Jul 29

Finding Augusta in MIRC’s Regional Film Collections

Guest blogger Heidi Rae Cooley is an Associate Professor of Media Arts at the University of South Carolina. Her monograph Finding Augusta: Habits of Mobility and Governance in the Digital Era considers routine practices that define the mobile present. It argues that because digital technologies set places, persons, things, and information in constant motion, habits of locatability and navigation assume decisive social and political importance. As such, Cooley argues that we should attend to the everyday habits of finding places, persons, and information that mobile media encourage and discourage. Augusta App is the book’s digital supplement and is available for download from Apple’s App Store. Finding Augusta and its companion app were inspired by a film at Moving Image Research Collections, The Augustas, made Scott Nixon, a traveling independent insurance agent. Below, Cooley discusses her experiences with and interpretations of the original material. 

For most South Carolinians, Augusta names a city located just across the Georgia state line. This Augusta is known far and wide for hosting the Masters Golf Tournament each April. For those of us who have ties to USC’s Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC), it also suggests the prolific amateur filmmaker and photographer Scott Nixon. An independent insurance agent who travelled extensively, this charismatic Augusta native was a prominent figure in the city and its ardent advocate.


Still image from Scott Nixon’s “The Augustas.”

As Scott Nixon’s son Cobbs explains, “My father’s passion was Augusta.” So much so, as it turns out, that Nixon proposed naming his daughter Augusta Georgia Nixon. This did not happen. Nixon did, however, succeed in expressing his devotion to his home town through the images—still and moving—that he recorded during his travels from the 1930s through the 1950s.* This body of work records not only Augusta, GA, but any number of other cities, towns, streets, schools, and even flowers, bearing the name “Augusta.” Nixon’s enthusiastic Augusta-gathering produced a remarkable short film, called The Augustas, which was named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress in December 2012. The Augustas boasts no fewer than thirty-six instances of Augusta, each identified by means of signage, intertitle, labeled still image, train schedule, or road map.

MIRC recently discovered that Nixon documented several more Augustas. For example, footage from a European tour includes several sequences featuring Augusta, Sicily. More interesting to me, however, is a second unfinished reel of Augustas that came to our attention in summer 2012. This second reel includes footage of Lake Eau Claire in Wisconsin and an airfield in Augusta, Georgia—the latter, a site originally owned by the Nixon family.


Still image from Scott Nixon’s “The Augustas.”

Because this second Augustas reel is edited in a fashion similar to its confrere, it encourages us to consider more fully Nixon’s post-production process. For most first-time viewers, Nixon’s practice of documenting places called Augusta, or some variation thereof, might suggest home movies or touristic “snapshots,” which tend to document a moment or event in order to ensure later recollection and recounting. But I think Nixon’s Augusta films pursue a different, more abstract and experimental logic. Insofar as they proceed neither chronologically nor geographically, the films offer little in the way of narrative. They don’t tell the story of a particular trip, for example. What confronts us, instead, is a procedure of classification and recombination—a kind of structural logic that belongs more to information management than to tourism and informs what scholars in other contexts have called a database aesthetic. In other words, the Augusta reels demonstrate Nixon to be a collector of Augustas; they themselves are catalogs of all things Augusta. But also, they offer evidence of Nixon’s efforts not only to organize but also to combine and recombine his film elements. In doing so, they imply the possibility of further—indeed, nearly innumerable—combinations.


Cover image for Heidi Rae Cooley’s book, “Finding Augusta: Habits of Mobility and Governance in the Digital Era.”

In summer 2013, I had a chance to speak with Cobbs Nixon about his father’s filmmaking. Cobbs’s memory confirms my interpretation. Apparently, Scott Nixon’s post-production practice involved taxonomizing his film elements. As he went through his footage, he’d cut it according to the subject captured on film and deposited each individual film element in an appropriately labeled cup. Trains. Flowers. Cats. Augustas. Cobbs recalls that the cups accompanied a large map of the US, which hung prominently on a wall in his father’s “man cave.” Push pins dotted the map, indicating the various Augustas Nixon had visited. And the string stretched between a series of Augustas outlined the routes he traveled from one Augusta to another. Precisely how and under what circumstances the taxonomy of film elements corresponded to the map of threaded routes is less clear—except, of course, in instances in which signage appears in frame specifying that, indeed, Nixon was on site documenting a place called Augusta. Otherwise, the relation between label-bearing cups, film elements, and map is open for interpretation. Under certain conditions, “flower” and “augusta” might very well be equivalent, as is the case in Nixon’s The Augustas where the concluding Augusta is a Hardy Phlox Augusta.


