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The 1937 Fox Vault Fire | Film Histories

The 1937 Fox Vault Fire | Film Histories

Many of the most iconic films in cinematic history — Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane — were recorded on nitrate, the earliest form of motion picture film, yet the material has a terrible reputation. Used from the late 1800s through the 1940s, nitrate film was incredibly flammable and caused some major fires in movies theaters. These tragic chapters in cinematic history have been revisited in films such as Cinema Paradiso, Inglourious Basterds, and The Artist. Later, once nitrate film was phased out, many archives were intentionally burned, simply to destroy the hazardous material.

In this great video by Film Histories, we’re introduced to the 1937 Fox Vault fire, in which more than 75% of 20th Century Fox's films made before 1930 were destroyed.

Want to get a peek at how intensely nitrate film actually burns? Skip to the 4 minute mark of the additional video we’ve included below.

A full 20-minute reel (2000 feet) of 35MM Nitrate Motion Picture Film manufactured in 1938 is burned at Rayle Archive & Screening Room (N.C.). This test burn was to demonstrate the way in which nitrate film will burn, both in a short open strip of film and in a tightly wound reel (mass) of film.
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