silents' last silence

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Damfino
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silents' last silence

Unread post by Damfino » Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:09 am

"Less than 5 per cent of all the titles preserved in the average film archive is seen by scholars, and even less is requested by film festivals. Much of the remaining 95 per cent never leaves the shelves of the film vaults after preservation has been completed. Despite all the big talk about constantly rewriting the history of cinema, we keep showing the same classics over and over again..... Is this what a film archive is for? A shelter for a privileged minority of cultural icons? A sanatorium for all the rest? An observatory of decomposing nitrate prints, or worse, a cemetery where archivists are paid for the sad duty of witnessing the progressive self-destruction of film history? Saving mummies of what's left, amongst the indifference of our time? Why bother spending fortunes for such an absurd task?"
- Paolo Cherchi Usai, from SILENT CINEMA

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silentfilm
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Unread post by silentfilm » Tue Mar 04, 2008 1:08 pm

While he is right much of the time, this is slowly changing. The number of film geeks (oops, I mean cinephiles) is slowly growing. Some festivals line Cinecon, Cinestation, and Pordenone are exposing little-seen films to us. And film historians like Richard Roberts and the comedy mafia are really rediscovering comedy history with for the Slapsticon festival. The new Library of Congress archive will make it easier to access rare films and video, since you can watch video copies of rare films in their collection.

DVD producers Milestone, Flicker Alley and Kino are mining our film heritage and releasing some fascinating films on DVD, even if they do not sell as well as the ten different versions of Phantom of the Opera.

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Re: silents' last silence

Unread post by milefilms » Tue Mar 04, 2008 2:04 pm

Damfino wrote:"Less than 5 per cent of all the titles preserved in the average film archive is seen by scholars, and even less is requested by film festivals. Much of the remaining 95 per cent never leaves the shelves of the film vaults after preservation has been completed. Despite all the big talk about constantly rewriting the history of cinema, we keep showing the same classics over and over again..... Is this what a film archive is for? A shelter for a privileged minority of cultural icons? A sanatorium for all the rest? An observatory of decomposing nitrate prints, or worse, a cemetery where archivists are paid for the sad duty of witnessing the progressive self-destruction of film history? Saving mummies of what's left, amongst the indifference of our time? Why bother spending fortunes for such an absurd task?"
- Paolo Cherchi Usai, from SILENT CINEMA
Just to point out, my friend Paolo is mostly right. Even with all the outlets, there's a ton of films that aren't out there and while it's a golden age of access, we're all turning down a lot of films because they're uncommercial. And of course, he's suggesting it be otherwise and his Australian archive is constantly adding rare silent films to be seen on their website. One last note, Paolo is almost as big a troublemaker as I am and he says things to upset people. That's why we get along so well.


:lol:
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Wed Aug 27, 2008 6:03 pm

No-one ever said every film ever produced was a masterpiece. Maybe some never leave the shelves because they have little value?
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Unread post by boblipton » Wed Aug 27, 2008 6:12 pm

You mean they are perceived as having little value, because that is the accepted wisdom among people who haven't seen them. However, once upon a time, nothing but Chaplin among the comics were perceived as having value. Then we got to add Keaton and Lloyd. There's good stuff sitting on those shelves and I want to see it. And in order to do so, I am more than willing to sit through the bad stuff.

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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Wed Aug 27, 2008 6:27 pm

True, but while many people would enjoy the greatest hits of the seventies compiled on CD according to their current reputation, only very few would really want to hear all the hits in the charts at that time.

I am currently researching films by theme and I find that some films are really so insignificant that they are justly forgotten.

Besides, many institutions have regular screenings and festivals showing unknown movies. I have no statistics, but is the situation really that bad?
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silentfilm
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Unread post by silentfilm » Wed Aug 27, 2008 7:48 pm

Films have more worth than just their entertainment value. Even really bad melodramas and comedies have worth in other ways. For example, if I was researching how films portrayed Asians or Blacks or Socialists or working women in the silent era, I might actually be interested in some of those potboilers.

That doesn't mean that they have to be released on DVD so I can order them through Netflix, but it would be nice if an archive would make a screening available as long as I arranged it ahead of time and paid a reasonable fee.

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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 28, 2008 3:48 am

Well, the original post stated that we can, but never do. It's just, at the bottom of the drawer there are also run of the mill things that will never attract much interest.
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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:38 am

I find this a bit of an odd complaint.

One, sets like the various Treasures From the Archives ones do put this kind of material out.

Two, surely it's the guys who have the films who could be taking the lead on getting them out there, making the contacts, making it as easy to get their obscure film as it is to show The General, creating a reason to want to see these things. There's a reason warhorses get shown over and over and availability is part of it. They get shown by fests who have working relationships with them, like Cinesation, but otherwise they can be a bit out of sight, mind and reach. I'm not archive-bashing here by any means, but ease of availability is always a big factor in how a field develops.

Three, hasn't this always been the fate of 95% of the stuff in all libraries? Until someone comes along, digs out the things no one has looked at in 150 years, and produces astonishing new insights from it?

Four, given the digitalization of the world, don't you bet this is on the verge of changing in big ways?
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 28, 2008 10:25 am

Doesn't Paolo Cherchi Usai work at the George Eastman House?

I asked there only last week to see a nitrate print, which they couldn't show to the public, so he shouldn't complain. I tried, but he let me down! :lol:
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Penfold
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Unread post by Penfold » Thu Aug 28, 2008 12:15 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:Doesn't Paolo Cherchi Usai work at the George Eastman House?

I asked there only last week to see a nitrate print, which they couldn't show to the public, so he shouldn't complain. I tried, but he let me down! :lol:
Used to, but he runs the Australian Archive now, and has done for a year or more.
Much as the viewing quality is dissipated currently, I think the time is approaching - it may be ten or twenty years away, but in the scheme of things, approaching - where all archives will be digitised, so festival organisers, and more ordinary programmers, can 'View before you book' online and thus we all get to see (in proper circumstances) the rare and unusual.....
I could use some digital restoration myself...

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Rob Farr
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Unread post by Rob Farr » Thu Aug 28, 2008 12:22 pm

Paulo heads the Australian National Film and Sound archive. It is understandable that archives do not allow the public access to original, one-of-a-kind nitrate prints. The Library of Congress, for one, has been most generous in making their preservation prints available for private viewing on their Steenbecks or public screenings at festivals.
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 28, 2008 1:35 pm

Penfold wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:Doesn't Paolo Cherchi Usai work at the George Eastman House?

I asked there only last week to see a nitrate print, which they couldn't show to the public, so he shouldn't complain. I tried, but he let me down! :lol:
Used to, but he runs the Australian Archive now, and has done for a year or more.
Much as the viewing quality is dissipated currently, I think the time is approaching - it may be ten or twenty years away, but in the scheme of things, approaching - where all archives will be digitised, so festival organisers, and more ordinary programmers, can 'View before you book' online and thus we all get to see (in proper circumstances) the rare and unusual.....
Gaumont Pathe does that sort of thing already. But some archives just keep copying film to film, which rather limits the accessibility.
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 28, 2008 1:36 pm

Rob Farr wrote:Paulo heads the Australian National Film and Sound archive. It is understandable that archives do not allow the public access to original, one-of-a-kind nitrate prints. The Library of Congress, for one, has been most generous in making their preservation prints available for private viewing on their Steenbecks or public screenings at festivals.
Why haven't they copied the nitrate print yet, is what I want to know.
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Penfold
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Unread post by Penfold » Thu Aug 28, 2008 1:48 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:Why haven't they copied the nitrate print yet, is what I want to know.
I'd guess money, or lack of, and priority, ie, that nitrate print isn't rotting and they have other stuff that is....
I could use some digital restoration myself...

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Unread post by St.George » Thu Aug 28, 2008 3:13 pm

boblipton wrote:You mean they are perceived as having little value, because that is the accepted wisdom among people who haven't seen them. However, once upon a time, nothing but Chaplin among the comics were perceived as having value. Then we got to add Keaton and Lloyd. There's good stuff sitting on those shelves and I want to see it. And in order to do so, I am more than willing to sit through the bad stuff.

Bob
I cannot help but be a little upset at the comments made on this thread, I too would happily sit through the chaff if it showed the original actors and actresses living and breathing once again in effect, their memory and prescence not forgotten, it is real history we are talking about, on film and retained, we hope, somewhere for our delectation.
I feel the same about family home movies and video's, plus photographs, I never get bored looking at them, even other people's and this applies on these films as well. The film may have a crude story, the acting may be awful, the camera work inadequate but, these are real people we are talking about and their Great Grandchildren would love to see them and so would I....
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 28, 2008 4:32 pm

I have a strong suspicion that the more dismissive posts in this thread (mine included) were a bit provocative.

Still, I wouldn't want to watch just anything.
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Unread post by Peter Kalm » Sun Aug 31, 2008 8:46 am

Whether a movie is good or bad is really just a matter of opinion and taste. Even film critics often argue about if they liked a movie or not.
In my opinion, more silents should be available for home viewing, not just a small number of classics. The situation is improving with many obscure films being released on DVD for us silent film buffs to watch. I would like to be able to judge more of these films myself, rather than just read other peoples opinions about them and the only way that I will be able to do so is to actually watch them.

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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Sun Aug 31, 2008 6:22 pm

Yes, that's the equivalent of going to the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa, then leave without looking at anything else.
But I still think that it won't work to consider all films as equally valuable. There are some films that won't become interesting no matter how long you wait.
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Unread post by silentfilm » Sun Aug 31, 2008 8:40 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:But I still think that it won't work to consider all films as equally valuable. There are some films that won't become interesting no matter how long you wait.
I disagree. All films are interesting to somebody. The 1890s film of traffic crossing the Leeds bridge in England isn't very interesting, but it is a small slice of life from over a century ago. Some people actually like to watch cheapo Roger Corman features from the 1960s or unfunny Jimmy Aubry silent short comedies. I think that 1000% more people will always find The General or The Big Parade more interesting than a Larry Semon comedy. But that doesn't mean that the Semon comedy is not worth preserving, or even that it is not funny.

