Movies to End a Pandemic By

I get a lot of questions from folks.  What is your favorite movie?  I don’t have one.  Why do you like bad movies?  I like all movies, but I end up preserving ones that no one cares about and these are sometimes bad.

Everyone has a different taste in movies.  I personally like something different.  A formula B western or gangster picture is boring to me.  I’ll freely admit that I’m usually not up for your modern superhero pictures.  I haven’t seen Batman Vs. Infinity Wars Part 6: A New Beginning.  I don’t intend to.

I got some requests to do mostly older films and a few to mostly newer films.  I am going mid-way and on things that I don’t think many of you have seen.  Things that got swept under the carpet.  Movies that most of you have probably not seen.

Ishtar (1987) OK.  I’m right off with one of the worst movies ever made.  Except it’s not.  It cost way too much, because director Elaine May chose to work in an improvisational style and get as many takes as she could, which doesn’t work when you’re directing expensive mega-stars like Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman.  While this is sort of a tribute to the Hope/Crosby Road films, it’s also more than that.  It’s a sendup of our long-standing hypocritical Middle East policy.  It’s a salute to those of us who hope we are really talented, but are less so than we’d like to believe.  I often hear the complaint that Beatty and Hoffman are terrible singers, but that’s the point.  Paul Williams has not written bad songs for them, but songs that consistently just miss the mark.  They’re not horrible, but they never quite work.  Another joke is that Hoffman plays the ladies’ man and Beatty is the oafish guy that women dislike—just the opposite of real life.  And Beatty is so good at this that he almost makes us believe it.  Worthy of mention and Academy nominations are Jack Weston as their agent who doesn’t have much faith in them, and especially Charles Grodin as the corrupt government official who lies to everyone.  Ishtar may not be the greatest film ever made, but it’s a very good one, and most people who hate it have never seen it.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) And again, I’ll get brickbats from a lot of people who think this is awful.  They confuse it with the inexcusable Space Jam, which I can’t even watch.  Director Joe Danté manages to infuse this with a lot of movie lover in-jokes that most people would never understand.  For example, Kevin McCarthy (the actor, not the congressman) wanders across the screen carrying a seed pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers while crying “They’re here!  They’re here!”  My favorite is still one in which Brendan Fraser and Daffy Duck run off the ledge of a building into a waiting airbag, thereby interrupting the filming of a Batman film.  The director comes up to them and complains, “Hey!  That airbag cost a lot of money!”  It’s Roger Corman.  Another good one: the climax is in Paris, and if you’re watching, there is a poster for a Jerry Lewis movie on every street corner.  I love attention to detail like this.  If you enjoy film geek jokes like these plus a myriad of cameos, and, oh, yeah, a lot of well-done Looney Tunes thrown in, this movie is a howl.  The only thing I can hold against it is that it derailed production of Mike Schlesinger’s legendary Godzilla film…

The Power (1968) I’m always amazed at the number of people who have never seen this one.  The Hollywood legend is that somehow producer George Pal evaporated after making The Time Machine (1960).  And MGM seems to have wanted to make Pal evaporate, and I’m not sure why.  They didn’t promote this at all), hoping it would tank and they’d get rid of Pal.  It worked.  But if you look just at the cast and crew of this one: director Byron Haskin, composer Miklos Rosza, actors Michael Rennie, Richard Carlson, Nehemiah Persoff, Suzanne Pleshette, Earl Holliman, Arthur O’Connell, and George Hamilton, you might think that this is a can’t-miss picture.  And it doesn’t miss.  It’s kind of a hybrid of The Fury (1978) and North by Northwest (1959).  The basic plot is kinda clever, too.  A top-secret research facility exposes a super-genius so smart that he could cause hallucinations, move objects, and, well, kill people.  The genius then proceeds to bump off everyone who might be able to expose him.  One of my favorite scenes is with Arthur O’Connell going into his office to retrieve some papers.  He turns to leave, and the door to his office seems to be missing, replaced with a half-wall.  O’Connell returns with a ladder to step over the wall, and now it goes to the ceiling.  Suddenly, he realizes he might not be in his office at all.  This film has a great, chilling score, nice cinematography, and some wonderful creepy ideas.  It’s been unjustly neglected.   The bad guy makes you see what he wants you to see, so you’re never sure who he is, and you’ll be guessing until the last moment.  Again, it’s not a perfect film, because there are a few goofy moments that don’t really work.  Arthur O’Connell’s parents seem not much older than he was.  Hamilton’s escape from a firing range seems a little too convenient.  Suzanne Pleshette comes off rather flat and delivers her expository lines at the film’s conclusion in the dullest possible way, a rare misfire in a stellar career.  But those are minor carpings.  There are so many chilling scenes that I forgive it all.  Nehemiah Persoff’s death is just creepy.  The crosswalk changing from DON’T WALK to DON’T RUN is unforgettable.

Hopscotch (1980) Walter Matthau had a nose for strong screenplays.  Twice he appeared in great Peter Stone films (Charade [1963] and The Taking of Pelham 123 [1974]).  This time around, he was working with Brian Garfield, best remembered for his novel Death Wish.  Garfield wasn’t particularly enamored with the violent 1974 film version, so he challenged himself to write a chase story in which no one is hurt, but there’s still tension and a sense of danger.  Oh, and it’s funny, too.  The plot is simple: A CIA man (Matthau) is unfairly railroaded by his snotty boss (Ned Beatty) and decides to quit.  Except he doesn’t tell anyone he’s quit, and he goes on a merry chase, writing a tell-all exposé of all the stupid tales of his career.  The CIA wants him stopped, and the Russians agree.  It’s a complete delight as Matthau tours Europe, always a step ahead of the people who want to kill him, taunting them with a new chapter in every new locale. With a great supporting cast, including Sam Waterston, Glenda Jackson, Herbert Lom, and two of Matthau’s kids, this is a closet classic.  Apparently, it’s been tied up with legal issues, which is a real shame.  In my opinion, it’s superior to the previous Matthau/Jackson teaming, House Calls (1978).

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Billy Wilder is a somewhat controversial figure these days.  A lot of his films bear a certain cynicism that many find somewhat off-putting, and Scott Eyman has shown that it increased through his career.  Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of his “greatest” film, Some Like It Hot (1959), which I consider too long and too slow.  So of course I’d love a movie that’s even longer and slower.  This one was once much longer, and was shorn of about 30 minutes of introduction.  Sherlock Holmes was always, in the books and in the films, a complex plot device to solve crimes.  His interactions with other people seemed a little forced to me, because he seemed to exist only to move the plot along.  That doesn’t mean he’s not a great character, because he has a lot of writer-friendly, usable quirks.  So Wilder’s twist on this is irresistible to me.  Let’s delve into Holmes’ personal life.  Was Sherlock gay?  That’s the first part of the subplots here.  Could he fall in love?  That’s the longer story.  I won’t spoil this for you, because most of the fun of the film is watching it unfold and being just a hair ahead of Sherlock as you figure it out.  The movie isn’t perfect: a plot point involving Loch Ness requires it to be salt water, which it isn’t.  Another twist involving Queen Victoria is marred by a performance that is too comedic and over-the-top.  But there are so many other pleasures here.  Christopher Lee makes a great non-canon Mycroft Holmes, and the scene in which he slowly dresses Sherlock down for being stupid is one of his finest career moments.  He’s wonderful in this scene, and of course Mycroft gets his own comeuppance soon after.  But the culmination of Sherlock’s romance is truly heartbreaking.  For the first time, we feel for him as a person, and it’s amazing.  Some of Wilder’s films do nothing for me, including the later The Front Page (1974), which managed to waste Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett by rewriting too much of the nearly perfect original play.  (Of course, the play was murdered once again by its much-worse remake, Switching Channels [1988]). As much as it pains me to agree with him, Michael Schlesinger is probably right that One, Two, Three (1961) is another underrated gem from Wilder, whose work is hit-and-miss for me. 

Real Genius (1985) This is a film that got doubly lost in a morass of too many other pictures.  In a summer where we had Weird Science and My Science Project, both of which were lousy, this movie appeared, and it was actually funny and fresh.  Real Genius also lost because of too many “horny teenager” pictures in the 1980s.  The reason that this one is different is that it’s got a tight script, zippy direction, and a fine cast.  A gifted freshman (Gabe Jarret) is recruited to a top college, rooming with an eccentric genius (Val Kilmer) as they work on an advanced laser.  Along the way they interact with an even more eccentric genius (Jon Gries) who lives in the university’s steam tunnels, and a hyperkinetic mechanical engineer (Michelle Meyrink) who seems to be working at all hours of the day and night.  The plot twists around their duplicitous professor (William Atherton, at the peak of his sleaziness) who has pre-sold their laser research to the military for nefarious uses.  This movie marks a change in the treatment of geniuses in movies.  In the 40s, we had the strange, insanely driven mad doctors. In the 50s, we had amoral scientists but also manly Richard Carlson-like folks.  After that, we had socially awkward geeks who couldn’t function at all, becoming the focus of derision (see Eddie Deezen in War Games for an example of this sort of character).  Real Genius moves the pendulum back in the right direction, with some social awkwardness, but a lot of moral ability and cleverness thrown back in.  This is one of my favorite films of the 80s, and one that holds up on repeated viewings.  I wish there’d been a sequel… maybe there still can be.  Martha Coolidge does a marvelous job directing this picture.  I wish she worked more often.  Like Michael Curtiz, Coolidge, so they tell me, can be… unpleasant… but wow, she can make good pictures.

