Christine Reid Turns the Spotlight on Woman Behind the Camera

by Emma Prichard, Northeast Historic Film

The adventurous types get all the attention. In Christine Reid’s case, deservedly so.

Christine Reid, Massachusetts, circa 1928.

Christine L. Reid (1906 – 1990) was the oldest child of a wealthy Boston family. She grew up moving between the East Coast and trips to the family home at Lake Tahoe. Her father, William T. Reid Jr. (1878-1976), was a Harvard football coach. Christine and her siblings, Charles W. Reid (1914-?), William T. “Patrick” Reid III, (1903 – 1987) and Edith Williams (1904-?), shared a love of the outdoors, which translated into their films. Christine would go on to be a pioneering mountaineer, an advocate for women climbers and travelers, and an amateur instructional film maker.

The Reid Family was a well traveled bunch. The films included in the Reid Family Collection cover Italy, Switzerland, France, the UK, and all over the United States. Brothers Charles and Patrick crisscrossed the country, filming boating and road trips. They then took the show overseas, documenting a biking tour of the England, Scotland and Wales.

Charles Reid at Petrified Forest National Park, circa 1936.

But it is their sister Christine whose films really shine, and whose works have recently turned the spotlight on the Woman Behind the Camera project. Christine was a film-maker, mountaineer, skier, and journalist. Her early films document trips with family and friends. Her later films are more polished, amateur documentaries. ‘Klettershuh: Climbing in the Dolomites’, follows professional alpine guides as they demonstrate the tools and techniques of mountain climbing. Two of the guides, Angelo and Giuseppe Dimai, are part of a family tradition of mountaineers in the Cortina d’Ampezzo region of Italy which stretches from the first summiting of Monte Cristallo in 1865, to current guides still working in the region. Interestingly, it is Christine Reid whose name is imprinted on the mountain. The ‘Via Christine’, a climbing route, is named for her.

Another of Christine’s films, ‘Fundamentals of Skiing’, was filmed in Zermatt, Switzerland, at the foot of the Matterhorn. A man demonstrates the basics of skiing, while intertitles cut throughout give added explanation and instruction. Other highlights of the collection are scenes of planes at a Boston airport, train and sailing trips, and footage of the Chicago World’s Fair.

The films of the globe trekking film-maker were recently featured in an article published by Atlas Obscura: ‘The Pioneering Mountain Climber and Skier Who Filmed Her Own Exploits‘ by Sarah Laskow. Woman Behind the Camera project director and NHF vault manager Karin Carlson-Snider was interviewed for the article. She also provided Atlas Obscura with film stills and clips, which were edited into a short, introductory video for both the article and Atlas Obscura‚Äôs Facebook page.

Additionally, Northeast Historic Film’s Instagram, managed by Karan Sheldon, has recently been featuring film clips from the Woman Behind the Camera Project. Christine Reid’s footage of the launch of the brigantine Illyria at Boston Harbor currently holds the place of prominence.

Both of these recent developments have brought new eyes to the collection. Charles Tepperman of the University of Calgary’s Amateur Cinema Project added NHF’s notes on Christine’s film ‘Kletterschuh: Climbing in the Dolomites’ to the Amateur Movie Database’s record of the film. The database also highlights the film’s screening at the Tenth Annual Little Movie Party in New York in 1939.

The footage of the launch of the Illyria also brought the collection to the attention of researcher Martha McNamara. McNamara offered her insight to help identify people who appear in the film. Unbeknownst to the staff at NHF, these early Christine Reid films included landscape architect and fellow film-maker Sidney Shurcliff. Also featured are several shots of Cornelius Crane, owner of the Illyria and, incidentally, the grandfather of actor Chevy Chase. Shurcliff and Crane sailed the Illyria around the world, the tale of which Shurcliff recorded in the 1930 book ‘Jungle Islands: The Illyria in the South Seas’. Martha McNamara’s essay on Shurcliff and the Illyria “Comedic Counterpoise: Landscape and Laughs in the Films of Sidney Shurcliff” appears in the book “Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915–1960”, edited by Karan Sheldon and Martha Mcnamara.

Christine Reid’s films and papers are scattered across several institutions. Some of her films were supposedly donated to the New England Ski Museum, along with a collection of photographs. We are still working on confirming the existence of these other films. The rest of her papers are divided between the American Alpine Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Schlesinger Institute at the Radcliff Library at Harvard.

With all of these pieces scattered about, it’s been great to see the community of researchers, archivists, journalists and film enthusiasts come together to try and make a cohesive whole. Thank you to everyone for your help.

Christine Reid mountain climbing, 1931.