Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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spadeneal

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Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostTue Feb 09, 2010 7:51 pm

I realize in the US the number of post-1929 theatrical talking pictures is a known quantity and not very large, especially after 1935.

I was just curious though about what the state of British preservation is in roughly the same period? A big picture view of it would be fine.

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PostWed Feb 10, 2010 1:59 pm

I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the simple answer is....not great. Sorry I can't be more specific.......for instance, all the 1930's films starring Stand-Up comedian Max Miller as Educated Edwards, bookmaker, AFAIK are gone....this was the era of the Quota Quickies over here (not that all the product could be thus described) and they were regarded as ephemeral, even by the standards of film preservation generally, for decades afterwards.....
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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PostWed Feb 10, 2010 7:33 pm

Thanks Penfold. While that's unhappy news, it's also what I suspected. Certainly it would have been hard for the Paul Rothas of the world to develop an appreciation of quota quickies, even if important people were working on them. A pity.

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PostThu Feb 11, 2010 7:49 am

I've heard that a number of British films were lost due to the bombings during WWII.

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British Talkies

PostSat Feb 13, 2010 1:28 am

There are lists of missing films on imdb.com and so forth and there are a few important British ones, I believe. Sometimes rumors abound about what happened to things but here's what I have heard over the years.

BUTCHERS: They made films and distributed other people's films. They closed one time and then came back again. Renown has a Butcher's title or two in their DVD catalogue. I was led to believe they had a fire which may have been accidental or bombing. George Formby earliest filsm were said to be here. Maybe, but I have them and outtakes with one(those two made for the Mancnian Film Company over a garage near Regent's Park Zoo(Albany Street).

WARNER BROS-British, Teddington. They made films with dance band leader(an American) Carroll Gibbons, Max Miller and the first outside Australia film with Errol Flynn. The Flynn has always been listed as lost along with the Gibbons and some Millers. The studio was bombed. I was led to believe this was a Flying Bom in Jan or Feb 1945 snd rebuilt. recently, I read it was more like the middle of 1944. I have yet to find out further but Thames TV used this facility(Euston Films) and some game shows were also made here. I read in Leonard Maltin's c1970 Film Fam Monthly(a small digest magazine with fine writing) that Warner's had cleaned the vaults out to be junked. Why in 1970-71 when a call to the NFA at the time would have had all taken to their nitrate storage areas and worked on in time. Makes no sense. But a few recently were restored and shown on TCM but no word on any DVD release like the lost RKO titles. The BBC also got rid of a lot of film & video in the 1970s citing storage problems and fire which is again nonsense and they are looking for any privately purloined copies of anything.

FOX-British. There was also Fox-Europa(Liliom for example). This made a number of films and they also earmarked this 'worthless' junk to be scrapped. The Warner's to NFA comment would also apply. However, someone at Fox(a director of films?) had stuff shipped to Hollywood and it is probably this lot that produced some nitrate US Fox titles not available in USA due to losses and the 1935 New Jersey fire that lost many titles back to the start of Fox Films. I have seen a British title card at the end of Cavalcade(1933) on TV here which might be telling me much.

BRITISH LION. This company became part of Alexander Korda's operations after he lost his London Films. I was told material location known before the war turned up nothing in that locatio(unknown to me) after the war. But again was this true or a rumor?

Scraping release prints for silver recovery is tragic.Some prints mysteriously disappeared from the chemical works which one collector getting this reel and that collector getting that reel etc from a title and then combing the reels for a complete film was rife in Melbourne and Fox color musicals were a favorite to grab. There has been at least two nitrate house fires from these collections that I know of in Melbourne decades ago. Then there was the great film round-up because a person caught with film decided to squeal on his mates and that was that and a lot went into home incinerators to avoid being caught but one father & sn went to coutr anyway and convicted with no film as evidence. I met the sn later and he told me that he had read an article in the 1970s or 80s in Classic Images about prints being sought and one was a mid-1930s Canadian western. he had a print in good order of this film and it went into the fire long before that article.

