• SPLICING 'THE INSECT' — Oliver Duggan.

Salt Mine Movie 'Critic'

Saturday, May 11, 1963

I went underground to watch movies with Oliver Duggan Friday afternoon.

Oliver works for Encyclopedia Britannica Films Inc. The company gave him 7,000 movies, a postage machine, a splicer and an airy room 650 feet under Hutchinson. He lacks a projector so we had to watch the Friday feature through a splicing machine.

It was simply titled "Insects." A locust crawls up a corn stalk. My host had been watching that same movie for two days and he's still not finished.

It's not the type of movie to win an Oscar or even a matinee billing. But it was better than some of the other movies there. Like "Fundamentals of Dieting" or "Care of the Feet."

No Better Place

"I don't think there's a nicer place to work," said my host. "I get more work done here than I would anywhere else."

Britannica, which has words for almost any subject, hasn't yet given Oliver a title. So we'll call him "Keeper of the Films."

Oliver's projection room, screen and popcornless domain stands partitioned in the Underground Vaults and Storage Co. section of the Carey Salt Mine. The temperature runs a pleasant 68 to 70 degree cycle. Films and keepers do no perspiring in the 44 percent relative humidity. The film room is 25 by 60 feet. The ceiling and walls are all salt mine.

Britannica's documentaries moved in last November, consolidating previous storage in California, Chicago and New York. Chronologically the irreplaceable films date from World War I battle frames to Disneyland. Alphabetically they run from John Quincy Adams to The Zoo.

Oliver, who lives at 204 East 5th, went underground with Britannica in January. Among other things, he says, working down there has cured his asthma. Then, too, he's attending fewer movies.

Eight hours a day he sorts, splices and mails whole shows. Pathe News, for example, wants to make a movie on pygmies. Britannica, through Oliver, ships the original negatives from "Pygmies of Africa." The pygmie frames take a chopping. So when they return he puts them back together.

He mails from one to 50 reels a day, insuring each for $500. Three weeks ago out went 58 films of French lessons. Then somebody wanted, say, 700 feet of "Little Red Riding Hood" and 100 feet of "The Little Foxes." Oliver's domain contains 7,000 reels of negatives covering 2,000 subjects, and he has room for twice that many.

"Ive already got enough work for the next five Vears," he says. It takes an average of two days to patch each reel.

Britannica has promi.sed to send him a movie projector. Admittedly, that won't do much good, since the collection contains few work prints, or regular movies. On the other hand, the vault company has about 200 juicy MGM movies next door in another storage arrangement. Ben Hur and Lassie are down there.

UV&S attracts, for various reasons, the security conscious. Britannica perhaps less so, since the arrangement saves film maintenance costs and offers a central processing site.

But thoughts of a holocaust promote reflections of what's going to be left over, like the salt mine for sure. (Rather like King Tut decorating the bowels of his pyramid or 'Pharoah' Ramses dreaming up the Rosetta Stone.)

Archaeologists of tomorrow might go downstairs in what was Hutchinson. There, with a film projector as a research tool, they dissect 20th Century America: Charlton Heston, "Visit lo the waterworks," 105 French lessons, "Tackling in Football," "Corn Farmers," "Disneyland" and "Fundamentals of Dieting," and maybe, going full circle they'll watch "Cleopatra."