies, documentaries, and more. While the Film Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress officially choose the films, they consider public nominations when deliberating. You can learn more about nominating films for the NFR here.

Two films from the MIRC collections have been added to the NFR to date. In 2003, Fox Movietone News outtakes of the Jenkins Orphanage Band was selected. Filmed in 1928, this newsreel footage is the earliest extant sound recording of one of the country’s most important jazz “incubators.” In 2012, the Board added Scott Nixon’s The Augustas, a Augustassignificant record of mid-century Americana. Filmed in the 1930s and 1940s by a traveling salesman from Georgia, this home movie features a variety of American cities and towns named Augusta. MIRC continues to advocate for valuable films in the collection that have not yet made it onto the Registry, including these Fox Movietone News outtakes of New York street scenes and noises.

The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress works with the studios, independent filmmakers, or institutions to find the best film elements of each chosen title and conserve them under optimal conditions. In some cases, the films have already been preserved. Inclusion in the Registry can also increase the chances for archives to acquire funding for physical preservation of the film. For this reason, a San Francisco archive is working to have a culturally important film in their holdings added to the Film Registry.

400px-TvarchiveThe San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive at San Francisco State University contains over 4000 hours of local newsfilm, documentaries, and other programs. Part of the J. Paul Leonard Library’s Department of Special Collections, the SFBATV maintains materials donated by broadcasters, production companies, and private individuals for preservation as academic resources.

You can learn more about the archive and its work to preserve the San Francisco Bay area’s audio-visual heritage in this short film.

Alex2SF State University’s film archivist Alex Cherian has spent the last few years diligently viewing, reviewing, cataloging, and digitizing the collections to make them freely available online for researchers, students, and film aficionados. He has uncovered many gems in his time as archivist, and is currently advocating for the addition of his most recent find to the NFR. This new discovery is the Director’s Cut TTHof the 1963 documentary film Take this Hammer, which follows writer James Baldwin as he investigates race relations in San Francisco. Thanks to Alex, you can watch the film here.

February 4th, 2014 is the 50th Anniversary of the first television broadcast of the film and an event is being organized in San Francisco to mark the occasion.

BaldwinThe film is currently being used by filmmakers in the Bayview Hunters Point community (one of the neighborhoods Baldwin visited) to produce oral histories. Modern audiences continue to find the film relevant to their experience today and it has even been used to teach college seminars in a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

I asked Alex how he came across this film:

 “Take this Hammer was passed to us by KQED (local PBS affiliate) in the 1980s. It was in a can labeled ‘silent.’ When I checked this 16mm print in 2013, I saw it had an optical soundtrack and was 15 minutes longer than all the other prints we had of Take this Hammer. When we first remastered the print I got really excited because it contained scenes that weren’t in the TV broadcast edit.

In 2012 director Richard O. Moore was interviewed by a TV Archive production team. He explained that he was forced to cut 15 minutes from his original edit by the KQED Board of Directors, some of whom felt it was ‘inflammatory, distorted, sacrilegious.’ The rough n’ ready end credits on this 59 minute print confirmed our suspicion that this was the uncut, original version of his film.”

You can learn more about Take This Hammer in this making-of video, or read about it here.

Your voice can make a difference. Contact the National Film Preservation Board to nominate this film (or others) for addition to the National Film Registry. One email can help to preserve a significant part of our shared culture for future generations.

Written by Lydia Pappas, MIRC Assistant Director and Curator

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10th Chinese Film Festival -The Monkey King on Film

MKUpdated with screening information for February 17th!

The 10th Chinese Film Festival is upon us, and this year’s theme is the Monkey King and the Chinese traditional literary story “Journey to the West.” The Nickelodeon Theatre will host the screenings every Monday evening in February. Come and join the Monkey King on his magical adventures!

The Chinese Film Festival is sponsored by the Confucius Institute and co-sponsored by the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections and the Nickelodeon Theatre. This event, now in its tenth installment, celebrates the Chinese New Year and aims to introduce classic and modern Chinese films to the South Carolina community.

