Category Archives: Performing Arts Collections

Arthur Mitchell: a trailblazing exhibition for a trailblazing leader in American Dance

mitchell illustration detail of Michael D. Harris’s “Aspirations + Inspiration” (1985)

A detail of Michael D. Harris’s “Aspirations + Inspiration” (1985), from the exhibition “Arthur Miller: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer.” Credit: Arthur Mitchell Collection, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

The highly anticipated exhibition, Arthur Mitchell: Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer, launches January 12, 2018 with a reception at The Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

“I am a political activist through dance.”

Curated by Lynn Garafola, Professor Emerita of Dance, Barnard College, the exhibition celebrates the life and accomplishments Arthur Mitchell, the New York City Ballet’s first African American star, and the founder and longtime director of the Dance Theater of Harlem.

colorful puzzle of dancers, historic landmarks

A eight-foot-long Dance Theatre of Harlem puzzle, created by Frank Bara in 1991.

Harlem’s Ballet Trailblazer will feature objects from Mitchell’s archive, including the telegram from Lincoln Kirstein to Mitchell inviting him to join the New York City Ballet, photographs of Mitchell and fellow dancers by Anthony Crickmay, Peter Basch, Martha Swope and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), and an eight-foot-long Dance Theatre of Harlem puzzle, created by Frank Bara in 1991, that chronicles the first two decades of the company’s history with illustrative detail of its artists, heroes and friends. Dancer Charmaine Hunter’s costume and headpiece designed by Geoffrey Holder for Firebird (1982), one of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature works, will be on view, as well as performance footage from the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division and elsewhere.

Read more about Mr. Mitchell, the exhibition and his lasting dance legacy in The New York Times, “Arthur Mitchell, Ballet’s ‘Grandfather of Diversity” (January 5, 2018).

Please join us on Friday, January 12th from 6 to 8pm to mark the achievements of a legendary figure in dance history and the donation of his archives with the RBML. No booking necessary.

The Depth of New Yorker Films

Written by Sarah Cassone, Processing Intern Dan Talbot Papers

MS Student, Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University

 

One thing that is striking upon processing the Dan Talbot Papers is the types of materials his company kept and the attention to detail each film was given. When I think about the functions of film distribution companies my immediate thoughts are acquiring, distributing, and publicizing. Talbot’s New Yorker Films seemed to go above and beyond what was required for such a small independent film company.  With a staff of just nine individuals (according to a quick internet search) the amount of material within the Dan Talbot Papers surrounding New Yorker Films is astounding. The collection spans over 500 boxes and includes a variety of materials from printed and audiovisual material to operations files.

 

The most surprising files I’ve found have been the reviews of each film Talbot’s company distributed. Not only does the collection contain both original newspaper clippings as well as copies but these reviews are sometimes broken down by region (for example East Coast and West Coast reviews) and sometimes even more specifically by state. I’ve never considered how much importance a film distribution company would place on film reviews. It seems a little odd to me to collect nearly everything written about the film. As a matter of practice, you would think a film company would care more about how much money the film is making rather than whether or not it is being favorably received. Perhaps it was Talbot’s own history as a former film critic (he wrote for The New York Times in the 1960 as well as The Progressive) as well as his nature as a cinephile that made him want to read and save pages upon pages of reviews.

 

I was also surprised at the detailed marketing attention some of the films in his distribution company received. While it is entirely common for film companies to put together press kits of film synopses and photographs in order to send out to the media, it is quite another to be engaging in the creation of original artwork for the films. The film Peppermint Soda, a 1977 coming of age French film, directed by Diane Kurys and distributed by New Yorker Films, features some incredibly stunning hand drawn art, from full posters and transparencies to individual prints.

The above poster and transparency for the film were created by Floc’h, a French artist who previously collaborated with director Jacques Rivette. It is likely he’d already provided his services prior to Talbot’s acquisition of the title, as Gaumont films originally had the rights to the film. Regardless, the detail in marketing and publicity for Peppermint Soda is so specific to the film’s content and genre and was clearly given a lot of time and focus after Talbot’s acquisition of the title.

