Using foreign film publications in film research

A silent film researcher seeking information or photos of a specific actor or actress in another language might peruse a free digital archive independent of Lantern Media History. While Lantern Media History is regularly updated with Hollywood trade and consumer publications in both English and foreign languages, it is by no means comprehensive, meaning that many foreign film magazines must be sought elsewhere online. The good news is, there are many film archives which have digitized these publications, many which date back to the silent film and sound eras.

Filmoteca de Catalunya contains a wealth of film-related publications in Spanish in addition to a wide variety of different film novellas like Biblioteca Films, La Novela Cinematográfica, and Biblioteca Trebol. Both Cinearte and A Scena Muda come from Brazil, and the colorful covers of each publication, usually with a silent film star on the cover, entices the film researcher into spending a few hours looking at everything from film reviews to production notes. In France, Ciné-Ressources holds many early French film publications which have been digitized as PDFs.

A Scena Muda, #50, 1922, from Brazil.
A Scena Muda, #50, 1922, from Brazil.

When it comes to English-language film publications not found in Lantern Media History, Everyones from Australia is a favorite, due its publishing of silent film photos not commonly found in American film publications.

One special project regarding digital archives and early film publications is Domitor. The creators of the site have created a catalog list of existing digitized publications on early film, organized by country, publication title, and issue dates available. Many of these are from Europe, Asia, and South America. Virtual History also contains a handful of foreign publications such as Film-Magazin (Germany), Filmnyheter (Sweden), and Mein Film (Austria).

Writing Inspiration from Digital Visuals

Sometimes a writer will want to write an article for his or her website or blog but is without inspiration or an idea. While a change of scenery can certainly help – perhaps a temporary relocation or a vacation from the daily humdrum of life – another aid for getting fresh ideas to write about can come from digital visuals. Normally when a writer has completed an article and is seeking an image or two to accompany the article, perhaps one of public domain, digital repositories online such as Wikimedia Commons or Flickr will be used just for this purpose. At the same time, many of the images in these digital repositories can also attract and interest the writer enough to get a new idea on the writing board. The image in question could very well be something that somehow has a special appeal yet be a topic little known to the writer. Such an image can encourage the writer to research and learn about the new topic being written about, as in a recent personal example: the Eddystone Lighthouse, which dates back to the late seventeenth century.

Eddystone Lighthouse By Amilcar de Lafage
Eddystone Lighthouse By Amilcar de Lafage. From the book “Les merveilles de la science, vol. 4”, Louis Figuier. Published by Paris: Furne, Jouvet et Cie, 1870. The Getty Research Institute, The Internet Archive. From Old Book Illustrations.

While Wikimedia Commons and Flickr can certainly be used, think outside the box for digital images to provide that writing inspiration. One of the more original and creative digital repositories online of pubic domain images is Old Book Illustrations. Many of the images on this site are Victorian and Romantic illustrations scanned from old books – think Gustav Dore, Aubrey Beardsley, and Alphonse Mucha. The New York Public Library also has a large selection of public domain digital images, as does the Smithsonian. Across the pond is Digital Bodleian which contains over a million digital images waiting to stimulate the writer’s imagination. State archives, state libraries, private archives, and for the film writer, the many global film archives contain a multitude of digital images that can give the writer ideas to write about.

In short, spend time perusing websites already being used to locate appropriate digital images to accompany your completed articles, but also seek out writing inspiration from public domain images available on other sites.

To Rewrite or Not to Rewrite

How do you decide when to rewrite an article that is more than a few years old and want to republish it? The article could be on any topic and might at first seem to be fairly complete insofar as basic information goes. For example, an article on the Challinor & Taylor Glass Company of Tarentum, Pennsylvania provides only a few lines on the history of the company because that is all that was available at the time when the article was written, in 2008. The bulk of the article consists of the different types of glass manufactures by the company, as well as patented glass design patterns. Thirteen years later, more detailed information about the company surfaces online, which can be paraphrased into your article. Furthermore, detailed information about one of the glass company’s founders, David Challinor, is extensive in the form of a obituary. This is the type of information that is perfect to add to a pre-existing article which contains a dearth of company history.

