Max Fleischer Teaching Student Officers to Read Maps

Teaching Student Officers to Read Maps

The above article from the December 1918 issue of Popular Science is about how a training film produced by “the Training Division of the War College, Mr. Max Fleischer, a former member of the Popular Science Monthly staff, devised for the General Staff the system that we illustrate.” During World War I Max Fleischer was assigned by the Bray Studios to make training films for the Army, all of which, as far as I know, were destroyed.

You can check 138 years of PopSci  at the magazine’s “The Complete Popular Science Archive” here, though the same material is also available (in slightly easier to read format) on Google Books.

(The man bending down on the lower right image looks a lot like Max Fleischer?)

Sam Kula

Sam KulaSam Kula, the Director  of  the National Archives of Canada’s Audiovisual Archives from 1973-1989, who died of cancer on  September 8th, is someone I’m proud to have known and worked with. I first met Sam when we were both graduate students at the University of Southern California’s Division of Cinema back in the 1960s, when we were both pursuing PhDs.  He was several years my senior and had come to USC after a stint at the British Film Institute.

We both dropped out to take jobs at the American Film Institute, in Washington, D.C., during its early years where he headed its Archive program and became my boss; initially I was Associate Editor of the AFI Catalog before Sam sent me to New York City as Manager of their short-lived Film Information System. The latter position called for a librarian, but Sam wanted one with my particular knowledge; so even though I lacked a library degree at the time, I got the job.  Also working under Sam at the time was David Shepard (he was Film Preservation Officer) whose Film Preservation Associates currently produces some of the most significant historical DVDs around.

I left the AFI when the Institute closed down its New York office and I gradually lost touch with Sam. Some years later, I eventually returned to USC to finish my PhD and learned that he too had tried to do the same, but for reasons I’m not clear about decided not to. (I do recall some disparaging remarks by a faculty member putting Sam down for being a mere archivist and not being active enough as a film scholar!)

After I started occasionally attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival , I learned that Sam would sometimes show up, but regretfully I never made the extra effort to see him, which is my loss.

His most noted accomplishment at the National Archives, aside from setting up its Film, Sound and Television section was, as Luke McKernan pointed out on his Bioscope blog, was the major role he played

in the discovery, care and historiography of the extraordinary discovery of over 500 reels of silent film that were found in 1978 underneath a boarded-up swimming pool in Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, where the films had been buried in the permafrost (ideal archival conditions) for forty-nine years. The story of the find … is the film archivist’s romantic tale par excellence, and alone serves as memorial to one of world audiovisual archiving’s most dedicated servants.

For more on this, check out Sam’s article about it in Archivaria, the journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, which was adapted from an article in American Film.

Photo by Lois Siegel.

Last update: January 29, 2017.

Film Histories, Part 1

Tol'able David

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will evaluate some of the one-volume histories of film in English. Nominally, it will be from my perspective of their suitability of their use in the classroom, particularly those I teach on the undergraduate and graduate level at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Initially, I thought of focusing on the way they deal with (or ignore) animation and television. (I should note that SCAD’s TV production majors are required to take History of Cinema and a number of animation majors take the class as an elective.)

On one level, when I first examine a book on film history, I look to see if they include films I want to screen, especially those that I feel have sort of fallen from grace, e.g., Henry King’s Tol’able David (1921) and Morris Engel’s Little Fugitive (1953); Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin’s A Short History of the Movies does put the King film in context, showing how it influenced Pudovkin (seen rather clearly in Mother), while Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Film History: an Introduction does briefly mention Engel’s film and its role in the American independent film movement and the way it anticipated Direct Cinema documentaries (but not how it influenced Truffaut’s The 400 Blows).

Little Fugitive

There are other, more important factors I take into account, including but not limited to the book’s accuracy, scope, narrative sense, illustrations, price and how it fits in with the way I teach. For instance, when I first started at SCAD, I used The Oxford History of World Cinema, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, which has a lot going for it, featuring as it does in-depth articles and informative sidebars by a host of specialists (the pieces on animation by William Moritz and Donald Crafton blow away the competition, as do its sidebars on Max Linder, Karl Freund and Alexandre Trauner). With a list price of $34.95, it’s also a real bargain. Yet, I dropped it because its lack of overall narrative didn’t fit in with the way I taught. (The fact it hasn’t been revised since its 1996 publication doesn’t bother me, but might concern others.)

I then switched to David Parkinson’s The History of Film, one of Thames & Hudson’s inexpensive but well written World of Art paperbacks; at the time, I compared it to an edition of Jack C. Ellis and Virginia Wright Wexman’s pricier A History of Film (Wexman has since taken over authorship) and found it much its equal. Though I would have had to drop it when it went out of print, I ceased using it because my students (who were then largely film majors) found that it lacked enough detail; as I now teach History of Cinema mostly as an elective, I would certainly think about using it again, especially as a new edition is apparently in the works. Since then, I have mostly used Thompson and Bordwell, with a brief experiment with Mast and Kawin; this fall I am finally trying Wexman. (Needless to say, I find it hard to make up my mind; m y wife has suggested I consider not using a textbook at all, but I’m not ready to go that route.)

In addition to those mentioned above, I will consider several other books, including David A. Cook’s A History of Narrative Film, Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn  Audrey Foster’s A Short History of Film, Louis Giannetti and Scott Eyman’s Flashback: A Brief History of Film and Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film. (The Cousins book has just gone out of print, but is worth looking at.) In addition, I will briefly look at books on animation history, as well as look at some of the reasons why animation and television are dealt with they way they are.