Welcoming in 2009


Emil Jannings in The Patriot (1928), from the 2009 Silent Movies Calendar

Want to be able to tell one day from another in 2009, see images from lost silent films, and contribute towards the preservation of silents that happily are not lost? Then purchase the Silent Movies Benefit Calendar for 2009.

This year’s calendar theme is ‘lost films’, and as well as a gorgeous image per month from the silent film of choice, you get a range of significant silent film events noted throughout the year. All proceeds after printing costs go towards a silent preservation project (last year’s calendar helped pay for the video restoration of Bardelys the Magnificent), and the calendars are priced at a modest $15 for a first copy, $12 each for further copies, plus postage.

For ordering information, go to the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra site.

Harold Brown RIP


Harold Brown, on left in the 1940s (from the British Film Institute), on the right in 2008 (courtesy of Eve Watson)

You will not find the name of Harold Brown in many film history books, but there are quite a number of film histories that could not have been written without him. Harold, who died on Friday 14 November, essentially invented the art and science of film preservation. Countless films have been preserved either by his hands, or by the hands of those he tutored, or those archives around the world who adopted his methods.

It was in 1935 that Harold Brown (born 1919) started as office boy at the newly-formed British Film Institute, where Ernest Lindgren was setting up the National Film Library. Brown was subsequently to become its first preservation officer. In the early 1930s there were no film archives, or almost none. In that decade the four great national archives that were to become pillars of the film archiving movement were established: the Museum of Modern Art Film Library (New York), the Reichsfilmarchiv (Berlin) and the National Film Library (London) in 1935, the Cinémathèque Française (Paris) in 1936. These archives were established by a dedicated band of pioneer archivists with a passion for the film as art. They were driven in particular by the passing of the silent film era, and the imminent loss of the films of that first period of cinema history, films which were being dumped by the studios who saw no value in a heritage that they could no longer sell to anyone.


Harold Brown printing a film using the Mark IV

Ernest Lindgren, as Curator of the National Film Library (later the National Film Archive and now the BFI National Archive), laid down principles and Harold Brown came up with the working methods which formed the basis for film preservation. The original film was, as far as possible, inviolate. It needed to be copied, in a form as faithful to the original as possible. Films needed to be treated not only according to their importance but to the extent of, or their potential for, chemical decay. One of Harold’s most notable achievements was the artificial ageing test, which enabled archivists to determine when a film was likely to start deteriorating, and at what time it should be copied. This allowed archives to plan sensibly for the future. A noticeable legacy of Harold’s is the punch holes that you will see occasionally in National Film Archive prints, created so that a circle of film could be put through the ageing test. Another famous Brown creation was the Mark IV, a step printer for dealing with shrunken and non-standard perforation film, built out of bits of toy Meccano, string, rubber bands and parts from a 1905 Gaumont projector.


Harold was a self-taught pioneer. His investigations established basic methods for the identification of early film formats, the repair of damaged film, the storage of film, and the treatment of colour film (his work on Douglas Fairbanks’ 1926 film The Black Pirate, in two-colour Technicolor, was an early classic of film restoration). Awarded an MBE in 1967, he carried working at the National Film Archive until 1984, though he continued as a mentor and consultant to film archives internationally, well into retirement. He passed on his knowledge not only in person, but through some key publications. His Basic Film Handling (1985) and Physical Characteristics of Early Films as Aids to Identification (1990) are standard reference guide to the film archiving profession, and the latter is still available from the site of the Federation of International Film Archives (FIAF). Nor was he solely a nitrate era or early film specialist. He stayed abreast of issues in film archiving throughout, and it was he who gave the name ‘vinegar syndrome’ to the phenomenon of the degredation of acetate film which film archives discovered, to their alarm, in the 1980s.

You can see Harold at work in his prime in a 1963 Pathe Pictorial report on the work of the National Film Archive, available from the British Pathe site (just type in ‘film archive’, or click here for the same film from ITN Source). He features towards the end, delicately handling four frames of film, then seen operating the Mark IV. If you can, check out his modest four-page memoir in the FIAF publication This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film, edited by Roger Smither. Or you can read about how Brown and Lindgren went about creating a film archive in Penelope Houston’s Keepers of the Frames: The Film Archives (1994). Or read this text by David Francis (Lindgren’s successor as Curator of the National Film Archive) for this year’s Pordenone Silent Film Festival catalogue on Brown’s role overseeing the projection of the 548 films dating 1900-1906 shown at the seminal 1978 FIAF symposium on early film. Or get a copy of the BFI compilation DVD, Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers, most of the examples of which are films that Harold took in, preserved, and made available for future generations.

