Transfer of 'priceless' collection signals company's changing direction

A treasure trove of Hollywood history has found a new home.

Technicolor is to announce today that it has donated its archive, one of the most important collections pertaining to the advent of color in film, to the George Eastman House.

The Technicolor gift, which has been moved to a new Eastman House facility in Rochester, N.Y., includes rare cameras, documents and drawings, photographs, printers and processing machines, as well as corporate records going back to 1915.

The gift includes gear used to shoot many Hollywood classics and marks a major expansion of the Eastman House’s already extensive Technicolor collection. Org already boasts the world’s largest collection of Technicolor camera negatives: 3,000 reels, including such movies as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind.”

The objects in the archive are worth millions. But Dr. Anthony Bannon, the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House, told Daily Variety the new gift is “priceless.”

Because of the rarity of old Technicolor equipment, said Joe Berchtold, head of Technicolor’s Creative Services division, “it’s simply impossible for anybody else to recreate the mass of what the Eastman House has.”

The Eastman House is cataloguing the archive with the help of retired Technicolor scientist Dr. Richard Goldberg, who gathered the materials during his decades of work at the lab giant.

Goldberg, the last Technicolor staffer to have worked with company founder Herbert Kalmus, is also donating his oral history and instructions on how the machines and lab gear were used and installed.

“The oral history from Dr. Goldberg is of central importance,” said Bannon, “because we are very keen on interpreting the material that we have been given.”

The archive will become available to scholars and researchers once it’s been catalogued. The Eastman House will expand its museum space to put the highlights of its Technicolor collection on public display. Among the plans: a recreation of a vintage movie set, with the original cameras, shipping crates and other gear.

The Eastman House has converted 5,000 square feet of offices in a former gear-grinding plant near its HQ to a climate-controlled secure facility for handling the collection, including a clean room for digital scanning.

Scanning is a key part of the plan for the archive. Technicolor and the Eastman House expect to collaborate in making the documents available to the public on the Web.

Among the rarities shifted to Rochester: Technicolor Camera Blimps, the enclosures used to silence the mammoth three-strip Technicolor cameras of yore; filters, plates and packing crates used for movie shoots; printers, dye-transfer equipment and hardware packages for VistaVision and Technirama, and schematics that show how all the machines work.

Also included is correspondence involving showbiz luminaries going back to Mary Pickford, and between Kalmus and Kodak founder George Eastman.

The newest equipment in the collection was retired 8-10 years ago, said Berchtold. Company’s willingness to part with the archive reflects the changes in its business as it prepares for a digital future where film and prints are obsolete.

Said Berchtold, “While we’re going to be committed to film to the bitter end, there’s a timetable on it.”

The Eastman House tries to keep machines in its collection in working order and Bannon did not rule out the possibility that the org will use the printers and dyes in the gift to strike new dye-transfer prints, much beloved by movie buffs, should they get permission from rights-holders. Technicolor last made dye-transfer prints in the late 1990s.

Technicolor will retain a small portion of its memorabilia, mostly so it can rotate the wall displays at its Hollywood HQ.

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