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Church of the Beloved Disciple:
Shedding Light on a Hidden Collection
 

One of the most engaging and practical experiences I have had in my time in the MIAS program has been to work on a digitization project with a collection from ONE Archives. This final paper was written for MIAS 240: Archival Administration, and was a group effort between my classmate Drew Dahle and me. This report outlines the various obstacles we encountered throughout the duration of the project and how were able to remedy these issues.

 

Introduction and Project Overview:

 

Our project focused on processing two moving image collections at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, the Jim Yousling collection and John Darcy Noble collection. Each collection was unprocessed and contained predominantly film and some audio and videotape. The ONE Archives indicated that they were interested in learning the scope and content of the materials, as well as potentially digitizing the items for the purpose of access. We created basic inventories for the collections, made an appraisal to determine candidates for digitization, and digitized a selection of the materials. We ultimately delivered our inventories and notes, recommendations on how to care for the collections and a copy of the digitized materials to the ONE Archives.

           

Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender:

 

Our project began along a very different trajectory with the intent to work with the moving image materials in the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender at the California State University at Northridge (CSUN). After discussing the potential of working with the collection with Ellen Jarosz, Head of Special Collections and Archives, over the phone we got a sense of the kinds of materials in the collection and the overall vision Jarosz had for the collection. Jarosz seemed a bit unsure about what exactly needed to be done with the collection and we got the sense that it was a project that had been on the docket for some time but no one had taken the lead to get the ball rolling. She did, however, mention that at some point she would be interested in sending the materials out to vendors for digitization.

Unfortunately, the Special Collections at CSUN, where the Bullough Collection materials are housed, was preparing to begin a large scale renovation. This posed some difficulties for getting our project off the ground as Jarosz was worried that there would not be ample workspace to take on a new project due to staff having to relocate their work stations and general unrest around the renovation. This concern was understandable and we felt that we could still be of value to the collection with minimal direct contact with the material. We saw this ten week project as the preliminary stage in a much larger project that would continue post-renovation. The project seemed to be in need of a catalyst to get the first steps taken and we believed we were in position to fill this important role.

           

Taking into account Jarosz’s various reservations, we molded a project proposal that we hoped would be a productive first step and not disrupt the department’s workflows, given their current predicament. Our overall proposal centered around developing a plan that could be implemented once the renovation had been completed and Special Collections could again support projects. We focused on three items: creating a basic inventory of the collection, researching digitization options and costs, and procuring basic film handling equipment for the department. Overall, we felt we could accomplish these goals without be overly invasive during this time of disturbance.

           

Regrettably, our proposal was rejected. We also received some new information regarding the scope of the project. The collection was actually comprised of thousands of boxes of completely unprocessed audiovisual material. Due to the material being stored in an automated retrieval system (rather than regular shelves) even a quick inventory to assess the volume and formats was not possible, this was compounded by the renovation issue which would be leaving no free space to work in. It became clear that this is a multi-year project and the timing was simply not very good, even to take the first step. CSUN’s Special Collections would have to rearrange itself to accommodate such a large project and that was not going to happen at this time.

           

While the rejection of our proposal was disappointing, it was a valuable experience for us. Even though we were ultimately unsuccessful, being given such difficult circumstances to work within and being challenged to think critically to design potential solutions around said circumstances was useful. The process also proved to be a good learning experience in terms of communication. We better understand what questions we should be asking (What is the volume of the collection? Is there an inventory? How is it stored?) when discussing a potential project with an archive. Additionally, it was good practice in being tactful and strategic in our communication as we tried to convince an archive that we would provide valuable work and not be a bother.

Procuring a Project at ONE Archives:

           

After the potential project at CSUN fell through, we asked a few contacts about different projects we might be able to work on. Eventually, we settled on a project at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, which Todd Wiener at UCLA Film & Television Archive helped facilitate. Wiener put us in touch with Loni Shibuyama at ONE Archives and the project, which consisted of a few boxes of media materials, seemed to be a perfect fit for our time frame.