Hollywood Shuffle (1987) I’ve long disliked the movies of Spike Lee, because they just seem so precious and preachy to me that I expect him to pass the offertory plate before the third act starts.  I recently had to watch Minstrel Show and I thought it was too obvious and strained.  Same for many of his other films.  So before you #cancel me for being racist, let me recommend this picture, by another, I think superior, African-American director.  Again, it’s one of my favorites of the 80s.  Robert Townsend, in his first picture, does something I’ve never seen Lee do: he simply presents his reality, spoofing it somewhat, and lets us make up our own minds.  Townsend’s visual style is straightforward, but his real gift is with screenwriting and handling actors.  Like Bill Cosby (#cancelledAgain), Townsend has turned his experience as an African American actor into something universal that we can all relate to.  His character works at a dead-end job at a hot dog stand called Winky Dinky Dog, and he hates it.  I identified with it so much that I used his boss’ speech (extolling the virtues of Winky Dinky Dog) as my computer start-up sound until my real-life boss saw this film and made me take the sound off.  The legend is that Townsend needed to sell the film to a studio before the end of the month because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to pay off his credit cards.  You’ve gotta love him for that.  I also love him for some of his other films, including the wildly underrated Meteor Man (1993).  Townsend is one of my favorite living directors.  Cancel me for that, buckaroos.

Avanti! (1971) Yes, another Billy Wilder, and yes, another one you haven’t seen.  I’m not big on any of Wilder’s Lemmon/Matthau films, although (as you can see) I love both Lemmon and Matthau.  Wilder seemed to become more and more hostile toward most of humanity as he progressed in life, and this movie is an example of that.  It does destroy some films like Buddy Buddy, but for whatever reason, there’s still some redeeming humanity in this one.  A lot of it comes from the transformation of Lemmon’s character, which works, and some comes from great support from Clive Revill, who makes his second appearance on this list, with a third to show up.  Even better is Juliet Mills, who is supposed to be playing an unattractive fat woman, and manages only to be charming, while being neither unattractive nor fat.  Wilder’s sexism is on display here, with Mills being referred to as “fat ass,” which is insulting to everyone, especially the audience.  However, getting past that, there’s a nice story here, with a nervous exec (Lemmon) being forced to visit an Italian resort to pick up the body of his father, who was killed in an unfortunate accident.  Mills is there to pick up her mother, also killed in an accident.  As the story progresses, we discover that it was the same accident that killed both people and that they were together having a once-a-year affair.  Of course, this is beyond bearable for Lemmon, whose father was a family man, and the endless red tape that the Italians put in the way maddens him.  Lemmon manages to build a giddy intensity that reminds me a little of One, Two, Three without losing the effect of the slow-paced local charm and lovely photography on the island.  It’s a great contrast, and it works very well in this unusual film.  I’m not quite sure why this never got a bigger audience.  It’s very funny and holds up well despite the sexist material that we get concerning Mills.  The ending is predictable, but it’s cute enough.  I wish Mills had been a bigger star.  She’s every bit as good as her more famous sister.  Acting talent runs in that family.  

Zorro the Gay Blade (1981) Everyone remembers Love at First Bite (1979), but this one was by a lot of the same people and it, alas, had distribution problems.  It’s a pity, because it’s really a much better picture.  A rich California plantation owner dies and leaves his secret to his son, Diego (George Hamilton).  Turns out the old man was actually Zorro, and now Diego must wear the mask to battle the new Alcalde (Ron Liebman).  Diego breaks his foot in an ill-timed jump… but that’s OK, because his identical twin brother (also Hamilton) shows up to claim his inheritance, and he, too, can be Zorro.  However, the brother, Ramon, is gay, and he has a great deal of trouble impersonating his straight brother.  Now, before I get #cancelled 100 times, this movie isn’t homophobic.  Yes, the bad guys in it make gay jokes, but most of them are dispatched by the end of the picture.  Ramon is treated respectfully by all of the heroes, including lovely Charlotte Taylor Wilson (Lauren Hutton), who has fallen for the straight Zorro and is unaware of the switch.  Hamilton has a reputation of being something of an acting lightweight, but he takes on heavy duties here.  Not only is he the two brothers, but he also plays Ramon imitating Diego, Ramon posing as their lost sister, and a mysterious priest who steals the Alcalde’s horse.  He’s marvelous.  Also marvelous is the support from his mute servant Paco (Donovan Scott), and the Alcalde’s conniving wife (Brenda Vaccaro).  Hutton leaves a little something to be desired, but she’s passable.  This is a grand film in he old Hollywood tradition, best described as Bob Hope by way of Mel Brooks.  It’s also somewhat in the Michael Curtiz swashbuckler tradition, and it steals a great bit from a Curtiz picture: the score is largely borrowed from the Errol Flynn picture The Adventures of Don Juan (1948), which was written by Max Steiner.  It’s been enhanced and rearranged, but the guts of it are still there.  That makes this film feel all the more like an authentic Hollywood Zorro picture.  It’s worth seeking out on DVD if you can find it.  Apparently, the new owners, Disney, have been wanting to cancel this one for a long time.

This is What I Am Doing!

Some of you are asking what’s taking King of the Kongo so long.  Let me describe to you why in three words: it’s a mess.  The more I get into it, the uglier and messier it gets.  I know many of you don’t want to hear about this because you consider it whining, and I’ll hear about it.  I know many of you like to hear what’s going on, and I’ll hear about that too.

Let me answer the questions I keep getting:

1. Are you actually still working on Kongo?

Yes, almost nothing else.  It’s taking forever.  You’ll see why in a bit.

2.   We’re all getting older.  Are you going to release it?  

Yes, I’m hoping by the end of the year.  At the pace we’re going, that may be optimistic.  Remember that this is 21 reels of footage whereas Little Orphant Annie was FIVE reels of footage. And Annie was in better shape.

3. Why don’t you do a Kickstarter to get some extra funds to hire some help?

That’s a fantastic idea.  Right now, I’m stretched pretty thin doing all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing.  Doing a Kickstarter takes time and effort that I don’t have to put into this.  Someone wanna volunteer?  (Crickets.) I didn’t think so.

4. Didn’t you get a grant to work on this?  Use some of that money.

Yes, I got a grant to do it, and I discovered in May of 2020 that I needed two things: a) a faster computer or I’d never get it done, and b) at least two more helpers to help me get things done.  I’ve done those things.  I have three helpers now.  But the grant money only covered the cost of the computers.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

I suspended work on Chapter 10 given some priorities.  I announced in December of last year that I’d be showing some rare Karloff stuff and we’d have Sara Karloff join us for a Zoom meeting.  I thought if I held it in March that FOR SURE we’d have enough to show.  Chapter 10 resolves all the hanging plot points: Who or what is the gorilla (aka the King of the Kongo)?  Who’s the girl’s father?  Where are the jewels?  Who’s the prisoner in the basement?  I thought that using Chapter 10 as my example was kind of a bad idea.

Given this, I thought maybe I’d try getting Chapter 9 done, since we’d gotten a good start on it.   But we had problems: my helper was bogged down in the cleanup, and there was a great deal of decomposition on the negative.  I finally told him that we’d get rid of the decomp later; just go for the dirt.  That didn’t help.  He was making no progress.

I finally figured out why.  The decomp really didn’t seem too bad until you got into it and then it was triggering all sorts of false positives in the cleanup software.  I had a backup plan: unlike Reel 1, we had a print for Reel 2 as well.  We could just use that instead of using the negative.  The print was in reasonably good shape with not too much decomp.

WRONG.  The print was missing shots all over the place.  It had been sliced apart for stock footage and then put back together with masking tape.  Each time they sliced it apart, they put it back missing a frame on both edges.  But that was OK, since two or three shots were missing entirely.  One sequence was in the wrong place.  And then the coup: there’s a shot in Chapter 9 reel 2 that belongs in Chapter 10 reel 1!  This was nice, because that shot is missing in the print of Chapter 10 that we have (minus one frame on each side of the splice.)

So in late December, after we’d already announced, I took the disks with the negative and the print, and we went through them frame at a time to figure out what had been put where, reconstructing the best shots from the best prints.  That then had to be re-stabilized and re-scaled.  Great, huh?  Turns out not.  As we were removing dirt I discovered that something looked weird.  We were accidentally cleaning up a low-res test version of this file, not the high-res version that we needed.  Late January.  Start again.

So maybe let’s get Chapter 8 going?  Well, that’s in the hands of another helper I have, and he is going through it.  Except Chapter 8 has a particularly ugly dialogue scene in it and it would require a massive amount of re-recording.  And we have the sound for R2, which looks to be edited, so that would be a sync problem.  We have the negative for R2 but alas, I haven’t received it yet, because the scanning is behind at Library of Congress, so it seemed a real waste of resources to work on this chapter that we were probably going to have to tear out anyway.  Plus the sound hasn’t even been started for restoration, so that’s an issue.

