This reel is taken from a work print, a film element intended for editing purposes, and shows evidence of its age and a hard life. The film is one of hundreds of thousands at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that remain unavailable digitally. For this particular roll, all that exists in the National Archives Catalog is a scan of an Army Signal Corps shot card. I shot this film from a flatbed film viewer in the public research room using a mirror-less digital camera.
The footage, dating from October 1944, shows the destruction wrought on the city of Aachen after many days of air and artillery bombardment followed by house-to-house street fighting. Civilian refugees struggle with their handful of possessions in suitcases through devastated streets. Sadly, such scenes of urban devastation seem very relevant today.
Only a professional researcher can provide timely access to such unseen archival footage and stills, adding impact to your production or publication.
One of the “fringe benefits” being a professional researcher is the possibility of stumbling over fascinating images or footage while looking for something quite different. While looking for photos of a different war correspondent, I came across this image of ur-combat photojournalist Robert Capa and novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway, following an armored advance in France in the summer of 1944. This image, shot by an Army Signal Corps photographer, is described in the National Archives Catalog, but no digital image was included with this record.
This is far from a rare pattern. The still photo collections at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) consists of millions of images shot by military or other government photographers, as well as a healthy complement of donated images. Right now, less than 10% of the special media content available at NARA are available on-line at all. Given the Agency’s budget constraints, it may be many years before more of this content is made available in a digital format. That means that professional archival media researchers are an important resource for clients looking to leverage rarely seen images and footage from these world class collections. Under Federal law, “Federal Works, or the work product of government employees or “work-for-hire” contractors, is not eligible for copyright protection. Professional researchers can help your production or publication shine, with PUBLIC DOMAIN special media material that won’t break your budget!
Today’s film from the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) was shot shortly after the end of World War II hostilities by the U.S. Army Air Corps, the ancestor of today’s U.S. Air Force. Beautifully shot on 16mm Kodachrome film, the camera roams the streets of a devastated German city: block after block of devastated houses, offices and factories, punctuated by signs in Russian. Especially prominent are the “Trümmerfrauen” (literally, “rubble women”), German women enlisted to clean up the rubble by hand for a tiny hourly wage and an extra ration coupon stipend. These women later became a living symbol of post-war Germany’s determination to rebuild.
This footage is described in the National Archives Catalog, but no digital item accompanies the description. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NARA Research Rooms have been closed for almost seven months, with no way to request this footage from them. Researchers and clients are waiting for the National Archives to announce a plan to safely reopen the ordering system and the research rooms, in the meantime production deadlines are being missed and budgets are stretching. A handful of professional researchers have collected copies of screener videos such as this that were formerly made available by NARA on-site. On-line access is wonderful, but it is no substitute for hands-on, on-site research.
Don’t depend on a production assistant or intern to locate the exact footage or stills needed to add impact and polish to your production. “Searching” is not the same as “researching”. Professional researchers add value!
Ike seems like an unlikely TV pioneer, but this former soldier had a hunch that TV would be an important feature of modern political campaigns. Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1952 Presidential election campaign hired Rosser Reeves, a Madison Avenue advertising maven, to produce these groundbreaking television spots. The pitch’s specific approach: a candidate addressing voter concerns directly in a (studio simulated) one-on-one setting. The voter “interviewing” the candidate approach lives on in today’s TV town halls, where candidates come face to face with live voters’ everyday concerns.
This particular TV commercial is well-known and has been written about extensively, but the vast majority of historical moving image content at the National Archives and its’ Presidential Libraries remains under-described and inaccessible to all save those willing and able to conduct research in person. Please remember: “searching” does not equal “researching”. Don’t depend on an production assistant or intern to find the images that add polish and impact to your production! Hire an archival media professional!
Today’s feature is especially topical while those of us in the United States are in the heat of the Campaign 2020. This film, an outtake, is part of the Universal Newsreel film collection, which was donated in its entirety to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1977. The deed-of-gift included Universal’s copyrights to this unique (and voluminous!) collection.
This film illustrates perfectly why some outtake content remains just that: outtakes. The image bounces slowly, probably due to a poor transfer, a camera malfunction, or film misthread. The speech itself is classic Truman populism, an excellent illustration of how he came from behind to win re-election in 1948. In normal times, a film copy would likely be available in the research room, but thanks to the COVID19 pandemic, those research rooms have been closed for six months. In the meanwhile, this copy represents this particular newsreel assignment.
This content is not described or identified in the National Archives On-line Catalog. It was not identifiable to anyone not able to physically access a card catalog in the National Archives Research Room in College Park, MD. “Searching” is not researching; don’t depend on a Google search conducted by an intern or production assistant to find you the exact images and sounds you need to add impact and polish to your production. Hire a professional archival media researcher!
This roll illustrates a shift change at the Dodge assembly plant in Detroit in 1938. This film, shot by Academy Award winning documentary film director Pare Lorentz and Academy award winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, was part of an uncompleted feature length docu-fiction film on unemployment produced for the short-lived “U.S. Film Agency”. The film, based on a radio documentary, was originally titled “Ecce Homo” was later named more prosaically as “Name, Age and Occupation”. The filmmakers wanted to emphasize that the unparalleled productivity of U.S. industry should make unemployment a thing of the past.
The film is un-described at the roll level in the National Archives Catalog and therefore inaccessible to all but those prepared for a “deep dive” into the film collections at the National Archives at College Park. I was able to identify the location based on advertising on one of the commuter buses and street signs. I was able to pinpoint the site as a street corner across from the Dodge plant (later the site of GM’s Hamtramck Assembly Plant) using Google Maps. Also depicted is a nearby suburb of Detroit.