           

The UCLA Film & Television Archive houses most of ONE’s audiovisual material as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation. However, after talking to Shibuyama about the relationship between UCLA and ONE, we discovered that some audiovisual material is intentionally kept on-site at ONE in order to maintain a collection’s provenance. This usually occurs when the quantity of audiovisual material in a given collection is rather small and can be examined by ONE’s archivist in the proper context. Indeed this was the case with the moving image material in the Jim Yousling collection and the John Darcy Noble collection, the two collections we would work on for the remainder of the quarter.

 

Assessing the Jim Yousling and John Darcy Noble Collections

 

Biographical Information on Jim Yousling:

 

Jim Yousling was a prominent graphic designer best known for his position as editor-in-chief of the gay men’s magazine In Touch throughout the early ‘80s. He was also the founder of Phantom Studios, a photography company that produced nude male photography for various publications. However, in the early ‘90s, Yousling went on to design various advertisements for Los Angeles-based nightclubs and raves as well as record-cover artwork for bands such as Concrete Blonde, Apache Dancers and The Slaves. Yousling passed away from from AIDS-related complications on January 1, 1995.[1]

 

In 2012, ONE received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission that allowed them to process and create a finding aid for the Jim Yousling collection. The collection consists of artwork, photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, notes, press material, clippings, magazine layouts, private journals, and publications collected and/or created by Jim Yousling from 1947-1995. The collection also contains 59 audiovisual elements that were not processed and consequently omitted from the collection’s finding aid— these are the materials we inspected and assessed.

 

Biographical Information on John Darcy Noble:

 

John Darcy Noble was the lifelong partner of Bishop Robert Clement, founder of The Church of the Beloved Disciple, the first church to openly serve the LGBT community in New York City. It is unclear if Noble produced the majority of the audiovisual material in the collection (some of the materials are labeled and credit multiple people with production duties) or if he simply collected all of the items. All the audiovisual material in the collection pertained to the Church, either documenting services and sermons, or various plays and performances put on by or at the Church. Clement founded the Church of the Beloved Disciple in 1968 and the material seems to have been produced roughly between 1970 and 1977.

 

Creating Preliminary Inventories

 

Since there is no inventory for the audiovisual material in the Jim Yousling collection or the John Darcy Noble collection, we conducted a preliminary inventory of both collections upon our first visit to ONE.

This is the overall total of audiovisual items in each collection:

 

Jim Yousling Collection:

The Jim Yousling collection contains a total of 59 audiovisual items:

●      16mm films = 32 (50 - 400ft. each)

●      35mm film elements = 19 (100 - 400ft. each)

●      35mm mag tracks = 3 (200ft. each)

●      8mm film = 1 (400ft.)

●      ¼” mag audiotape reels = 4 (400ft. each)

 

Based on our preliminary inventory of the Jim Yousling materials, we made a determination that the collection consisted of at least two unfinished films (titled “Golden Harvest” and “Animated Zanies”) as well as several film elements related to those projects or possibly other projects as well. We did some research to see if the films may have been completed at some point but found no relevant information. It appeared, based on the materials, that Yousling used a collage aesthetic culling from many different sources. Among the materials were strange commercials (“The Walking Sprinkler”) and movie trailers (“The Gemini Affair”).

 

The most concerning discovery was that some of the material was afflicted with vinegar syndrome. While some of the items looked pretty interesting, we chose not put pursue further work on the collection (namely digitization) for two main reasons. The first reason was that since the material consisted of trims and outs and other elements for a pair of unfinished films, the collection’s research value is very esoteric. Perhaps if Yousling had been a famous filmmaker there could be interest in such rarities but it seemed unlikely this particular collection would garner much interest. The second reason is that a significant amount of the material was on 35mm and digitization of that material would have required taking it to an expensive vendor, something that ONE was not particularly interested in.

 

John Darcy Noble Collection:

The John Darcy Noble collection contains a total of 52 audiovisual items:

●      Super 8 Ektachrome reels in small boxes = 35 (50 - 100ft. each)

●      Super 8 Ektachrome reels in cans = 7 (400ft. each)

●      16mm film = 1 (Just leader, 400ft.)

●      ¼” mag audiotape reel = 7 (400ft. each)

●      MiniDV tapes = 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

From our preliminary inventory of this collection we inferred that the majority of the Super 8 reels contained amateur footage of the Church of the Beloved Disciple and of Bishop Clement as most of them had “Bishop Clement” written on their respective container. Although we were not properly equipped to inspect most of the items during our first visit, we were still able to conduct a rudimentary inspection of a few of the film reels and determined that some of the footage was faded. Moreover, by looking at some of the films’ edge codes, we were able to determine that most of the footage was from the ‘70s, with a large bulk of the films being from 1974.