Film company exchanges in various countries either send stuff back to USA or junk it. Such as Columbia in Melbourne who junked a load of Columbia 3-d shorts(today's 'new' technology and other stuff. Filmways, a local distributor of imported films and belonging to a local small cinema chain, junked multiple copies of prints they had been distributing.

The Australian archives in Canberra these days has a policy of only working on Australian or Pacific rim material(they send advisors to Asian rim countries to instruct on film preservation). They have repatriated prints back to USA, England and other lands and many one only copies have been found in this lot.

But other rarities have been found in Australia. Warner Bros had only a soundtrack and some odd lengths of film to a color MGM short of c1937 in a series they had been making in 1 or 2 reel editions with various films stars at play(many never in MGM films shown) and narrated by various bods. This one had Charley Chase as narrator/MC. The search was on and the footage was found in Australia to complete a restoration of this short.

The 1916 serial Miracle of the Cross(or something similar) was lost and copy was found in 35mm nitrate positive in New South wales in the 1970s. This was offered to Blackhawk Films in Davenport /Iowa and surface freight shipped to them. This was fine but when it got to 'Frisco Harry Bridges(notorious Australian-born stevedore union leader) had called one of his many dock strikes and the cans stood on the wharf in the sticky heat for too long and the film started to deteriorate. Blackhawk had to do major trimming of the sticky ends before processing the footage for home theater release.

During the 1920s we had a fine director of homely dramas & comedies called Beaumont Smith. Little of this material survives because they were stored in a country shed and the fire people were on to the owners to destroy the material and they did just before the Australian Film Search people got there.

In the 1920s a Tasmanian-born actress(no not Merle Oberon who really was not born in Australia) named for film purposes Louise Lovely mad films in Australia and Hollywood before returning here. In 1925 she produced a film here called Jewelled Nights. A surviving print was said to be in the projection room of the former Victory Theatre in Carlisle Street, St Kilda/Melbourne and there for emergencies if aprint failed to arrive. I am told a projectionist cut it up to make 'stink bombs' to relieve his boredom. Another lost film.

But there can be luck. We have a city square museum & reading room of which the museum has moved to the edge of the city in a purpose built building with an Imax theater complex. This old building lost its iron fence to WW1 for scrap but in the middle of the building was a small open courtyard which had a small workman's shed in a corner. In here was some open reels of nitrate film with no cases or boxes. The fire department was forever at the museum to destroy this footage. So to. finally, appease the firemen they got this film and out and found this to be ethnological footage made in Northern Territory around 1900 by a professor of our indigenous people in their body paint performing their dances. He also recoded sound on cylinders that have survived with the film. Although the camera was static it is s true and only record of these people during this period. The fact that the film was stored in this shed in an open form allowed the dangerous gases to escape and thus preserve the film. I now have this footage on DVD.

Warner Bros in Burbank had a lot of trouble with the local fireman calling in requesting the destruction of dangerous nitrate footage. In our period of discussion(129-30s) there is a tot of Warner & First National footage or complete films, or color versions missing for all time. These request might have a lot to do with it.

Mention being made of losses due to WW2 bombing, it is interesting that so much has been found in Europe in places that were heavily, if not, totally destroyed during that period. And lots of British & American stuff also in the former Czechoslovakia & the Russias. There are always rumors of more unlabelled in those areas.

The British courts had a print of the 'lost' 1930 version of The Ghost Train destroyed because it was the subject of a court case against a now late British film comedian who was also a major film collector. Surely this could have gone to the legal owner of the original production. It had enough publicity at the time everywhere.

There are also collectors out there who won't allow there prized possessions be used for any purpose and I guess they go with them to the grave. Another tragedy of our times.

