Why I’ll Miss ‘Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide’

Recently, the longstanding film critic Leonard Maltin announced that this year’s edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide will be the last. Maltin himself is not retiring from film guidance and criticism altogether; he’s very much an active and valued historian and critic. The startlingly similar compendium, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, will still be available for the film guide faithful.

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I will miss Maltin’s coffee table filmopaedia – though I, personally, have never bought it. I have never purchased Halliwell’s Film Guide, either, or subscribed to the Sight & Sound archive (though, as luck would have it, I am in receipt of a physical collection of old editions of the Monthly Film Bulletin). Like most modern cinephiles, when looking for production credits, technical specifications or other filmographic information, I refer to the IMDb. If I want to know the critical consensus of a particular film, I refer to online aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic. I fully acknowledge my hypocriticticism.

However, there are several reasons to mourn the passing of yet another printed filmographic resource. I say mourn because the loss of Maltin’s guide is one in a sequence of losses. For example, last year Sight & Sound announced that it would no longer be committing itself to publishing the full credits for every film on release in Britain, a task it had inherited when it merged with the Monthly Film Bulletin in the early 1990s, because in the age of IMDb, recording filmographic information isn’t really a viable use of resources.

There have been a lot of changes in film criticism in the past ten to fifteen years. New media has usurped print and broadcast media as the go-to place to read or hear film reviews. Blogs, podcasts, vlogcasts and aggregators have diversified the field of criticism, which used to be the province of professional staff critics working for newspapers, journals, television and radio. Even the few staff critics who remain now use the internet to stay relevant: Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review is more often consumed as a podcast than as a radio broadcast;  Roger Ebert’s online presence keeps him posthumously relevant;  even Leonard Maltin himself has achieved cult status through the ‘Leonard Maltin Game’, created by critic Doug Benson for his Doug Loves Movies podcast. There is also now a new generation of critics, who have built on their indie blogs or youtube channels and their direct rapport with their audience, and are often funded through subscriptions, donations, sponsorship and advertising revenue, rather than contracted.

I don’t intend to suggest a hierarchy by pointing out the two spheres of criticism, suffice to say that Leonard Maltin and his contemporaries performed a service that the newer online-born resources don’t. They produced historical records of moving images, entrenched in print, preserved in their own socio-cultural historical contexts.

Like the newspapers of record, film journals and guides that list comprehensive information and opinions about many films function as references for film scholars, journalists and fans. Such publications are accurate, authoritative and reliable. When something is incorrect, an amendment can be published in the next edition. If an opinion is revised, you can cross reference the revised edition with the original and gain an insight into the shifting values of film appreciation.

Of course, online resources are authoritative too, in their own way. Crowdsourcing or mining large repositories of information (or ‘interoperable metadata’) are both methods to quickly populate a film resource with useful info. That information can be browsed and searched quickly, in contrast to the slow process of sifting through indexes to multi-volumed publications. Moreover, that information has the capacity to grow and change at a rate faster than can be achieved by small, discrete numbers of individuals.

However, these resources are not permanent and are thus less reliable. They are also only retroactively verified and thus less accurate. For all the thousands of cinephiles volunteering information, there are often startling gaps in knowledge, particularly when it comes to foreign language, independent and older/forgotten/lost moving images. Also, when these resources are revised or amended, it can be hard to access earlier editions. If you can get to an earlier version of a record or a review it is often stripped of its original formatting and/or utterly incomprehensible – I mean, have you tried reading the ‘revision history’ tab on a Wikipedia entry?

Maltin’s guide was originally intended for local television viewers as a guide to the films on their TVs. Over time it became more than that: it became one critic’s curated canon of cinema. And I don’t mean ‘curated’ in the received, online-jargon, urban dictionary sense of the word; I mean that Leonard Maltin has spent his adult life exhaustively watching, researching and evaluating cinema. Thanks to his Guide, that work has been preserved – a testament to his life’s occupation.

 

‘Mare Nostrum’ at the Cinema Museum, 3 September 2014

Last week, I dug out all of £3 to see some rediscovered and restored silent cinema. I had been to several screenings at the Cinema Museum before – the museum is a perennial source of filmic delights – but this was my first time at a Kennington Bioscope event. The auditorium was impressively full and not just the usual retired crowd that populate these screenings – I spied entire families, film historians and archivists, and more than one fellow PhD student. The audience for silent film screenings (and film projection in general) is ageing, but I am optimistic that there will always be enough new viewers to sustain it as a niche interest at least.

