This blog post was written by MARMIA’s 2021 Summer Intern from NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation MA program, Mike Stetz. Mike is a Baltimore native who spent this June-August working on our collections both in-person at our Impact Hub office and remotely.
This past summer I had the pleasure to intern here at MARMIA for 10 weeks, helping with various tasks around the organization from data entry of the WJZ-TV Eyewitness News series, to reorganizing the WJZ-TV collection held at the Baltimore City Archives. My main duty, however, was film inspection, which took place at the MARMIA office at Impact Hub in the Station North neighborhood in the city. If you refer to my previous blog post, you can find a detailed collection assessment I had done for one of MARMIA’s film collections, the Frank Mugno Collection, which they had received in 2018. In my assessment, I not only completed an inventory of the materials, but I also wrote up a preservation plan detailing steps to take in order to best preserve and provide access to these materials. I am happy that I was able to perform some of these steps for not only Mugno’s work, but two other collections that had come in while I was here. This not only provided a great learning experience for myself, but also contributed to MARMIA’s mission of preserving regional works.
The first and largest collection I dealt with was the Frank Mugno Collection. Mugno was an amateur travel documentarian from the Maryland area who left around 20 reels of color 16mm film shot around the early 1980s, mostly film negatives and production elements, to an organization called Baltimore Heritage. Thought to be unmarried, Baltimore Heritage donated Mugno’s materials to MARMIA for preservation. I started with these films as I was excited for the opportunity to execute my previously mentioned preservation plan. The film inspection is necessary to assess the “health” of the film, if its damaged or deteriorating, fix anything wrong with it, rehouse, if necessary, catalog them into MARMIA’s system for both organization and providing access, and, finally, discover what content is on the reels. To help ease this process and make sure it is done uniformly, I utilized MARMIA’s inspection report, which asks questions such as “is the image a negative or a positive?” and “how many splices are there?”, while also asking for a unique ID number and title for the reel.
One of the most notable discoveries about the collection is that it primarily consists of film negatives and outtakes (both silent), which were used in the making of the final films, yet no final versions of Mugno’s films seem to be present. That being said, I was able to obtain a detailed sense of what was on the reels by looking at them through a film loupe (magnifying glass) utilizing a light box, as shown below.
Because many of the reels were color negatives, it was hard to discern the content at first, but by using an image inverter on my phone I was able to capture quite a few photos such as the following.
Above we see a still from Mugno’s “Brittany”, assumed to be near Normandy beach, as this film seemed concerned with not only the local culture of Brittany, France in the 1980s, but the history as well, depicting monuments and parades around the city for World War II. That being said, as a travel documentarian, Mugno did seem to concern himself with more slice of life activities around each country and city he traveled. As depicted below, in a B Roll negative reel from “Brittany,” we see craftspeople performing their trade, people shopping, and the community gathered for what seems to be a festival with residents dressed in traditional garb.
There are other reels present for his film “Holland,” which provide similar content, and both could prove to be invaluable in the future for study of 1980s culture in these countries, or at least utilized as stock footage for filmmakers.
One final exciting discovery I had made during my content assessment was that it appears Mugno had produced these films with his wife. I came across a short reel of positive film for the title credits and found two names presenting the movie.
Previously, he was thought to be unmarried, but with Athena’s name, I was able to find her obituary, which mentioned her role co-producing these films (see here). This exciting discovery will lead to more information on this collection in the future, and hopefully, guide us to complete versions of these films.
While examining the content of each film, I was also checking for any dust, dirt, and broken perforations present. Luckily, most of these films are in wonderful condition, with no tears or scratches. One difficulty I ran into, however, is that the outtake reels I encountered were spliced together with non-archival tape, which resulted in dried and brittle adhesive, and each strip of film on the reel would detach from the next.
Because of this, we decided to splice each strip together, resulting in upwards of 150 splices over the two reels. Not only does this help the safety of the film, keeping it together and removing old adhesive, but it was a great learning opportunity for myself, providing much needed practice, and now I feel incredibly comfortable with film splicing.
After the content assessment and repair, I would assign a unique ID number to each film, following the naming convention of “collection name-###”, in this case it was mugno-001, mugno-002, and so on. With this information, I was on to the final step, rehousing the materials. Many of these film reels came 2 or 3 to a canister, which were sealed metal enclosures with old tape. Film should be able to “breath” and kept separate from other reels in their own housing to prevent any acidic off-gassing which can result in film deterioration. Luckily, MARMIA has access to archival grade film canisters and so our collection went from looking like this:
Rehousing and labeling each film provides much better care for preservation, as well as organizing them in such a way that will allow better access to those interested in the materials. While I was unable to complete the entire Mugno collection, I was able to inspect and rehouse a sizable chunk during my time here, which proved to be a rewarding experience, executing a preservation plan that I had written up with the help of MARMIA.
In addition to the Frank Mugno collection, I was able to go through the same process with two other collections, the Eric Krasner Collection and the Brian Markham Collection, each containing seven and three films respectively. While my process inspecting these films was no different than with the Mugno collection, they are worth mentioning in that the material, both content and condition, were vastly different.
These two collections were all 16mm films, some in color and others in black and white, but all positive images unlike the Mugno collection. The Krasner Collection can be described as a bit of a hodgepodge of collected films from the early 50s that were donated to MARMIA, containing such things as local news stories, footage of department store opening, and an asphalt laying competition (a personal favorite).
The Markham Collection was a small collection of three films which looked to be home movies (also from the early 50s), exhibiting summer activities such as archery and sailing at a local camp, all in 16mm color (picture of a frame below). You can read more about these films at this recent blog post.
Some of these films were in much worse condition than the Mugno materials, with torn sprocket holes, aging and yellowing splices, and substantial warping. This highlights the importance of proper film care and storage. Luckily, these films are not beyond disrepair, but those with their own home movie collections should heed this warning and make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place, and only projected under very careful conditions.
I think the accession of these two small collections, as well as Mugno’s, highlights the benefits of community archiving, as they can offer a large swath of content when focusing on collection regional works. It features not only histories and slices of life from when film was used for home movies, but it can also showcase local talent with filmmakers such as Frank Mugno (and now the discovery of his wife’s work). I am honored that I was able to help contribute to MARMIA’s mission of preserving regional works, all the while gaining knowledge that will undoubtedly help me in my professional career.