It’s not very often that we celebrate the 110th anniversary of a film. When The Great Train Robbery debuted in December of 1903, Henry Ford had recently sold his first car, the Boston Americans had just won the first modern World Series, and Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States. Filmmaking was in its infancy.
In the late 1800s most moving images were novel, one-scene clips. Machines such as the zoopraxiscope and kinetoscope would show a series of moving images like a horse running or a woman dancing. As technology progressed, more complex pictures such as boxing matches or short news segments were projected onto a screen. Even still, these films were more of a novelty than anything else.
Moving images changed in 1903 with the debut of The Great Train Robbery. Produced by Thomas Edison, inventor of many audio and visual playback machines, the film began to shift the focus from novelty films to plot-based cinema.
The Great Train Robbery was one of the first crime dramas and archetype of the western genre. The film introduced moviegoers to robberies, chase scenes, and gun shoot-offs. The film was also one of the first to incorporate a full cast of actors and to shoot on-location.
New techniques in film editing also helped to establish The Great Train Robbery as a pioneer in plot-based film. Director Edwin S. Porter used cross-cutting to show that two events were occurring simultaneously. This is apparent when Porter shifts back and forth between the tied up telegraph operator and the bandits on the train. Porter also uses panning shots, where the camera follows the characters, to focus viewers’ attention. These simple techniques help to establish continuity between scenes and increase suspense for the viewer.
The final scene of the film. Justus D. Barnes, leader of the outlaw band, fires his pistol directly at the audience.
Most of the films preserved at the National Archives were produced by government agencies. Yet The Great Train Robbery was produced by the Edison Company. This raises the question, how did it get here?
In addition to government films, NARA also receives private donations of historical value. One such donation was the Ford Historical Film Collection. Henry Ford believed that motion pictures held great educational and advertising value. As such, he established the Ford Motion Picture department in 1914 and filmed a variety of topics. Early films in the collection focused on current events and educational features like the Ford Animated Weekly. By the 1920s, Ford began to shift the focus toward promoting infrastructure, improving farming, and increasing safety.
Yet the astute blog reader may still be saying, Henry Ford didn’t produce the Great Train Robbery! This is also true. The Ford Collection is divided into four parts: News and Education, Ford Family, Ford Motor Company, and Film from Other Sources. The Great Train Robbery falls under the last category, along with other Edison films.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (306-NT-279 T-6)
In addition to NARA, The Great Train Robbery is also preserved at the Library of Congress in the Paper Print Film Collection. Prior to 1912, the medium of film was was still new and consequently not subject to copyright laws. Still eager to protect their work, clever producers like Thomas Edison took still photos of each scene and filed their films as a set of photographs. Interestingly enough, these “paper prints” survived much better than film from the same time period and now represent the best collection of the early moving images.
Check back soon for other early films and more videos from the Ford Collection.
Local Identifier: 342-FH-3A-14796, “After receiving permission from the farm owner, these men, attached to an airbase at Norfolk, England, invade a turkey pen to choose their annual turkey day repast. The turkeys were given to the men for their Thanksgiving dinners”, November 6, 1943
Local Identifier: 80-G-293682, “Was the Navy’s Thanksgiving chow good this year? Here’s the answer–a picture that speaks for itself. Devoting their attention strictly to the turkey and trimmings at an advanced Aleutian base are Leo F. DesJarlait, Sl/c (left); Eulice E. Wheeler, Sl/c (center); with G. J. Lindner, EM2/c, takes time out to give that “4.0″ sign, which means “perfect”, November 24, 1944
Local Identifier 111-SC-385319, “PFC John A. Arnett (Fayetteville, NC) (Left) first man of Co “E”, 5th RCT, 24th U.S. Inf Div, to get in the chow line for his Thanksgiving Day dinner, gets a turkey leg from 1st Cook, CPL Fred Burks (Chicago, Ill) (Right). Chow line was set up back side of hill, approximately 200 yards from the MLR, Korea”, November 22, 1951, photograph by PVT Donald Webster.
Local Identifier 127-GVB-206-A186201, “Marine Lance Corporal Douglas E. Parker (Portland, Oregon), of F Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, tears into a hefty drumstick while enjoying a real home-style Thanksgiving dinner. Marines throughout Vietnam were served a full course turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day”, November 25, 1965, photograph by Pfc. Durbin.