Still image from Scott Nixon’s “The Augustas.”

Thus, in addition to celebrating myriad Augustas, Nixon’s film practices makes a general conceptual point worthy of the most serious film experimentalists, namely, that the associations that make meaning possible are never fixed. Among semioticians, it’s an article of faith that meaning-making depends upon conventions, that, for example, allow strings of letters to mean something for a group of people. These conventions are only ever potential frameworks for structuring correspondences. They change over time and any number of correspondences might emerge. The stability of the association, for example, between “augusta” and a notion of place, is a habit of thought, and habits of thought are subject to change. Filmmaker Scott Nixon teaches us to embrace this variability and to delight in its possibilities. In the process, his films urge us to recognize that with such flexibility—such potential for recombination—comes the need for strategies for managing relations across, for example, film elements, labels, and people.

*According to MIRC Regional Films curator Lydia Pappas, there are no fewer than 6,000 feet of Augustas footage in the Scott Nixon Home Movie collection, which includes nearly 75,000 feet of moving image material (16mm film, 8mm film, and 35mm nitrate).

– Heidi Rae Cooley, Associate Professor of Media Arts, University of South Carolina

Jun 04

Bastille Day Celebrations After the Invasion of Normandy, 1944


Mass funeral at the new American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, filmed on July 14, 1944.

This month in France, men and women in their eighties and nineties are gathering again on the coast of Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. They are representatives of an increasingly small group of survivors of “the Longest Day,” June 6, 1944. Like many archives, MIRC holds copies of iconic films made at great personal risk that morning on the invasion beaches of Omaha, Juno, Utah, Gold and Sword.

D-Day, though, is more than the story of a single day. The loss of life on the invasion beaches was quickly multiplied in the days and weeks that followed as the Allies struggled inland one hedgerow, one meadow, one machine gun pit, at a time. Commemorating these lives began in earnest with the sounds of battle still in the air.

One such moment came on Bastille Day, July 14th. In the newly liberated port city of Cherbourg a massive public celebration was held. Films of that day show generals, politicians, and religious leaders all decked out in their finest to give speeches for the assembled citizens. But in the town of Carentan, just off the American invasion beaches, commemorations on a much smaller, but no less earnest scale, were taking place.


Wreath laying in Carentan, filmed on July 14, 1944.

Bob Blair, the newsreel representative in France for Fox Movietone News, landed at Omaha Beach on June 12th. For over a month he had filmed combat and most recently had filmed the assault on and liberation of Cherbourg at the end of June. On Bastille Day, though, Blair wasn’t covering the fanfare in Cherbourg. After filming the smoke of battle on the horizon, he visited small towns and villages near the Utah and Omaha beaches. In Carentan citizens solemnly placed flowers on a monument to the dead of the first world war, an act which they probably had not been allowed to perform during the four years of German occupation. A similar event played out before Blair’s camera at (an as yet) unidentified village.


The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer.

That same day, Blair also returned to the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach. Another act of commemoration was taking place and a new iconic image was being born. At the first American cemetery of the war in France a large funeral mass was held with no fewer than sixteen catholic priests presiding. By this date, this cemetery held well over 1,500 dead, some of these bodies had been moved from potters graves on the beaches to a temporary cemetery on Dog White sector of Omaha Beach, and then by June 25th to this more formal resting place. The location of this first cemetery is now the reflecting pool of the single most prominent memorial to the events of D-Day, the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

Bob Blair’s films of the wreath laying at Carentan capture the intimate relationship between Allied soldiers, French citizens in small Norman towns and villages, and the soil of France itself. They record the very real gratitude of the newly liberated and the social importance of funerary rights even when the dead outnumber the living.

–Greg Wilsbacher, Curator, Newsfilm Collections

More about MIRC’s holdings of footage from D-Day can be found here.

May 19

The Fox Movietone News Digitization Project: Year One in Review

Outtakes from 1927 news story about a 50th wedding anniversary.

In 2013, Moving Image Research Collections received a grant from the NEH Division of Preservation and Access. The $229,997 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources award supports Phase One of the Fox Movietone Digitization Project.* The two-year project, which began in May of 2013, is dramatically improving online access to the Fox Movietone News Collection. With this grant, MIRC is in the process of making an estimated 14,000 of 23,000 total titles in the collection discoverable and viewable through our Digital Video Repository, including revised and expanded metadata. More than 60% of the films in the collection will be much easier to search, and the vast majority of these titles will be streaming online for the first time.