 

Many files within the Dan Talbot Papers contain ads for films. These would appear in newspapers and magazines and are usually presented with quotes. They are normally stills from the film. The ads for Peppermint Soda, however, contain original 8 1/2 by 11 hand drawn black and white illustrations, based upon scenes in the film.

Some of this artwork was then set within print newspaper ads.

From my experience processing thus far, it appears that Talbot kept all the print ads to most of his films, from each publication they appeared in. The Dan Talbot Papers are not only a treasure trove of material from the independent and foreign film scene for cinephiles, researchers, and scholars alike but the collection also provides insight into the inner workings of an independent distribution company and just how far that role extends.

The Death of the Guest Book

Written by Sarah Cassone, Processing Intern Dan Talbot Papers

MS student, Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University

 

I’m currently working on processing the Dan Talbot Papers at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University. The Dan Talbot Papers were acquired by RBML in April 2009. Dan Talbot was the founder of New Yorker Films and a key figure in Art House and Independent cinema.  As described in the initial Columbia University press release, “The collection is composed of correspondence files that span more than 30 years, more than two decades of producer reports, contract files, files related to New Yorker Films, financial records, guest books dating back to 1960 and production related ephemera.”

 

It’s the guest books section of the collection that I’ve chosen to focus on first. These guest books are from Talbot’s New Yorker Theater which was operational from 1960 to 1973. The New Yorker Theater was an art house cinema that screened classic and foreign films, as well as Independent and avant-garde films of the day. The theater was the first of its kind to hit New York City and provided an outlet for many up and coming filmmakers such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese as well as notable film critics such as Susan Sontag and Andrew Sarris. Talbot established the use of guest books in his cinema so that patrons could state what they’d be interested in seeing.

 

The guest books yielded a variety of responses — from a few overzealous viewers who decided to draw guitars as their way of saying they’d like to see the Nicholas Ray film Johnny Guitar, to the cinephiles who take up an entire page with a few films titles because they were just that passionate.

Some patrons didn’t leave their names; others did. A few notable individuals who attended the theater and suggested what they’d like to see were none other than Gene Wilder and Martin Scorsese.  

There is also an entry written by Gloria Swanson, and if it really was the classic actress then narcissism was rearing its head as her chosen film was — wait for it — Sunset Boulevard.  

While it’s likely this amusing entry, complete with an address, was Swanson, there were quite a few patrons who did enjoy pretending to be people they were not. A few imposters spotted amongst the guest books included Groucho Marx, Judy Garland and Orson Welles.

 

The idea of guest books at a theater seems completely foreign to me today. We go to the movies and see what is offered because the majority of the movie-going public attends mainstream movie houses. Talbot utilized the guest book as a way of sussing out what his audience was really interested in and attempting to obtain those films because his goal was to bring Art House cinema to the foreground.  However, it was not always easy. Talbot’s own difficulty at obtaining foreign titles to screen at his theater was the catalyst that lead him to found New Yorker Films in the first place, in 1965.  

 

The New Yorker Theater is no longer around and what we have left is several dozen guest books encapsulating a period of time that had New Yorkers excited and hungry for art and culture. Art House theaters do still exist, especially in the city. A notable one is the Film Forum, which showcases a variety of classic and foreign cinema and very often has retrospectives on certain genres or directors. Others include the Museum of Moving Image, the IFC Center, Landmark’s Sunshine Theaters and the Angelika Film Center.

 

Each of these theaters screens a variety of classic and foreign film selections in addition to current independent cinema. Talbot and his wife now run Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. It’s a small theater and very close to the Lincoln Center Loews, yet offers a variety of films that are usually not shown there. When a film says it opens in limited release in New York and L.A., you can bet that Lincoln Plaza Cinemas is one of the theaters in New York to screen it.

 

Having been at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas myself I did not see any guest books in the lobby. However, it would be wonderful to see the return of this outreach tool in one of these establishments to give cinephiles a voice for what they’d like to see. Dan Talbot had the right idea in the 1960’s with his New Yorker Theater and it was that cinema is a collaborative art between filmmakers, film distributors, and its patrons.

