Jul 30, 2008

Paul Strand, newsreel stringer

Postscript to the OFS blog's May 31 posting about the film Boxing Form (1924) and the 1923 Dempsey-Firpo fight pictures.

Walking Off the Big Apple (friend of the show) reported (off-line) that one of the cinematographers filming the Dempsey-Firpo fight at the Polo Grounds in New York was acclaimed photographer Paul Strand. (Source: the Aperture monograph
Paul Strand: Sixty Years of Photographs, 1976.)

In 1923, when the fight took place, Strand had already made his innovative experimental film
Manhatta (1921, with Charles Sheeler). For more than a decade, Strand the still photographer /artist helped pay his bills by shooting newsfilm for several of the major newsreel services. (Manhatta, once the most rented film in the Museum of Modern Art's circulating collection, will presently be restored by MoMANY. Maybe then we'll have a better idea of its running time; I've read scholarly essays and reference books listing its duration variously as 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11 minutes. Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper.)

I've not been able to determine which company promoter Tex Rickard hired to film the Dempsey-Firpo fight. The movie that was released (mostly in violation of federal law) extended the 4-minute bout into nearly 10 minutes by showing preliminary training scenes and slow-motion replays. It also included a brief shot of the movie camera stand.

One of the YouTube versions of the 1923 fight, posted by elgrandecaudillo, contains this shot (as well as newly added Korean subtitles). Tough to spot Paul Strand among the 6 or 7 cameramen seen in this low-low resolution rendition of what was once a 35mm nitrate film. (That's assuming of course that this cutaway shot is from that event and not a stock footage insert -- as they so often are in these things.) There were also other cameras and operators placed closer to the ring during the bout.

I also recently learned that the animator Quirino Cristiani, who made the world's first feature-length animated films, in Argentina, also made an animated version of the famous fight in 1923, simply titled
Firpo-Dempsey. Presumably lost, the movie would have been in the mode of an animated newsfilm, a hybrid form rarely discussed. A prior example of this was the lost Der Große Boxkampf Dempsey – Carpentier (Germany, 1921) done by animator Leopold Blonder and released commercially by Arnold Fanck’s Berg- und Sportfilm GmbH.

Come to think of it, the maker of the actual documentary --
The World's Heavyweight Championship Contest Between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier (1921) -- was Fred Quimby. And he went on to a long career as executive producer of MGM cartoons.

(The Academy gave 8 Oscars to a guy whose best work was the "Tom & Jerry" series??)

Jul 28, 2008

Local Film Parisher, Preservers

Frame from an Arthur J. Higgins 16mm film, courtesy of the courteous Albert Steg.

At the just-wrapped 2008 Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium, "City and Country," film archivist/collector/archivst Albert Steg <asteg@mindspring.com> screened some of the great 16mm film material he is gathering, productions by itinerant filmmaker Arthur J. Higgins, ca. 1930s-40s.

Which reminded me of news received earlier this month.

On July 6, 2008, NYU cinema studies scholar Martin L. Johnson wrote, in response to George Willeman's announced discovery of a Melton Barker film, about his similar research on 'local films.' Here's some of what he had to say.

from martin.johnson@nyu.edu:

This is great news about George Willeman finding a Melton Barker "Local Gang" film shot in Tennessee. We'll find out soon enough the edge code so we'll be able to date it more exactly. NewspaperArchive.com lists a production of Kidnappers Foil in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1938 and again in 1949, although I'm sure Barker made movies elsewhere in the state.

Speaking of ‘local films,’ I met this past week with a few people in Rutherfordton, NC, to discuss This Is Progressive Rutherford County, made by Don Parisher in 1948. The film is now owned by Dorothy Zizes
[of Zizes Wedding (1949) as seen on the DVD Living Room Cinema: Films from Home Movie Day, Volume 1 ]. I’m working with Katie Trainor [of the Center for Home Movies; katrainor@gmail.com ] to get the 35mm nitrate film donated to an archive so it can be shown again. While in Rutherfordton, I also met Philip White, who was the first person to purchase an H. Lee Waters film, for 25-cents a foot in 1972. Parisher also made a My Home Town film of Rutherfordton ca. 1936.

Has anyone else come across Don Parisher? He made a few other civic films in North Carolina, including Negro Durham Marches On, also in the mid- to late-40s and a My Home Town of Monroe, as well as some promotional films in Florida, which are cataloged online. He traveled with a crew of four or five other people. The films look to be more interesting than the "Our Town," films, and I thought he might be a link between local/itinerant filmmakers and industrial filmmakers.

. . . .

