A Day at the Archives … William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Erin Wiegand, Northumbria University

3 April 2019


This February, I had the pleasure of visiting the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. I was there to conduct research within a single collection the library holds: the Samuel Z. Arkoff papers. Donated to the library in 2008 by Arkoff’s children, Donna Roth and Lou Arkoff, the collection contains over a hundred boxes of archival materials primarily relating to Arkoff’s work as a film producer.


Arkoff is best known as the cofounder of American International Pictures, an independent studio which he acted as producer for, and later president of, from 1954–1980. American International Pictures became successful producing and distributing low-budget, quickly made films packaged as double bills, particularly for drive-in circuits, and specialized in science fiction, horror, biker, and other genre films. Above all else, AIP became synonymous with the newly identified ‘teen market’, which they aggressively targeted in both marketing campaigns and the teen-oriented content of the films themselves. In the 1960s, AIP pioneered the ‘beach party’ genre, anchored by stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, while also finding success with horror fans in the ‘Poe cycle’, a series of films directed by Roger Corman that adapted (often very loosely) the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Arkoff and AIP also launched the careers of many now-famous actors and directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Scorsese.

The archive contains a wealth of information on AIP and Arkoff’s career, including a huge collection of pressbooks, film stills and photographs, lobby cards and posters, and continuity scripts, as well as financial materials, release schedules, contracts, correspondence, and publicity materials for a wide range of films, from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini to The Amityville Horror. Multiple boxes also contain Arkoff’s personal correspondence, speeches and interviews, press clippings, and materials relating to his charitable work. A full eight boxes of the archive document the production details of Arkoff’s unreleased film Nightcrawler (which he had worked on for years after leaving AIP in 1980 and establishing his own production company), including contracts, scripts, and financial documents; another box contains details of Arkoff’s plans to remake AIP’s hit film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) in the early 1990s. In short, the collection is pure gold for anyone interested in Arkoff himself or in the workings of AIP, as it provides an incredible variety of materials.

But it’s also a great resource for anyone researching American exploitation and B-films of the 1950s–1970s—like I am. What led me to the archive was not an interest in Arkoff or AIP specifically, but rather the fact that it was a rare source for publicly accessible archival materials of any kind relating to exploitation films. Film historians investigating exploitation films have particular challenges when it comes to archives, for several reasons: first, the producers and distributors responsible for these films generally regarded them as disposable, uninteresting beyond their ability to make money quickly, and relatively interchangeable with one another. Unlike major studios and prestige production outfits, it would have been unusual for anyone to have kept any records such as production notes, correspondence, budgets, and the like, and such documents are extremely hard to find for exploitation films. Additionally, what materials do exist have typically not been considered a priority by most archives, given the low cultural status and poor quality of exploitation films (and the relative lack of interest in researching them). Thus, to find an archive housing something as large and detailed as the Arkoff collection is a real treat!

My own research project is concerned with the relationship between exploitation films and conceptions of documentary sobriety, veracity, and education, examining a wide range of exploitation films that employed a documentary mode and highlighted this aspect in their marketing. Since I’m particularly interested in this latter aspect, the Arkoff collection’s abundant assortment of pressbooks was a big draw for me. After reviewing the collection catalog, I was able to identify about twenty films on my list that I had not yet found pressbooks or marketing materials for, including Mondo Teeno, Ecco, Africa Uncensored, Witchcraft 70, Kama Sutra, and Helga. In addition to pressbooks and posters, I also found a few interesting bits of correspondence, including a telegram from an Oklahoma City drive-in exhibitor to exploitation producer Bob Cresse congratulating him on the ‘sensational’ success of his film Ecco (a re-edit of two Italian ‘mondo movies’), which Cresse had worked with AIP to distribute. Additionally, a letter and press campaign sent by AIP to exhibitors for its film Helga (a German sex-education film repackaged as exploitation fare) provided some fascinating insights into promotional strategies around the film, which (contrary to what I’d expected) AIP suggested would benefit from heavy targeting of ‘women’s audiences’, such as buying ad spots during daytime soap operas and game shows. Taken together, the material I collected from the archive in just one day was enormously invigorating to my research and absolutely worth the trip.

The special collections reading room is small but comfortable, and I was the only researcher there for the entire day. Lockers are available just outside the room for storing personal belongings—the only things allowed inside the reading room are laptops, phones, notepaper, and pencils. The archive does allow photographs for personal use, so the bulk of my time was spent taking photos with my phone (using the CamScanner app) to review in more detail later.

