Int'l cooperation develops to restore films thought lost forever

A 1927 John Ford feature thought to have been lost is among a cache of 75 early U.S. pics recently uncovered in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation have struck a partnership to preserve the films over the next three years in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, George Eastman House, Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art and UCLA Film and Television Archive. Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox are also helping with the restoration of titles from their libraries.

The NFPF called the collection “a time capsule of American film production in the 1910s and 1920s” and said that about 70% of the nitrate prints were complete. The pics were found in a remote storage vault held by the New Zealand Film Archive.

The Ford pic is “Upstream,” described as a backstage romance between an aspiring actor and a girl from a knife-throwing act. It was released in early 1927 by Fox. According to the NFPF, only about 15% of the helmer’s silent films are believed to have survived. Also uncovered in the collection is a trailer for another lost Ford feature, 1929’s “Strong Boy” starring Victor McLaglen.

Other titles in the collection include the 1923 Clara Bow feature “Maytime”; “Won in a Closet,” directed by and starring Mabel Normand; plus numerous Westerns, shorts, docus and newsreels. There’s even an industrial film about the making of Stetson hats. The earliest work dates to 1898.

The New Zealand find is an example of how state archives and private collections outside the U.S. can be a treasure trove of early films thought to be lost to the ravages of nitrate deterioration.

“We hope that our example will encourage other international partners who have safeguarded ‘lost’ American films for decades to share their long-unseen treasures with the world community,” said Jamie Lean, division director of the New Zealand Film Archive.

NFPF is the San Francisco-based charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Since its inception in 1997, the org has helped preserve more than 1,650 pics at libraries, archives and museums across the country.

Here is a partial list of the pics uncovered by the New Zealand Film Archive:

  • “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.

  • “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.

  • 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 Corporation, 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.

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