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Moving Image Section--Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division


Catalogs and Finding Aids
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Research Methodology

More than 80 percent of the films made before 1930 are no longer extant, but the silent-film researcher can improve the odds of locating surviving films by compiling as comprehensive a filmography as possible from secondary sources.


The division's monograph collections are often the best starting point for research, especially for the scholar without a film history background.

Examples of the voyeuristic films of the turn of the twentieth century are provided in:

  • Judith Mayne, The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990; PN1995.9.W6 M36 1990)
  • Lauren Rabinovitz, For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998; PN1995.9.W6 R33 1998)

Social-problem films of the Progressive era are described in:

  • Kay Sloan, The Loud Silents: Origins of the Social Problem Film (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988; PN1995.9.S62 S58 1988)
  • Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence (New York: Knopf, 1990; PN1995.75.B68 1990)

Reference books, such as the American Film Institute catalog series (PN1998.A57) [catalog record], provide subject indexing to fiction films that is often lacking in the MBRS catalogs.

Copyright Descriptors and Trade Publications

In many cases, paper sources may be the only surviving artifacts of a motion picture. The often invaluable copyright descriptions offer a unique source of documentation on moving images from 1912 to the present. At the start of the twentieth century, motion picture trade publications provided reviews, synopses, advertisements, and still images, including coverage of films not copyrighted. For example, Moving Picture World gives the following description of When Women Vote (1907): “The henpecked husband shines her shoes, brushes her coat, and out she goes to attend the woman's suffrage meeting. . . . Mr. O'Brien would like to get a divorce but such cannot be obtained when women vote.” 1 An advertisement for Fighting Suffragettes (1909) states, “Just the right picture to show in these stirring times, as it shows the woman how much better it is to stay at home. Teach your audience this lesson.” 2

The Motion Picture and Television Reading Room has an excellent collection of trade magazines, including Moving Picture World (1907-27), the Motion Picture News (1911-30), and Motography (1911-18). Indexing is limited for these periodicals, but partial access can be found through such sources as the American Film Institute catalogs, An Index to Short and Feature Film Reviews in the Moving Picture World: The Early Years, 1907-1915 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995; Z5784.M9 D33 1995), and The Film Index: A Bibliography (New York: Arno Press, 1966; Z5784 .M9 W75). The most rewarding finds may result from simply browsing through the trade journals one page at a time.

Catalogs and Filmographies

The survival rate for films produced after 1930 is much higher, but the strategy of using secondary sources to create title lists is much the same as for the silent era. The American Film Institute catalogs continue to provide subject indexing to the feature films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s. There are dozens of filmographies dealing with a wide range of subjects, including the depiction in film of ethnic groups (see Contemporary Hollywood's Negative Hispanic Image: An Interpretive Filmography, 1956-1993, by Alfred Charles Richard [Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994; PN1995.9.L37 R54 1994]); character types (see Prostitution in Hollywood Films, by James Robert, Parish [Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1992; PN1995.9.P76 P37 1992]); and women (see Working Women on the Hollywood Screen: A Filmography by Carolyn L. Galerstein [New York: Garland Publishing, 1989; PN1995.9.W6 G34 1989]).

The reading room reference collection includes a number of CD-ROMs dedicated to film research, such as Reel Women: The Untold Story (New York: Enteractive, 1996), and provides access to motion picture databases and Web sites, including the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) database of surviving American silent films and the Internet Movie Database (see Moving Image Section External Sites).

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