A Day at the Archives… Warner Bros. Archive

Jennifer Voss, De Montfort University

17 April 2018


In the summer of 2017, I embarked on a 12-day archival research trip to the film libraries and studios in Los Angeles, along with a cohort of PhD students and supervisors from the Cinema and Television History (CATH) Research Centre and Drama Research Group at De Montfort University, Leicester. Having developed connections with various libraries and archives in Hollywood (such as the Margaret Herrick Library and Warner Bros. Archives) via email prior to the trip, we were able to discuss our requirements and request our materials well in advance. We were also fortunate enough to be able to arrange some additional activities to enhance our experiences within the archives, such as tours of the archives and vaults, as well as a meet and greet with a number of librarians and archivists working as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With my PhD thesis addressing actor training processes and women’s experiences working as actresses within the film industry during the transition from silent to sound, I spent my time in LA divided between the Margaret Herrick Library, and the Warner Bros. Archives at the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. The Margaret Herrick Library reminded me somewhat of the British Library; in terms of the formalities, securities, and hushed reading rooms, as well as a sense of prestige and legacy. The Warner Bros. Archive, however, was a much more unfamiliar research environment, but one I was eager to immerse myself in.

Located in an industrial area of University Park, across the road from the Los Angeles DMV, the Warner Bros. Archive is housed in a large but unassuming, white painted building. There are no visible windows, just a small door at the front, with ‘3716 S. HOPE RESEARCH ANNEX UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’ printed above it. After being buzzed in via the intercom, my colleague and I were lead through to a set of big double doors with the words ‘USC WARNER BROS ARCHIVES’ stencilled above it (had it not been my colleague’s second day in the archive, I would not have been confident we were in the right place until seeing this sign!). We were then taken through the archive, beyond rows and rows of shelves stacked high with boxes, to a small study area tucked in the back corner of the archive. The Archive Curator, Brett, set me up at one of the 6 or so research desks, and presented me with my single box of requested items.

Prior to the trip, there were some issues accessing the Warner Bros. Archive index, and so there was not a centralised online catalogue or system to search and request. However, this was not a problem as I spoke to Brett via email, and he was quick to offer assistance. I sent him a list of actresses and films I was interested in, as well as the HR information I might find useful, and he sent me a list of potential items to look through and request.

Here are a few examples of some of my exciting finds at the Warner Bros. Archive:

  • Contract files for Dialogue Directors and Dramatic Coaches; detailing the films they were contracted for. Particular highlight: business card/pamphlet for Malvina Dunn, Dramatic Coach, revealing her connection with the Paris Conservatoire.
  • Legal papers and contracts for Colleen Moore from 1928-1928, showing additional clauses for her first three ‘talkies’.
  • Production file for Footlights and Fools (1929); Colleen Moore’s third sound film

On the third day of the trip, the whole group met up at the Warner Bros. Archive, where we were given a tour. The tour began with a brief overview of the history of the archive. Brett explained how the archive was donated by Warner Bros. to the University of Southern California in 1978, and that the archive holds a vast range of Warner Bros. film, television and music material dating between 1918 and 1968. Due to a number of reasons, including the condition of the items, as well as copyright restrictions, the items held in the archive have not been digitised, and are therefore only available to access by researchers on-site. Moving through to the shelved unit situated right next to the study area, we were told that in order to make accessing documents relating the most popular/most frequently requested films easier for both staff and researchers, the archive has ready made-up boxes of records/documents for certain film titles. Brett had set-out one of these boxes for us to look through, to see the sorts of material held in the archive; the film was The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart. The file included correspondence from the research department file, script/story developments, legal files, set department stills, budget and other financial statements, press releases, wardrobe and make-up files, as well as more general inter-office memos and correspondence. After taking time as a group to move around and look through the documents, Brett took us on a tour of the building to see where the different files are pulled from, in order to make up the boxes for each individual researcher’s requests. It was a unique opportunity to be able explore the cataloguing and curating side of the archive, and we also got to see some incredibly exciting items, including an original animation drawing of Daffy Duck!

