How to identify a player in the dating game
Next time you pay your taxes, think about the money going here.The Library of Congress’s collection is almost inconceivably vast, in part because a copy of any work must be deposited with the library in order to be copyrighted in the United States. I don’t know how to create the feeling of home that lives in my heart. Or even myself — I’m still figuring out who that is.All this is how I wound up as part of a bleary but excitable group arriving for a tour of the Packard Campus early in the morning on the first day of Mostly Lost V in June 2016. I’ve been intentionally keeping my head too busy to think with my heart. I need to date more to understand what I do and don’t like. I won’t be able to appreciate you until life has kicked my ass. It’s entirely possible that we did hit it off once, and I left without getting your information; or maybe I did get your number and never called because of any one of the above reasons. Just keep making your life exciting and full, so when we do finally come together, we can bring each other joy, because we are already happy. I could have written the same thing ten years ago, if only I were more self-aware. I’m pretty sure even if we did meet, you wouldn’t like me all that much right now. So don’t spend any more time thinking about where I am or am not.We saw staff meticulously repairing fragile film reels so they could run them through the optical printer; stood in the room designed for perfect acoustics where tapes from the Les Paul collection were being transferred; watched robots tirelessly inserting videotapes into VCRs for digitization.
In the office of nitrate film vault manager George Willeman, the original camera negative for James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) was on display, and we approached one by one to inspect the luminous frames—the actual film that ran through the camera—with the reverence of believers approaching a fragment of the True Cross. Willeman, who has worked for the library for thirty-two years, showed examples of less fortunate films, some in brittle shards, others hardened into powdery orange slabs that resembled unappetizing coffee cakes.Massa—whom I would be tempted to call the Phil Schaap of silent comedy, except that he wears his mind-boggling erudition far more lightly than Schaap does his staggering knowledge of jazz—is an MVP of Mostly Lost.His virtuosic ability to recognize minor, uncredited silent comedy players becomes a kind of running gag at the workshop; the fabled time he picked out hefty Chaplin costar Henry Bergman from a rear view reverberates in an endless series of in-jokes about his knack for identifying actors from their hindquarters.For the tour, librarians had pulled a selection of items from the copyright collection that shed fascinating light on the fraught relationship between cinema as art and cinema as relentlessly evolving technology. Griffith’s Lonely Villa (1909), starring Mary Pickford, survive because paper contact prints—every frame of the film, printed as a positive onto a strip of light-sensitive opaque paper—were submitted for copyright protection.
A DCP (Digital Cinema Package) submitted for a recent movie is locked and unplayable, hence a useless object. While the paper prints cannot be, and were never intended to be, projected, they are now the sole remaining copies of many early films, and have been transferred back to film, long after the original film prints vanished.
Most silent film fans are used to feeling like the possessors of arcane secrets, but witnessing the encyclopedic knowledge of Mostly Lost stalwarts like Massa, silent film accompanist and historian Philip Carli, preservationist and producer Serge Bromberg, and historian Robert J.