Fred Astaire/Hermes Pan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9APvN68fwz8
Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph’s A THOUSAND CUTS is about something with which I am very familiar, the world of film collectors. Until a few years ago I had a collection of 16mm prints. I passed it on to a much younger person as I felt obligated to ensure that with my passing these films did not wind up on the street or carted off to the nearest dump as I have too often seen happen in the past to others.
I learned a lot that is interesting reading it.
For example that clip I posted a link to of the great choreographer Hermes Pan dancing with Fred Astaire was found by a fellow named Tony Turano who found it knocking about the home of Hermes Pan who had not a clue what it was. Turano took the can of film home, put it on his film projector and discovered it was the footage of Pan dancing with Fred Astaire that had been cut from the film SECOND CHORUS. When Turano is informed the footage now exists on youtube where everyone can see it he shouts, “But that’s mine! That’s my copy!”
Therein we have the dark truth of film collecting revealed.
Yes, film collectors saved films that otherwise would today be lost. They did not save them, though, for the world or for the art and history of motion pictures. They saved them for themselves.
I went out to Hollywood in 1987 for a tribute to animation master Grim Natwick held by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I brought with me some 16mm prints of films I had that Grim had worked on. I got to meet the behind the scenes people in the editing room which was a real treat. They had, I found, worked on the restoration of George Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN. One man who came by a lot knew an awful lot about the film. Much of what he knew was extraordinary. From his conversation it was clear that he had access to hidden materials he was not about to share. Then the FBI knocked on his door.
This was a particular vindication for the staff I spoke with as there had been a battle about how to cut a scene with the staff wanting it one way and the producers another. That scene was in the material this fellow had. Turned out the scene had been cut as the staff thought.
I ordered this book after discovering it by chance on a web blog in large part because I had always thought that collector was Roddy McDowell.
Turned out the FBI raided McDowell in 1974 long before the work began on restoring A STAR IS BORN.
Just now surfing the web for history on the STAR IS BORN restoration I found there actually are not one but three complete full length originals floating around of THE STAR IS BORN not one of which is going to see a restoration because the powers that be seem to be too ham fisted. One of those collectors had the original uncut A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. He gave it to Warners’ on condition he get a credit. He didn’t. He then said, “Fuck the bastards.” Frankly, I don’t blame him.
Oh, and that vault fire that destroyed Tod Browning’s LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), the Lon Chaney film that is the Holy Grail of film collectors, well, that was probably new management trimming costs by clearing out vaults. Penny wise. Pound foolish.
Some of the names in this book are familiar to me. Dave Barnes I bought excellent prints from years ago. He was always dependable and a great guy to boot (that is rare in film collector circles). Tom Dunnahoo of THUNDERBIRD FILMS, Jeff Joseph from SABUCAT I once bought some cartoons from. Bob Furmanek, of THE 3D FILM ARCHIVE, is a friend whose work I heartily support. One of the few women mentioned in the book, Hillary Hess, I know from THE 3D FILM ARCHIVE, William K. Everson, Leonard Maltin, Kevin Brownlow whose work restoring Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON to 332 minutes is the stuff of legend and dogged determination (there is still an hour missing), Serge Bromberg whose work restoring Chaplin’s Keystone, Essaney and Mutual Films has put everyone who cares for Chaplin in his debt FOREVER and the late, great David Shepard of whom enough good can never be said (or written). These are the exceptions. Most film collefctors are people we don’t want to meet who most certainly do not want to meet us.
Brownlow tells a story that again is all too typical. He tells of a collector who said, “I have a film that would interest you.” Brownlow heads over. He meets the man. He shows him a can of film that turns out to be Abel Gance’s 1917 film, LE DROIT A LA VIE (THE RIGHT TO LIFE).
“How much?” says Brownlow.
The man says, “I don’t want to sell it. I just want to know that you want it.”