David Challinor, one of the founders of the Challinor & Taylor Glass Company.
David Challinor, one of the founders of the Challinor & Taylor Glass Company. From Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 6, 1909.

Keep in mind that source web content increases literally every month if not every week, especially digital archives for newspapers and periodicals. These types of sources need to be regularly checked when conducting research for an article rewrite. Use your instinct when deciding when your article rewrite is as complete as it should be. Of course, if republishing the article means posting it on your own website, you can update the rewrite as often as you want.

Reconstructing a lost silent film chapter

Sometimes when a lost film is rediscovered, a reel or two may be missing from the complete film. In cases where the extant reels are intended for restoration and digitization, the missing reel might be reconstructed. Many times the reconstructed footage will consist of film stills, synopsis elements and film review (which can be found through Lantern Media History) information. In rare cases, depending upon the silent film’s popularity, a film booklet may be sought after, which can be an invaluable research tool for silent film preservationists.

Regardless of what language the film booklet is in (Spanish, French, German, English), it can always be translated. Film booklets such as the Biblioteca Films which were published in Barcelona, Spain, have the film story divided by chapters, corresponding to the reels in a silent film. Say for example a silent film like “Let’s Go Gallagher” (1925) starring Tom Tyler consists of five 35mm reels. The film booklet story version will have five chapters in it, each corresponding with each 35mm reel. Suppose further this silent film has been rediscovered in a film archive, but there are only four of the five reels extant. Even with the missing reel, assuming enough historical film materials exist, that missing reel can be reconstructed and provide insight to the viewer as to what transpired in that film segment.

For an example of what a reconstructed silent film reel might look like in literary form, check out any of the following five chapters of “Red Hot Hoofs” (1926) which I translated from Biblioteca Films #233, “Por la fuerza de los puños”.

Creating identifiers for a film poster collection

Collecting film posters can be fun, but should the time come to organize it more efficiently by cataloging the posters, what is the best way to do it? It may be natural to use a regular set of consecutive numbers as identifiers, such as 1, 2, 3,… regardless of how many posters are in your collection. But some film posters, especially lobby cards, were manufactured in sets, usually in numbers of eight, which might make ordinary consecutive numbering a challenge. Additionally, lobby card sets often had a title card, followed by seven more colorful ones all the same size: 11” x 14”. Easily storable in a 11” x 14” Itoya achival-safe, acid-free portfolio, lobby cards can be easy to sort out and refer to when the time comes. Most importantly, what happens if the proud owner of a film poster collection decided to donate it to an official archive, such as a university or state archive? Having the posters catalogued in some manner can actually benefit the inheriting archive, especially if they have easy to follow identifiers.

So what exactly is an identifier? According to Dublin Core, which is a series of metadata designed for archival digital and physical collections, the definition of identifier is as follows: “An unambiguous reference to the resource within a given context.” For something as simple as a film poster, a series of letters and numbers can be used to create the identifier. Let’s take the following lobby card poster for the silent film starring Tom Tyler, “Tom’s Gang”, released in 1927.

The owner of this poster already has one other lobby card for “Tom’s Gang” in her collection. The root of the identifier is the following: TG00x, with the x being the actual number of the lobby card. So the first lobby card for “Tom’s Gang” in the collection is TG001. The above image is consequently TG002. Title lobby cards need not be numbered at #1 unless that happens to be the first acquired lobby card in your collection.

The same method of creating identifiers can also be used for one sheets (27” x 40”/27” x 41”), three sheets (41” x 81”), window cards (14” x 22”), any sized poster that might appear in the collection.

Using film exhibitor’s reviews in a movie article

Upon glancing through a vintage Hollywood trade publication, the film writer may see a page or two consisting of three columns of text with no pictures or artwork of any kind. After spending a few minutes reading these few pages, the writer realizes that these are film exhibitor reviews, containing very basic information about a newly released movie.

So what exactly is a film exhibitor’s review? Basically, it is a review of a newly screened film by the movie theatre owner – who was often called the exhibitor many decades ago – and submitted to a Hollywood trade publication such as Moving Picture World or Exhibitor’s Herald.

