By Barbara Flueckiger

One of the most beautiful discoveries of our continuous research at the Library of Congress—in addition to countless stunning films—are the copyright books by George Kleine, an American film pioneer, producer and distributor from Chicago. In the early 1910s, at a time when motion pictures only started to become a copyright subject category, he stapled single frames into small booklets to secure copyright for his films.

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Front page of the copyright booklet for Otello (ITA 1914, Arrigo Frusta) Credit: Library of Congress. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger.

It is unclear whether these booklets were meant to secure copyrights specifically for the color scheme of the films. In a larger context they are one type of copyright register in a field of ever changing practices in the first decades of film history, among them the famous paper prints deposited at the Library of Congress, see documentary with Mike Mashon (2013).

As Claudy Op den Kamp writes:

Film did not arrive as a ready-made invention: the landscape in which it emerged at the end of the 19th century saw a complex interaction of events and personnel in the fields of science, technology, art, education, and entertainment. The idea that the invention of film was a process that took place over time is reflected in the changing experiments in registering copyright for its early productions.
[…]
The 1909 US Copyright Act was revised in 1912 with the Townsend Copyright Amendment to allow for express protection of motion pictures.

(Op den Kamp 2016: 39)

After a patent litigation with Thomas A. Edison in 1908, Kleine became more aware of the significance of rights issues. Therefore, he set out to become a founding member of the Motion Picture Patents Company.

In 2013 the Swedish film scholar Joel Frykholm gave a lecture about Kleine’s role in the emerging film industry at the Library of Congress, where he was doing research in the framework of a Kluge Fellowship. Frykholm explored the difficult economic situation in the first two decades of the 20th century, when George Kleine established transatlantic trade in film distribution. Kleine also invested in a film production studio—Mammoth Studios—near Turin where he planned to produce feature films “combining what he saw as the best of the European and American methods, while also taking advantage of cheap Italian labor“ (Frykholm 2013, transcript), or in the words of an advertisement for George Kleine Attractions: “the highest type of production possible to brains, money and the desire-to-do” (in Moving Picture World, January–March 2014: 379 [highlighted in original]).

In a letter dating from November 4, 1909, Kleine criticized the status of the Italian cinema of the time:

This country needs awakening as they are now on the downward path, and unless this class of pictures is eliminated, the better class of people will remain set against them. The opinion which they now have, is that they should be closed as immoral and not fit for any decent person and especially children to see. This class of pictures I have no doubt is what caused the Pope to publish an edict against moving picture shows.

(Library of Congress, George Kleine Papers, 1886-1946,
Box 26, Folder Historical General 1900-1928, pp. 7–8.)

All the three films covered in the copyright books—Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (ITA 1913, Eleuterio Rodolfi), Il leone di Venezia (ITA 1914, Luigi Maggi) and Otello (ITA 1914, Arrigo Frusta)—mirror George Kleine’s intention to address higher social strata and to establish cinema as an art form.

In addition to their significance for the history of copyright, these booklets are enlightening as a historical record of organizing film samples with very palpable and tactile qualities. Their haptic qualities become even more evident by the combination of the paper support, the metallic staples and the beautifully tinted nitrate film clippings, each of which show different signs of decay, warping, surface and reflection properties, dust and dirt. In the galleries of the three copyright books on the Timeline of Historical Film Colors, the applied color schemes of the tinted films become visible at a glance.  Every scene is represented by the corresponding colored samples thus producing a beautiful spectrum of the tinting dyes. Some magnifications display the material properties in detail.

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Page 3 of the copyright booklet for Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (ITA 1914, Eleuterio Rodolfi). Credit: Library of Congress. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger.

One important part of our research is the photographic method to capture historical film colors with a high-resolution digital camera plus a macro lens, all remote-controlled from the computer (see blog post and detailed description in Flueckiger 2016). With this method we aim at documenting the material properties of historical film prints and to publish them continuously on the Timeline of Historical Film Colors. For the photographs of the copyright books, a vertical repro stand was in operation, plus daylight panels with Styrofoam reflectors to provide even illumination.

In the 1910s and 1920s, there were many other ways of displaying overviews of color film samples in books, such as manuals for the application of tinting, metallic toning and mordant toning, and partly stencil coloring published by Pathé, the Eastman Kodak Company or the German film stock manufacturer Agfa.

References:

Flueckiger, Barbara (2015): Color Analysis for the Digital Restoration of DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI. In: Joshua Yumibe (ed.): The Moving Image, 15,1, pp. 22–43. PDF on Project Muse for registered institutions.

Frykholm, Joel (2013): The Lost Tycoon. Rediscovering George Kleine, Reframing Early American Cinema Webcast | Library of Congress. Washington D.C. Webcast online.

Mashon, Mike (2013): Early Motion Pictures. American Artifacts, 27 March 2013. Documentary online.

Op den Kamp, Claudy (2016): The Paper Print Collection. How Copyright Formalities and Historical Accidents Led to Film History. In: University of Western Australia Law Review, 41, 2017, pp. 37–50. Download PDF.

Acknowledgments:

I would like to express my gratitude to the staff at the Library of Congress, Packard Campus in Culpeper VA, for their incredible support. Special thanks to Mike Mashon, Head of the Moving Image Section, George Willeman, Nitrate Vault Manager, and Larry Smith, Nitrate Film Specialist.

Claudy Op den Kamp, Lecturer (Academic) in Film, Bournemouth University, for information about the history of copyrights, see her book The Greatest Films Never Seen. The Film Archive and the Copyright Smokescreen. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press (2018).

Noemi Daugaard, PhD candidate, University of Zurich, for providing background information about George Kleine’s activities in Italy.

 

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