Harold was a wise, methodical, determined and kindly man. I was lucky enough to know him and to exchange information with him on early film formats at my time at the BFI, in the mid-1990s. I was rather awe-struck just to be holding conversations with him, but I found him to be every inch a gentleman. He has been held in reverence by generations of budding film archivists, and even as his pioneering methods have been superseded by more sophisticated technology, and as the film archiving profession now encounters the digital frontier, his understanding of the life – and the after-life – of a film underpins all that a film archive stands for. Gladly would he learn and gladly teach. Thank you, Harold.

There’s no such thing as a bad home movie

Frame still of Mavis and Margaret Passmore (holding a piece of 35mm film), from the Passmore family films, c.1903, held by the BFI National Archive

So says John Waters, and while we’ve probably all sat through some relative’s earnest document of their holiday abroad and wished that some of the panning shots of scenery could have been a little shorter, he has a point. Home movies aren’t to be judged by the usual film rules. They are made for an interior purpose; every frame speaks to a select family audience which alone can decode the film’s particular references. And yet, as time passes, and such films turn up in archives, they then speak in a different way to us all, as we see the manners, the customs, the backgrounds, the clothing, the choice of subjects, that make these films such rich social historical documents. Moreover, in other people’s home lives, we see our own. In all these respects, there can be no such thing as a bad home movie.

Image from a Kinora portrait record of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his son Edward, c. 1912, from http://www.jates.co.uk

Home movies are as old as cinema. They were produced throughout what was the silent era in commercial cinema, and continued to be shot silent for several decades thereafter. Some have argued for the scenes of their family life filmed by the Lumière brothers in 1895-96 to be the first home movies, but these were studied compositions for commercial consumption. However, cameras and projectors were soon aimed at the amateur market – indeed, in those first years of cinema some believed that the real money would be made by targeting the home. After all, the Kodak camera had shown where the business lay for still photography. Probably the first motion picture device for amateur use was the Birtac, a camera-printer-projector utilising 17.5mm film, introduced by Birt Acres (hence the name) in 1898. The Biokam, developed by Alfred Darling and Alfred Wrench followed in 1899. Gaumont in France came up with the Chrono de Poche, using 15mm film, in 1900. The Lumières themselves were behind the Kinora, a hand-held, flick-card viewer for which you could either have films made of your family as a ‘portrait’ in a studio, or film them yourself with camera using paper negatives (it was patented in 1896 but the first Kinora camera for amateur use appeared in 1907).

See a QuickTime movie of a Kinora in action, from the Royal Collection

Other such systems followed, employing narrow gauges which were cheaper and easier to handle. Initially the film used was flammable nitrate, but in 1912 there came the Edison Home Kinetoscope using 22mm safety film, and in the same year the Pathéscope, or Pathé Kok, using 28mm safety film. However, these were mostly for showing commercial films in the home, and it was 9.5mm film (introduced 1922) that was the format taken up most avidly by amateurs seeking to shoot their own films, though 16mm (introduced 1923) was used by the wealthy, and some of the first home movies in archives are those shot by the well-to-do upper middle class in the 1920s. A rival to 9.5mm that would soon overtake it in popularity was 8mm, introduced in 1932, and Super 8 appeared in 1965.

Thomas Edison with his Home Kinetoscope, introduced 1912, from Adventures in Cybersound

35mm was rarely used for home movies, such was the expense (and the fire hazard), but some examples exist, including what I think must be the earliest surviving home movies, those of the Passmore family of Streatham, filmed 1902-1908 and held in the BFI National Archive. They are a delight (they were shown at the Pordenone silent film festival in 1995). Home movies have grown in importance for film archives, or rather film archives have grown up which value such productions highly because of the way they record people and place. The smaller, or regional film archives around the world, are preserving a picture of our private selves which is likely to be rather more highly valued by future generations than the progressively quaint commercial entertainment films that still dominate moving image archiving philosophy generally.

