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Museum of the Moving Image features more than 100 glass "lantern" slides
Glass slide depicting a promotion for THE KID (showing Charles Chaplin and Jacki Coogan). Gelatin dry-plate slide, pigment, paper, adhesive tape, 1921. Gift of Glenn Ralston. Collection, Museum of the Moving Image. Photo: Museum of the Moving Image.

ASTORIA, NY.- Projected images from glass slides were an integral feature of the early cinema experience. These colorful 3¼-by-4-inch slides were used to illustrate popular songs during audience sing-alongs, advertise local businesses, instruct audiences about appropriate behavior, and promote upcoming films. Museum of the Moving Image presents an exhibition of these fragile, often beautiful and idiosyncratic slides in Don’t Forget the Pictures: Glass Slides from the Collection, currently on view through October 20, 2019 in the Amphitheater Gallery.

Don’t Forget the Pictures includes projections and installations of more than one hundred glass slides from 1914–1948, drawn from the more than 1,500 examples in the Museum’s collection. Many of the slides on exhibit are part of a gift of more than 1,300 slides from Joseph C. Sweet, Jr., whose father was a theater owner and exhibitor in Connecticut from approximately 1915 through 1930.

Often referred to as “lantern” slides because of their origin in pre-cinema magic lantern shows, glass slides served a practical purpose in the first movie theaters, allowing the projectionist to keep the audience entertained as they changed reels (“Operator’s nearly through. DON’T BE UNEASY”). Illustrated song slides accompanied live performers who led the audience in singing popular songs, which also benefited theater owners through sales of sheet music. Some of the slides in the exhibition feature modifications of manufactured slides—what might be called a “hack” today—allowing theater owners to adapt or recycle slides for new purposes. For example, one slide features the hand-written word “INTERMISSION” placed within a word bubble emerging from a photographic image of Douglas Fairbanks (the only image remaining from the original slide). Among the slides in the exhibition are also some from films that were not preserved and are considered lost: preview slides for Call of the East, a 1917 film starring Sessue Hayakawa and Margaret Loomis, and 1917’s Cleopatra, featuring an iconic image of Theda Bara as the Egyptian queen. These artifacts are sometimes among the only traces that remain of a film.

While glass slides were no longer in wide use by 1950, today’s theaters continue to present local advertisements, behavioral tips, and coming attractions through other forms of media.

Don’t Forget the Pictures is organized by Barbara Miller, Senior Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.

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