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The evening was led by Kevin Brownlow, who introduced Rex Ingram’s lesser seen feature Mare Nostrum (1926), screened in beautiful 35mm, wholly restored after it was rediscovered in 1990s save for one elusive sequence which is still missing. The film was based on the novel of the same name by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and stars Antonio Moreno as Ulysses Ferragut, a Spanish sailor who is drawn into the war and away from his family by a seductive Austrian spy, Freya Talberg (Alice Terry). Apparently the missing scene depicts the lovers in a aquarium, watching some sort of symbolic fight between two octopuses. As Brownlow pointed out, the missing sequence sounds not unlike the similarly symbolic scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (as an aside: the gorgeous restoration of The Lady… is on general release now, go go go!). I will admit that any time the drama lulled I wondered where the ‘octopus love scene’ would have been. Because, I mean, octopus love scene.

Image via powell-pressburger.org

Image via powell-pressburger.org

For what it’s worth, I was not entirely sold on the plot. Moreno’s hero is so weak willed and Terry’s femme fatale so duplicitous that I could not bring myself to care about the fate of their love (maybe the octopuses would have changed my mind). This is a shame, because the setup of the drama is immediately enthralling… Ulysses’s father tells him the tale of Amphitrite, the Greek goddess who takes care of fallen sailors. When the fully grown Ulysses meets Freya, who looks the spit of a painting he has of the goddess, he is drawn back to the seafaring world that he promised his wife he had left behind.

The Mediterranean is the other character in the film, and is altogether more captivating than either of the two protagonists. The film is a mix of lavish outdoor shots of Barcelona, Pompeii and Naples, and closeted studio sets representing the vessels at sea. Add beautiful tinting and some trick shots and you have a film that is as visually beguiling as any of the period. Ingram produced a staggering amount of footage on the shoot, and it is worth seeking the film out just to see the extravagance and majesty; the chase in the streets of Marseilles is worth the price of entry alone. Ingram is considered to be an early auteur – as a contemporary of Erich von Stroheim and an inspiration to Michael Powell (who worked as a grip on Mare Nostrum), he was certainly forceful and influential.

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Brownlow chose two shorts to accompany the main feature: a 16mm copy of American pacificist propaganda film Civilisation (Thomas Ince, 1916) and an unrestored extract from Behind the Door (also Thomas Ince, produced in 1919 but not released until 1925) screened from a DVD. When Civilisation was released to in Britain it was renamed Civilisation: What Every Briton is Fighting For, because pacifism was not exactly a selling point in countries fighting in WWI. The film was another Alice Terry vehicle, from before her marriage to Ingram, and boasts some really lovely tints (I particularly liked the pale pistachio colour, I might paint my bathroom something similar) and one of the first instances of illustrated intertitles. The extract of Behind the Door was in far worse knick, though even the standard definition DVD bore the promise of fantastic action sequences, and I was glad to hear that the whole film has now been found.

Archive Montage in ‘From Scotland with Love’, 28 September 2014

Last week, we went to see From Scotland with Love, followed by a Q&A with director Virginia Heath and musician King Creosote (i.e. Kenny Anderson) at the Broadway in Nottingham.

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The film was commissioned by Creative Scotland and the BBC as part of the celebrations surrounding the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and was also televised in June. Apart from the live Q&A (which always adds value to a repertory screening), we had several reasons for making time to see it:

  • I love archive film, he loves music; our interests happen to intersect at archival montages set to fey indie folk soundtracks. To be honest, we had intended to see Stuart Murdoch’s Belle & Sebastian inspired musical, but it’s not on in Nottingham.
  • I grew up in Edinburgh. I don’t claim to be Scottish (we moved to London when I was ten), but given the looming independence vote I approached this film with an appropriate mix of curiosity and nostalgia.
  • Well, my PhD touches on issues to do with moving image representations of regions…

The film is one of a swathe of publicly funded archive montage films that have been released in recent years, celebrating regional and/or national cultures in tandem with major cultural celebrations. Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City, released in 2008 to coincide with Liverpool’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, is one of the more prominent examples, though Heath cited Penny Woolcock’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond as an inspiration. Woolcock also collaborated with an indie music outfit – British Sea Power – when making her ode to the British coast, and the soundtracks lend both it and From Scotland with Love a meditative, melodic quality as well as coherency across the diverse range of images.

