The March of the Movies – and MoMA

Wait…don’t I have a print of a March of Time episode about the opening of MoMA’s new building and film library from 1939? Ah, yes. Here it is…The March of the Movies, in 16mm. Turns out there were two episodes issued, and it’s easy to see why I conflated them.

I pulled out the metal film can that contained the print of The March of The Movies (1949). It’s in good shape, considering it was struck in 1950 and has a touch of vinegar syndrome. I’d put a small hunk of pure camphor in the can a few months ago, and it’s now gone. So far: camphor – 1, V.S. – 0.

I wanted to watch the short and see if there’s footage of Iris Barry. There is, but not much. The March of the Movies’ main title card says MCMXLIX. I really thought the episode I had was from 1939 and was about MoMA’s Department of Film and its Film Library. But I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it, most probably at MoMA, during one of the previous Iris Barry series some years ago.

head leader from my print of the March of Time “Forum Edition” episode, The March of the Movies (1949); the Kodak edge-code on my print shows that it was struck in 1950

A little more digging online, esp on YouTube, turned up two March of Time episodes: one from 1939 and one from 1949. The short from 1939 is The Movies March On, and does cover the opening of the new film library and auditorium screenings. There is footage of Iris Barry and John Abbott, more than in the ‘49 edition.

I don’t know what prompted the producers of The March of Time to revisit the subject ten years later. The second short uses almost all the same footage and clips as the first one, but with a little less emphasis on MoMA and a little more on Hollywood.

MoMA Film Schedule 1949
Screen grab from the YouTube posting. That’s right – in 1949 there were daily matinee screenings with live piano accompaniment by Arthur Kleiner. In 2019 – The Crazy Ray screens in the Iris Barry’s History of Film series on Nov 18, and The Last Laugh on Nov 13

If you want to see what kind of a big deal it was for the Museum of Modern Art to have declared in 1935 that film was art and to have established a circulating film library, I’m embedding the 1939 film, found on YouTube.

You’ll see footage of the Film LIbrary, musical scores and prints being prepped for shipping. Also remarkable is the narrator’s informing us that these are going out to the hundreds of museums and universities interested in screenings.

There are a couple shots of public screenings in the auditorium, now known as Titus 1, but no footage of Arthur Kleiner at the piano unfortunately.

Here’s the original 1939 March of Time release The Movies March On:

posted to YouTube by A/V Geeks

This is the 1949 March of the Movies edition. (This is not my print and was not uploaded to YouTube by me.)

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Kenneth Henderson
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Kenneth Henderson

The videos were hard to download and I had to go elsewhere to get a program to download them but I got them. Fox was also a distributor of the series during a period. I had or have the 16mmof one on radio. My understanding was that the LOC got all the outtakes etc of March of Time but lost it a few decades ago in a fire in their then Virginia? warehouse. They also lost a large amount of nitrate footage given to them from Universal from All Quiet On the Western Front(1930). What else I don’t know. MOMA… Read more »

John Aldrich
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John Aldrich

There is also a 1942 episode of ‘John Nesbitt’s Passing Parade’ that is about the film
Department at MOMA. It’s called “The Film That Was Lost”. TCM runs it from time to time.