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Frances/Francoise/Paquita and Her/et Son/y Su Rabbit/Lapin/Conejo

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The following is a guest post by Kelly Chisholm, a Processing Technician in the Moving Image Section.

Yesterday I mentioned the J. Fred MacDonald Collection; it is a collection of 40,000+ reels that many of my colleagues in the Moving Image Section have spent a good percentage of our time working on over the last few years, so you will doubtless see us mention it over and over again in the future.

Hopper and Frances

One of my favorite things I’ve come across while working on the collection is an educational film called Frances and Her Rabbit (International Film Bureau, 1956), which shows a little girl and her rabbit Hopper finding something to do inside on a rainy day. I enjoyed it for its great use of color and the fun of seeing a rabbit do some impressive tricks, something for which my own rabbit has shown no talent. But, as is almost always the case, the story behind the film and the different versions we found in the collection have their own tale to tell.

The producer of the film, Keller Breland, and his wife Marian were both animal psychologists who studied at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s under famed behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Keller worked on an experimental pigeon training project there, meant to help the American forces in WWII by using pigeons to guide bombs (the project was successful but never used in combat). However, the Brelands did not see a future for themselves in academia, and they chose to leave the University and start a commercial venture for their system of animal training. They ran a zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that was open to the public for their specially trained animals, and Keller appeared on numerous television shows with the animals in the 1950s and 1960s, all as a way to promote their skills to potential clients.

Their company also began producing educational films, Frances and Her Rabbit being one of their first and most successful. The rabbit was trained to choose crayons based on “olfactory discrimination”; in other words, the crayons the rabbit was meant to choose were scented with a smell he had been trained to recognize. The film’s intent was to teach colors to elementary school students and remained in circulation throughout the 1970s. And it turned out that the little girl in the film, Frances, was the Brelands’ daughter.

Now we all know that films made in Hollywood were circulated all around the world over the past 120 years, but it turns out the same thing happened with educational films. Frances and Her Rabbit was released over time with three different language tracks–English, French, and Spanish–and was used in elementary schools in many different countries. This presents a cataloging challenge to us because we need to confirm the language of each film to make sure they are correctly labeled in our database, and then connect those records to each other so that anyone who looks up Frances and Her Rabbit will see that we have multiple language versions in the “Related Titles” field. Here are some screen grabs from MAVIS, the database we use to catalog much of our moving image collection:



We were able to identify these different language versions by looking at the films on an inspection table (often called a bench), where we wind through the film reel and inspect the image. By looking at the title cards, we could tell the language, since the French version was called Françoise et Son Lapin (1962) and the Spanish version is Paquita y Su Conejo (1974), as well as see the different years the films were released and by which distribution companies. You may think we watch movies all day, but it is actually fairly rare for us to do so in order to identify a film; the viewing machines, commonly referred to as flatbeds, can damage film, especially older ones that may be in poorer condition. When we come across films that are incomplete and do not contain title cards (which happens more often than any of us appreciate), we consider their condition and sometimes watch them to confirm things like language or glean any potentially identifying information from the audio track.

catalog card for Frances and Her Rabbit

And since the Library of Congress film collection is vast and stretches back to 1891, the other thing that needed to be done was checking all our available resources to see if we already had any copies of Frances and Her Rabbit that did not come from the MacDonald Collection. It turned out that we had a 16mm print registered for copyright in 1958; we attached a scan of that card to the record in MAVIS and made sure a record was made to account for the reel of film listed on the card. (FYI, Frances and all her language variants have since lapsed into the public domain. We checked.)

So here are our three versions of Frances and Her Rabbit, and you’ll probably notice, even if your French and Spanish skills are as poor as mine, that the scripts have some real differences between them. For instance, they all have different ways of addressing the film’s audience and describing Frances’s and Hopper’s situation and feelings. Does that say something about cultural differences, about the style of educational films changing over the time period these were released, or something else entirely? It makes you wonder just how different a film can be made from the same images just by accompanying them with different audio.

 Frances and Her Rabbit (International Film Bureau, 1956)

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Françoise et Son Lapin (International Film Bureau, 1962)

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Paquita y Su Conejo (International Film Bureau, 1974)

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  1. What fun! Thanks for the post, and keep them coming, Kelly! I love learning about LC’s incredibly rich collections (and practicing Spanish on the side).

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