The digitization of the Fox collection is an immense but necessary undertaking. The collection includes fascinating images of 1920s culture, experiments in early sound technology, and iconic footage from the WWII era. Enabling free, streaming access to this collection is crucial. While this wealth of material is already a source for some of our culture’s most recognizable images, the majority of the collection remains unseen by researchers, filmmakers, and the public—a fact the team at MIRC is working to change. Director Heather Heckman says, “I am in awe of the efforts of both project and permanent staff here at MIRC. This project is a massive operation that has touched every single one of our workflows.”


Outtakes from a staged news story featuring musician Uncle John Scruggs.

The 14,000 titles that will eventually reside in the DVR have already been transferred from film to tape over the years. In the fall of 2013, more than 1,300 Betacam SP and Digital Betacam tapes were captured to create digital files. Because the capture process yields one file for all the stories on a single tape, MIRC post-production staff must cut each individual title to verify quality and generate the access copy. Due to the inescapably time-consuming nature of the process, and a later start because of the transfer period, the production workflow has progressed more slowly than cataloging. In a four-month period with a part-time staff member, over 2,200 individual stories on approximately 200 master tapes were cut and prepped for the online repository—an impressive rate of over 500 stories per month. We hope to increase the labor in the post-production workflow to further improve output.

Cataloging Manager Ashley Blewer has been working on the Fox digitization project for 10 months. In that time, she and her team have labored tirelessly to revise the metadata for thousands of records. The catalogers view each individual story in order to expand or correct the existing metadata before adding the records, in large batches, to the repository. The video footage is then linked to the record and published on the site. Currently, there are over 1,500 videos publicly available in the DVR. Over 5,100 records in total have been updated with improved metadata, and those not yet live only await their accompanying video before being released. These updated records represent more than 1/3 of the total number of stories requiring revision, putting the cataloging workflow on schedule for its ten-month working period.

Outtakes from a 1919 story about the increased cost of candy.

Many of the videos in the DVR are of obvious and unquestionable historical significance—for instance a rare newsreel about the attack on Pearl Harbor. But much of the Fox collection’s value comes from lesser-known news and human interest stories that, when viewed together, help to form a vision of life and culture in the first half of the 20th century. The ability to browse thousands of clips online makes it possible for researchers and visitors to engage with primary source footage they may not have even been aware existed.

Subsequent phases of digitization will create both digital preservation surrogates and access copies of all the titles in the Fox Movietone News Collection. MIRC chose to make immediate access the priority in Phase One, however, for multiple reasons. Researchers, educators, media makers, and cultural heritage organizations are placing a growing number of requests for materials in the Fox collection. The newsreels and outtakes receive more reference requests than any other collection at MIRC, even after adjustment for its relative size. This online repository facilitates research requests and helps to satisfy the increasing demand for this footage. Improved metadata and intellectual control not only makes the collection more discoverable, but will also lay the groundwork for future work.

We get a view of the streets of NYC in these 1930 outtakes of Mary Rizzo dancing from Columbus Circle to Times Square.

In the last year, a project decades in the making took shape with verifiable results. The challenges we faced early in the grant period will inform and improve the work that follows. Halfway through the endeavor, we at MIRC are optimistic about the anticipated outcome, and are pleased with the results so far. As Newsfilm curator Greg Wilsbacher states, “It’s really good to see so many Fox stories going online for the world to see.  This is the type of project that demonstrates the power of the Internet to open up collections that were difficult to access in the age of video tape.” MIRC is grateful for the funding that makes this important venture possible, and we continue to strive to make this wonderful material accessible to the broadest audience possible.

* Other awards from the same program include a grant to support the planning and development of the Academy Motion Picture Oral History Digital Archive—a repository of oral history interviews with members of the film industry from 1947 onward; a grant to the National Film Preservation Foundation to repatriate and restore 26 nonfiction films made in the US in the 1910s and 1920s from EYE Film Institute, Netherlands; and a grant to the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to digitize, rehouse, store, and create metadata for its still and motion picture film holdings. A list of recent Humanities Collections and References Resources grants can be found here.

Apr 22

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.

Mar 26

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

Mar 07

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!

Feb 04

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

Jan 27

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

Jan 17

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.

Dec 20

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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