As the Jewish community continues to marvel at what is possibly the only footage of the Chofetz Chaim, new details have emerged about the four minute fifty one second clip that has logged tens of thousands of hits on YouTube over the past 48 hours.
As previously reported on VIN News, a Fox newsreel of the first Knessia Gedola, held in Vienna in 1923, shows moving images of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, arriving at the gathering, where he spoke on two separate occasions, addressing an audience of prominent rabbanim, men and women.
According to Benjamin Singleton, a production manager at the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections which owns the footage, the clip has been available for both study and licensing for 34 years, but has become more widely viewed since the MIRC launched a YouTube-style website in 2012.
“This film was among many thousands of reels given to the University of South Carolina in 1980 by 20th Century Fox,” Singleton told VIN News. “The films were cataloged and viewed by the University library system and made available to the public. The university now keeps the film in an underground vault.”
The clip is the only known footage in the Fox newsreel collection of the 1923 Knessia Gedola and was shot on August 15th and 16th by Fox News cameraman Hans Von Pebal, who covered assignments in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary.
Fox News began filming silent newsreels worldwide in 1919 and as technology progressed, Fox started producing footage with sound in 1928 under the name Fox Movietone News, with cameramen in over 20 countries. Fox continued recording newsreels in the United States through 1963 and in the United Kingdom, under the name British Movietone News, through 1979.
Singleton said that Von Pebal worked for Fox News from its initial launch in 1919 and continued on through at least the mid 1930’s. While the nitrocellulose negative was created from 35 millimeter Agfa film, it is unknown what type of camera Von Pebal used when he filmed the Knessia Gedola, although it was likely a hand cranked model.
Once completed, Von Pebal’s historic footage was placed in a metal can and shipped, undeveloped, to the Fox News office on Manhattan’s West Side. Fox developed and edited the footage, with the outtakes negatives cataloged via the Dewy Decimal system, where they remained in a can for 57 years.
Once acquired by the MIRC, the Fox newsreel was transferred to video, which can be a complicated process when working with decades-old negatives. The film is placed on either a scanner or a telecine, a digital camera that can take up to 24 photographs per second as the film rolls, recording at real time.
As most silent films recorded at the time run at 17 frames per second, the Knessia Gedola clip, which consisted of 4,468 frames, would have taken a little over four minutes to transfer to video, once all the necessary preparatory work had been completed.
“There are a lot of other time-consuming and tedious steps before an old film is scanned,” explained Singleton. “The film is often fragile. Nitrocellulose, an old type of plastic, is very flammable and has a tendency to decompose. The university stores these films in a climate controlled vault which is very cold and dry. An eighty year old film can therefore be in delicate condition and many hours may be required to piece together. Cleaning of the film may also be necessary.”
The historical footage has proven to be big news in the Jewish community and an exciting turn of events for the MIRC.
“The recent interest in the film has been tremendous,” said Singleton.