Web search is not the same as research. Don’t depend on a production assistant or intern to locate the exact footage or stills that will add impact to your production or project. Hire an professional archival media researcher!
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Yalta Conference, I’m sharing these outtakes of British newsreel coverage of the summit meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Josef Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Under the laws existing at the time, copyright in these materials lapsed in the United Kingdom around 1995. There is no evidence that this film was ever registered for copyright in the United States.
This video came from a U.S. Government agency collection in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration. The series is described in general terms in the Archives on-line catalog, but no description of the footage is included, making specific films essentially inaccessible. Only a knowledgeable free-lance archival media researcher working out of the National Archives research room could find and identify this footage. Don’t depend on a production assistant or intern to find the perfect footage for your next production! A professional researcher adds value!
Each year on New Years Day since 2019, previously copyrighted works fall out of copyright protection after 95 years! In honor of Public Domain Day 2020, please enjoy this copy of the western comedy short “The Cowboy Sheik”, featuring cowboy humorist Will Rogers, found in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, specifically in the records of the Central Intelligence Agency.
You might ask why the CIA was interested in this cowboy comedy, copyrighted in 1924, to which I can only answer “that information is available on a need-to-know basis!” The National Archives holds the records of U.S. Government agencies, which are often ineligible for copyright protection as “U.S. Government works”, but also contains copies of privately produced content, which retains the copyright of the creator(s), as in this case, at least until January 1st, 2020.
Don’t depend on your intern or production assistant to find the perfect footage or stills for your project. Hire a professional archival media researcher!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The White House Rose Garden at peak spring bloom, 50 years ago in April 1969! This image is from the original 35mm color negative. Images can be captured in seconds from 35mm, medium format, and large format film negatives, offering superior quality to most flatbed scanners.
General Leslie R. Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project, examines a test tube of plutonium! This screenshot is from newsreel outtakes (originally on 35mm motion picture film) in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.
This footage is not described in the National Archives catalog and isn’t locatable through Google. Don’t depend on an intern or production assistant to locate the footage that will add unique impact to your documentary film or other production. Consult a free-lance archival film research professional! hashtag#filmproduction hashtag#archivalresearch
Nine years ago this September, I authored a post on the National Archives and Records Administration’s “Unwritten Record” blog about a mysterious film I found in NARA’s research rooms. I uncovered the fact that this artifact was likely the first “documentary treatment” of the Operation Overlord assault on the beaches of Normandy, D-Day, June 6th, 1944. The film is influential because the shot selections largely duplicate the footage provided to the newsreels around the same time. Those selections have largely imprinted the imagery of D-Day in our collective imagination.
The story going around at the time I found the film was that Hollywood “A list” director John Ford, wartime head of the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (“OSS”), recalled his wartime experiences, recounting that his unit compiled an overall report on the invasion that was shown to FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. Ford recalled his experiences on D-Day interview from “American Legion” magazine from June 1964 on the twentieth anniversary of D-Day. Having trained and equipped hundreds of photographers, Ford watched the first few days of the assault from the decks of the U.S. Navy Destroyer, the USS Plunkett. In my post I made a strong circumstantial case that the film I found at the National Archives matches this description. A letter in the OSS personnel folder for Captain John Ford recommends him for the Distinguished Service Medal on the strength of his activities documenting the D-day invasion, specifically mentioning:
“The returning film was assembled under his directions, and an overall D-Day report, complete with sound, was competed on D plus 5, and was shown to Mr. Winston Churchill. Copies were also flown to President Roosevelt and Mr. Stalin.”
I was unable to verify these claims or make the link to my “found” film at the time of this earlier article. Thanks to some additional research I’ve undertaken at NARA, I’ve now made that link. Below, find an image from an OSS project log found in its London Field office files.
I was able to re-confirm this information in an “officer biography” found in the Official Military Personnel File for Frederick A. Spencer, Ford’s Chief Deputy at Field Photo.
These documents confirm that the production was intended for presentation to chiefs of state FDR, Churchill, and Stalin, adding that a print was delivered to FDR on D-Day plus 8, or June 14, 1944 and that the film was commissioned by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (“SHAEF”) Public Relations Division (matching the film found at NARA). They contribute additional detail, too: that the original production was no more than “approx 4,000 ft”, or about 44 minutes (the finished production at NARA comes in at 33 minutes) and that the production elements (cut work print, sound negative, and composite duplicate negative were turned over to SHAEF. Finally, the project log gives the last names of OSS Field Photo personnel responsible for what had to be an epic 72 hour edit session that assembled this edit within days of the Operation Overlord assault.
Some details remain a mystery: those film elements remain to be found, the copy found at NARA appears to come from four work prints of uncertain provenance, also no production file from Field Photo has been found to date. The Field Photo assignment log also notes a copy was intendedto be made available to Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, but the Spencer biographical note lists only FDR, Churchill and Stalin. Hopefully, records of the presentation of these film reels to the “Big Three” will be found in the future.
Without further adieu, this is the “mystery film”…
This film shows the members of the segregated 696 Field Artillery Battalion in action in Luxembourg; a patrol in deep in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany; and the efforts of combat engineers to neutralize an enemy bunker in Germany. All were shot within a day or two in November 1944. I’m constantly in awe of these young men and all they accomplished.
The film below was captured off of a “KEM” flatbed film viewer in the Research Rooms at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) using a consumer level mirror-less camera. Many of the hundreds of thousand of film and video titles in the holdings of NARA remain un-described in the National Archives on-line Catalog. For this particular roll, a “shot card” description is publicly available, but only researchers in the physical research room can reproduce it. A professional media researcher adds value!