Chapter 7 we have, but it’s got a lot of decomp and hasn’t been started.

By this point, in early February, I was about to call Sara and tell her we should cancel the show.  I just did not see how we could get anything ready.  I’ve got another helper lined up, but he got COVID, and he’s got some other family illness, and he had other commitments.

So I thought, OK, let’s try Chapter 5 and 6.  Those don’t look too bad, either!  Let’s try those!  And we have restored sound for them.  Chapter 5 looked promising until I discovered that reel two is the silent version that doesn’t match the sound version at all.  The picture for the sound version of Chapter 5 reel two is not scanned yet.  Chapter 6 looked more promising.  It looked pretty good until I realized that the ending was rotted off in the negative.  OK, let’s look at the print.  Also rotted off, no cliffhanger.  Then I remembered that some of Robert Youngson’s compilation film The Days of Thrills and Laughter features the fight between Karloff and Walter Miller (I’d seen the stills).  That’s the cliffhanger I need!

So I wrote Serge, knowing he had some 35mm of this title, and asked him if he could scan it for me.  Well, the scanner place is down due to COVID, but sure, he agreed to do it.  Just to verify, I found a copy of Days of Thrills and Laughter and looked at it. Turns out that what Serge has is the beginning of Chapter 7, not the end of Chapter 6, with the same fight, but it’s the cliffhanger resolution.  Then I went back to Chapter 7 and discovered that the negative for reel one is complete, but the print is missing exactly the footage that’s in The Days of Thrills and Laughter.  Yep, it was copped from the same print I have!

OK, so I can insert the cliffhanger ending from the 16mm that I already have scanned and then just go from there?  No, bad call, because there’s a SECOND print of Chapter 6 that is in the inventory of stuff not yet scanned at the Library, so no reason to rescale and re-contrast that icky footage when that will just be replaced anyway.  And I hope that the print is in better shape than the alternate print we have.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s the silent one.  We have no idea.  But given what I’ve seen, I sure want to look at it before investing a lot of time starting a restoration.  (Interestingly, Chapter 5 and 6 are tinted, and the tinting is fading from these prints.  We intend to restore it.)

For those of you keeping score, Chapter 10 is out, Chapter 9 is questionable, Chapter 8 is probably out, and Chapter 5,6,7 are out.  And we don’t have any more complete chapters.  This is why you hear me scream.  I nearly called Sara again and said we’d have to postpone.

That’s where your heroine, Ms. Greiff, stepped in and told me that we could probably do this.  She thought I could lean on my helper working on Chapter 9 and meanwhile I could get reel 2 recorded.

I’d wanted to do the sound recording to the restored print, because it’s easier to see lip sync, etc, but she said we should just synchronize to the negative.  After all, the frame count was the same, so it should work.  We spend our time recording and my helper does the contrast fixing and de-dirting!  It could happen!

Well, for those of you who don’t follow this, each reel is one disk and each chapter is two reels (except Chapter 1, which is three).  And we don’t have discs for all the picture.  We have Chapter 9, reel one, but not reel two!

Since the music is repetitive—they use the same themes over and over, I thought, gee, we can “fake” the score by using some of the same themes.  I know they had sound effects (they particularly liked gunshots), so I found a gunshot and sampled it, then threw one in in sync with every shot.  The gorilla theme is consistent throughout: whenever the gorilla is on screen, there’s a sinister violin theme that accompanies him.  So we know what that would have sounded like.  And the close tag is the same in every chapter, so we know that.

With about a day’s work, I got a serviceable “guess” track going that sounded pretty much like an original track would have.  Except we didn’t have the dialogue scene.  OK, I have the script, so I just recorded the dialogue and synchronized it to the players.

Meanwhile, my helper is working on the same reel to get the picture cleaned up.  This is an agonizing process and takes hours.

The dialogue didn’t synchronize at all.  The actors weren’t reading the dialogue as it was written.  What were they saying?  Who knows?  I knew that Peter Jackson had employed forensic lip readers for They Shall Not Grow Old.  I watched that (not as amazing as people said, but what do I know?) and contacted the forensic lip-reader.  $200 a minute!  Not possible.

I contacted the Indiana School for the Deaf.  They didn’t get back to me.  I contacted two other deaf people.  No response.  Another one: “This is too hard… you mean you don’t have any sound at all??”  Finally, in desperation, I said, “I’ll do this MYSELF.”   I slowed it down 4:1 and blew up the lips.  The reason I thought I could do this was that I’ve already spent hours synchronizing the audio back to the video, and lip reading is a part of that.  I thought I could get it pretty close.  I finally did.  We got a few minor corrections from a friend of my new brother-in-law, who also reads lips.

I recorded the new dialogue, and it sounded like me doing strange voices.  Bad.  So I had Glory do the voice of the priest and we lowered it digitally.  It sounded like Glory doing the voice of the priest lowered digitally.  I knew that I’d had people crawl out of the woodwork wanting to do voices for this, but it turns out this is hard.  You have to get the dialogue just right and read it with the intonations that the actor did 90 years ago.  I thought I should turn to someone who’s already done this.  And let them know we need this NOW NOW NOW.

Bless his heart, Larry Blamire, actor extraordinaire, recorded the lines in about 45 minutes for me, and he got the intonation pretty close to right.  Turns out that if you use fancy equipment it sounds TOO GOOD, so we just used phones.  George Willeman from Library of Congress rerecorded the priest for me.  I remained as the hero (Walter Miller), because I can match his deadpan delivery pretty well.

The art center where I do shows wanted the video uploaded a week early, and I thought that might never happen.  I let them know I might be late, and to hold up sending links.  On Tuesday, I got a call that the final render had crashed, because it filled up a disk.  In haste, I went out to buy another disk and got it out to him.  The show was due Friday.  Rendering happened Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  On Friday night at 10pm, I went to his house and collected the disk.

BUUUUUUT NO (as John Belushi would have said.)  A bug in SOME program had assumed I really meant a frame rate of 23.98 instead of 24.00.  This means that it helpfully repeats one out of 50 frames to convert it for me.  Except I really DID mean 24.00, so all the gunshots and dialogue I put in were off.  Took hours to fix it.  There were other problems, more technical, that I shan’t bore you with.  Bottom line: I got it done on Wednesday before the show Saturday.  A lot of people were angry that it wasn’t available until late, and that the links went out late, etc.  Couldn’t be helped.

So what have we learned?

There are a lot of people who really are generous and help a lot.  I am grateful for this beyond any measure.

This project is a technical mess.

We need a minimum of 2TB to render some of these things.

We actually CAN do a reasonable job of re-recording.

Before I do any more reels, I need to go through each reel carefully to inspect it so that we don’t waste time on alternate versions and cuts.

I didn’t get enough grant money (I am on the hook to finish this but I will be getting a grand total of $0 for any work!)

When we have original negative, it almost always has extensive decomposition.  When we have  print, it is almost always cut extensively for stock footage.  The one exception to this has been Chapter 10 reel two, which is almost all dialogue and very consumed with some looooong talking shots that I guess weren’t too exciting to extract for stock footage.

We’re working backwards, mostly because we received material that way.  Current status:

Chapter 10: R1, about 85% done, needs some decomp removed.  Restored missing shots from NFPF project, one shot from Chapter 9.  R2 in hands of helper for de-dirting. Already stabilized and contrast-fixed.

Chapter 9: R1 with extensive decomp fixed.  R2 re-rendering as we speak. Re-recorded audio.  About 98% done.

Chapter 8: De-dirting about 95% done.  Unknown extra work.

Chapter 7: Rerecorded most of audio for Chapter 7, R1.  Identified Chapter 7 R2 missing dinosaur footage.  Have sound for R2.  Have silent version of R1 and R2.  Next in line for picture restoration.

Chapter 6: Ending needs restored.  Awaiting material.  Tints need restored properly.  Sound seems good.

Chapter 5: Need R2 sound version.

Chapter 4: Have one reel.

Chapter 1: Have one reel with extensive cuts.  In contact with MoMa for possible replacement if no 35mm alternates can be found.

Everything else we’re still awaiting or has not been looked at in detail yet.

You guys know lip-readers or anyone who wants to run a Kickstarter campaign?  You know where to find me!

You Did Ask

In the Dr. Who episode Frontios, a character asks The Doctor what he thinks about a certain topic. The Doctor then tells him in a straightforward, unvarnished way what he thinks. The other character is a little put off, but The Doctor reminds him, “You did ask what I think.” I’ve been reminded of that interchange a lot this year.

Several weeks ago, my main Facebook page was bombarded with obscenities that I asked to be removed, and of course, they doubled down on more of them. This was in response to the fact that I dislike politics on my page and don’t allow that discussion. Since then, I have been inundated with questions. Why don’t I comment on current events? Why don’t I take a stand on moral issues? Why didn’t I delete that thread and block those people? So I’m afraid I must comment.

The short answer is that I didn’t delete the thread because I hate censorship more than I hate swearing. Since I’m an independent, my opinions will enrage a lot of you and help nothing. That saves most of you from reading a 2500-word rant.

I don’t discuss politics because I don’t think you want to read this stuff on my page. I come to my pages as a respite from the gawdawful complaining about every topic under the sun on Twitter and Facebook. I’d rather read about something I can affect rather than the political landscape. I’m an engineer and film preservationist. Asking me about politics is like asking your meter reader about dentistry. It may be interesting, but who really cares?

I don’t want to be entrapped in the “gotcha” culture of today, which is that we have to wear our allegiances on our sleeves, and any disagreement is tantamount to being evil. Things are too polarized and no meaningful discussion takes place. Life isn’t that way, but our culture has gotten to be. If you want to put them on your page, then fine. I may even interact with you. However, you’ll discover something important…

I’m independent. I often don’t agree with either the left or the right. I have a tendency to read as much as I can and make up my own mind. I try not to dig in my heels and be unmovable on most issues, unless you want to argue with me that The Untouchables is a really great film.

I also don’t advocate a lot because I’m not sure it helps. I learned this in the 5th grade when Channel 4 took my beloved Sammy Terry off the air. I organized a petition and got about 200 people to sign before I realized that I was just a puny mosquito pinging unheard at a double-pane window of NO. I realize that many of you disagree, and that’s fine by me.

Since I have friends, and people who pay me, on both sides of the political spectrum, I think it’s stupid to poke the tiger. Especially in these days of hyper-sensitivity. That does not mean I don’t have beliefs, nor that I won’t stand up for them.

I tend to automatically suspect people who have to parrot their ideals endlessly. If your beliefs are strong, you act in ways that support them. Teach, don’t preach (thanks, Felipe.) I used to work at a place that was “Christian” and the management operated in ways that would have befuddled Christ. And I see that today, too.

I think Jesus would be confused over the “Black Lives Matter” controversy. If I say “Black Lives Matter,” it’s now some sort of code for “I’m a member of ANTIFA and I secretly want the end of the United States.” WHAT? Or if I say, “All Lives Matter,” it’s code for “I’m actually a racist and I hate all African Americans.” There’s no winning here, only arguing. Of course black lives matter and all lives matter, and this bickering over semantics is pointless.

“Black Lives Matter” is not a code, but rather a complaint about some policemen who are out of control. To paraphrase Chris Rock, there are some jobs where we have to have 100% quality people, and being a policeman is one of those jobs. We can’t afford bad apples. No one wants to hear that we got the bad pilot on the day your plane hits a herd of geese. We all want our pilot to be Chesley Sullenberger. We all want our policemen to be Joe Friday. The world would be a better place if they were.

I don’t need to tell Facebook that I dislike jerk policemen. There’s a nasty cop in New Jersey who will testify to that. He wrote me a sucker-punch traffic ticket in 2015 and I think his ears are still ringing. It didn’t do any good. I still had to pay the ticket. I hope that, in the long-term, idiots like that are hounded into unemployment. 

I’m not going to fix these problems. If I were a mayor or Congressman, that would be different. 

But some of you think that by not posting my beliefs incessantly, I am mean and hypocritical, so it’s open season to put obscenities on my page in tag-team style. Well, sure, it may offend some of my clients, but you think it will only offend my clients who are on the “wrong side of history,” so fine, and you’re only proving how right you are to do this.

Look, I learned all the bad words, just the same as you did, but I’ve learned a few other things. Swear words really offend some people, even good people, even the people you think are on the “right side of history.” All you’re doing is making yourself look bad and trying to make me look bad in doing it. I hope it makes you feel better and more powerful, but you convinced no one of your arguments, you saved no black lives, and you changed the minds of no criminal policemen.

You’re also showing an ignorance about how culture is different in various places. About 20 years ago I was in a restaurant in Syracuse NY, and a couple there were yelling at the top of their lungs at each other, swearing, wondering if sausage came with the standard breakfast. This is normal for New York. New Yorkers will tell you that these are people being their true, genuine selves. If this had happened in Minnesota, the people would have been asked to leave. They would have ben considered rude and inconsiderate of others.

If I wanted to have discussions with only New York people, I would need an f-bomb on every page. But a lot of people take it at face value. They’re not all just “clueless red-state old biddies,” as you seem to think.  Some of them are even on your “right side of history.”

I have posted jokes, articles about science, and film, as befits my background and interests. Given the fact that I do this, it should be pretty obvious that I don’t subscribe to anti-science conspiracies that “smart people” are planning a pandemic just to make your president look bad. That’s generally a sign that your guy already looks bad and it’s being exploited by the other side.

Being pro-science doesn’t automatically make me a pinko lefty, as again, many of you seem to think. The left has its ideology that looks bad too. In this case, it’s “cancel culture.” When someone is cancelled, they are shunned permanently and no longer allowed to earn a living. If dead, they are expunged from history, their works ignored. They are unworthy of polite society. This is done by social agreement, not any justice organization.

There is a theory that right-wingers are digging up any unsavory thing on anyone they can find. This is being done to enrage left-wingers and encourage them to cancel people who might not otherwise deserve it. In this way, left-wingers look bad. 

I would politely suggest that maybe the real problem is that the left-wingers are going over the edge on cancel culture just as the right-wingers are going over the edge on conspiracy theories. Perhaps a little introspection is in order here!

One of my friends has said that he adores cancel culture. He loves the idea that all these people who have been wronged have a way to fight back.

When it applied to Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Matt Lauer, I thought OK. These people abused others and deserved what they got. But then it applied to Al Franken and I started to wonder. Then Randy Rainbow. Now it applies to dead people like Thomas Jefferson, John Wayne, and Lillian Gish. Even worse, it applies to movies and genres of movies. So any film that has racism in it, or depicts sexism, or a raft of other things, is bad. Never mind if it’s an accurate depiction of the times in which they were made.

They should be cancelled. Never shown. Permanently. 

I hate this. Let’s call it censorship, because that’s what it is. I despise all forms of censorship.

I have spent my entire life crusading against censorship. To me, the cruelest form of it is the subtlest: “We’re not going to make this available because it costs too much to release and we’ll never make our money back on it.”

I have deleted a couple hundred words here discussing just how much I have always fought against censorship. We’ll read it into the record.

Then my friend who adores cancelling talks abut how Disney (and by extension every other studio) shouldn’t ever release films like Song of the South because they are under no obligation and can do what they want. That only feeds into their pre-existing bias to lock away all films made before 2000.

He says cancel culture is a voice for the unheard. That’s true, but so is terrorism. Cancel culture is being abused and is becoming what I term cultural terrorism. Anyone or anything we want to cancel, justified or not, can be erased. See the Twilight Zone story “To See the Invisible Man,” or read the story by Robert Silverberg.

Song of the South is not worthy of being cancelled. It has much artistic merit.  It was shot by one of the greatest directors of photography who ever lived, Gregg Toland. It’s got groundbreaking special effects. It’s some of the earliest well-done combination of live actors and animation in color. Is it racist? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes, in parts. I can see why Disney won’t put it out. They don’t want to be cancelled. 

Make it available and put disclaimers at the front and end.  If you stream it, make it TV-MA, so kids won’t stumble over it. Keep Whoopi Goldberg and Leonard Maltin employed doing introductions to every possibly offensive film. BUT MAKE THEM AVAILABLE. If you don’t then surrender the copyright to an archive and let others do it.

Does this mean I’m insensitive to African Americans? NO. But we don’t get to rewrite and whitewash history. History can be ugly and undulating. Ideas and interpretations change, both for good and ill. Until we can come to terms with that, we can’t really move forward, and heaven knows we’re not moving forward right now.

Yes, I realize that it’s painful and as a society we are in distress. I’ve got a heads-up for you: we’re not going to be healed by cancelling people and erasing the past. Nelson Mandela had it right. Read about his peace and reconciliation ideas. Open up everything. Admit to all, apologize for injustices and move forward. (Oh, and stop committing injustices… that helps most of all.)

So why am I so skittish about politics but I’ll take on censorship and cancel culture? I can’t do much about politics, but I AM in a position to make films available and undo censorship, and I will continue to do that. As Carrie Newcomer says, I can’t change the world, but I can change three feet in front of me. And I am.

I will probably be always remembered (if at all) for saving a bad serial that everyone told me I was crazy to work on. They’re probably right. But it’s getting saved.

Remember, I’m racist, sexist, and politically incorrect, at least according to many of you.

I’m one of the nervous old biddies who’s afraid to confront the people who are on the wrong side of history.

You should probably put me in my place by posting profanities on my page.

As an old white guy I’m societally irrelevant.

But I’m going to remind you of one thing:

You did ask.

Current (10/26/20) Kongo Status

I cover a lot of this on my Facebook page, but not all of it. I know a lot of you don’t see Facebook, so here is the detailed, long-winded, accurate rundown of what is happening with King of the Kongo:

I now have two assistants helping me to get this done and I am spending grant money to get them faster machines.  The rendering was so slow on the machine I had that I thought it was worth spending the grant money on the faster systems and getting some help. We’re really going full smoke here: 12-core, 3.46Gz, 128GB RAM.  Even then some of it is slow.

Just so you understand some of the jargon here: each chapter is two reels (except for Chapter 1, which is three reels).  R1 is Reel 1, R2 is Reel 2.  A slug is a piece of black leader inserted into the film.  This was done to repair film breaks in order to maintain the length of the picture, because otherwise the sound would get off sync.

Chapter 9:

I started with this chapter since it looked the worst of any material I have seen so far, and I had to devise economical ways of addressing the decomposition in it.  

R1: (see video)

There was fairly heavy decomposition all through this and there were three or four shots that looked awful.  These have been improved immensely.  One shot was completely decomposed and was replaced from 16mm.

R2: In progress.  The negative has a fair amount of decomposition in it but not as bad as R1.  Fortunately, unlike R1, we have a backup R2 from an edited print.  It’s been stabilized and graded.  The gorilla assault at the end of the reel may have to be switched out with the print if we have it.

Chapter 10:

I did this chapter second because we only have a print.  There are several slugs in this one.  The nitrate print was weaving to the left and right in the scanner (it was shrinking), and is presenting a stabilization problem.  I’ve run 5 passes to stabilize it so far and it’s about there.

R1: 

There were two sequences that were edited out of the print.  The first was the entire gorilla assault that ends Chapter 9.  It’s unfair to replace this with the footage from Chapter 9 because this is shot with a different camera and is edited differently.  I replaced the footage from the National Film Preservation Foundation grant project in which I restored Chapter 10 from 16mm.  The footage isn’t that great, but it’s all there, and we’re talking about a minute’s worth or so.  There’s another sequence that was also cut, that of Lafe McKee and Harry Todd confronting a dinosaur, and I replaced that from 16mm as well.

I may try some frame interpolation to get the missing frames back (ironically, this print is the source print from my 16mm, and the missing frames in it are also missing in this 35mm!), and I am also going to try to remove some of the uglier artifacts toward the end of the reel.  Someone put cue marks in the reel so they could do a changeover and the marks are ugly and historically incorrect.  Before you ask, the missing frames were lost in during projection in 1929 and the edited sequences (which are in my 16mm) were cut for stock footage many years later.  The history of these prints is archaeology in itself.

R2:

This reel is in better shape (considering splices) and worse shape (considering projector wear).  I’ve done a fair amount of cleanup and stabilization on it already.  Steve Stanchfield is working on de-flickering it for me.  I’ll take all the help I can get!

Chapter 8:

We have a negative for R2 and a print for R1 and R2.  The negative has not been scanned yet, so is in unknown condition.  The print is in decent shape with a few splices and slugs.  We have sound for R2.  

The cliffhanger in R2 was edited out, and, interestingly, was floating around unidentified in the collection.  It was run at the Library of Congress’ Mostly Lost convention a few years ago, and I identified it as either the cliffhanger of Chapter 8 or the resolution in Chapter 9.  Turns out it is Chapter 8 and will be reunited with the source print.  I’m receiving a copy of the scan today to get it restored.

Chapter 8 has been contrast corrected and is awaiting stabilization.

Chapter 7:

R1 has been contrast corrected and is awaiting stabilization.  We have also found a “spare R1” that is proof that there was a silent version of Kongo.  I have yet to see a contemporaneous  ad that doesn’t advertise this being “in sound.”

Inspection of the rest of the prints:

At this point, we still have no material on Chapter 1,2 and 3.  This is due to COVID and the schedule at Library of Congress.  I haven’t engaged in much work on any other chapters.  Chapter 5 and 6 have tinting and that will be reproduced.

SOUND:

We have complete sound for Chapter 5,6, and 10.  We have one reel each for Chapter 4,7,8,9.  That means we have no sound for Chap 1,2,3 at all and only half the sound for Chapters 4,7,8,9.  We have the original scripts for this.

David Wood has done restoration work on 5,6,10 and also a nearly finished Chap 9, R1.  We’re doing some more experiments on cleaning this up a little better.

I have been saying I hope to get this out by end of 2020.  It won’t be finished by then, but I’m trying.  I’ve been working on this since late October 2019 and so far have gotten just 5 reels with any significant progress.  That sounds worse than it is, because a lot of that time was upgrading computers, training people how to use software, and mostly figuring out how I could do this technically!

The Road Ahead

I touched on this a little in my newsletter, and if you didn’t see that, then you’ll want to sign up for it by emailing me.  No, it’s not on my website yet.  I know it needs to be.

A good friend of mine who runs a candy shop told me that he was at an impasse once.  He either needed to expand his business or close down.  I know exactly what he meant.  If that intrigues you, keep reading.

Some of you have complained about my blogs on these topics and called them “existential whining,” and if you’re in that camp, go ahead and skip this one because it’s going to be one of those.  On the other hand, many of you follow this just to see the struggles and successes of a guy who does this work.

I have been trying to figure out just why I am not being very successful doing film restorations.  Tommy Stathes ships my products, and he’ll be the first to tell you he’d like to move some of my stuff out of his cramped apartment.

I’ve gotta tell ya, I was super disappointed in the turnout I got for the free movies I did during the early part of the pandemic.  I was getting 20 and 30 viewers for some and 80-90 at the best.  I don’t think we ever topped 100.  Then, Ben Model keeps posting that he’s getting 1000 or more!  You’ve gotta hand it to Ben. He’s been doing the longest-running free movie show during the pandemic, and people love it. This was my big clue that  I must be doing something wrong!  I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m doing free movies, and rare stuff, during a pandemic, and I can’t get any views?  I was hoping to do a public service by doing these shows, and I thought they were good, but I eventually suspended them because they were literally more work than they were worth.  They weren’t helping my “brand,” I wasn’t getting donations, and it was taking time away from projects that DO pay.

So instead of becoming insanely jealous of Ben, which is tempting, I did what Ben does.  When Ben has a technical question, he sends me an email asking about it. I’m probably a good guy to consult with technical problems (especially if you want a long-winded answer.)

But you should never ask me about marketing problems.  Because I’m a marketing moron.  I consulted Ben, who is a Marketing Genius! and asked him for some tips. (In fairness, although Ben is really good at this, I’m way behind the curve on this kind of thing, so you can’t expect me to pull out of a dive immediately. My failures are my own, so don’t blame Ben for my goofiness.)

Ben steered me to Seth Godin, a marketing legend, and to Michael Boezi, who does his own podcast.  Now, I am frequently in the car and listen to podcasts (now even more often because I am shuttling disks between helpers working on my projects).  I started reading Godin’s blog, and I will freely admit that Godin annoys me.

I’m an engineer.  We deal in facts.  We want concrete answers.  You know, science.  Godin’s blog is all, RAH, RAH, you can do this!  Well, I don’t need RAH RAH, I need ideas!!!  If there are concrete ideas in there somewhere, I’ve missed them, because I got lost in the cheerleading.  I gave up. (I should probably reconsider this at some point… Godin annoyed me a lot less than Michael Bay has with his awful movies.)

I did a Godin spoof on my podcast.  (Please note that I also spoof ME a lot, which is one of my saving graces… like WC Fields, I make fun of everyone; no one is immune.)  Still, Boezi kind of crept in to my brain.  Remember, as an engineer, I have a pre-trained bias against marketing.  It’s not science: it’s squishy social stuff.  In fact, one of the guys who was helping me told me that I was a disloyal engineer for even listening to such a thing.  Marketing people, in his view, are evil.  They’re all Herb Tarlek.

What I like about Boezi is that he does have a fair number of concrete ideas.  I would say there’s a fairly low signal to noise ratio (translation for non-geeks: there’s not much content I find usable per episode), but that’s mostly because no one else really does quite what I do.

Wait, I hear you cry.  There are surely others.  Well, sorta.  I do high-end restorations at 2 and 4K. Many of them go back to archival film!  I go overboard on it. I focus on stuff that’s not out there, terribly damaged, or incomplete, and I do in-depth restorations of things I think are cool. In other words, if I don’t do it, it will never happen.  I know that I’m the only independent consultant goofy enough to go for National Film Preservation Foundation grants.  How do I know this?  They told me.  Yes, I’m nuts!

This is my take-away from listening to a bunch of shows, consulting with a bunch of people, and thinking a lot:

I need more product out there.  I know that I need more stuff to sell, but for one reason or another, it hasn’t happened.  This ridiculous King of the Kongo project has been on-again off-again for 8 years.  I have more projects than I can count that ALMOST happened, and I had literally given up on Kongo when Steve Stanchfield convinced me to go for it one last time.  I then thought that all my grant prospects had fallen through, but I swung for the fences and got it.  Now I’m obligated to finish it and all my other projects are on the back burner.  For notes on which projects I have going, see the end notes here.

I should blog more often and make them shorter.  Well, good luck on that.  I don’t think in sound bites, and I don’t write short blogs.  I think about things.  It’s like when Hitchcock was pressured to use a pop score for Torn Curtain, and Bernard Herrmann told him, “I don’t write pop scores.  You don’t make pop movies.”  If you want two-paragraph platitudes, I recommend Seth Godin’s blog.

