The use of self-adhesive plastic foils in architectural designs in the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (NL)
The researchers of the project Materials in Motion - a research project on animation artwork conservation - found a lot of self-adhesive plastic foils in EYE's collection of animation artwork. These plastic foils constitute a challenge for conservators. A reason to visit our collegues of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam who struggle with the same material in their collection of design drawings. This blog post takes a closer look at examples from both collections.
Self-adhesive plastic foils, transparent sheets, tapes, markers. If a material is time-saving, inexpensive, easy to use, readily available and has a contemporary appeal, you can be assured it has been fully exploited by artists and designers. During our condition survey of the animation artwork in the collection of the EYE Film Museum, we regularly encounter self-adhesive foils adhered to both plastic as well as paper. We found several degradation phenomena that are typical for self-adhesive plastic foils such as shrinkage; sticky edges where the adhesive is exposed; loss of adhesion; wrinkling and bubbling. Example are the study for the film Between the Lights (1975) and the cel used in the production of Reversals (1972) by Karin Wiertz and Jacques Verbeek as depicted below.
Although conservators are familiar with the use of plastic foils and the problems they can present, we know very little about the degradation of these foils or what causes them to shrink, warp, bubble or even weep. In most cases, we don't even know their composition or the composition of the adhesives used. And to make the situation more complicated: manufacturers constantly adapt their recipes and change constituents. To better understand the degradation of plastic foils used in the animation artwork in the collection of EYE, we now survey the whole collection looking for patterns. During an expert meeting on the inventory of damages in archives and libraries organized by Metamorfoze, we learned Het Nieuwe Instituut, the national institute for architecture, design and digital culture in Rotterdam, is coping with similar problems. In many of their technical drawings and artist impressions, self-adhesive plastic foils are used as in integral part of the design. Curious after the ways in which these foils have been used in technical drawings and the specific problems these drawings present, we took a look in the architecture archives in the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
Self-adhesive plastic foils in architectural designs
When self-adhesive plastic foils came on the market shortly after the Second Word War, they were immediately embraced by architects. With these plastic foils architects could quickly achieve an even colourful fill of the architectural elements in their design drawings. The foils gave an idea of surface quality such as transparency, texture or colour. Moreover, transparent foils could be used in designs on tracing paper or transparent plastic sheest, which permitted their copying by photomechanical processes in which a degree of translucency is often desired. But above all, their textures and colours appealed to the designers and architects of the time.
Plastic foils, in short, were the equivalent of Adobe’s paint bucket throughout the second half of the 20th century. Brands such as ASLAN®, Pantone™ and Zip-a-tone™ offered a huge variety in opaque, transparent and patterned foils. The designer would cut to measure and (usually) paste the foil on the verso of the transparent paper allowing a more fluent integration into the drawing on the recto.
A beautiful example are the designs for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (1963-1971) by Rietveld, Van Dillen en Van Tricht. The studio used transparent and patterned foils to emphasise the different volumes and the play between inside and outside.
Typical damage caused by storage in rolls and tubes
The drawings show damage and degradarion phenomena that are typical for self-adhesive foils: wrinkling and the presence of air bubbles between the substrate and the film. These bubbles are comparable to those we found in the animation artwork shown above, but their elongated shape and predominantly vertical orientation suggest a different cause. Plus they all seem to originate in a corner of the cut out shape.
Architecture archives are often characterised by the large size of the technical drawings they contain. The example above is relatively small (ca. A1), but drawings longer than two metres are no exception. Often these drawings were stored rolled and the small drawings were simply rolled together with the larger drawings, using the roll or a cardboard tube as an archival unit. Many damage patterns we now encounter in architectural drawings are an immediate result of handling or storage in rolls. The drawings by Rietveld, Van Dillen en Van Tricht are an example of these damage patterns. When rolled with the plastic foil on the inside, the foil is compressed and starts to butt at the weakest points: the corners.
Most of the damage occurs during the formation of the archive in the architecture studio. When they arrive in Het Nieuwe Instituut, these drawings are ideally unrolled or unfolded, flattened and stored flat in archival folders, in which they are interleaved with thin, archival quality silk tissue paper. Unfortunately - as a result of the size of the archives and the limited financial resources of institutions such as Het Nieuwe Instituut – conservators cope with backlogs and many architectural drawings are still kept folded or in rolls waiting for an opportunity to rehouse them
By Aafke Weller, paper conservator and researcher at EYE Film Museum for the research project Materials in Motion
If you want to know more about Materials in Motion visit our blog: www.materialsinmotion.nl.
Cinqualbre, Marion et al. “‘Zip’: an Adhesive Plastic Film in Architectural Drawings.” Studies in Conservation 61. S2 (2016): S283–S285. Print.Tag:animation artwork, animation, artwork, plastics, conservation, cel, plastic foil, karin wiertz
Every year, the EYE Filmmuseum inspects one of its three nitrate vaults in its entirety, in compliance with the requirements of the nitrate permit: all the cans are opened to check the reels for damage and decomposition and action is taken accordingly. If necessary films are ‘cleaned’ and re-canned and additionally cans are also moved or reorganised on shelves if necessary and sometimes other tasks are also performed, this year for example we could make a giant leap in terms of barcoding.
