This week’s guest post is from Audrey Amidon. Audrey is a Preservation Specialist in NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab.
How to Succeed with Brunettes (1967) and Return of Count Spirochete (1973):
The Motion Picture Preservation Lab’s Favorite Titles from the DVIC Accession
Sure, the National Archives holds films a lot of really important historical films. Beautifully made educational films about government programs during the Great Depression? Yeah, we’ve got that. Millions of feet of material covering every 20th Century war or conflict? Check! Films documenting the Civil Rights movement, space exploration, or presidential speeches? Check, check, and check.
Down in the lab, we’re accustomed to handling these Very Important Films every day. We appreciate and take seriously our role in making sure that these records of our nation’s history will be accessible for years to come. What sticks out, then, is the occasional film that isn’t like the others. In the DVIC accession, there were a couple of titles that grabbed our attention.
As described in our previous post, the Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC) accession contained films that provided training or education that directly related to the work of the armed forces. We also received preservation elements for a handful of films that were intended to contribute to overall health and well-being of military personnel.
One of these titles was How to Succeed with Brunettes (1967), a film produced by the Navy that demonstrates proper dating etiquette for officers. The film features wonderful music, evocative of its era, and a fair bit of comedy, both intentional and unintentional.
Lab staff were intensely interested when one of the motion picture archivists discovered a video of a 1981 60 Minutes piece that detailed waste and duplication in government filmmaking. Sure, there were some good points made in the 1981 rebroadcast of a piece originally aired in 1974, but we also got to see our favorite titles singled out for derision!
Count Spirochete was used as an example of waste through duplication of subject matter. According to the 60 Minutes story, as of 1974, 14 VD films had been made by the military. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any others that get the message across with an anthropomorphized bacterium. As YouTube user simbared points out, the film was made for 18 year old new recruits who had grown up with Saturday morning cartoons, so perhaps it isn’t as silly as it looks today.
How to Succeed with Brunettes, along with its companion film Blondes Prefer Gentlemen, was awarded the 60 Minutes “Oscar” for most unnecessary and wasteful film, at a cost of $64,000 to taxpayers (approximately $446,000 in today’s dollars). Now, I don’t know if the films were necessary to the mission of creating perfect manners in officers of the U.S. Navy, but hopefully they can create some joy for those who see it today!
This week’s guest post is from Audrey Amidon. Audrey is a Preservation Specialist in NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab.
Technical Assessment of the Films of the Defense Visual Information Center in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab
In 2006, the National Archives accessioned over 2700 titles from the Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC). By the time the 51 pallets (coming to 40 tons!) of motion picture and video records arrived at Archives II in College Park, a staff member with the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video branch had already reviewed over 5000 titles offered to the National Archives. About half were determined to be of value as permanent records.
DVIC films in the stacks
The resulting group of records is comprised entirely of films and videos produced by the military for instructional purposes. That means, for example, that we received films that were used to train military personnel in the use of a particular piece of equipment, such as the “AH-1G Huey Cobra Main Rotor System”, or in the somewhat more general topics of “Bayonet Fighting” or “Living Off the Land”. This is distinct from the large chunk of our motion picture holdings that were produced in order to document events as they were happening, such as military ceremonies or soldiers on active duty in conflict zones. In addition to providing a wealth of information about the specific topics they cover, the DVIC films give us insight into how military personnel were prepared for their jobs, and can be viewed as a record of those activities.
So, what happens after the archival unit receives the records before they can be made available for public research? More specifically, what’s so different about film as a format that means we have to go through a second process, or technical assessment, before we can make them available?
