Monday 30 November 2009

Archival detective work

One of the best aspects of my job (especially for a girl like me with a penchant for trashy American crime shows and detective novels!) is the detective work which is necessary when cataloguing archival material. Recently I've spent plenty of time doing archival detective work on the two large boxes of material we have in the Lindsay Anderson Archive which relate to About John Ford.

About John Ford
is a very interesting mixture of critical analysis of the films of John Ford, mixed with Anderson's personal reminiscences of his meetings with John Ford, and interviews he conducted with various people who worked with Ford. Anderson's admiration of John Ford began in 1946 when he first saw My Darling Clementine. It continued through his reviews and articles about Ford in Sequence, his meetings with Ford over the years, and two television programmes: an Omnibus two-part programme on Ford narrated by Anderson (1992) ; and a Channel Four programme (1987) , where Anderson gave a 'masterclass' to a group of students about the art of film-making through the example of My Darling Clementine

The boxes relating to About John Ford contain: notes made by Anderson on Ford's films; press cuttings re: John Ford; early drafts of the book; correspondence with friends, colleague's and family of Ford; correspondence with publishers; correspondence with readers and critics; promotional material for the book; and reviews of the book.

The first big piece of detective work was with the early drafts of the book. There were some pages paper clipped together which obviously ran as a section (anything from 2 pages to 32 pages long), but there were no page numbers or chapter headings to work out where in the published version of the book they relate to. The first decision I had to make was, do I take the time to locate each of these draft sections in the published book? Well, I quickly decided that yes, it was worth the time to do this as it would be of value to future researchers, and it's always interesting to see what remains and what is changed from draft to published version. So then, how to work out where all these pages were located in the published book? Not that I'm claiming any great shakes as a detective, just common sense really, but I determined that the quickest way would be to use the index in About John Ford, and look for the least common, or least famous, actors names or place names. Where there were only a few occurrences of a name it was relatively quick to locate the draft pages and reference them in my cataloguing. Now, this may not be interesting to everyone, but somehow to me, this job was immensely satisfying - I guess that's why I'm an archivist!

Another problem I encountered was due to my less than all encompassing knowledge of John Ford's films. By this I must confess that prior to cataloguing this material I had only seen one Ford film, The Quiet Man. So I started attending screenings for John Izod's class
'Genre in Hollywood: The Western' (the benefits of working in a University!) . I have now seen, and enjoyed, My Darling Clementine, Stagecoach, and Iron Horse. Only a drop in the ocean as far as the number of John Ford films but it has helped with the cataloguing. It didn't help me much though when I came across a file with four black&white photographs of stills from John Ford films. With so many films to choose from, and having seen so few of them, I was having real trouble trying to identify them. So, rather than spend huge amounts of time going through images on IMDb from all his films, I decided to call in the cavalry (excuse the bad pun!). I e-mailed Charles Barr, a Professor of Film at University College Dublin and a John Ford expert (Charles Barr gave a very interesting paper About the John Ford Archive at our conference in September). Charles was able to identify the images for me, including the photograph of Charley Grapewin, from 'Tobacco Road' (1941) which I've included here.

LA/4/3/10/3, Still from Tobacco Road
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

I love all the research and detective work that goes into cataloguing archives, all the new directions it sends you off in. As I've been going along with this cataloguing - over two years so far! - it's been so rewarding to see all the connections starting to build up, recognising more of the names I come across, almost like old friends even though I never knew any of them. Resources that I've found particularly useful for the Lindsay Anderson Collection have been the IMDb, Lindsay Anderson Memorial Foundation, BFI Film and Television database, Screenonline and Doollee

N.B. John Ford's papers are held at the Lilly Library, Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Paper published on audience reception to Lindsay Anderson's 'Britannia Hospital', examined through material in the Anderson Archive

Back in May I wrote about a conference I went to in Edinburgh in March, where I presented a paper examining the relationship between Lindsay Anderson and his audiences, based on archival evidence in the Lindsay Anderson Collection relating to Britannia Hospital (1982). The Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference was organised by Ailsa Hollinshead, Lecturer in Sociology at Edinburgh Napier University. A selection of papers from the conference have now been published in the online film journal Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies.