Last year there wasn’t any control week, because of the move to the new collection centre. Therefore, this year it was an extra exciting opportunity for me: as my whole internship revolves around nitrate film, this allowed me a break from the identification work I was doing in the Collection Centre, while at the same time I could get a different perspective or gain new skills on working with that very same material, so I felt particularly obliged to participate for the full week and see the process for as much as a I could!
This year, the vaults in Heemskerk were up for inspection. They consist of two bunkers, that were used by the Germans in World War II as a means to safely keep artworks (belonging to the Rijksmuseum) in case of bombings, for example De Nachtwacht by Rembrandt is said to have temporarily been stored here. The Filmmuseum took over these so called ‘Kunstbunkers’ (‘art bunkers’) in the early 1990s, one for storing nitrate prints and the other one for storing safety prints. As all the safety films were moved to the depots in the new Collection Centre last year, the second bunker (which has a higher/narrower door, through which oversize paintings including the frame could be moved in entirely) is now entirely empty, but in the future might be the new residence of all the nitrate films which are now in other vaults.
The tasks performed in the vaults varied from day to day, but the first three days mainly entailed the laborious side of the control: bringing down stacks of cans from the shelf, opening each can and lifting the reels out in order to check both sides, as well as the insides of the can. What we mainly looked for was any sign of decomposition of the reels or reaction of the film with the can. This could be either a powdery residue (to lesser or greater extent) seen on the reel or in the lid and bottom of the can, the appearance of ‘honey’ or ‘bubbles’ on the top of the reel, ‘hockey-pucking’ (the reels getting hard and stuck together), spoking (the film shaping into anything under 6 corners was bad), signs of rust in a metal can and signs of white ‘crystallisation’ in blue plastic cans. We also paid attention to the state of the cans (whether they still properly closed and weren’t too damaged), and looked to find things in the cans that did not belong there, which meant anything other than film: notes, papers, punched tape, paperclips, etc. This all happens under the supervision of our firefighter Chris who is responsible for our safety; he has been our regular fire officer every time in the past years, so he is part of our nitrate team!
In the part of the vault where me and my ‘nitrate buddy’ worked were mostly the larger sized cans, which means they are heavy and the reels a bit more difficult to lift out of the can, because of their larger size, especially if you don’t have big hands or a firm grip. Not only did we check the reels, but the cans in this section also had to be moved to another shelf/wall in the same section. We moved from up to down and from left to right and every column had around 5 or 6 stacks of cans, therefore involving a lot of lifting, climbing and bending, and additionally making sure the cans were in the same order as how we got them off the shelves. Though, as we work in teams of two, you try to do as little lifting and carrying as possible and keep the most restraining movement to a minimum, the first two nights I definitely could feel the ‘work out’ and I don’t think I ever felt as many muscles in my hands from lifting all those reels as in this week.
After a few days, I was promoted to ‘nitrate expert’ (which, if you remember my last ‘nitrate beginner’-blog, must be the fastest promotion I ever made!), a role which for the rest of the week mostly attributed to curators and other EYE Filmmuseum veterans. This meant that you would sit at a table waiting for the ‘runners’ checking the cans to bring you the ‘problem cans’. You then check the can for the ‘problem’, make a quick inspection report, writing down the issue and its severity, the vault number, title and amount of reels. In case there is powder or crystallization or ‘honey’, you would vacuum the top and bottom of the reels (and the cans) with a special vacuum cleaner for nitrate, getting rid of the worst dirt/damage. If a film or can is in such a bad condition that for example the film has ‘eaten through the can’, we would re-can the film. Other than that, the films are not necessarily ‘cleaned’ or ‘treated’ in any other way. What will happen is that the reports we made will be saved and in a few months, it will become someone’s special project to order all these ‘problem’ cans from the vaults, inspect their condition more thoroughly (for example by cutting out the ‘contaminated’ part of the film, e.g. if only the intertitles are decaying you can dispose of these and save the rest) and to confer with the curators whether the print can be disposed of or should get an emergency preservation.
Examples of the appearance of ‘honey’ or ‘bubbles’, ‘spoking’ and ‘powder’
Generally speaking, however – though the pictures may suggest otherwise - most films were in good condition and overall the ‘problem cans’ we found were not in the worst condition yet. Some were incredibly powdery and clearly decomposing, but they were not in the most disgusting of conditions I have witnessed during my internship so far (which must have been the box of soaking wet films I wrote about in my previous blog post). In that sense, it goes to show that these kind of bulk inspections do really work and the collection managers do witness a change: that the damage is less or less severe than before. Nonetheless, it provided for me (as an intern working with nitrate film) a very interesting overview of the possible types of decay in different stages, the ‘honey’ type of decay I hadn’t witnessed before, and the heavy powdering in which the film is starting to eat through the can was also a fascinating sight. Lastly, something I enjoyed about the process that by letting all these cans/reels go through your hands you also, in a very physical and material way, get a sense of (a portion) of the films that are in the EYE Collection. You recognise titles of films you have seen, or notice films being in the collection multiple times, hence making it to certain extent much more tangible, rather than seeing the collection as information in a database.
After the first four days of inspection, most of the nitrate control had been finished already and so for the last day our teams moved on to another task: barcoding. We put stickers with barcodes on all the cans in the vault and scanned them. Later on a barcode will be attached to the shelf, so that a film can be ‘checked in’ and ‘out’ of a location on the shelf and containers can be traceable. Again a very laborious task, but physically less demanding as opening all the cans and putting them back.