The extensive knowledge of the archive curator was invaluable throughout my time in the archive; he was keen to know what was useful and what wasn’t, and he was more than happy to dig out any additional material while I was working on my pre-ordered items. Similarly, the relaxed and informal atmosphere of the study space creates a really calm and comfortable working environment. The ‘thank you’ messages from students and academics alike which completely cover the partition wall is a testament to the great support offered at this fascinating archive.

This blog post has been adapted from my short blog series documenting my 12-day research trip to the film archives and studios in Los Angeles: https://vpp.midlands3cities.ac.uk/pages/viewrecentblogposts.action?key=P10513638dmuacuk


Jennifer Voss is a PhD candidate in Drama Studies and Film History at De Montfort University, and is funded by the AHRC in partnership with Midlands 3 Cities. Jennifer’s doctoral research, which uses performance theory to build upon a traditional film studies approach to cinema history, focuses on actresses’ performance of emotion during the transition from silent to sound cinema in Britain and America.

https://vpp.midlands3cities.ac.uk/display/P10513638dmuacuk/Welcome


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A day, well two days, at the archives… Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Public Library

Katharina Niemeyer, Professor at the Media School , Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal and Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal

19 January 2018


From Paris to Canada

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of visiting the fascinating Bibliothèque Nationale de France  (French National Library), and to analyse the archive material held at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel  (INA). In 2016, I moved to Montreal (the mainly French speaking part of Canada) where new opportunities for archival research have emerged; such as the rich collections held in the BANQ  (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec), to name such one. Today, Chloé Tremblay-Goyette and I wish to share our explorative research experience at the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Toronto Public Library  where we spent two days at the end of November 2017.

We, along with another research assistant, Anne-Marie Charette, are currently working on preparing a project which focusses on the mediatization of terrorism in the 20th century. This project seeks to trace several sources such as historical newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. A lot of material pertinent to this project has been digitized, and is available online ; for example there are a few French-speaking broadcasts available from Radio Canada, and its English-speaking equivalent CBC ; and collections of newspapers from BANQ and Archives Canada, Ottowa. However, much more material remains housed within the archives themselves, and so it is very important for media historians to visit such archives for profound and investigative research.

Day 1 – Toronto Public Library

Libraries, although they are not always labeled officially as archives, can be quite a good source of information in the framework of an archival search. After contacting a few libraries in Toronto looking to know more about their records that could be related to our research topic, we ended up deciding to spend a day in the Toronto Reference Library. Not only had it been pointed out by a librarian as one of the best libraries to access newspapers, but it also had the option to book an appointment with a librarian to help us out with our research. We decided to make an appointment on the 23rd of November, as we were going to be in Toronto for a couple of days exploring different archives. As we are both living in Montreal, we weren’t familiar with Toronto and were quite happy to find out the Toronto Reference Library is in a central location, at about a minute’s walk away from Bloor-Younge station.

Chloé, arrived there quite early (9:00 AM). As there was hardly anyone in the building, she got to enjoy this gorgeous airy library to herself:

A short time later Chloé met Bessie, a librarian from the Toronto Reference Library, who was able to help by providing advice on how to make a better use of the library’s expansive database, which includes Canadian newspapers from across the Pacific to the Atlantic. Katharina joined Chloé in the early afternoon after enjoying the quite spectacular five hour train ride in the morning from Montreal to Toronto, where you can view the beautiful Lake Ontario pictured below:

Although the collection did not hold many items prior to the 1980s, we were able to access main Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail going back to the first half of the 20th century. There is even a special place in the library that is called the ‘Toronto Star Newspaper Centre’. Although most of these older articles weren’t indexed, they had been digitized, and we enjoyed going back to the earliest articles available to understand how the terms and concepts of terrorism might had evolved since early in the 20th century. This helped to stimulate our interest in the research we are planning to do.

Day 2 – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

On a not-so-cold November morning, we spent the next day at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that is situated quite close to the main train station (it is a five-minute walk away) and even more interesting: close to the famous CN tower.