Film Inspection and Appraisal of The John Darcy Noble Collection:

 

After our preliminary inventory of the John Darcy Noble collection we shared our discoveries with Shibuyama and discussed the crucial roles Noble, Bishop Clement, and the Church of the Beloved Disciple played in serving the gay community. Although we weren't able to properly inspect the films, we were all convinced that these items would be rich resources for individuals interested in researching New York’s nascent gay rights movement. With this in mind, we collectively decided to digitize all of the film material in the MIT Lab. However, attempting to digitize over 40 reels of film, while doable, would prove to be a very ambitious task given our limited time and resources. Consequently, we realized that we needed to conduct a thorough inspection of all of the film reels in this collection in order to effectively and realistically assess our digitization goals for this project and streamline our digitization workflow.

 

We returned to ONE the following week with proper film inspecting equipment and conducted a thorough inspection of the films in the collection. We began our inspection by looking at some of the 100ft. Super 8 reels in small boxes and discovered, to our disappointment, that most of the footage on these films was either faded or underexposed. Moreover, this footage consisted mostly of sermons by Bishop Clement captured in a single static shot. The films felt a little underwhelming because they are silent and we figured since the sermons were not audible, the films would have limited research value. We continued to encounter more underexposed footage and after inspecting about a third of the 35 boxes, we decided to move onto the 400ft. Super 8 films.

 

We were thrilled to discover that the larger Super 8 reels contained some remarkable footage of Bishop Clement, the Church, and the Church’s congregation, as well as various plays and performances put on at the Church, or by the Church. We ultimately decided on five reels we wanted to digitize after going through all seven  400ft. Super 8 reels in the collection.

 

When we made the recommendation to Shibuyama as to which films should be digitized, we did not include any of the 35 100ft. boxes of Ektachrome footage with the reasoning that it was so underexposed it was sometimes difficult to make out what the images were, and from our assessment it appeared the films captured sermons with limited visual informational. Since the films were silent, it seemed to us that these sermons (divorced from their verbal content) would not be meaningful enough to digitize. Shibuyama understood our reasoning but disagreed slightly and asked that we select one of the films to digitize so she would at least have an example of the content contained in the 35 boxes of material. This was a good learning experience as it gave us a different perspective (that there may be value to the films being digitized purely because a user can then understand what the content is, even if the content may not ultimately be useful). Shibuyama knows her archive and user base far better than we ever will so we appreciated her chiming in and demonstrating which material would be valuable to ONE even though we had reached a different conclusion.

 

Digitization

 

Issues with the Super 8 Telecine:

Shibuyama sent the films over the following week and we enthusiastically began the digitization process shortly afterwards. As soon as we began digitizing the material in the MIT Lab, we ran into a serious problem that completely altered our workflow. Since most of the 400ft. film reels were slightly warped, it became very difficult to get a good transfer going because the film would inevitably misalign with the machine’s sprockets and begin to stutter excessively throughout the digitization process. This flickering effect was somewhat similar to telecine judder but more extreme and noticeable, and while the films were not of the highest visual quality to begin with, the image instability was too much of a distraction to allow.

 

Consequently, we were forced to stop the telecine in order to realign the film’s perforations with the machine’s sprockets each time this happened. We had this issue with all but one film, however, we were able to remedy this problem by significantly rewinding the film, realigning it and starting the telecine again, all while keeping the capture on the computer running.

By rewinding and realigning the film, we were able to use Final Cut Pro X to edit out the portions with excessive judder without losing any footage. This proved to be a fairly time consuming procedure because each individual transfer contained as many as eight instances of this image judder, and although this process took much longer than we had anticipated we were ultimately very satisfied with the end result.

 

Color Correction:

We performed a modest amount of color correction to the films to offset their heavily red and purple hues. Neither of us is trained or experienced in color correction so we kept our adjustments very minimal. Our goal was simply to provide more balanced looking digital copies for future use by the ONE Archives’ patrons and to boost contrast, where possible, to manage the underexposed, overly dark look of many of the films.

