WASHINGTON — The IotaCenter in Los Angeles on Wednesday was awarded a $5,000 grant by the National Film Preservation Foundation to save two pics by abstract masters James and John Whitney, including the latter’s groundbreaking “Catalog.”
IotaCenter, a nonprofit org, was among 23 film archives across the country receiving funds from the foundation, a project of the U.S. Library of Congress. Awards are announced biannually.
Slated for rescue this go-round are 46 orphan films, including Western helmer W.S. Hart’s first feature, “The Bargain” (1914); fashion photographer Nickolas Murray’s 1925 home movies of playwright Eugene O’Neill on vacation in Bermuda; and the last known moving images of Will Rogers and aviator Wiley Post on the eve of their fatal air crash in 1925.
UCLA’s Film and Television Archive was awarded a $7,000 grant in-kind to preserve amateur filmmaker Sidney Laverents’ “Multiple Sidosis” (1970).
The Library of Congress itself received aid to preserve six pioneering sound shorts (1920-25) by Lee de Forest featuring President Coolidge in the White House, and vaudeville greats Eddie Cantor and Abbie Mitchell.
Also in Washington, the National Museum of American History will use grant coin to rescue a 1955 DuMont Television ad campaign.
National Film Preservation Foundation senior program manager Jeff Lambert said John Whitney’s “Catalog” and his brother James’ “Yantra” (1950-57) are “very important examples of abstract filmmaking that influenced both avant-garde and commercial filmmaking.”
A pioneer in animated computer graphics, John Whitney invented the film technique known as motion control in the 1950s and patented his computerized, motion-control machine.
“Catalog,” a psychedelic classic reputed to have inspired the stargate corridor scene in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was a compilation of Whitney’s special effects. One of those f/x was the slit-scan technique, seen later in other movies, including “2001.”
IotaCenter will use the grant to preserve the long version of “Catalog.”
In the 1960s, the film brought John Whitney a great deal of commercial biz. He did work for Charles Eames, and completed animation sequences for a number of films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
James Whitney’s “Yantra” was first shown at the historic Vortex concerts in San Francisco, where the pic was projected onto a dome at the Morrison Planetarium and accompanied by an electronic score suggested by Jordan Belson and composed by Henk Badings.
Connecting the dots
Whitney created “Yantra” by punching dots on index cards, which he overlaid on other painted cards.
In the 1940s, John and James Whitney screened a number of their 8mm and 16mm films for avant-garde salons in Hollywood and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
John Whitney also authored “Digital Harmony: On the Complimentarily of Music and Visual Art.”
Grants announced Wednesday totaled $127,000. Of that, $61,00 are direct federal funds. The remaining $67,000 represents donated services from various preservation labs.