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.


 

A Day at the Archives… The IFI Irish Film Archive, Dublin

Ciara Chambers, University College Cork

27 November 2018


The IFI Irish Film Archive recently launched The Irish Independence Film Collection on the IFI player amidst a flurry of media attention in Ireland and beyond. The project, funded by the Irish government’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht through the 2016 project office, has repatriated newsreel stories covering Ireland by Pathé and Topical Budget between 1914-1930. The IFI Irish Film Archive worked closely with British Pathé and the British Film Institute, encouraging a return to the original nitrate stock to digitise it to the highest possible quality, offering much sharper digital transfers than the older, low resolution standard-definition telecines. This is groundbreaking work in the preservation of newsreel material, and it has happened at a time of acute reflection, nostalgia and re-evaluation of national identity. Setting aside Ireland’s complex relationship with Britain as the Brexit crisis unfolds, the country is currently in the middle of a ‘decade of centenaries’, a period between 2012 and 2022 marked by a range of public commemoration as modern Ireland reconsiders the twentieth-century events that were part of the founding of the state, with a particular focus on the Easter Rising (1916), the War of Independence (1919-21), the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23).

Courtesy of LMDÓC / Patrick Jordan / Roman Garcia Albir

This is just one of a range of innovative projects undertaken by the Irish Film Archive. It recently restored, digitized and catalogued 8000 rolls of 35mm film containing a large collection of Irish advertisements. An important focus of this project, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, was to make the material accessible to the general public, and it can now be viewed here: https://ifiplayer.ie/adverts/ The Irish Film Archive also collaborated with University College Cork on Capturing the Nation (funded by the Irish Research Council) which focussed on the digitization and cataloguing of small-gauge Irish amateur film. With innovative projects like these, the IFA strives to achieve a balance between preservation and access, always ensuring that material is made available to the general public through screenings, the IFI player and DVD projects (some of these, for instance GAA Gold – depicting archival material covering Irish sports – were bestsellers in Ireland). The expert team, headed by Kasandra O’Connell, works tirelessly and often with limited funding to preserve and contextualise Ireland’s filmic heritage. The innovative nature of IFA projects has not gone unnoticed by the International archive community; Access and Digital Collections Developer Kieran O’Leary was awarded Focal International employee of the year in 2018.

Founded in 1986, the IFI Irish Film Archive includes in its vaults a range of indigenous film production from 1897 to the present day including feature films, documentaries, newsreels and amateur material. The work of prominent industry directors is preserved alongside films made within local communities, capturing representations of Ireland that chart shifting social attitudes and conditions.

Odd Man Out

The Quiet Man

The portrayal of Ireland on film has been a largely problematic one due to a lack of a sustained indigeneous film industry until the 1970s.  Prior to this, in narrative filmmaking, Ireland was depicted by external filmmakers and often appeared as rural idyll (particularly in American depictions like John Ford’s The Quiet Man, 1952) or as dark, violent and dangerous territory (as in some British portrayals like Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out, 1947). Even the majority of newsreels produced for cinema audiences (and the only source of onscreen news available to the Irish population before the advent of television in the 1950s) were, with a few exceptions, produced by external companies with a tendency to depict scenes of rural primitivism and an inherent violent Irish disposition. This meant that Ireland watched a portrayal of itself which was tinged with postcolonial connotations and often at odds with day-to-day reality.  However, throughout this time amateur local filmmakers were capturing events which hold valuable clues to an internal social and historical perspective on twentieth-century Ireland. Digitizing and exploring this material poses questions on how the Irish amateur gaze depicted modern Ireland and offers the possibility of constructing an alternative narrative to that of mainstream cinema. Sitting alongside professional representations of Ireland in the Irish Film Archive’s facilities in Dublin and Maynooth, this material is a significant cultural resource for researchers keen to understand the development of filmic portrayals of Ireland.

Visiting the Irish Film Archive, located in Temple Bar, the heart of Dublin city centre, is a pleasure. It is attached to the Irish Film Institute, a bustling three-screen arthouse cinema space which hosts a range of festivals and special events and runs an extensive lifelong learning education programme. Local filmmakers and artists often use the IFI’s busy café bar as a meeting spot and you never know who you might bump into there at any time of the day or evening.

