What’s it Worth? Old movie reels

By Jane Alexiadis
Oakland Tribune correspondent
Posted: 10/14/2011 10:00:00 AM PDT
Updated: 10/15/2011 07:17:53 AM PDT

Q: My wife has two film canisters about 14 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick that she acquired in a post office auction 20 or 30 years ago. They are labeled “D.W. Griffith — The Birth Of A Nation — Aug. 8, 1915 Color.” They both have film in them. Do these film have any value?

A: As I’ve said before, things have all sorts of value and not all of them are monetary. I’ll address “Birth of a Nation” in a bit, but I encourage you to take the film canisters out of your house. They can be very dangerous.

I talked to Allen Michaan, owner of Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre, about your film. He explained that cinematographers used nitrate-based film in the late 19th and early 20th centuries until improvements in film composition technology eased nitrate films out of the market. Early nitrate films can be dangerous. As it deteriorates, the film gives off nitrous oxide, nitrous dioxide and other highly toxic and combustible gases. If trapped inside film cans, these gases can spontaneously combust; if the gases leak out into the atmosphere, they can destroy other types of film stored nearby.

Allen recommends that you contact your local fire department or county hazardous waste management for disposal. For an illustration of nitrate film’s volatility, see the conflagration scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” And while you’re renting movies, be sure to check out a copy of “Birth of a Nation,” Griffith’s 1915 seminal and controversial film. …

For the complete story, visit the source at http://www.mercurynews.com/home-garden/ci_19091978?nclick_check=1

One Comment

  1. Gary Parks

    It should be pointed out that it’s possible that this woman had more-recently struck prints of the movie, and that they were on safety film. I would guess that if the cans were opened and a distinct smell emerged, then they were nitrate. Hopefully she checked into this further, as it would be a shame if she threw-out perfectly good prints of portions of that movie that were on non-nitrate stock.

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