I should do more podcasts and make them longer.  (Irony noted that my blogs are seen as too long and podcasts seen as too short!) The podcast is something I’ve seriously thought about discontinuing, and I have great trouble doing them regularly, but some of you really like them.  Oddly, the ones that get listeners are the ones that I do that cover stupid goofy stuff.  We sorta morphed into old-time radio sorts of things and both Glory and I enjoy that.  I guess the six of you who listen to these do, too.  The “straight” podcasts get about half the listeners (yeah, three).  No, seriously, we get maybe 50-75 listeners for an episode, which isn’t fantastic, but not bad.  The one thing I can say that is somewhat encouraging is that we do distinguish ourselves by making a podcast unlike any other film podcast.  Someone called it “the weirdest film podcast on the web!”  Who else would have a spoof of 2001 or an episode with Claude Rains playing a satanic lawyer?  We do.

My website needs re-tooling.  This is a fair call.  Boezi has several good ideas about optimizing web sites, none of which I’ve implemented.  I last updated my site a year or two ago, after learning that my text-heavy site alienated viewers.  (Just like my text-heavy blogs.)  I’m currently re-thinking this.

I need an email newsletter.  Ok, I hate email newsletters.  As I said in my first one, they always seem like they’re trying to sell me something and I HATE that.  I struggled a lot with doing a soft-sell one and I think I did it OK.  Of course, it was probably too soft-sell because I sold zero products!  But I get that it’s important for a lot of reasons, so we’ll do it.

I should sell stuff directly from my web site.  I agree.  My opinion of Amazon would not be fit for a blog that is supposed to be PG.  It might not even fit into an R-rated blog.  I don’t like them at all.  I will do this.

I take on too much work myself and need helpers.  Boy have I learned that this year.  Now I have two helpers.  But the problem is I can’t pay them anything.  I also learned that I need an uber-macho computer, so what I did was buy these guys fast computers with grant money and then have them pay the grant back in work.  It’s going OK.  The backlash here is that I need to do more work than I can pay for or that sales justify, so I’m looking at forming a non-profit.  

My own self-assessments have proven wrong and that continues.  I was thinking that I was a total loser at this stuff and had screwed up everything I’d tried.  I also thought I was reaching a sum total of NO ONE and that people didn’t really care about my work.  What’s been very touching this year is the outpouring of support I’ve gotten from a lot of you, including some cash (blush) that I didn’t expect.  (I should probably do a whole blog post on this. I did an outdoor movie show and a woman came up to me, crying, thanking me for bringing my movie shows back. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had this year.) I have also learned that a lot of people have trouble setting up web sites, Amazon stores, blogs, and podcasts.  Well, I’ve DONE all that.

It’s just that I built it and no one came.  I’ve got to fix that.  I’ll work on it.  The upshot of the candy store analogy is that I realize now that I’m not really successful here, so either I have to finish Kongo and hang it up, or I need to get some funding to have 3-4 people helping me.  Like the candy store, I have to either expand or close.

Now, just FWIW, here’s a partial list of stuff that I couldn’t get off the ground before Kongo:

The White Tiger (1923) I wanted to merge my print with UCLA’s.  No traction with UCLA.  Universal did it recently, probably without my print.  I had mine scanned for archival use and nothing happened. Thanks, UCLA.

Rocky Jones Lost Pilot (1951) I scanned this.  We only have 2 of 3 reels, but it’s cool.  I’m hoping to get a 3rd helper to get this out for me.

Willis O’Brien shorts (1915-30). I love these and they’re hard to find.  Got them scanned, no time to clean up at this point.  Considering skipping them: this got the lowest rating of any of the shows I did, even with brand new scores.  Sometimes you guys don’t love the same stuff that I love!

Lupino Lane shorts (1920s).  This ALLLLMOST happened.  I was planning to collaborate with Dave Glass on this right before Kongo showed up and then I couldn’t do it.  Some of the prints are warped in such a way that I can’t easily fix them.  I still have a bunch and it’s near the top of the list.

Ella Cinders (1926) this has never been put on Blu-ray in a good way.  I tracked several prints (original Kodascopes) and was arranging to have them scanned.  I’ve also found some stills and the original score.  I think we could do a decent reconstruction of what this was including missing footage.  No budget, no time.

Alice in Wonderland/The Horror (1931/3). Several people are pestering me about this.  I was about to get Alice scanned before the pandemic started, but we ran out of time.  There’s also a print of Intolerance of 1933 at MoMA which would be a perfect thing for triple feature.  All Bud Pollard, one of the most bizarre filmmakers ever.

Thunder Over Texas/I Can’t Escape (1934/3) Edgar Ulmer double feature!  Immediately before the pandemic, I had Thunder scanned, but I will need another print because some of it was warped fairly badly and didn’t scan well.  We had most of I Can’t Escape scanned, but not quite ready.

Dynamite Dan/The Midnight Girl (1924/5) Karloff and Lugosi before sound!  I commissioned a new score for Dynamite Dan (Kodascope) and I was never able to get Midnight Girl scanned.  I think this would be a cool one.

So you see, I had a lot of irons in the fire.  They just all got cold!

Update on King of the Kongo

Boris Karloff shows up in Chapter 9. This is only slightly restored; we’re in the middle of this process.

I’m posting this in various groups that are asking me about this.  If you follow me on the Dr. Film page, you may have heard some of this, but it’s worth reading because there’s new information in here too.

THE PROJECT:

King of the Kongo is the first sound serial, made in 1929.  Although it’s been on video for years, the prints available are really bad, and they were all made from the sound version without the sound discs, so not only does it look bad, but doesn’t make sense without the sound.

It’s not a great film, but it’s fun.  I think it was partly the inspiration for Son of Kong, which also takes place in a wrecked temple, has a gorilla, jewels, and some dinosaurs in it.  Other than that, they’re different!

It’s also the first time Boris Karloff has dialogue in a sound film.  It’s his second sound film, the first being Behind that Curtain, which came out about a month earlier, although he has no real dialogue in that.

I’ve been working on this since 2011, and I bought a print of the film in 1989!  I have collected as many sound discs as survive on this one.  The entire picture survives, but only some of the sound.  Keep reading.

THE HISTORY:

King of the Kongo was released in late summer 1929 to a lot of ballyhoo.  It was released as a sound-on-disc only and it was called a “wild animal serial.”  True to their word, there are lions, cheetahs, “gorillas,” “dinosaurs,” and elephants in the film.  There was a silent version offered, but I have found no record that it actually played anywhere in the silent version.

In the 1950s, two collectors found a beaten up nitrate print with no sound discs and made a run of 16mm prints.  I spoke to one of the collectors who made these prints.  There are a few of these in private hands.  I think there were only 5-6 made.  I bought one of these prints.  The lab work is, shall we say, questionable.

Several video companies released various copies of the film mastered from various prints in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2011, I discovered that the print I had bought in 1989 was actually the sound version.  I had only dimly considered it for a restoration project, but the curiosity got me to contact Ron Hutchinson, who sent me copies of several sound discs he had.

I did a Kickstarter to restore Chapter 5, and subsequently restored Chapter 6 and 10 with National Film Preservation Foundation grants.  Each chapter is two reels (each reel lasting about 10 min), and there’s a talking sequence (about 2-3 min) in each reel.  The rest of each reel is silent with a music and effects track.  So far, the sound survives for about half the serial: Chapter 4 (one reel), Chapter 5 (both reels), Chapter 6 (both reels), Chapter 7 (one reel) Chapter 8 (one reel), Chapter 9 (one reel) and Chapter 10 (both reels).  The script for the entire film survives.

As I was finishing up the work on the last of the NFPF grant work, word came to me that there was a stock film library that had the entire film in 35mm.  Given that what I had was from beaten up 16mm prints made in the 1950s, the idea that there was nitrate was of some surprise.

THE CURRENT PROJECT:

I had been negotiating with the owner of the stock film library and the Library of Congress (where the stock film library is now held) since 2015.  The length of time this has taken has led many to believe that I’m an evil hoarder who will never release this material.  I just felt there wasn’t really cause to release what I had if there was a chance of getting better material, really four generations better than what I’d restored.

This year, I got all the details worked out, and we went through the whole film.  In one state or another most of it survives in 35mm.  We still have only 10 of the 21 reels of sound, but that’s not changed in several years.

The LoC currently has 47 reels of material on the film, and, amazingly, much of this is original camera negative!  Given that this was a Mascot serial, later a part of Republic, the master negatives should have burned with the bulk of the Republic and Mascot material in the great Fox nitrate fire of 1937.  Just how this survived is a mystery.

So we’re trying to restore the entire film with the best surviving material from each chapter, the best surviving sound material from each chapter, and using actors to recreate the missing sound.

WHERE WE ARE ON IT: 

I am restoring the whole film at 4K right now.  The Library of Congress is still in the process of scanning materials.  I’ve only seen about 1/3 of the material so far.  I have a grant that covers most of the cost of the actors and the blu-ray mastering, but the whole process at 4K is REALLY SLOW, and there’s a lot of damage in the film (keep reading).  I’m hoping to have a release of this on Blu-ray in 2020.  The grant I have is barely going to cover expenses, which means I’m going to have to do a lot of the work myself instead of farming it out while I do only the most critical work.  This just means it takes longer, but it’s happening.  FINALLY.

