You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Thanks to film archivists around the country, all the stills in the previous post were positively identified within hours of posting them.

Nice work everyone!

Anyone well-versed in the world of Abbott and Costello is welcome to identify the still below.

email me with your answer

coffey (at) fas (dot) harvard (dot) edu

A&C 2

the sign in the window reads Shirts & Neckties. The number is 616-3, but it doesn't appear to match a Universal picture.

Unidentified Film Stills

September 22nd, 2009

Here are some film stills from the Burr Collection which are presently unidentified.  Today I write asking for you to take an active role in the blog.

Untitled-1 smaller

photo 1 - The Black Scorpion (1957) tagline DON'T BE ASHAMED TO SCREAM - IT HELPS TO RELIEVE THE TENSION

Here is the exciting text that accompanies the above image:

Heavy equipment is brought up and Hank and Ramos agree to be lowered in a cage to investigate.  Teresa is terrified, for she and Hank have developed much more than a friendly relationship toward one another.

Unknown to everyone, Juanito has hidden himself in the cage.  At the bottom of the chasm, Juanito waits until the men are out of sight, then he wanders off by himself.  The little tot has decided that grown men need his help.  Hank and Ramos find only the searcher’s hat and figure he fell into a pool of molten lava.  Suddenly they halt in their tracks as they hear human screams.

unidentified - UK?

photo 2 - Three Coins in the Fountain

Untitled-3 smaller

photo 3 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Untitled-4 smaller

photo 4 - The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band

The following are from the same film.

Untitled-5a smaller

photo 5 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5b smaller

photo 6 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5c smaller

photo 7 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5d smaller

photo 8 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5e smaller

photo 9 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5f smaller

photo 10 - Extravagance (1930)

Untitled-5g smaller

photo 11 - Extravagance (1930)

Film box cover art

September 14th, 2009

The HFA has a new display case in our office at the Carpenter Center.  This month’s exhibit is from my present favorite, the Howard E. Burr Collection.

These boxes once housed films sold to the home market, and they fall into a few categories.

First, the newsfilm, newsreel, sports, or other newsy documentary  film.  These are generally serial or magazine -type films.  The covers don’t have much variation from month to month.

news magazine

world series 1947

Next up, the cartoon.  Most of these cartoons are not one-offs, so the same cover could be used for all Happy Hooligan cartoons, for instance, with only the name (printed on the side) changing for each box.

Happy Hooligan

Soundies are another example of a somewhat generic cover that could be used again and again, the only variation being the color of the box and the description of the content.  Soundies were short musical films, a pre-cursor to the music video.


Several distributors, finding their content appealing and their name well recognized, chose to sell their films in a generic box almost all the time.

Dover filmsBlackhawk

Of course, a generic box was also a cost cutter, as was re-using an image.

Battle of the Giants vs 1 Million BC

Many times, reduction prints of feature films had exciting covers showing scenes from the film.

It Came From Outer SpaceFrontier FuryThe Creature Walks Among Us

To see these covers and more in person, drop by our office.

sound on disc

September 7th, 2009

In the young days of cinema, one of the first methods for presenting a film with recorded sound was to employ a method of sound on disc.  In the mid-1920s, films were occasionally distributed with an accompanying record.  The projector for this type of presentation had a record player attached to the base, and the record and film would be synched up by the projectionist.  As one might imagine, the synch didn’t always work, sometimes the record would skip or perhaps the operator would put on the wrong record.  It wasn’t a perfect system.

In the later 1920s, sound on film, which was a system that had been simmering for a few years, broke through and changed popular cinema forever, effectively killing the silent feature film.  This technique of sound on film, still in use today, provides an optical soundtrack on the edge of the film, which means it never goes out of synch (unless there has been a mix-up in the production of the track) as well as avoiding other problems of sound on disc.

Sound on disc made a brief re-appearance in the 1990s with the introduction of the digital sound on CD format, DTS.  In this format, the 35mm print was released with an optical soundtrack as well as digital track on CD.  To use this system, there would be a time code reader on the projector that read an optical timecode on the film (see below), which kept the CD track in synch with the picture.  As with other theatrical digital formats, the analogue optical soundtrack is retained, and in case of failure of the digital sound, the projector can revert to the optical soundtrack.

This image, below, from Kill Bill (Tarentino, 2003), shows the 4 modern soundtracks.  The left side of the film shows two digital tracks, Sony’s blue SDDS on the outer edge of the perforations, Dolby’s black digital information between the perforations, and to the right of the perforations, the two white lines of analogue optical soundtrack (variable area), and the DTS optical timecode (white vertical dashes to the immediate left of the image), which is used to keep the CD in synch with the picture.


I discovered today, while working with the Burr Collection, that sound on disc found its way to the home movie market as late as 1966.  The 8mm film pictured below, perhaps not surprisingly, is a compilation film from the 1920s/1930s when cinema’s comedians were coming out of a career in vaudeville.

8mm sound on disc

8mm sound on disc

The record provided with this film could be played on standard record player, but it is a flexi-disc, the cheapest of disc recordings.  This type of record could also be found in magazines as an advertisement or free song.

flexi disc8mm film with sound on disc