The Internet Archive Now Digitizing 1,000,000+ Objects from a Massive Cinema History Library

Major motion pic­tures need the work of writ­ers, direc­tors, actors, cin­e­matog­ra­phers, and a slew of oth­er pro­fes­sion­als besides. That group also includes researchers, whose role has until recent­ly gone prac­ti­cal­ly uncel­e­brat­ed out­side the indus­try. In 2015, film­mak­er Daniel Raim brought the work of the film researcher to light with Harold and Lil­lian: A Hol­ly­wood Love Sto­ry, about pro­duc­tion design­er Harold Michel­son and his researcher wife Lil­lian. “In Raim’s doc­u­men­tary, she talks about work­ing on Fid­dler on the Roof and the film­mak­ers need­ed to know what a Jew­ish wom­an’s under­gar­ments looked like in the 1890s,” writes The Hol­ly­wood Reporter’s Emi­ly Hilton. How could she find such obscure infor­ma­tion?

“Michel­son sat on a bench at Fair­fax and Bev­er­ly near a Jew­ish deli and spoke to women who were about the right age to have been alive in that era.” One of these women “ran home and grabbed a sewing pat­tern for her to ref­er­ence. This research inspired the out­fits that Τevye’s daugh­ters wear in the num­ber: knee length bloomers with scal­loped edges.”

As yet, this pat­tern has­n’t appeared in the Michel­son Cin­e­ma Research Library, now host­ed online at the Inter­net Archive. But it may yet, as the project of dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing has hard­ly begun: it was just last year that the nona­ge­nar­i­an Lil­lian Michel­son donat­ed to the Archive her for­mi­da­ble col­lec­tion of research mate­ri­als, amassed over her long career.

“After near­ly six decades serv­ing film­mak­ers first at Samuel Gold­wyn, then the Amer­i­can Film Insti­tute, Zoetrope Stu­dio, Para­mount and Dream­Works,” writes the Los Ange­les Times’ Mary McNa­ma­ra, “the library filled 1,594 box­es: tens of thou­sands of books, pho­tographs, mag­a­zines and a panoply of oth­er visu­al resources. All of this had been sit­ting for five years in a stor­age facil­i­ty, paid for by friends who could not bear to see it all destroyed.” Now that the dig­i­tal archival process is under­way, you can browse the first 1,300 or so entries at the Inter­net Archive, which allows users to vir­tu­al­ly check out the Michel­son Cin­e­ma Research Library’s books on sub­jects rang­ing from the­atri­cal cos­tumes and vin­tage cin­e­ma lob­by cards to places like Japan and Paris to less expect­ed top­ics like the Amaz­ing Kre­skin and the exter­nals of the Catholic Church.

But then, a Hol­ly­wood researcher must be pre­pared to learn about any­thing, and by all accounts Lil­lian Michel­son was per­haps the great­est of them all. In addi­tion to its com­pre­hen­sive­ness, her library became a hang­out of choice for a vari­ety of stu­dio pro­fes­sion­als and celebri­ties includ­ing Tom Waits. (“I wouldn’t be sur­prised if that’s how he found some time to unwind,” says Raim, “just drink­ing tea there.”) The Inter­net Archive describes her col­lec­tion as con­sist­ing of “5,000 books, 30,000 pho­tographs, and more than 1,000,000 clip­pings, scrap­books and ephemera,” more of which will come online as time goes by. Even­tu­al­ly the site will con­tain all the mate­ri­als from which Michel­son drew vital knowl­edge for film­mak­ers like Roman Polan­s­ki, Alfred Hitch­cock, and Stan­ley Kubrick. And if her research mate­ri­als sat­is­fied those three, they’re more than good enough for us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10,000 Clas­sic Movie Posters Get­ting Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Har­ry Ran­som Cen­ter at UT-Austin: Free to Browse & Down­load

40,000 Film Posters in a Won­der­ful­ly Eclec­tic Archive: Ital­ian Tarkovsky Posters, Japan­ese Orson Welles, Czech Woody Allen & Much More

Down­load 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them How­ev­er You Like

Good Movies as Old Books: 100 Films Reimag­ined as Vin­tage Book Cov­ers

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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