El Cucaracho

December 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

[Editor's note: The following post is from our intrepid AV sleuth, John Kostka, UCLA MIAS '15. If you have any leads regarding El Cucaracho, let us know!]

In the age of Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia, it can be easy to forget that some information lies beyond our immediate reach. In a strange sense, it’s almost heartening (or at least humbling) to be reminded that the vast scope of human knowledge still harbors certain lacunae. Nevertheless, and particularly for the archivist or researcher, the desire to know remains difficult to ignore, and it can become hard not to take such gaps in knowledge as slights against personal pride. After all, for librarians and archivists, finding information is our line of work. It is, quite literally, our job to know, or at least to know how to find. When we’re vexed at what we’re supposed to do best, it can feel as though the proverbial gauntlet has been thrown.

Just such a conundrum presented itself before the UCLA Library Preservation Department several months ago and has proven the object of a good deal of wonder ever since. Hidden away, amongst a personal collection of reels housing home movies and old Laurel & Hardy shorts, was a 16mm mystery labelled simply, “Cartoon.” Upon reviewing the object on a rewind bench (two hand-cranked spindles used for moving through the print without the benefit of a projector), a close inspection revealed the cartoon to be an animated short entitled “El Cucaracho.” The print was complete, with nary a splice down its length, and in generally good physical shape, save for a worrisome whiff of pungent odor, harbinger of the dreaded “vinegar syndrome,” a process of chemical degradation in acetate-base film which leads to shrinking, warping and the eventual decomposition of the film base itself.

Thankfully, in addition to being in decent physical condition, the featurette was complete and included a full list of credits; however, the names unfortunately yielded more mysteries than they did solutions. Of greatest import was the opening production logo, for “Producciones Animadas Val-Mar.” A bit of cyber-sleuthing revealed “Val-Mar Productions,” later renamed “Gamma Productions,” to have been a Mexican animation studio responsible for much of the outsourced, non-US animation for such American television classics as The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. Keith Scott’s The Moose That Roared, an excellent book-length history of R&B, provided some exciting background information on the studio, as well as information on a number of the production members listed in “El Cucaracho’s” credits. However, still no mention was made of the short itself, which overall proved to be largely a research-query dead-end. All searches conducted on the company itself provided little beyond information on its contributions to American television. Furthermore, while investigation into the various production team members listed in the credits revealed some interesting points of history (several, including director Ernesto Terrazas, had started out in American animation during the 30s), they still yielded almost nothing on “El Cucaracho.”

When hitting a roadblock in research, it is often good to step back and take stock of what you know. We in the Preservation Center knew we had a cartoon titled “El Cucaracho,” on 16mm, black-and-white, Gevaert film stock. The film measures about 10 minutes long, and, despite its hints of early-onset vinegar syndrome, it should remain fairly stable if, as we have done, moved to a cool, dry climate for safekeeping. The film was produced by “Producciones Animadas Val-Mar” (the only Spanish-language credit on the print), and was directed by Ernesto Terrazas (often credited as Ernest Terrazas). It was written by Carlos Manriquez, with backgrounds by Sergio Delatorre, and the animators were Claudio Bana, Ignacio Renteria, and Miguel Arellano. Its music was composed by Emilio Barney.

Perhaps the most important lesson any researcher or archivist can learn is not to be afraid to ask for help. In light of our lack of success with both online search engines and UCLA’s scholarly databases, our next step, unfortunately also unfruitful, was to reach out to scholars familiar with Val-Mar. Keith Scott’s generous assistance, for example, put us in touch with several American representatives who had worked with Val-Mar personnel over the years; unfortunately, none of them, either, could provide anything in the way of history on the mysterious “El Cucaracho.” Nevertheless, while its origins may continue to remain a mystery, our hunt itself remains far from over. If anyone out there should have any information on a short cartoon called “El Cucaracho,” we would certainly love to hear from you. In the meantime, our hunt continues!

REPORT: AMIA 2014

October 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

A very tiny film camera

Dino Everett let the audience handle this tiny movie camera, invented by Eric Berndt in the early 1960s.

