Museum ready for Kodak moment
Given that we live in a world where photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s infant daughter sold for $4 million-plus, George Eastman House director Anthony Bannon figured the time had come for the international photography and film museum to get over its New England modesty and reconnect with Hollywood.
On Monday, Bannon and Eastman House film curator Patrick Loughney will host a get-to-know-you cocktail reception at the Kodak Theater at Hollywood & Highland. Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart and thesp Robert Forster, also a museum trustee, are co-chairs of the honorary event committee.
Focus of the evening won’t be to raise money but to shed light on the museum’s preservation program. Before joining the museum, Loughney spent 25 years working for the Library of Congress’ film preservation arm, considered the granddaddy of all archives.
Tucked away in Rochester, N.Y., the George Eastman House Intl. Museum of Photography and Film is among the world’s top film archives and preservation programs, while its photo collection is unsurpassed. Museum was opened in 1949 in honor of camera and film inventor George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak empire.
The relationship between the Eastman House and the movie biz thrived in the 1950s and 1960s, but the bond eased when other archives closer to home began seriously collecting and preserving films, chiefly, the A-list archives at UCLA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
“This is our chance to plant our flag in Los Angeles. Some people in L.A. don’t even know there is an Eastman House,” Loughney said.
“The main message is there are only a handful of institutions working to preserve film. It would help to get more films out of studio vaults and preserved,” Loughney said. “Over 50% of the films produced in the 20th century are gone or only survived in the worst condition. The rate of the silent films lost is 80%.”
The race against time to preserve studio and orphan pics is still going strong, according to Bannon. “Even if you doubled the number of archives, it would never be enough,” he said.
In terms of the preservation process, duplicating nitrate onto acetate safety materials is an ongoing project for the museum, as is producing 35mm negatives from the 28mm collection of early French and American films.
The Eastman House — home to 25,000 film titles in all — is particularly known for its preeminent silent film collection, which includes the first feature version of “Snow White” from 1916 and a fully restored version of “The Lost World” from 1925. It also is strong in German and French films of the nitrate era before 1950.
Elsewhere, the museum cares for the Technicolor negatives of a number of classic films, including “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Cecil B. DeMille’s private film collection resides at the Eastman House, which occupies the 50-room colonial revival mansion built by Eastman, who died in 1932.
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s personal collection is there as well.
Scorsese is among a cadre of filmmakers and thesps who are fiercely devoted to the museum. List also includes Spike Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Isabella Rossellini and Candice Bergen.
Lee and documaker Ken Burns have both bequeathed their films to the Eastman House. Joan Crawford’s home movies also are there.
In 1996, the Eastman House opened the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, the first such school to formally teacher the complicated and precarious process of restoring, preserving and archiving.
Three years ago, Porter Bibb, an investment banker at MediaTech Capital Partners in Gotham, became one of the first people living outside of Rochester to join the board of the museum. Part of his charge has been to expand the museum’s horizon beyond upstate New York.
Bannon, in turn, has been aggressive about striking partnerships with museums in other cities where photos from the Eastman House can be displayed and films screened.
Bannon and Bibb — who calls himself the “provocateur” — are hoping to make such a pact with an L.A. museum.
“We have provided services for the world, but we have done so in a quiet way. That needs to change,” Bannon said.
“If people are more aware of who we are, there will likely be new opportunities to preserve films, receive students and exhibit our work,” Bannon said. “We need a more intense friendship with the West Coast.”