In Moving Picture World July 24, 1926, one regular column was titled “Straight from the Shoulder Reports” and in a small box beneath, the text: “Our motto: ‘It is my utmost desire to be of use to my fellow man.’ Our method: ‘We send these tips on pictures we have played, as exhibitors, reporting pictures, performance and audience reaction without bias toward any producer. Book these tips and help is in your turn by sending reports.'” This column was edited by A. Van Buren Powell. The listed reviews were frequently organized by film studio they were made for, such as FBO, Universal, Fox, and First National. Each exhibitor review would be followed by the theatre owner’s name, name of the theatre, and the location. Sometimes these exhibitor’s film reviews appeared as part of a sponsored ad, such as in the case of silent film leading man Tom Tyler, seen below:

From Exhibitor’s Herald and Moving Picture World, April 7, 1928

Why use one of these very brief exhibitor reviews in an article or film review? One good reason is to provide insight on the movie’s initial reception, in addition to demographics and value appeal. Including minor but vital information as this is also helpful to other film writers who might come across exhibitor reviews and ask themselves, “Might this be useful in an article I’m writing on ‘The Arizona Streak’?”

From Moving Picture World, July 24, 1926

Writing a public domain comic book superhero

Using a public domain comic book hero or superhero in a short story, novel, flash fiction, non-fiction, or even a poem can be the perfect way to impart a piece of comic book history to the reader. There are many different ways one of these long-forgotten comic superheroes can be used: as a literary device, an actual character in the story, or even as a subplot as a means of educating the reader about a personal interest in Golden Age comic book heroes or superheroes.

The history of comic book heroes and superheroes is fascinating in itself and there are a number of websites dedicated to the subject. Public Domain Superheroes contains a complete list of these superheroes along with brief origin stories, their creators, and when they first appeared in the history of comic book publications. Comic Book Plus provides the writer with scanned and digitized public domain comics for reading online. With the amount of information available, composing a description of the superhero’s name and some detail as to what he or she looked like will add a creative and possibly vivid touch to the story being written.

For example, the writer may be working on a modern science fiction story about a robot that is symbiotic: whenever its body parts flew off, the robot retains the ability to control the missing body part, such as an arm or a hand. At this point the writer can mention Captain Marvel – not the Marvel Comics, and not the DC/Fawcett ones, but a third variation of this superhero name, published by MF Enterprises in 1966-67 and created by Carl Burgos, Roger Elwood, and Leon Francho. In this case, Captain Marvel as a name in itself is hardly unknown in popular culture, and the reader learns something interesting about the superhero.

Suppose the writer wants to include a whimsical sounding superhero name in a story – like Fatman the Human Flying Saucer. The reference in the story might also include the creator names: C. C. Beck and Otto Binder, who are the same two gentlemen who also created (surprise surprise) the first Captain Marvel Fawcett Publications back in December 1939.

Say the writer is composing a work of non-fiction on Annie Oakley to appeal to a younger demographic and desires to mention the fact that a handful of different comic book publications used her as the central character. A few of these comic books might be listed as follows: Six-Gun Heroes v1 #46-82, v2 #6-8 (Charlton) Cowboy Western Comics #17-65 (Charlton); and Annie Oakley and Tagg #4-18 (Dell).

These are of course just a few examples of how a writer can integrate a public domain hero or superhero into a story or article. The best way to do this is reading about these these forgotten individuals are – and that is the fun part.

Writing the historical short story

History can provide many different ideas for a short story, inspiring enough creativity in the writer and provide a feeling of authenticity to captivate the reader. Of course, the writer of the historical short story spends time researching the time period to be written about, making notes about the habits, manner of dress, type of food eaten, and social norms, as well as mention important historical figures who were in power at the time, such as Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the governor of Louisiana from 1701–1743.

In bringing the story’s characters to life, the writer should be able to place them in the proper historical context, including the that belong to the time period written about. Use words and phrases common to that time period in the telling of the short story, as the language spoken at the time will make the characters sound authentic. Blend the details in with the story as it unfolds, while at the same time creating the clear-cut personalities of each character in the historical short story.

