The Mysteries of Film ABC

  • Posted on Jul 01, 2013 by

As the new summer intern at the MoMA library, I’m still getting used to the idea of being around so many unique and aesthetically pleasing books. Going into the stacks truly feels like being a kid in a candy store, and the look of the books lined organized and lined up on the shelves presents something to aspire to, as my own bookshelf has always suffered from a case of far too many books and not enough space. Today I began to explore the collection some more—a task that would no doubt take years to complete—and found one of many gems.

Film ABC : Foto-Almanach der Künstler von Film, Funk, Bühne (Hildesheim : Fachverlag Film-ABC, [1956]).
Film ABC : Foto-Almanach der Künstler von Film, Funk, Bühne

Hildesheim : Fachverlag Film-ABC, [1956]).

I love film, and accordingly was drawn to the film books. I resisted the urge (though I’m sure I’ll give into it soon enough) to pick up volumes on favorite directors and revel in feelings of cinephilia, and instead sought out something more obscure, something that would stand out as more of a museum piece. Just then, a box labeled Film ABC caught my eye on the bottom shelf. Intrigued by the playful sounding name, I opened the box, revealing two small glossy red binders. The covers read Film ABC Foto-Almanach. They were published in Berlin sometime in the late 1950s. One of the volumes showcases actresses and child stars, while the other showcases actors. Though I can’t read German, I find the book of actresses fascinating. Each page features a headshot of a different actress. Most of them are young and fresh faced (there’s even a whole section of children in the back), while a few are matronly. There is a lot of soft focus on well made up faces and elegantly waved hair. Hildegarde Knef has pristine long eyelashes and a stylish striped blazer. Christine Laszar peers seductively over her shoulder. Claudia Gerstacker could be an Isabella Rossellini type. Most of the images feel very old Hollywood, which makes the fact that the book is from another country all the more intriguing. To what extent are all of these actresses borrowing from Hollywood? To what extent is Hollywood borrowing from them?

Hildegard Knef (no date) and Johanna Konig (1958)
Hildegard Knef (no date) and Johanna Konig (1958)
Eva L'Arronge (1955) and Christine Laszar (1957)
Eva L'Arronge (1955) and Christine Laszar (1957)
Claudia Gerstacker (1958) and Therese Giehse (1955)
Claudia Gerstacker (1958) and Therese Giehse (1955)

Looking through this book, I found myself imagining back stories for the actresses and casting them in some as-yet-unspecified movie that exists only in my mind. It would be easy for some of the actresses, with their difficult to pronounce names and saucy pouts, to be lost in the shuffle, for their flimsy paper portraits to find their way into the trash somewhere in the last fifty years. That they have instead ended up on a MoMA shelf is a testament to the library’s importance. The Film ABC is in its rightful place—it can now be used as a source of artistic inspiration.

Abbey Bender, Library Intern, The Museum of Modern Art

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