Visit scenic Normandy!

Pre-War Travelogue: Normandy!

Found in the collections of the National Archives without any item-level description or detailed provenance, this film travelogue of the Normandy region of France, created before World War II, was intended to promote American tourism. Sure enough, in only a few years, Americans were visiting Normandy in droves, or perhaps, divisions!

The film collections of the National Archives and Records Administration are a national treasure, but years of budget parsimony means that much descriptive and cataloguing work remains to be done. According to one estimate, less than 10% of the moving image resources available at the Archives have item level descriptions, much less detailed logging.

Don’t depend on your intern or production assistant to find the imagery or footage that adds impact to your production. Hire an archival professional with years of experience. Get history… Get Historicity!

Vegas, Baby!

This U.S. Air Force film documents a reunion of former members of the Air Force’s “Thunderbirds” aerial acrobatic team at Nellis AFB in southern Nevada and features the public inspecting the team’s F-100 aircraft. However, the real star of the show is vintage B-Roll of the Las Vegas strip from 1960, starting at 6:37. This is the Ratpack’s Las Vegas. Enjoy!

Don’t depend on the intern or a production assistant to find stills or footage. Hire an archival media research professional to locate the content that adds real impact to your production, exhibit or publication! Ask me how.

Tanks for the Memories…

This film is notable because the narrator of this World War II era documentary short, produced for the U.S. Government’s Office of War Information, was the great Orson Welles, creator of “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”. The dramatic music and tempo are highly reminiscent of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, as it should be, since droves of Hollywood production professionals and talent volunteered or were drafted, kickstarting the U.S. Government’s efforts to educate the public, and its own soldiers, about the war effort.

However, I’ve got mixed feelings about this one! I need to apologize for the poor video and audio quality of this screening reel. This was originally transferred to videotape 25 years ago and shows all the limitations of the technology of the time. I worry that sharing such screeners helps reinforce the expectation that archival film looks soft and low contrast, with lots of scratches. Reproduction from actual archival elements using a modern film scanner are usually contrasty and sharp, and lack the multiple scratches common to projection prints. Best of all, as a “U.S. Government work”, films like this are not subject to copyright, which means that documentary film producers can spend what they won’t need to clear rights on beautiful new transfers!

President Nixon on the West Wing Patio

June 26, 1969. President Nixon walking with Dwight Chapin.

Accompanied by Staff Assistant Dwight Chapin, President Nixon (Secret Service codename “Searchlight”) walks to his next scheduled appointment on the West Wing patio on this day, June 26th, in 1969. This image was captured via digital camera from the original Tri-X-Pan 35mm film negative. Digital rephotography is much faster than scanning and offers better quality than most dedicated film scanners.

A camera setup to capture images from negatives, slides and prints can be purchased for less than $10,000.00. Contact me to learn how to setup and use such a system.

Flying Tigers!

From the National Archives’ Record Group 306 (The Records of the United States Information Agency), this footage was found in a collection called “Library Stock Shots”. Apparently no logging exists of the thousands of rolls in this collection. It includes pre-war footage of various domestic U.S. scenes, inherited from the wartime “Office of War Information”, as well as wartime footage from multiple sources, including the U.S. Armed Forces, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and Italy. These rolls may exist in multiple other collections and archives, but without detailed description, locating imagery is a matter of hard work, and sometimes, serendipity!

This particular roll contains footage of the “American Volunteer Group” operating out of Kunming, China. Note the distinctive “tiger teeth” livery on the aircraft and the lack of U.S. emblems on the uniforms of the volunteers. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the volunteers were folded back into the U.S. Army Air Forces, becoming known as the 23rd Fighter Group. Their commander, Capt. Claire Chennault, appears in the film.

Silent footage of World War I Draft and Mobilization

Historic anniversaries and social media are increasingly used to promote and make available archival footage. This footage from the U.S. Army shows the process of instituting a draft and mobilizing for the “war to end all wars”. The footage remained under-described, inaccessible, and without high quality digital surrogates for many years, until the centennial anniversary of U.S. involvement in that war arrived in 2017. Because of the attention the anniversary brought to the topic, the National Archives prioritized the digitization, description and access of this silent footage. Sadly, many thousands of U.S. Government produced moving image titles (as well as material donated to the National Archives) don’t attract the same attention and remain undescribed and largely unseen.

Professional researchers such as myself play an essential role in locating critical footage and stills for documentary films and publications. These uses draw attention and resources toward describing, preserving and making available millions of hours of recorded moving image content.

Oak Ridge Nuclear Lab footage from the Early 50’s

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Stock Footage

This footage, shot in the early 1950’s, was found in the National Archives under the Records of the Atomic Energy Commission. It shows the early work done at Oak Ridge, including scenes of testing “exposed” workers for radiation. My favorite scene, toward the end, shows a museum exhibit modeling the “Gaseous Diffusion” process that was used to collect and concentrate Uranium 238, the method used to accumulate enough material for the first Atomic Bombs. It looks a lot like the high tech equipment used each night to pick lottery winners!

I captured this video using a mirrorless digital camera directly from a 35mm film work print displayed on the flatbed film viewers available for use in the National Archives Research Room. It was captured at 23.976 frames per second, close to the native 24fps film frame rate, so no film “flicker”. Of course, much better quality is available from a high quality scanner using archival film elements, but this produces a perfectly serviceable “screener” for editorial purposes.