In July 2019 our colleague Aldo van Keulen came upon a curious film; a nitrate print with no title nor any other text, showing a Chaplin imitator in unrecognizable surroundings. The print was part of a big private donation of nitrate reels that had arrived about eight weeks earlier. As Aldo dug further into the material to accession it to our holdings, the collection turned out to contain some astonishingly complete and diverse features from the silent era. Despite the absence of a detailed list or an inventory upon arrival, most of the material was in reasonable shape and not too hard to identify. This odd comedy however, was one of the exceptions. Upon further inspection, it became clear that the film was drawing upon the routine showing a drunk man interfering with the vaudeville show often performed live by Charlie Chaplin and later made into A Night in the Show (1915), but this film was shot in and around Copenhagen. A car appearing with the text “Brød Fabrik” and a license plate that reads “K1017” reassured us that we should look further into the Danish film history. Thanks to our on-going close relations with the Danish Film Institute, and aware of their commitment to save every bit of lost Danish Silent Cinema, we quickly contacted curator Thomas Christensen to ask for more information. Although at first it seemed impossible to recognize the actors and to identify the film, Thomas kindly offered to have the film preserved and digitized as part of their ambitious website Stumfilm.dk which promises to offer online every single surviving Danish Silent film ever found, within the next few years.
Now, slightly over a year later, not only can the film be watched on their platform (freely available, worldwide), it is also identified thanks to Lisbeth Richter Larsen at the Danish Film Institute, with the help of paper documentation from their collection. Now we know the film was made in 1916 and is called En livlig Drøm (A lively dream). For us, over here at the Eye Filmmuseum in the Netherlands it is really satisfying to be able to improve our catalogue with the correct information and to add new actors to our ever-growing database. This is the moment when we discover Edmond Barenco; a curious figure from the forgotten realms of film history, yet another Chaplin-imitator whose life and career was perhaps more fascinating than what we can see in the only film that seems to have survived of him. Or actually, was this maybe the only film he appeared in? Who knows…
According to the little info that can be found online, Edmond Barenco was a Swiss-born all-round circus artist: acrobat, juggler, line dancer and horseback rider. While working for the Danish Circus Orlando, he met and married around 1907 the famous circus equestrian Miss Zephora (1883-1961, born Henni Gustafsson in Norrköping). Miss Zephora was from the Orlando family, and the Barenco’s joined forces with Zephora’s brother Erland and his German-born wife Adele (1884-1979) and put on a spectacular horse number billed as "Les Orlando-Barenco's", choreographed by Adele and performed by the other three clad in all-white suits, riding white horses. During the early 1910s they were touring Europe until the outbreak of World War I forced them to flee to Copenhagen where they performed for a period at Cirkus Schumann. This is probably the moment when Barenco was recruited by the well-known comedy director Lau Lauritzen Sr. to appear on the silver screen. Soon afterwards, the Barenco’s travelled to Russia where they intended to spend four months, but ended up staying four years as they got trapped within the tangles of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
‘Les Orlandos-Barencos’ re-emerged in 1921 and enjoyed great success on European tours. Probably we will never know if by this time the nitrate print of En livlig Drøm was already circulating in the Netherlands, if it has ever really circulated at all. What we do know for sure from the newspaper announcements is that the Barenco’s and the Orlando’s themselves were in the Netherlands in the summer of 1921, performing for the Circus Carl Hagenbeck in Twente, Nijmegen, and Rotterdam. One brief review of this mostly equestrian circus program with numerous performers singles out the performance by the Orlandos-Barencos as “brilliant with agility and boldness”.
In 1931, Zephora Barenco retired, but their daughter replaced her, performing with Edmond. The couple lived the last years of their lives in the circus farm on Kulladal in Malmö (Sweden), where Edmond passed away in 1961, only one month before Zephora.