Any additions to my post or corrections welcome.
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PostSat Feb 13, 2010 3:37 am

Re. The Warners Teddington pictures shown on TCM 18 months or so ago had been in the NFTVA since the early sixties, as I believe Robert Osborne made reference to in his intros......one, The Church Mouse, is available on the Warners/TCM DVD collection.
The BBC didn't very often scrap films as far as I know, but they did wipe videotape, as a broadcast format tape in the 60's was the price of a decent second-hand car, and a big chunk of a production's budget....so they were reused. If a show does survive from that era, it tends to be because it was filmed rather than taped, or telecined for overseas distribution prior to the tape being wiped. If a portion of a show was filmed, say an exterior sequence to be inserted into an otherwise studio show, these inserts quite often survive.
Coincidentally I was able to ask the relevant BFI curator about the original question yesterday; in terms of pre-War British-made feature films only, the BFI possess prints of around 50% of the released total; allowing another 10% for foreign archive and private holdings, that makes an estimate of a 60% survival rate.
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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PostSat Feb 13, 2010 12:24 pm

Also, I'm not sure about that Bob Monkhouse anecdote; rightly or wrongly I was under the impression that some reels of the 1930 Ghost Train were ordered destroyed when held as evidence because they were in a dangerous state of decay, and the remainder of the print deposited at the NFTVA. Certainly the NFTVA have most of the film.....there are more urban myths surrounding the films that were or weren't deposited at national archives than there are about sewer wildlife....
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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Re: British Talkies

PostSat Feb 13, 2010 1:35 pm

moviepas wrote:I read in Leonard Maltin's c1970 Film Fam Monthly(a small digest magazine with fine writing) that Warner's had cleaned the vaults out to be junked. Why in 1970-71 when a call to the NFA at the time would have had all taken to their nitrate storage areas and worked on in time. Makes no sense.


Erm... Warners sold Teddington to Associated British Corporation (ABC) in 1958. The first three series of television series, The Avengers, were shot there.

It was later taken over by ABC's successor Thames. Given that Warners had moved out a decade before 1970, I doubt they were doing anything in its vaults there.
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PostWed Feb 17, 2010 10:20 pm

Five of Max Miller's fourteen films are lost, including both of the "Educated Evans", although a 100ft fragment of one of the Evans films has been found. All 5 lost films were made in the second half of the Thirties and all were directed by either William Beaudine or Roy William Neill. Based on the Max Miller films I have managed to see, these missing films are a big loss.

This site is a useful one:

http://www.britishpictures.com/articles/missing.htm

It looks like a lot of RW Neill and Michael Powell films are gone.
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British Talkies

PostSat Feb 20, 2010 12:12 am

BBC Films. The story goes that a lot of their filmed TV shows were stored at Ealing Studios which the BBC rented for a time. It was said they cleared this plce and a lot of Z-Cars went in that lot, a show I liked and watched here in Australia regularly and the follow-ups. Nothing on DVD to date that I know of of these series. Excuses I heard was that there were storage problems and fear of fire but this seems ridiculous to not try and off-load the material to a specialist archive. I enjoyed the BBC Whacko series with Jimmy Edwards but the film version, Bottoms Up I have never seen. I remember the copies here of Whacko had a regal type trademark and the words BBC Telerecording. I also remember seeing a TV documentary around those years about British TV which believe was made by or for Mullard(picture tubes & TV/radio valves, bought out later by Philips).

I see lots of rare British TV screenings listed in e-mails I get from a site that deals in this genre and it is a pity that DVDs are not later readily available of these rarities and borrowed shows.

A couple of mid-30s rare Michael Powell films were found in a vault at Pinewood and I believe these are on DVD now.
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BOB MONKHOUSE 1:28 Video on Collector/Comedian

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 2:57 am

Penfold wrote:Also, I'm not sure about that Bob Monkhouse anecdote; rightly or wrongly I was under the impression that some reels of the 1930 Ghost Train were ordered destroyed when held as evidence because they were in a dangerous state of decay, and the remainder of the print deposited at the NFTVA.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Monkhouse#Film_and_television_archive
"An expert on the history of silent cinema and a film collector, Monkhouse presented Mad Movies in 1966. He wrote, produced, financed and syndicated the show worldwide. The show featured clips from comic silent films, many from his own private collection, some of which he had helped to recover and restore. This film collection was the cause of a court case at the Old Bailey in 1979. Having loaned Terry Wogan's son a film, Monkhouse was charged with attempting to defraud film distributors of royalties, but after two years the judge decided that there was no case to answer. Many of the films in his collection were seized and destroyed (including what would have been the only surviving copies of some films).{citation needed} In 2008, the British Film Institute was contacted by Monkhouse's daughter, Abigail, who asked if they would like to view the collection and provide some advice as to the best way of preserving it. Amongst the discoveries were many radio and TV shows long thought vanished. Dick Fiddy, the archivist, said "It's a huge, unwieldy collection which deals with a number of areas. It's not just film and TV. Initially, we found half a dozen TV shows that we knew to be missing." Amongst those shows rediscovered were many that feature Monkhouse himself, including The Flip Side, a 1966 play in which he starred as a television DJ with his own late night show, and the 1958 series of his comedy My Pal Bob including an episode in which he is suspected of an extramarital affair. The archive consisted of 50,000 videotapes, going back to when Monkhouse first bought a home video recorder in 1966 at a time when it cost more than a car. His film archive began in the late 1950s. The entire Monkhouse film and television archive is now held by Kaleidoscope, including all the material previously held by the NFTVA. It was catalogued and restored to digital formats for a major event at Bafta on 24 October 2009. Chris Perry, of Kaleidoscope and Kaleidoscope Publishing, said: "We are painstakingly transferring the important contents of the video tapes and restoring radio shows. There are many incredible finds, and the event [is] an exciting time for all concerned." In his final years, Monkhouse hosted a show on BBC Radio 2 called The Monkhouse Archive, in which he provided humorous links to clips of comedy acts spanning the previous 50 years."

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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 3:33 am

" Coincidentally I was able to ask the relevant BFI curator about the original question yesterday; in terms of pre-War British-made feature films only, the BFI possess prints of around 50% of the released total; allowing another 10% for foreign archive and private holdings, that makes an estimate of a 60% survival rate."

Yet the chance of most of them appearing on any British broadcasting channel is about as likely as winning the lottery. Absolutely no interest in transmitting or recycling any of these, except Lean or Hitchcock, so for most persons without convenient access to the BFI (the vast bulk of the population) they may as well be lost. Sure some of the "quota quickies" are probably as bad as their reputation suggests, but we will never know.

For those of you in the US, give thanks for TCM.
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Re: British Talkies

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 2:24 pm

moviepas wrote:The 1916 serial Miracle of the Cross(or something similar) was lost and copy was found in 35mm nitrate positive in New South wales in the 1970s. This was offered to Blackhawk Films in Davenport /Iowa and surface freight shipped to them. This was fine but when it got to 'Frisco Harry Bridges(notorious Australian-born stevedore union leader) had called one of his many dock strikes and the cans stood on the wharf in the sticky heat for too long and the film started to deteriorate. Blackhawk had to do major trimming of the sticky ends before processing the footage for home theater release.



That was The Mystery of the Double Cross (Astra Film Corporation 1917). Directed by Louis J. Gasnier when he still had a good reputation.
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 3:42 pm

barry byrne wrote:Yet the chance of most of them appearing on any British broadcasting channel is about as likely as winning the lottery. Absolutely no interest in transmitting or recycling any of these, except Lean or Hitchcock, so for most persons without convenient access to the BFI (the vast bulk of the population) they may as well be lost. Sure some of the "quota quickies" are probably as bad as their reputation suggests, but we will never know.

For those of you in the US, give thanks for TCM.


You've just described the Australian situation exactly. The number of people today who have seen the full output of Cinesound, our biggest studio of the 1930s, could be counted on one hand.

