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October 20, 2015 > Ardent Archivist

Ardent Archivist

Submitted By Lila Bringhurst

As a youngster in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Paul Mular found some 8-millimeter (mm) films of Abbott & Costello at the local K-Mart and was soon hooked on old movies. In high school he started running film shows and networking with other film buffs. At the University of Pittsburgh he studied film appreciation and television production. After graduation he worked at KOFY-TV 20 as their film editor for almost 30 years.

Mular studied film stock to learn more about their make-up and history. His love of old movies grew into an encyclopedic knowledge of the movie industry and particularly, the films themselves. Hand him an old canister with an unidentified 35 mm reel of film and within minutes he can tell you the year the film was made, the name of the movie and the actors who starred in it.

He formed a local film appreciation group and they connected with The International Animated Film Association (Association Internationale du Film d'Animation) or ASIFA, a worldwide non-profit organization of animators and animation buffs founded in 1960 in Annecy, France.

ÒFrance has one of the largest repositories of old movies in the world,Ó said Mular recently as he took a group of local Rotarians through the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. He then related a recent experience: ÒI was working here in the museum one day. We were closed but suddenly I heard a loud pounding on the door. I went to investigate. There stood an older couple who had seen our website and driven all the way from Arizona with an antique projector and old movie films inherited from their grandfather.

ÒWhen I went with them to their car I saw a carefully preserved projector that still had an old Nitrate film wound through it. I thought to myself, ÔFlammable film traveling in a car from hot Arizona!Õ We brought everything inside and I got their information.Ó

The museum sent the reels of Nitrate film to Lobster Films in France, a repository for flammable film. Soon they received safety film duplicates. None of the films stored at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum are flammable.

ÒAs a volunteer Paul donated hundreds of hours to archiving the reels of film at the museum. We are so lucky to have him as our archivist,Ó said Dorothy Bradley, president of the film museum. ÒHe knows so much about films and is connected to other people in the field. His ASIFA group even meets here! He was starting to catalog our collection of about 4,000 reels of film. Then recently, someone donated a collection of 5,000 reels! I knew we needed help.Ó

Bradley got the Washington Township Museum of Local History involved.

ÒWe became aware of the collection when an anonymous donor gifted a $25,000 grant, with a provision that we must match the donation,Ó said Gil Garza, president of the history museum. With the grant, they hired Paul Mular to catalog the films.

ÒNot all of our films are silent movies. Recently I worked on some independently produced cartoons,Ó wrote Mular. ÒI did 14 films in five hours; they required little research as some were foreign produced with American titles. Then there are the TV distributors who often change titles and give no clue to the original title. These can each take a whole hour to identify, inspect and process.Ó

One of MularÕs goals is to identify and preserve archival quality films, which are as close to the original camera negatives as possible and likely one-of-a-kind. Recently he started working on a film that was titled ÔThe Magician.Õ

ÒBy identifying the actors in the film and story content I was able to determine that it was actually ÔThe Last PerformanceÕ. The title section had been replaced on the film which featured a magician and that may have led to the mistitling of the print,Ó wrote Mular. ÒThis is a vintage 1949 print and it was mastered from a 1929 print made from the camera negatives. Therefore the image on the old print is very good and worthy of fixing up. By making the necessary repairs and spending four hours to give the film some TLC that it deserved, we now have what I declare an Archival Quality print.Ó

After MularÕs presentation, members of the Rotary Club of Mission San Jose toured the museum and crowded into the tiny space where the archivist works.

ÒThis is pretty amazing,Ó exclaimed Rotarian Brian Moos. ÒWe have a world class film museum right here in Fremont. I hope people will donate to match the grant for the evaluation and cataloging of these historic films.Ó

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont
Open every Sat & Sun 12 noon to 4 p.m.
(510) 494-1411
Using a check or PayPal, donations may be made to either museum
and identified for the "Essanay Matching Fund"

Washington Township Museum of Local History
190 Anza Street, Fremont
Open Wed and Fri and 2nd Sat & Sun of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
(510) 623-7907

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