Today, apparently Miss Zephora’s white dress from 1915 is on display at the Circus Museum at Hvidovre, Denmark. It is mainly thanks to their website that we can read about the Barenco’s at all. Edmond Barenco’s long forgotten career is yet another proof to the fluid relations between the silent cinema and the stage performers of the circus or vaudeville. His cinematic career was probably not much to speak of, even back then, compared to his circus performances. Isn’t it magical then that in 2019 an incomplete piece of film can still resurface in the Netherlands and with the help of a single-page hand-written document held at the Danish Film Institute we can retrace and reclaim yet another Chaplin impersonator? That paper document by the way, contains the full Danish “dialogue list” amounting to ten intertitles, and also lists the original title of the film translated into seven languages; German (Ein lebhafter Traum / Der verliebte Gummibal [Berlin]), English (A Lively Dream), French (Rêve fantaisiste/Un sacré pépin [Eclair]), Spanish (Sueño Caprichosa), Portuguese, Norwegian and Swedish, clearly suggesting that the producer Nordisk Film Kompagni intended to give the film a wide international distribution. How did the only known print then end up in the Netherlands?
Your guess is as good as mine…
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator Silent Film, Eye Filmmuseum.
My thanks to Thomas Christensen, Aldo van Keulen and Steve Massa for their expertise and feedback.
It is not clear to me what the correct spelling of the troupe's name should be: so far I've seen variations like Les Orlando's-Barenco's, Les Orlandos-Barencos, Les Orlando-Barenco, Trio Orlando-Barenco, The Orlando-BarencoTroupe...Tag:silent film, identification, nitrate film
Nine years ago Catherine Cormon, the current head of the collections management department, had a dream to obtain a winding bench that would be suitable to deal with compromised and decomposed film materials. The purpose of such a table is to reduce exposure to noxious gasses that are created by both acetate and nitrate film materials and a purpose-built winding table would then allow staff and volunteers to work in relative safety.
The move of the collections department from Vijfhuizen to the Collection Centre has given the department the opportunity to finally commission a customized ventilated winding table. This commission was given to local craftsman Kees Malingré of Profgear who specializes in building equipment for audiovisual uses such as our winding bench.
To make the new table Kees reused materials from an old winding table and repurposed the plates, winding mechanism and the meter counter/ruler. He then created the body of the table from scratch and attached a Plexiglas hood to protect the operator. Kees also designed a ventilation system in the back of the table to suck the noxious air and filters the gasses up a separate ventilation shaft.
As well as installing the new ventilation system Kees added a frame counter and reader to the table. The counter reader was an old broken machine that was fixed especially for the table and the counter mechanism was also repurposed from another broken table. One of the greatest (and funniest) features of the table is that the counter mechanism can be switched in and out of the path of the winding film by simply rotating plates. This movement allows the operator the freedom to handle delicate films in the way they best see fit without encourage further perforation damage.
The key lesson learnt in the creation of this table is that old tables and broken technology can be repurposed for future film handling materials and technology. Therefore, it is necessary to hold onto those bits that can help in the creation of new interesting and helpful winding tables and more.
While a new ventilated winding table might not be the most exciting thing to happen to most people, for us in a the collection management department this is a great day. We will be able to better manage and process our materials in a safer environment as well as having a new shiny toy to play with. We thanks Kees for his diligent work and we look forward to attending to our ‘nasty’ nitrate collection in relative safety.
By Krystel Brown, student intern at the EYE Collections Management Department.Tag:machine, toxic, damaged film, decay, ontbinding, safety, nitraat, nitrate film
This year, me and several other interns worked together with Silent Film curator Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, with the goal to completely inspect, identify and register the films to the EYE Collection database and from there, see what choices needed to be made in terms of preservation, restoration and presentation. The start of this project and process of nitrate identification were already discussed in an earlier blogpost. Now that we have finished registering all the nitrate elements of this collection, let’s discuss our findings, provide you background information on the origins of this collection and unveil the treasures we encountered!
Biographical background and naming the collection
This collection originally belonged to Mr. van der Molen, and was donated to the EYE Filmmuseum back in 2013 by an acquaintance of the van der Molen family, Gerard Manshanden. Mr. Van der Molen was a film projectionist and collector from the Dutch city Den Helder; where he worked as projectionist for the marine until the onset of WWII. Generally speaking, he mostly created personal film screenings for private clients, ranging from showing films at children’s parties to screening more ‘erotic’-oriented materials for adults. After he passed away, Gerard Manshanden, an acquaintance from the local film theatre, was asked to sort out the large collection of films which were kept in the house and several garages.