The library itself is located on the Loyola Marymount University campus in Los Angeles, close to the Los Angeles International Airport. While I did see a few campus shuttles running, I would advise those considering a visit that public transportation may be tricky for visiting this archive; I had rented a car, and easily found parking in a campus lot near the library ($12.50 for a full day). Other tips for visiting researchers: while I packed my own lunch to eat on the patio outside, there is a Starbucks adjacent to the library and a number of food options in the Lair Marketplace in the Malone Building, about a five-minute walk away.

While I spent my day working entirely within the Arkoff collection, Cynthia Becht, head of archives and special collections at the library, suggested that film scholars might also be interested in their largest film history collection, the Arthur P Jacobs collection. Jacobs, initially a PR agent for stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Warren Beatty, and Gregory Peck, was also the producer of the original Planet of the Apes series, and the archive contains a treasure trove of materials on these films: multiple screenplay drafts, storyboards, production notes and correspondence, publicity materials, and more.

A final note to fellow exploitation-film researchers: if visiting LA, it is also worth a trip to the Margaret Herrick Library, where I also found a handful of interesting bits of correspondence, draft scripts, and notes brainstorming ideas for advertising slogans for a few films on my list. Of interest as well is the Dan Sonney collection at the UCLA Film and Television Archive (write to the archive for a PDF catalog), although unfortunately most of the films it contains are not in viewable condition. (However, researchers can make special requests in the case of a film essential to their study, though assume at least six months between the request and an appointment, given the complex and delicate work involved.)

To browse the inventory of the Arkoff Papers, see http://pdf.oac.cdlib.org/pdf/clloy/arkoff.pdf

To search the complete holdings of the library, including the Samuel Z Arkoff and Arthur P Jacobs collections, visit https://oac.cdlib.org/institutions/Loyola+Marymount+University,+Department+of+Archives+and+Special+Collections,+William+H.+Hannon+Library


Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Cynthia Becht, Lauren Longwell, and the student staff at the William H Hannon Library for all their assistance!


Erin Wiegand is a postgraduate researcher at Northumbria University, where she is completing her doctoral dissertation on exploitation documentary films. She is also the web editor of the JCMS Teaching Dossier and a programming volunteer at the Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne. For more about her work and publications, visit http://erinewiegand.com or follow her @erinewiegand on Twitter.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A Day at the Archives… Film & Diplomacy in Rome’s State Archives (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Central State Archives)

Carla Mereu Keating, University of Bristol

8 February 2019


In the spring of 2014, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust awarded a small research grant to my project entitled “The Language and the Image of a Nation: Diplomatic Relations between the Italian Foreign Office and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) during the 1930s”. The scheme is notoriously very competitive, so when my project was selected, I couldn’t quite believe it.

As detailed in my plan of action, I was going to carry most of my research in Rome at the historical diplomatic archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [Ministero degli Affari Esteri (MAE)] to study the correspondence exchanged in the interwar period between the Italian Foreign Office and the MPPDA, the North American film trade association headed by Will Hays most commonly known as the Hays Office. I also planned to visit the Central State Archives [Archivio Centrale di Stato (ACS)], to document the level of interference exercised by Mussolini’s administration in the circulation of foreign-language films in Italy during the fascist regime.[i]

I stayed in Rome between September 2014 and March 2015. From September to December, I visited the MAE archive; between December and March, I mostly worked at the ACS. These two state archives are located in two different areas of Rome. The ACS is located in the South West, in the wealthy EUR district, only a 5-minute walk from the Laurentina stop of the Metro B line. The journey to the MAE archive, located in the North West, is not as straightforward. Because I visited the archive before during my PhD, I was aware that this area, and Rome in general, is not often serviced well by public transport, and if I wanted to commute easily to the various archives and libraries scattered around the Eternal City, [ii] I needed to stay somewhere not too far from Termini Central Station, where the two main metro lines A and B intersect. I was lucky to share an apartment near San Giovanni, which is served by the Metro A line and only a couple of stops away from Termini.

Central State Archives (ACS):

 

Historical Diplomatic Archive (MAE):

MAE’s historical diplomatic archive is open to researchers only between 9:00 and 14:00, Monday to Friday. To get access researchers need to make an appointment through the online system, submitting copy of their ID and a reference letter from their supervisor/mentor/funding body. Citizens of foreign countries are required to submit further documentation as to why they need to carry out research in Italy. They will also likely need to have some knowledge of Italian or work alongside someone who does when making their application and during their time at the archive.

The entrance to the archive is on the left side of the Ministry’s imposing building. Upon my arrival, I reported to reception and then went through security and bag checks. Once inside, I was asked to leave my belongings in one of the small lockers outside of the reading room. I was allowed to bring my own laptop, phone, notebook, camera (or scanner) inside the room. Personal reproduction is free but previous authorization is required. There is also a photocopying machine, but it can’t be used if records are in poor physical condition (and if working on pre-WW2 collections, it is likely that they are dusty and/or have deteriorated).

