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Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2005

Rare and out-of-print films now available at IU through digitization

Oct. 24, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More than 125 rare and out-of-print films are now available for research and instruction thanks to Indiana University's yearlong project to digitize films from the Lilly Library's historic David S. Bradley Film Collection.

In his first film performance, Charlton Heston appeared in the 1941 film "Peer Gynt." Because of Indiana University's efforts to digitize this and other rare or out-of-print films from the Lilly Library's historic David C. Bradley Film Collection, the film is now available for research and instruction. It was recently screened at the Louvre Museum to complement an exhibition there.

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With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the IU Digital Library Program has transferred the 16mm films to master videotapes and DVD-viewing copies. The films, many of which are in the public domain but unavailable commercially, include silent comedies as well as forgotten gems featuring Harold Lloyd (best remembered as the man dangling from a clock tower in the 1923 classic Safety Last) and Pearl White (who famously evaded danger when she was tied to railroad tracks in the episodic series The Perils of Pauline). The films were selected by IU faculty members for their importance to instruction and research.

The DVDs are accessible nationwide through inter-library loan to academic borrowers and independent scholars, thereby making these important works broadly available to researchers who otherwise would have to travel to Bloomington to view the fragile films on a special screening machine.

"Digitizing these important films is an essential step in preserving our prints," said Kristine Brancolini, project leader and director of IU's Digital Library Program. "Creating high-quality surrogates that teachers, researchers and students can use reduces wear and tear of the original film." The films themselves are housed in IU's off-site facility, where an environment of 50 degrees and 30 percent relative humidity provides ideal conditions for long-term preservation.

"Projection always brings the risk of damage to a film print," Brancolini said. "Because we have transferred the films to video, we will feel freer to allow screenings of the prints, both by university faculty and by film societies."

"It's a huge step forward in preservation, and a huge step forward in access," said Chris Anderson, associate professor in IU's Department of Communication and Culture, who has shown several of the Bradley collection films in the introductory class he teaches on the history of Hollywood. "It's very laborious to get projectors to a screening facility, but it's simple to take a DVD. And the quality of the transfers is very high. This is a special resource for the university."

Pearl White, shown here being pulled from a manhole, starred in 224 films from 1910 to 1924, including 15 episodes from the popular silent series "The Perils of Pauline." IU transferred nine of her episodic adventures from film to DVD. These episodes, once presumed lost, are part of the rich collection of rare films now available to scholars nationwide.

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The resource is already proving popular. Curators from the Louvre requested Bradley's 1941 silent film Peer Gynt, which features a 16-year-old Charlton Heston in his film debut,to complement a museum exhibition. CNN producers sought early footage of Heston for a video profile. IU film studies professors are revising syllabi to include silent films featuring behind-the-scenes glimpses of Hollywood's earliest film studios.

The Lilly Library, IU's library for rare books, manuscripts and special collections, is one of the nation's premier libraries for primary research materials. Among its noteworthy collections are the papers of noted filmmakers including John Ford, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, along with materials such as film and television scripts and press kits.

Bequeathed to the Lilly Library in 1997, the Bradley Film Collection represents one of the most comprehensive private collections of films ever assembled. From American masterpieces to French avant-garde, the 3,200 films in the collection are complemented by manuscripts, books and periodicals devoted to Bradley's life and work as a film historian. The Bradley Film Collection is the library's first acquisition of a major film collection.

IU has a long and distinguished history in film studies, pioneering the development of film courses for the humanities in the 1960s and creating one of the first film studies programs. Today, the program is fully integrated into the Department of Communication and Culture.

The IU Libraries represent one of the most extensive library collections in the country and circulate more than 1.5 million items yearly to IU students, faculty, staff, other institutions of higher education, and citizens of the state, who enjoy free and open access to the collections.

For more information:

David Bradley Film Collection:

IU Digital Library Program:

Lilly Library: