Each semester when I introduce my selection for the City Lights Film Series at the Indiana University Cinema, I begin by saying that all of the series’ titles are pulled from the David Bradley Collection, housed in the Lilly Library here on the Indiana University Campus. That is to say, the titles, specifically, are selected from the Collection. The physical films themselves are another matter. Many of the 16mm film prints are in delicate condition, and the process of projecting them might actually be harmful to the material. As a result, the IU Cinema often choses to obtain, from elsewhere, more modern copies or prints that can handle the sometimes rough process of film projection.
For the past four semesters I’ve spent many hours sifting through the long list of film titles that pop up on the IUCAT (online library catalog) search for the David Bradley film collection; however, I never took the time to search out the contents of the rest of this extensive collection. Given the chance to remedy this, I had some important questions to answer: Who was David Bradley? What is all of the material in his Collection? And why was it given to Indiana University? I directed these questions to the Lilly Library, and was put in touch with Erika Dowell, the Associate Director and Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts. She very willingly pointed me in all the right directions, helped me navigate the Collection and its descriptions, and gathered information on and photographs of David Bradley for me to share. Because of Erika’s help, I now know quite a bit more about a Collection that at first inspection was simply the films and papers of an amateur director and film historian.
Born in Illinois, David Shedd Bradley was an amateur filmmaker, film collector, historian, teacher, and a good friend of Charlton Heston. Not only did he serve in the army during World War II, filming action, but he was also credited with nine films back on the home front—several featuring Heston, one B movie (The Madman of Mandoras, 1963), and even one feature made for Hollywood’s MGM studio (1952’s film noir Talk About a Stranger starring the actress who would later become First Lady, Nancy Davis [Reagan]). Bradley was a member of the Director’s Guild of America, and later in life he taught film history at several institutions including UCLA and Santa Monica College. All the while he spent his time building an impressive collection of 20th century classics as well as a significant amount of obscure prints of obscure films. The Lilly Library’s annual report the year the Collection was acquired says that his “resulting body of films is one of the most significant private collections ever assembled.” It spans the vast majority of the 20th century, from the silent to the sound periods, and its films come from international locales like France, Germany, Italy, Russia, England, and Japan among others. Many of them are even accompanied by press kits, press clippings, and other publicity material collected by the filmmaker and historian throughout his life.
Bradley died in 1997, at the age of 77. On December 22 of that year, a short obituary ran in the Chicago Tribune celebrating his life and career. Interestingly, Bradley’s original will from 1975 leaves his collection to UCLA (you can find this document within the content located at the Lilly Library); but upon his death the Lilly was gifted with this outstanding resource and during the 1998-1999 year the acquisition was announced. In the Lilly Library’s annual report for that year (mentioned above), Bradley’s film collection alone was acknowledged as “one of the most important groupings of historic motion pictures in the United States,” containing a huge number of films, some in part and some in whole, many of which Bradley was said to have spent considerable time searching for.
Although some of Bradley’s papers are also housed at Northwestern University (his alma mater), his collection at IU is quite substantial. It consists of films and other film components (both his own and mainstream, in numerous analog formats); screenplays; publicity material; correspondences with actors, filmmakers, fellow historians, and more; journals and other writing; as well as business records. With over a hundred boxes of material listed, you can find some pretty unique pieces of history here. For instance, some of the films found in the Collection are actually home movies made by David Bradley, a number of the screenplays included are ones Bradley himself worked on or directed, questionnaires and programs as well as lobby cards from some of Bradley’s distributed films exist, and of course, there are the reviews. You can even find his syllabi, evaluations, and other paper work for the specific courses he taught at UCLA and Santa Monica College. Some of the biographical material even includes Bradley’s army tags and bachelor’s degree from Northwestern. Suffice it to say that what I’ve listed here and what the IU Cinema shows of Bradley’s Collection barely scratches the surface of this significant archival resource.
My experience with programming for this series has always involved the David Bradley title list. (I’ve chosen and introduced George Cukor’s Gaslight, Alan Pakula’s Klute, and John Huston’s The Misfits in the last year and a half; and in less than a month my fourth selection, Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire will complete this semester’s slate of films.) Yet, the history of this series precedes both IU’s acquisition of the Collection and the establishment of the IU Cinema. In order to better understand the connection between the Cinema and the David Bradley Connection, I found myself on another tangential search for answers–this time regarding the history of the City Lights Film Series. Ironically, a string of emails led me to a source that had been right in front of my nose all along, my own PhD Advisor, Joan Hawkins. An Associate Professor for the IU Media School, former Associate Professor of Communication and Culture, and a long-time contributor to and patron of the IU Cinema she was a fount of knowledge.
This is what I found out: For approximately two decades the City Lights Film Series has been showing classic films. It began in association with the Comparative Literature department, wherein (at that time) Film Studies at IU was located. This was around 1995 or 1996. Screenings took place in Ballantine Hall and later the Radio-Television building, and were often coordinated with another familiar film series on the Cinema’s current listing–the Underground Film Series. Once the David Bradley Collection was acquired (with great excitement from the Film Studies faculty as well as the Lilly Library) City Lights began to pull from its title list. Later, when the IU Cinema began operations in 2011, City Lights and the Underground Film Series were absorbed into the Cinema’s programming.
Despite histories that have not always been intertwined, it’s safe to say that the City Lights Film Series has found a treasure of a resource in the David Bradley Collection. Its current practice of pulling from this Collection’s list of films (what the Lilly Library has put at as thousands of titles) has created an avenue by which to not only view numerous classic 20th century “masterpieces,” but also to screen the often obscure motion picture. Yes, not all of the truly hard-to-find films may be available for screening at the Cinema (as a result of that very same obscurity that makes their mere existence on the IU campus such a treat); however, the David Bradley Collection is certainly something to be celebrated. In fact, there are many reasons to explore this collection outside of its connection to City Lights and the IU Cinema—the most obvious being its historical significance as a resource linking us to 20th century mainstream, independent, international, and amateur filmmaking.
A huge ‘Thank You!’ to the Lilly Library staff, especially Erika Dowell, and Joan Hawkins who, along with all the other wonderful things she does, responded to some late night emails about City Lights.
In 2012 the IU Cinema presented a program of 16mm films collected by Bradley entitled “Oddities from the David Bradley Collection.”
Katherine Johnson, currently a third year legacy PhD student in Communication and Culture, studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been obsessed with film since the beginning.