ED. NOTE: Stalwart AV grad assistant John Kostka has crafted the following report of highlights from his trip to the AMIA Conference in Savannah last week. John is starting his second year of the UCLA Moving Image Archive Studies program.

Over the past week (Oct. 7-11), archivists from across the nation (and indeed the globe!) turned out for the year’s annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference in Savannah, Georgia, with the UCLA Library preservation staff providing several members among their ranks. Over the course of a fun and enlightening five days, Library staff had the opportunity to make a number of new friends, sample the local cuisine and nightlife, and take in some truly exciting presentations!

Conference attendees didn’t have to wait long for exceptional food for thought, as an early talk by George Eastman House archivists Nancy Kauffman, Jared Case, Ken Fox and Stacey Doyle, “Return to the Fold: Reuniting Filmmaker Manuscripts with Their Films,” provided right from the start fascinating insights into issues of cataloging. Long held as semi-separate fields, moving image archiving and more traditional forms of paper-based archiving each tend to be equally confounding to practitioners of the other, with moving image archivists frequently viewing paper-based elements of collections as supplemental, and vice versa.  In discussing Eastman House’s approach to conserving several film and paper donations from a group of notable documentary and experimental filmmakers, the archive staff attempted to bridge this divide, underlining the importance of each type of item as a complement to the other. In developing a more unified cataloging system to better encompass and make accessible the entirety of these collections, Kauffman et al pointed the way toward an important and exciting shift in thinking about the ways archivists process and provide access to diverse types of archival documentation, as well as providing a greater sense of unity for the archival field as a whole. Despite its location in the very first timeslot of Thursday morning (the first day of presentations), it was nevertheless immediately clear that this panel was one of the highlights of the conference.

Outside of the UCLA Library, representatives of many of the Preservation Department’s brother and sister staff made their presence known throughout AMIA with a number of similarly exceptional talks. UCLA Film & Television Archive staff Mark Quigley and Dan Einstein capped off Thursday as part of a delightful panel highlighting treasures rescued off 2” Quad video-tape (the earliest form of professional broadcast videotape, which appeared during the ‘50s), which also included Jeff Martin, Margie Compton of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection, and David Crossthwait of DC Video. Quigley again contributed, along with UCLA FTVA’s Todd Weiner, to an excellent panel on increasing digital access to LGBT research materials via the web. Quigley and Weiner’s presentation highlighted the FTVA’s recent push to digitize and make available online the entire run of In the Life, a groundbreaking LGBT public television newscast, the archives of which were recently deposited with the FTVA. Finally, students from UCLA’s masters program in Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS), made their mark with several superlative poster presentations, as well as an entertaining and enlightening talk by program first-year Jonathan Furmanski, also of the Getty Research Institute, on his recent rediscovery of playful 1970s LA video artist Cynthia Maughan.

While UCLA may have been represented in abundance, it was nevertheless well outstripped by the numerous other archive representatives at the conference, many of whom provided their own fascinating glimpses of current archival trends from around the globe. Irene Lim, Sanchai Chotirosseranee, Karen Chan and Mick Newham each contributed to a fascinating Saturday morning progress report on the current state of their home archives, which include the National Archives of Singapore, Film Archive Thailand, the Asian Film Archive, and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, respectively. Similarly, a follow-up presentation by Juana Suarez, Julio Cabrio, Paula Felix-Didier and Julieta Keldjian provided the Latin American counterpart, presenting a status report on institutions as varied as Proimagenes Colombia, Universidad de la Republica, Museo del Cine de Buenos Aires, and the Archivo Audiovisual Universidad Catolica del Uruguay.

As fun as presentations may be, however, AMIA 2014 nevertheless afforded numerous opportunities for attendees to let their hair down as well. Opening and closing cocktail receptions afforded many attendees – and particularly speakers – to get to better get to know each other, while Wednesday night’s annual AMIA Trivia Throwdown made for exciting and good-spirited fun, as usual (with this attendee even walking away with a brand-new Blu-ray of Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants!). Outside the hotel walls, the historic city of Savannah proved a charming backdrop for the conference, with dangling Spanish moss and the town’s numerous historic squares contributing to a distinctly homey charm. In terms of food and drink, conference attendees gravitated to the nearby Coffee Fox, which served up a horchata latte to die for, as well as Leopold’s Ice Cream, which made for a particularly sweet treat after the conference’s annual Archival Screening Night. Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a traditional southern family-style restaurant which served up in excess of twenty (20!) all-you-can-eat delights, proved hands-down the highlight of this attendee’s dining experience in Savannah, though the dark horse Pie Society, purveyor of traditional English sweet and savory pastries, came in an improbable close second.