The collection consists of safety materials of all kinds; mostly erotic films from the 1970s, but also newsreels, amateur films, 35mm films and reductions on 16mm (both fiction and non-fiction). Our initial acquisition entry mentions items ranging from “Laurel and Hardy” to “Waterskiing people in Bali”. Among those (roughly) 800 cans, approximately 150 cans turned out to contain nitrate stock. All of these materials were delivered to the archive at separate times: the first items came to EYE in 2013, whereas the last ones arrived in 2015, when another garage belonging to mr. van der Molen was discovered.
All the nitrate materials known within this collection have now been processed and registered. Further down, you will find a list of the silent films from this nitrate collection.
Pictures of the delivery of the cans to EYE Filmmuseum’s former location Vijfhuizen, back in 2013.
Findings, statistics and conclusions regarding this collection
Though, as mentioned, the complete collection including the safety material consisted of an estimated 800 cans, we assessed and looked through 150 cans of what was considered to be nitrate materials. From these 150 cans we found and have registered 88 unique or individual titles into the database Collection EYE. 85% of these titles have been identified, while 15% remain unidentified. The nitrate films are mostly silent: 70% vs. 30% sound films. The films are mostly fictional; 67% fiction vs. 33% non-fiction. Around 55% of the films were either complete or ‘complete enough’, and the length of these films varies anywhere between very short fragments, up to a complete film of six reels.
In terms of origins, most of the films were from the 1910s; 33% to be exact. The peak seems to be 1918; with 7 titles produced in this year. 25% is from the 1920s, and 19% from the 1930s. The oldest film we looked at was from 1905 (the Pathé title Les petits vagabonds) and the ‘youngest’ films we found in this batch were from 1959 and they were mostly Polygoon journals and fragments from safety colour films, such as The Nun Story with Audrey Hepburn. Most of the silent films were also in colour, often tinted, but several also containing toning and stencilling or a combination of tinting and black and white. Regarding their national origins, the films mainly were from the United States (around 40%) followed by France (19%), the Netherlands (14%), and Germany (10%). We also found films from Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Belgium and Great-Britain.
One particularly interesting example regarding the origins of the films, is a German-Austrian co-production; between Messter film (based in Berlin, and one of the largest film producers and distributors at the time), and Sascha Film, one of the main Austrian film producers in the silent era. However, the collaboration between the two and the use of their logo together on the intertitles was not something the curators had seen before and seemed quite unique. This film was also specifically compelling because it features Henny Porten, one of the major silent film stars from Germany. The film was identified as Gräfin Küchenfee (with the Dutch copy title being De keukenmeid als gravin) from 1918, and is written by Robert Wiene (of Das Cabinet des dr Caligari-fame), who is often also wrongly credited as this film’s director. The story features Porten in a double role: she plays the kitchen maid/aspiring actress Karoline Blume, trying to copy the behaviour of the countess she works for in order to study for a role. The part of this countess Gyllenhand is of course also taken up by Porten and strikingly, we see her in a comic role in a story of ‘mistaken identity’; a truly fascinating find in this collection.
The Sascha Film and Messter Film logos/initials are visible at the top of the frame / Henny Porten in her double role as both the kitchen maid/aspirational actress Karolina Blume and the Countess Gyllenhand in Gräfin Küchenfee (1918)
In terms of physical condition, some cans contained rust and several reels were affected by nitrate decomposition, mould, bacteria and in a few exceptional cases also such heavy decay (in its last stage) that the parts of the reel could not be saved, though overall the films were in very good condition. Regarding genre and themes, the films also vary considerably. Most of the films with USA origins seem to be comedies, such as Mustered Out (1920, formerly presumed lost) featuring Charlie Chaplin imitator Billy West, two Alice Laugh-O-Grams, a romantic comedy about newlyweds titled The Honeymoon Pact (1915) and also two films with a role for Cameo the Dog! In Asleep at the Switch (1923) Cameo plays checkers with Ben Turpin, while in in Nip and Tuck (1923) he cheats at a game of cards. Also from French territory came several comedies: the Max Linder comedy Pédicure par amour (1908), Le homard (1912) featuring Léonce Perret, the trick film La villa aux surprises (1912) about a thief being ‘locked in’ by the house he is trying to rob, and a compilation of several Willy Sanders films (titled De snaackse avonturen van Willie). Several American animations were also discovered, such as Colonel Pepper’s Mobilized Farm (1917), Inklings (1924) and the Mutt and Jeff animation ‘Lots of Water’ (1925).