All of which leads us to Home Movie Day. This is an international event, now in its sixth year, and for 2008 it falls on 18 October. Home Movie Day celebrates amateur film and amateur filmmaking through a wide number of events held locally at venues across the world. The events provide ordinary people with the opportunity to see home movies, show their home movies to others, to discover about home movie heritage, and to learn how best to care for such films. This year there are events taking place in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and at many points across the USA. The Home Movie Day site provides information on all the events and the home movie day ethos. In the UK, there will be events in Manchester and London. This is the blurb for the London event:

On Saturday October 18, archivists and film lovers around the world will take time out of the vaults to help the public learn about, enjoy, and rescue films forgotten with the advent of home video. Home Movie Day shows how home movies on 8mm, Super8 and 16mm film offer a unique view of decades past, and are an essential part of personal, community, and cultural history.

Home Movie Day returns to London this year at the Curzon Soho cinema bar. It’s a free event and open to everyone. There will be a Film Clinic, offering free film examinations by volunteer film archivists from the British Film Institute, Wellcome Library and BBC, who will check the film for any damage and deterioration, and offer advice about how to store film in the home.

After examination, the films can be passed to one of the projectionists, who will be continuously screening home movies throughout the day.

You don’t need to bring a film to attend and enjoy the event; everyone has a chance to win prizes generously donated by the BFI and Wellcome Collectionjust by viewing any of the films on the day. Prizes include BFI DVDs and tickets to the IMAX.

The archivists can also offer advice about preserving films in film archives around the UK and transferring films to other formats such as DVD so they’remore easily watchable in the home.

Don’t throw your films away; bring them to Home Movie Day!

The London event takes place at 12-5pm at the Curzon Soho, 99 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 5DY. For more information, contact Lucy Smee, at Dearoldsmee [at] gmail.com. The Manchester event takes place at the North West Film Archive.

The history of amateur film remains underwritten, though work has been done of late to remedy this. You could start with by Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann’s Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories (2007), or seek out Zimmermann’s earlier Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (1995). There’s also Alan Kattelle’s Home Movies, A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979 (2000).

For the cameras and projectors designed for amateur use in the ‘silent’ era, the best source is Brian Coe’s The History of Movie Photography (1981), while the Kinora is covered by Barry Anthony in The Kinora – motion pictures for the home, 1896-1914 (1996). For images and information on narrow gauge film formats from the early period, visit the excellent (if increasingly out of date so far as its name is concerned) One Hundred Years of Film Sizes.

To find out about the work of regional film archives in the UK, visit the Film Archive Forum website. Film Forever is a good online guide to the preservation of films at home. Our history is in your hands.

The National Film Registry

The Library of Congress has announced twenty-five new titles that have been added to the National Film Registry. Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act of 1992, each year the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Film Preservation Board, names twenty-five American films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant that are to be added to the National Film Registry, “to be preserved for all time”. Which is ambitious. This year’s twenty-five bring the number of motion pictures added to the registry to 475.

The films named include such titles as Bullitt, Dance, Girl, Dance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Oklahoma! But there are always some silents included, and this year among the twenty-five are the following (with the descriptions provided by the Library of Congress):

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
Actor/director/screenwriter Charley Chase is underappreciated in the arena of early comedy shorts. Chase began his film career in the teens, working for Mack Sennett with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Moving on to the Hal Roach Studios, Chase starred in his own series of shorts. “Mighty Like a Moose,” directed by Leo McCarey, is one of the funniest of his silents. A title card at the beginning tells us this is “a story of homely people—a wife with a face that would stop a clock—and her husband with a face that would start it again.” Unbeknownst to each other Mr. and Mrs. Moose have surgery on the same day to correct his buckteeth and her big nose. They meet on the street later, but don’t recognize each other; they flirt and arrange to meet later at a party. A side-splitting series of sight gags follows including Charley’s “fight with himself.”

The Strong Man (1926)
Harry Langdon, widely considered one of the great silent comedians, had a career that can only be described as meteoric. A vaudevillian for much of his professional life, Harry Langdon was discovered and brought to Hollywood by Mack Sennett in the early 1920s. But he languished until lightning struck in 1925, when director Harry Edwards and then-gagman Frank Capra worked with him on three features and several shorts. The features, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Long Pants” and “The Strong Man” put Langdon solidly into the foursome Walter Kerr calls “The Four Silent Clowns” —with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. “The Strong Man” predated “City Lights” by several years with its plot of a meek man in love with a blind woman.

