September 14, 2017

Home Movies: Both Common and Distinct Documents

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

While home movie collections in general have become a ubiquitous feature of the twenty-first century moving image archives, it is important to remember that the individual films which constitute such collections often exist as unique historical documents. Films of this type are most frequently created for personal use rather than broader public exhibition, so there is typically little concern when it comes to reproduction or duplication on the part of their creators. As potentially one-of-a-kind items within the historical record, the value of home movies to an archives – particularly facilities that focus on regional history – cannot be understated. Few names from Montana’s past carry the historical weight of copper magnate Marcus Daly, and the eleven film reels that constitute the Daly Family home movie collection provide us with a fascinating view of European opulence as viewed through the prism of Montana mining culture.

Though the patriarch passed away a full two decades before his family’s home movies were created, Marcus Daly’s legacy of hard-won wealth is evident in the stark contrast between the lavishness of the Daly Mansion and its rugged backdrop. The western Montana town of Hamilton was founded by Marcus Daly himself as a hub of business, and the frequently-remodeled mansion on the Daly property – a homestead purchased in 1886 – served as the most prominent structure in the otherwise rural area. Daly’s widow was largely responsible for incorporating the previous Queen Anne style into the newer Colonial Revival style by 1910, and this is the version of the mansion shown in the family’s films. The home movies themselves contain various family members and guests enjoying the amenities of the grounds, with one film canister label even listing aged Daly rival William A. Clark and his wife among those present.

The Daly Family home movie collection
PAc 97-56

The films in the Daly Family collection date from 1919 to 1921, and the very act of owning a personal motion picture camera at this point in the medium’s evolution displays an affluence that is mirrored in the images themselves. Several guests to the home arrive in automobiles, which would have been an equally rare possession. Lighting would have made the filming of interiors difficult, so all scenes are of recreational activities on the European-style grounds of the Daly Mansion. Activities in the films include: boating, duck hunting, tea parties by the pergola, horseback riding, swimming in the mansion’s pool, driving go-karts, and hitting golf balls off the home’s front drive on the Fourth of July. The camera also turns to the area surrounding Hamilton itself, with special attention given to the mountains that border the town’s west side.

Lele Von Harrenreich Daly teeing off at the Mansion, July 4, 1921


The home movies left by the Daly Family become still more unusual when we consider the materials with which they were created, specifically the gauge of the film itself. Looking for a smaller and less flammable alternative to 35mm nitrate motion picture stock, French company Pathé Frères introduced 28mm diacetate to the upscale home market in France in 1912 and the United States the following year under the name American Pathéscope. Though World War I brought a swift end to 28mm film production in Europe, the stock continued to thrive in the United States until the advent of still smaller gauges such as Pathé’s 9.5mm gauge and Kodak’s 16mm gauge in 1923. Kodak eventually bought American Pathéscope’s film stock factory in 1926, which brought an end to the business in the United States. Just over 100 of the 190,000 film and video assets currently held at the Academy Film Archive are 28mm, which testifies to relative rarity of the gauge itself.

Pre-printed Pathéscope film leader from the Daly Family reels, circa 1920.


The Daly Family home movie collection was donated to the Montana Historical Society by Francis B. Bessenyey, a step-great-grandson of Marcus Daly, in 1997 (collection PAc 97-56). A VHS transfer of excerpts from the films was also donated, and is available for viewing in the Historical Society’s Research Center.

No comments:

Post a Comment