Films are important artistically, historically, culturally, as well as having entertainment and economic value. If I'm releasing a DVD, I'd consider The General and The Big Parade as having more value. If I want to get a bunch of cinephiles talking, I'd rather show the Semon comedy, since they have probably seen the first two several times already.

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Unread post by FrankFay » Sun Aug 31, 2008 9:21 pm

silentfilm wrote:
I disagree. All films are interesting to somebody. The 1890s film of traffic crossing the Leeds bridge in England isn't very interesting, but it is a small slice of life from over a century ago. Some people actually like to watch cheapo Roger Corman features from the 1960s or unfunny Jimmy Aubry silent short comedies. I think that 1000% more people will always find The General or The Big Parade more interesting than a Larry Semon comedy. But that doesn't mean that the Semon comedy is not worth preserving, or even that it is not funny.

Films are important artistically, historically, culturally, as well as having entertainment and economic value. If I'm releasing a DVD, I'd consider The General and The Big Parade as having more value. If I want to get a bunch of cinephiles talking, I'd rather show the Semon comedy, since they have probably seen the first two several times already.
I agree. When I heard that another version of The General is about to come out, the announcement didn't thrill me. Yes it's a classic, but I'd rather have a disc of properly preserved Larry Semon comedies. Even in the worst I've seen there is at least one neatly executed gag I've admired- and in films like The Bellboy it's fascinating to think of the gargantuan amount of money that must have been thrown on screen. That particular film uses THREE airplanes, and wrecks one.
As to Jimmy Aubrey, the Weiss-o-Rama set shows that if you dig through enough footage you can find something good. I love the scene in Aliby Alley where he thinks he's being fired and he closes his roll top desk and drapes it like a casket.
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Mon Sep 01, 2008 5:43 pm

FrankFay wrote:As to Jimmy Aubrey, the Weiss-o-Rama set shows that if you dig through enough footage you can find something good.
And the footage you digged through isn't?

I didn't say "not worth preserving" - that is not what I meant, that would be especially stupid to do. Opinions always change over time, anyway, so we would certainly regret it later if we threw out everything we aren't interested in at this moment. I am sure this has happened before.

Secondly, everything is interesting to someone but not everything is interesting for everyone. For the non-cinephile public, The General will be more interesting, I suspect.
I couldn't think of a really good film example for this, sorry: What is a better book, "Crime and punishment", a ten years old newspaper, or a random romance novel? Of course, you could argue that more people actually read the romance novel than "Crime and punishment". The ten year old newspaper is only interesting to a small number of people who really search for something. All I'm saying is, read all three if you like, but don't pretend there is no difference. For all I know, even silent pornographic movies could be interesting, in weird social science kind of way. It all depends what you are lookin for what's important.
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Unread post by FrankFay » Mon Sep 01, 2008 5:56 pm

Yes, Silent era risque and porn films can be quite interesting- and two compilation tapes are available. I've read a description of a 20's-30's french silent porn film (unfortunately NOT on the tapes) that sounds funny and fascinating, and I wouldn't mind seeing it. It's Christmas and a young girl is sad. No one will have sex with her- she even propositions the butler (and the maid). Santa Claus appears and presents her with a machine resembling an exercise bicycle, but with (ahem) a rather special "seat". The girl gleefully hops on and pedals away like crazy. An angel appears to give Santa a severe talking to, but he strips the angel's wings (and robe) and has his own holiday celebration.
The stills were quite interesting.
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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Wed Sep 03, 2008 4:48 pm

FrankFay wrote:Yes, Silent era risque and porn films can be quite interesting- and two compilation tapes are available. I've read a description of a 20's-30's french silent porn film (unfortunately NOT on the tapes) that sounds funny and fascinating, and I wouldn't mind seeing it. It's Christmas and a young girl is sad. No one will have sex with her- she even propositions the butler (and the maid). Santa Claus appears and presents her with a machine resembling an exercise bicycle, but with (ahem) a rather special "seat". The girl gleefully hops on and pedals away like crazy. An angel appears to give Santa a severe talking to, but he strips the angel's wings (and robe) and has his own holiday celebration.
The stills were quite interesting.
It had a real storyline??? Amazing! Guess there won't be a silent porn film festival very often!
Try some of the French archives?
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Unread post by Penfold » Wed Sep 03, 2008 5:10 pm

We had an idea locally to screen some silent porn - with the help of the local cinema, who were amenable - but the films are still so hardcore (Rated 18R) which meant that the cinema would have to effectively register as a sex club in order to show them....
A couple did have plots, in fact were parodies of existing genres....I recall a porn Madam Butterfly, and a Dumasesque Musketeer romp....and in case you thought it was all harmless smut, let me tell you animals were involved at times....those French..... :roll:
I could use some digital restoration myself...

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Spiny Norman
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Unread post by Spiny Norman » Thu Sep 04, 2008 4:56 am

Yes, blame it all on the French...

Porn parodies date back to the silent era? I knew there were things like Flesh Gordon, but I didn't know it went back that far...
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