Behind the scenes photograph (provided by Steve Massa) of the ‘lost’ film Mustered Out (1920), featuring Chaplin-imitator Billy West
Several westerns appeared in the collection as well, such as South of Santa Fe (1919) featuring Texas Guinan (one of the first movie cowgirls) and we also found (in a heavily decayed reel) a very short fragment from one reel of the 18-chapter adventure serial Hands Up (1918), which is sadly still considered lost and from the promising poster-material, it seems sad we found these fragments in a heavily decayed reel, leaving it only up to the imagination what else could or might have been there before.
Regarding non-fiction, we found a beautifully (pink) tinted and stencilled 1912 Pathé film named Printemps fleuri (already mentioned in our last post), several (excerpts of) travelogues, a film featuring the crowning of a sultan in the Dutch Indies, and a film documenting an ice skating match in Den Helder in 1916, the city in North-Holland where Mr. van der Molen lived.
Also striking are several films featuring themes that could be considered ‘exotic’ or featuring (from our contemporary point of view) eccentric elements: Die Kaukasierin (1917) is about a detective Joe Deebs (Max Landa) trying to uncover the truth behind a girl from ‘Caucasia’, the deceased wife of an engineer who turns out to have mysteriously faked her own death to elope with someone else, while in Romance and Brass Tacks (1918) we see a woman idealising a Russian violinist and fantasising about becoming Russian princess, only to be faced by ‘reality’ when she discovers the manners of this man are actually very far removed from her own romantic ideals. In the travelogue film Kudowa: Een heilzaam oord voor hartlijdenden (origins unclear), we are presented with the‘healing’ radioactive waters for those visiting the spa resort Kudowa, while in the Danish (formerly lost) drama I Opiumets Magt, (1918) one of the characters tricks his prospective father-in-law into trying opium, with the intention of making him an addict and inheriting his fortune. The on-screen smoking and subsequent hallucinations of his deceased daughter, lead him into despair.
A woman imagining herself a Russian ‘princess’ in Romance and Brass Tacks (1918)
Opium smoking in I Opiumets Magt (1918)
Despite our efforts and the high percentage of identified titles, some films still remain unidentified, even though we do hope that we will learn more about them in the near future. One interesting example is Het geheimzinnige huis (given title), of which the story was not entirely clear to us, as the film was incomplete and the beginning reel(s) seemed to be missing, the two reels of this film we found featured (again) intriguing elements: a secret passageway leading from one house to the next, doppelgängers, several cases of ‘unmasking’, a safe that can be accessed from a secret corridor, a painting that figures a secret door, resulting in a mysterious tone to it, not quite in German expressionist style, but almost like a film noir avant la lettre. Also in terms of origins it seems hard to determine where this film is from: no indications of setting, backgrounds, streets and looks of the actors gave us a clear indication or ‘marker’ of production country.
Frames from the mysterious film ‘Het geheimzinnige huis’
Next to several of these unidentified films, we also had to register about 10 cans as ‘collective’ cans, containing small bits and pieces of loose (unidentified) fragments that did not seem to belong to any of the other films we viewed. In some cases, these fragments consisted of just one frame, while in other they were short reels of up to 75 metres. For us it is important to keep these fragments, because EYE’s collection policy requires that all nitrate materials which are not fully decayed will be kept. Secondly, because some of these might still be identified later on, if someone wants to return to these cans and do more research and thirdly, interesting fragments might be used for EYE’s Bits & Pieces compilations, in which new compilations are made from unidentified fragments that otherwise would not really be shown, re-used or actively preserved or restored in any other way. Nonetheless, all of the films and also these ‘collective’ cans have been registered with their own entry in the database Collection EYE on both ‘filmography’ and ‘copy’ level, as well as with a full report in the curator’s database.
