fbpx Highlights and Shadows | George Eastman Museum

Planning a visit? Advance tickets required.

Learn more about our new health & safety procedures

Highlights and Shadows

00:00 Introduction by Gordon Nelson, Digital Archivist, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum
05:03 Highlights and Shadows

Highlights and Shadows (US 1938)
Writer and director: Kenneth R. Edwards
Director of Photography: J. S. Watson Jr.
Producer: J. S. Watson Jr., in cooperation with the Research Laboratories, Eastman Kodak Company
Camera: Boyd W. Thomas
Composers: Howard Hanson, Bernard Rogers, Burrill Phillips, Wayne Barlow
Music performed by the Eastman School of Music under the direction of Howard Hanson
Narrator: Lowell Thomas

First Screening: June 28, 1938

Sound: sound

Color: b/w

Length (in feet): 4,900 ft.

Length (in reels): 5

Running time: 54 min.

Frame rate: 24 fps

Preserved from a 35mm composite nitrate print at Cinema Arts Laboratory

Digitized by Eastman Museum Film Preservation Services
Funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation; additional funding by the Rohauer Collection Foundation

Industrial films seldom break new ground in visual presentation. Generally, they rely on spreading the corporate message for new products: glamorizing the car, the soap, the widget, or whatever is hot off the assembly line and headed for the consumer. In 1937, the Eastman Kodak Company took a novel approach and engaged the highly regarded Rochester avant-garde filmmaker, author, and physician Dr. James Sibley Watson Jr. (1894–1982) to produce an industrial film on Kodak’s manufacturing process for film and cameras.

Watson crafted a dazzling visual ballet that stands on its own as an aesthetically rewarding and educationally inspiring tour of the massive Kodak factories. Utilizing the multiple exposure imagery he had used to such great effect in The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933), Watson makes tool and die drill presses, assembly lines of camera parts, and the film coating process every bit as expressive and interesting as an MGM historic drama.

This film captures the repetitive labor of hundreds of Kodak employees as a synchronized ballet, each part carefully crafted to create the whole. It is also a historical record of the inventions that mechanized motion picture and still photographic film production and raised it to an economic level that allowed Kodak to lead the world in photographic imaging. The results are seen in a compilation of images featuring the famous (Will Rogers, King George VI, George Bernard Shaw, Dolores Del Rio, and the great Russian-Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels as King Lear) and the commonplace (weddings, hiking, riding, swimming in the ocean). Highlights and Shadows premiered at a meeting of the American Society of Cinematographers in Hollywood in June 1938. A number of successful screenings followed, including one at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel on August 18, 1938, before an audience of camera enthusiasts and photographic dealers. Although it was never released theatrically, the film was distributed by Kodak in 16mm prints free of charge and demonstrated all over the country for more than a year.

As a truly made-in-Rochester production, the film features a score performed by the symphony orchestra of the Eastman School of Music under the direction of Dr. Howard Hanson. Watson’s closest collaborator on the picture was Ken Edwards (1895–1949). Largely forgotten today, Edwards was one of the most respected educational filmmakers of his time. He served at Eastman Kodak Company for more than twenty years as head of the Teaching Film Division, the founder and first manager of the Photographic Illustrations Division, and finally as advisor on non-theatrical films. He started his career as an animator and later produced and directed a number of educational pictures, among them the highly successful Eighteenth Century Life in Williamsburg, Virginia (1944). Edwards is also responsible for bringing James Card, the first curator of film at the George Eastman Museum, to Rochester. In some sources Edwards’s role on Highlights and Shadows is listed as production manager, but others, including Watson himself, credited him as the director of the film.

Today, most of the sites seen in the film are closed and some demolished. But Kodak still produces the best motion picture film ever made, including the polyester film stock that was used to preserve the George Eastman Museum’s 35mm nitrate print of Highlights and Shadows in luminous black and white.