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From Pyramids to Spectres: A Look at the Met's "Cinema Films"

William Blueher
June 17, 2015

The Spectre

The Spectre, a Met "cinema film" from 1929

«In 2013 I wrote about a 1929 Met catalogue entitled Cinema Films: A List of the Films and the Conditions under which They Are Rented, a collection of educational "cinema films" that the Met used to rent out to various schools and cultural institutions in the New York City area. The films range from straightforward informational ones, like Pyramids and Temples of Ancient Egypt, to the patently bizarre, like The Spectre—a "Colonial fantasy" about "a malign apparition which appears to the superstitious eyes of a seventeenth-century New England family." The still from the catalogue (above), which shows a maniacally grinning man in a ten-gallon hat floating in front of shadowy latticed windows, is of this malign apparition, a character that would not seem at all out of place in a David Lynch film. Like all of these films, the majority of The Spectre was shot on-site at the Met.»

Watson Library has now digitized six catalogues of Met "cinema films" that can be downloaded as PDFs or viewed online. In addition, the Met has fully digitized a few of the films from these catalogues to be viewed on MetMedia.

One fully digitized film, The Hidden Talisman: A Ghostly Romance at the Cloisters, tells the story of a woman whose lover goes off to war. As he leaves, he gives her a talisman to remember him by in case he doesn't make it back alive. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't.) The entire film can be viewed in all its ghostly glory below.

The Hidden Talisman: A Ghostly Romance at the Cloisters, a silent Met "cinema film" from 1929

Another, The Making of a Bronze Statue, shows the construction of an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt executed by the American sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor (check out this interview with Proctor's grandson on The American West in Bronze exhibition blog). The statue was then donated to the city of Portland, Oregon, by Henry Waldo Coe, a lifelong friend of Roosevelt.

The Making of a Bronze Statue, a silent Met "cinema film" from 1929

Finally, there's A Visit to the Armor Galleries. This thirty-minute film features a number of actors (possibly even curators?) actually wearing armor from the Met's collection as they ride on horseback through Central Park. I sincerely hope a sequel will be forthcoming shortly.

A Visit to the Armor Galleries, a silent Met "cinema film" from 1929

These catalogues and digitized "cinema films," along with the flagship Met app and the availability of the Museum's Audio Guide on smartphones, are just a few of the latest examples of the Met's ongoing commitment to use digital media to connect with visitors. While the mediums are always evolving, the Museum is committed to engaging with the broadest audience possible.

William Blueher

William Blueher is the manager of cataloging in Thomas J. Watson Library.