Dealing with cans of loose ‘fragments’, often unidentifiable
Complete list of the silent films and future preservation projects
Please note that this list only contains the silent film titles in this collection. The films are listed in chronological order, and the titles in brackets are ‘given' titles. All films are positive prints, identified and either complete or ‘complete enough, unless stated otherwise.
· Les petits vagabonds (FR, 1905), fiction
· Pédicure par amour (FR, 1908), fiction, incomplete
· Les oiseaux dans leurs nids (FR, 1910), non-fiction
· Soldat et Marquise (FR, 1910), fiction
· De snaackse avonturen van Willie (FR, 1911-1913), compilation: consists of Willy arrête les pendules (FR, 1913), Willy veut monter à cheval (FR, 1912), Willy professeur de gymnastique (FR, 1911) and one unidentified William ‘Willy’ Sanders-film
· Gorki (DK, 1912), fiction, incomplete
· Le homard (FR, 1912), fiction
· Le mouchoir de Bigorno (FR, 1912), fiction
· Printemps fleuri (FR, 1912), non-fiction
· La villa aux surprises (FR, 1912), fiction
· The Man Who Knew (US, 1914), fiction
· The Honeymoon Pact (US, 1915), fiction
· Jane's Declaration of Independence (US, 1915), fiction
· De kleine detectief (DE?, 1915?), fiction, unidentified
· Love, Speed and Thrills (US, 1915), fiction, incomplete
· A munkászubbony (HU, 1915), fiction, incomplete
· One Damp Day (US, 1917), fiction
· Heldersche IJsfeesten. Wedstrijd op Lange Baan. (NL, 1916), non-fiction, unclear whether complete, unidentified
· Never again, Eddie! (US, 1916), fiction
· Colonel Pepper's Mobilized Farm (US, 1917), fiction, incomplete
· Gräfin Küchenfee (DEU/OST, 1918), fiction
· I Opiumets Magt (DK, 1918), fiction
· Kaukasierin, Die (DE, 1917), fiction
· Lucien, Lucette (FR, 1917), fiction
· Secret Servants (US, 1917), fiction
· [Héléne & Baron Edgard de Relais] (FR/DE?, 1918?), fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· L'avarizia (IT, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Frauen, die der Abgrund verschlingt (DE, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Hands Up (US, 1918), fiction, incomplete
· Our Mrs. McChesney (US, 1918), fiction
· Romance and Brass Tacks (US, 1918), fiction
· Foxtrott-Papa (DE, 1919), fiction
· Koffie (US, 1919), non-fiction, unidentified
· South of Santa Fe (US, 1919), fiction
· [Het geheimzinnige huis] (ES?, 1920?), fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Mustered Out (US, 1920), fiction, incomplete
· The Toll Gate (US, 1920), fiction, incomplete
· De watervallen van het schoone graafschap Devon (GB, 1920), non-fiction
· Freiburg in Breisgau (?, 1920s?), non-fiction, unclear whether complete, unidentified
· Kudowa. Een heilzaam oord voor hartlijdenden. (?, 1920s?), non-fiction, unidentified
· [Matadi en Kinshasa] (?,1920s?), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Chalumeau serrurier par amour (FR, 1921), fiction
· Put and Take (US, 1921), fiction, incomplete
· Asleep at the Switch (US, 1923), fiction, unclear whether complete
· Nip and Tuck (US, 1923), fiction
· Alice and the Dogcatcher (US, 1924), fiction
· Alice the Peacemaker (US, 1924), fiction
· All Night Long (US, 1924), fiction, incomplete
· Inklings (US, 1924), fiction
· Trailing Trouble (US, 1924), fiction, incomplete
· De voetbalwedstrijd Holland - België 1-1 (NL, 1924), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· Kleuren-Cinematographie (?, 1925), non-fiction, compilation
· [Kroning van Sultan Amaluddin Sani Perkasa Alam Shah van Deli, Sumatra] (NL, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete, unidentified
· ‘Lots’ of Water (US, 1925), fiction
· Die Schafräude und ihre Bekämpfung! (DE, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete
· Versailles (FR, 1925), non-fiction
· Wanzen (DE, 1925), non-fiction, incomplete
· En promenade sur le Bosphore (FR, 1928), non-fiction
· The Showdown (US, 1928), fiction, incomplete
· The Unknown Rider (US, 1929), fiction
· The Gorilla Mystery (US, 1930), fiction, incomplete
What will then be the future of these films?