Dorothy Zizes was ready to donate the Progressive Rutherford film to UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection. But, after talking with the president of the Rutherford County Historic Society -- a very energetic 40-year-old who just published a nice book on the history of Rutherfordton, and is working on a book on nearby Spindale – she is having second thoughts.
[Isothermal Community College in Spindale, NC, operates one of the best radio stations in the U.S. -- Ed.]

I had a great conversation with Dorothy and a few other locals about the history of moviegoing in the area. Their discussion of segregation was particularly interesting. Although the Sylvan Theater, which was built in 1933 and was the first purpose-built theater in town, had a balcony, African-Americans weren't permitted to go to the theater until after World War II. Instead, they had a projector set up in a church in the black section of town, and shuttled the reels back and forth so they could show films simultaneously at the theater and in the church. [Biracial bicycling.]

-- Martin L. Johnson, martin.johnson@nyu.edu


Dwight Swanson adds that he knows of at least 7 extant Don Parisher films in the “My Home Town” series… and has received queries about the search for Parisher’s film Orlando Story. “I also had done a social security search for him and found that he died in 1984, in Sanford, Florida (age 83).”

The University of Florida's Digital Collections put this Parisher movie online:
Where Florida Prepares for the Future (1951) b/w, sd, 22 mins.
Prod/Dir: Don Parisher
Writer: Mabel Lawrence
Narrator: Red Barber [!]


Tom Whiteside (Duke University) referred to Don Parisher in his talk about H. Lee Waters at the first Orphan Film Symposium. [The misspelling 'Perisher' is mine, from nine years ago. No access to that site at the moment. -- Ed.] Note that Tom begins his talk by mentioning his residency at Isothermal Community College, which is, for my money, one of the best school names ever! (The founding trustees noted that Rutherford and Polk counties, where the campuses are located, were frequently the site of isotherms on weather maps.) ICC lies between Charlotte and Asheville, NC, due north of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, dontchaknow.

Jul 13, 2008

Silent orphan film star Harry Osteen passes away

Harry Osteen (below) introducing a March 2004 screening of Anderson 'Our Gang', a 1926 film shot for his father's South Carolina movie theater. Harry and his brother were among those who acted in this two-reel comedy, done in the style of the Hal Roach "Our Gang" comedies.

These frames are from a special film shot by Julia Nicoll of Colorlab and Bill Brand at the 4th Orphan Film Symposium. The silent, black-and-white film can be viewed online. Harry O. appears in the opening segment.

The Anderson Independent-Mail reports the sad news
of the passing of Harry Osteen Sr.

Here's part of the obituary.

Harry Osteen Sr. died on July 10, 2008, at the age of 93. He is being remembered as an important part of the Anderson community.

The Osteen family name was synonymous with the movie theater business in Anderson for the better part of the 20th century, and Harry Osteen was part of that tradition.

He and his wife of 69 years, Verna, also were involved in the Meals on Wheels program in Anderson for decades and were active in Anderson Senior Follies, Outreach Entertainers and ballroom dancing instruction.

The family business into which Osteen entered started when his father P.C. Osteen in 1918 bought one of the downtown theaters that cropped up in the late 1800s. P.C. Osteen bought, sold, and built a series of theaters around Anderson showing movies, putting on vaudeville shows, and helping to introduce a new form of entertainment to a small town.

Harry Osteen along with his brothers Percy, Bill, and Albert carried on the family tradition in the Electric City by opening a series of movie houses between 1946 and 1974.

In 1995, he was awarded the state’s Order of the Palmetto.

In 1996, he received the Service to Mankind Award presented by the Anderson Sertoma Club.

In 2004, he was honored by the Orphan Film Symposium conducted at the University of South Carolina.


Harry was the most important source for an essay I published in the journal Film History. He was a delight at the symposium and charmed Dennis James to such a degree that Dennis spontaneously decided to play piano accompaniment for the silent film Harry starred in.

Harry also awed the audience by departing before the evening was over, saying that he had to drive back to Anderson (about 100 miles) so that he could deliver for Meals on Wheels the following morning. This from an 89-year-old citizen.

It's an honor that his Orphan Film Symposium appearance is listed in his hometown newspaper as one of the final grace notes to his life story.

Jul 12, 2008


Dateline: Bay Area, Calif.

Nancy Goldman gave Mike Mashon and me a friendly tour of Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley. (More photos forthcoming.)

