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Paul Mawhinney is a bitter man. He owns the world’s largest record collection, comprised of about one million LPs and a million and a half singles. Estimates suggest that over eighty percent of the music contained on his shelves is not commercially available today. The archive may be worth $50 million, but attempts to sell it on eBay and tp private collectors have proved fruitless. One famous eBay attempt netted a winning bid that turned out to be a prank.
Sean Dunne made a film, The Archive, about Mawhinney and his collection. The short screened as part of the IFFBoston‘s fantastic Documentary Shorts program yesterday, and when Dunne reminded me afterward that he’d had the film on Vimeo for some time, I had to share it.
I was struck by Mawhinney’s bitterness, and asked Dunne about it during a post-screening Q&A. He confirmed that it’s the man’s dominant characteristic. That’s hard to miss, even in this brief film, as he continually mentions having given his life to the collection that no one now wants. I’m sure he understands that buying the archive would be a massive undertaking and responsibility that isn’t just for anyone with enough cash to meet the asking price. (Now at $500k.) Dunne said that just packing and moving the vinyl could take three months.
What I like most of all about this film is that it’s a great example of how few resources are really required to make a good movie if there’s a story to tell. Sean Dunne read the story about Mawhinney’s collection on eBay, made a phone call and found out that no one else had contacted him about making a film out of the story, then went to Pennsylvania and shot for a day. The result is this great little film, a tidy, elegant and well-shot portrait of one man and music’s past.