Well, I'm pleased to say that the paper which I presented, which I co-authored with Karl Magee (with thanks to John Izod and Isabelle Gourdin-Sangouard for their help) is part of the selection of papers published in Volume 6 of the journal. I really enjoyed the conference and thought all the papers were really interesting so it was great to get the chance to re-read some of them in the journal.

I've included the abstract from our article below and you can read the article here:

Britannia Hospital was the final part of a trilogy of films directed by Lindsay Anderson which started so successfully with If…. in 1968 and continued with O Lucky Man in 1973. However, Britannia Hospital, released in 1982, was condemned by the critics and largely ignored by the public, a disappointing end to the trilogy. This paper is going to look at aspects of the relationship between the director and his audience by examining the strains exerted on this relationship by the promotion and critical reception of Britannia Hospital. The Lindsay Anderson Archive at the University of Stirling provides the main source material for this through: Anderson’s correspondence with friends, fans and critics; ideas for the advertising campaign for the film; and correspondence with the distribution companies.

Monday 9 November 2009

Letter to Lillian Hellman in the Lindsay Anderson Archive

Sometimes you come across a letter so unexpected that it just lights up the whole day. This happened to me on Friday whilst cataloguing a series of material in the Lindsay Anderson Collection related to a book he wrote, About John Ford. It's been an incredibly interesting section of material to catalogue anyway, containing transcripts of interviews Anderson carried out with Henry Fonda, Dudley Nichols, and Harry Carey Jr; various handwritten drafts of Anderson's book; and lots of reviews of John Ford films.

The letter which made my day on Friday was Lindsay Anderson writing to Lillian Hellman. It came as a real surprise to me as I didn't know that they had met. Although I had heard of Hellman's plays it was actually through her autobiographical book Pentimento that I first got to know about her. I know she is a controversial figure who is said to have invented her biography to varying degrees, depending on which critic you believe, but she was such a wonderfully strong character that I can't help but admire her. There is also a letter in the same file which Lillian Hellman wrote to Anderson in which she says 'It would give me great pleasure if you were ever interested in directing it[The Little Foxes]' (Lillian Hellman writing to Lindsay Anderson, 29/04/1981) - I wish that this had happened!

Section of a letter from Lindsay Anderson to Lillian Hellman, LA/4/3/16/8
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

The Lillian Hellman papers are at the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas.

Monday 2 November 2009

The music and life of Thomas Fraser as told in 'Long Gone Lonesome'

'Long Gone Lonesome' is the story of a Shetland fisherman called Thomas Fraser. The story is told by Duncan McLean and the Lone Star Swing Band, as a National Theatre of Scotland production. It's a wonderful story of an incredibly talented musician from the tiny Shetland island of Burra, and it's told by a very talented and passionate group of musicians, the Lone Star Swing Band: Duncan McLean, Fiona Driver, Graham Simpson, Dick Levens and Iain Tait.

The Long Gone Lonesome tour van © National Theatre of Scotland

Thomas Fraser grew up on Burra with a passion for country and blues music. He learned to play the guitar and, when reel-to-reel tape recorders were invented he got a friend to bring him on e back from the mainland. He then used this to record himself performing, and perfecting, his own adaptations of his favourite songs, including songs by Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. He never recorded with the intention of releasing them as albums and on his deathbed he entrusted his recordings to the care of his nephew, Bobby. Cassettes were released of the recordings and Bobby received numerous requests for recordings. and then his Grandson, Karl, took the step of getting them transferred and released on CD - to great critical acclaim. Karl talks movingly about the reel-to-reel tapes on the Thomas Fraser web pages where he says:
"Transferring the reels developed into a harrowing task. It seemed to me that on this fragile tape were the entire history of my family. Many of the reels were at the end of their natural lives and very brittle. The slightest false move and you could wipe out a song, possibly the only surviving version of that song. It was fascinating but at the same time enormously stressful. "