Finally, not to be left unmentioned are the ‘excursion-like’ conditions under which we worked, outdoors in the natural reservation, which was definitely a huge difference from the way I work inside the dark nitrate room in the Collection Centre.
Though all in all it was a very busy and demanding week, it was also one that was very fun and educational, as I got to experience a side to working with nitrate that was complimentary to, but very much different than the nitrate identification I have been doing so far. I learnt much more about the possible ‘problems’ with nitrate decomposition and collection management and also the change of scenery to work in such a strange place, but also a place that is very specific to the work in archive did provide a lot of energy to return to my daily tasks of nitrate identification, and I will definitely be looking at all those reels in my own little project with entirely ‘new’ eyes!
By Ilse van der Spoel, intern at EYE CollectionsTag:nitrate film, nitraat, kluis, opslag, controle, inspection, film storage
As a strong believer in new forms of ‘collection outreach’, I’m very happy to have been part of an exciting collaboration with the prestigious Art and Design Academy ArtEZ in Arnhem. This year we commissioned an art work to Michelle van Ool, studying at the Interaction Design Department of ArtEZ, who was asked to find inspiration for her work in our collection. The brief was to engage with the material aspects of our film collection and to bring them under the attention of a wider audience. Without concrete goals in mind, we encouraged a reflection on the characteristics of the medium film. The student was quite free to choose any form or path that suited her.
During the following three months, Michelle was shown films from our nitrate and acetate collection with distinguishable and unique physical characteristics, as an inspiration source. It was clear from the beginning that as an interaction designer and a maker, she was interested in building a machine. Eventually she decided to focus on the technical process of film duplication and the importance of the negative as the ‘authentic’ carrier of information.
The result of this process is a machine called MEDIATED REALITY. This machine is able to perform film developing and printing in real time.
The idea behind MEDIATED REALITY is based upon Michelle’s fascination with the concept of visual perception and how reliable the medium of film is. With her machine she reveals the reproductive characteristics of the medium film and the loss of information inherent to the process of copying. Michelle concentrated her research on a specific film collection: the left overs of Naughty Boys by Eric de Kuyper. These left overs contained undeveloped footage locked in cans for more than 30 years.
In her own words: ‘Photographs often serve as proof of evidence in crime scenes. In the past, negatives were used because these are the first results of developing film. Mediated Reality is a machine that questions the reliability of this medium. This machine is able to both develop and copy film right away… By making a contact print of the original negative film, a positive copy emerges. During this process of copying, many other negatives are produced, which start to look completely different from the original movie’.
The machine allows you to watch in real time how a film reel is developed. The whole process of fixing and drying takes about 20 minutes. While some of us are familiar with this photographic process happening in the dark room of photographers, I was never able to see how ‘film’ develops before. Normally this process takes place in chemical tanks in film laboratories and is never visible. During the performance, the machine is working under the safe red light which allows the orthochromatic film stock (less sensitive to red light) to develop and copy itself unto another stock and produce first a negative and then a positive and then again a negative and so on. Every time the copy ‘appears’ under your eyes, it differs from the previous one. This is due to different factors like the chemicals getting older, the exposure time of the light source, the ‘slippage’ caused by the motor driving the film through the machine. All factors which are difficult to predict or even control and which give rise to surprising visual results when the copies are projected onto a screen.
The remarkable thing about this project is how Michelle van Ool, without prior knowledge of the film medium, managed to achieve these results by means of research and practical experimentation. In only three months she was able to get a grip on how the process of film developing and printing works and to design and build the machine from scratch.
The machine has been recently exhibited at the ArtEZ Academy as part of their final exam exhibition and I went there to see it working during a performance given by Michelle. Even though I had seen photographs of the machine before I was stunned to see how its complexity was translated into aesthetic beauty and functionality. MEDIATED REALITY is really well-thought and designed and it gives a fascinating insight into the magical world of the film medium from a young emerging artist’s perspective.
It is therefore an honour for us to add MEDIATED REALITY to our collection. Hopefully this machine will be exhibited and performed in and outside of EYE in the near future.
For this project I would like to personally thank Martijn van Boven, lecturer at the Interaction Design Department who has supported this collaboration from the start. Special thanks to Mark-Paul Meyer who guided Michelle in the difficult world of film development. And of course Michelle herself with her inquisitive and open curiosity towards our world of film heritage.
For more information and to see the machine at work, you can clcik here.
By Simona Monizza, Curator Experimental film, EYE Filmmuseum.Tag:experimental film, experimentele film, materialiteit, materiality, film medium, installaties, installation, interaction design, film stock
The greatest archival festival of the world is about to begin again in Bologna, from June 24th on! EYE is presenting films under different sections of the festival this year.
As the festival seems to expand continuously, the first screening actually takes place even before the festival begins: On Thursday 22nd, Donald Sosin accompanies Menschen am Sonntag on the Piazza Maggiore. The film is restored by EYE back in 1998, at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, curated by Martin Koerber. The festival is showing the digitally remastered DCP version by the Deutsche Kinemathek, as part of the “Sunday in Bologna” program curated by Neil McGlone and Alexander Payne.
During the festival, four films from 1917 are being screened in the “Hundred Years Ago: 1917” program, curated by Karl Wratchko.
On Thursday 27th, as part of the “Cinema Anno2; 1897” program, 16 Mutoscope&Biograph films from our collection are included. These films are screened from the 35mm duplication prints, that were made from the 68mm originals.
