Where to look for lost films?

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FlammableNitrate

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Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Feb 29, 2016 10:58 pm

Where do people usually look for lost films from around the early 1900's - 1920's? I've been around flea markets and antique shops and haven't found anything from the silent era. No posters, no magazines, no nitrate. Where would be the best place to start looking?
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bobfells

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Mar 01, 2016 1:07 am

Thanks to 21st century technology, the most likely source of finding "lost" films is on the Internet. That sounds crazy until we realize that some archives are placing many of their holdings on the Internet, either directly or through YouTube. I've uploaded a couple here at N'ville, and more on my Facebook group, Silent Films Today. The term "lost" is perhaps more accurately used here to describe films that are out of circulation and cannot be viewed as a practical matter. If a film is truly lost, I.e. Extinct, then by that very definitive it cannot be retrieved anywhere. But film can be considered lost when few people can access it and in that sense the Eye Film Institute and European Gateway are providing a fantastic service for film history.
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Spiny Norman

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Mar 01, 2016 4:06 am

FlammableNitrate wrote:Where do people usually look for lost films from around the early 1900's - 1920's? I've been around flea markets and antique shops and haven't found anything from the silent era. No posters, no magazines, no nitrate. Where would be the best place to start looking?
Similar experience here. I've only seen 35mm film on flea markets / in shops three times that I can remember. Twice it was with some sort of projector. So you may try to look for toy projectors.
Even when you do, there's no telling if it will be something good. Some of the reels that I found were in fact presumed lost, so that was a stroke of luck, but the others were already well known.
16mm is even more difficult. You might pay up, and then it might turn out to be a German documentary about beekeeping.

Online they are sold, thoug: http://www.ebay.com/sch/Film-Stock-/63821/i.html" target="_blank
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Turpinutz

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Mar 01, 2016 12:32 pm

Having been a collector for nearly 50 years and having hit many flea markets, yard sales and thrift stores, vintage film of 35mm, 16mm, 9.5mm and other oddball gauges (within my 75 mile radius of Philadelphia), has been rare as hens teeth to find. A lot has to do with the scarcity of those prints; they weren't common stuff like records, DVDs, videos, or souvenirs, clothing, and other antiques that were more mass-produced and consumed. That's going to make them hard to find. And condition, when you do find them, can be great to deplorable. In addition, over the years, most people have already learned about nitrate and film and won't touch the stuff. So they get rid of it fast.

I've bought film cheap or reasonably, and I've walked away laughing at people who think they have some kind of Holy Grail on their table.

And posters, stills, lobby cards, and magazines, because they were only paper, aren't very durable. Some dealers won't even put that stuff on their tables because of fragility.

My recommendation to you would be, like Bob says above, check the net; places like eBay and similar sources, but be prepared to pay because you have competition from around the world. That is, unless you're looking for something none of us have an interest in! And I'd start networking. Introduce yourself to some dealers and stores and tell them what you're looking for. Advertise in local newspapers if there's any papers left in your area. There's a lot of people who've probably stumbled on the stuff, have no interest in it whatsoever, but pay the money just because of the curiosity. I myself would rather see the stuff wind up in the right hands, a happy and sharing home, and not someone who's looking to make a huge profit from a genuine hard-up collector who loves this stuff or the greedy investor taking a gamble who will sit on the stuff for years hoping his or her nestegg will oneday hatch big time.

And don't overpay for anything, when the day comes that you want to sell it, don't be surprised if you can't give it away.

Good luck, Flam...

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Donald Binks

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Mar 01, 2016 1:23 pm

Probably the only way you are going to find something that is of any interest or value is by finding someone who has collected films or someone who has worked with films such as a projectionist who has "forgotten" to return the film. As the years go by the chances of finding someone still alive from the era of interest also dims.

In the 1990's I managed to track down a projectionist, through word of mouth, the "phone book and basic detective work - who had a nitrate print in his possession of Richard Tauber's "End of the Rainbow". This film had been thought lost and yet he had had an excellent nitrate print of it since 1931.

There is a possibility that films are still being stored in attics, sheds and the like - but with the passage of time and incorrect storage methods, the chances now of finding anything intact are at huge odds against.