The ACS is open to researchers Monday-Friday 9:00-18:45 and Saturdays 9:00-13:00. A photo ID will be required each day to access the reading room, and small lockers are available on the ground floor. On the first floor, first-time visitors will need to register and to briefly describe their research. Photocopying and photography are allowed but at a fee set by the archive. Inside the building there is only a small area with a few vending machines, but the outside area is better served if one is in need of a short break.

During my time at MAE’S archive, I collected textual evidence of a diplomatic dispute between Italy and the United States concerning film trade. The production by US film companies of films spoken partially or wholly in Italian and which portrayed characters of Italian heritage and/or episodes and figures from national history – such as, for example, Scarface (1932), Farewell to Arms (1932), Idiot’s Delight (1937) – triggered a remarkable exchange of correspondence between the two countries: Rome accused the North American film majors of insulting the prestige and the dignity of the Italian nation and people, repeatedly requesting through the Italian embassy in Washington (but also drawing the large Italian diplomatic network in the US and across the world into the dispute) a halt to the production and the international circulation of any film which could offend Italian sensibilities.

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b. 5, 1931, f. 12, Italy and the Italian language in American cinema

The Hays Office, alongside the US State Department, communicated regularly with the Italian Office via Washington and New York to reassure the Italian government of their intention to treat any foreign background sympathetically as to avoid disturbing in any way “the progress of international amity”. The Italians were not the only ones whose complaints the MPPPDA had to deal with  ̶  the Mexicans and the French, for example, also protested strongly against Hollywood’s negative stereotyping and inaccurate historical portrayals (one can read more on the subject in Ruth Vasey’s pioneering The World According to Hollywood 1918-1939).

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b. 12, 1932, f. 11, Italy in American cinema; Scarface and others

MPPDA’s contacts with Italian officials in the US were generally very amicable. Consuls, ambassadors and representatives of the film industries occasionally met to discuss office matters, but also for private film screenings, dinners and other social outings. Aside from some occasional unresolved episodes of friction, mostly caused by Rome’s unabashed political interference in Hollywood’s business, this seemingly cordial relationship lasted until 1938, when the majors embargoed the Italian market in reaction to the fascist monopoly laws of the same year.

The ACS conserve rich documentation related to the development of the Italian film industry under Mussolini, such as, for example, finance and legal documents attesting to the state’s involvement in the film industry, correspondence, screenplays and photographs. I was interested in providing textual evidence for Mussolini’s infamous decision to silence and later ban from theatrical distribution early sound films spoken in a foreign language. I was also looking for further examples of state censorship to complement the data that I previously collected at MAE and during my PhD at the Italia Taglia archive of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e il Turismo (MiBACT) [Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism]. Other interesting archival records were also discovered serendipitously, such as evidence of the cordial relationship between Mussolini and US film companies such as Fox and Columbia, or correspondence discussing the organisation of the dubbing industry in Rome in the 1930s.

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b.18, 1933, f. 16, Mussolini Speaks

However, research into materials that interested me was not as straightforward as that at MAE. Several hours were spent inspecting the existing ACS catalogues for relevant information. A systematic enquiry into their vast collections was significantly complicated by the fact that documents related to the development of the Italian film industry and to the political personalities involved in the film trade 1) are not always inventoried/catalogued; 2) are sometimes missing from the folders; 3) appear erratically under different offices such as the Ministries of the Interiors, of Corporations, of Trade, of Finance, of Press and Propaganda, of Popular Culture, as well as in the Duce’s Office, the State Press Agency Stefani, the Office for Propaganda abroad and so on (including respective sub-offices!).

Research into the textual records of MAE and ACS expanded my existing knowledge of the relation between the fascist Italian government and the US film industry between the two world wars. It also enriched my understanding of the inner workings of the Foreign Office and of the role that ambassadors and consuls played in the international traffic of films. Some of the archival findings have since found their way in my first monograph, while others are forthcoming in chapters published in edited books. A case study on 1932 Scarface can be found here.


[i] The project also allowed for a period of research in Los Angeles (the Margaret Herrick Library, UCLA’s Film and Television Archive and the Warner Bros. archive).

[ii] I also visited the National Central Library, the Biblioteca Alessandrina, the Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and the Cineteca Nazionale.


Carla Mereu Keating obtained a PhD in Italian from the University of Reading (UK). She currently holds a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship in the School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol (UK). Her research project investigates Hollywood’s film translation industry and the introduction and developments of dubbing in Europe. She has published several articles on media translation history, censorship and ethnicity and is the author of The Politics of Dubbing. Film Censorship and State Intervention in the Translation of Foreign Cinema in Fascist Italy (Peter Lang, 2016). She co-organises Migrating Texts, an annual series of seminars and masterclasses exploring subtitling, translation and adaptation.


