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Out of the Archives: 35 mm Prints from the SMU Collections

Film series presents a rare opportunity to see what’s inside the G. William Jones Archive

Amanda Presmyk (B.A. '14-Film and Media Arts & Journalism)
What’s hidden below the surface of the Meadows School of the Arts? Quite a bit, including the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, a vast and eclectic holding of films from nearly every decade of the past century now housed in the basement of Greer Garson.

Dr. William Jones was an SMU film professor for 27 years. He also founded the Dallas-based USA Film Festival, which he directed for 12 years. Throughout his career, Jones tirelessly swept up old reels from theaters across Texas as they went out of business or shut down. Desiring to support education through the preservation and presentation of moving images, Jones founded the collection in 1970.

The collection, which is part of the Hamon Arts Library, holds more than 9,000 film prints and negatives in both 16mm and 35mm, 3,000 videotapes, some still photography and examples of antique recording equipment.

Genres of film range from Warner Brothers gangster flicks to
Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too , comedies from the 1980s that star Michael J. Fox and Jason Bateman, respectively. The Belo news film collection – a large stock of raw news footage from the 1960s and ’70s – was donated to the archives by WFAA, KRLD and KERA. An extremely rare print of Alfred Hitchcock’s first color feature film from 1926, The Pleasure Garden , is a particularly notable work in the holdings.

What the collection is most known for, however, is the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection, a set of race movies produced by independent African-American companies in the 1930s and 1940s.

This impressive archive of film and video is one that, unfortunately, “a lot of people don’t know exists,” says Sean Griffin, chair of the Meadows School’s Division of Film and Media Arts.

In an effort to showcase some of the collection’s remarkable contents, Griffin has worked with Amy Turner, department manager for the Hamon Library and head of the G. William Jones Collection, to put together a public film series this semester titled “Out of the Archives: 35 mm Prints from the SMU Collections.”

The experience of watching a film print projected is much different than that of simply streaming one on a laptop; organic film possesses a gorgeous character that at once displays a high quality image and evokes a sense of nostalgia and beauty.

Because of this, both Griffin and Turner believe that tracking down copyright holders, making sure the prints are projector-ready, and devoting time to the upkeep of the archives is well worth the trouble. What’s in the vault has a lot of value to offer students, faculty and the public. As Turner says, the screenings “give people…an opportunity to see actual prints of these films,” an opportunity that will – unfortunately – not always be available to our generation.

Films on schedule for this semester are Gene Autry’s
Oh, Susanna! , on March 2, Fellini’s first color feature film, Giulietta degli Spiriti ( Juliet of the Spirits ), on April 6, and on April 27, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney’s last film together, T he Roaring Twenties .

Screenings, which are free of charge and open to the public, are presented in room 3531 on the third floor of the Greer Garson Theatre at 7:00 p.m. For more information, call 214-768-2129.

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