Life at the Conservatoire des techniques de la Cinémathèque française and its recent acquisitions

By Jean-Noël Ferragut, AFC

La Lettre AFC n°267

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Since Laurent Mannoni joined the AFC as a consulting member, the ties between the Conservatoire des techniques cinématographiques of the French Cinematheque, where he is the Director of Patrimony, and the AFC have become closer. I was able to attend the annual meeting of the Conservatory’s scientific counsel as a reciprocal representative of the AFC, which was attended by Frédéric Bonnaud, the new general director, in the equipment storage room on 2 June 2016. Here is a brief review of the conferences and acquisitions for the 2015-2016 season at the Conservatory.

Between October 2015 and June 2016 the Conservatoire des techniques cinématographiques organized nine conferences, including an exceptional conference in February as part of the 4th edition of the “Toute la mémoire du monde” Festival, which was devoted to Technicolor. 1,397 people attended these conferences from October to May, and each conference had on average 175 attendees.
Five of the nine lectures were filmed and most are already online on the Cinémathèque’s website. It was observed that more people attended when equipment was on display and when the speakers performed live experiments.
The first lecture of the 2016-2017 season will take place on October 7 and will be devoted to "La Machine Cinéma", the title of the exhibition which will be open at the Cinémathèque from 5 October to 27 January ; it will be followed by a dialogue with Pierre-William Glenn, AFC, and moderated by Bernard Benoliel and Laurent Mannoni.

Some members of the Scientific Council have played an important role in seeking out rare pieces to add to the collection : Jacques Delacoux, Jean-Pierre Neyrac, Noël Véry, Jean-Baptiste Hennion, Willy Kurant, Natasha Chrosziki, Bernard Tichit, and Danys Bruyere, in particular, have been very active. On average, the Conservatory receives thirty donations per year, totalling about 200 pieces. These donations are made by individuals, collectors, technicians, members of the world of cinema, but also institutions.
Thanks to Beatrice Pastre, director of collections at the CNC, the French Cinémathèque was able to recover from Éclair studios, right before they closed, a collection of large floorplans and elevations drawn by hand on tracing paper, dating from 1940-1970. These precious documents of very high quality show the Epinay facilities.
Noël Véry, who was one of the first to introduce the Steadicam in France, donated a particularly complete specimen, which will be displayed in the exhibition "La Machine Cinéma". Cinematographer Octavio Espirito Santo donated a 16mm Éclair ACL Camera. Alain Besse, of the CST, donated a 35mm Simplex projector.

Thanks to Jacques Delacoux, who has always been very generous to the Cinématheque, the Conservatory now has a beautiful new specimen of the Aaton-Delta digital camera, which rounds out its collection of Aaton cameras (there exist only four or five fully-intact specimens of this camera). Jacques Delacoux and his companies Transvideo and Aaton Digital will play a major role in the exhibition entitled “La Machine Cinéma”. Indeed, he has made available his high-quality monitors on which visitors will be able to watch films being edited. Jacques has also promised a Cantar, which visitors will be able to see in action.

Thanks to his two trips to Los Angeles in 2014 and 2015, Laurent Mannoni has established very productive relations with the ASC and the Hollywood film industry. His visit to the Panavision factories allowed the arrival of a major new donation : a 35 mm SPSR Panavision camera with zoom, three Scope lenses from Panavision’s early days, and a 1953 Bausch & Lomb lens for the Scope. These items are nearly impossible to find nowadays on the market, because Panavision has never sold a single piece of equipment or lens, having only made them available for rent. This is Panavision LA’s 3rd donation to the Cinémathèque, which recognizes the active contribution of Dave Kenig, Panavision’s director of technology, whose visit to Paris was expected on June 7 for a visit of the collections of equipment.

La caméra Panavision 35 mm SPSR5 - Photo Stéphane Dabrowski - Cinémathèque française
La caméra Panavision 35 mm SPSR5
Photo Stéphane Dabrowski - Cinémathèque française

The end of 2015 was also marked by the acquisition of a luxury piece, the trichromatic Technicolor camera, whose manufacturing began in 1932 by the Los Angeles Technicolor Company. This entirely blue camera, which used three reels of film simultaneously, is extremely rare and legendary (only 27 were ever produced and many were later transformed) because many great colour films such as The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind were filmed with it. It is a spectacular acquisition by the Cinémathèque, because this camera is the most famous camera in the history of cinema. The specimen acquired by the Cinémathèque is in perfect condition, and will be on display at “La Machine Cinéma”.

La caméra trichrome Technicolor dans la réserve de la Cinémathèque, en novembre 2015 - Photo Jean-Noël Ferragut
La caméra trichrome Technicolor dans la réserve de la Cinémathèque, en novembre 2015
Photo Jean-Noël Ferragut

The Cinémathèque has purchased over 40 pieces since June 2015. Some of these pieces are lenses (a number of Totalvision lenses formerly owned by recently-deceased cinematographer Maurice Fellous) ; a Mitchell BNC ; two Caméflex cameras, one of which was a gift to Coutant by his employees ; two Ciné-Kodak ; a wooden Éclair Gillon manufactured in 1912 ; a Radio Industrie from 1955 in perfect condition.
But the most remarkable piece acquired by the CNC is definitely the double projection lantern, known as the Fantascope-Polyorama from 1846. It is the biggest known magic lantern, measuring over 2 metres high, and is the only specimen of its type known in France. This spectacular apparatus was acquired with its original plates and its lighting equipment.