The man wrote Brownlow’s name in the can. When he died his wife contacted Brownlow saying, “My husband wrote your name on this. I guess he wanted you to have it.”
Bob Furmanek worked with Jeff Joseph. The book mentions that Joseph bought Furmanek’s 3D Film Collection. Bob barely discusses Joseph. Something really gawdfawful went down between then. Given Bob’s generous spirit I am inclined to leave that rock unturned. Somethings are better off not brought into the light.
I donated to the Blu-ray 3D restoration of SEPTEMBER STORM by Bob Furmanek. I’m pleased my name is on the credits but that is not important to me. What is important is that the film was saved. The work being done on restorations by THE 3D FILM ARCHIVE is incredible. All the more so when we factor it how low the budgets they work with are.
My own collecting grew out of my desire to see mainly at first silent films I could only read about. My first films were Castle Film digests ordered from FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine. Say what you want about Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine. Yes, the writing was good. It came out rarely. I had a helluva time getting the back issues I ordered. Turns out Calvin Beck and his mom were the inspiration for Norman Bates and HIS mom in Robert Bloch’s PSYCHO. Never knew that until I read a THOUSAND CUTS.
The first feature length 8mm film I bought was Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927) from John Griggs (who does not get a mention in this book and about whom enough good can never be said nor written). The second film I bought was also from Griggs. It was Lon Chaney in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). After that I was hooked.
By the time I arrived in Toronto (1964/65 winter) I had a small library of silent classics including THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. The first 16mm print I bought was DRACULA (1931) followed by FRANKENSTEIN (1931).
A chance encounter with George Hendersen who ran VIKING BOOKS on Queen Street West near University and then the fabulous MEMORY LANE in Mirvish Village led me to start showing my films to strangers which is an indescribable pleasure.
One of the best dealers (a fellow not mentioned in this book) said to me, “You are my favorite customer.” “Why?” I asked. He said, “You call, ask if I can get a title, I find it, you say, ‘How much?’ Everyone else spends forever on the phone haggling with me. In the end I drop by less than they spent on the phone and they are happy.”
To many people want a good deal. I wanted/want good prints.
My collection was a working collection. If I could I rented titles. When I couldn’t rent I asked if they minded if I bought my own print. In most cases I was told, “Go ahead.”
This was because the cost of making prints was high. It was silly to expect a company to go through the expense of acquiring a print no one but myself would want to show.
My library grew when I got phone calls from wives and family of men (always men) who had died leaving a film library. I never said, “What’s in it?” I knew they just wanted to move it on where it could be of use to others. What I could use I kept. What I couldn’t I passed on.
This is a fascinating read. I’m glad I chanced upon it.
Unlike many, I love the digital revolution.
A fellow came up with a van to buy my complete film collection. I told him what I wanted for it. He said he would like to inspect it. I said, “Fine but the price is not dropping.”
After three days he said, “I’ll offer…”
I said, “Good-bye.”
He left furious.
The fellow who got the collection? He said, “How do we do this?”
I said, “Whatever way works best for you.”
Serge Bromberg tells of a woman who came with a film in a plastic bag the first part of which was all white but in the middle was intact including the last part was complete, the only copy of George Melies’ TRIP TO THE MOON that had that. He offered 500 euros. She wanted $100,000.00.
She left. Unable to find a buyer she returned a month later but by this time the whole of the film had vanished.
It’s not unusual to find people with no knowledge of film and vastly over rated ideas of the value of what they have. I still get phone calls from people who have an 8mm print (usually silent) of a digest version of a classic film they are sure is worth way more than it is.
It helps to know that one of the original owners of THE MONA LISA hung it over his bath.
I hate hagglers.
Serge Bromberg has done stellar work.
–Reg Hartt 2017/04/12.
P.S. Warner Brothers, Please get one of those original STAR IS BORN prints BEFORE they are lost forever.
A THOUSAND CUTS
A STAR IS BORN: http://www.thejudyroom.com/asib/restoration.html