YALE COLLECTION OF CLASSIC FILMS, 50th Anniversary Celebration
7 p.m. Friday, February 23, 2018
53 Wall Street Auditorium
16mm selections from Yale's first film collection, acquired in 1968, with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Introduction and Film Notes by Brian Meacham

RESCUED FROM AN EAGLE'S NEST (Dir. Edwin S. Porter and J. Searle Dawley, 1908, 6 mins)
The acting debut of D.W. Griffith, this short made for the Biograph Company also stars Henry B. Walthall, one of John Griggs’ favorite actors.

GAUMONT NEWS, VOL. XVI, NO. 2-L (1918, 13 mins)
With an American office in Flushing, Long Island, Gaumont Graphic released a newsreel weekly between 1910 and 1932. This compilation features stories including Mary Pickford greeting returning soldiers, D.W. Griffith receiving an award, and women in Venice, California, selling War Savings Stamps, assisted by elephants.

THE BALLOONATIC (Dir. Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton, 1923, 22 mins)
National Pictures, THE BALLOONATIC was one of 19 two-reel comedies Keaton made between 1920 and 1923.

THE MARK OF ZORRO (Dir. Fred Niblo, 1920, 90 mins)
The first film released through the newly-formed United Artists, THE MARK OF ZORRO was the first film adaptation to feature the character of Zorro, created the year before by American novelist Johnston McCulley. The film helped establish the swashbuckler genre and made Fairbanks a superstar.

The History of the Yale Collection of Classic Films
In a report dated August 30, 1967, Standish Lawder, then Assistant Professor of the History of Art at Yale, described why he thought the university should seize an opportunity to acquire a collection of 207 films on 16mm, assembled over a twenty-year period by the late actor and film collector John Griggs: “The incredible riches of the Griggs Collection will open the students' eyes to the storehouse of the past and the widely varied means of filmic expression it contains.” Lawder listed four specific uses—“Courses in film-history,” “Courses in the Art School,” “Courses in the Drama School,” and “Film elsewhere in Yale College”— that would benefit from the university having its own “archive of historic films.”

In an age before home video helped make older films easier to see outside of what Lawder calls “institutionalized film archives,” in order to be able to screen film in classes, the university would have to “rent films in large quantity, mostly from the Museum of Modern Art.” Lawder suggested that acquiring the Griggs Collection would to some extent free the university from this practice, and would also enable “students themselves…to study certain films in depth, through repeated screenings, at their own convenience.”

Lawder describes the broad variety contained in the relatively compact collection, one “shaped by personal tastes and a passion for quality...the core of the collection is in the American film. There virtually every major American film-maker up to about 1940 is represented by important examples.” Films directed by Griffith, Chaplin, Keaton, von Stroheim, and Sennett are here, and films starring Fairbanks, Lloyd, William S. Hart, John Barrymore, and Rudolph Valentino could all be found in the original collection of 207 titles. The collection also included what Lawder called “American genre film, that is, films of lesser known directors whose work is typical of the average American film of their time,” to which he assigned “considerable sociological as well as aesthetic value.” Some of these films are found listed under “Miscellaneous American Features” on the last two pages of Lawder’s collection summary, and include de Mille’s YANKEE CLIPPER, ELLA CINDERS starring Colleen Moore, NEVADA starring Gary Cooper, and MICKEY starring Mabel Normand. Lawder ends his introduction with the following potent claim: “Harvard presently has a collection of some 65 titles. Yale at present has none.”

The previous spring, the New York Times published a piece titled “Yale to Offer Class About Films in Fall” that described Lawder’s upcoming course, “The History and Art of Cinema,” as “the university’s first.” The article closed with a list of films to be covered in the course, three of which, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, THE GOLD RUSH, and BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, would be acquired as part of the Griggs Collection.

Acquiring the Griggs Collection also had support from a number of faculty members at Yale, including Alvin Eisenman, founder and head of the Yale School of Art’s program in graphic design, who wrote “The Griggs Collection is an excellent beginning for what should in time become an important and complete teaching collection to be compared with Yale’s holding in, say, painting.” Robert Brustein, Dean of the Yale School of Drama, wrote that “no university worth its name should be without such materials,” which would be important for the “training of actors and directors.”

The Films
The list, titled “THE JOHN GRIGGS COLLECTION” (and with a somewhat specious subheading claiming, “The prints are in 16 mm, in perfect condition”), lists the films not in alphabetical or chronological order, but in a kind of film-canonical hierarchy, beginning, predictably, with the films of D.W. Griffith. Next are works starring Douglas Fairbanks, followed by the comedies of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, in that order, then films featuring Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, and directed by James Cruze. Page three continues with Valentino, Harry Langdon, and Raymond Griffith, while page 4 contains “MISCELLANEOUS CLASSICS (American)” and “FOREIGN CLASSICS,” including the films of Eisenstein, Murnau, Bunuel, Dreyer, Lang, and Rossellini. Thee final two pages of the list contain the films of Mack Sennett as well as “MISCELLANEOUS AMERICAN FEATURES,” “BRITISH FEATURES,” and “ADDITIONAL SHORTS,” including a tantalizing note referring to an unidentitled “dozen more miscellaneous silent shorts.”

The acquisition made headlines around the country. Many papers, like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Daily News, led with the seeming incongruity of this collection of popular culture heading to an esteemed institution of higher learning, with the Sun-Times announcing “Chaplin, Keaton, Valentino Going To Yale—On Film.”

Writing in the first issue of the Yale Film Associates’ newsletter in 1969, Spencer Berger YC ’40 reflected on the acquisition of the Griggs Collection. “Yale had been virtually without a film archive. Over-night it attained an enviable position with this fine variety of subjects, which today enrich a number of courses throughout the University.” By 1970, the collection was being referred to as the “Yale Collection of Classic Films,” and was being utilized for weekly public screenings in Hastings Hall in the Art & Architecture Building.

In the late 1970s, Associate Professor of the History of Art Donald Crafton became the caretaker of the collection. In a 1978 memo in the Spencer Berger Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Crafton notes that since the Griggs acquisition, the collection “has grown to almost 400 titles.” In September, 1982, the Yale Film Study Center was founded, with Crafton as its first director and the Yale Collection of Classic Films under its care.

Today, fifty years after the Griggs Collection arrived, the Film Study Center holds more than 6,000 titles on film, in 35mm as well as 16mm, and in the form of original negatives and new preservation masters in addition to screening prints. As of 2018, the Film Study Center has identified 109 items presently in its collection definitively originating in the original Griggs Collection, with an additional 56 titles matching those on the Griggs list, likely (but not certain) to have arrived through the 1968 acquisition.

In addition to screening for Yale courses, the FSC’s film collection is shared through our Treasures from the Yale Film Archive screening series, through print loans to institutions around the world, and through film preservation projects to protect unique films. Tonight, we salute the visionaries responsible for planting the seeds, fifty years ago, for this collection and the work we do today.

Presented in the Treasures from the Yale Film Archive series with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

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