Are you ready for Thanksgiving? If it’s your turn to cook, no doubt the next few days will be stressful. But imagine trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for an entire ship or regiment, or being a mess sergeant tasked with cooking and bringing the meal to troops in the field. Do you know how you’re cooking your turkey yet? According to a Navy chef in 1956, the best way to roast your turkey is upside down.
The following films show how the mission of providing Thanksgiving dinner is accomplished in the U.S. military, using examples from 111-DD, Filmed News Releases of the Department of Defense. I have included a transcription of the release sheet that describes each film. For more on the series and how to use these films for research, read through to the end!
From the release sheet:
“THANKSGIVING: UPSIDE DOWN TURKEYS? AND NAVY COOKS
(Official Dept. of Defense footage released by Dept. of Defense)
Not one housewife out of a hundred really knows how to roast that Thanksgiving turkey, so says the Navy! They always roast it upside down, with the breast sticking up. The right way to do it is to turn the bird over and keep the meaty breast and legs out of the drying heat at the top of the oven. That way the meat is more succulent and tender.
Film depicts a Navy Chief Commissary man demonstrating the Navy way of preparing, roasting and carving a turkey. Slices of savory turkey served with a generous portion of stuffing and gravy is one of the finest and most popular dishes in the Navy.”
From the release sheet:
“November 22, 1966
TRADITIONAL THANKSGIVING DAY TURKEY ENJOYED BY SPECIAL FORCES IN VIETNAM
(Official U.S. Army film released by the Department of Defense)
A Thanksgiving Day dinner including the traditional turkey and all the trimmings was enjoyed by members of A Detachment, 5th Special Forces located at Xom Cat, thanks to Sergeant First Class Lonnie Mitchell (Supply, North Carolina).
Sergeant Mitchell prepared the tasty repast at the 5th Special Forces Headquarters at Bien Hoa, and the meal was delivered in hot steaming containers by helicopter to the 12 men of A Detachment at Xom Cat in the War Zone D area.
The team at Xom Cat is composed of three officers and nine enlisted men. Their only means of resupply is by air.
Sergeant Mitchell is Mess Sergeant of Detachment C-3, 5th Special Forces.”
From the release sheet:
“November 25, 1969
SERVICEMEN AROUND THE WORLD HAVE THANKSGIVING TURKEY
(Official U.S. Navy Film Released by the Department of Defense)
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military men and women around the world will receive their Thanksgiving turkey, even men in remote posts in Vietnam.
With the official menu announced by Department of Defense including the traditional bird and all the fixings, only those personnel assigned overseas and on board ships will enjoy shrimp cocktail due to the devastation of most of the U. S. gulf coast shrimp during Hurricane Camille last August.
These men, stationed at Little Creek, Virginia board LCU (Utility Landing Craft) 1625, partake of just a portion of the holiday foods which will be served to the American fighting men and women around the world.
A total of approximately 2,800,000 pounds of turkey, 192,000 pounds of shrimp, 787,500 pounds of potatoes, 383,933 pounds of cranberry sauce and 350,000 pounds of fruitcake await the U.S. military personnel on this American holiday.
According to the Department of Defense, the same basic menu will be served on Christmas Day.”
Using 111-DD for Research
The series 111-DD, Filmed News Releases of the Department of Defense contains short, edited pieces that were released to news organizations by the Department of Defense between 1951 and 1980. Hundreds of these press releases were issued each year. The item number tells you exactly when the film was released—for example, the first featured film, 111.DD.224-56, was the 224th filmed news release of 1956. Each item also has an accompanying release sheet which provides a description of the film and sometimes a shotlist.
The series is a wealth of interesting stories covering a wide assortment of topics. As one might expect, a large portion of the filmed news releases are human interest stories that portray the military in a positive light. The releases include stories about the demonstration of a new piece of technology, like a shark shield in development by the U.S. Navy, or showing how military personnel were training for the recovery of the Apollo 8 capsule. There are also stories of soldiers providing Christmas gifts for Vietnamese orphans or setting up civilian hospitals in a war zone. One particularly intriguing release from 1960 features an “Impromptu Fashion Show in the Aerospace Age”.
The release sheets for 111-DD are available in the Archives II motion picture research room in College Park, Maryland. Access copies are made upon request.
Congress passed the law in 1952 to prevent Smokey from being used to sell commercial products. It was believed that this would dilute Smokey’s forest fire prevention message. Their strategy seems to have worked. Wildfire prevention is one of the most successful campaigns that the Ad Council has ever produced.
