“OUR MAN AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS”
Geo. Willeman and Cinema’s Forgotten Children
Around 1971, Russell Willeman brought home a 16mm movie projector from the school where he taught, and a cloth bag full of films for his kids to watch. One of these was “Busy Bodies,” a 1933 Laurel & Hardy comedy. Young George, a precocious 3rd grader, watched the cavorting capers on the screen enraptured by the magic of it all. Not just the comic aspects, but the slim piece of celluloid running through the lovely piece of machinery, being projected upon a screen--all magic! Thus began a life-long fascination with “The Cinema,” a fascination that resulted in a 25+ year career with The Library of Congress, working with their amazing nitrate motion picture collection.
Nitrate film was used from 1896-1950 as the main base for motion picture films. While it was a clear, strong plastic, it was (and is) highly flammable, having a similar composition to gun-cotton! Not surprisingly, much of the world’s cinema history has quite literally “gone up in smoke!” One of our main tasks at the Library is to save as much early film as we can for future generations. In the past few years, our laboratory has preserved and/or restored such films as All Quiet on the Western Front, The Emperor Jones, Annie Laurie, The Dentist, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Baby Face, High Noon, The Maltese Falcon, and The Bargain, just to name a few. Our new facility in Culpeper, Virginia is designed to give not only nitrate films, but all other video and audio media a safe haven for generations to come.
You can read more about it here!