The Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 21, 2003
July 21, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 40


New life for old film

With a prestigious grant, Johns Hopkins begins to preserve rare footage

By Glenn Small

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

For 10 years, in darkened YMCAs and church basements and auditoriums around Baltimore and elsewhere, viewers watched the flickering images of doctors, nurses, patients and staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital go through the routine of an ordinary day.

Between 1932, when it was filmed, and the beginning of World War II, what was known as The Johns Hopkins Movie was seen 146 times by more than 30,000 people, giving them a rare behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a teaching hospital.

The 1932 'Johns Hopkins Movie' was rediscovered in the 1980s by Dale Levitz, director of Hopkins Medical Video. The film provides a rare behind-the scenes look at a teaching hospital.

But over the ensuing years, the silent black-and-white film was forgotten. In the early 1980s, it was rediscovered by Dale Levitz, director of Hopkins Medical Video, and Nancy McCall, an archivist at JHMI's Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, who watched the film back then, when it was still pliable enough to go through a projector. "We were just astonished at what this was," Levitz remembered recently.

Like a window through time, the film shows physicians performing surgery, nurses preparing meals and bandages for patients, specialists consulting over X rays and staff working equipment and apparatus that has long since vanished from the scene.

But today, that original footage is in near ruins. Badly shrunken and afflicted with a condition that is virtually destroying the film stock, it can no longer be projected for a public audience and sits in a canister in the basement of Turner Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus.

But thanks to Winston Tabb, dean of university libraries and director of the Sheridan Libraries, and a team of Hopkins staff who put together a grant proposal for the National Film Preservation Foundation, the old Johns Hopkins Movie is getting a new lease on life. The NFPF recently awarded Johns Hopkins $11,000 to make a new copy of the film, as well as digital video copies.

"This is a fantastic start to our efforts to preserve and protect the many treasures in our film and video archives," said Tabb, who had suggested that the university apply for the NFPF grant, with which he was familiar from his days on staff at the Library of Congress. "We're pleased ours was among those deemed worthy of preservation."

Lee Watkins, who coordinated the grant application process, said the NFPF worked hard with him to find the most appropriate film preservation vendor, to make sure that the hospital film was copied properly, in what is a laborious and expensive undertaking.

"I'm very glad to see they thought so much of our effort, because they are giving us nearly double what they typically award for a project like this," said Watkins, who is director of the Center for Scholarly Resources in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. The typical award is $6,000.

Ann Koch, associate director of development for the MSE Library, wrote the grant application, with help from Special Collections, Levitz and McCall.

The film will soon be shipped to California, where experts at Film Technology Company will carefully make a film-to-film copy of the brittle original. Alan Stark, who works for that firm, said the process will take from six to eight weeks.

When the copy returns to Johns Hopkins, Levitz said she and others who helped write the grant application will organize a public showing. "We'd like people today and in the future to be able to take a look back in time to a day in the life of this world-class medical institution ... to watch the film again in the way it was first shown," she said.