Sunday, February 29, 2004

For just a fistful of dollars, we can help restore our past

Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

A mystery film - shot in Cincinnati and stuffed with hometown pride - needs someone with wings. And deep pockets.

The film is old. It was made in 1935. And, it contains images of Cincinnati before World War II. There are aerial shots over a bustling Lunken Airport and the "new" Union Terminal.

The footage is rare. Few motion-picture-quality movies of pre-war Cincinnati exist.

This one's existence is threatened. The film is deteriorating.

Left untouched, this 69-year-old work will turn to dust. Soon. So, it needs an angel. Someone to pay for its preservation. Someone with a spare $8,000-$10,000.

That would preserve Cincinnati - a series of four films made by Cincinnatians for Cincinnatians.

"This film just reeks with pride," said George Willeman. He's the Nitrate Film Vault Leader - yes, that's his official title - at the Library of Congress' Motion Picture Conservation Center. The facility is located on Dayton's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The film, stored in four canisters, has languished in the center's vaults for years. It was discovered during a routine inventory. Nothing on the film or the canisters indicates whether these reels were ever shown or why they were ever made.

Willeman calls the film "an amazing snapshot. Here's Cincinnati at the height of the Depression. And here they are making this film talking about just how great everything is."

The film gives the impression, Willeman said, "Cincinnati has all of this great stuff going on." Sounds like the city's boosters circa 2004.

"The narration is very florid," he added. It's filled with "all sorts of niceties about Cincinnati."

A favorite: "A city on a hill is a city with a soul." Cut to a shot of Mount Adams.

The film's narrator is Bob Brown. He was an announcer, with a TV-news anchor-worthy voice. Brown was well known to Cincinnati audiences in the 1930s for his radio work on WLW before taking a network job at NBC.

During a tour of the vaults, Willeman showed the film to Mike Martini. And an idea was born.

Martini is a radio historian. The WVXU-FM producer is also the president of Media Heritage, a non-profit organization preserving Cincinnati's recorded history.

Here's his idea: Someone with Cincinnati pride and $8,000-$10,000 could call Media Heritage (513-458-3162) and donate that sum. The money would be turned over to the Library of Congress. The film would be preserved and new copies made. VCR and DVD versions could be made available for public consumption.

Martini has no angels in mind.

So, here's a suggestion: The local TV news anchors could take up a collection. The pocket lint from their six-figure incomes could easily come to $10,000.

That way the anchors could make a lasting contribution to Cincinnati's history. They could save the past and report on their present while reading the evening news.


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