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.