With so much to do, it’s unsurprising that the five days and nights of AMIA 2014 passed by in almost a blur, though it remains hard to believe that there are now twelve months to go before we all meet again. Nevertheless, if 2015’s conference proves anything like Savannah, I think we can all agree we have a lot to look forward to! See you in Portland!

-John Kostka

 

Shin Nichibei – New Japanese American News: A Preservation Project

July 18th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

Ed. Note: This is a guest post from our newest Preservation student assistant, Hilary McCreery. Hilary is about to start her second year in the UCLA MLIS program, and is actively pursuing interests in preservation and conservation topics.

A current project of interest in the UCLA Preservation Department entails the review of and recommendation for the digitization of Shin Nichibei: New Japanese American News, a newspaper that was published in Los Angeles in the mid-20th century. UCLA Library is the only known institution to hold copies of this newspaper, making the preservation and digitization of the news source more important than ever. More than just rare, this newspaper offers a distinct perspective of life in Los Angeles in the mid-20th century. Because its intended audience was constituents of a specific diaspora in Los Angeles (Japanese-American), the content of the paper represents issues and news stories that reflected the interests and concerns of this population. For this reason, Shin Nichibei would not necessarily contain the same news stories as larger regional newspapers (e.g. The Los Angeles Times) or would at least offer a different and unique perspective on the same issues covered by more mainstream newspapers. This newspaper would be a valuable resource for anyone studying the Japanese-American diaspora in Los Angeles or Japanese immigration in Los Angeles, as well as for anyone looking for historical, alternative news sources published in Los Angeles in the 1940s-1960s.Image of front page
The newspaper is printed in English and Japanese and features articles, classified advertisements, commercial advertisements, photography and a daily cartoon illustration. While the newspapers are generally intact, the condition of the paper is brittle and somewhat faded. Many pages have sustained tears at the edges due to poor handling.


In researching ways to better preserve and digitize this material, I came across several resources that detailed specific methods for the storage and handling of newspapers, as well as suggestions for best practices for digitization.

  • Library of Congress: Preservation Measures for Newspapers —The Library of Congress provides basic protocol and recommendations for handling and storing newspapers, as well as touches on conservation treatment and reformatting options for newspapers. This resource served as a good starting point in determining storage and handling standards for the Shin Nichibei preservation project.
  • Northeast Document Conservation Center: Storage & Handling —The Northeast Document Conservation Center offers many sources of information for caring for collections, both physical and digital. I found the Storage Solutions for Oversized Paper Artifacts especially helpful in determining storage options and protocol for the Shin Nichibei newspapers.
  • North Carolina Digital Heritage Center: Digitization Guidelines —The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center promotes the high-quality digitization of cultural heritage materials and offers recommendations for best practice in doing so. This resource was especially helpful in determining what hardware to use to digitize the Shin Nichibei newspapers. The website also offered specific processes for and examples of newspaper digitization, all of which was incredibly relevant to the Shin Nichibei preservation project.

Shin Nichibei is an important resource for the UCLA library and implementing best practices for handling and storage are crucial to help mitigate the deterioration and extend the lifespan of this historical resource. Moreover, digitizing the newspaper will allow for wider access to this unique resource, which in turn, will allow the history of the Japanese-American community in Los Angeles to be remembered forever.

 

Internship Report: Lyudmyla Bua

November 14th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

As a pre-program art conservation student, the prospect of traveling across the country to be under the tutelage of Kristen St. John at the UCLA Library Conservation Center [LCC] was thrilling. Before starting any projects, I was able to have a conversation with Kristen regarding what I was hoping to achieve from this internship. My objective was to further enhance my understanding of treatments of ephemeral materials, as well as to learn basic treatments for book conservation. Outside of treatments, I also wanted to learn how to make various enclosures for future storage of objects. Kristen made sure I fulfilled my goals and so much more. Before starting treatment, I read articles, wrote condition reports, and photo-documented to get to know the object.