Schedule of films:

Monkey King Conquers the Demon – 5:30pm Monday, February 3rd                                                                                                                                        

MK-Conquers_DemonThis animation is the story of the “Journey to the West” (Xi You Ji) from the second part, which tells the tale of Monkey King Sun Wu-Kong, holy Monk Tang, pigsy monk Zhu Ba-Jie and faithful monk Sha Wu-Jing, who must retrieve the Buddhist sutras. The Female White Bone Devil, who wants to eat Monk Tang, appears to them three times under human form but Wu-Kong unmasks her and kills the human forms. However Monk Tang misunderstands the monkey and punishes him driving him away to his birthplace, the Hua Guo Mountain. Meanwhile, Tang and his disciples are cheated again by the Devil in the false Tian Wang Temple. View the trailer.

This is a FREE archive screening that will show a film from MIRC’s Chinese Film Collection

Studio:  Shanghai Animated Film Studio; Director: TE Wei, YAN Dingxian; Language: Chinese with English subtitles; Genre: Animated Film; Release Date: 1985

The Forbidden Kingdom — 5:30pm Monday, February 10th                                                                              

Forbidden_KingdomThis Chinese-American martial arts film stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The film is loosely based on the novel Journey to the West and is the first film to star two of the best-known names in the martial arts film genre. The film features a discovery made by a kung fu obsessed American teen, which sends him on an adventure to China, where he joins up with a band of martial arts warriors in order to free the imprisoned Monkey King. View the trailer.

Studio: Casey Silver Productions, Lions Gate, Huayi Brothers; Director: Rob Minkoff; Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano; Language: Chinese with English subtitles; Genre: Martial Arts/Action; Release Date: 2008

Journey to the West-Conquering the Demons – 5:30pm Monday February 17th                                                                                                                                  

journey_to_westThe film is a loose comedic re-interpretation of the novel by director Stephen Chow, well known for his film, Kung-Fu Hustle. It is made as a prequel to the story, Journey to the West, and imagines what happened to the Monk before he gains his disciples and embarks on his journey. This story centers on Tang Sanzang, a Buddhist trying to protect a village from three demons, and his emerging feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who helps him repeatedly.  Sanzang asks the Monkey King for help to conquer the demons. View the trailer.

Studio: Bingo Movie Development, Huayi Brothers, China Film Group; Director: Stephen Chow, Chi-kin Kwok; Cast: SHU Qi, WEN Zhang, HUANG Bo; Language: Chinese with English subtitles; Genre: Action/Comedy; Release Date: 2013

Birth of Monkey King – 5:30pm Monday, February 24th (Q&A with the director)

Birth_of_MKThis is a story about courage and power, which shows the birth of Monkey King and his later adventures. Born from a stone on Spring Mountain and given the title of Handsome Monkey King, Monkey King seeks to learn the secret of eternal life. Under the tutelage of the Buddhist Master Puti, Monkey King becomes incredibly powerful, but his hubris grows until he runs afoul of the gods, who dispatch an army to Spring Mountain to subdue the Monkey King, who has declared himself the “Emperor of Heaven.”

This FREE film screening will conclude with a Q&A session with director Hansen Liang.

Studio: Yuan Cheng Video Broadcast Company; Director: Hansen Liang; Language: Chinese with English subtitles; Genre: Animated Film; Release Date: 2009

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Prohibition Era Footage at MIRC

This year is the 94th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in the United States. This imposed national ban on alcohol remained in effect until 1933. The illegal activity that resulted, paired with the music, culture, decadence, and new technology of the raucous era known as the “Roaring Twenties,” make this an unforgettable period in American history. The 18th Amendment outlawed the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” as well the importation and exportation of booze to or from the country. The amendment was carried out under the National Prohibition Act (commonly known as the Volstead Act), which defined “intoxicating liquors” as any drink that contained more than .5% alcohol by volume.

Moving Image Research Collections contains a wealth of Prohibition era footage, including newsreels and outtakes from the Fox Movietone News Collection, as well as home movies. Several pieces from MIRC were featured in Ken Burns’ popular documentary series, Prohibition, and a variety of our materials from this remarkable period are available to view online at MIRC’s Digital Video Repository.