There are other EYE films or EYE-related presentations to discover throughout the festival. Among those, the new Cineteca di Bologna restoration of the film La Tragica fine di Caligula Imperator (IT, Ugo Falena, 1917) for which EYE has lent its nitrate print that served as reference for the re-insertion of the intertitles. Around this film two events take place: a workshop launching the new research project: “Il cinema muto italiano e le altre arti” on Sunday, and also a round table discussion on Monday morning.
Another production where EYE has a strong presence is this year’s DVD; “I colori Ritrovati”, containing 36 colored non-fiction films from the 1910s, particularly dedicated to Kinemacolor, Pathecolor and Chronochrome. On this double DVD, seven films are from the EYE collection, including the Kinemacolor film Coronation Drill At Reedham Orphanage (GB, 1911), which is also part of the Kinemacolor screening on Tuesday.
EYE is also the co-producer of the film Rêve au Tuschinski by Jérôme Diamant-Berger (FR, 2017), featuring Max von Sydow. This film about the historical Amsterdam film theatre Tuschinski and its owner, will premiere on Friday within the section “Documents and Documentaries”.
EYE will be represented by several staff members this year: our director Sandra den Hamer, vault manager Catherine Cormon, silent film curator Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, programmer Leo van Hee and curatorial assistant Gerdien Smit will be in Bologna, along with many past and present student interns.
Here is the full list of the compilation programs and the DVD, mentioned above:
In “1897: year two of cinematography” (Mutoscope&Biograph program):
Changing guard (Berlin), Albany day boats, Keystone express, Battleships 'Maine' & 'Iowa', A Pillow fight, Fort Hill fire station, Place de la Concorde, Harvesting corn, Threshing machine at work, The Haverstraw tunnel, The Crookedest railroad yard in the world, The Military review at Aldershot, Passage des portiques, Jumbo, horseless fire-engine, A Camp of Zingari gypsies, Les Parisiennes
In 1917; Hundred Years Ago program:
Das Bacchanal des Todes oder das Opfer einer grossen Liebe, (DE, Richard Eichberg, 1917, Central Film Vertrieb), Holland in ijs - 1917 (NL, Willy Mullens, 1917, Alberts Frères), De Petroleumbrand te Vlissingen, (NL, 1917, Kinematograaf Pathé Frères), Kanalen en windmolens (NL, 1917, Kinematograaf Pathé Frères [?])
I colori Ritrovati DVD:
Barcelone, principale ville de la Catalogne (FR, Segundo de Chomón, 1912, Pathé Frères), Parc national de Yellowstone, Le (FR,1917, Pathé Frères), Culture de caoutchouc en Malaisie, La (FR, 1912, Pathé Frères), Récolte du riz au Japon, La (FR, 1910, Pathé Frères), Grande fête hindoue du Massy-Magum, La (FR, 1913, Pathé Frères), Chenille de carotte, La (FR, 1911, Pathé Frères), Coronation Drill At Reedham Orphanage (GB, 1911, Urban Trading).Tag:festival, filmfestival, archief, filmrestauratie, dvd. Mutoscope & Biograph, 1897, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Cineteca de Bologna
Back in mid-February I started my internship at the EYE Filmmuseum in the Department Film Conservation and Digital Access, where under guidance of Curator Elif Rongen, I started working on this year’s ‘nitrate project’, consisting of roughly 150 cans of films donated to the archive in 2013 and now known as the ‘Manshanden collection’. These films are now in the process of being fully registered, inspected and identified, on the basis of which further preservation decisions will be made. Over the course of the past few months I have been getting acquainted with film handling and dealing with specifically nitrate material: viewing films on the winding table (watching the film reels frame by frame), on the viewer (watching the films ‘in movement’) and more recently also watching sound films on our Steenbeck tables. During this viewing process, I write an inspection report on both the levels of the content and the material condition. If the film is not immediately identifiable (because the title is missing for example), I do further research online in databases of film companies, studios and newspapers or film journal. Based on this, I enter information into the EYE Collection database, as well as into the curator’s database, where I could for example comment more in-depth on the film style and why I feel the film might be relevant to preserve, or not ofcourse.
So far the collection and our findings are incredibly curious and varied (from different countries, and varying in years from the early 1900s to the 1950s) and there is not really one clear pattern to be determined, making it the ideal collection to work with for a ‘nitrate beginner’ like me! It is also really interesting to see the difference between watching a film on the winding table and seeing it in motion on a viewer: watching the film on the winding table, frame by frame, does sometimes not enable you to grasp the story, but does provide insight to details in the image (indications of country, setting, year, faces, clothing). Viewing it in motion (as a film is ‘meant’ to be seen) on the other hand, provides a different perspective and might allow you to read certain scenes differently, grasping the story in full. Identifying the films is a very exciting process as well, it is almost like working as a detective; acting on a hunch, a name or a detail and then perhaps finding out what a film is, sometimes after spending days on the case, must be one of the best feelings in the world.
With the French film Printemps fleuri (1912) for example, we found Pathe edgemarks (indicating a French film), but a German title (Fruhlingbluten) and intertitles. I managed to finally identify the film by searching for a French translation or equivalent of the German title of the copy and based on the resemblance of the description in the Pathé catalogue to the text (such as the French translation of the names of trees and flowers mentioned) in the intertitles. This was also immediately my favourite film I have encountered so far during this viewing process: a registration of spring, tinted pink with stencilling in the most luscious colours and showing beautiful flowers, trees, as well as lovely children, creating an overall visceral look and timeless attraction.
