Film at the National Archives: A Reference Article
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 2, Number 3, February 1973
- pp. 4-9
- Additional Information
3.New York Age, May 25, 1935, p. 6. 4.Anderson quoted in Ernest Lindgren, The Art ofFilm (London: George Allen, 1963, 2nd edition), p. 177. 5.New York Age, May 23, 1914, p.6. 6.Andy Razaf, "A Colored Movie Fan," New York Amsterdam News, January 6, 1940, p. 16. 7.L. D. Reddick, "Educational Programs for the Improvement of Race Relations: Motion Pictures, Radio, the Press, and Libraries," Journal ofNegro Education, 1 3 (Summer, 1944), 367-89. 8.Variety. September 8, 1971, ? .3. 9."Black Actors Are People, Not Props," MGM Pressbook for Clay Pigeon (1971), p. 5. FILM AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: A Reference Article By William T. Murphy William T. Murphy is an expert in motion pictures on the staffofthe Audiovisual Division ofthe National Archives. He has had wide experience withfilm and is as well a trained historian. The federal archives ofthe United States come in many forms, just as many forms perhaps as man has methods ofcommunicating. A fragile document from the papers of the Continental Congress, a handsomely bound ship's log, a carbon copy of a typewritten letter are probably some main notions ofarchives. There is a great deal oftruth in this conception. For records like these make up the greater part ofthe records in the custody of the National Archives. But these are linear records, to use McLuhan's term, and the emphasis on them even by historians familiar with historical evidence obscures the real complexity ofarchives. This complexity results from improvements in the technology of communication. Excluding the field ofarchaeology where three-dimensional objects furnish evidence ofpast civilizations, what remains today as historical evidence is largely the result ofman's effort to communicate with other men. Still picture photography, sound reproduction, and the reproduction ofmoving images have profoundly affected communication. In recent years the use ofvideotape in television and magnetic tape in computers has also had its effect. The records left by these new methods ofcommunication pose a serious challenge to archivists concerned with the preservation of historical evidence, and they pose an even greater challenge to scholars from many disciplines to interpret the significance of this evidence ofthe past. Much ofthis evidence would have been lost were it not for the special interests ofthe National Archives in preservation. Its interests go back to 1934 when its founding act stated that this institution "may also accept, store, and preserve motion picture films and sound recordings pertaining to and illustrative ofhistorical activities of the United States." Foresight such as this before the age of McLuhan was indeed rare. In practice this act gave the Archives broad authority for the accessioning of audiovisual items as records. From its earliest days of operation the main target ofthe former Division ofMotion Picture and Sound Recordings was the historically valuable film in the custody offederal agencies in the Washington area. Since 1936 the National Archives has collected motion picture holdings in the Archives today, namely, films or footage relating to the Federal Government. In addition, though, both military and civilian agencies acquired numerous films from foreign governments. And the Archives has accepted for deposit films from private donors. A recent survey indicated a total of24% from private sources as compared to 76% from government, this in a total of over 50,000 unique reels. For purposes ofdescription, then, the three main areas in this survey are films from (1) the United States Government, (2) foreign governments, and (3) private origin. The description follows the arrangement ofthese films, generally by provenance. The year 1913 generally marks the beginning ofGovernment film production, though there are a few isolated instances ofofficial motion picture use as early as 1909. In 1913, however, the Department ofAgriculture set up a motion picture unit to make films, and for many years this department was the Government's oldest and largest producer ofmotion pictures. Based on USDA-approved procedures, these films relate to the control ofwildlife, management of forests, pest control, and many agricultural subjects. The earlier films are basically instructional rather than documentary, and they have an important relationship to the environmental history ofthis country. Also, as early as 1913, the Bureau ofMines cooperated with a few ofthe largest business corporations in the...