Their entire back catalogue were rescued from probable destruction in the 1970s, and yet the fact that with all the technology open to us they remain basically inaccessible makes you wonder why anyone bothered. Two cheers for TCM, and another two for Warner Archive and its ilk.
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostThu Mar 14, 2013 3:51 am

It's not a consolation of course, but the situation is even far worse in many other countries. In Cambodia for instance and for tragic and well-known reasons - even more tragically, the makers of these films, and the actors, were also killed during the sinister Red Khmers era (actress Dy Saveth was one of the rescapees, she was Lucky enough to take refuge in France for décades). In the Philippines, that produced an incredible number of movies, most of them totally lost, including the early classics of Gerardo de Leon - and I'm not speaking about only the older ones. In Thailand, where a ten-years old movie is considered as an antiquity (A Thai director recently made a remake of one of his earlier movies, as the original version is lost - this original version having been made in the mid-1970s !). And so on.

Regarding the old BBC tapes that were "as costly as an used car", well, they were probably as much expensive in France and many, many of them were preserved and are available, on DVD or from the INA site, for peanuts. I have a version of the famous story "The Queen of Spades", with Gabrielle Dorziat, made in the mid-Fifties. Some British/French coproductions, shot on video, are now only available in their French version.

Secondly, if these videotapes were so expensive, why they didn't simply continue to shot on film, even on 16mm?
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostThu Mar 14, 2013 4:39 am

todmichel wrote:Regarding the old BBC tapes that were "as costly as an used car", well, they were probably as much expensive in France and many, many of them were preserved and are available, on DVD or from the INA site, for peanuts. I have a version of the famous story "The Queen of Spades", with Gabrielle Dorziat, made in the mid-Fifties. Some British/French coproductions, shot on video, are now only available in their French version.

Secondly, if these videotapes were so expensive, why they didn't simply continue to shot on film, even on 16mm?


Probably a sense of experimentation, of keeping up with the latest technical advances and the fact that they could be erased and reused for other shows. If you had a choice between two telephone answering machines, one that was, say $100 and one that was $50, and the only difference was that you couldn't erase old messages, but had to buy new tapes to replace the old ones, even if they were cheap.... wouldn't you buy the more expensive machine?
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostThu Mar 14, 2013 4:46 am

todmichel wrote:Regarding the old BBC tapes that were "as costly as an used car", well, they were probably as much expensive in France and many, many of them were preserved and are available, on DVD or from the INA site, for peanuts. I have a version of the famous story "The Queen of Spades", with Gabrielle Dorziat, made in the mid-Fifties. Some British/French coproductions, shot on video, are now only available in their French version.

Secondly, if these videotapes were so expensive, why they didn't simply continue to shot on film, even on 16mm?


BECAUSE they were reusable and more easily stored.......if your The Queen of Spades is from the mid-50's, it would have been shot or preserved on film, not videotape. Commercial broadcast-quality videotape was first used in the US in '57 or so. And not all UK tape was wiped; just those thought to be ephemeral at the time, remembering that actor/production contracts quite often would stipulate one repeat screening only; any further rescreening would also need contract renegotiation.
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostThu Mar 14, 2013 8:30 am

To go a little off topic, these days even video tape is considered too expensive. At my tv station, all news stories are shot on P2 cards, then after the final edited story has been archived, the card is wiped clean. No such thing as keeping your camera tapes anymore.
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostFri Mar 15, 2013 2:50 am

" At my tv station, all news stories are shot on P2 cards, then after the final edited story has been archived, the card is wiped clean. No such thing as keeping your camera tapes anymore."

Interesting.
Despite the cost of storage now being lower than ever, more data is being lost.

Sometimes the scenes in the background of newsreels are more interesting now than the original foreground stories.
In future the accidental and apparently irrelevant comings and goings in the background of stories will be less likely to reside in the archives. Should there be a "grassy knoll" query in future, or even a need for material 50 or 60 years hence of shopfronts, normal routine etc, only the broadcast footage is likely to be around.
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Re: Early English Talkies -- Survival Rate?

PostFri Mar 15, 2013 3:39 pm

I was just thinking about this very phenomenon the other day, with the following thought: is there such thing as an 'outtake' anymore? With film, you had a literal offcut. Now, you have a piece of digital information that you drag onto an icon of a trashcan, and then it's gone. When you think of how much our understanding of Chaplin was expanded with Unknown Chaplin, it seems a lot of potential for future insights will be lost.

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