Several upcoming projects have already been initiated. The Hungarian film A munkászubbony (1915), featuring famous Hungarian actor Gyula Hegedűs will be sent to our colleagues at the Hungarian National Film Archive. This was one of the first discoveries back when we started identifying the films in February and was subsequently picked up by Hungarian media. Two previously presumed ‘lost’ Danish films, I Opiumets Magt (1918) and Gorki (1912, an intriguing yet incomplete detective drama) will be preserved in collaboration with our colleagues at the Danish Film Institute. Jane’s Declaration of Independence (1915) will be also restored in collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the city in which parts of this film were shot. As we only recently finished identifying this whole collection, we hope that many other institutions will follow in collaborating with us in preserving and showing these films, so hopefully some of these titles will be screened in a theatre close to you in the near future!
Conclusively, it is amazing to consider that these kinds of collections are still being found to this day, containing films of over a hundred years old and some of which are often still in very good conditions. Though film collectors (and especially those who own nitrate film) might slowly be becoming a ‘dying breed’, our work in processing and identifying nitrate films is nowhere near done. Almost 80% of silent films are considered lost, but collections like this one give us hope that some of those lost films might still be found today!
Finally, we would like to thank the family van der Molen and Gerard Manshanden for donating this collection to the EYE Filmmuseum, and also express our gratitude to Annike Kross, and the student interns Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen, Aleksas Gilaitis, Olivia Stutz and Julie De Wispelaere for all their hard work in helping us identify and register this collection.
Written by Ilse van der Spoel (intern EYE Collections) and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (curator Silent Film)
This year EYE is bringing the record number of thirty films to the Giornate del Cinema Muto!
The biggest and longest running silent film festival of the world hosts more than a thousand guests in its immens theater, and is also the place where the international silent film crowd gets together to watch silent films with live music, from 9AM till after midnight. There are daily musical masterclasses, book launches and presentations by archive specialists.
EYE will also present a ‘dialogue’ on Monday (Oct. 2nd) about the recently acquired Van der Molen/Manshanden nitrate collection. The collection has already drawn international attention since the first weeks of its registration, through the discovery of the lost Hungarian film A Munkazsubbony from 1914.
Among the EYE highlights, there is the world premiere of The Reckless Age (US, 1924) on Monday, restored by NBC/Universal from a unique nitrate print found at EYE, through our collaboration project with the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The yearly Desmet Collection screening is called 'For a Better Vision' and is dedicated to films about ‘blindness’. In addition, also our recently discovered and restored film Petite Simone (FR, 1918) will be screened for the first time.
The other EYE films are spread among the other sections of the festival, like the European Westerns, and mainly the ‘Nasty Women’ where we have 16 films!
List of all EYE films on the program:
EARLY EUROPEAN WESTERN:
Coeur Ardent (FR, 1912)*
Sulla via dell'oro (IT, 1913)*
Nel paese dell'oro (IT, 1913)*
RECOVERED & RESTORED:
Reckless age, The (US, 1924) restored by NBC/Universal through NFPF
The Right to Happiness (US 1919) Dutch intertitles
Petite Simone (FR, 1918)
DESMET COLLECTION "For a Better Vision" (Monday, Oct. 2nd. 4pm):
Mieux Valait la Nuit (Was Ik Maar Blind Gebleven)(Fr, 1911)*
Amma, le voleur aveugle (FR, 1912)
Le Coeur et les Yeux (Fr, 1911)*
Modeschau im Zoo (D, 1915)
Water Lilies (US, 1911)*
Mr.Myope Chasse/The Sportsman (FR, 1910)
Le Mensonge de Jean le Manchot (FR, 1911)*
Blinden Instituut en Ooglijders Gasthuis te Bandoeng (1912-1913)
Cunégonde trop curieuse (FR 1912)*
Onésime et la toilette de Mademoiselle Badinois (FR 1912)*
Het Onwillige Dienstmeisje/ Unidentified Cunegonde Episode (FR, 1912)
Le Singe De Petronille (FR, 1913)*
Animal Lover [Dierenvriend] (FR, 1912?)