Heath used footage from amateur, commercial, public information and even fiction films – from archives and private collections – to create her documentary. She admitted that her preference was for film of all types and gauges, eschewing video and digital video formats. Restricting herself to film allowed Heath to focus on images primarily from the early and mid twentieth century, covering the march of modernity, the growth of consumer culture and tourism, industry, manufacturing and trade unionism, education and entertainment. Unlike Terence Davies, Heath’s curatorial hand is subtle, spotlighting the footage and King Creosote’s soundtrack rather than her own directorial authorship. Heath herself grew up in the Scottish diaspora in New Zealand, so maybe that is why her film has the aura of respect, delicacy and deference of a loving outsider. Or maybe I’m simply projecting my own outside, not-really-Scottish-at-all-anymore experience.

I find that with all of these archival montages, there is a tension between the specificity of life in a certain place and time and the universality of those experiences. Nearly all of these films cover similar material: the ‘old days’ of industry and local pastimes contrasted with the expansion of consumer goods and holidays. The more time I spend in regional archives, the more I come to realise that every seaside town had beauty contests in the Summer – even in the chilly towns of Scotland. I don’t deny the power of memory or the resonance of those images for the people from those places; as a person who lived a decade in Scotland’s capital, I can attest that London was an alien planet when I first arrived, so I think there is definitely something about a person’s immediate locality that shapes them and their perspective. However, everyone is shaped in a similar way – the scenery is different but the experience is the same. Like all pieces of Scottish patriotism (not least the Commonwealth Games themselves), From Scotland with Love has been received as inherently propagandist – a boon for the Yes campaign – but I’m not so sure; I think the film portrays a shared past that is not necessarily unique to the nation it emerged from.

Which brings me to the second tension that I find in these montage films – that between retrospection and introspection. The audience of From Scotland with Love are not all Scottish, and those who are certainly did not live through all the events that have been filmed for posterity. But From Scotland with Love does not comment on or explain these images of the past for the benefit of the uninitiated – they have been quite radically de-contextualised, muted, re-edited, served up with a fresh soundtrack that is – for all its folk inspirations and references – brand new. It is its own thing for the audience to experience and identify with anew. I sometimes wish that cultural institutions were brave enough to exhibit their archives on big screens to international audiences exactly as they are, rather than forever repackaging pretty fragments. The film looks back on the past but invites the audience to look forward.

In pointing out those tensions, however, I do not intend to criticise the finished feature, which is mesmerising and moving. The moments of Scottish specificity that punctuate the film are particularly arresting: the Irn Bru glowing in the saturated hues of reversal film, the children singing ‘Bluebells, Cockleshells’, the newly poignant images from the Glasgow School of Art. Even though none of the footage comes from the 1990s Scotland that I lived in, I could still identify with that place and see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

(The soundtrack is marvellous, by the way.)

Southern Television Project Updates

Click on the image to view the poster.

Click on the image to view the poster.

Earlier this summer, I presented a poster at an event heralding the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership, which is funding and supporting PhD students in all fields of the Arts and Humanities in six universities across Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. The initiative was keen to have perspectives from students who work with industry partners, so I chose to design my poster around the methodological implications of archiving and researching at the same time. It’s also a neat visual illustration of the Southern Television collection itself, and the work I do in my PhD.

I also recently contributed a blog to the Industrial Approaches to Media (IAM) training initiative website. This initiative is led by my peers in the  Culture, Film and Media department of the University of Nottingham, and I am impressed with the learning resource they’ve created, and I am so happy I could contribute in some small way.

IAM offers perspectives from academics and media professionals to help guide students and researchers wanting to engage with the media industries. It covers best practice for interviewing media professionals,  arguments for more historical research, and opinions about the benefits of industry research.

I (naturally) take a historical approach and blog about archiving the media industries. Because the Southern Television collection is a broad set of internal company documents, it took me some time to figure out how to best approach it as an archive of industry or business, rather than a disparate set of documents relating to a bunch of television programmes.

While the third year of PhD research has proven challenging and tough, I have been enjoying these moments when I’ve been able to step back and consider my role as an archivist and as a researcher.

Kine Weekly: Il Cinema Ritrovato and more rare and restored film news

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I’m off to Bologna to attend the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. I’ll probably produce some sort of write-up when I return, in the meantime you can keep up with my adventures on Twitter, Tumblr and on Letterboxd.