 

‘Our Day Out’ – Memories from the Keith Medley Archive

Ian Bradley, Liverpool John Moores University and Sue Potts, Institute of Cultural Capital

7 December 2018


In 2009 Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) was introduced to a largely forgotten collection of negatives, ledgers and glass plates by the family of a local commercial and press photographer Keith Medley. The collection was eventually donated to the University and is and currently located at the Special Collections and Archives at the university.

Following a successful bid by the Liverpool Screen School at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to the Heritage Lottery Fund, work commenced on developing a media archival project utilising a selection of images from the archives which eventually formed the backbone of a project entitled Our Day Out

Keith Medley worked in and around Merseyside for most of his career between 1949 until his retirement in 1987. The accompanying photographic ledgers revealed a broad range of subject material drawn from around the region documenting a variety of events including: sport, portraiture and commerce. A small portion of the archive also featured the local seaside resort of New Brighton and many of the original negatives and glass slides show activities from the resorts heyday back in the early 1960s.

The resort of New Brighton is a small seaside town on the Wirral coast at the mouth of the River Mersey. It was a favourite destination for family outings from the nearby city of Liverpool and many made the short journey across the river via the New Brighton ferry service. This aspect of the collection portrayed typical seaside activities and included many of the resorts former attractions including: its pier, fairground and large outdoor bathing pool. Because of its long association with the City of Liverpool residents from around the region affectionately remembered the resorts heyday as a place of fun and entertainment.

Figure 1: New Brighton Beach and Pier c.1965

Figure 2: Open Air Swimming Pool c.1965

Our Day Out utilised a segment of the archive and work commenced on digitising a selection of negatives and glass plates. These were initially uploaded to the photo sharing website Flickr and provided an opportunity to collate the available resources and illustrate the extent of the archive available

A small representative sample from the collection, depicting typical seaside activities, was assembled to form a series of memory packs to be used by student volunteers as part of a series of workshops conducted at two local community centres in Liverpool – The Poppy Centre, run by Age Concern, and Kensington Fields Community Association. Working with pensioners from both centres, the activity workshops encouraged moments of personal recollection and at times lively debate around the theme of family excursions and teenage visits to the seaside. Although a number of participants were initially rather hesitant, particularly about their ability to recall events so far back in time, however, the use of photographic documentation provided an effective means prompting memory discourse.

Audio recordings from these workshops provided useful context and helped determine subsequent lines of enquiry. The workshops were also seen as an effective icebreaker helping to break down the age barrier between volunteers and student helpers while encouraging further participation.

Following this initial success volunteers expressed a keen interest in developing their role and participation with the project subsequently volunteering to take part in a series of more personalised interviews to be conducted in front of camera and with each interview adding further depth and voice to the collection.

The second phase of the project built on the notion of the traditional seaside post card and involved the creation of a series of individual personalised post cards depicting a number of images drawn from the collection, each one selected by the our volunteers.

Figures 3 and 4: Post Card Templates

Figure 5: Post Card Reverse

The ensuing post cards also incorporated excerpts taken from interviews, again further extending the post card metaphor while providing a recognisable association with the past, which contributors could directly relate to. This approach was further augmented by the integration of Quick Response (QR) codes, printed on the reverse, which enabled access to individual video interviews using appropriate smart phone technology.

It was felt that by facilitating access to traditional and familiar forms of distribution, participants were given a more tangible and recognisable keepsake. The post cards also offered further opportunity for distribution amongst friends and family and provided opportunity, for those with appropriate technology, to have access to video transcripts via the OR codes.

The final phase of the project involved the creation of a dedicated website to host outputs and promote comment and further reflection. The website, entitled ‘Our Day Out’ also included a short form documentary by way of an introduction.

This experience was also replicated through social media channels, which again extended discussion and provided further context. In some instances the posting and sharing of content threw up some unexpected consequences, including several postings, which later identified individuals from the archive.

To celebrate the completion of the project, a series of exhibitions featuring framed photographs together with contributions collected from all the interviews was available at the two participating centres and a further and more formal exhibition was curated at the Museum of Liverpool in 2016.

Our Day Out brought the existence of the Keith Medley archive to the public eye and successfully demonstrated the potential of the archive as a valuable social document bringing about substantial public interest. Our Day Out has also tested the water with the collection and demonstrated the potential of such an archive as important social record of everyday life.


Ian Bradley, Lecturer Media Production, Liverpool Screen School, Liverpool John Moores University

Sue Potts, Knowledge Exchange and Business Manager, The Institute of Cultural Capital


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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