Moonshine StillThe alcohol ban proved difficult to enforce, but raiding the facilities manufacturing the illegal substance was a common publicity tactic. Newsreel outtakes filmed on June 19, 1929 document the outcome of a raid on a particular moonshine still. Bottles and barrels of whiskey are destroyed in the street while a crowd gathers and broken glass piles up on the curb. One bystander tries to use his hands to drink the liquor flowing down the gutter toward the sewer, but is almost immediately stopped by the sheriff.

Road RaidIn these outtakes from a staged Fox Movietone News story filmed in 1929, federal prohibition agents stop a vehicle on the road to search it for alcohol. The agents tear the Model T apart while looking for hidden contraband. Note the multiple takes of the agents “testing” the contents of a bottle found in the vehicle. Their efforts drain the jug almost completely.

Rum Runner

An example of the maritime enforcement of Prohibition, these Fox News outtakes show the aftermath of the capture of a rum runner carrying scotch whiskey. Perhaps unexpectedly, there is a feeling of playfulness in this footage, as seen in the staged shot where a stevedore jokingly tries to drink from one of the confiscated bottles before an agent takes it away, smiling.

Adams, Nova ScotiaIn contrast to the newsreels, amateur films at MIRC illustrate some of the more personal experiences of Prohibition. In this home movie from the Frederick C. Adams collection, shot sometime around 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Adams take a trip to Nova Scotia with friends. As the ship leaves Boston, a Coast Guard vessel designated CG-17 can be seen. This was one of several vessels loaned by the US Navy for Rum Patrol duties during Prohibition. These ships sought to prevent alcoholic beverages from entering the country by sea. While in Canada, the four travelers gladly partake in some Baty’s Glencastle Brand Scotch Whisky.

Adams, bar partyAlso from the Adams collection, this home movie documents a private party from 1926, and was one of several MIRC pieces featured in Ken Burns’ Prohibition. In the footage (which starts at about 7:30 in the video), revelers drink, sing, and dance together. It is important to note that during prohibition the consumption of alcohol was not outlawed. It was legal to retain and privately drink any alcoholic beverage obtained prior to January 17, 1920, and many took advantage of this loophole. Especially in the upper classes, individuals stocked up on wine and liquors before the ban went into effect. In some cases, the stock was enough to last throughout the entire dry period.

These are just a few of the many examples at MIRC that illustrate the far-reaching effects of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. For more information, or to view additional footage, email mirc@mailbox.sc.edu.

*This post was written with input from several sources, including Last Call, by Daniel Okrent.

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Donation Stories: Stephanie Wilds on the Phelps Sisters Collection

Phelps World Cruise

Decades later, it is difficult to know exactly how involved either sister was in the creation of each film, but in most cases it is assumed they worked together in close collaboration.

In 1992, Stephanie Wilds donated a collection of 35mm and 16mm home movies shot and edited by her great-aunt and grandmother, Claudia Lea Phelps and Eleanor Phelps Wilds, to the Moving Image Research Collections. Fixtures of Aiken, SC society, the sisters were avid travelers who circumnavigated the globe in the 1920s. Claudia Lea was a sportswoman and well known for breeding West Highland terriers. Eleanor was a dedicated philanthropist and active in local politics. These films document the sisters’ vibrant social lives both at home in South Carolina, and abroad in their world travels. More information about the history of the Phelps family can be found at the website created by Ellen Wilds, Stephanie Wilds’ sister.

In 2011, Ms. Wilds donated additional materials from the Phelps family, including slides, glass slides, photographic prints, photo equipment, manuscript materials, and more films. The photos, slides, and manuscripts are located at the University’s South Caroliniana Library, and the collection at MIRC now includes nearly 14,000 feet of film—approximately five hours worth of watchable material.

Sailboats, Dogs, Girl Scouts

Still from a Phelps home movie compilation from 1922-1923. Includes footage of vacations, Girls Scouts, outdoor recreation, dogs, and horses.

At the time of Ms. Wilds’ gift in 1992, USC and the Phelps family already had a relationship going back several decades. Claudia Lea Phelps donated a collection of books of botanical interest that belonged to her mother, Mrs. Sheffield Phelps, in 1959. The core of the collection is composed of virtually every significant book published on the camellia, Mrs. Phelps’ personal gardening interest. The materials are housed in in the Irvin Department of Rare Books in the Thomas Cooper Library.