First, to further understand the sheer massiveness of the DVIC accession, some more numbers: About 2000 of the titles were motion picture film and the rest were video productions (for more information about the difference between film and video formats, check out these links at the website of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia). In the 2000 titles, there were over 13,000 separate film elements, or reels. This could be anything from an original camera negative or soundtrack, to a final film print, and everything in between. The film elements came to over 10 million feet of film, which laid end to end, would reach from our building in College Park to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The staff of NARA’s motion picture preservation lab evaluated every one of the 13,000 reels in a process we call technical assessment, or film inspection. Proper film inspection is the foundation that allows us to accomplish our first and most important goal, protecting the most original elements and ensuring that we can extend the life of the record through proper storage and handling. When a set of films comes to the lab, we organize them so that the best, most original copies are given the highest level of protection, both in terms of cold storage, and in terms of more limited handling. Secondary copies are used as reproduction masters, and extra prints are served as reference copies in the research room. Sometimes we only have one copy, and it is a straightforward process; sometimes we have dozens of elements.
Lab staff also prepare films for long-term storage with appropriate cans, proper labeling, and by winding them in an ideal manner so that they will not suffer unnecessary damage. We identify any potential preservation issues such as high shrinkage or chemical deterioration, and reformat to new film stock as necessary in order to preserve the record. All of the information we collect about the films is saved in a database so that we can track the condition of the reels over time.
It seems like a long process, but what we’re trying to avoid is simple. We don’t want the most original copy of a film, or even our reproduction master, to accidentally end up in the research room, leaving us with a poor quality duplicate when the original is degraded through repeated use. Our aim is for the original to exist long into the future. Expectations for digitization quality are increasing exponentially; soon enough everyone will have 8K holographic televisions and we’ll need those film elements for new transfers to satisfy the need for content. More importantly, the films inspected by the motion picture preservation lab are records of the activities of the United States government and need to remain intact as such. Something as seemingly simple as a scratch on the image is actually the removal of information from the frame.
Roughly speaking, 720p meaning that there are 720 lines of horizontal resolution in every frame of video, and the images are scanned progressively( (line 1,2,3,4, etc. through 720). In 1080i, or interlaced video, another high definition format, the image or frame is displayed as even lines, odd lines, over and over again. As our colleague Courtney Egan explained , ”this is a more traditional type of video formatting and display that has been used since the early days of broadcasting and that was originally used as a basic means of compression.”
Okeanos Explorer Video Recordings (370-OEX) ARC 6923602. This Okeanos Explorer series consists of raw footage recording the commissioning and conversion of the USS Capable, a naval surveillance ship, to a research vessel equipped with real-time broadband satellite communications. Missions of the ship included mapping, site characterization, reconnaissance, education and outreach. Compiled 2007-2008 (8 items).
Northwest Hawaiian Islands Video Recordings (370-NWHI) ARC 6924946 . This series documents events from May 14th through June 7th 2005, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel Hi`ialakai, conducted a research expedition to the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). NWHI footage includes scenes of marine life; placement of permanent transects to mark monitoring sites for coral ecologists; investigation of shipwreck sites; and the work of several scientific research teams. The vessel visited French Frigate Shoals, La Perouse Pinnacle, Maro Reef, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. Compiled 2005 (34 items).
Coast Survey 200th Anniversary Video Recordings (370-CS) ARC 6925728 . This Coast Survey series consists of raw footage used to make a NOAA documentary film “The Surveyors: Charting America’s Course” (2007). The film was made in celebration of the 200th anniversary of President Thomas Jefferson’s authorization of the Survey of the Coast in 1807. The series also includes footage of modern, state-of-the art operations aboard the NOAA ships Fairweather, Thomas Jefferson and Rainier . Compiled 2006-2007 (13 items).
In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records.
As of March 31, 2013 the following records have been declassified.
111-DTCF-67-7/8 Film Report 67-7 and 67-8
No sound recordings were declassified during this quarter.
Descriptive information for declassified records can be accessed by searching for the item number, ex. “111-DTCF-67-7/8”, in NARA’s Archival Research Catalog (ARC). You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. For example, searching on the declassification number for Film Report 67-7 and 67-8, “NND 64803”, currently returns eight entries that are part of Declassification Project 64803. A list of declassified textual records can be found on the National Declassification Center’s web page.
Today’s guest blogger is Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.