Tues., Oct. 22nd, a Celebration Concert: “The Ulysses Kay Project” @ Columbia

 

 Ulysses Kay

 

On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 6:00 pm Columbia University Columbia University Office of the Chaplain’s Concert Series will feature the Harlem Chamber Players at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University 117th Street and Amsterdam (See, map @ no. 12).  This concert is part of what the Harlem Chamber Players have titled “The Ulysses Kay Project”.The concert will feature performers:

Tia Roper – Flute

Ashley Horne – Violin

Orlando Wells – Violin

Audrey Mitchell – Viola

Lawrence Zoernig – Cello.

They will perform Kay’s: Prelude for Unaccompanied Flute, Flute Quintet and Selected String Quartets

It is a salute to the completion of Columbia University Libraries, Rare Books & Manuscript Library s work archiving, as Jennifer Lee, Curator for Performing Arts noted, “a treasure trove of material relating to all aspects of the composer’s work, from manuscript sketches to finished scores, including correspondence, photographs, programs, and his professional files.”

Michael Ryan, Head of Columbia’s Rare Books & Manuscript Library, at the time the Columbia received these works, commented, that Kay was “[a] prolific and important composer of contemporary symphonic, chamber, and choral music, Kay also wrote five operas, the most substantial and last of which, Jubilee (1976) and Frederick Douglass (1991), were based on themes from African-American history.” Ryan also noted that, “Kay was a formidable and versatile composer.”  It is amazing that we are approaching the 70th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic premiere of Ulysses Kay’s first major work Of New Horizons: Overture at what was then West Harlem’s stunning Lewisohn Stadium which is now the site of City College of New York’s North Academic building.

Kay’s connection with Columbia goes back to 1946 when he was awarded the Alice M. Ditson Fellowship in Composition and studied with Otto Leunig.  He also was the winner of the BMI Prize for his work Suite for Orchestra, which Dean Dixon and the American Youth Orchestra premiered in 1945 and A Short Overture, which received the George Gershwin Memorial Award in 1946.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in RBML span more than 4,000 years and comprise rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; as well as art and realia.  Some 500,000 printed books and 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, and records form the core of the RBML holdings.  One can find literary manuscripts from the 14th century to the papers of authors Herman Wouk and Erica Jong.  Archives as varied as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Random House, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International-USA, and the archives of Columbia University are available for research.  The history of printing, graphic arts and the performing arts are strengths of RBML.

“Processing the Andrew Sarris Papers or ‘Is Harry Too Dirty?'”

Megan Darlington, RBML Intern (summer, 2012)

As an intern at RBML this past summer, I had the pleasure of processing the papers of prominent film critic and Columbia professor, the late Andrew Sarris (1928-2012).  The papers reveal a rare glimpse into Sarris’s life and work, and document major trends in theory and criticism during a period in which film gained exceptional traction as a true artistic medium.  These developments are especially apparent in Sarris’s correspondence, which include letters between other critics, scholars, fans, and a considerable handful of notable actors, actresses, and directors.  Among the most fascinating pieces I found in processing this collection is a 1977 letter written by Clint Eastwood.

 

Printed on the letterhead of Eastwood’s own production company, The Malpaso Company, the actor-director-producer thanked Sarris for his article, “Is Harry Too Dirty?” Appearing January 24, 1977 in the Village Voice, the reputably liberal Sarris revisited the 1971 film and employs a decidedly less scathing tone in comparison with his contemporaries.  Departing from the diatribes of adversary Pauline Kael, who admonished the film as a fascist attack on liberal values, Sarris understood Eastwood’s character to be more complex and symbolic.

Although Sarris was not necessarily an admirer of the film, Eastwood thanks him nonetheless for “understanding” him from a liberal perspective.  Perhaps Eastwood’s political leanings were less conspicuous in 1977, because as he claims in this letter he does not consider himself to be “politically aligned”.  It is clear today, however, that this is a friendly discourse between two filmic figures on seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum.