Apr 22, 2008

Karl Heider gets it. From DEAD BIRDS to Osa Johnson.

Here's the invitation that went out today for a special screening of ethnographic films made in Indonesia, a screening in honor of Karl Heider.

The Orphan Film Symposium grew at the University of South Carolina, in no small measure due to his support -- and his international reputation in the world of nonfiction film. The first symposium in 1999 was preceded by a week of films shown in Columbia as part of the National Film Registry Tour. Among the titles screened was Dead Birds (1964), a watershed ethnographic film directed by Robert Gardner, with the assistance of Heider, his Harvard protege.

Karl Heider went on to make a half dozen of his own ethnographic films about the Dani, a Papuan society in western New Guinea. His name is perhaps most familiar as the author of the book Ethnographic Film (1976), which is still in print.

He will be retiring from the university soon, but continues to write, travel the world, and see lots of films. He taught some of us in orphan filmland about the odd, popular, misassessed, interesting and ultimately significant movie legacy of Osa and Martin Johnson. This husband and wife team were Kansan adventurers who took up cameras in 1917 and spent twenty years traveling to Africa and Pacific islands, presenting their films of 'exotic' peoples to American audiences. Among their ephemeral films are 16 or so pieces of Fox Movietone News outtakes from the early sound era.

A link worth noting: In 1928, Martin and Osa Johnson publicized a trip to Africa by taking along three Boy Scouts. One of the three boys who co-authored Three Boy Scouts in Africa, Douglas L. Oliver, went on to become a professor of anthropology at Harvard -- where he became an advisor to Karl G. Heider.

Karl was unable to join us for Orphans 6. But his distributor was! Brittany Gravely of Documentary Educational Resources.


Karl's father, the psychologist Fritz Heider, made a teaching film while a professor at Smith College in the 1940s. We need to find it.

Apr 12, 2008

Fight Pictures

a fight picture of 1907

"The Orphan Film Movement has expanded and transformed the way we approach film and media studies. It has reaffirmed the radically democratic and egalitarian side of our field, generating new energy and a revitalized philosophy at a moment when film studies was becoming more integrated into academia and in danger of falling prey to elitist tendencies. If this book had a gestation period of fourteen years, it was because its author was on a mission of the utmost urgency. Fight Pictures has certainly become a richer, more thorough book over these intervening years. Bearing the insights of the orphan film movement as much as the older 'early cinema' paradigm, Fight Pictures is the result of some twenty years of intellectual ferment."
-- Charles Musser, from the foreword to the book Fight Pictures: A History of Boxing and Early Cinema (Univ. of California Press, 2008)

Apr 10, 2008


you should know the ONLY reason Ms. Anke Mebold was not in New York to introduce the screening of Helen La Belle is that Artemis (right) came along on 1/1/08.

But mother Mebold did keep an eye on the Helen project. Fortunately, she/we had the state-of-the-art, perfectionist restorers at Haghefilm in Amsterdam doing the restoration of this sweet animated film, made by one of the masters of world cinema, Lotte Reiniger.

And Haghefilm did this marvelous work pro bono, for debut at the Orphan Film Symposium. Another gift came from the Deutsches Filminstitut in the form of this title put onto the new print of Reiniger's film.

This gesture made the screening of HELEN at the tribute to animator Helen Hill all the more special.

And the work that went into preserving and restoring this color-faded film was extensive. Here's some idea of what Haghefilm did.

Source Material:
• 35mm positive “master material” (two reels) from British Film Institute (serious color fading) – Picture 1, below
• 35mm positive (reel 1 only) from Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt
• 35mm positive (reel 2 only) from British Film Institute
• 35mm rushes from British Film Institute – Picture 2
Despite serious color fading the two-reel print from the BFI was chosen as source material for the photochemical restoration since it was the most complete source. The rushes were used as color reference. Extensive color timing was required to match the colors to the reference. The sound was recorded from the BFI print and digitally restored (noise, tick and pop removal). •

Now the newly restored 35mm print of HELEN LA BELLE is on its way back to Amsterdam, where Anke will at last get to see it for herself. Perhaps Artemisia will too.

Apr 9, 2008

Leo-Andres (son of Dana Polan and Marita Sturken) at the March 26 opening reception. His first Orphans.

Tomorrow I will write about the restoration of the Lotte Reiniger film Helen La Belle (1957) and how the Deutsches Filminstitut, Haghefilm, the BFI, the Orphan Film Symposium, and Reiniger devotee Helen Hill converged to make the March 26 premiere screening possible. (It's a good story.)

Meanwhile, this blog
+ this one -- blogs.nyu.edu/orphanfilm
will be delivering more photos from Orphans 6, along with video and audio to come.

Here's a handsome one:

from the
Asian Film Archive,

Bee Thiam | Lucy Smee | Rajendra Gour

We saw Mr. Gour's charming, heartfelt independent film A Labour of Love (1976), and some amazing video by Singapore rebel Martyn See, documenting protests against a meeting of the IMF-World Bank. Mr. See self-distributes and 'archives' on YouTube. Here is Speakers Cornered (2006).

Apr 7, 2008

Orphans of the Storm vs. The Two Orphans

April 7, 2008

Tonight Film Forum in NYC screened
Orphans of the Storm (1921), with a piano score performed by Steve Sterner. Although the Rohauer print is not a thing of beauty as these things go, the nearly-full house enjoyed it, with applause at the finale.

With its melodramatics, this D. W. Griffith film might seem like an old warhorse of silent cinema. But when Griffith adapted the 19th-century warhorse play The Two Orphans, he was the sixth or seventh filmmaker to do so.

All but one of those films, each entitled
The Two Orphans, is presumed not to survive in any form.

The play Les Deux Orphelines by Eugène Cormon and Adolphe d'Ennery, premiered in Paris in 1874. It was almost immediately translated into English and proved a hit with American theater-goers. (Disputes over the copyright to the English version led to important legal decisions on copyright [hello, orphan films].) After its 1875 launch in New York, The Two Orphans remained in theatrical production for a generation.

Much of the play's success in the U.S. was attributed to the actress Kate Claxton, who played the blind sister Louise (Dorothy Gish's role in 1921). Here's a lovely photograph of her from Plays of the Present (1902) by John Bouvé Clapp and Edwin Francis Edgett (quite a pair themselves, one guesses).

Among the films known to have been made but apparently now in orphan film heaven:

The poster for the re-release of the 1915 film refers, oddly, 
to "the Kate Claxton 1918 Version." Claxton owned 
(with some contestation) the rights to the U.S. adaption. 
It's not clear how the 1918 film release might have been 
altered from its original 1915 edition. 

• 1902 William Haggar's Duel Scene from 'The Two Orphans', made in England

• 1907 French Pathé version, Les Deux Orphelines

• 1907 Selig Polyscope's one-reeler The Two Orphans

• 1910 Pathé adaption [U.S. release title, Motherless]

• 1915 Fox Film Corp.'s feature-length Theda Bara vehicle [aka The Hunchback!]  directed by Herbert Brenon; re-released in 1918

• 1920-21 a German company apparently made but did not release its Two Orphans, bought out by D. W. Griffith himself in advance of United Artists' release of the big Gish pic.

    * * * * 

    What does survive is a mostly complete 35mm print (preserved by the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research with UCLA) of the 1911 Selig remake of The Two Orphans. A frame enlargement from this partially-decayed nitrate film has circulated as an emblem of the need for film preservation.

    At the first Orphan Film Symposium, in September 1999, we screened Wisconsin's 35mm print of this then-recently preserved film. Don Crafton offered these informative (and typically wry) comments.

    Although we did not screen the then-recently restored Orphans of the Storm (with its new score by Gillian Anderson), the first symposium was actually entitled "Orphans of the Storm: Saving 'Orphan Films' in the Digital Age." By 2002, the simpler "Orphan Film Symposium" became the official moniker. But partisans and newcomers still refer to the symposium by the affectionate nickname "Orphans." [That's Orphans, singular, as in "Orphans is a swell conference," etc.]


    Orphans of the Storm is also an animal shelter in Illinois (started by dancer Irene Castle in the 1920s). 

    Apr 6, 2008

    Photos by Uman

    One of the animating presences at Orphans 6 was (or rather were) Naomi Uman (and her dog, Tattoo). One of many photos taken of the purse-sized pup + Naomi's self-portrait of the pair.

    BELOW: Some amazing photographs Naomi took during her year in the Ukraine, where she also shot 16mm film for her new work, entitled Kalendar.

    Apr 5, 2008

    8mm Red Balloon

    It's been six days since the end of Orphans Six, so I thought I would continue to unwind by going to see what I will call a "movie," rather than an orphan film. The IFC Center (which was so good to Orphans in February) is showing Le Voyage du ballon rouge, director Hou Hsiao-hsien's French-language film (movie) shot in Paris.

    The film-within-a-film trope went beyond the references to Albert Lamorisse's 1956 children's classic, The Red Balloon (which I'm sure I saw only on a black-and-white TV set when Kukla, Fran and Ollie introduced it on the CBS Children's Film Festival on a Saturday afternoon in 1967). Midway through Hou's movie, the mother of our boy-with-balloon protagonist gives his au pair, Song, several 8mm film reels and boxes. Song, a former student at the Beijing Film Academy, is taking film (read: video) production classes, so she is able to have the mother's home movies transferred to a DVD.

    In a thoughtful move by Hou, we see the 8mm images only as the boy sees them. He watches them on a DVD player -- on the dashboard of his mother's car. She describes some scenes to him, while others she narrates in the voices of characters reminiscent of those at her puppet theater. The boy comments that he can not hear the soundtrack. His mother explains that 8mm films are silent.
    "What's an 8mm film?" he asks.

    Also to Hou's credit, these home movies are not depicted as full of scratches and jump-inducing splices. They look handsome. This jibes with the narrative, which suggests that mother shot this footage in the late 1990s, using a friend's 8mm movie camera.

    Lord knows where she got it processed. (Switzerland perhaps.)

    Final note: the publicity still of the rouge ballon and the Eiffel Tower reminds me, sadly, that I will not be having April in Paris as I had hoped. The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) is convening its annual congress and symposium at the
    Cinémathèque française, April 17-26, thanks to the organizers at the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie).

    Since the theme of the symposium is "the legal protection of film works," I am even more bummed that my one-track mind (orphan films, orphan films, orphan films...) will not be in Paris this month.

    -- dan

    Apr 4, 2008


    Photo by Rick Prelinger (seen in reflection, top left).

    Filmmaker Gustav Deutsch (left) came from Vienna and curator/scholar Scott MacDonald traveled from Hamilton, New York.

    The University of California Press (an Orphans 6 partner, thank you) recently published

    Scott's book, Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor.

    Gustav Deutsch's latest work is a feature-length archival collage entitled A Girl and a Gun.

    Apr 3, 2008

    Reviews & Reports in the blogosphere

    Gentle reader:

    Although the words 'blog' and 'blogosphere' have a less than euphonious ring to them, there are of course some good and beautiful things in weblogs. Here are a few.

    * Jenny Davidson, a novelist and professor of English/comp lit at Columbia University, wrote about her experience at the Helen Hill Tribute that opened the Orphan Film Symposium on March 26.

    Elise Nakhnikian wrote about Orphans 6 for "The House Next Door," a site created by critic/filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz.

    * Perennial
    orphanista Dwight Swanson, the intinerant film archivist, has three entries in his 'diary.'

    * For the two most thorough and thoughtful -- and well-illustrated --
    accounts of the symposium daze, read "Walking Off the Big Apple"


    * the official NYU "live" coverage by graduate students in the companion course, Curating Moving Images.

    If you, O gentlest of readers, learn of other blog or press accounts of Orphans 6, please comment here. X

    Apr 2, 2008

    after April fooling

    Photo by Rick Prelinger:
    March 29, 2008, Howard Besser (in T-shirt) chairs the Orphan Works session. At left, Peter Decherney.

    As per Orphans tradition, I sent out an April 1 e-mail to all symposiasts/ orphanistas. Said April Fool's Day message purported to be an Associate Press news item about the Library of Congress advocating copyright reform -- in part because of the influence of the 6th Orphan Film Symposium.

    Apologies to anyone who glanced at the AP mock-up and presumed this was a real and true news story.

    For the record, here's what it said [with corrections added]:

    Apr 1 [ ;>) ], 7:54 PM EDT

    Library of Congress Advocates for "Orphan Works"

    WASHINGTON, DC (AP [not really; just an AP mocku-up]) -- Librarian of Congress James H. Billington issued his annual report on the state of American libraries and archives
    [the Librarian does issue such an annual report], surprising some observers by adding unexpected caveats to the otherwise pro forma statement. In particular, the Librarian noted the need for a dramatic turn in copyright law [He has not.].

    "Without a new emphasis on protecting so-called 'orphan works,'" Billington wrote, "archives across the United States be increasingly paralyzed in their most basic conservation and preservation services." The need to protect the estimated 10 million
    [a made-up figure] books, films, and audio recordings in copyright limbo will soon outrank the need to preserve classic Hollywood movies and best-selling novels.

    Intellectual property law professor Haden Wright-Fuller
    [no such person ] of Duke University responded with surprise to the Librarian's new direction. Writing on his blog [no link here; no blog[ Tuesday, Wright-Fuller cited the influence of recent Supreme Court decisions on Billington's policy recommendations. "Without question, the
    majority opinions in
    Eldred v. Ashcroft [the 7-2 majority rejected Eldred et al's argument] and more recently in the so-called 'orphan film' case of Kahle v. ABC-Disney [no such case] have placed pressure on the Copyright Office and the Congress to look beyond the positions staked out by the Motion Picture Association and media conglomerates."

    Promising [not] further comment in the coming months, Billington cryptically suggested, in language buried in an appendix to the report, that he was swayed by debate at the recent Orphan Film Symposium [if only... Suffice it to say that a Saturday, March 29 discussion at Orphans 6 could not have affected a report issued the following Tuesday] . The symposium took place at New York University on March 29th and brought artists, filmmakers, distributors, scholars and archivists together.

    Reacting to news of the Librarian's caveat, filmmaker and preservation advocate Martin Scorsese
    [of course Mr. S was not part of this fictitious dialog] called it "a significant boon to the survivial of America's film heritage, as expressed through its orphan films."

    The White House expressed no opinion on the matter.
    [This is true.]

    [Apologies to Dr. Billington, who in fact HAS presided over the era of 'orphan works' and also advocated exemptions from some copyright strictures when those exemptions clearly serve the public good.]

    All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
    [This is the boilerplate of AP and many others. But it does not apply to this blog posting. Anyone may publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this text. In fact, everyone is encouraged to do so, so long as you mention 'orphan works' or 'orphan films.']