So far, I’ve rendered preliminary passes of Chapter 7, 9 and 10.  I’ve discovered that there’s a section of Chapter 9 that’s rotted out and will have to be replaced from 16mm.  Also, the surviving 35mm of Chapter 10 is missing the cliffhanger resolution and will have to be restored from 16mm. Even though we’re working from stunningly sharp negative on most of this, the negative is deteriorating.  There are glue splices that are starting to rot and there’s flickery decomposition throughout most reels.  I’m working with animation historian Steve Stanchfield to remove most of this, one more pass through restoration programs I wasn’t expecting.

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED:

This film really has some beautiful photography in it.  This aspect of the film has been missing in the horrible dupes that have been available for many years.  You can tell that some of it was shot on location and in a hurry in those scenes, so the lighting there is kinda hit or miss, but the interior scenes are very well done with some atmospheric lighting.

Some of the scenes in Chapter 6 were originally tinted!  Pretty amazing.  The negative has tinting instructions in it.

The temple scenes, credited with being shot at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, were inserted from camera negative shot in 1922 and 1927.  These shots, by and large, are responsible for a lot of the deterioration.  Apparently, producer Nat Levine just bought this negative and then had costumes made to “match cut” in with the footage of his actors shot in California.  The closer temple shots in California are shot in some deteriorating building, and I think it’s a Spanish mission.

WHAT I AM HOPING TO DO:

I’ll have a restoration commentary on this (that seemed to work well on Little Orphant Annie), and I’d like to have some guest commentators on this so I’m not shouldering a three-hour yawn fest of me telling you that this is from print one or print six.  I’ve contacted a whole swath of people and I’m hoping to have a number of them provide some good insights here.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD:

There is another entity trying to release King of the Kongo on DVD/Blu-ray.  They have been spreading bad will in social media and the collector network.  If you have heard that I am hoarding material or if I am out after a cash grab on this for my own glory, this is not true.  The actual answer is that I’m bordering on psycho for working on this as much as I have!  I’ll be lucky to break even!

I don’t go for trashing other people in public forums, so I wish these guys well, and I hope they continue their work in restoring other serials.  I have no idea why they are so upset with me, but it’s been pretty nasty in some circles.  If they release King of the Kongo in their group, you have my blessing to buy it.  Maybe they’ll have some cool stuff I missed.

No, I will not be working with them.  Sorry, life is too short.

Karloff threatened by a gorilla in this, um, well, you’ve gotta love it.
Close-up from Chapter 9. This is from original camera negative
Larry Steers discovers jewels in European settings while searching through a Spanish Mission doubling for a Cambodian Temple, all of which is supposed to be taking place in Africa. OK, it’s not too accurate.

On Marvel and Snobbery

First off, let’s take this on a micro level. On the level of individuals and individual taste.

There’s been a lot of huff lately because Martin Scorsese has been on record saying that he thinks Marvel movies “aren’t cinema.” Francis Ford Coppola has backed him up. The backlash is that people are now saying that anyone who doesn’t like the Marvel films is a snob.

Wait a second. We’re all snobs. And we have to be. It’s self-defense.

All you have to do is scroll through Netflix and see the endless movies that are on there, and realize that it represents only a fraction of the movies produced and the ones that are available. If you sat and watched them all day, you’d never get to the end of it. You have to be your own filter.

You have to say, “I like this kind of film, and I don’t like that kind of film.” It’s that simple. It’s the way we eliminate things. It’s stereotyping, and it’s inherently unfair. And it’s snobbish.

And before you say, “Stereotyping is always bad,” remember that stereotyping has probably saved your life today. We all do it. We do it to save time and energy. You’re out driving and you think, “that van driver is an idiot. He’s weaving badly,” and you avoid him. A minute later and he veers into your lane, and you were right. You stereotyped him as an idiot, it was probably unfair, and you saved your life because of it. You may not have even been aware of it. Movies are the same way.

I filter movies in the same sort of way, and you probably do, too. I hate seeing the same thing over and over again. I hate getting 2/3 of the way through a movie and knowing how it’s going to end. You know the drill:

The killer monster isn’t REALLY dead, and he’s coming back for you…

The guy we thought was the cattle rustler isn’t really the cattle rustler, and the bad guy is actually a good guy.

James Bond gets out of a deadly situation because the bad guy comes up with some convoluted plan instead of JUST SHOOTING HIM.

The gangster is an emotionally constipated guy who is ruthless and deadly, and eventually causes a violent gang war in the last act of the film…

I hate movies like this. If I think they’re going to be completely predictable, I will skip them. My definition of a good movie is something that has me guessing by the last act. Charlie Kaufman films are good movies in my book. Sometimes I don’t even know what the hell they’re about even after I’ve left the theater.

So I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of Marvel Comics movies. They’re cookie-cutter movies, following the rules of Save the Cat, and I’d rather skip them. I know people will yell at me about this and tell me that I’ve never seen any of them, so how would I know?

Well, that’s kinda the point. I actually have seen some of them, in parts. I saw part of one of the Spider-Man movies by Sam Raimi. I like Raimi as a filmmaker, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The movie was not only predictable, but the CGI effects were idiotic and ruined the entire picture. They were so idiotic that I thought the animation in the old Filmation Spiderman shows was superior. That’s not a compliment to Filmation.

And now, they’ve rebooted it, what, twice? No, thanks. I assume the CGI is better now, but it needs to be a lot better and the plots a lot more interesting before I’m in.

Have I always been against superheroes? Well, no. I cut my teeth on the old George Reeves Superman shows, and I loved the old Batman shows with Adam West. Those were done in the accepted old way where we said, “Hey, these are comics, we can’t take it seriously, and so let’s be silly with it.” And the serious comic fans hated that (the Batman series much more so than the Superman series.)

In 1978, there was a reboot of Superman with Christopher Reeve. Reeve was a magnificent actor, and he did a lot with the part we hadn’t seen before. Moreover, they took the tone somewhat more seriously—it played more like a James Bond picture. There’s no coincidence there: the screenwriter was Tom Mankiewicz, who had written some of the Bond pictures in the early 70s.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the superhero movies piqued my interest. It was Tim Burton’s reboot of the Batman character. It wasn’t patterned after the comics, but it was reworked as a film noir/German Expressionist kind of film. It was a complete departure from what had been done before. Sign me up. Let’s give it a shot. I wasn’t the only one: lines were around the block just to see the trailer for this one. We all thought it would be a joke with comedic actor Michael Keaton in the lead, and we were wrong.

In 1992, he followed it up with a better version of the story, making it even MORE German Expressionistic (I’m a sucker for that), and we had a character named after 1920s German actor Max Schreck. I’m on board. But Burton’s vision was too dark for Warners, so they hired director Joel Schumacher to take over, and he camped it up again. Yawn.

Since then, the now-rebooted-twice DC universe has been in a race to be as dark as possible and as kid-unfriendly as it can be. The dark tone gets ridiculous because it’s so overdone. I generally like Christopher Nolan’s movies, but his Batman epics are, in my opinion, unwatchable. Too much cut-cut-cut spastic editing, too dark, and no characterization. Not interesting.

So I’ve written off both the DC universe and the Marvel universe. I guess the reasons are slightly different, but I still don’t care.

But that’s OK. I write off lots of stuff. I think Martin Scorsese is a great director, but I don’t like gory violence in movies, and I think gangster movies are so clichéd that I can’t stand them. Scorsese’s non-gangster movies (like Hugo or The Aviator) are excellent, but once I see DeNiro in the cast, I start to wonder if I want to see it.

I know a lot of people love gangster movies, but I have always thought the best one was The Public Enemy in 1931, which set the limits for every one to follow, and still has the most brutal ending of any gangster movie I’ve ever seen (even though they couldn’t show spurting guts in color, it’s still brutal.)

The pattern is always the same: Young upstart takes over the underworld, he’s emotionally constipated, can’t relate to anyone, very cold, and he fights, claws, and kills his way to the top. At the end, there’s a gang war and he’s either triumphant or is killed, depending on this slight variation.

The Godfather films are a nicely made version of this, and we have two characters in the films who play this plot out. Then there’s Goodfellas and Casino and The Departed and… I didn’t watch them. If they’re substantially different, then someone tell me and I’ll skip past the spurting guts.

Someone told me about The Sopranos and I thought, WOW, this must be finally the new wrinkle in the gangster stories I’ve hoped for. With the introduction of the psychologist character and a gangster who has emotional issues, I thought it might be something new. It was, but only for a while. They finally decided that Tony Soprano was a sociopath and was going to keep killing people anyway. And that sucked, because why would a sociopath seek counseling? They think they’re better than everyone else from the start… they would never talk to a counselor. I skipped the last couple of seasons.

So, if you’re keeping score, I’ve just written off the Marvel universe, the DC universe, and a lot of Scorsese and Coppola. I must be a super snob. I’ve spent about 1300 words defending my positions for disliking all these films and I’m now ready to completely refute my argument. Well, maybe not refute it, but I’ll definitely reframe it.

Because now, we’re going to transfer ourselves into the macro universe. The big picture, where we talk about cinema itself, the audience, and the direction of art. Not about individual preferences.

It doesn’t matter what I think.

It doesn’t matter what you think.