Tol’able David (1921)
Henry King (1886-1982) had a 50-year career in Hollywood, winning a reputation as one of the most talented directors in capturing the values, culture, history, personality, and character of the nation. His nostalgia was honest, and often bittersweet. In “Tol’able David,” King tells a coming-of-age story about a youth who must overcome savage, bullying neighbors as he takes on his first job delivering mail in rural Virginia. “Tol’able David” was studied by Russian filmmakers of the 1920s. They were inspired by King’s memorable conjunctions of shots that evoked personalities and emotions without a need for explanatory titles. “Tol’able David” remains a powerful drama and is also known for its craftsmanship, which was tremendously influential on subsequent filmmaking.

Also from the 1920s, though a sound film, is the Robert Benchley comic short, The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928).

The full list of films selected for the National Film Registry 1989-2006 is available here. These are the silents on the Registry (excluding post-1930 amateur, news and experimental films):

Ben-Hur (1926)
Big Business (1929) [Laurel and Hardy]
The Big Parade (1925)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Black Pirate (1926)
Blacksmith Scene (1893)
The Blue Bird (1918)
Broken Blossoms (1919)
The Cameraman (1928)
The Cheat (1915)
The Chechahcos (1924) [independent feature filmed in Alaska]
Civilization (1916)
Clash of the Wolves (1925) [starring Rin Tin Tin]
Cops (1922)
A Corner in Wheat (1909)
The Crowd (1928)
The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916-17) [the earliet known Chinese-American feature]
Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-95) [OK, not a silent]
The Docks of New York (1928)
Evidence of the Film (1913) [Thanhouser crime film set in a film studio]
The Exploits of Elaine (1914)
Fall of the House of Usher (1928) [experimental film]
Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915)
Flesh and the Devil (1927)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
The Freshman (1925)
From the Manger to the Cross (1912)
The General (1927)
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) [animation]
The Gold Rush (1925)
Grass (1925) [documentary]
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Greed (1924)
H20 (1929) [experimental film]
Hands Up (1926)
Hell’s Hinges (1926)
The Immigrant (1917)
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914) [documentary]
Intolerance (1916)
It (1927)
The Italian (1915)
Jeffries-Johnson World’s Championship Boxing Contest (1910)
The Kiss (1896)
Lady Helen’s Escapade (1909)
Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925)
Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
The Last Command (1928)
The Last of the Mohicans (1920)
The Life and Death of 9413 – A Hollywood Extra (1927) [experimental film]
The Lost World (1925)
Making of an American (1920) [public information film]
Manhatta (1921) [experimental film]
Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913)
Miss Lulu Bett (1922)
Nanook of the North (1922) [documentary]
Pass the Gravy (1928)
Peter Pan (1924)
Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Power of the Press (1928)
President McKinley Inauguration Footage (1901) [Edison film taken at time of his assassination]
Princess Nicotine; or The Smoke Fairy (1909)
Regeneration (1915)
Rip Van Winkle (1896)
Safety Last (1923)
Salome (1922)
San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, April 18, 1906 (1906) [news footage]
Seventh Heaven (1927)
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Show People (1928)
Sky High (1922)
The Son of the Sheik (1926)
Star Theatre (1901) [building shown being constructed using stop-frame animation]
Sunrise (1927)
Tess of the Storm Country (1914)
There it is (1928)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Traffic in Souls (1913)
The Wedding March (1928)
Westinghouse Works, 1904 (1904) [industrial footage]
Where Are My Children? (1916) [Lois Weber’s anti-abortion drama]
Wild and Wooly (1917)
The Wind (1928)
Wings (1927)
Within our Gates (1920) [Oscar Micheaux’s all-African American drama]

Want to vote for the 2008 selection? They do take into account public nominations – not sure if you have to be a United States citizen for this, but details on where to send your suggestions (limited to fifty titles per year) are here.

Keeping things silent in 2008

AMS 2008 calendar


A new year is but three months away, and you’ll be needing your 2008 calendar. So why not see the coming year through with your favourite silent stars by purchasing the 2008 Silent Movies Calendar, put together by regulars on the alt.movies.silent discussion group. As the blurb on the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra site says:

The alt.movies.silent calendar features silent film artwork and birthdays of silent-era film stars and personalities, as well as notable marriages, deaths, film openings, and other significant dates. The artwork ranges from promotional stills for major Hollywood releases to rare star mug shots and informal pictures of stars from Fatty Arbuckle to Bela Lugosi.

The cost is $15 for the first calendar, $12 for additional calendars, plus $4.60 postage (per order, regardless of the number of calendars). Net proceeds go to a film preservation fund. All the ordering information you need is on the Mont Alto site.