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Halloween with Frederik Ruysch by Amanda Burr

October 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

 

 My work as a conservation technician for the UCLA Libraries Conservation Center exposes me to a broad range of materials from special collections.  I relish the surprises that come my way and love to tell friends about what I learn from these objects.  I am very pleased, then, to have the chance to share with you a book which, just in time for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, teems with macabre images of skeletons, disembodied organs, and fetuses preserved in jars.

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Internship Report: Ashleigh Russell

October 23rd, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

 

July 2013 saw me begin an eight week internship at UCLA Libraries Conservation Center, under the skilled supervision of collections conservator Kristen St. John. These past 8 weeks have sadly flown by and my time at UCLA Libraries Conservation Center (LCC) has been inspiring, challenging, rewarding and incredibly valuable to me in terms of my continued development as a conservator looking towards graduate level study.

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Never Judge A Tape By Its Shell, Part II (The Song That Never Ends)

September 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

My last blog post introduced some tricky video formats that could potentially store audio information in their depths. As promised, here is the continuation of that story. We left off pondering the differences between Betamax and Betacam. Betamax was released in 1975 with a horizontal resolution of approximately 250 lines. In 1983 Sony introduced BetaHi-Fi, where your Betamax tape recorded FM audio tracks with separate audio heads. There was also a VHS competitor for this known as VHS Hi-Fi. These formats were attractive as they provided noticeably higher quality audio than the popular compact cassettes. The bandwidth allocated to Betamax Hi-Fi was 500 kHz as opposed to VHS Hi-Fi’s 150 kHz. Eventually with the addition of PCM units Betamax could record full CD quality digital audio information on a video tape. There was a SuperBetamax format with approximately 300 lines of horizontal resolution and an “Extended Definition” or ED Betamax with 500 lines of horizontal resolution. Alas, their introduction came too late and JVC and its VHS tape won the format war. The last Betamax machine was manufactured in America in 1993.

 Betcam came on the scene in 1982, modeled after Betamax but using component video rather than composite and with a much higher tape speed. It also had 300 lines of horizontal resolution and a much higher chrominance resolution than Betamax. With Betacam SP came 340 lines of horizontal resolution and  two tape sizes: cameras used the small size and tape editing and playback decks could use either the large or the small size. Betacam SP also used a totally different magnetic tape formula than any previous iteration (Metal-formulated versus ferric oxide). A feature of Betacam SP decks is that they can play back regular Betacam tapes as well. Technically they could also potentially play back Betamax tapes, but since the newer decks travel at faster speeds, it is not recommended. Digital Betacam and Betacam SX cross over into the digital realm of recording video signals to tape—and frankly, I don’t even want to go there right now.

Lastly, I would like to introduce the format known as Fischer-Price’s PixelVision (or PXL-2000). Released in 1987, this was a format marketed specifically for children and young adults to record low resolution video signals onto their mounds of cheap, already purchased audio compact cassette tapes. In order to do this, PixelVision camera’s recorded bandwidths remarkably lower than a standard TV video signal, while at the same time utilizing a higher speed than audio requires in order to increase the bandwidth of the tape. There was also a special accompanying display monitor for playback. Each tape recorded approximately 10 minutes of footage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFNkdHDaPNQ

The moral of the story is: you can find a collection of “mixed tapes” lovingly recorded onto VHS; a live professional musical performance’s PCM audio stored on Betamax (which you could theoretically play in a Betacam SP deck); and some 12-year-old aspiring filmmaker’s remake of GODZILLA on a compact cassette tape. All bets are off with magnetic tape. Happy hunting, my archivist friends!