 

Summary of Video Data:

●      Container/wrapper: Quicktime (.mov)

●      Frame size: 720 x 480

●      Aspect Ratio: 4:3

●      Video codec: Apple ProRes (422)

●      Color encoding: SD (6-1-6)

 

We also noted that the footage has been digitally color corrected in the files’ metadata field.

 

The files were uploaded onto an external hard drive and will be delivered to Shibuyama. After she receives the footage, archivists at ONE will make access copies of the footage, but must make sure that the files are properly managed so that they do not become corrupt. We will suggest that they store the master files on multiple sites and keep them geographically separated in order to ensure that the files are preserved.

 

Digitized Films:

(Titles taken from containers)

 

1. [1973 Hotel Paranoia and Mummers Play 1973-4]

(New York, NY, 1974, Super 8, 24 min)

Although, the film begins with a title card for the play “The Dwarfs ” written by Harold Pinter, based on the premise of that play/novel it does not appear that the ensuing play captured on film is, in fact, “The Dwarfs.” Props include a bed and a door. It focuses primarily on two men in a bedroom attempting to be intimate with one another despite numerous interruptions by various characters. The play ultimately ends with the two men embracing each other and another title card reading “Hotel Paranoia” which matches the label on the can. It is our determination that the actions and setting of the play (apparently a hotel room of some sort) fit with this title and that the opening title card regarding “The Dwarfs” is likely a remnant of another project that was never reunited with its intended footage.

The second half of the reel is footage of the play “The Mummers” directed by John Noble. The play is a period piece and depicts various masked individuals onstage in medieval outfits. Footage ends with Pastor Clement and other individuals looking at the camera.

 

2. [The Pointless Sisters]

(New York, NY, 1974, Super 8, 18 min)

This film opens with a title card that reads “Gyspy, Rose + Lee.” The silent footage consists of various drag queens performing songs or lipsyncing onstage  in groups and individually. The film also includes footage of various individuals getting dressed and putting on makeup in the backroom. There is no textual indication of which songs are being performed.

 

3. [Bishop Clement]

(New York, NY, 1976, Super 8, 4 min)

This film consists of footage of Bishop Clement at the church pulpit conducting a sermon with various other figures in the background. Also also contains footage of congregation members.

 

4. [Church of the Beloved Disciple: Palm Sunday (4-11-76) Service, Procession, Ordination/ Easter Sunday (4-18-76) Service & Dance Interpretations]

(New York, NY, 1976, Super 8, 15 min)

This film begins with footage of a Palm Sunday procession, a crowd follows Bishop Clement into the Church. The second half of the footage consists of (shirtless) men and women performing various interpretative dance numbers in front of the church’s pulpit. “Filmed and edited by Philip Brown, Jr.” is written on the container

 

5. [“Palm Sunday - April 3, 1977]

(New York, NY, 1977, Super 8, 19 min)

This film begins with exterior shots of the Church followed by a Palm Sunday Procession march in the streets of Manhattan. It ends with a large crowd following Bishop Clement into the Church.  “Filmed and edited by Phil Brown, Jr.” is written on the container.

 

6. [“Church of the Beloved Disciple” - Activities. Med. Festival - Cloisters Street Procession -- Play at WSDG Center]

(New York, NY, 1975, Super 8, 23 min)

The first half of the film consists of footage of a large crowd of Church members parading through the streets of Manhattan in medieval outfits. The second half is footage of an unidentified play in which various individuals interact with one another on the subway. “Filmed by Jim Stuart and Phil Brown, Jr. Edited by Dick Rambo” is written on the container.

(Stills from “The Pointless Sisters” and “Church of the Beloved Disciple: Palm Sunday...Service & Dance Interpretations”)

 

Recommendations for the Jim Yousling Collection

Rehouse, Recan:

 

We believe that ONE should send these materials to the UCLA Film & Television Archive as part of the Outfest Legacy Project collection as soon as possible because many of the film reels show signs of vinegar syndrome. Although they may be left in the Archive’s pallet room for a long period of time before being processed, the films will reside in a significantly colder environment than their current location, which will prevent the vinegar syndrome from spreading.

