Tonight: Preserved 35mm newsreels will be shown at The Andy Warhol Museum
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And now we turn to the world of entertainment!
In their heyday decades ago, newsreels were glimpses of the world that people otherwise might not see.
Now, they're glimpses into the past.
Tonight, The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side presents "Fit to Print: Fox Movietone Newsreels (1928-42)," a first-time look at people and events preserved on 35mm newsreels.
"Newsreels are almost as old as cinema," said Greg Wilsbacher, curator of the Newsfilm Collections at the University of South Carolina-Columbia, where 11 million feet of film -- more than 2,000 hours of content -- are being preserved and cataloged. "In the days before television, a newsreel was a regular component of the theater-going experience."
Those who attend tonight's show will see seven short-subject newsreels on topics ranging from "Etiquette for Women Sitting" to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Mr. Wilsbacher will be on hand to introduce the hourlong session and answer questions.
"This newsreel thing is kind of a special niche," Mr. Wilsbacher said. "It's been very poorly studied. It's not the kind of thing that was taught in film studies programs."
As far as he is concerned, newsreels are more than curiosities. They are research tools, enabling people today to get a closer, better look at the past.
"They freeze in time bits of our culture, who we are as human beings, what things sounded like, looked like, how people behaved or moved," Mr. Wilsbacher said. "Particularly in unedited fashion, you get a more privileged glimpse of the past, much more revealing than what has been traditionally published. You see that we have a lot more in common with the people that lived in the '20s and '30s than we often think.
"Our collection is almost entirely out-take material, which makes it a real treasure. I'd say 90 percent was never screened in theaters."
Documentary-makers have tapped their archives, as have Hollywood filmmakers. Mr. Wilsbacher said people involved in the making of the 2009 movie "Public Enemies," starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, viewed the school's newsreels to achieve authenticity.
"We find things you couldn't imagine would exist," Mr. Wilsbacher said. "Winston Churchill, when he wasn't in power, just hanging out in New York. Charles Lindbergh, when he was just an airmail pilot, one year before he became a household name for crossing the Atlantic. The filmmakers were doing a piece on airmail and he was filmed simply because he happened to be the pilot. They didn't even have his name. But our staff members were watching the film one day said, 'Oh my gosh, that's Lindbergh in the plane!' And it is. It's a clear, close-up shot of him sitting there receiving a piece of mail.
"We're looking at mysteries trying to figure out the who's, what's and where's of various pieces of film."
And where better to see newsreels than on the big screen -- the forum for which they were made.
At their peak, newsreels were being produced by five major studios, each of which released two a week. You might think that the content would be rather dated by the time it hit the local theater, but Mr. Wilsbacher said that wasn't the case.
"The content would come from all over the world," he said. "The negatives would be flown into New York, instantly developed and the editorial staff would work as fast as they could. They wouldn't be delayed too much. In fact, if it was important, the workers all tried to break records."
An exception was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although most Americans understood what had happened in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, it took nearly a year for a comprehensive visual story to be pieced together.
Those same images -- that stunned audiences late in 1942 -- will be shown again on the big screen tonight at the Warhol.
Another rare snapshot of Americana is a newsreel detailing New York City just before The Great Depression.
"There's a wonderful piece on New York City and the impact that noise was having," Mr. Wilsbacher said. "The camera crews just got in a truck and drove around the city. You see what New York City sounded like in 1929 and the strange horns honking. And on Radio Row, where the shopkeepers put radios outside and turned them up loud. It was an environment unique to New York, and it adds a dimension to understanding about life in New York."
Greg Pierce, assistant curator of film and video at the Warhol, said "Fit to Print" fits right in at the museum.
"For years we've been screening work from American archives," Mr. Pierce said. "I've seen some of these newsreels. They are beautiful. They're amazing. They show things how they were and sometimes how they still are.
"Right now we have an exhibition called 'Headlines,' and it seemed like the perfect time to show these Fox Movietone films. A lot of these are showing us pop culture of the time. These are news stories that would have been of interest in the past and are still of interest now. It's truly entertaining."
The show begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $10.
And, no, there will not be a newsreel before the show begins.
First Published December 14, 2012 4:31 pm