Geoffrey Hopkinson, Senior Manager of the CBC Libraries and Archive, welcomed us with his colleagues, experienced media librarians Arthur Schwartzel (TV) and Keith Hart (Radio) who had already conducted preliminary research in relation to our topic. The team guided us the whole day, not only through the general research possibilities and the software, but also indicated the obstacles that are related to the latter. As material from 1952 (the year television arrived in Canada) until the early 1990s was only indexed in the 1990s, research based on keywords is not as reliable in terms of synchronization with the broadcast content, as it is the newspaper articles that can be browsed more easily by the nature of their structure and digitization.

Chloé spent the day looking through the two CBC radio databases. Both radio databases did not provide direct access to the records, but to descriptions of them including keywords. There was a possibility to access and to listen to records upon request. The first, and oldest, radio database goes all the way back to the 1950s, and ends in the middle of the 1990s, the second database covers the 1990s till present day, and together they provide a quite extensive overview of CBC radio diffusion. Although there was limited results related to our topic from the 1950s, results started to become increasingly interesting as Chloé searched through later decades. As Keith explained, searching through earlier records, especially through the ones from many decades ago can be quite delicate because the employees who indexed these broadcasts at the time were not always comfortable describing the events reported as “terrorism” in the 1950s, which is actually the same problem for television.

With the help of Arthur, Katharina learned more about the various possibilities for accessing the 32 English-speaking video archives ranging from Yellowknife TV News to the program archives all by experiencing the work of the DIVA’s archive solution (a special CBC robotic system) that offers the possibility to select an old broadcast directly on a computer screen. The tape is selected by the machine that converts the tape into a digital signal and sends the content then to your computer for visioning – physically at a distance between the 7th floor and the basement.

Our fascinating morning research session was then turning into a personal guided tour of the archives, such as the analogue VTR library. Interestingly, all tapes have a unique ID and bar code to facilitate the work for the CBC people. You can even take a virtual tour, but we also took pictures of course:

 

We also visited the Film Vault, where approximately 115,000 cans of film are sleeping at approx. 4°C, quite warm if we look at current Montreal temperatures…

We are both looking forward to come back to CBC, and to also enjoy the wonderful restaurants in downtown Toronto nearby. If you have the opportunity to visit Toronto do not miss a free visit to the CBC museum situated in the same building where you can even find some relics of 1990s technology such as the MiniDisc.

To be continued with ‘Part II: A Day at the Archives… Montreal’…


Katharina Niemeyer is Professor of Media Theory at the Media School , Faculty of Communication, University of Quebec in Montreal and she is an IAMHIST council member.

Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal, works on the mediatization of refugees in Australian media in her Master thesis


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The City Archive: Expect the unexpected

Leen Engelen, LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium)

15 December 2017


For many years, I have been doing media historical research. My preferred research topic is visual culture (film, picture postcards, posters…) in the 1910s and 1920s. I have thus visited many different kinds of archives in several different countries. From the Belgian National Archives in Brussels to small unopened private and company archives, stored in dusty boxes in basements or attics. I would like to write however about my experience in city archives, which I came to know as treasure troves full of unexpected gems.

Of houses, police regulations and movie posters

Being a historian is hardly ever just a job. When I moved house a few years ago, I decided to check on the history of the house (built in the post-World War I era) in the local city archive. I requested the files and went to the reading room to look at the building plans and correspondence between the urban planning department and the architect. While looking at these documents, I dropped my eye on a series of film posters hanging on the wall somewhat hidden behind the registration desk. Upon inquiry, the librarian told me they had a whole bunch of these in the archive and if I cared to take a look at them. They were well-preserved in acid free folders, but were otherwise not inventoried. My interest was raised and I made an appointment with the head archivist. She showed me the whole collection and it turned out they had hundreds of posters in their vaults. A police regulation dating back to 1892 stipulated that one copy of every poster hung at the official billboards throughout the city had to be deposited at the municipal administration to enable verification by the police. The aim was to prevent offensive, illegal or inflammatory posters from provoking public outrage. Next to cinema posters, the collection included political posters, election propaganda, theatre and music posters. Because of the un-inventoried state of the archive, only few researchers had shown interest in this particular collection and virtually no one had looked at the film posters. This unexpected find initiated a collaborative project called ‘Cinema Leuven’ with the Leuven City Archive and the Heritage Department which resulted, two years later, in a book, an exhibition on the city’s cinema history at the local theatre, several student research papers and a completely inventoried and digitized film poster collection accessible online (www.cinemaleuven.be).

