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United Artists Goes to Wisconsin

By: Thomas Macpherson  

This paper profiles the United Artists (UA) collection housed at the Wisconsin Centre for Film and Theatre Research (WCFTR). These materials have been invaluable to researchers and institutions interested in studio era Hollywood, and have played an integral role in disseminating and preserving American moving image heritage and media history. Yet, the commercial value of these materials has shifted since their acquisition in 1968 and 1970, affecting the institutions access to and digitization of film materials in a changing media studies landscape. This paper traces the ways in which the collection’s value and uses have been forged in dialogue and in contest with institutional agendas, focusing on the competition between the IRS and Transamerica (UA’s corporate owners) to minimize and maximize the allowable amount for tax deductions. I demonstrate how appraisers drew upon competing discourses of preservation and archival practice to justify their radically different valuations, despite the fact that correspondences and memoranda indicate how the IRS and Transamerica had competing financial and self-promotional motivations for arriving at such different figures. Tracing the myriad ways in which the collection’s value has shifted over time reveals the politics underpinning the collection and the preservation movement more broadly; demonstrates how legal frameworks have influenced Hollywood’s relationship with cultural institutions; and draws attention to the large number of materials in the collection that remain uncatalogued – an issue of importance given the ephemeral nature of audio-visual material, and the wealth of paper materials that have not been digitized.

Digitization, Access, Archives, Hollywood, Law
Media Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session



Thomas Macpherson

Teaching Associate , Film , University of Wisconsin, United States
United States

Tom Macpherson is a PhD student at the Univeristy of Wisconsin Madison. He holds a BA (Hons) in literature and history from Monash University. He is interested in the intersections between history, experimental film, and Hollywood.