There are many sound systems that have been used for motion picture films over the years. Some of the earliest relied on sound recorded to a disc or cylinder that had to be played back in sync with the film. Even after optical soundtracks became the industry standard, there were multiple optical systems available. Soundtracks recorded as variable area or variable density are easy to play back with standard equipment and fortunately most soundtracks we see are one of these two types. However, NARA also has a good number of films with push-pull soundtracks. They are most often associated with newsfilm from the 1930s. At NARA, we are most likely to see them in donated news footage, such as Motion Picture Films of March of Time Outtake Footage, compiled 1935 – 1951 (ARC Identifier 97891 / Local Identifier NWDNM(M)-MT-MTT).
Push-pull tracks cannot be read by standard equipment because the sound information contained on the two halves of the soundtrack must be processed and combined together. If the processing is not done, you can easily mistake the audio for a monologue by one of the teachers in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab recently installed a new system for reading optical sound that will finally allow us to decode push-pull soundtracks in house. A camera records a high-resolution image of the soundtrack that is then converted into audio information by software on a digital audio workstation. The software can isolate the two halves of the soundtrack image and process them together to output clear and undistorted audio. If preservation of the film original is required, the audio can be recorded optically onto stable polyester film stock.
My first couple of blogs focused on born-digital and scanned images created by Federal agencies and accessioned to the Still Picture unit, but I’m now shifting gears and highlighting some of our in-house digitization activities. The main series I’m going to talk about can trace its roots back to 1974 when we received the first of two accessions containing the Forest Service’s general photographic negative file, which they referred to as their Permanent Image Collection. These accessions also included microfilm and a small set of contact prints made by the Forest Service when negatives were deteriorating and/or nitrate. What we didn’t receive were the corresponding prints, mostly mounted, that had been transferred to the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. These prints, which are arranged by subject categories, provide much easier access to photographs within the series. In 2004, the prints finally arrived and are now in the series, “Photographs Relating to National Forests, Resource Management Practices, Personnel, and Cultural and Economic History, ca. 1897-1980” (ARC Identifier 651890). Photographs in this series were submitted by Forest Service headquarters and regional photographers for inclusion in the Forest Service’s central photographic library. Images from all of the National Forest Regions, as well as forested areas and forest management practices in foreign countries are included. Subjects include forest management, range management, wildlife management, watershed management, fire control, research, and recreation. As soon as the prints arrived, our digitization lab started on a massive project to digitize all of the prints, which was completed in 2012. No item level metadata was accessioned along with the images so currently researchers must search based on primary and secondary subject categories that are applied to a group of images. For example: “Towns and Cities: Occupied – Wyoming” and “Fire Prevention: CFFP – All States”. The majority of captions are located on the front-side of the mounts and for un-mounted prints the captions are located on the reverse-side, so the entire mount or reverse-side was scanned for each image. Depending on resources available, we plan on going back and adding captions whenever possible, especially for high-profile images. Once these images are loaded into the Online Public Access (OPA) we also encourage researchers and staff to tag images to aid in searching. In the meantime, we are working on posting online a basic list of primary and secondary subject categories to search on. The images are currently available online through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and in the Still Picture Research Room.
In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records. The United States Army (USA), United States Air Force (USAF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) have declassified nearly 200 films and sound recordings in the past few years.
Descriptive information for these records is accessible through NARA’s Archival Research Catalog (ARC) by searching for the item number, for example “341-IR-38-56”. You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. Searching on the declassification number for Shah Goes to Moscow, “NND 62901”, currently returns four entries that are part of Declassification Project 62901.
I’m writing this blog post to highlight and provide a link to a recent article posted online by National Archives volunteer and Still Picture researcher Harry B. Kidd. The article, “Navy Transport Stranded on Fire Island Beach“, tells the story of the grounding of the USS Northern Pacific on the Fire Island sandbar and the actions taken by the U.S. Coast Guard. The majority of the photographs used in the article were found in the Still Picture series “Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1754-1954″. Mr. Kidd has also found other interesting photographs in our collection relating to World War I while performing research and has posted them online for others to view.
