Published Feb. 14, 2020

8炫彩彩票开户AUSTIN — Click play on the grainy, black-and-white image titled simply “Houston Time Service” on the website of the and you’re treated to a 110-second Houston love story.

The film, from the 1940s, is about a phone number Houstonians could call to get the correct time. Ruth McClain Graham owned the service, according to . Two years earlier she had married Shadrack E. “Shad” Graham, an itinerant filmmaker, who, apparently taken with the proprietor, produced the film promoting the business.

8炫彩彩票开户But film, like love, can be short-lived, and that’s what has driven Caroline Frick’s race against time. The role of film preservationists like Frick, an associate professor of film at the University of Texas’ Moody College of Communication in Austin, becomes ever more crucial as moving images depicting life and history become unplayable.

As the years play on, the decay of aging motion picture film accelerates, as does the quality of magnetic tape on which video is recorded. Video projectors and old-format tape machines break, are not repaired and discarded. The race to get these recordings into a digital format - also unlikely to survive forever - becomes more crucial with each passing year.

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8炫彩彩票开户“This is what we are trying to prevent,” says Frick, who founded and is executive director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, or TAMI, in 2003, opening a plastic bag filled with what looks at first glance to be beef jerky. It’s actually decomposing celluloid, curled and blackened. The smell from the bag is a pungent, vinegary rot, and in TAMI’s crowded offices near downtown Austin, you can catch a whiff if you stand next to stacks of boxes filled with 8-, 16- and 35-millimeter film.

8炫彩彩票开户Another threat is in the shrinking universe of ways to watch these historic movies, a dwindling number of obsolete devices available for playback. Frick points to a Sony reel-to-reel videotape machine on the floor that once was the pride of a television station editing room. It was designed to work with a now-abandoned, 1-inch tape format.

8炫彩彩票开户“We were able to play something once on that after we got it, and then it broke,” she says, sighing. “We’re still looking for parts.”

A staff of five — all part-timers — are in the office on this chilly January day. Some work on physical restoration of film, others scan it into computers for digitization. Another crew catalogs and curates, putting context to the images that, ultimately, stream across the internet to computers, phones and tablets.

It is a daunting task, hampered by a lack of funding — TAMI’s annual budget is in the $300,000 range — and made overwhelming by the sheer amount of content that flows in. So far, TAMI has digitized about 58 terabytes of film and video, but only 10 percent of that is available for viewing at its website, .

“The number one reason for the disconnect between what we have digitized vs. what is streaming is budget - the human labor of researching and contextualizing the content,” Frick says. “Everyone is excited about what AI will be able to do some day (for automated curation) but, as of yet, nothing is as reliable or useful as the human eye and brain.”

Mundane to monumental

8炫彩彩票开户TAMI acquires its film and video in a variety of ways. Some is donated from businesses and institutions. In some instances, Frick and other staffers will hear about a promising cache and track it down. And much of it comes from individuals, often through a program in which TAMI visits Texas towns, calling for donations of film and video.

The , as the field trips are called, is done in conjunction with the . At the local events, TAMI offers to take the content, digitize it, then return the original along with a digital copy for free. Frick said that the content must “have something to do with Texas, or be about Texas, be about Texans, or even just shot in Texas” to qualify.

8炫彩彩票开户And that means what TAMI’s staff gets is wide ranging. There are videos of kids swinging sticks at pinatas at backyard barbecues in South Texas; reels of local short subjects recovered from the projection rooms of long-closed theaters; institutional training films from now-defunct businesses.

The Film Commission, which is part of the governor’s office, is TAMI’s biggest source of funding and is a major part of its marketing.

“The biggest component we have is our reach,” says Taylor Hertsenberg, senior marketing specialist at the commission. “We cover the entire state, and that lets us emphasize the importance of preservation.”

8炫彩彩票开户Hertsenberg describes TAMI as “a unique case” in the United States because it seeks to preserve everything from industrial film to home movies to films created by traveling or “itinerant” filmmakers make it one of a kind.

8炫彩彩票开户“They’re not just looking for feature films, but also behind-the-scenes videos, Coke commercials, and tons of videos from all over the state,” he says. “They acknowledge the importance of Texas’ film heritage by then actually showing it (on the TAMI website).”

TAMI also crafts lesson plans for teachers who want to use its collections for educational purposes. There are currently, which Hertsenberg said are available free to educators.

The next roundup is planned for sometime this spring, Frick says, in either San Antonio or Houston.

Striking gold

Sometimes, Frick and her staff hit a gold mine. Shortly after the archive opened, she got a phone call from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“They wanted to know where they could recycle movie film,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Uh, hold on. Let’s start over here.’”