The Lone Star Swing Band, from left to right: Ian Tait, Fiona Driver, Duncan Mclean,
Graham Simpson and Dick Levens © National Theatre of Scotland

I went to see it performed at the Tolbooth in Stirling. Me and my friend Heather both came out the show and remarked on (as well as how much we'd enjoyed the show!) the importance of archives in the development of the story and in its performance. Okay so we're both archivists so therefore might be slightly more inclined to see the wonder of archives everywhere but I don't think we were alone in being moved by the use of an old reel-to-reel recorder playing Thomas's original recordings, or Duncan Mclean's stories of meeting with family and friends on Burra to talk about Thomas's life. So there was the original recordings, the old photographs, and the oral history collected by Duncan McLean - all interspersed with the enthusiasm of the Lone Star Swing Band for their music - combining in a wonderful tribute to a highly talented Scottish musician.

The Lone Star Swing Band do a fantastic job of bringing this story to life, and their passion and enthusiasm for the music and the story shines through in the performance. When they played the original reel-to-reel recording of Thomas Fraser's version of 'Somewhere over the rainbow' I had to fight back the tears. This song, which in my mind, is schmaltzy and over-produced, is reduced back to a beautiful and heartfelt song of hope. The use of old photographs of Fraser and his family, and island home of Burra, projected on the backdrop of the stage added to the atmosphere and helped us understand the environment which Thomas lived in.

'Long Gone Lonesome' is going to be on in Glasgow as part of the highly successful music festival 'Celtic Connections' and I would heartily recommend going to experience it!

Duncan Mclean © National Theatre of Scotland

Just launched - Stirling University Archives Flickr page

Lindsay Anderson, seated in front of part of his large collection of VHS tapes
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

Along with Karl Magee, the University Archivist, we have started a Flickr site for Stirling University Archives. This meant I got to spend some very enjoyable time scanning the pages of photo albums that are part of the Lindsay Anderson Collection here at Stirling.

We decided to take a Flickr pro account as it meant we could organise the photos in 'Collections' and 'Sets'. There are two Collections - the University Archives and The Lindsay Anderson Collection'. Within each of the Collections there are Sets. In the University Archives we have a set for the 40th anniversary exhibition of the University of Stirling, a set for student prospectuses and one for student handbooks. In the Lindsay Anderson Collection, in addition to the individual photo albums, there is also a set of photographs which give a general introduction to the Lindsay Anderson Collection. We will continue to add to these collections and sets. Once the CALM catalogue I'm creating for the Lindsay Anderson Collection is online then the plan is to link each photo directly to its catalogue entry.

Photograph featured in University of Stirling 40th anniversary exhibition.
The newly-opened Pathfoot Building, c1968 © University of Stirling Archives

The photo albums I've scanned are all part of the series of LA/6/2 - Photographs, in the Lindsay Anderson Collection. The albums on Flickr all date from the late 1940s through the 1950s and cover topics such as: the filming of O Dreamland; the filming of Wakefield Express; visit to Cannes International Film Festival 1949; the making of Thorold Dickinson's film Secret People (1952); the making of James Broughton's film The Pleasure Garden (1952) (which Lindsay Anderson starred in); visit to France; and a visit to Moscow in 1957 with the Royal Court Theatre (the front page of this album is pictured below).

Cover of photo album, LA/6/2/1/8
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

We've started putting some names to the faces and places in the photographs but we thought it would be better to put them all up and then leave it open to other people to help us identify people and places. So far we've had some invaluable help so if anyone else wants to help, or indeed just leave any comments, then that would be very welcome!