The College Magazine - Winter 2001
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Now playing: Lilly features new film archive
by Daniel J. Crowley

      Despite a renowned faculty of film scholars and its pioneering efforts in film studies in the 1960s, IU has always lacked one significant ingredient other schools strong in film education possess — a major film archive.

      All that will change with the David Bradley Collection, a voluminous private film archive that was bequeathed to the Lilly Library and arrived at the campus last spring.

      "With this collection, IU becomes a major player," said Beverly Byl, executive director of development for the university libraries.

      The collection, consisting of about 3,000 16-millimeter films and other cinema-related materials, covers the history of American and international cinema, from the beginnings of film to the 1970s.

      "It's a world-class private collection — with many of the films in beautiful condition," said Barbara Klinger, associate professor of communication and culture and director of that department’s film and media resources.

      The collection includes more than 100 of early U.S. innovator D.W. Griffith's shorts and feature films, and works by other celebrated silent-era directors such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Cecil B. DeMille. There are also examples of French impressionist cinema from the early 1920s and at least 15 films featuring silent film star Rudolph Valentino.

Der Blaue Engel movie poster
      But silent films are only the tip of the iceberg. The collection contains many sound motion pictures. There are outstanding prints of American film noir, westerns, musicals, documentary films, and important works from a number of national cinemas, including German, Italian, Russian, and Japanese.

      The films were collected by David Shedd Bradley, an archivist and film historian who died in 1997 at the age of 77. Film critic Roger Ebert described him as "one of the legendary eccentrics of the film world, irascible and beloved."

      "Bradley was a man of excellent taste, and somebody who knew what was historically important," said Professor James Naremore, a well-known film scholar who has written a half dozen books on classical Hollywood cinema. "The value of the collection is not only deep but very broad. Every major Hollywood director is represented, every genre."

      Bradley, the son of a wealthy Chicago family that gave the city its Shedd Aquarium, attended Northwestern University in the 1940s. Ebert said he was an aspiring director who knew Orson Welles. As a student, he made two films in which he cast Charlton Heston, his classmate at the time. Some say Bradley helped launch Heston's career.

      He later went to Hollywood and directed a few other films before, as Ebert put it, he "moved on to his real vocation, which was to hold strong opinions and express them at every opportunity." Over his lifetime, Bradley began to acquire excellent prints of films, which he would lend regularly or screen for guests in his home in the Hollywood Hills.

      Bradley's collection took an interesting route to IU. In the years before his death, he planned to leave it with a number of institutions, including UCLA, Santa Monica City College, and Northwestern, but he quarreled with each of them before finally willing it to the Lilly Library. While Bradley's estate was in probate, the films were stored at the Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. William Cagle, the longtime Lilly librarian who retired in 1997, negotiated with Bradley before he died and played a big role in bringing the collection to IU.

      Although the films arrived more than a year ago, they are still being cataloged, and issues of preservation, storage, and access policies are being ironed out by the university libraries. Byl said plans have been approved for an auxiliary library facility, scheduled to be ready in 2002. The facility will contain a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled lab for the conservation and preservation of rare materials belonging to the Lilly, including the Bradley Collection.

      One project being discussed is digitizing some of the films. Kristine Brancolini, director of the Digital Library Program, has worked closely with the collection and is optimistic about making some of the films available over a network in the near future.

      "We would probably focus on some of the more obscure films, films not available, and also because of the limitations of delivering video over a network, we would probably want to focus on shorter films," Brancolini said.

      "Our top priority is going to be working out faculty access and from that experience, we'll develop policies and procedures to provide access to others," Brancolini said. "We're primarily supporting the curriculum, but we do want to make some public showings and showcase the films."

      Although a number of film archives exist at IU, such as the distinguished Black Film Center/Archive and the Film and Media Studies Archive, IU remains without a movie theater of its own. With the arrival of the Bradley Collection, some say a theater is now essential.

      "What we lack is a campus movie theater, which we should have, just as we have a theater for staging plays and operas, an art museum for art," Naremore said. "These films are great treasures of 20th-century art. They're a part of our history and we ought not to be putting them away where only specialists can use them. We ought to preserve them in such a way that we can also show them under good conditions to students and the community."

Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in the Indiana Daily Student and used with permission.

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