In the meantime, here are just a few links from the world of moving image history, heritage and archiving.

Silent-ology > ‘Silent-ology Interviews Susan Buhrman About New “The General” Finds’ >> Interview with the president of the International Buster Keaton Society about the newly found archive of materials related to The General.

National Archives Media Matters > ‘Film Preservation 101: This 80 Year Old Film Printer Still Contributes to Preservation’ >> Happy 80th to the US National Archives. ‘Believe it or not, we not only still have that printer, we occasionally use it!’

The Atlantic > ‘The Forgotten Stars of Silent Film’ >> Next month the Library of Congress will host film historians, fans and informed individuals to view films and fragments from a bunch of archives and contribute any knowledge they have about them

Reap Mediazine > ‘Is Film Really Dead?An Interview With Steve Cossman’ >> I met Tara (the interviewer) a couple of years ago at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, and I’m happy to read about the fascinating MONO NO AWARE group.

MOI Digital > A new online resource to do with the early years of the Ministry of Information, including material related to its Film Unit.

Library of Congress > ‘Recommended Format Specifications from the Library of Congress: An Interview with Ted Westervelt” >> For all the format fans out there!

Lastly, here’s AMIA Film Advocacy Task Force’s first in a series of upcoming video interviews -‘Five Minutes with Leonard Maltin’ – in which  the legendary film critic and historian shares his thoughts.

Of Ethics and Monsters: The Power and Resonance of Historical Footage

Beware: spoilers for Godzilla (2014) and Godjira (1954) lie within.

Earlier this month, I went to see Godzilla at my local IMAX screen (or lie-max, if you prefer). To be honest, I was not a fan, but I did enjoy elements of the film, not least the opening title sequence.

In it, the cast and crew credits mimic the text from classified documents (with parts being blacked/whited out), and are superimposed on pretend ‘historical’ stills and images, featuring Godzilla – or evidence of a large lizard, at least. It is a neat visual rhetorical trick that is often used in movies where fictional events are given resonance by a fictional history that pulls on recognisable signs of actual history. As the 20th Century saw the growth in recorded history, through the development of photography, film, recorded sound and radio and television broadcasting, those technologies are often used as visual cues to show how the fictional world in question fits into the timeframe of the real world.

Other versions of the Godzilla story feature similar imagery,

Other versions of the Godzilla story feature similar imagery.

The sequence ends with a mushroom cloud – apparently from the Castle Bravo bomb. It later becomes apparent that in the world of the film, the 1954 bomb was not detonated to test the nuclear weapon, but to get rid of a monster. Later, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) explains to Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that Godzilla is a creature who feeds off radiation, and therefore the development of nuclear weapons  in the 20th Century had woken the ancient lizard. Ford is shown more ‘archival’ footage of more mushroom clouds (I don’t know if the movie uses actual recordings or not).

Now, it is not surprising that in this film Godzilla is related to the development of nuclear weapons. The original Godzilla, famously, functioned as a way of talking about the effects and resonance of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.

I don’t have an opinion about whether the use of imagery of mushrooms clouds is appropriate or not. I don’t think its insignificant that Gareth Edward’s Godzilla is a Hollywood funded-and-produced reboot, and therefore the film does not have anywhere near the resonance of the original. On the whole, using nonfiction recordings (or allusions to nonfictional events) in fictional worlds is OK. In fact, the atomic bombings of World War II, the Cuban missile crisis, and everything in between have given rise to some of the most powerful speculative, science-fiction and alternate history narratives. However, when fiction engages with these signs of historical events, they are engaging with real trauma, captured in the moment it happened.

Unethical use of disaster to make a joke? Or a benign, absurd play on words?

Unethical use of disaster to make a joke? Or a benign, absurd play on words?

In many ways film and audio recordings have made it easier for us to engage with the past. Yet, I think the fact that these are recordings – facsimiles of what happened – can serve to make them seem mere illustrations of the past. The images and sounds become distanced from their contexts, and their power diminishes. That is why many archivists are keen to preserve not just historical footage, but the context of that footage. There is a fine line between fiction that explores real events using factual recordings, and fiction that is appropriating the past and using it to up the dramatic (or even comedic) stakes, and context and intent are key to deciding if and when that line has been crossed.

Kine Weekly: Space Films, War Films, Dylan Thomas etc.

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Newsround > ‘Glasgow School of Art clean-up underway’ >> Most people in the art world (and beyond) know of the terrible fire in the Glasgow School of Art last week. Just horrific. Best wishes to those involved in the clean-up.

