“We live in an environment where there are moving images constantly around us. But in 1897, this was startling and new and completely revolutionary. It was a different way of looking at the world.”
In 1939, MoMA acquired a treasure of thirty-six reels of 68mm nitrate prints and negatives made in cinema’s first years. Everything that survived of the Biograph film company lives on those reels, including a rare bit of moving image footage of Queen Victoria.
For the latest edition of How to See, we visited MoMA’s film archives in Hamlin, Pennsylvania to learn more about the incredible quality and clarity of this newly discovered nineteenth-century movie, and the efforts archivists make to preserve such irreplaceable snapshots of history. Curator Dave Kehr joins the discussion to help us look at the early film with the same awe-inspired, expanded view of the world of its first audiences.
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Director: Sean Yetter
Editor: Dustin Waldman
Cinematographer: Nathan Lynch
Colorist: Daniel Orentlicher
Original music: Brock Chart
Audio Engineer: Brock Babcock
Bill Morrison. Decasia. 2002. Courtesy the artist
Archival photo of “Biograph Studio, The Bronx” courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives
Additional archival footage courtesy of Getty Images and British Pathé
Additional music by The Musicbed and De Wolfe Music
Special thanks to James Layton, Courtney Holschuh, Nancy Lukacinsky, and Theo Harrison of the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center
The comments and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speaker alone, and do not represent the views of The Museum of Modern Art, its personnel, or any artist.