Bookings need to be made in advance, and often the viewing facilities are booked out for extended periods of time so it’s vital that you make a reservation and liaise with staff about the material you’d like to see, particularly since the catalogue is not available online. Preliminary enquiries should be made in writing, addressed to access@irishfilm.ie. If the material you need to view is held on film and has not yet been digitized, it will be added to the transfer list and this could take up to six weeks to complete, so it’s important that you plan your visit well in advance. The staff are generous in sharing both their time and expertise and it’s likely that after a visit you’ll come away with even more information about the collections than you anticipated. And if you’re looking for contextual material, the IFI also hosts the Tiernan McBride library, one of the largest collections of film-related publications in Ireland.

https://ifi.ie/archive/research-library/

A large collection of books and DVDs are also available for purchase in the IFI shop:

https://ifi.ie/shop/

Ever proactive in facing the challenges of a small nation with a contested and problematic history, the Irish Film Institute is currently compiling a Moving Image Register to better assess the range of material in need of preservation. A similar survey of archival material is being conducted in Northern Ireland, which does not have a dedicated physical space for the preservation of moving images. However, in 2000, the Digital Film Archive (DFA) was launched by the Northern Ireland Film Commission (now Northern Ireland Screen) and a range of material has been added to it since. The DFA holds narrative and experimental film, television, news, animation and amateur material from 1897 through to the present day and is currently available at a range of museums, libraries, universities and heritage-related locations in Northern Ireland. A full catalogue and a range of the collections are available for viewing here: www.digitalfilmarchive.net

If you are looking for material related to Northern Ireland, it is worth checking on both the Digital Film Archive and in the catalogues of the Irish Film Archive. For queries related to the DFA, and to learn more about its educational outreach programme, see here: https://digitalfilmarchive.net/contact

Northern Ireland Screen is also working closely with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) to preserve the archives of local broadcaster UTV and it is hoped that some of this invaluable material will soon join other UTV gems on the DFA http://www.northernirelandscreen.co.uk/news/utv-archive-preserved-public-record-office-northern-ireland/

If you’re visiting Dublin from outside Ireland, a large amount of accommodation is available within walking distance of the Irish Film Institute and you’ll find numerous pubs and eateries along the cobbled streets of Temple Bar. Be warned though, it’s a lively spot, particularly on weekends, so if you need some quiet time to reflect on your research, you may want to stay somewhere a little more serene. Dublin, of course, is the home of Guinness, so if you’d like to indulge in a pint or an Irish coffee after a hard day’s research, neither will be hard to find… Sláinte!


Dr Ciara Chambers is Head of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, author of Ireland in the Newsreels (Irish Academic Press, 2012) and co-editor of Researching Newsreels (Palgrave, 2018). She is a member of the editorial board of Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, book reviews editor for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and a member of the IAMHIST Council. Her research interests include newsreels, amateur film and the recycling of archival images. She has worked on a range of archival projects and digitization initiatives with the Irish Film Archive, Northern Ireland Screen, Belfast Exposed Photography, UTV, BBC, and the British Universities Film and Video Council. She is scriptwriter and associate producer on Éire na Nuachtscannán (Ireland in the Newsreels), a six-part television series broadcast on TG4 in autumn 2017 http://www.irelandinthenewsreels.com

https://www.ucc.ie/en/filmstudies/people/


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… The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University

Anthony T. McKenna, University of Derby

6 November 2018


Fifteen years ago, I was struggling to decide what the focus of my PhD thesis would be. A lifelong obsession with 1950s and 60s Americana had led me to the name Joseph E. Levine, one of American cinema’s great showmen. Scanning the internet for information about him, I happened across the website of the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, which informed me that the center held some Levine-related items. The website is now much improved, but it was rather rudimentary then, so I contacted the center for some more information. Alex Rankin, assistant director for acquisitions, replied that they had forty-three boxes of Levine’s personal papers. The focus of my PhD research was thus decided, and I visited the centre seven times over the next thirteen years, researching my PhD thesis and subsequent monograph on Levine.

Levine was the most versatile movie promoter of his generation, and certainly the most diverse. He promoted a dizzying inventory of juxtaposing film forms, from European arthouse to cheap exploitation to teen weirdies to Hollywood blockbusters. It is therefore fitting that his papers should be housed in an archive bearing the name of Howard Gotlieb, who was a considerable showman in his own right. Gotlieb’s unaffected eclecticism and terrier-like tenacity is imprinted on the archive. It holds more than 2000 collections and is a tribute to the indiscriminate appetites and acquisitive nature of Gotlieb, who saw archival acquisitions as a combative, zero-sum contest.