One has to be optimistic though and live in hope - so, I wish you luck! :D
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Mar 01, 2016 4:01 pm

Well you never know where film will turn up these days. But the key is if no one knows your looking in the
first place no one will give you leads. The good old method of posting small ads in papers or things like
Craigslist do get the word out, but as always be careful with face to face deals.

The biggest place these days is Ebay. Why stand all day in the sun in a dusting parking lot trying to sell your
junk to just a few people? Ebay has a huge base and its from the comfort of your own home. This is why most
people still sell on Ebay despite the the huge fees these day. It is just way easier. And well it is really amazing
what people find laying around to sell.

And a big hint about "lost" films and "found" films, as for found group most archives believe a film is found when
they can account for a mere 60% of the total footage. As for lost, as understaffed as most archives are they seem
to have a large supply of films that are not really well cataloged or wrongly cataloged and sometimes these are
actually lost films themselves. "New" lost finds show up it seems on an almost yearly basis in these archives.

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostWed Mar 02, 2016 8:43 am

Have a look under your bed!

One of my favourite stories of the discovery of a lost film is the one about 'Erdgeist' (L. Jessner, 1923). A Dutch painter Pyke Koch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyke_Koch was a big fan of Asta Nielsen and apparently he kept a nitrate copy of the film 'Erdgeist' under his bed (where else?). After his death this print ended up at the Nederlandse Filmmuseum and I think it is the only known print (although there is a fragment of the film with Russian intertitles on Youtube, so that might not be accurate).

His portrait of Asta Nielsen: http://www.mediamatic.net/68118/en/portret-asta-door-pyke-koch-jpg

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Spiny Norman

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostWed Mar 02, 2016 11:24 am

Donald Binks wrote:Probably the only way you are going to find something that is of any interest or value is by finding someone who has collected films or someone who has worked with films such as a projectionist who has "forgotten" to return the film. As the years go by the chances of finding someone still alive from the era of interest also dims.

In the 1990's I managed to track down a projectionist, through word of mouth, the "phone book and basic detective work - who had a nitrate print in his possession of Richard Tauber's "End of the Rainbow". This film had been thought lost and yet he had had an excellent nitrate print of it since 1931.

There is a possibility that films are still being stored in attics, sheds and the like - but with the passage of time and incorrect storage methods, the chances now of finding anything intact are at huge odds against.

One has to be optimistic though and live in hope - so, I wish you luck! :D
You live upside down I believe, which - for a lost film/tv perspective - has the advantage that it's the end of the line. A lot of UK television went your way as well that would be really really welcome if ever recovered.
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Donald Binks

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostWed Mar 02, 2016 3:25 pm

[/quote]You live upside down I believe, which - for a lost film/tv perspective - has the advantage that it's the end of the line. A lot of UK television went your way as well that would be really really welcome if ever recovered.[/quote]

I have tried walking backwards on my head for Christmas, to no great avail, but being upside down seems not to have impaired me anything more than anything else. :D

Yes the "end of the line" advantage has cropped up a number of times with finds - and in New Zealand where some early American silents were found not all that while back.

The main problem in Oz though is the extremes in temperatures which don't do well for film not stored in ideal conditions.

I don't have any knowledge of TV programming I'm afraid.
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Spiny Norman

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostWed Mar 02, 2016 3:34 pm

Donald Binks wrote:I don't have any knowledge of TV programming I'm afraid.
Well, if you ever find 16mm in a can that says "BBC TV enterprises", then it might be worth it just to have a quick look.
I'm absolutely serious this time, there's a lot of '60s television missing that is really sorely missed (at least by me). A quick look to see if it exists or not: http://lostshows.com/ (Although that's usually not the final word but just an indication.) Or more selective: http://www.thiswaydown.org/missing-episodes/eplist.htm
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSat Mar 05, 2016 3:20 pm

Nothing really to add except I have this weird sense that a lot of lost movies are merely hidden, thanks to possessive collectors who won't admit what they have, or these global archives that need to go through all those neglected canisters. Time is urgent of course, but I think some serious gaps are out there waiting to be filled, if we can only get these movies unhidden. And not to overlook the vast array of fragments that seem to be scattered everywhere.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSat Mar 05, 2016 9:47 pm

"Nothing really to add except I have this weird sense that[i] a lot[/i] of lost movies are merely hidden, thanks to possessive collectors who won't admit what they have, or these global archives that need to go through all those neglected canisters. Time is urgent of course, but I think some serious gaps are out there waiting to be filled, if we can only get these movies unhidden. And not to overlook the vast array of fragments that seem to be scattered everywhere."

Most of Jackie Coogan's silent output survives:

1927 Johnny Get Your Hair Cut - Was shown at a film festival.
Johnny O'Day

1925 The Rag Man - MGM
Tim Kelly

1924 Little Robinson Crusoe - Gosfilmofond
Mickey Hogan

1924 A Boy of Flanders - Gosfilmofond
Nello

1923 Long Live the King - Gosfilmofond
Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto

1923 Circus Days - Gosfilmofond
Toby Tyler

1923 Daddy - Gosfilmofond
Jackie Savelli / Jackie Holden

1922/I Oliver Twist - Library of Congress
Oliver Twist

1922 Trouble - Gosfilmofond
Danny, the Kid

1921 My Boy - Gosfilmofond
Jackie Blair

1921 Peck's Bad Boy - George Eastman House
Henry Peck AKA 'Peck's Bad Boy'

1921 The Kid - Several archives
The Child (as Jack Coogan)
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSun Mar 06, 2016 7:09 am

On this side of the Atlantic, the film distributors seem to have been very, very careful that no prints ever went unreturned. Sadly then spare or worn out prints went for processing/destruction. Only once have I ever seen 35mm prints in an available situation. About 15 years ago going to an important meeting I passed a skip/dumpster with film reels among office items. Could not carry away what seemed to be advertising films from a closed or moved company, nor could I have reasonably have brought them with me, given the importance of the meeting anyhow. As you may guess, they were gone on the return trip.

I have never seen anything but 8mm at flea markets, obviously home movies.

Film advertising material was mostly rented here, and returned, which makes that scarce also but sometimes posters or lobby cards from closed cinemas surface, but only once among a million tea sets.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSun Mar 06, 2016 7:50 am

Rob Koeling wrote:Have a look under your bed!

One of my favourite stories of the discovery of a lost film is the one about 'Erdgeist' (L. Jessner, 1923). A Dutch painter Pyke Koch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyke_Koch was a big fan of Asta Nielsen and apparently he kept a nitrate copy of the film 'Erdgeist' under his bed (where else?). After his death this print ended up at the Nederlandse Filmmuseum and I think it is the only known print (although there is a fragment of the film with Russian intertitles on Youtube, so that might not be accurate).

His portrait of Asta Nielsen: http://www.mediamatic.net/68118/en/portret-asta-door-pyke-koch-jpg

- Rob


I suppose if you cannot get Asta into your bed, the next best thing is to keep a copy of ERDGEIST under it.

You are right in your suspicions, though. The 35mm copy of ERDGEIST making the rounds at festivals has Russian titles and would seem to originate from a print held at Gosfilmofond. It is an excellent film BTW, especially interesting when you compare it to Pabst's DIE BÜCHSE DER PANDORA, which is based on the same Wedekind plays. Louise Brooks and Asta Nielsen take two very different approaches to the character of Lulu.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSun Mar 06, 2016 5:05 pm

barry byrne wrote:On this side of the Atlantic, the film distributors seem to have been very, very careful that no prints ever went unreturned. Sadly then spare or worn out prints went for processing/destruction. Only once have I ever seen 35mm prints in an available situation. About 15 years ago going to an important meeting I passed a skip/dumpster with film reels among office items. Could not carry away what seemed to be advertising films from a closed or moved company, nor could I have reasonably have brought them with me, given the importance of the meeting anyhow. As you may guess, they were gone on the return trip.


Well this is true of now, with so few prints being made of each title the studios have an easy time keeping track of everything
since the digital change over. However, back in day they would abandon prints all the time at theaters cause of the cost of
shipping back to them would exceed the cost of material recycled back out of the film stock. So yes lots of 35mm prints out
there you just have to look a little.