Le Bateau De Leontine (FR, 1911)*
Les Ficelles De Leontine (FR, 1910)
The New Air Fan [Ventilateur Brevete] (FR, 1911)
Amour Et Musique (FR, 1911)*
Un Ravalement Precipite (FR, 1911)*
Rosalie Et Son Phonographe (FR, 1911)*
Rosalie Emmenage (FR, 1911)
Lea Bambola (IT, 1913)*
Patouillard A Une Femme Jalouse (Fr, 1912)*
Cunegonde Femme Cochere (FR, 1913)*
Lea Sui Pattini (IT, 1911)
Films marked with (*) are from EYE Filmmuseum Desmet Collection.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator of Silent Film.Tag:Desmet Collectie, Desmet Collection, festival, filmfestival, Silent cinema
Piles and piles of dusty ‘banana’ boxes stacked on 6 pallets, handwritten scribbles and stickers: Pretty much every archivist’s nightmare awaited me on the first day of my internship at the EYE collection center. I was taken on to assist experimental film curator Simona Monizza on the rather extraordinary (for EYE standards) Peter Rubin collection. Consisting of mostly VHS (and Super VHS) tapes, photographic slides, audio cassettes, an immense amount of documents but also some 16mm reels and even floppy disks, this project is outside the EYE’s comfort zone. This collection was donated to the EYE by the Amsterdam VJ academy in 2016 since it seemed like a logical home considering Peter Rubin’s film collection is already stored at the EYE. The second week (of my four month long internship) is coming to an end, and this blogpost is to share with you the progression of the challenging Peter Rubin collection.
Before I dive into the progress of this collection, some words about Peter Rubin and his work. Rubin was born in 1941 in the U.S.A. and studied filmmaking at the New York University. In 1968 Rubin moves to Amsterdam where he continues his career as a filmmaker. In 1976 he starts working for Holland Experimental Film (HEF) until well into the 1980’s. The 80’s were the real turning point for Rubin’s career as he digresses from film and enters the glitchy wonderland that is VHS. It was then that Rubin started working at the infamous Amsterdam club Mazzo as their in-house VJ (Video Jockey). Rubin worked 7 days a week at the Mazzo producing live video shows everyday until Mazzo finally closed its doors in 1989. At that point Peter Rubin’s career was at its highest point and it was then that Rubin started VJing in Germany in the Techno collectives Mayday and Love Parade. He worked closely with the renowned German DJ Westbam producing the collection of music videos “A Practicing Maniac at Work”. At the time he still kept Amsterdam as his base and also worked in several parties at the Panama and Melkweg and raves like Immortality and Awakenings. He lived most his life in Amsterdam but soon before his death moved to Berlin until he passed away in 2015. After his death the VJ academy with the help of his family and friends managed to collect all his work and belongings which is now in the possession of the EYE.
For this project we have decided to focus on Rubin’s VJ work in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as we see it as the core of this collection, and assess the overlaps between his film and VJ practice. Once the research phase is done, the goal is to preserve and digitize a number of VHS tapes we find critical and eventually be able to reconstruct one of his shows. But before we get to that, we have to sort out the collection we acquired from the VJ academy which is what we are focusing our efforts on at this moment. The collection arrived at the EYE in boxes Rubin put together himself with his written notes on them. These boxes contained his works as well as a lot of his personal belongings; from postcards to sweaters to an entire boxes of taped sports championships (see figure 2), VHS tapes with anything related to 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, and it is tapes like these which prove to be one of the main problematics of this project.
Figure 2. Euro and World Cup Soccer championship tapes
The first two weeks consisted of a lot of inventorying, sorting and carrying boxes. The pallets we focused on were those which contain boxes of VHS tapes (namely pallets 1 and 3). Each pallet consists of ~20 boxes and each box fits 69-72 tapes, so a total of ~2400 tapes and the boxes were given an individual number.