Lost and Found no. 2 – Dawson City

Number two in our occasional series of heartening tales about early film collections that have been found against the odds. Lost films have been uncovered in many peculiar places, but none so odd as in a Canadian swimming pool, close to the Arctic Circle.

The now famous Dawson City collection was uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation centre was being built. A bulldozer was working its way through a parking lot when a horde of film cans was dug up. The films had been stored in a disused swimming pool, which had been paved over. The films dated largely from before the First World War, when Dawson City was still a gold rush town, and the final distribution centre for films sent out to the cinemas attended by the ten of thousands of prospectors in the area. Film historian Sam Kula tells us that touring showmen first brought film to Dawson in 1898, while the former Orpheum Theatre re-opeened as the town’s first cinema in 1910, while films could also be seen at the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. Films took a long time to get to Dawson (the newsreels were always hopelessly out of date), but got there they did – but, it seems, they tended not to make the journey back.

Films therefore built up in Dawson, and were eventually stored in the basement of the local library. In 1929, the decision was made dispose of the inflammable nitrate films, which no one wanted to see any longer. It is easier said than done to get rid of nitrate film, and eventually it was decided to place them safely underground. Hence the burial in the swimming pool, where the permafrost ensured their survival in what were, in principal, ideal archival conditions (basically the thing to do with nitrate films is to keep them very cold) until their rediscovery fifty years later.

There were over 500 films in the collection. While none was a most masterpiece as such, they formed a marvellous selection of common cinema fare of the period – titles from studios such as Essanay, Rex, Thanhouser and Selig; obscure titles starring Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks and Lon Chaney; and many newsreels (including rare Canadian examples). The collection is particularly storng on serials with women heroines: Pearl White in Pearl of the Army (1916-17), Helen Holmes in Hazards of Helen (1915), Marie Walcamp in The Red Ace (1917-18), and Grace Cunard in Lucille Love (1914), The Girl of Mystery (1914) and The Purple Mask (1917), which she also directed.

The Dawson City films have been preserved by Library and Archives Canada and the Library of Congress.

There’s an entertaining essay on their discovery and preservation by Sam Kula, ‘Up from the Permafrost: The Dawson City Collection’, in the excellent book This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (2002), edited by Roger Smither.

Nine out of Ten

Decomposing nitrate film

On May 21st, at the Cannes Film Festival, Martin Scorsese announced the forming of a World Cinema Foundation to restore neglected treasures of world cinema. The Foundation builds on the Film Foundation, which Scorsese established in 1990, with such luminaries as Sydney Pollack, Woody Allen, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood and Francis Ford Coppola. The Foundation has been responsible for establishing funds to save several key films, but as Scorsese pointed out: “90 percent of American silent movies have been lost, as have half of all U.S. movies made before 1950”.

It’s a startling figure – indeed higher than the usual figure of 80% of all silent films being lost that is usually quoted (the Library of Congress gives this figure for American silents). In truth, it is a very difficult figure to determine, not least with the variable quality of national filmographies, nor does the figure includes non-fiction films (as the Film Foundation site admits, “As for shorts, documentaries, newsreels, and other independently produced, ‘orphan’ films, there is simply no way of knowing how many have been lost”). But you only have to consider that less than 4% of all Japanese films made before 1945 are thought to survive, and maybe 90% for silents worldwide is a fair figure.

Of course, very few have seen even a small percentage of the 10% that survives, not least because much of it has not been restored or made available to view. The profileration of silent DVDs that we’re so fortunate to have access to can blind us to the substantial number of films that we haven’t had the chance to see. There also needs to be an element of realism here. Not every silent film was a masterpiece. Every ‘lost’ silent film which gets put back on the screen seems to be hailed as being an inevitable work of art, but silent movies were much the same as movies today – a few gems, a lot of proficiency, and a large amount of dross.

But the overall lesson must be one of shame at how we can allow a medium, the original experience of which is within the memory of some still living, to be disposed of so easily. And here we are in 2007, as cavalier as ever, now failing to get to grips with the preservation of digital media. What percentage of all emails has been preserved? What will happen to the YouTube ‘archive’? Where will all these blogs be in ten years time?

