In 1939, MoMA acquired a treasure trove of 36 reels of 68mm nitrate prints and negatives made during cinema’s first years. Everything that survives of the Biograph film company lives on those reels, including a rare bit of moving-image footage of Queen Victoria. For the latest edition of How to See, and to mark the bicentennial of Victoria’s birth, we visited MoMA’s film archives in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, to learn more about the incredible quality and clarity of this newly discovered 19th-century movie, and the efforts archivists make to preserve such irreplaceable snapshots of history. Curator Dave Kehr joins the discussion to help us look at the early film with the same awe-inspired, expanded view of the world of its first audiences.
We live in an environment where there are moving images constantly around us. ...But in 1897, this was startling and new and completely revolutionary. It was a different way of looking at the world.