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Mar 07, 2016 4:38 am

[quotethey would abandon prints all the time at theaters cause of the cost of
shipping back to them would exceed the cost of material recycled back out of the film stock. ][/quote]

I do not believe this is at all true for the British Isles, as the film renters were extremely active in having any rented films promptly returned. After all the number of prints were surprisingly limited and kept in stock for years, perhaps even rented as a Sunday second feature. Neither do caches of films turn up in British cinemas or from the collections of former staff of cinemas. Where they did they usually are from the very early period when film purchase, rather than film rental was usual or from closed distributors or film exchanges.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Mar 07, 2016 6:57 am

Other items that you might be able to find: Vitaphone sounds discs. Museums or record collectors might have them. I found a few myself, most of them were not needed, but some were not yet known.

Related: The TV equivalent is people who recorded programs on audio tape at home in the '50s-'60s-'70s. Sadly people often throw them away as not useful, but for lost television it's sometimes all we have.
And in rare cases, a show can survive as picture but without audio (because of technical trouble/foreign dub/unfinished footage). And there a home recorded audio tape could really save the day. Chances of finding some or probably bigger than for a lost movie.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Mar 07, 2016 7:07 am

Well, Spiny, the way Ron Hutchinson tells the story, that's how the Vitaphone Project started:an old-movie buff was visiting a record collector who showed him some weird discs....

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Mar 07, 2016 8:14 am

boblipton wrote:Well, Spiny, the way Ron Hutchinson tells the story, that's how the Vitaphone Project started:an old-movie buff was visiting a record collector who showed him some weird discs....

Bob
Exactly. And they have never stopped finding them, although sometimes just one or two at a time. And if I have managed to trace a few, then so can others.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Mar 07, 2016 2:04 pm

I rarely see nitrate on eBay USA anymore.

There used to be 2 or 3 going on every week a few years ago.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostThu Mar 10, 2016 6:46 pm

Thanks for all the responses, guys
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostSun Apr 24, 2016 7:28 am

Over the years I found LOTS of film in the following places:

1. Subscribe to auction papers or use estate auction websites---locally or regionally--on rare occasion film shows up.

2. There are still a few retired projectionists around---many have some film or paper. Detective work required.

3. Place wanted ads in local newspapers.

4. Ask around at film fan conventions.

5. Find owners of old closed movie theatres--Detective work required.

6. Flea markets and antique malls--also post wanted ads where allowed.

Back in the 1940s, 1950s and 60s there were many 16mm & 35mm dealers for the pre-video collector hobby---surviving prints must be in attics, basements and garages somewhere.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostMon Apr 25, 2016 6:17 pm

In the 1990s, I recall reading about a guy who was an enthusiast of early, pre-War television here in the states. Within a few years, he had become the biggest collector of tv sets and memorabilia from the period at a time when there were very few people interested in it.

His method for tracking down these things was obvious, when you think about it - remember this was in the 70s and 80s, before the Internet. He looked at lists of cities that had early television licenses and placed classifieds in those cities looking for old television equipment. Those created leads to people who had worked for individual stations and he managed to find equipment used for field tests in the 30s and even the famous plexiglass tv set RCA displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Networking with families who had someone that owned a theater back in the 20s or 30s probably would have worked back in the 60s and 70s when these people were starting to get older and passing away. There might still be a few families that still have grandpa's old movie stuff in a trunk the attic and don't even realize it. Most of the films and memorabilia are probably going to be coming out of the estates of people who were collectors in the 60s and 70s; you see some of these collections up on ebay once in a while.

I think a big area for "lost" or "neglected" films would be small independent films and documentaries from the 70s and 80s. These might be movies that were put out for showings in drive-ins or educational venues that never made the transition to home video and probably were only distributed regionally or to a specialized audience. Perhaps doing some digging about productions like this to see if the filmmakers or families are still around would turn up some things. They might not be "classics", but might be important for local history or academic work that hasn't been seen in years.

