It’s 2009 and Brian Meacham, of the Academy’s Los Angeles archiving branch, is visiting a fellow archivist in New Zealand. As he is conversing with Steve Russell, the New Zealand archive manager, he hears the bombshell news that New Zealand is housing in its archive dozens and dozens of American films from the 1910s and 20s, left behind because the studios of the time found return shipping too costly.
I can only imagine Brian proceeded to shit his film-loving pants.
The New York Times is reporting that 75 films from the unearthed New Zealand jackpot are being systematically shuttled back to America, where they are being distributed by the Library Of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board amongst the five American nitrate preservation facilities that include themselves, AMPAS, UCLA, the MOMA, and George Eastman House for preservation.
This list of films being repatriated back to the states is truly incredible and includes films like John Ford’s 1927 film Upstream, that is apparently the first among the classic American director’s work to bear the influence of F.W. Murnau.
Even more exciting is a batch of films that will give us a window into the early history of women working in the industry…
“Among the discoveries are several films that underline the major contribution made by women to early cinema. “The Girl Stage Driver” (1914) belongs to a large subgenre that Mr. Abel has identified as “cowboy girl” pictures; “The Woman Hater” (1910) is an early vehicle for the serial queen Pearl White; and “Won in a Cupboard” (1914) is the earliest surviving film directed by Normand, the leading female star of Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedies. The Clara Bow film “Maytime” (1923), presents the most famous flapper of the 1920s in an unusual costume role.”
The process of shipping the film back to the United States is complicated and will be completed piecemeal as time and budget allow. Certain film studios such as Sony and Fox are taking responsibility for the films produced by their ancestral companies.
What is probably the best news, aside from the preservation effort itself, is that the resultant prints will be uploaded for streaming on the NFPF website! A few are already available including; A c.a. 1922 trailer for The Sin Woman, The Prospector (1912), and Mutt and Jeff in On Strike –a charming mixed-format short from 1920 that has the title characters rebelling against their live-action creator (you can see both the clarity of some of the remaining stock, as well as the rough condition of some segments in this one).
Along with the happy-retrieval of long-lost segments of Metropolis found in Buenos Aires (the restoration print of which was excellently covered by our own Iain S.), there’s been a few happy accidents in the film preservation world in the last few years. However, and while we always hope for more discoveries like these, the delicate nature of our medium’s early history means there is always immeasurable work still to be done.
If you’re interested in learning more about this and other film preservation projects, start with NFPF website, and also check out Martin Scorsese’s own Film Foundation.
A more extensive list of the discovered films can be found reprinted below from here.
The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies—Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison Manufacturing Co., 1914). In this episode of the famous serial (previously entirely lost in the United States), ace woman reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues the editor’s daughter from kidnappers and gets the scoop. In the early 1910s, on-going serial narratives starring intrepid heroines lured female moviegoers back to the theater week after week.
The Better Man (Vitagraph Company of America, 1912), a Western in which a Mexican American outlaw proves himself the better man. This film will be preserved through funds raised in February by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon.
The Big Show (Miller Brothers Productions, 1926), the only surviving fiction film made by the famous Oklahoma-based Wild West Show managed by the Miller Brothers. The film showcases performances by many of the troupe’s performers as well as its owner, Col. Joseph Miller.
Billy and his Pal (George Méliès / American Wild West Film Company, 1911), a Western filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and the earliest surviving film featuring Francis Ford. The actor-director introduced the movie business to his younger brother, John, who soon blossomed as director. Released in New Zealand as Bobby and his Pal.
Birth of a Hat (Stetson Company, 1920), an industrial short illustrating how Stetson makes its hats.
The Diver (Kalem Company, 1916), a documentary showing how to set underwater explosives.
Fordson Tractors (Ford Motor Co., 1918), an industrial film promoting the all-purpose tractor introduced by Henry Ford & Son in 1917.
The Girl Stage Driver (Éclair-Universal, 1914), an early Western filmed in Tucson, Arizona. American-made Westerns were in demand by movie audiences around the globe and helped establish the United States as the major film-exporting nation by the late 1910s.
Idle Wives (Universal Moving Pictures, 1916), the first reel of a Lois Weber feature in which a film inspires three sets of moviegoers to remake their lives. More of the film exists at the Library of Congress.
International Newsreel (ca.1926), newsreel including five stories from the United States and abroad. By the late 1910s, newsreels became a regular part of the movie program. Because the footage was usually cut up and reused, very few newsreels from the silent era survive in complete form.
Charles Puffy in Kick Me Again (1925)
Kick Me Again (Universal Pictures / Bluebird Comedies, 1925), a short comedy with Hungarian silent star Charles Puffy. As America became the center of world film production in the 1920s, European actors, such as Puffy, came to Hollywood to build their careers.
Little Brother (Thanhouser Film Corporation, 1913), one of two one-reelers from New York’s Thanhouser Company repatriated through the project.
Lyman Howe’s Ride on a Runaway Train (Lyman H. Howe Films, 1921), a thrill-packed short entertainment that was accompanied by sound discs which survive at the Library of Congress.
Mary of the Movies (Columbia Pictures, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom in the movies. This first surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy.
Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), a feature with Clara Bow in an early role. Nitrate deterioration has reached the point where “blooms” are starting to eat away at the emulsion.
Midnight Madness (DeMille Pictures, 1928), comedy starring Clive Brook as a millionaire who decides to teach his golddigging fiancée a lesson.
Run ‘Em Ragged (Rolin Films, 1920), a short featuring slapstick comedian Snub Pollard.
The Sergeant (Selig Polyscope, 1910), a Western filmed in Yosemite Valley when the area was managed by the U.S. Army. This film will be preserved through funds raised in February by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon. WATCH PREVIEW
Trailer for Strong Boy (Fox Film Corporation, 1929), a “lost” feature directed by John Ford and starring Victor McLaglen as a courageous baggage handler who thwarts a holdup. No other moving images from this film survive.
Upstream (Fox Film Corporaton, 1927), a feature directed by four-time Academy Award winner John Ford. Only 15% of the silent-era films by the celebrated director are known to survive. This tale of backstage romance stars Nancy Nash and Earle Foxe.
Why Husbands Flirt (Christie Comedies, 1918), one of the nine short comedies that will be preserved through this project.
The Woman Hater (Power Picture Plays, 1910), a one-reel comedy starring serial queen Pearl White.
Won in a Closet (Keystone Film Company, 1914), the first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as Won in a Cupboard.