BBC News > ‘Dylan Thomas: First film footage found’ >> Well, Dylan Thomas was found IN the film (the film itself was not lost), but still… cool!

Wired > ‘The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos’ >> An archivist from the NARA alerted the AMIA Listserv to the following film from the late sixties, which details the original production of the images, the contents of which were recovered by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (I’m a Mad Men fan, so I’ve had the moon on my mind this week!)

MUBI Notebook > ‘The Forgotten: “Mickey” (1918)’ >> As a Mabel Normand fan, I’m glad her first real ‘star vehicle’ is featured in David Cairns’s regular ‘Forgotten’ column.

UCLA Film & Television Archive > ‘World War I Symposium at FIAF Conference’ >> Lovely recap of the commemorative event, including a very personal rediscovery for the historians and archivists in Skopje, Macedonia.

Picturegoing > ‘The War Films’ >> Henry Newbolt’s beautiful 1916 poem, published in The Times in response to the film The Battle of the Somme.

Buzzfeed > ‘Online Film Archive Provides Fascinating Look At Life In Wartime Britain’ >> Pretty much. Congratulations to the British Council, for making it to the internet’s most prominent repository of viral hits.

Observations on film art > ‘THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS: A usable past’ >> David Bordwell discusses the use of allusionment and shared storyworlds to create histories within films.

Media Industries > A brand new open access peer-review journal that may be of use to some. I’ve already added Des Freedman’s piece about media policy to my PhD bibliography!

Reframe > ‘The Death of Film Is Felt Hardest In the City Built on Kodak’s Reign’ >> A photographer’s view of Rochester during the decline of Kodak.

Lastly, congratulations to all those involved in the City of Nottingham’s tribute to Torvill and Dean (see below for the film and the original). This video pretty much sums up why I’ve become so fond of this unassuming, often overlooked city these past few years. Also, a brilliant start for Notts TV.

‘Film is Forever’

Watch This

‘Watch This’ is an occasional column showcasing clips and shorts accessible online, featuring both digitised archival moving images and movies that touch on issues to do with film archiving, history and heritage.

This is a cute film by the students of West Ridge Middle School, facilitated by Creative Action. I wonder if the script was student-led or not, but either way the young cast and crew are worth 16 minutes of your time.

The bit about two thirds of the way through, when the actress talks about trying out operating the camera and says that maybe she’d be good at it, definitely hit a nerve with me. Young people – even those who have the benefit of a privileged and cine-literate upbringing – tend to be left out of discussions of film beyond analysis of story and theme (maybe shot composition or script development, if they have a GCSE in Media Studies). It wasn’t until my last year as an undergraduate that I learned that film isn’t necessarily forever, that films are often lost, destroyed or forgotten. It was only then that I learned that there is an entire industry built around taking care of the films made by other people. If I’d been made aware at a younger age of the wider context of the moving image industries and their histories, I imagine my education and approach to the moving image would have been wildly different.

The young director’s defence of shooting on film, while encapsulating the draw of film-on film, parrots a few of the most pervasive myths about the  in my opinion. Recording on film creates a reel of film with frames on which you can see the image. That reel of film can be stored, protected and accessed, and so long as you can still make out those frames it is, to a greater or lesser degree, preserved. It is videotape, digital video tape and digital files that are ephemeral, elusive and fragile, and require much more vigilance.

But that’s beside the point. Congratulations to these students on a job well done.

The Super 8 film-within-a-film is a riot.

Kine Weekly: the Australian budget, fictional film archiving fun, and historicising and memorialising film and TV

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News and views from the world of moving image history, heritage and archiving.

The Sydney Morning Herald > ‘Merging cultural institutions would be disastrous, say former directors’ >> Well, a lot can (and has) been said about the Australian budget this week, but here’s a piece of direct relevance to the cultural/heritage industries, and the National Film and Sound Archive in particular.

Fredrik on Film > ‘On wonderment and film’ >> The process of researching, analysing, evaluating and, yes, even exhibiting and archiving moving images can sometimes get in the way of sheer cinephillic wonderment.

The National Archives Blog > ‘Managing information: Are you game?’ >> I hate the word ‘gamification’ and everything it stands for, but that being said, I have found myself thinking about strategies for effective record/information management.