More information and a complete list of the (identified) films in the Manshanden collection will follow once we have completed the process!
Other archival encounters and oddities
Also strange ‘in-between’ projects or little things arise during my internship, such as when someone brought in some cans of nitrate film he bought of a seller and donated to the archive. We went through the cans in two afternoons, and it consisted of all kinds of (seemingly unrelated) bits and pieces, all rolled together in one big reel. We quickly went through it and took everything part, hoping to find pieces that might belong together. We took notes on edgemarks, colours and content and then put the post-its with the information on the small reels. This also gave me an insight on how, next to projects like the Manshanden collection (which was donated in 2013, so took 4 years waiting to be processed), the archive deals with small donations in-between all the other work and how we, on a Friday afternoon, in a few hours took apart and reassembled all of this material for it to be shelved.
A similar occurence of ‘on the spot’ dealing with something that comes into the archive happened when we received a carton box filled with reels wrapped in newspapers, some of them soaking wet. It was like a horrible Christmas present gone-wrong and as we unwrapped them, most of them turned out to be in a dismal condition and in an extreme state of decay, incredibly smelly, sometimes even muddy and breaking apart as we touched it. Not much was to be seen, except for some text on the intertitles, but as EYE’s policy is that "if there is image to be seen, we have to try to salvage it", we unwrapped them, cleaned off the worst dirt and mud and laid them in the nitrate cabinet to dry, hoping that something is still visible later on.
Next to this ugly side of decay that it is evidently horrible for the film, as objects these decayed reels can be aesthetically very interesting to look at. The reel in the pictures below looked quite disgusting and beautiful at the same time we unwrapped it, but as we touched it, it completely fell apart because of all the rot. It was fascinating to see how a reel in its final stage of decay can be so pretty, yet so fragile.
Similarly, though these films hardly carried imprints or ‘traces’ of reality themselves anymore, as objects they did show traces of their own ‘lives’ as decomposing artifacts in a very aesthetic way. One of the wet films wrapped in newspapers left beautiful circular traces of colours, the dye of the film tint leaving traces/rings on the newspaper it came in. And next to that, one of the films we lifted of the newspaper turned out to have a circular carton stuck to it (presumably it had been stored in a carton box), which showed the traces of the film reel touching the carton, leaving rings almost like a cut-out of a tree.
Ilse van der Spoel, intern at EYE Filmmuseum, Collections.Tag:nitrate film, nitraat, decay, identificatie, identification
In our daily lives, we frequently stumble upon cameras on the street: people taking selfies or recording videos is a common sight that none of us find odd. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, encountering a camera on the street was anything but normal – for many, it was an appalling surprise. One of these awkward moments is engraved on celluloid around 1900 at Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
De Dam te Amsterdam omstreeks 1900*, a little film from the Collection of EYE, shows Dam Square at the turn of the 20th century buzzing with trams, bicycles, and pedestrians crossing over the frame in all directions. What makes this little film so peculiar is the group of people that stand without the slightest motion at the centre of the frame, in great contrast to the fleeting passers-by. A municipality worker, a young boy, and a band of children – all seem stunned, looking directly into the camera. As being photographed would then require, they are doing their best to pose perfectly still to avoid a blurred image. Ironically, however, the machine before them is not a photography camera that requires stillness, but a film camera that is designed to capture movement.
Embalming this confusion and surprise, this little film testifies to the initial stages of a transformation in the visual culture brought by the influx of the film camera to everyday life. Portraying those that stand still and those that walk through the frame, the film captures the coexistence of stillness and movement at once. The transition from the still image to the moving image is rendered visible. The aesthetics of photography and cinematography are united in one single frame for over two minutes.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçı, curator of Silent film.
*This film was restored in 2014 as part of a crowd-funding campaign called Amsterdam in the Picture. Read and watch more here.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Altyazi, a monthly film magazine from Turkey. English translation by Asli Özgen Tuncer.Tag:Silent cinema, silent film, amsterdam, filmcamera, stille film, filmrestauratie, restoration
For many years our safety film collection was stored in several locations, the biggest one of them in a converted agriculture warehouse in Vijfhuizen (means “Five houses”) beyond the Schiphol airport .
At the beginning of 2016 we got the keys to our brand new collection center in Amsterdam Noord.
So we started moving people, equipment and collections to the new storage… Everybody lent a hand: volunteers, employees, professional movers… We stuck 210 000 barcode stickers on film cans and 22 000 barcode stickers on shelves. We have lost count of the amount of trucks and pallets that came in, but we put all the cans on the shelves and “bleeped” them in their new location. We didn’t move only film cans, but also video cassettes, film equipment, digital equipment, books, posters, photos, paper files, supplies…
And then we were left with all the “last little things”; those that eat up disproportionate amounts of time.
Finally, at the end of January we returned the keys to the owner of the converted agriculture warehouse.
Thanks, many many thanks to everybody who lent a hand, especially to the volunteers: we couldn’t have done it without you!
And… bye-bye, Vijfhuizen !
PS: the last can that we placed on the shelves, here in the proud hands of our Master Mover Ben, was from the film Een bloeiend bedrijf (A Flourishing Company). We call this “archival serendipity”.
Written by Catherine Cormon, Head of Collection Management, EYE.