Meanwhile, off to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Day 2. Last night's opening was magnificent, with Pat Doyen's restoration of Broncho Billy's Adventure (1911) and Leonard Maltin and Suzanne Lloyd introducing Harold Lloyd's masterpiece The Kid Brother (1927). My first time seeing these. Lloyd's stock up just went up again. Amazing, crowd-pleasing comedy. All at the fabulous Castro Theatre. With a packed mezzanine of post-picture partiers and a kazoo band.

This morning: "Amazing Tales from the [George Eastman House] Archives," underwritten by the good folk of Haghefilm (friend of the show).

Jul 9, 2008

UCLA Extension course titled "Orphan Films"

A UCLA Extension course titled "Orphan Films" will be held at the Directors Guild Theater, 7950 Sunset Blvd., on eight consecutive Wednesdays. Members of the L.A. Film Critics Assn. will host the class. The "orphan films," dropped by studios and distributors for various reasons, will be discussed.*
Wow! This sounds great. A whole course, at UCLA no less, on orphan films. Surely these are the salad days for motion picture orphans.

Except . . . (here's the punchline): the above announcement is from 1979!

Reading closer, the details are a little less resonant with the 21st-century conception of what an orphan film is. The term has long been an industry epithet for commercial movies that get made but not distributed. In fact, the item in the L.A. Times went on to say that orphans were "films which never found their audience." A much less dramatic conception of orphanhood than "never before seen" or "abandoned by its owner."

Reading closer still, the works that UCLA and the L.A. Film Critics actually screened are 1970s auteur films that did (eventually) get distributed and now border on the classic or cult.

The 8 narrative feature films in the 8-week extension course were:

Loving (1970, Columbia Pictures), USC film school grad Irvin Kershner's comic drama starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. One of cinematographer Gordon Willis's first films. Robert Ebert, in October 1970, wrote that Loving "was released last March in New York, received a reasonably warm critical reception and then disappeared all summer into some kind of distributorial limbo, turning up finally this week in neighborhood theaters. Somehow it deserved more attention than that."

Payday (1973) directed by Daryl Duke, a veteran TV director, and starring the great Rip Torn as a cynical country singer. Shot in Selma, Alabama. Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corp.; put out by Warner Home Video in 1999; DVD, 2008.

The Silent Partner (1979, Carolco), also directed by Daryl Duke; screenplay by Curtis Hanson. Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer star in this suspense/heist picture. Lions Gate DVD, 2007.

Night Moves (1975, Warner Bros.) Arthur Penn directed Gene Hackman in this detective thriller. Early in their TV show run Siskel & Ebert championed it as a neglected gem.

Citizens Band (1977, Paramount) aka Handle with Care, Jonathan Demme's cult satire starring Paul LeMat.

The White Dawn (1974, Paramount) Philip Kaufman directed Timothy Bottoms, Louis Gossett Jr., and Warren Oates in this drama about shipwrecked whalers rescued by Inuits.

Smile (1975, United Artists) a Michael Ritchie comedy.

Thieves Like Us (1974, United Artists) Vintage Robert Altman. MGM Home Entertainment DVD, 2007

* "'Orphan Films' Course to Screen Eight Neglected Works at Guild," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 1979; "Belson, Tewkesbury, Bick, Duke to Discuss Their 'Orphan Films,'" Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1980.

Jul 7, 2008

Fight Pics and Orphans at the SF Silent Film Festival

our orphan hero, Ed,
in The Soul of Youth (1920)
aka The Boy.

Thanks to the good people (Stacey Wisnia) at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival there will be a
Fight Pictures book-signing on Saturday, July 12th, at the Castro Theatre. The SFSFF is hosting several authors with books on silent cinema, including Leonard Maltin, Guy Maddin, and Suzanne Lloyd (granddaughter of Harold). Fight Pictures is paired with Richard J. Meyer’s book about China's biggest silent screen star, Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai.

This event is, I’m told, the first interaction between the Silent Film Festival and the notable Press across the Bay. With its great list of silent film books, UCP would be an apt annual fit for the SFSFF. This 13th festival runs July 11-13 at the Castro Theatre, with a well programmed lineup of features and shorts – and live musical accompaniment.

The truism “silent films were never silent” is of course correct – except for the peculiar genre of fight pictures. These virtually never had musical accompaniment. Instead of music, fight pictures had screen-side announcers telling spectators what to watch for – the knockout “solar-plexus punch” in Veriscope’s
Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897), the questionable performance of the old master Joe Gans (“was he taking a dive, ladies and gentlemen?”) as filmed by Selig Polyscope in the McGovern-Gans Fight Pictures (1900), or the Australian constabulary stopping the Gaumont cameras as Jack Johnson’s finished off Tommy Burns in 1908.

San Francisco plays a large role in
Fight Pictures. The city was home to William A. Brady, the film and theater impresario who also managed two heavyweight title holders, Gentleman Jim Corbett (of S.F.) and Jim Jeffries. When New York booted out prizefighting in 1900, boxing flourished in the Bay Area for a decade.

Also central to the story of
Fight Pictures are the Miles brothers, whose film distribution firm was large enough to challenge the largest motion picture companies of the early 1900s. That was until the 1906 earthquake and fires devastated their vaults, theater, and headquarters. Nevertheless, between 1901 (when Edison cameras filmed Jeffreys [sic] and Ruhlin Sparring Contest at San Francisco, Cal.) and 1908 (when Selig recorded the third title bout between Battling Nelson and Joe Gans, in Youknowwhere, Cal.) the Miles brothers were the only camera crew to shoot any prizefight in the United States. The genre was their own -- until the United States outlawed the interstate trafficking in fight films in 1912.

Fight Pictures
book-signing begins
after the 11:40 am screening of

The Soul of Youth (1920, William Desmond Taylor) A humanistic portrait of society's unloved orphans and unlawful urchins, combined with the story of a power struggle between a reformer and a corrupt politician. (80 mins.) Preceded by an animated comedy, The Old Family Toothbrush (1925), which, unlikely as it may seem, is a boxing film!


The first fight picture: a staged sparring match.
Leonard-Cushing Fight (Edison, June 1894)

The biggest event of Edison’s kinetoscope era. Heavyweight champion and matinee idol Jim Corbett is paid to spar before the camera.
Corbett and Courtney before the Kinetograph
(Edison, Sept. 1894)


A Miles Bros. film, showing a spectacular first-round knockout.
International Contest for the Heavyweight Championship--Squires vs. Burns, Ocean View, Cal., July 4th, 1907

The dramatic conclusion of
World Championship, Jack Johnson vs. Stanley Ketchell [i.e., Ketchel] (1909)
Filmed by the Kalem Co. for promoter Jim Coffroth

Correspondence welcome: Dan.Streible@NYU.edu

More about
Fight Pictures at

the Orphan Film Symposium blog

Luke McKernan’s blog The Bioscope

Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy, summer book recommendations

Jul 6, 2008

George R. Willeman Presents . . .

George Willeman (r) explains it to Rob Silberman at Orphans 5 (University of South Carolina, 2006).

George Willeman loves being the Nitrate Vault Leader (great job title, eh) at the Library of Congress, Division of Motion Pictures, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound (Moving Image Section), National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, Culpeper, Virginia, USA. He has been called "the antithesis of a stereotypical government worker" and proves it by co-hosting a radio show, Filmically Perfect, with the Coen brothers' storyboard artist.

But in his job at the LOC MBRS NAVCC, Geo. W does the people's business: saving films, often in the nick of time. In 2006, the NYU Tamiment Library found the missing reel of the legendary Passaic Textile Strike (1926) in its newly-acquired archive of the Communist Party USA. It was George who was entrusted to salvage the gooey nitrate. Earlier this year, he showed some still highlights at Orphans 6.

This week Mr. Willeman reports finding one of Melton Barker's "Kidnappers Foil" movies from the 1930s. If you haven't seen one of these babies, they are recommended Orphans viewing. Itinerant filmmaker travels America for twenty years shooting short scripted movies "starring" local, amateur casts -- mostly kids. Hundreds of filmed variations of the same script. The definitive source for background on all this is, of course, MeltonBarker.com. If that's not enough detail for you, contact the Barker fan/scholar/obsessive Caroline Frick at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI). Or archivist Dwight Swanson of the Center for Home Movies.

The lone Kidnappers Foil print was part of a recent LOC acquisition. As George report (on Orphans' Facebook)

We acquired a very large collection of nitrate from a collector in Tennessee and this was in a can marked "nitrate clip!" This has been one of the most amazing collections of recent years--many pre WWI reels and many unique films--lotsa Orphans, too!
There may be a million orphans in the naked city, and apparently a million more in Tennesse (ask the founders of the Tennesse Archive of Moving Image and Sound, aka TAMIS).

Next time: TAMI vs. TAMIS -- heavyweight title fight, live, from the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas!

Jul 4, 2008

The Metropolis of Buenos Aires

"Perhaps the most famous and influential of all silent films, Metropolis had for 75 years been seen only in shortened or truncated versions. Now [2002], restored in Germany with state-of-the-art digital technology, under the supervision of the Murnau Foundation, and with the original 1927 orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz added, Metropolis can be appreciated in its full glory."
-- Kino Video synopsis, DVD of the restored
authorized edition
frame grab from the rediscovered footage
© Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung; Bildbearbeitung: Dennis Neuschäfer-Rube

Film-finder PAULA at Orphans 5 in Columbia, SC, with Kara Van Malssen (l) and Bill Brand (r). -->

Time to re-write history again.