Here’s a report from the International Herald Tribune. Amusingly, several news reports have misquoted Scorsese and stated that “all American films made before 1950 are gone“. One or two dozy entertainment editors out there…


Carl Louis Gregory

The History of Film Archives is as interesting as the contents of each individual repository. The Library of Congress Motion Picture Division was driven by a fortuitous series of events which led to its development. By locating material originally meant to be copyright deposit records, the Library found itself in the possession of a good segment of film history from 1894-1912. Copyright clerk Howard Walls who is credited with this discovery of what has become known at the Library’s “Paper Print Collection” was put in touch with pioneering cinematographer Carl Louis Gregory (illustrated) in 1943, who had actually produced some of the paper prints he was asked to copy back to celluloid. At the time Gregory was motion picture engineer for the U.S. National Archives. Gregory had developed an optical printer for shrunken and damaged and he modified it in order to reprint this delicate material.

The National Archives Motion Picture Division began in the mid-1930s and was the first U.S. Government institution to have as part of its mandate, “the Preservation of Motion Picture Film”. Members of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers Preservation Committee met several times in order to assist the National Archives in developing standards for the handling and care of motion picture film. As a matter of fact, three of the pioneering members of the Archives Motion Picture Division (John G. Bradley, Herford T. Cowling and Carl Louis Gregory) were all members of this S.M.P.E Preservation Committee.

It helps remind us that many events have conspired for and against preservation of these historic images. The foresight of many pioneers have allowed us the opportunity to revisit our film heritage.

Croydon and film archives

Recently I was asked to find some historical quotations about the need for film archives. Calls for a museum for the preservation of films for all time are almost as old as film itself, even since Robert Paul tried to get the British Museum to take a number of his films in December 1896 (without success). The first true film archive is generally held to be the Imperial War Museum, effectively created in 1919, but there were several collections across the world in existence before them which could variously be described as film museums or libraries.

In my search through my papers, I was fascinated to come across an article by Langford Reed, ‘Films Museums: What Has Been Achieved’, The Bioscope, 30 July 1914, p. 471. In a survey of what was being done worldwide, Reed reported that “the national records office at Madrid” had a cinematograph section, while in Brussels the Congo Museum had a section devoted to “the preservation of films of wild animal life”. He says that films of religious interest were being held in the Vatican Museum. New York Public Library had a “cinematographic storehouse”, and the Indian state of Baroda had formed a library of “instructive films” which was being added to by the private cinematograph operator of the Gaekwar of Baroda. The Royal Library of Copenhagen had a collection of films taken of prominent men, together with phonograph records of their speeches (these films were taken by Denmark’s first filmmaker, Peter Elfelt).

Some of these are known about; some of these it would be intriguing to know if they ever existed in reality (and what happened to the films). But Reed’s real surprise is that in Britain he could find only one place preserving films “for the benefit of posterity” – Croydon Public Library. He went to meet the chief librarian, L. Stanley Jast, who told him:

The matter arose owing to the success which has attended a certain department, attached to the library, entitled, “The Photographic Survey and Record of Surrey.” It was suggested that section should be established to be devoted to the preservation of cinematograph films, and I accordingly wrote a letter on the subject to the chief local picturedrome proprietors. The result surprised me. I quite imagined I should be called upon to pay for any films required, but the gentlemen in question would not hear of it; they insisted on giving them to me. From the Amalgamated Cinematograph Theatres, Pyke’s Circuit, I received a film showing the distribution of prizes at the Upper Nrorwood Academy of Music, from Mr T.H. Windibank, of the London Electric Hall, pictures of the funeral of the late Town Clerk, and of the Croydon Horse Show, while from other sources I acquired about a dozen more. I am arranging with the picture theatre proprietors of the Borough to let me have other local films as soon as they have done with them – we shall keep entirely to subjects of local interest. In certain instances, too, it would be useful if we could engage an operator to take events especially for us. Practically, our only difficulties are concerned with storage, and in this connection I am now making enquiries as to fire insurance and as to the best means of permanently preserving films. I should welcome advice on these points.

The films will not be lent, as in the case of books. I have had a room – up to now devoted to the use of lantern lectures – so altered that cinematograph apparatus can be installed when required. The suggestion is to do without the usual projecting machine, and to view the pictures through the medium of an enclosed chamber, which has been especially designed for us by a local electrical engineer – himself the proprietor of a cinema – in which, in place of the projecting lens, a magnifying glass will be used. The movements will be induced by the hand, and this process will be quite efficient enough for the purpose of examining local records.

What happened to this collection? How long did it last? Was it ever used by the Croydon general public? Louis Stanley Jast appears to have been an interesting person himself: an important figure in the library world (he became President of the Library Association) and co-author of The Camera as Historian (1916). I will try and find out more.