Among the most rewarding activities of the EYE Filmmuseum collections, we can count our participation in various recent exhibitions. A few examples using films from our silent film collection are the Alma Tadema exhibition in Fries Museum in Leeuwaarden, Biskra exhibition at the Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the overview exhibition on the Turkish painter Feyhaman Duran at the Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.
None of these exhibitions is about film history, nor about the specific films it incorporates. Each exhibition uses the film fragments to enrich the context in a different way. The exhibition curators search for specific images, with the help of the EYE film curators. Certainly, the possibility to view the films (or fragments) from a distance and to deliver them digitally has made more of this kind of collaborations possible. Thanks to our digital platform (through which we can provide temporary access to professional users), our film collection (or at least the part that is already digitized) is within the reach of any museum curator around the globe.
By looking at each above mentioned exhibition in detail, we can see how the archival footage can be used creatively in different settings and made relevant to the audiences today.
‘Alma Tadema; Classical Charm’ exhibit has a special section about the relationship between Tadema’s paintings and cinema, curated by Ivo Blom. Here, the paintings that seem to have provided inspiration for the later film makers are hung right below the screens showing the film fragments, in approximately the same dimensions. The screens show the selected scene in a loop, demonstrating the similarity between Tadema’s style and the framing, sets and costumes and overall look of the films. Using scenes ranging from more than 100 years old films like Orgie Romaine (FR, 1911) up to recent Hollywood films like Gladiator (USA, 2000), this exhibition uses the film fragments to illustrate the relevance of Tadema’s imagery for today’s audiences. After a very successful run in Leeuwarden the exhibition will now travel to the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.
The temporary exhibition ‘Biskra, Sortiléges d’un Oasis’ at the Insitut du Monde Arabe (curated by Roger Benjamin and Eric Delpont) incorporates cinema in a different way, as the exhibition aims to show the photogénie of this Algerian region and illustrate in which ways it has influenced the arts and culture. The exhibition is divided in sections about photography, architecture, music, cinema, tourism, etc. To screen the films, a small cabin is situated in the middle of the main hall, where a few visitors at a time can sit down, while others can stand behind to watch the films. The selection varies from exotic documentaries showing the region (like the 1923 travelogue selected from EYE) to fragments of well-known fiction films like The Sheik (USA, 1921) starring Rudolph Valentino.
The third example is the exhibition ‘Feyhaman Duran. Between Two Worlds’. Duran (1886-1970) was a prolific painter from Istanbul, who studied in France until 1914. The exhibition is an overview of his career spanning many decades, in which the curators Nazan Ölçer and Hüma Arslaner highlight “the influences that shaped the art of Duran, who left [the Ottoman] empire on the brink of collapse to arrive at the home of art in Paris and returned back to a country in revolutionary transformation. Duran, greatly influenced by impressionist movement during his Parisian education, took up the habit of carrying his canvas to various spots across the city to just sit back and paint. Duran’s landscapes of Süleymaniye, Bosphorus and Istanbul’s islands, provide a comprehensive glimpse of Istanbul’s history.” The exhibition uses documentary footage found at the EYE collection, showing Istanbul and Paris in the early decades of the 20th century, to remind the visitors of the atmosphere of a century ago of these two rapidly changing metropoles. The films are thus used to evoke what the painter had seen, and reflect on the urban development that has taken place in the meantime.
Why is this type of collaboration rewarding for EYE?
This kind of cross-medial use of the early cinema collection confirms the very motivations behind our film collection and preservation policy. Particularly with the silent cinema collection we believe that every meter of film counts; that every holding is unique in its own way, and that it is part of the global collective memory. For this reason, in essence, we do not differentiate between a very short scene showing a farmer’s market in the Balkans around 1914 and the ‘best documentary of all times’ Man with the Camera by Vertov. We find both items worthy of attention and restoration. Sometimes even the smallest fragment of a foreign fiction film can provide the key to an urban restoration project elsewhere, as in the case of Shoes (USA, 1916) and the Pershing Square. Or a seemingly conventional coverage of a news item among many others can turn out to be among the only surviving moving images of an influential event, like the capsized SS Eastland in 1915, or the occupation of the Estonian city of Tartu by the Germans in 1918.
In terms of presentation, we believe that the images we preserve must reach out to the biggest number of viewers as possible. Normally we prefer to present our silent films with live music, on the big screen. In museum exhibitions, although the images are shown on relatively small screens without music (often in a loop), the images get to be seen by thousands of visitors over the course of months, as opposed to the single theatrical screenings scheduled on one specific day and time.
Last but not least, collaboration with other musea and curators from different fields enrich our understanding and provide further inspiration to view our films under a different light, and help strengthen our conviction to treat every single item with special care it deserves.
Films from the EYE Collection used in the above mentioned exhibitions:
In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency of audiovisual archives to make their film heritage accessible through publication on various online platforms. A complicated part of this process is the rights assessment of film works. Many older films, produced before 1940, are orphan works. This means that they are copyright protected, but the rights holder(s) cannot be identified and/or located. In Europe, hundreds of thousands of orphan works are preserved in film heritage institutions. What are they to do with these orphans? In 2012, with a new European law, the Orphan Works Directive, the EU has made an exception to the copyright. If a film heritage institution cannot find the rights holder(s), it can still make use of the orphan work.
