|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
A late silent feature directed by John Ford, a short comedy directed by Mabel Normand, a period drama starring Clara Bow and a group of early one-reel westerns are among a trove of long-lost American films recently found in the New Zealand Film Archive.
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.
Getting the films, which were printed on the unstable, highly inflammable nitrate stock used until the early 1950s, to the United States hasn’t been easy. “There’s no Federal Express for nitrate out of New Zealand,” said Annette Melville, the director of the foundation. “We’re having to ship in U.N.-approved steel barrels, a little bit at a time. So far we’ve got about one third of the films, and preservation work has already begun on four titles.”
As the films arrive, they are placed in cold storage to slow further degeneration. “We’re triaging the films,” Ms. Melville said, “so we can get to the worst case ones first. About a quarter of the films are in advanced nitrate decay, and the rest have good image quality, though they are badly shrunken.”
As funds permit, the repatriated films will be distributed among the five major nitrate preservation facilities in the United States — the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the U.C.L.A. Film & Television Archive and the Museum of Modern Art — where the painstaking work of reclaiming images from material slowly turning to muck will be performed.
Sony, the corporation that currently owns the Columbia library, has assumed the costs for “Mary of the Movies,” a 1923 comedy that is now the earliest Columbia feature known to survive. And 20th Century Fox, a descendant of the studio that made “Upstream,” has taken responsibility for preservation of that title. If all goes well, the restored “Upstream” will be receive its repremiere at the Academy in September.