Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first great men to be recorded thirty years ago by that new invention, The Motion Picture. And from that first rather crude film, taken when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, until his death, his brilliant career was faithfully recorded on the gradually perfected cellulose film, now a so matter of fact part of our daily existence. Indeed so closely did his years of public life parallel those during which moving picture were perfected, that the collection of films recording his deeds comprises a cross section of the history of motion picture development, and from it alone a history of motion picture might well be written. And so accustomed has everyone become to the impression that the great men and women whom the motion picture have been immortalized in cellulose for all time, that when the Roosevelt Memorial Association began several years ago to assemble all the existing Roosevelt films, it was felt that the task was one of merely collection. It was soon discovered however, that this was far from the fact, and that the very films which had that was hopeless. To save them by reproduction on modern film stock was the immediate necessity. But this, too presented seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
In the early days of moving pictures, disorganization had been so great that films made during this period were of a multitude of kinds, sizes, designs, and manufacture. All these variations were reflected in the invaluable collection which Miss Caroline Gentry had made for the Roosevelt Memorial Association. The films had been “shot” in many places all over the globe and in perhaps ten or twelve different makes of cameras. The apertures, or individual pictures, were far from the sizes we use today. Some were comparatively small; some so large they ran into the perforations; others were so high they overlapped each other at the frame line. The position of the frame lines varied in a like manner. Some were placed on the sprocket hole; others between, and in the ninety- one rolls which were selected for the permanent library, the frame lines were scattered from one extreme to the other.
These “mistakes” as I shall term them, were but the natural result of the prevailing lack of system, together with an incomplete knowledge of the proper atmosphere in which motion picture film should be stored. But if the films were to be saved, they had to be reproduced. And if they were to be exhibited all of these weird variations had to be eliminated, and a single uniform film welded from the chaos which the originals presented. This was indeed a new problem in for the motion picture industry. A year and a half was spent by the Roosevelt Memorial Association seeking to find how it could be done. Had they not succeeded in securing a practical method of doing it the film records of the life of Theodore Roosevelt would, in a few more years, have been lost to the world.
A way was found. To correct and bring to standard requirements such a series of films necessitated the making of “master positives” and “dupe negatives” from which prints for modern projection might be obtained. A marvelous printing machine was secured which could be adjusted to compensate for all the manifold variations in the originals. In all three set of claws were used to fit unusual and shrunken perforations.
The negative and positive heads of an optical printing machine together with all the operating movements therein necessitated adjustment every time frame lines changed, which happened constantly. Readjustment was also required when pictures had to be enlarged slightly to fill the aperture. Or, when the image was too large a slight portion of the sides of the film had to be masked off. Otherwise ragged edges of the sprocket holes would be shown.
Nor were these all the “miracles of recovery” required. Among the films was a scene of President McKinley speaking at the Pan-American Exposition, a few hours before he was assassinated. A close up of the President was desired. In those early days no one had thought of close-ups. The cameraman evidently had thought he must show everything possible. In the one picture he had taken the President, his official staff, the stand from which he spoke and the vast crowds which listened to the oration which proved to be his last public address. Therefore a close-up had to be created from the long shots of the ancient film. This scene with infinite care, was enlarged to such an extent that a “ reasonably close view” was reproduced on the “master” from which a “dupe” was made and thereafter prints.
Again, valuable scenes were found to be pitifully short. The characters barely appeared before they whisked out of the picture. In a scene in which Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. McKinley came down the steps of the Capitol they were walking fast, but stopped at a certain level before walking out of the picture. The scene was too short to allow the audience sufficient time for the really good view which the picture should afford. Also at the same moment they stopped a fair sized close up could be seen. To lengthen this scene was the problem. In the reproduction each separate aperture was doubled, two frames of each being printed on the “master” to each frame of the original negative. As their feet did not appear in the picture the action in the resulting picture did not seem jerky. At the point where they stopped for an instant, this single aperture was reproduced for a length of three feet. The result of this work gave the audience ample time to see the men, and a reasonably good close-up for a few seconds before they left the picture entirely.
And these are but a few of the technical problems which had to be mastered in order that T.R. might be perpetuated in film for the millions of coming Americans who would never had been able to understand how our generation could have allowed such a priceless history to be lost, as it surely would have been lost in a few years but for the efforts of the Roosevelt Memorial Association.
But due to their ceaseless effort, aided by modern technological skill, there has been saved for all time the story of Theodore Roosevelt, the great American, whose life is an inspiration to the world, T.R. naturalist, soldier, explorer, builder of the Panama Canal, conserver and defender of our natural resources, popular leader, prophet Governor, President, and Citizen.