Say a writer wants to compose a story based on historical New Orleans, after having read a few novels on this southern city rich with history. The writer in question has already read the novels “Voodoo Dreams” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and “Crescent City” by Frances Parkinson Keyes. While both of these books are full-length novels – the latter measuring a whopping 807 pages long – for the historical short story, “Old Creole Days” by George Washington Cable may provide a better model of story length. “Old Creole Days” contains seven short stories which take place in New Orleans 200 years ago.

An illustration from “Old Creole Days”

Quite possibly the most important thing for the writer of the historical short story to keep in mind is that the writing procedure should take time, and not be rushed. Having the passion to write is not enough in this case; having the passion for the time period and historical context in question is absolutely essential in writing the historical short story.

Reconstructing plots from lost films using film booklets

Collectors of paper movie memorabilia might be familiar with and even own a number of film booklets. These film booklets, generally published in Europe, contain film stills plus a condensed story of an American film. The popular Biblioteca Films or Los Films del Far-West publications, by Gato Negro in Barcelona, Spain, are commonly seen in places like antique shops, ephemera shows, or online auction sites. Often printed on newspaper-quality paper, these film books were acquired by cinema patrons in the lobby at the box office. While these film booklets are an intriguing addition to any paper film collection, they can also be used as a valuable tool in writing about a film plot – particularly if none is available through standard Hollywood trade or consumer publications, found at Lantern Media History. The writer may also have an account with, but there is only minimal information such as cinema ads, showing notices, and a blurb about the movie itself in their database.

Say the writer needs to compose the plot for “The Desert Pirate”. The only source available is a film booklet titled “El Pirata del Desierto”. While the writer has a fairly good grasp of written Spanish – keeping in mind the film booklets from Spain are in Castilian Spanish, not Latin Spanish – can breeze through the reading of the booklet which is about twelve pages long, and come away with a grasp of the characters in the story and the plot. The writer can then type up the plot, include the character names, who appears in the film, who wrote and directed it too. Even a piece of dialogue from the film booklet might be included in the write-up along with the plot to stress a character’s persona. Any outside information, such as filming locations or other onset tidbits published in a newspaper can also be included. Most importantly, if original sources must be included along with the write-up, list the publication and film title it is for.

Catalogueing your electronic research materials

Having an ample supply of electronic research sources on hand is essential for the writer. While more sources can always be added, old ones deleted, or at least placed in a “rarely used” folder, it can be beneficial to organize them to include descriptions as a means of identifying what topics can be derived from for various articles or stories. This is where cataloguing comes in handy, and best of all, no fancy software is required to complete the job. Any spreadsheet like Excel, or OpenOffice Calc, can be used. Only a few columns need to be created, and one spreadhseet file can contain as many tabs as required, each tab containing a different writing topic. The most important thing is, the catalogue is arranged to be of greatest use for the writer, and since it is electronic, can always be modified somewhere down the road for ease of use.

Electronic research sources can be bookmarked in a browser, to be sure, but can also be saved with detailed information as to what type of information it holds. For example, a browser bookmark might read “William K. Everson Collection”, and might also be filed under a folder titled “Research materials”. Were “William K. Everson Collection” to be catalogued, it might also include the following as a description: “Publicity Materials: Press kits and press books”, since this is the primary link used for research purposes at the landing page of: For something more general such as a foreign newspaper archive like Delpher, which is Dutch, the description can be “Dutch digital newspaper archive”.

Suppose a writer decides to write several articles under the blanket topic of comic books. Some obvious research sites might include Comic Book Plus or Public Domain Super Heroes. Depending upon the subtopic being written about, more research sources might be considered, even if they are not explicitly comic book oriented. For example, the subject might be about famous historical women like Calamity Jane, who has appeared in more than one western-themed comic book. Yet she also appeared in Beadle’s Half Dime Library Issue #1 in 1877, a youth oriented publication containing stories of many genres. Such an intriguing fact would be desirable to include in the article, even though these publications are not considered to be comic books. Beadle’s Half Dime Library might include a description of “19th century publication database including scanned issues”.

Experiment with spreadsheet layouts (please see example below), and include only information that is relevant for research purposes.