Within the FORWARD project, involving the national film archives from 10 European countries, The EYE Filmmuseum has made an important leap forward in tackling the rights assessment issue. With the help of a sequence of questions (we call this the decision tree) the rights status of film works can be determined in a systematic way. Through the performance of a diligent search- for which a long list of sources and databases is available- we try to find the creative makers and their life dates on which the protection term is based, and other possible rights holders. If the film results to be an orphan work, we register it with the orphan database of the European Intellectual Property Office. After that, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands declares the film work officially orphan. With this declaration, as a non-profit institution EYE is allowed to publish the film online.
In the last seven months of the FORWARD project the new program for rights assessment made it possible for me, as a film scholar without a juridical background, to clear the rights for 750 films. A part of those resulted to be orphan works, others turned out to be in the public domain or the rights holders were found. To give an idea of the practice of rights assessment, I will give an example of three different films I researched, with three different outcomes. It shows that the rights assessment can resemble the work of a detective in some cases, but can also be very simple in other cases.
1. Gouvern. proefrijstbedrijf 'Selatdjaran' Palembang
A special part of EYE’s collection consists of films that were recorded in the former Dutch East Indies. Gouvern. proefrijstbedrijf 'Selatdjaran' Palembang is a short documentary film from around 1922, which is, as the title already shows, commissioned by a government company. It shows the modernization of agriculture techniques that were used in the rice company Selatdjaran.
First of all, the question is: who are the creative makers? In the Dutch copyright law, there are four so-called ‘protection term roles’ on which the protection period of 70 years depends: the director, the composer, the screen writer and the dialogue writer. The credits of this film reveal the names Charls en Van Es & Co, Weltevreden (present-day Jakarta). From our Collection Database (CE), I learn that they are the directors and that they owned a photo studio together.
For the diligent search, I need to find their full names, which helps to find their birth and death dates. Because the film was made in the Dutch East Indies and Charls and Van Es were photographers, I search for them in the database of the Dutch Museum of World Cultures. This museum appears to have their photos in its collection and a copy of an article about the photo studio from the Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad of May 14, 1934. This article gives a historical overview on the occasion of the photo studio’s 50th anniversary. It notes that Charls and Van Es handed over their studio in 1920 to two gentlemen, named Theobald and Kraus.
Even though Charls and Van Es are on the film credits, in practice the company was thus run by others, of which we can assume they also made the films. These new photographers turn out to be hard to find. I find the most on mister Theobald: His complete name is Heinrich Theobald and he was born 26/1/1883 in Frankfurt. In 1913, he married a girl ten years younger than him from The Hague, named Maria Theresia Schipperijn. According to a newspaper from the Dutch East Indies, in 1942 she settled alone in Surabaya. Did Heinrich Theobald die before? Did they divorce? Or was he interned in a Japanese camp? These questions remain unanswered; I cannot find anymore traces of him.
Mr. Kraus remains almost a complete mystery. I only find a few advertisements with his name in it from the 1920’s and 30’s from the photo studio.
Because this is a company film, the company is assumed to be the rights holder. On Delpher, an online directory which contains the digital archives of millions of texts from Dutch newspapers, books and magazines, I find an article from 1923 that describes the liquidation of the Proefrijstbedrijf. From this diligent search we can conclude that the makers could not be located and the rights holder has ceased to exist. We do not know whether the rights were transferred. The film can thus be considered an orphan work.
Glasconserven consists of silent documentary footage from 1946 directed by Herman van der Horst and Allan Penning in which we see, among other things, the work in a glass factory. I cannot find the film title in Bert Hogenkamp’s book De Documentaire Film 1945-1965, but our Dutch collection specialist, Rommy Albers, tells me that this is working material for the film Rotterdam aan den slag, which was released in the same year. Working material has the same legal status as the published film. EYE owns two copies of Rotterdam aan den slag, but in the database of Beeld en Geluid (the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision), which also has many documentaries in its collection, I find that they have a copy as well. Of the well-known director Herman van der Horst, the birth and death date are submitted in CE- he died in 1976-, but of Allan Penning these dates are missing. I find his death announcement on Delpher, dating the 6th of June 1957. The term of 70 years hasn’t passed yet, so we know that the film is in any case copyright protected.
The next step is to find out who the rights holders are. Because this is a commissioned film- just as is the case in the previous example- the rights holder is usually the commissioner. Rotterdam aan den slag is part of a series of short documentaries about the rebuilding of the Netherlands after WWII. It could be described as a propaganda film commissioned by a government committee for public works. Beeld en Geluid acquired its copy of this film from the RVD (the Netherlands Government Information Service) and also manages the RVD’s film rights. Therefore we know that this film is copyright protected (needless to say, we cannot post a digital copy of the film here) and we have located the rights holders.
3. Gloria transita
The third and last example I will give here, is also the easiest search. This silent feature film from 1917 about a street singer who made a short career as an opera artist was directed by Johan Gildemeijer, a cinematic jack-of-all-trades, who was also responsible for the screenplay and the production. It was a silent film, but the famous opera fragments that were shown in the film were sung by a choir behind the screen. Information about the film can be found in Geoffrey Donaldson’s famous book on silent film, Of Joy and Sorrow, and in CE, which also mentions that Gildemeijer died on the 31st of January, 1945. The protection term of 70 years has thus passed, so the film becomes a part of the public domain.Tag:collectie, collection, rights assessment, FORWARD
[Official 72nd FIAF Congress program]
The 2016 Il Cinema Ritrovato festival was not the only filmic event in Bologna where EYE was present. Partially overlapping with the festival, the 7th FIAF Congress was held from June 22 – June 26. A great opportunity for the Cineteca Bologna to showcase its plans and ambitions, as an institution that joined the FIAF in 1989 and since then hosted the Congress in 1994. Moreover, it was host to the most recent FIAF summer school editions.
