question regarding early archives and Japanese film

Mark Nornes amnornes at
Sun Feb 7 22:36:36 EST 2010

Frank Capra and Ruth Benedict were watching Japanese feature films shortly after Pearl Harbor. Where did the prints come from? It's an interesting question. And as Roger indicates, the alternative universe where a powerful programmer got behind Asian film could have altered the bedrock of "international cinema" long before Rashomon.


On Feb 7, 2010, at 7:26 PM, Roger Macy wrote:

> Dear William,
> This is a crucial point that you have hit.
> Iris Barry is one of a very small number of people who, if they had any Asian focus, would have radically changed the preserved landscape of film history.
> Presumably like you, I found very little to go on at MoMA.  So, I followed the money to the Rockefeller Foundation.  The short answer is yes, its collection activities were limited to the United States and Europe, including the Soviet Union, and there was no failed rescue attempt for Japan.  But there is a slightly longer story which is likely to be told soon.
> Is there any chance we could meet at KinemaClub X ?
> Roger
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: ReelDrew at
> To: KineJapan at
> Sent: Sunday, February 07, 2010 10:52 PM
> Subject: question regarding early archives and Japanese film
> I am right now working on the final draft of my forthcoming book, "The Last Silent Picture Show: Silent Films on American Screens in the 1930s."  Presently, I'm doing the revisions for a chapter on the archival movement and the Museum of Modern Art in the '30s.
> Relating this to Japanese film, I point out that MOMA in the Iris Barry years (1935-1951) limited its collection of early cinema--and the programs of early films it featured--to the historical development of filmmaking in the United States, Western Europe and the Soviet Union.  What I'd like to find out from knowledgeable people here is does anyone know if my information is accurate?  Has anyone here, for example, seen any correspondence or other documents indicating that Iris Barry was planning a program on the history of Japanese cinema (and those of India and China as well) in say, 1939 but that the outbreak of WWII halted this project?  Or am I correct in my assumption that the standard view of the historical development of cinema in those days, as set forth at MOMA, completely omitted the early contributions of Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, including Japan?
> I should point out that in the 1930s and 1940s, the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, contrary to Peter Decherney's tendentious assertions in "Hollywood and the Culture Elite," was not a national film archive and, in fact, many important areas in early American film history were neglected due to Iris Barry's international focus.  Many at the time, in fact, felt it was her preoccupation with the European art film that caused her to overlook so much of the American cinema.  Or perhaps in fairness to her, she was trying to balance America and Europe in the collection she built up.  However, what I think was clearly left out of the film history programs established by Barry at MOMA was the entire historical production of cinema in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America during the first half of the 20th century.  I am not aware that Barry made any effort in the 1930s and 1940s to obtain examples of filmmaking from those countries beyond Hollywood and Europe.  If anyone here, however, has information to the contrary, specifically, of course, with respect to Japanese cinema, I would very much like to know.  I wish my analysis to be as accurate as possible.
> William M. Drew

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