<<Siobhan Hagan

Resources for this article: www.palsite.com; www.mediacollege.com; and http://www.totalrewind.org/cameras/C_PXL2.htm

Never Judge A Tape By Its Shell: Part I (Beta)

September 5th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I recently taught a two day workshop in processing archival AV collections. The main objective of this workshop was to teach a handful of professionals how to identify key information from a collection full of audiovisual materials: information that can help them to understand what their organizations need to do to preserve these items. The first day of the workshop involved my lecturing and showing pictures of format examples that we would more than likely run into at a university archive. I was teaching up a storm how to ID the most basic of AV formats: and this is no easy feat as there are a ton of them! By the end of the first day I was feeling very confident indeed.

The second day we divided up into four groups, each with their own laptop, inventorying what turned out to be a collection of 4,000+ items. An hour into this, and my confidence deflated: we quickly ran into a lot of format recognition issues. Which honestly is typical with collections from the latter half of the 20th Century, but as an AV geek I took that for granted. Basic AV ID is not really so basic at all. From the 1920s to the 1950s, you will find acetate 8mm or 16mm film, 35mm film as acetate or nitrate. Once video came around in the late 1950s and Super 8mm in the 1960s, things started to get a lot more complicated. I love this complication because with numerous amateur moving image formats came competitive pricing, which brought movie making to the masses. The moving image method of communication no longer was only for the upper middle class due to expense and expertise needed. However much I love this fact (and realize that I would never know what I sounded like as a 3 year old without cheap home video), it sure can make life as an archivist really confusing. There were several formats we ran into that I did not cover in my previous day-long lecture: SoundScriber, an audio dictation format that looks like green 45’s; an MII video cassette tape; the difference between diacetate decomposition versus triacetate decomposition; and then, amongst boxes and boxes of Betacam tapes, we found this:

Two things stood out to me about this format: 1.) I had no idea Eastman Kodak got into the video cassette business, and 2.) despite this having the Betamax logo on it (the Greek symbol for “beta”) nowhere did it say “Betamax” or “Betacam”. Considering these tapes were recorded by the Athletics Department of a university, and it was stored with a bunch of other Betacams (and Betacam SPs), then this is probably a Betacam. I don’t think they would’ve switched recording technology, especially since Betacam SP is so much higher in quality (and therefore expense) than Betamax. But I wanted to supply some sort of definitive answer for the workshop attendees, not just a day full of maybe’s and probably’s. Turns out that Betacam and Betamax are mostly interchangeable, so the only way to tell the difference is by popping these questionable tapes into a machine—which we didn’t have on hand and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing if it was a very unique recording (which it did seem to be).  Oh, and just to trip you up a little bit more, it could also just be audio, because you can record audio-only on Betamax tapes which people occasionally did (probably more often than I would like to think). I would make an assumption that since this was once again recorded by the Athletics Department, they wanted visuals and not just audio, as the visuals are the most important aspect in studying game film (my Dad was a football coach). The solution turned out to be that there is no solution! What is the exact different between Betamax and Betacam? Oh, and then what about Betacam SP, SX or Digital Betacam? Tune in to the next UCLA Library Preservation Unit blog to find out, as well as more about another tricky AV format you might have hiding in your attic or your archive: Fischer-Price’s PixelVision!

 

<<Siobhan Hagan

Lots of labels (pt. 2)

August 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

This second blog post focuses on paper labels that have been cut into patterns before being adhered to the bookbindings. For pictures of other types of labels (ownership, library, etc), see my post from last week.

I find these cut paper labels completely charming. They record a title and sometimes composers name. The labels are adhered on to the front board of a binding. The bindings themselves are not luxurious and usually have paper covered boards or sometimes green vellum. I’ve seen marbled paper, paste papers, block printed paper, and solid-colored paper. As with the previous post click on an image for a larger view of the label. And again apologies for the poor quality cellphone photos taken in a dim basement!

The label below comes from Ferdinand Cortez: Oper in 3 Acten by Gaspare Spontini  (M1503.S77feG 1832):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lots of labels (pt.1)

August 20th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

 

As I’m finishing up surveying our Performing Arts Antiquarian Collection, I’ve started to go through the cellphone photos I’ve taken in terrible light of delightful collections. This is the first blog post of two on labels I’ve seen over many months. In this post I will share a broad range of label types, while a second post will examine more closely the cut pattern type of label at the top of this post  (the one above is from Abraham auf Moria by Johann Rolle M2003.R74A27 1785).

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