Today’s post is by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives’ Motion Picture Preservation Lab.
In honor of Veterans Day, we are proud to share the National Archives’ digital restoration of John Huston’s Let There Be Light, the groundbreaking film about the treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of soldiers returning from WWII. In the history of government films, perhaps no other has been quite so controversial, so censored, so sought after, or so acclaimed.
The U.S. military produced Let There Be Light in 1945. Director John Huston utilized a revolutionary style of unscripted interviews with racially mixed subjects to explore the psychological ramifications of war. The modern viewer will find the methods out of date, or even unbelievable, but these treatments were actually at the forefront of psychological care in the 1940s. It is more important to focus on Huston’s aspiration to educate the viewer about the psychological toll that war can bring, that PTSD it is not a failing of the man that brings on distress, and that those suffering from the effects of war remain vital and productive members of our society as a whole.
At the time it was made, John Huston’s truthful portrayal of “battle neurosis” was roundly rejected by the U.S. Army and as a result, remained suppressed for thirty-five years. A scheduled screening at the Museum of Modern Art in June of 1946 was halted when Military Police confiscated the print minutes before the curtain was to go up. Only a handful of critics were able to see the film before it was seized. One critic, Archer Winsten, wrote, “there is consolation in the fact that the picture will not be lost, that officials all retire or die sooner or later…. Some future audience is guaranteed not only a beautiful film experience, but also the certainty that their generation has better sense than ours.”
And, here we are. We are that generation. In November of 1980, during a retrospective of Huston’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Let There Be Light premiered to the public. A few weeks later, the film was given a wider audience when the National Archives issued copies of the film on VHS and in 16mm, quickly followed by the first theatrical release in New York at the Thalia Theater in January 1981.
Today, Let There Be Light is freely accessible to anyone who wants to watch it. More recently, the National Archives has been working to ensure that not only is it available for generations to come, but that it also looks and sounds as good as possible. In a multiyear effort, and with a generous grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the National Archives, in conjunction with Chace Audio by Deluxe, preserved and digitally restored the images and audio of Let There Be Light.
As the best surviving source material for the audio restoration, NARA provided Chace with a 35mm black-and-white exhibition print with a variable area optical soundtrack. The print had been screened over the years and acquired numerous crackles and pops from use. In addition, it had problems carried over from the film’s original production materials: bumpy or noisy edits between shots, fluctuations in the audio level, and sibilance (hissing) in the dialogue. The original soundtrack was converted to digital audio files at 24bits and 96kHz.
Next, engineers at Chace applied Sonic Solutions Sound Blade restoration technology to remove the hiss and pops and correct other irregularities. From the process, Chace produced three sound elements for NARA: a new mono 35mm optical soundtrack negative to be used to make new prints and 35mm full-coat polyester magnetic recordings of both the original track and restored tracks for long-term preservation.
A veteran suffering from PTSD undergoes hypnosis therapy
For the restoration of Let There Be Light, NARA created a new picture negative from an acetate fine grain master, the best surviving source. Thankfully, the fine grain was in relatively good condition, except for scratches and abrasions on the film’s base side. To reduce the carryover of scratches to the new preservation copy, NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab staff produced a polyester negative using a wet-gate printer. (With regular “dry printing” lab equipment, defects can be carried over and appear as striations or blemishes on the new print. The wet-gate process reduces this problem. During printing the film is temporarily immersed in a chemical bath, which fills in scratches on the thicker base side while the image is duplicated.)
In winter of 2012, the new negative was scanned to create a high-definition image file for a planned Memorial Day web release by the National Film Preservation Foundation. In the NARA lab, we took our digital restoration efforts further by re-scanning the new negative at a 2K resolution (2048 x 1556) and using digital restoration tools to correct density shifts introduced during successive re-printings. We also digitally removed as much as possible of the dirt, dust, and scratches accumulated over the years. The resulting file was synced with the restored magnetic track and then reformatted as HD, DVD, and web-quality copies. The complete restoration of Let There Be Light premiered in the National Archives’ McGowan Theater on Veterans Day, 2012.
A great deal of thanks goes to Annette Melville at the National Film Preservation Foundation for making much of this work possible, to Scott Simmon for the excellent scholarshipof the film, to Bob Heiber at Chace Audio by Deluxe, and of course, to John Huston for making Let There Be Light in the first place.
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