Below, Ms. Wilds provides some insight into the reasons behind donating a home movie collection, and the importance of keeping her family mementoes in the same institution.

 Over the past several decades, various collections belonging to my family have been donated to USC, ranging from my great grandmother’s Camellia Folios to travel diaries belonging to my great aunt and grandmother [Claudia Lea Phelps and Eleanor Phelps Wilds].  I knew that the portion of the family archives that I had inherited (including films, diaries, glass slides, photographs, and other artifacts) was key to tying together all the collections. With these materials in place at USC, anyone researching almost any aspect of the Phelps family would have everything available in one, safe place. Reuniting the travel films with the travel diaries was especially important to me.

Crossing the Line

Still from home movie shot during the around the world cruise that depicts the ceremony performed when crossing the equator, 1923.

The travel diaries described by Ms. Wilds include two volumes compiled by Eleanor Phelps Wilds that document the sisters’ 1922-1923 world tour. Around the World by the S.S. Laconia Book 1 and Book 2 reside in the South Caroliniana Library. The diaries can be viewed online as part of a Digital Collection that makes diary entries, photographs, maps, and souvenirs searchable by type or location. The digital collection also links to a film from the trip available for viewing at MIRC’s video repository. By virtually uniting manuscript, photographic, and moving image collections—all of which demand different types of archival expertise for their care—the university can illuminate the historical practice of dedicated amateurs working in multiple media and connect the history of South Carolina to the world. As Ms. Wilds as puts it:

 For two decades I had been intending to ‘do something’ with these materials, and had, instead, let them languish in a cupboard. It was time to reunite them with the other Phelps materials, making them both publicly available, and safely and responsibly cared for.

The home movies are now stored in climate-controlled vaults that will extend the life of the films, protecting them from the damage caused by hot and humid South Carolina summers. Since the donation, 15 of the films have been digitized and placed in MIRC’s Digital Video Repository, facilitating access for scholars, as well as friends and family members.

 [Friends and family] are amused, delighted, and amazed to see the materials after all these years, and realize they would never have been able to see them without the incredible work that USC has done to make them available.  They have also been inspired to make their own donations.

According to Ms. Wilds, even she had not seen all of the films before gifting them to the university.

 Some I had seen before, and some I hadn’t.  I am pleased to be able to see the films and other materials of my family, and, more importantly I know these materials are in the right place, in the right hands. They are being cared for, and are also accessible to me if ever I want to work with them again. It was the right choice.

Scandinavia, Aiken

Still from a Phelps home movie shot during a trip to Scandinavia, and on a South Carolina plantation.

This is a remarkable collection that vividly details local South Carolina life alongside diverse global locales in the first half of the 20th century. Moving Image Research Collections would like to thank Ms. Wilds for the generous donation of her great-aunt and grandmother’s extraordinary films, and for taking the time to write about her donation experience.

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“Always Coming Home” Project Gives Female Veterans a Voice

In honor of Veteran’s Day we are highlighting films from the Always Coming Home project collection, a series of oral history interviews with female veterans. Cathy Brookshire, creator of the project and the documentary Soldier Girl, tells us a bit about how the project got started.

In 2010 the USC Classics in Contemporary Perspectives, a multi-disciplinary group of faculty and graduate students of which I was a member, was looking at Homer’s The Odyssey, and discussing the eerie similarities between the emotional and mental issues soldiers returning to the US were facing and those of Homer’s Odysseus.  Out of that discussion was born the idea of the 4 day Nostos Conference, an international conference held at USC in March, 2011.

Interviewee Susan Cusson

Hunter Gardner of the English Dept. and I offered to put together a “theatrical experience” for the Conference. I spent hours researching the subject of returning soldiers; listening to interviews, reading articles, and watching news stories.  One day, as I was listening to a lengthy interview with a male veteran, it suddenly occurred to me that out of all those voices, all those stories, all those articles, not one mentioned women veterans. Out of that peculiar silence was born the idea of giving women veterans a chance to talk about their experiences, to tell their stories.