8炫彩彩票开户She wound up with a trove of DPS training films from the 1950s and ’60s, including one that using department employees as actors.

There’s also a film showing the  — including using explosives — for which the DPS investigators might eventually need those interrogation skills.

As for the “Houston Time Service” film, it was provided to TAMI by the . It was among donated to the library by Ruth Graham after her husband died in January 1969.

Graham had an early career in Hollywood but later worked out of Missouri City as an itinerant filmmaker. He was best known for the “Our Home Town”, a series of short films made in 250 different U.S. cities, many in Texas. He also captured film of the immediate aftermath of the Texas City refinery explosion in 1947, footage that has been used in subsequent documentaries and news stories on that disaster.

“Houston Time Service” was one of the few reels among those donated that was salvageable, Frick says.

Recently added to TAMI’s site: featuring Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong frolicking with his family at a backyard party in Houston, provided by a Houston resident who used to be his neighbor.

Corinne Poel’s husband shot the images on 8-mm film sometime in 1969, but she’s unsure if it was before or after Armstrong took the first steps on the moon. The film shows Armstrong riding on a small motorized scooter, kids jumping into a pool and adults milling around picnic tables laden with food. Poel, now 85, had not seen the images in 50 years.

8炫彩彩票开户“The old projector is up in the attic,” she says. “It doesn’t work anymore.”

8炫彩彩票开户She gave the film to KPRC-TV (Channel 2), which aired it as part of the Apollo 11 anniversary coverage. Frick saw it, contacted Poel and got a copy.

8炫彩彩票开户The scenes with Armstrong begin at about the 6:20 mark in the video below. The astronaut is wearing a light blue, short-sleeve shirt.

8炫彩彩票开户In fact, TAMI’s single biggest donation of film and video came from KPRC. The TV station’s collection of old film and videos, as well as some playback equipment, was provided to TAMI so it could digitize them.

8炫彩彩票开户Jerry Martin, vice president and general manager for KPRC, says he wanted to find a home for the collection, which was threatened by a new building project. At a previous station, Grant had been surprised to learn that decades of film and videotape had been thrown out. He didn’t want that to happen here.

“In the TV news business, we are focused on today and the future, we’re not focused on history,” he says. “It’s not our job to preserve this stuff.”

8炫彩彩票开户After all, there are momentous historical events chronicled there.

8炫彩彩票开户“There’s film of JFK at the Rice Hotel the night before the assassination, LBJ at his ranch a month after he took office,” Grant says. “And really, when you look at all this footage, you can see how society has changed.”

8炫彩彩票开户Grant says after spending time looking for a suitable foundation to take the collection, he “stumbled” across TAMI and struck a deal.

8炫彩彩票开户“It was obvious that (TAMI) was where this belonged,” he says. “They could go out and get some grant money to convert all this footage.”

That’s been easier said than done. So far, Frick hasn’t found someone to fund the KPRC conversion, so her part-time staff works on it between work on film and video donated by way of the Texas Roundup, which gets priority as they are expecting digital copies in exchange for their donations. Even then, it’s a six-month backlog, Frick says.

Race against time

Those who work with TAMI say that it’s amazing how much the non-profit has accomplished so far, given its meager budget. Frick is constantly applying for grants, which may or may not be awarded. A lot of the big money going to preservation is aimed at feature films. Smaller movies and video, which document day-to-day life, just aren’t as sexy, she says.

8炫彩彩票开户As she hustles to find resources, Frick is painfully aware of all that has already been lost.

“Ninety percent of films made before 1927 are gone,” she says, much of that having to do with early film stock being made of nitrate, which is highly unstable and, even worse, flammable.

Even current film stock degrades relatively quickly, and videotape becomes brittle and can stretch or snap. There are tricks that to making an old videotape playable — TAMI has a small oven in its office used to literally bake tape, after which it can be played — but only once.

And that’s if TAMI can find a machine on which to play it. Many TV stations have trashed their out-of-date playback machines as they move to more modern formats.

8炫彩彩票开户What would she do if her budget suddenly jumped to $1 million dollars?

“I’d jump on eBay and buy as many old videotape machines as I can find,” Frick says.

8炫彩彩票开户Texas Archive of the Moving Image is a non-profit that digitizes and archives film shared by individuals as well as businesses, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in Austin.

(Callie Richmond/Contributor | Houston Chronicle)

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Chronicle archivist Joyce Lee contributed to this story

Dwight Silverman is the technology editor for the Houston Chronicle. He manages the website, he also writes a weekly tech newsletter, . He can be reached by email  dwight.silverman@chron.com and follow him on 8炫彩彩票开户