Figure 1: source: Leuven City Archive

Figure 2: source: Leuven City Archive

Talk to the archivist

After this experience, my interest in city archives was sparked. A few years later my colleague Roel Vande Winkel and myself embarked on a project that came about thanks to a wakeful and enthusiast archivist at the City Archive in Antwerp (also called Felixarchive because of its location in an old harbour warehouse called ‘Felixpakhuis’). We both had done research at the Felixarchive for cinema related research projects before and one day the archivist pointed my colleague to the archive of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen, KMDA), the society that operated the Antwerp Zoo since 1843. Not exactly an archive media historians like us would usually be interested in. What we found, when we took a closer look, however was quite amazing. A near complete business archive of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, the movie theatre that had been opened at the zoo’s premises in 1915 and remained in service without interruption until  1936. Not only did the archive hold detailed weekly programs (a treasure in itself for those interested in new cinema history), we also found administrative documents and correspondence with distributors, local authorities and musicians. The icing on the cake, were letters from members of the audience, commenting on specific films, on other members’ behaviour (unruly children, passionate youngsters or unfaithful husbands and wives). We were utterly surprised to find this in an archive that was produced by a zoological garden and hadn’t it been for the archivists, we probably wouldn’t have found out about this archive at all. Thanks to this large variety of documents, we have since been able to inventory the complete film and music program of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, from its founding in 1915 until it closure in 1936, and to reconstruct its complete history. From its founding during the German occupation of Antwerp in the First World War (which we published here), throughout the roaring 1920s and the transition to sound, to its decline due to increasing competition in the film exhibition sector in the years preceding the Second World War. We were not the only one to be surprised by the story of Cinema Zoologie. When we approached the Royal Zoological Society (that still operates – among other things – the Antwerp zoological garden today) in 2015, they were unaware of this particular part of the Society’s history. Their interest was sparked by this unusual story and we are currently setting up a Cinema Zoologie exhibition at the zoo’s premises (to be opened in 2018 to celebrate the Garden’s 175th birthday), a book publication and an online platform providing access to the archive and the programming database.

Figure 3: FelixArchief, Antwerp City Archive, Royal Zoological Society Antwerp

Boxes, Chocolate Wraps and Cinema Programs

While working with the Cinema Zoologie archive, the archivists mentioned another collection they had recently started working on: the papers of a man listening to the remarkable name Télésphorus Buyssens (1879-1945), an Antwerp railway administrator with a keen interest in… almost everything. It seems like throughout his life, he kept every piece of paper he could get hold of. This resulted in over 50 boxes filled with chocolate wraps, advertising brochures, bills, envelopes, letters, announcements, flyers, packages, political pamphlets… and film programs. This huge pile of papers (an optimistic archivist called it ‘papierotheek’) includes ephemeral documents that don’t usually make it to archives but that are relevant for researchers in many different fields: from economic historians researching price fluctuations of consumer goods to graphic designers and art historians interested in the design of wraps and packages of everyday products. His letters, many of which were written during the First World War, have been used by the archive for their public history project on the life of ordinary Antwerp citizens during the Great war. The collection of more than 1500 cinema flyers of over 70 different theatres in Belgium (mainly Antwerp) and France (the north), dated between roughly 1908 and 1942, is very valuable for cinema historians. Especially for the first decades of the 20th century this type of ephemeral sources rarely survives in such quantities. So once again, talking to the archivist brought very interesting and unexpected material to our attention. And who knows, the next project.

Figure 4: Felixarchief, Antwerp City Archive, Archive Télésphorus Buyssens


Leen Engelen is a media historian at LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium). She is vice-president of IAMHIST.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

  • Archives