Martin Walsh Film Library

archiveThe list of esteemed Film Studies faculty at the University of Western Ontario includes a leading film theorist and one of the founders of academic Film Studies in Canada, Martin Walsh. After completing his doctorate at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, England, Martin Walsh accepted a position as a Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario. As a new faculty member at Western, Walsh was responsible for spearheading the renovation of the Film Studies screening room located in University College (temporary located in Arts & Humanities Building Room 1G19) and the development of the Film Research Centre. After outfitting a screening room with film projection, the Department of English began to acquire 16mm prints for classroom viewing. In 1976, Film Studies Professors Seth Feldman and Martin Walsh received a grant of $75,000 from the Academic Development Fund to establish a film and video research centre and purchase new prints for the English Department’s film library. In 1976, their collection included 100 titles. This funding enabled Western to develop “one of the largest film collections in Ontario.” The press releases announcing the grant in 1977 argued that film had claimed “a permanent place in the university.” This collection of prints was clearly shaped by Walsh’s own research interests. A strong supporter and researcher of political modernism, Walsh’s critical work culminated in the posthumous anthology The Brechtian Aspect of Radical Cinema in 1981. Following Prof. Walsh’s untimely death in 1977 in a tragic cycling accident, Arts & Humanities renamed the Film Resource Centre the Martin Walsh Film Library.

The Martin Walsh Film Library contains an eclectic array of films, including avant-garde classics, silent cinema reduction prints, European art house features, independent documentaries and educational films. Initially, the prints in the Martin Walsh Film Library were screened for classes on a regular basis. A number of prints were purchased from independent distributors such as Canyon Cinema, the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, the Museum of Modern Art, New Yorker Films, and the National Film Board of Canada. One of the strengths of the Martin Walsh Library is its documentation of Canadian and American avant-garde film. The collection contains work by structural filmmakers Michael Snow (New York Eye and Ear Control (1964), One Second in Montreal (1969)), Paul Sharits (Axiomatic Granularity (1973)), Robert Nelson (The Awful Backlash (1967)), and Tony Conrad (The Flicker (1965)). Numerous avant-garde films were purchased from the artists themselves in the 1970s. Rounding out the experimental film collection are works by Bruce Baillie (Quick Billy (1970)), Canadian filmmaker David Rimmer (Watching for the Queen (1973), Canadian Pacific (1975)), and four of Stan Brakhage’s 8mm Song films, signed by the artist himself. The most important experimental film in the collection is arguably Jack Chambers’ epic feature-length film The Heart of London (1970). It is likely that the Film Studies Department possesses one of the few original 16mm release prints of the film. Acquired from the London Filmmakers Co-Op (an independent company based out of Chambers’ home for the distribution of his work) while the filmmaker was still alive, the print predates the posthumous success that the film has subsequently achieved.

The collection also includes well-preserved prints of early works such as Man Ray’s Le Retour à La Raison (1923), Emak-Bakia (1926), and L’Étoile de Mer (1928), James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933), Joris Iven’s lyrical documentary Rain (1929) and works by American avant-garde pioneers Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment (1949), Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), Bruce Conner Report’s (1967), and Stan Brakhage’s The Wonder Ring (1955), and Flesh of the Morning (1956).

Although Technical Services and English stopped purchasing films on celluloid in the 1980s, the Martin Walsh Film Library continued to function as a repository for 16mm film. The Martin Walsh Film Library houses several collections that could be of interest to scholars of industrial and educational film. One notable collection includes films by regional educational filmmaker Lyle Bebensee, who donated his films to Western in 1998. The film library also houses numerous industrial and educational films acquired from Ryerson University’s former film library. Most of the prints are either educational or industrial shorts by distributors such as McGraw Hill, Coronet Instructional Films, and the National Film Board of Canada. Highlights of the Martin Walsh Film Library’s collection of educational and sponsored films include All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story (Dir. George C. Stoney, 1952) and Western: A Tradition of Futures (Director: Nancy Johnson and Mark McCurdy, Lockwood Films (March 1987).

This summary is based on the following sources: Bill Webster “Western allotted $75,000 to buy films” The London Free Press (February 26, 1977); “UWO film research centre receives grant” (Western News, July 15 1976), 7; Joshua Romphf, Film Studies 4495 – Academic Internship Final Report: “Martin Walsh Film Archive” (2011).