This week’s guest post is from Richard Green, an archive technician with the Motion Picture, Video and Recorded Sound Division of NARA’s Research Services, located in College Park, MD. He is currently studying history and psychology at the University of Maryland and is looking forward to attending graduate school in the fall of 2013.
The National Archives in College Park currently houses tens of thousands of films, videos and audio clips from the United States Information Agency. Yet this large collection is distinct from others for one obvious reason: the vast majority of it was never intended to be seen by anyone living in the United States.
In 1948 the U.S. Congress passed a bill known as the Smith-Mundt Act. The act allowed the United States to spread information to foreign countries during times of peace. The act also prohibited the distribution of information within the United States.
By the 1950s, Soviet information agencies were spreading their beliefs around the world. When it became evident that the U.S. was losing this “war of ideas” the need to spread information grew even stronger. In 1953, President Eisenhower created the United States Information Agency (USIA). The agency was designed to make foreign nations more receptive to U.S. foreign policy.
As Cold War tensions continued to escalate, the desire to spread American ideas increased accordingly. In the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy took steps to advance American influence abroad. Kennedy appointed media icon Edward R. Murrow to lead the USIA and increased the agency’s budget dramatically.
Yet the USIA still faced the monumental task of convincing skeptical foreign nations that their government should embody the principles of the United States. This message was especially difficult to convey while hundreds of thousands of Americans were protesting inequality in the nation’s capital.
Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd during the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C. ARC Identifier 6641456 / Local Identifier 330-CFD-DA-SD-05-00640
On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. to “March for Jobs and Freedom.” Better known today as the March on Washington, the famous protest took place on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Though there were many prominent speakers that day, the march will always be synonymous with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Coverage of the event was broadcast to Britain and France, and relayed to other countries around the world.
Since the world was already aware of the March on Washington, USIA directors had no choice but to embrace the event. In fact, the USIA produced multiple films about the march. All of these films focused on the advancement of minority rights through the inherently American principle of free speech. The most recognized of these films was a documentary titled The March, ( 306.765 ) , whichfocused on the planning and execution of the iconic rally.
I was particularly struck by another USIA film called the Hollywood Roundtable (306.1757). In addition to the popular masses, the March on Washington was attended and organized by many celebrities. Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin, Joseph Mankiewicz, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman and many others were in attendance. After the march, some of these men gathered in front of USIA cameras to share their thoughts about the March on Washington and the Civil Rights movement in general. That footage can be seen below.
The Hollywood Roundtable did not portray the United States as a perfect nation. Instead, the USIA used honesty and humility in an attempt to relate to foreign audiences. Throughout the film, the celebrities emphasized the nation’s faults while still promoting American values. Writer and director Joseph Mankiewicz perhaps put this best, “This is the only country in the Western world where this [the march] is possible, but also the only country where this is necessary.” (11:45)
The emphasis on hope and potential is another theme meant to lure foreign viewers to the American way of life. James Baldwin states, “No matter how bitter I become I always believed in the potential of this country. For the first time in our history, the nation has shown signs of dealing with this central problem.” (18:58)
In a subtle attack on communism, moderator of the debate, David Schoenburn, said, “The hope of our country is that we can have demonstrations of this kind, there is no ‘March on Moscow’ or ‘March on Peking.’” (11:10)
In September of 1963, The March and The Hollywood Roundtable were shown as a pair. In the production files for The March, I came across a memo from a USIA station in Hong Kong. The memo mentions that both films were shown together on a local television show to over 120,000 people. Additionally, the film was shown in schools and at the USIA auditorium. “The television station reported a favorable reaction from viewers.”
During the Hollywood Roundtable, Schoenburn mentions that over 100 countries would see their discussion (22:10). Due to the Smith-Mundt Act, this estimate did not include the United States. When word spread that the government was broadcasting images of domestic inequality to foreign nations, many Americans were not pleased with USIA officials. Shortly after, Edward R. Murrow stepped down as USIA president and was replaced by Carl Rowan. At the time, this made Rowan the highest ranked African American in public office.
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