NFPF 2012 grantee: Center for Home Movies

Arthur M. Smith with camera; Center for Home Movies

The Center for Home Movies will restore two films by Smith: "Memories on Film" (1979), color, 16mm, magnetic soundtrack; 400 feet; "The Last Reel" (1986), color, 16mm, magnetic soundtrack; 400 feet

The Center for Home Movies, which aims to encourage and support the making and preservations of all forms of amateur film, will use its 2012 National Film Preservation Foundation grant to continue work on restoring films by Arthur H. Smith, an industrial and amateur filmmaker of note.

In 2010, CHM won an NFPF grant to preserve The Mirror, an amateur drama directed by Smith. Now it will work on two later Smith films, both autobiographical: Memories on Film and The Last Reel.

Smith, who was born in Silver Spring, Nevada, in 1909 and lived until 2000, began working as a telephone repairman for the Pacific Telephone Company after high school. Due to interest in filmmaking – and his owning his own movie camera – the company asked him to make a “movie to show at a meeting.”

Thanks to his skill at doing that, he won promotion to first level management to make movies for the company from its San Francisco regional offices. He produced instructional and safety films for the Bell System, including his most widely seen work, How to Prevent Backing Accidents, a film never out of date.

Smith wrote extensively about his technical professional film work, as well as his creative amateur work, with numerous articles in American Cinematographer, Home Movies, and Popular Photography.

Although an accomplished industrial filmmaker, his dedication was to his amateur films –  50 of them, between 1929 and 1991, including edited home movies such as Personal Pictures, [volumes 1-7], Vacation Snapshots, and Blanche’s Recital. Much of his amateur output, particularly in his early years, was dedicated to dramas influenced by Westerns and horrow, crime, and spy movies: among the titles are Forgotten Gold, Fantasy of Dreams, Streetcar to Heaven, and It Crawls by Night.

Frame grab from "Memories on Film"; Center for Home Movies
On retirement, he and his wife moved into a trailer park in Big Bear Lake, in California’s San Bernadino Mountains. There, he focused on autobiographical documentaries.

In 2007, Dennis Smith, his son, offered his films and manuscripts to the American Film Institute, which recommended they go to Center for Home Movies. The Center acquired all Smith’s materials.

In the first of the films it will now restore, Memories on Film (1979), a 10-minute short, Smith looks back at his career, beginning with his teenage plans to make films. His coverage of his cameras and equipment over the years, while prosaic, lays out the development of amateur film technology. Smith also describes his career in industrial films, including scenes from Up the Paper River, a comic film within a film. Smith ends by showing himself with his film library at home in Big Bear Lake as Smith and his wife Blanche watch his first film. “I can truly say I am among my souvenirs,” says Smith as the projector unspools.

The Last Reel, made seven years after Memories on Film and also 10 minutes long, is the second film that the Center for Home Movies will restore with its NFPF grant. It begins with Smith’s trailer-home life, takes a short tour of local landmarks, then a visit from his children. He repairs a phone, and introduces his cats. Most unusual about the film, however, is a section where he integrates his life story and his filmmaking process.

The Center for Home Movies wrote in its application for a grant that although Smith titled the film The Last Reel, “he ultimately did make more films, but this was clearly meant as his own final statement, and as a result there is an inevitable touch of melancholia at the end as Blanche plays the closing theme on her organ.”

The Center said in its proposal: “It is easy to dismiss the serious amateur or hobbyist filmmaker as someone who was merely lacking the talent to become a professional, but Smith’s life and career show how the passion of amateur filmmaking can exist on its own without the desire for commercial involvement. Smith’s two film worlds, the professional and the personal, rode on parallel tracks without ever compromising either.”

The collection that came to the Center appears to include all his film materials. The films it is preserving are edited camera original reversal prints. No additional prints are known to exist.

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