There are already music enthusiasts doing this kind of thing with local bands and musicians that had short runs of records pressed in the 60s and 70s, tracking down the musicians or people connected with small recording studios in different areas of the country. There's a record label called Numero that's put out dozens of reissues of this stuff, often turning up local music that was influential and unusual.
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Mitchell Dvoskin

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Apr 26, 2016 2:03 pm

> There might still be a few families that still have grandpa's old movie stuff in a trunk the attic and don't even realize it.

The problem is that in the eBay age, everyone who finds old grandpa's old movie stuff thinks they struck gold. Take a look at this auction. A 16mm silent condensed version of a sound cartoon for a mere $9,280. He would be luck to get $10 for it in this plain of reality.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostTue Apr 26, 2016 2:20 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:And in rare cases, a show can survive as picture but without audio (because of technical trouble/foreign dub/unfinished footage). And there a home recorded audio tape could really save the day. Chances of finding some or probably bigger than for a lost movie.


One episode of DARK SHADOWS is lost. Fortunately, the audio still survives because of one devoted fan, who recorded the show every day on reel-to-reel tape, and actually saved the tapes for 40 years!
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostWed Apr 27, 2016 6:48 am

I was at a Canal Street flea market and found an old 800ft. film in a very rusty can. I unspooled a foot or so and saw "Hal Roach". I asked the guy how much - he said $10. I told him the can was rusty and that I'd give him $5. He took it. Turned out to be a 1944 print of SHOULD HUSBANDS PAY with James Finlayson, Tyler Brooke, Tiny Sandford, Anita Garvin and Anders Randolph. Directed by Stan Laurel. It is one of the funniest two-reelers I have ever seen. The print was in the early stages of vinegar (gosh only knows how many weekends it was sitting in the Manhattan sun) so I had a dupe neg made and added a musical score. BEST FIVE BUCKS I EVER SPENT!!

PS I tossed the can.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostThu Apr 28, 2016 11:28 am

Paul Gierucki's discovery of the Keystone Comedy A THIEF CATCHER in a Troy, Michigan
flea market is a very good example.
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostThu Apr 28, 2016 11:42 am

And in rare cases, a show can survive as picture but without audio (because of technical trouble/foreign dub/unfinished footage). And there a home recorded audio tape could really save the day. Chances of finding some or probably bigger than for a lost movie.


That Was the Week That Was, the 60s satirical show best known for 1) introducing David Frost to America and 2) a bunch of Tom Lehrer songs, is a lost show-- except that Dennis Atkinson found the pilot (which was on film), and donated it to LOC, and some fan audio-recorded the shows as they aired.
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Spiny Norman

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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostThu Apr 28, 2016 11:58 am

Mike Gebert wrote:
And in rare cases, a show can survive as picture but without audio (because of technical trouble/foreign dub/unfinished footage). And there a home recorded audio tape could really save the day. Chances of finding some or probably bigger than for a lost movie.


That Was the Week That Was, the 60s satirical show best known for 1) introducing David Frost to America and 2) a bunch of Tom Lehrer songs, is a lost show-- except that Dennis Atkinson found the pilot (which was on film), and donated it to LOC, and some fan audio-recorded the shows as they aired.
Doesn't most or almost all of it still exist?

http://lostshows.com/default.aspx?progr ... edf341de3d" target="_blank

Although that site is not always 100% correct; so please tell me more if you think there has been a recovery. Was the film without audio and did the fan share his tapes to put 1 and 1 together?

Edit: Ah wait, there was a US version. That explains it.
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Re: Where to look for lost films?

PostFri May 06, 2016 5:28 am

Several here have already mentioned the Internet but I'd like to take that a step further.

If you are looking at a particular film archive (such as the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive at USC School of Cinematic Arts) - and you have looked through their online list of films within individual collections (finding aids) and think "Hm nothing here I'm looking for" - do NOT stop there.

Contact (email) the archives with a brief request - along with hopefully a brief list of lost movies you are interested in locating. You may be surprised at what might show up. As with any museum archives - film archives are constantly accessioning materials (again, this is mentioned on the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive website Collections page), and even if the materials in their PastPerfect database but not yet mentioned in their online list - it is very important to ask.

I recently had a VERY positive experience with this particular archive which led me to make this post. I cannot stress how important it is to ask a film archive. Again, you may be surprised at what might show up
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