Notes on collections at the RIHS
The Historical Society is pleased to announce that thanks to a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, we’ll be preserving an important example of early Rhode Island film making.
In 1915 the Eastern Film Company of Providence created a feature crime drama called Diamonds. It is one of the many films that Eastern Film Company made between 1914 and 1917, but one of the few that survive and one of only 14 films owned by the RIHS that were created by Eastern. The exact plot for the film is not clear due to the unstable condition of the film, but we do know it includes a scene at the Narragansett Pier, an iconic locale in southern Rhode Island. In addition to providing documentary evidence of Rhode Island at the time, Diamonds is also important in the history of film making as an example of an early film created before California became the dominant location for the film industry.
Diamonds is part of the Gordon Collection at the RIHS, a large collection of nitrate films found in a warehouse in Providence in the 1940s and donated in the 1970s. No documentation on any of these films survives, apart from what little was written about them in the contemporary press.
Diamonds currently exists only as a negative on cellulose nitrate film. Nitrate was the first plastic used as the base for photographic negatives and is very unstable and quite flammable (see the video below). Small rolls of film deemed unusable would sometimes be sold by film companies to kids who would light one end like a fuse and watch the film go up like flashpaper. Nitrate film burns fast and bright. The replacement of nitrate plastic with the more stable acetate plastic, aka “safety” film, happened slowly starting in 1908 with the production of the first safety film for still cameras. The production and use of nitrate plastic for use in photography didn’t end completely until the 1960s.*.
In addition to this inherent flaw, Diamonds is also showing signs of decomposition, thanks to poor storage conditions earlier in its life. So for these reasons—and also in the hope of making the film more accessible—we’ll soon be working with Cinema Arts, a Pennsylvania film restorer to create preservation copies of the film**. We’ll also be creating a DVD copy to make the film easier to use for researchers, and we hope to screen a copy of the movie during an event next year.
Through a similar collaborative process, the Historical Society has already preserved a number of important early films, including My Lady of the Lilacs, an image from which appears below.
** Tech Specs: One 35mm fine grain master(wet gate from original nitrate negative), one 35mm duplicate negative, one 35mm black and white projection print, and one Beta SP video master.