Gotlieb struggled, strategized and schemed to create BU’s archive. Lacking the funds to build a prestigious collection from scratch following his appointment in 1962, Gotlieb asked promising or up-and-coming figures to donate their papers to the archive in the hope that they would one day become eminent. Many remained unknown, but others became significant figures in American culture, including James Clavell, David Halberstam, Dan Rather, and Martin Luther King. Collections belonging to the already notable required a different approach. Gotlieb was relentless in pursuit of his quarry, and would charm, flatter, cajole, grovel, or simply exasperate his targets. He emerged victorious in securing the personal papers of Fred Astaire, Rex Harrison, and Bette Davis; but was battle-scarred and defeated when he lost a prize, such as when Gloria Swanson donated her papers to the opposition at the University of Texas, despite Gotlieb’s persistent pestering campaign.

The Joseph E. Levine collection was acquired through more traditional means. Levine was a native Bostonian, and the collection was donated to the center by his son, Richard. The collection spans Levine’s entire career in the movie business but, as with most collections, there are many frustrating gaps. Of interest to even the most casual observer are letters from the likes of Spiro Agnew, Richard M. Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, who ask Levine for advice or thank him for campaign contributions. Horror buffs would be thrilled to meet Fats, the ventriloquist’s dummy that drives his owner to murder in Levine’s production of Magic (1978).  For the Levine researcher, there are many more treasures.

Levine may have corresponded with presidents in the 1960s and 70s, but in the 1930s he was hawking exploitation films around New England. The financial ledger for one of these, The Body Beautiful (c. 1938), a long-forgotten sex-hygiene film, provides insights into Levine’s operation at this stage in his career, and the appetite New Englanders had for disreputable films. The files relating to another of Levine’s early career ventures, a feature-length compilation of silent film clips entitled Gaslight Follies (1945), are especially fascinating. The files contain press clippings from local newspapers, along with press and publicity materials, and photographs of Levine on the road. The portrait of a tyro-showman that emerges from these papers, of Levine promoting his own film in the provinces and proudly mounting related reports in a scrapbook, gives wonderful insights into Levine’s early days as a promoter.

The real gold of this archive lies at the opposite end of Levine’s career, in the wealth of information related to A Bridge Too Far (1977), his biggest production. These files contain letters and telexes to and from the key players: the director Richard Attenborough, screenwriter William Goldman, members of the cast, crew, and many others. The detailed correspondence takes the researcher from casting to completion and is supplemented by the personal diary of Levine’s wife, Rosalie, which provides further detail. Researchers are usually only given glimpses of a film’s production in the archives. It is rare indeed to be given so many pieces of a jigsaw just waiting to be put together.

Other films well represented in the collection include Magic – preview cards reveal that test audiences felt that the evil ventriloquist’s dummy trope was pretty hackneyed back then; Gandhi (1981) – Levine was deeply involved in casting before he abruptly pulled out of the project in 1979; and Tattoo (1981) – Maud Adams was cast as the female lead after Nastassja Kinski failed to show up for a meeting in Paris. Levine’s 1960s heyday is, however, poorly represented. But his appointment book from 1965 reveals many meetings with the then editor of Variety, Abel Green, which may go some way to explaining the paper’s positive accounts of Levine’s antics during this time. There is also Levine’s personal copy of the October 1961 issue of Mad magazine, which contains a strip entitled ‘Mad Visits Joe LeVenal: Hollywood’s Latest Producing Genius’, and it would be interesting to know what Levine thought of seeing himself ridiculed in this manner. One suspects he would have approved, given that the Mad lampoon was only a slight exaggeration of Levine’s own exaggerations – and it was free publicity.

I’ll wrap up with a few pointers. The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center is free to use by appointment, and easy to find – just get the T to Boston University Central Station, and it is on the fifth floor of the Mugar Library Building. The archivists are knowledgeable and keen to discuss their collections. No cameras or electronic equipment is allowed in the reading room – pencil and paper only (and white handling gloves, of course).

Finally, no report on the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center would be complete without a mention of the grand and ornate reading room, one of the most beautiful I have ever worked in. It is such a beautiful place to work in that you may wish to plan your next research project according to the archive’s holdings. Perhaps I might write that book about Leonard Nimoy after all …


Anthony T. McKenna is a senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Derby. He is the author of Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and his Revolutions in Film Promotion, co-author of The Man Who Got Carter: Michael Klinger, Independent Film Production and the British Film Industry, and co-editor of Beyond the Bottom Line: The Producer in Film and Television Studies.


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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