This might seem like a strain for interested archivists, curators and other parties to divide their time over all these interesting events, but it actually helps to combine important yearly film preservation events like these. They attract more or less the same audience, so when these events coincide, attendees can kill two birds with one stone. Moreover, seeing films, joining tours through the Cineteca’s collections and the L’Immagine Ritrovata film lab, and theorizing at the same time can be inspiring. For Bologna and its Cineteca, it solidifies the city even further as an important site for film archiving and restoration.
The congress consists not only of the conference, but also involves a symposium with a specific theme on which case studies are presented. This year, the theme was 'New life for cinema's past'. This is a very broad theme, which makes for a broad set of case studies from the partaking institutions and experts. It not only forms a platform for case studies from archives all over the world, but moreover workshops are held and ideas and projects are being discussed for future cooperation between archives, institutions and independent experts. Not only were there presentations and discussions about the many FIAF members’ restorations and changing workflows due to the expanding amount of born-digital films, EYE’s director Sandra den Hamer gave a presentation on the newly built Collection Centre. Other presentations concerned for example the rise of historical theaters and of film heritage screenings at a time when general theaters seem to be closing. Another session was that of The Reel Thing, which is a semiannual event curated by founders Grover Crisp (Sony’s Film Restoration & Digital Mastering) and Michael Friend (UCLA Film & Television Archive). EYE will be hosting The Reel Thing in the spring of 2017, more specifically from Sunday 28 to Tuesday 30 May. This follows up on the yearly EYE Collection Day on Saturday 27.
Besides the film festival and congress, FIAF’s Summer School took place at the same time but went on after the festival, until July 15. This Summer School has been organized yearly by FIAF since 1973 and has been hosted by many FIAF members, from the Reichsarchiv in Berlin to George Eastman House in New York. The course consists of three steps: starting with an online theory course in May, then having hands-on theory lessons at the Cineteca and attending the festival as well as the congress.
[Photo by L’Immagine Ritrovata]
Then, after the festival wraps up, restoration classes took place at L’Immagine Ritrovata. Participants from all over the world are selected, but all have a background in film archiving, be it as working in institutions such as film archives or studying in this specific area. Also, scholarships by FIAF and ACE are granted to eight participants yearly in order to help them with the program’s 3000 euro fee. This might be considered a high price, but with the extensive hands-on program and the involvement of many well-known archivists and technicians from the field, the Summer School is a steady vehicle of the training of new film archivists.
EYE’s Film Conservation and Digital Access department was represented at this year’s Summer School by head of the department Anne Gant. Not only did she give a glimpse into an interesting case study that is the management of born-digital films, but it was also a good opportunity to interest young film archivists in EYE’s archive, museum, and the EYE Study for researching its collection. She made sure to not give a glamorous view of the life of an archivist, but rather show that it is often a matter of arranging, rearranging, conserving and maintaining objects: “only a small percentage of the items really get the big treatment of a full restoration” (Anne Gant, Summer School Presentation June 2016).
Moreover, the large EYE vaults in which over 210.000 cans are kept are really breathtaking, but it is the growing digital-born collection that needs our attention just as much. This especially since we are still figuring out what standards to use and how to process everything efficiently. Although born-digital films still make out a small portion of EYE’s collection compared to the analog material, they require much work and the numbers are increasing at a fast pace:
1 born-digital film in 2009
88 born-digital films in 2011
125 born-digital films in 2016
This is not unique for EYE, and therefore other institutions and people like Anne Gant had to come up with digital workflows and plans to fit these into the collection more swiftly. Maybe more importantly, since EYE is to collect, protect as well as provide access to Dutch film heritage, criteria for filmmakers, distributors, producers and other people who submit their films to the archive are to be agreed upon so that the depositing runs smoothly. Dilemmas that were never there before, such as questions like: should I backup first, then harmonize/fix the data structure, and then back up again? Also, where before things could physically get lost because parts of a film were not put together on one shelve, now the problem gets more complicated if all metadata is not catalogued properly. This might be something often mistaken by people when thinking about digitization: it is not necessarily less labor-intensive.
In her presentation, Anne Gant stressed that archives, although new to the digital born issue, need to see this issue as an opportunity. The archives should skill their employees so that they can deploy not only a Steenbeck viewing table, but also a digital scanner and know how to cope with difficult file systems. Needless to say, with the collection that EYE has, it will always be important to have specialists in analog film restoration, and no one can be an expert in both that and digital processes. Also, at some point in time it will be hard to find people that still know how to restore analog film, so we have a duty as film archive to maintain and teach this craft.
Last but not least, as department of Film Conservation and Digital Access but also on an institutional level for EYE in general, new policies had to be developed. In this, we are working together with other film institutes since we are dealing with similar issues everywhere and benefit from each other’s experiences. If you are interested in how this is voiced by EYE, see the 2014-2017 Collection Policy here.
[Both photos by EYE staff]Tag:FIAF, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Cineteca de Bologna, restoration, L'Immagine Ritrovata, FIAF Summer School, born-digital film, collectie, collection, The Reel Thing, metadata, digitized, digitization, digitalisering, film labs, filmfestival