Project Status Report: Adventures in the Archive

2009 July 30
by Zachary McCune


The Mysterious Library of Maurice Rapf

Compiling a bibliography for Political Cinema has kept me buried in the B-Level of the Rock all this week (and a good chunk of last week). Down there, in the PN 1993’s to 1997’s, I’ve been able to dig up all sorts of interesting texts, some of which were relevant to the course. Of the material that wasn’t, “Z for Zagreb” proved particularly interesting. A short overview on the Yugoslavian animation industry in the 1960’s, “Z for Zagreb” was interesting not only for its rare content, but for its bookplate, which explained that it was originally part of the “Maurice Rapf Film Studies Library” a part of the “Brown Film Society.” While the Brown Film Society certainly exists today, it has clearly changed dramatically since it had its own private film studies library. Today, the BFS screens recent pop movies (like “Across the Universe”) and does theme shows that focus on the time of year (like a “Home Alone” special or a Halloween Horror Movie show).

As shocked as I was to see that the BFS once had some serious academic clout (though perhaps, given the time period of the 1970’s before a formal film program this is not so suprising) I was more perplexed by the name of the library. Who the hell was “Maurice Rapf”? A little goggling brought out some answers. Turns out Maurice Rapf was a Professor at Dartmouth, founder of their Film Studies program, and a former screenwriter in Hollywood. His communist/union sympathies got him blacklist in 1947, so he was forced into academia and film reviews, something that he became quite apt at apparently. When he died in 2003, the NY Times ran an obituary. One of his most enduring achievements was a popular text-book/introduction on thinking critically about the movies called “All About the Movies.” It is amazing what one little bookplate can teach you.

But all of the connections have not yet been made. There are two outstanding questions that the little bookplate in “Z for Zagreb” prompted of me. The first is how many books are part of the Maurice Rapf “Film Studies Library”? Are they all here at Brown? Do they focus on only American movies? Where can I find a list? The second question is why did Brown get Maurice Rapf’s film library when it appears that he was a lifelong Dartmouth man (attended as an undergraduate, then became a lifelong professor)? I am still trying to find someone in the Brown Library System who can tell me more.

Keeping Track of the Bibliography

Getting back to the real task at hand, I have been somewhat up in the air about which technology to use to compile my bibliography. I have decided to go (for the time being) with a Google Doc that can be found here. I know there are better, more efficient and useful bibliography tools out there, but I have yet to find a really practical one. Again, a question to ask the library staff when I finally corner one.

Rescuing the Missing Books

Whenever I find a book that is particularly notable (does not simply need to be entered into the bibliography, but actually looked over/read/scanned) I check it out to my carrel. Twice now, I have checked out books that the Library Staff said had been missing. Ironically, these were two of the most interesting books I have come across, the first being Leni Riefenstahl’s “A Memoir” and the second a small BFI publication from 1979 on Jean Rouch called “Antropology -Reality - Cinema“. The librarians were thrilled to see these books found (”Two missing books in the same day! Good work! Do you want some candy?”) but I really hadn’t done anything notable. I’ve just been going shelf by shelf, because I don’t know what exactly I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.

One Response leave one →
  1. 2009 July 30

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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