In the beginning of this process we were very thorough, giving an inventory number and cataloguing each tape in a spreadsheet. Each tape got a unique inventory number which indicated Peter Rubin (PR), the given box number and their given tape number. So the first tape of box 34 would indicate PR-34-001 (see figure 3). This strategy, although the most thorough, proved to be extremely time consuming. I could only get through 2 boxes in each day which meant working on each box for 3.5 hours nonstop. We found that a lot of tapes seemed entirely personal, movies he liked, sports matches and world news which meant a lot of work thoroughly inventorying tapes which would likely be discarded later in the process.
Figure 3. Box 34 inventoried with individual numbers
After an interview with Daan Nolen from the VJ academy which was illuminating on Peter Rubin’s and VJ workflow in general, we decided to change our strategy. Instead of inventorying each and every tape we decided to go through boxes and mark the tapes we thought would be most relevant and take photos to document everything (See Figure 4). The photos would then be sent to people who are more knowledgeable on Rubin’s work and then be checked to see if we missed marking any important tape in our selection. Of course this method runs the risk of missing something that could potentially be important but the limited time and funds do not allow a deeper investigation at this time. Our motto is: “When in doubt, mark it!”. This change of strategy proved to be faster and more efficient in terms of output and as I write this, we managed to go through all of the boxes with VHS tapes and can definitely say that we have a much clearer overview of what is in the VHS collection.
Figure 4. Tapes marked with the green dot as important.
The above process ran rather smoothly but there are some issues we faced which I will highlight in the following paragraphs. Firstly, a main issue we dealt with at this moment is deciphering what is on the tapes. Fortunately most tapes have some sort of identifiable text and from viewing some tapes we discovered that the text matches the content. The issues with the texts is that they range from a number, to an event name, or in a lot of cases a large amount of content information which at times is rather obscure (See figure 5). A number of tapes also contain pieces of paper, a lot of the time with what we discovered to be time codes relating to specific images (see figure 6). In time a lot of these texts became more and more clear. For example we found a number of “Barb” tapes, which in the beginning we thought referred to Barbie but later on I found out that they refer to a specific event series at the Panama in Amsterdam called “Barbarella”. Similarly a lot of tapes referred to an Elsa which I discovered refers to Elsa Wormeck a.k.a. Elsa for Toys, a VJ who worked with Rubin in the Love Parade parties and at the production company Mediamorph in Berlin. The abbreviations IMM refers to Immortality (a party in Amsterdam), NF refers to No Frontiers another event in the Netherlands, TJ to Tape Jockey and LP could refer to either Love Parade or Long play (a method of recording content on a tape which allows for more content in less space). Though these names and abbreviations have become clearer, some are still obscure, for example he used the abbreviation NG, ODY, SLUV and LIB a number of times and the name Jos is constantly reappearing but we do not know what and whom Rubin is referring to (if anyone has any idea do let us know).
Figure 5. Example of tape with a lot of content information.
Figure 6. Example of paper note with information inside tapes
Figure 7. IMM tapes referring to the Immortality parties
Furthermore another question, which is also a more ethical one, is what to do with all the content tapes we have received. We call content tapes, tapes which contain material directly recorded from television, either for inspiration or for entertainment, these tapes can also be referred to as “source” tapes. Being a VJ, Rubin relied heavily on not only the animators and technicians who worked with and for him, but a great part of his work process was taping footage directly from television. A lot of the time he would tape entire TV programs but then would copy an excerpt from them and would add it to a compilation tape, thus: Do we then keep the source tape (what we also call content tape) or simply the compilation tape? The line between the tapes he used for his work and the tapes he used for his personal entertainment is permeable and thin. This question is then followed up by another issue: Copyrights. A lot of these TV programs have different authors and owners which EYE does not have the rights to. Of course this is not a problem if the material will never be published or used but simply kept as a document of Rubin’s work flow, but their storing also requires space.
In the coming weeks we will continue inventorying and hopefully start the process of making some selections for digitization.
By Eleni Tzialli (Intern Experimental Film Collection)Tag:experimentele film, filmcollectie, VHS, tape, VJ, Peter Rubin, media art
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