Or at least to re-restore one of cinema's milestone productions.

Paula Félix-Didier, director of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires (and a MIAP graduate, PhD candidate, and presenter at the previous two Orphan Film Symposiums), has found the most complete cut to date of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis [!!!].

The news story, first reported in the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, is all over the Web now. [I heard about it simultaneously from MIAP alumus Jeff Martin (Hirschhorn Museum) and U of SC Film Studies alumni James Smith (The Nickelodeon Theatre) and Woody Jones (USC); all Orphans vets, needless to say.]

The 25-page spread in Die Zeit's magazine is only partly available online, as "
Die Neuentdeckung von 'Metropolis.' " Here's the short, English version: "Key scenes rediscovered," © ZEITmagazin 2.7.2008

Now to make sense of all those versions of this film. Here, for example, is how the Internet Movie Database lists the running times for Metropolis (pre-2008).

153 min
147 min (2001 restored version)
210 min (premiere cut)
80 min (Giorgio Moroder version)
93 min (re-release version) | USA
114 min (25 fps) (1927 cut version) | USA
123 min (2002 Murnau Foundation 75th aniversary restored version)
118 min (DVD edition) | USA:117 min

So surprising was this re-discovery, some professional moving image archivists thought the news headline might have been a hoax. But this report from Martin Koerber, who did the "definitive"
Metropolis restoration, attests to its veracity and to the significance of the print found in Buenos Aires.

from the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008
From: Martin Koerber <makoerber@WEB.DE>

Subject: Re: Is this news about METROPOLIS real or a hoax?

Dear all,

Paula Félix-Didier of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires indeed came to Berlin last week to show us what she found, and it is the real thing, no hoax this time. The material is terribly banged up, being a 16 mm dupe negative made from a no longer extant nitrate print, which was duplicated some decades ago after many years of heavy use.

Nevertheless one can now see the director's cut of Metropolis, 80 years after we all believed the original version was destroyed. Contrary to our thinking, obviously at least one print of the original cut made it into distribution, albeit in Argentina.

Only one of the missing scenes (the monk in the cathedral) remains missing, because it happened to be at a reel end that got badly torn.

The rest is there.

The images you will find at http://www.zeit.de/online/2008/27/metropolis-vorab-englisch will show you some scenes, and also expose the amount of damage. They look indeed a little worse than the real thing, as they are frame grabs from a DVD transfer of the dupe.
About 10 pages of information and frame enlargements from many more missing sequences are in the printed edition of DIE ZEIT, which is coming out today. I guess you can find this at the news stands in most countries in Europe, don't know about the international edition overseas.

Flip through it before you buy it, the articles about Metropolis are in the somewhat glossy "Zeit Magazin Leben" which comes with the paper. It will surely become a collector's item.

Kudos to Paula Félix-Didier and her initiative to unearth the material and share the information.
A lot of thinking is now necessary to find ways to incorporate this material into the existing restoration, released on DVD by Transit Film and Kino International, among others. It has titles and black leader where the missing parts once were so in principle one could just insert whatever is new at those inserts. The good news is that Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung intends to do just that once access to the material has been granted. The critical edition of Metropolis on DVD, which Enno Patalas derived from the 2001 restoration in order to create a "full" version of Metropolis has even more information about the missing scenes, and has the option to fill the missing scenes with not only black leader, but information from the script and other sources.

When run in synch with the material found in Buenos Aires, it is amazing to see how everything falls into place now.
The critical edition can be found here: http://www.filminstitut.udk-berlin.de/MKF/html/pages/filme/metropolis.html

Martin Koerber

Leiter der Abteilung Film - Curator Film
Deutsche Kinemathek -
Museum fFCr Film und Fernsehen

Incidentally, Metropolis was only one of several unique prints found in the collection that came into the Museo del Cine. Paula writes that she also found and identified a presumed-lost W. S. Hart movie, a presumed-lost Pearl White serial episode, and three missing Argentine movies -- among other things.

My great hope is that the film word, FIAF members, national heritage bodies, and others will not take this extraordinary find for granted. The
Museo de Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken (its full and proper name) in Buenos Aires is the de facto national film archive, and deserves to have its funding and resources elevated. As the finds of this week demonstrate, it's not just one national cinema or patrimony that benefits from the support of institutions such as el Museo.