The George Eastman Museum is launching a new project, working to digitize a selection of films from its extensive Moving Image Collection and making them available to the public for free online viewing. The museum has released 23 digitized films so far, with plans for more to be added to this growing web collection.
Included among the first wave of digitized films are documentaries by pioneering filmmaker Leo Hurwitz, a group of 13 rare screen tests from the museum’s David O. Selznick Collection, as well as a Rochester-based film focusing on the Eastman Kodak Company. Other selections range from animation to experimental, foreign, and silent films.
The first 23 films included in the museum’s web collection (all of which were preserved in Rochester at the George Eastman Museum, with the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation) are currently available to browse and view. Most of the films are presented with additional curatorial commentary providing historical context and insight into the featured clips.
Leo Hurwitz’s “Dancing James Berry” (1958) features performance footage of the titular African American jazz dancer. That film begins with an introduction by William J. Ferguson II, Acting Executive Director of Garth Fagan Dance, who speaks to the power of seeing the work of an influential and “seminal artist in the field of dance,” made a part of the museum’s preservation efforts.
The majority of the screen and costume tests are part of the personal collection of renowned producer and studio executive David O. Selznick, which were donated to the museum in 1999 by Selznick’s son Daniel, on behalf of his late father. Some of the more than 300 screen tests were publicly screened following the showing of “Rebecca” at the 2019 edition of the George Eastman Museum’s Nitrate Picture Show.
Included here for online viewing are a selection of screen, makeup, and wardrobe tests from “Gone With the Wind,” with an introduction by Caroline Yeager, Assistant Curator at the George Eastman Museum Moving Image Department. Featured among those screen tests is recently-deceased Hollywood Golden Age legend Olivia de Havilland, for her role of Melanie in “Gone with the Wind”). These tests provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the making of some of Hollywood’s most celebrated films.
Though the George Eastman Museum prides itself on screening and projecting important film works for the public, online publication is a necessary surrogate — particularly during these changing times, says Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge of the museum’s Moving Image Department.
“As a museum our goal is not only to provide access to our collections, but also to exhibit works of art in their original formats, Bagrov said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "Yet, as a result of pervasive isolation, online resources have become particularly valuable and appreciated. We know that viewing these films on a computer or handheld device is not the way they were intended to be seen, but for now, in an effort to provide some special cinematic experiences during this pandemic, we hope that you all enjoy the show.”
The digitization of the museum’s Moving Image Collection is an ongoing project, and new films will be added to this public collection over time. Free access to the films are available at eastman.org/digitizedfilms.
Adam Lubitow is CITY's film critic. Feedback on this review can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY's arts & entertainment editor, at email@example.com.