Another issue facing this collection is that UCLA typically does not collect trims and outs for reasons of space and may not elect to store some or all of the material contained in the collection.[2] Yousling apparently was a film student at USC before his death so there is a possibility that the Hugh M.Hefner Moving Image Archive at USC may hold some of his work and could be interested in storing these materials as well.  Our suggestion to ONE would be to discuss the potential of moving the materials to the Hefner archive in the event that UCLA declines.

 

Recommendations for the John Darcy Noble Collection

 

Online Access:

We strongly believe that ONE should upload the footage onto an online access platform such as the Internet Archive or YouTube in order to make the footage easily accessible to the general public and to generate greater awareness about the Church of the Beloved Disciple, Bishop Clement, John Darcy Noble, and their important roles in New York’s gay rights movement. As Rick Prelinger notes in “Archives and Access in the 21st Century,” an archive’s refusal to adapt to different modes of access, such as utilizing online access platforms, marginalizes these institutions when they might otherwise be “addressing massive new audiences and building new constituencies.”[3]

 

Rehouse:

With the detailed inventory we created of the audiovisual material in the John Darcy Noble Collection, we believe that the items and inventory should now be handed over to the UCLA Film & Television Archive so that they can be properly recanned and stored safely in one of the Archive’s climate-controlled vaults.

 

Film Handling Equipment at ONE:

We believe that it would be in ONE’s best interest to invest in some basic film handling equipment such as a set of rewinds, split reels and a light box in order to carry out basic film inspections on-site when needed. While ONE is very privileged to have the partnership with UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Archive is located a great distance away, and it would behoove ONE to have equipment on-site so they can at the very least perform a preliminary processing of their smaller AV collections. ONE can look to Megan McShea’s “Guidelines for Processing Collections with Audiovisual Material” for strategies on how to quickly and effectively process AV portions of their collection.[4]

 

Insights and Reflections:

 

We are both very much aware of the ethical concerns surrounding our decisions to prioritize certain films and only digitize a small portion of the collection. However, we believe that we conducted our due diligence as audiovisual archivists and did the most we could with our limited time and resources. Throughout the project, we were very conscious of our roles as “boundary keepers,” a term coined by Eric Ketelaar to describe archivists who:

 

Decide what is to cross the boundary and what not. By putting some records…on a pedestal, we alter their context and meaning, we infuse new meaning into the record, to what is left of the series and the fonds, we add new narratives to the archive and its constituent parts.[5]

 

Although we omitted a large portion of the collection from our digitization project, we believe that by providing access to some of this material through digitization, we will open the door for other archivists and scholars to (re)examine the collection, and ultimately bring to light details we may have missed.

 

Conclusion: The Issue With Small Collections in Large Repositories

 

Even though the relationship between ONE Archives and the UCLA Film & Television Archive was established in order to further ensure that ONE’s audiovisual materials are properly preserved, small collections such as this one tend to fall by the wayside when placed in a large repository such as UCLA, and inevitably become hidden or lost amidst the Archive’s tremendous backlog. We believe that it was in ONE’s best interest to maintain the collection’s provenance by holding onto the audiovisual material in the John Darcy Noble collection, which in turn allowed us to examine the material in the proper context, and ultimately make some of the films accessible via digitization. By relying on UCLA to handle their AV material, archivists at ONE must not fall into the habit of neglecting these items, and instead, must be proactive in performing condition checks on all of their on-site AV material at regular intervals in order to keep tabs on any signs of vinegar syndrome or other issues. It is our hope that ONE will begin to take a closer look at the small portions of AV material scattered throughout their collections. 

 

Works Cited:

 

[1]  Finding aid to the Jim Yousling photographs and papers, 1947-1995 Coll2012.128, ONE National Gay & Lesbian

 

[2] Wiener, Todd. Personal Interview. 1 March 2016.

 

[3] Prelinger, Rick. "Archives and Access in the 21st Century." Cinema Journal 46.3 (2007): 114.

 

[4] McShea, Megan. “Guidelines for Processing Collections with Audiovisual Material. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Archives of American Art.” (2015): Online: http://www.aaa.si.edu/files/documentation/2015-aaa-av-processing-guidelines.pdf

 

[5] Ketelaar, Eric. "Tacit Narratives: The Meanings of Archives." Archival Science 1, no. 2 (2001): 136.

 
 
 
 
 

©Michael Pazmino 2017