Technical Journals Collection (1924-1965)
Cinema is subject to ongoing technological change. Although 35mm has been the standard for filmmakers for over 100 years, improvements in film stocks, sound recording, color reproduction, cameras, lenses, lighting and other hardware have been rapid and continuous.
The earliest films and later the earliest sound systems were not interchangeable, so a process to set standards was developed. The Society of Motion Picture Engineers was established in 1916 as a professional association for the film industry, and SMPE members were often department heads or senior personnel in the industry. The Society’s journal – Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, later known as Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers – documents the growth of that organization along with the industry they served. The transition to sound is presented as the technological achievement it was, and the changes to production techniques and modifications to movie theaters are equally well covered. We can follow color from its shaky roll-out in the late 1920s, to the triumph of Technicolor in the late 1930s and then the introduction of its much more convenient competitor Eastman Color. Not every development was a success – there are early attempts at wide screen in 1930, and multi-channel sound later in the decade, and experiments such as sepia toned release prints from 1938 and several years after that never really achieved the desired impact.
International Photographer covers some of the same topics from the perspective of the union craft personnel. The magazine was published by Local 659 of the I.A.T.S.E. and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada, with a membership of camera and lab personnel and projectionists. There was a surprisingly large amount of space devoted to film history, with numerous well researched articles by associate editor Earl Theisen. International Photographer also provided extensive coverage of films made on expeditions and far-off locations, with articles by the second cameraman on MGM’s African film, Trader Horn (1930), the Vanderbilt expedition (1932), Ceylon (1933), etc.
There are multiple narratives in film history, and technology often takes second place to stars or genres. But the look of films – whether glorious Technicolor and stereophonic sound or the dark rainy nights of film noir – is often the result of creative filmmakers applying new technological advances to storytelling. Those advances are told in these pages.