We were profoundly lucky early on when James Henderson of the Media Arts program agreed to be our cameraman.  He has spent countless hours of near invisibility behind his camera as he and I interviewed one female veteran after another in Columbia, Charleston, and Beaufort, SC.

Interviewee Mary Rock

With the help of Lee Ann Kornegay, our film editor, Hunter and I created Soldier Girl, a 29 minute documentary structured to suggest the diverse motives of women entering the service, the experiences that these women have while deployed, and the opportunities and setbacks they face upon return to civilian life. Short interviews are interspersed with archival photos and film.  The film débuted at the Nostos Conference, and has since been screened by veterans groups, military mental health organizations, at numerous conferences, and was chosen for several screenings during the 2012 Indie Grits Film Festival.  Soldier Girl is available for viewing through MIRC.

 Always Coming Home: The American Female Veteran Experience was created shortly after the Conference as more and more women veterans contacted us asking to be interviewed.  What was once meant to be a short film is now a long term documentary project designed to acknowledge and give a public voice to women veterans whose return to civilian life has been affected by diverse combat and service situations but who have had little opportunity to share their experiences with the public.

In 2010 our project won a major grant from the Humanities Council SC and a University of South Carolina Promising Investigators Award, and, in 2012, a grant from the University of South Carolina Center for Digital Humanities. 

Interviewee Myra Reichert

Always Coming Home continues to videotape interviews with women veterans from all over the United States, all branches of service, who have served from WWII through today. Interviews generally run about 30 minutes, although some run longer than two hours. The interviews offer women veterans a time and place to reflect on their reasons for entering service, what life was like for them while serving, and how things have gone for them as veterans. Participating veterans share their experiences with the knowledge that their stories will be archived, preserved, and made available to the general public, filmmakers, researchers, historians, and mental and physical health personnel.  We have already collected close to 50 hours of interviews with female veterans, their families, and military mental health personnel. Interview transcripts are available for free at our website.

 In collaboration with the Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) at the University of South Carolina, we are digitally preserving the project’s full length interviews as well as related private and professional footage donated to the archive by the public.

“In hindsight I probably should have spoken out long, long ago. In my day, I was a pioneer simply because I was female…Today’s military woman is fully integrated into every aspect of the military, no longer unusual and serving combat roles. Yet, they are as much pioneers as we were since they are the first to transition [to] combat experiences that men have always dealt with. And their peer group to draw support from is much, much more restricted. I am genuinely pleased your project gives them a voice and proud to have contributed in some way.” Susan Jarvie, US Air Force 1976-1982 (March 26, 2010)

Currently, MIRC has made several of these interviews available for online viewing at our Digital Video Repository. We at MIRC would like to thank all the female vets who shared their stories, and Cathy Brookshire for all her hard work on the project and for contributing to this blog. For more information or to view other interviews in the collection, contact us at mirc@sc.edu.

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MIRC Newsreels Featured in The Roaring ’Twenties

For anyone who has ever wondered what the famous “roar” of the 1920s might have sounded like, The Roaring ’Twenties can help with the answer. Emily Thompson, a historian at Princeton, created the interactive project that documents the aural history of New York City in the vibrant 1920s and early 1930s. In the first few decades of the 20th century, the city was beginning to deal with the relatively new problem of excessive noise and the inevitable complaints that followed. The Roaring ’Twenties uses a variety of media, including documented noise complaints, contemporary newspaper articles, and Fox Movietone newsreels from MIRC to piece together the sounds of the city as it moved from the high life of the 1920s into the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In the introduction, Thompson describes the website as a “sonic time machine” that allows people to engage with “a place and time defined by its din.” Visitors to the site can browse using the Sound, Space, or Time buttons, which organize the various complaints, newsreels, and articles by type, geographic location, or date.

MIRC contributed fifty-four newsreels from the large archive of early sound footage in the Fox Movietone News collection. The first company to incorporate sound into its newsreels, Fox Movietone utilized an unusual recording system that created variable density optical sound tracks on the same strip of film that captured the corresponding images. This system ensured the original sound and images would remain paired together, over eight decades later.