The Self-Styled Siren > ‘Missing Reels: The Siren’s Novel’ >> A novel about the ‘archivist ingenue’? A forgotten silent film? Ennui channelled into obsessive watching of film? This book sounds worryingly like it’s been plundered from my head.

Silent London > ‘An exclusive interview with @MsLillianGish’ >> Speaking of forgotten silent film stars, I’m delighted to find that Lillian Gish is active on Twitter.

VDFK > ‘Flugblatt für Aktivistische Filmkritik’ >> ‘Pamphlet for Acitivist Film Criticism’ (scroll down for translation).

AMIA Film Advocacy Task Force > ‘Projection: The Politics of Passivity’ >> Admittedly some of this went over my head, but it does contribute to the discussion of film projection, arguing that it is about more than format fetishisation.

kinetta > ‘Digitalisierung von Schmalfilm in HD… a response’ (PDF) >> OK, so this is written by a manufacturer of a scanner, but still an interesting presentation about the scanning resolution required for digitising small gauge film.

BFI > ‘BFI DVD releases announced for August/September 2014’ >> Someone buy me Out of the Unknown – kthx.

Pebble Mill > ‘North 3 Wins an “Oscar”’ >> ‘The last BBC Type 2 colour scanner still on the road, CMCR9/North 3, has won an award.’ The Duncan Neale Award for Excellence in Preservation, no less!

CST online > ‘Memorialising BBC2’ >> Pat Holland looks at the changing face of BBC2, through an analysis of indents and other moments celebrating its 30th, 40th and now 50th anniversary.

Institute for Screen Industries > ‘The Value of Historicising Media Industry Practices’ >> A fellow Nottingham-based PhD candidate, Matthew Freeman, explains why it is important to historicise seemingly modern media industry practices.

Lastly, as the Cannes Film Festival kicks off, here’s some footage of the very first fest in 1946:

On Betty Balfour and the Star Attraction of Missing Cinema

Two weeks ago, news emerged that a lost British silent film, Love, Life and Laughter, had been found. A clip was played at the Orphan Film Symposium, and the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam is now in the process of restoring the film before exhibiting it.

When I found out about the rediscovery I was thrilled. I was aware of the film: it was on the BFI’s 75 Most Wanted list of missing titles. Moreover, I used it and another (still missing) film, Reveille, as the subject of an essay and poster presentation during my MA. Both of these films were directed by George Pearson, produced by his company Welsh-Pearson, and both starred Betty Balfour.

BettyBalfourPresentionblogsmall

My presentation and essay focused on the marketing and critical reception of the two films, with a focus on Betty’s star persona (see above). When a film is known to be missing, often it is the star that is the crux of the interest in finding that film. However, that star is not always an actor. Directors, producers, designers and cinematographers often have star personas that can be leveraged to generate interest in a missing title, which is why Hitchcock’s The Mountain Eagle probably wins the prize for the most-wanted missing film.

I re-read that essay I wrote three years ago, and I noticed that at the time I thought that the BFI’s plea for the significance of Love, Life and Laughter and Reveille  was not based on the star persona of Betty Balfour, but in the possibility that the films ‘may have marked [the director’s] creative zenith.’* When the rediscovery was announced, however, George Pearson’s name was rarely mentioned, whereas Betty came to the fore once more.

Even fewer George Pearson films survive than Balfour works, but he was widely acclaimed in his lifetime, called a genius and even credited by some with inventing the moving camera shot.

Silent London

It is interesting to note the difference between marketing a missing film and celebrating a found one. Appeals for missing films are written by archivists and aimed at other archivists, collectors, historians and cinephiles who are more likely to be attuned to auteurism, more willing to go after the more obscure or cult films, and more likely to engage in the fetishisation of technologies and format. Articles about rediscoveries are written by journalists and pitched at prospective audiences, which include the more casual film fans who are more likely to be interested in Britain’s biggest silent film starlet, rather than a film director who happened to have a well-received sequence of films in the 1920s.

I had fully intended to condense that essay into a blog post for you guys, but I’ve since decided to sit on it in case I decide to publish it elsewhere. You’ll just to believe that I made many incisive and nuanced points about star theory, silent cinema and critical reception. Of course, if you do fancy academic work about Betty (or just want to see her in some other films) then the British Silent Film Festival is just around the corner.

* ‘BFI Most Wanted’, the British Film Institute, accessed 1 May 2011 (NB. the link is now dead: http://www.bfi.org.uk/nationalarchive/news/mostwanted/75-list.html)