David Shepard tribute in AMIA quarterly

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Wm. Charles Morrow

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David Shepard tribute in AMIA quarterly

PostThu Dec 28, 2017 4:46 pm

Because I belong to AMIA (the Association of Moving Image Archivists) I receive their quarterly journal The Moving Image, which always offers interesting articles. The latest issue includes a tribute to the late David Shepard—or rather, several tributes. There's a biographical piece about him, brief testimonials by friends and colleagues, and an extended, edited excerpt from a series of oral history interviews conducted with him on behalf of the Academy Film Archive during 2005-6.

I never met the man, but these articles make it clear that all of us who care about classic film owe him a great deal. The oral history interview is fascinating. At one point, Mr. Shepard makes a passing reference to having once met Buster Keaton. He doesn’t go into detail about it, but later the interviewer asks him for a follow-up, and gets this jaw-dropping response: “I met Keaton once, Chaplin once, and Lloyd once.”

(Needless to say, this would earn massive coolness points at any gathering of film buffs.)

And so he tells a little about each experience. The meeting with Keaton took place in the mid-1950s. As a teenager, Shepard sometimes worked as a projectionist for the noted film collector John Griggs. The latter knew a number of silent film era veterans, and would sometimes run films in his basement and invite people associated with them. (Incidentally, Shepard ran the projector one night when Orphans of the Storm was screened, and four cast members were present: Joseph Schildkraut, Catherine Emmet, and both Lillian & Dorothy Gish.) On an occasion when The Navigator was shown, the star was invited and dutifully showed up. However, Shepard adds that there isn’t much to tell about it because Keaton was rather dour and said very little. He didn’t laugh at the film at all, but seemed to feel it held up well.

The meeting with Chaplin took place in the mid-1960s. By then Mr. Shepard was a grad student in France, and when he heard that Chaplin was staying at a hotel nearby he simply wrote him a note saying that he was an American student, admired Chaplin’s work, and would love to meet him. And it worked! Shepard was invited to lunch with the great man at the Hotel Carlton in Nice. (In the interview he joked that Chaplin, who hadn’t been to the U.S. in years, probably wanted to meet an American college student to see what they were like nowadays, without realizing that he was not exactly typical!) So they met, but when Chaplin learned that Shepard was a philosophy major, that was all he wanted to talk about. He avoided any discussion of his films, but expounded at length on Rousseau!

The meeting with Harold Lloyd, which took place around 1970, is a sad story. By then Shepard was working for the American Film Institute. He and another official from the AFI went to Greenacres to meet with Lloyd and see if he would work with the organization to promote film preservation. Their host was cordial and showed them around his mansion, but declined the offer. Shepard later heard that Lloyd had just received bad news, i.e. that he had inoperable cancer. It’s remarkable that he met with them at all under the circumstances, though he may have welcomed the opportunity for a distraction.

In any case, this issue of The Moving Image should be of interest to Mr. Shepard’s friends, associates, and all of us who appreciate his legacy.
-- Charlie Morrow
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MaryGH

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Re: David Shepard tribute in AMIA quarterly

PostFri Dec 29, 2017 11:21 am

I saw that when I received my copy of The Moving Image - glanced through it and now that I see your post, will make time to sit down with this afternoon and read those tribute articles. Having the whole Christmas week off from work, I can get things like that done.

Yep, I'm an AMIA member too.
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milefilms

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Re: David Shepard tribute in AMIA quarterly

PostFri Dec 29, 2017 9:23 pm

Yes, I was really happy to see the new issue with all the tributes. For those who don't know, the Association of Moving Image Archivists is a really unusual and democratic organization. Membership is for anyone around the world interested in the preservation, restoration and distribution of moving images. Its members include archivists from studios, major archives, regional archives and those doing it by themselves. It's also academics, students, computer experts, librarians, lab people, distributors and collectors. Anyone who loves the moving image. The conference is a combination of friendship, school and think tank. There'll be a new website up next week or so, but it's www.amianet.org

And let me tell you that I first got there in 1997 and I was totally intimidated by my surroundings. I wanted to leave after my panel was done. I was young(er) and overwhelmed by the sheer talent and experience in the hotel. But I stuck around and the friendships and education I gained from AMIA made my career. And to show that anyone can join and prosper? ... Twenty years later, I'm the new president as of three weeks ago. :D
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