Because image and audio in the Movietone footage are inherently linked, The Roaring ’Twenties offers not just the sounds of the decade, but the sights as well. One newsreel documents the streets of New York as the truck winds through Times Square, capturing not just noises, but the look of the people on the sidewalks, the cars in the road, and the theater marquees. Another video actually features the Noise Abatement Commission mentioned so often on the site. Toward the end of 1929, Movietone cameramen filmed a team from the commission measuring the “deafening effect” of the noise in Times Square. In yet another clip from 1928, visitors can watch a carnival barker at Coney Island “levitate” a woman as he yells to the passing crowd. The variety of footage, shot all over the city, represents the different aspects of life at the time. Sirens, music, early automobiles, construction sounds, and the bustle of the crowds are just some of the noises waiting to be discovered.

MIRC Newsfilm Curator Dr. Greg Wilsbacher was happy to work with Thompson on the project: “It’s rewarding to see the Fox collection used in such an innovative piece of scholarship.  I’m learning more about these early sound films by viewing them in this new context.”

Thompson partnered with Scott Mahoy to develop the website over several years, publishing it with the online journal Vectors at the University of Southern California. Unsurprisingly, The Roaring ’Twenties has already generated lots of buzz, with articles showing up on NPR and the New York Times websites. 

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Home Movie Day a Smashing Success

Preservation table with examples of degraded film.

Columbia’s Home Movie Day event, hosted by Moving Image Research Collections and the Nickelodeon Theatre this past Saturday, was a great success. Over fifty people attended the screening, MIRC staff answered numerous questions about the proper care and storage of film and video, and there was even an onsite donation of 8mm films to the archive. The Nickelodeon supplied awards and door prizes.

During the morning screening, where guests were welcome to come and go at their leisure, home movies from the MIRC collections were shown. There was an assortment of films from multiple families, shot across the United States and abroad.

The afternoon brought a juried program of local submissions, with the winning film earning preservation in the MIRC vaults. The three jurors, University of South Carolina professor of Film and Media Studies Mark Cooper, PhD candidate in Public History Jen Taylor, and Nickelodeon programming director Janell Rohan selected a home movie depicting the 1962 forced integration of the University of Mississippi for its historical value. SLIS student Jennifer Gunter submitted the footage on behalf of family friends.

The Childers family won the audience favorite award for their submission of the VHS home movie, “Rhubarb Pie,” in which a young man questions his family about their dessert choices, and asks his sibling rather more existential questions such as, “why are you the way you are?” 

Post production specialist Brittany Braddock inspecting 8mm film.

MIRC staff inspected films in the theater lobby and answered questions about home movie preservation. One attendee brought in a small collection of her father’s 8mm home movies and donated the films to MIRC on the spot. The donor says she looks forward to receiving the transfer of the materials that MIRC offers in exchange for donation. A lack of necessary equipment has prevented her from viewing any of the films, at least one of which contains images of her as a child.

A table run by MIRC employees in the nearby Soda City Farmers Market hosted activities for children and informed people about the screenings, drawing in passersby with a sandwich board asking, “What’s Your Edge Code?” Visitors were then encouraged to identify their corresponding edge codes—the symbols on the margins of film that indicate when it was produced—based on their birth year.

Interim Director Heather Heckman demonstrating the use of a cement splicer.

Home Movie Day is popular across the nation because it offers people the opportunity to view and share the footage they have been holding onto, often unseen, for years. The audience filled the theater with laughter and commentary throughout the screenings, lending to the atmosphere the relaxed feeling of watching these films at home with family.

Susan Rathbun-Grubb, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science, was one of the participants who submitted a home movie. “It is hard to explain the sense of wonder you feel when looking at the lives of family members at a time before you were born—seeing them in motion and in color, especially when all you have seen of the time period has been in still, black and white photographs,” Rathbun-Grubb says. “In some ways, Home Movie Day rekindled in me that awe of technology, taking me back in time and giving me that feeling people must have had back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—as sound and image technologies emerged as mainstream entertainment.”

MIRC would like to thank the Nickelodeon Theatre for their generosity in hosting Home Movie Day and providing the prize packs. The Nickelodeon’s participation was an integral part in the success of this year’s event, and MIRC looks forward to continuing the tradition next year. 

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