It doesn’t particularly matter what Scorsese and Coppola think.

Here’s the problem: whether you like the superhero films or not, they are cinema. They may be cinema we don’t like, but they’re cinema. The problem is that the superhero movies are crowding out everything else from theaters. This is by design. They see teenagers as ones who will buy merchandise (they make more money from that than tickets), and they see anyone outside that demographic as irrelevant. It is by design that I’m turned off by too many superhero movies.

I spoofed this in one of my podcasts where Dr. Film went to the multiplex to see Stan and Ollie and everything playing there was a superhero movie. (Incidentally, the reason I positioned the Dr. Film character as a film superhero was just to spoof this kind of thing. The podcast episode has me turning into a superhero to complain about superheroes. It’s a joke on a joke. Sorry I had to explain that!)

And this points up a bigger problem: what the hell is the world of cinema coming to when Martin Scorsese can barely get a film into the multiplex? Coppola can’t do it, either.

We’re at a point were Netflix is controlling the world of movies (they financed Scorsese’s latest picture), and Netflix has yet to decide whether they’re only a streaming service or a theatrical distributor AND a streaming service.

Meryl Streep has complained that we’ve catered films to teenage boys because they are the most reliable audience for theatrical movie. She’s right, and gee whiz, what did we get? Superhero movies.

We don’t have a wide audience going to movies because we’re catering to teens. The teens don’t know how to behave in movies, so they’re rude. They drive out the older folks. Add that to badly maintained projectors and theaters, and we have a microcosm of what’s wrong with movies today.

I don’t hate superhero movies. I don’t particularly want to see them, and that’s by design. The trouble is that we need variety back in theaters. We need the voices of Scorsese and Coppola. Hell, even Roger Corman. I’d rather see them come back than one more reboot of Spider-Man.

A Reflection on Ten Years at Garfield

Some guy introducing a movie at Garfield Park Art Center last year. Looks like a long film!

I generally avoid talking about my local exploits on the Dr. Film blog, because I know I have to pitch for a national or international audience. I don’t get enough local traction to stay in business! However, this is a special case, and it touches on a lot of ideas that are universal. A lot of it deals with how we perceive and build audiences.

When I became a full-time film geek in 2004, I had no idea how I was going to do it. I went to various places and told them I would like to run a film series. I got the same guff from most of them:

“We only want to run movies from the last ten years.”

“Indianapolis audiences are not sophisticated enough to support classic films.”

“You can only do something like this in Carmel (the rich suburb north of Indianapolis), where people support the arts.”

“If we’re not getting 50 or 75 people, then we’re not getting enough, and we’ll shut it down.”

These arguments annoyed me. Frankly, they still annoy me. I got several places to give me a chance, but they shut me down after a few shows. They didn’t know how to promote it, and they didn’t get enough people, and they just stopped.

Even more annoying were the places that would start having me do shows and see some limited success, then going with this idea: “Eric charges us, so we can download stuff from archive.org and just run that instead of having him here, and then we save money.” Without exception, those have died out too.

I’d like to think it’s because of my smiling face, but the reality is that people don’t want to leave the house anymore, and you have to give them a good reason to do it. What I’m giving them is a special show, some history, and a behind-the-scenes introduction. I try really hard not to run junk prints, and I always run on film, usually material that’s not just super easy to find elsewhere. Either that, or I’ll run a long version or a Technicolor print that you can’t see at home. In short, they’re seeing a curated movie series. And people respond to that.

People also respond to seeing films in an audience setting. I think that this is an endangered art form. We’re perilously close to losing the audience experience and replacing it with sitting in front of our 60” screen. That has advantages: no rude patrons, phone conversations, etc, but older films (and especially silents) were designed as a participatory shared experience. The Marx Brothers films, to name just one example, are timed for audience response. There are dead spots you’ll find if you watch them alone.

So in doing this work, I’m not only preserving films, but I’m preserving a way of watching films. This is a critical thing for me. I put the message, “Go out and see an old movie,” as the last title in the Dr. Film pilot. Yes, I believe in it that strongly. I can’t tell you the number of times I watched a movie with an audience—one I’d seen before—and it came alive for me, whereas is just sat there like a lump when I saw it at home.

As I continued doing film work, I moved more and more toward preservation and less and less toward doing movie shows. Movie shows are just too hard. The venues don’t want to deal with me, and you’re just spitting into the wind most of the time. I get tired of the same arguments, running Wizard of Oz and Casablanca to the exclusion of anything else.

There’s a fear that arts organizations have, and a certain cynicism. The fear is they can’t attract an audience, and they have to run only a sort of “best of” for a film series. The cynicism is that they don’t think the audiences are smart enough to deal with anything else than a “best of.” I continually am amazed at the idea that no audience will embrace anything older than the 80s. I call it the “Let’s run Ferris Bueller” mentality. It’s one reason I have steadfastly refused to run anything newer than Star Wars when I pick the films. Why? Because you can see those films easily, and you know them. Why run them again? (OK, it might be nice to see an occasional one in an audience setting, but not all the time, please.)

I’m in the business of selling a special experience, something you can’t easily get at home. I’m sure that Ferris Bueller is running somewhere 24/7 on some channel. I don’t need to show it to you again. I will run a “war horse” occasionally, but it’s got to be a special case: I got a nice Technicolor print of Singin’ in the Rain and those are holy grails for film geeks. It doesn’t look like that on video.

That fun in recapturing the thrill of a theatrical performance keeps film series alive. On the other hand, what kills a film series is inconsistency: you run too sporadically, and people don’t find you. You also have to promote it correctly or people won’t find you either.

And that brings me to why Garfield is so special: they put up with all this and stayed with it. They promoted properly, and they were willing to deal with the slowly rising curve of audiences finding us. A number of other people have approached me about doing film series: a place in Carmel told me they could only run films that were related to “the great American songbook,” another couple of places started off with me and then decided to run a selection of all Disney classics, and another place set up a beautiful film theater (in part at my direction) and instead runs The Goonies and Ferris Bueller from Blu-ray several times a year. I see it as a waste of potential and an assumption that audiences are ossified into the 80s. People are and more diverse than this. (For the record, I loved Ferris Bueller but The Goonies makes me gag.)

When I started at Garfield in September of 2009, we had four people. It was a selection of shorts. When we ran the first feature, Our Town (1940), we had four people again. The director at Garfield Park Art Center at the time, Tom Weidenbach, told me that he was impressed that I’d picked an appropriate movie for his Day of the Dead celebration and wanted to stay with this. It was incredibly brave. For the next several months, we struggled with low crowds, but we stayed with it.

“Staying with it” for so long has allowed me to run a wide variety of films. I’ve run westerns, musicals, crime dramas, comedies, great films, and terrible films. The oldest film we ever ran was The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots from 1893 or 4 (depending on your source) and the newest was Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger from 1977. That showing of Sinbad was the most popular in terms of one-off attendance, but we got repeated requests to re-run certain titles: the record is The Great Rupert (1949) which we’ve run three times (and we still have some requests to repeat it again). I love to run silent films (we always have a live score) because I think silents are great with an audience and so few of them are ever seen.

Today, we’ll get a consistent audience of 30-50 people at a Garfield showing. That may not seem fantastic, but for an Indianapolis showing, it’s great. There’s an unfortunate local cultural bias that no art happens south of Washington Street in Indianapolis, and it’s just not true. Now that the Red Line buses stop near the park, I’m hoping attendance goes up.

We upgraded screens a few years ago, thanks to donor Scott Keller and metal sculptor/designer Todd Bracik. I bought new projectors from a place in Florida, and they’re regularly maintained (often because they BREAK) by a guy in Detroit. And we’re shooting for year 11 for 2020!

Thank you to all the directors of the Garfield Park Art Center who supported this through the years:

Tom Weidenbach

Lesley Alanna

Susan Grade

Megan Fetter

Kavita Mahoney

You helped make this the longest-running classic film show in Indianapolis.

Aaaaand, I answer your questions…

This is the original negative for Reel 2 of King of the Kongo. As good as it gets! Taken at the Library of Congress, June 2019.

Q1: It’s been a long time since you’ve written a blog. You’re still on Facebook periodically. What are you doing?

I’ve been working on things. I’m hoping to get King of the Kongo going someday soon, but it’s been a problem. I’m working on some other projects too. I’ve hit a ton of roadblocks, and I’m even hitting some now. It’s been frustrating. (If you’re a newbie, King of the Kongo is a project I’ve been working on since 2011. It’s the first sound serial, and I restored three chapters of it before I discovered that there is better material out there and it can be upgraded.)

Q2: What’s the deal with King of the Kongo? Why not just release what you have?

I was on the cusp of doing just that last year when Steve Stanchfield convinced me to make one last run at the 35mm. There’s a 35mm at the Library of Congress, which is kind of a mess, but mostly complete. I’ve looked at it and it’s really nice for the most part. There’s even a lot of original negative in it. The 35mm has what’s called a donor restriction on it, meaning that the donor regulates who has access to it, even though it’s held at the Library. Confusing? Welcome to my world.

Q3: Well, we’re your supporters. Do a Kickstarter and get it out there.

It’s not that simple. Doing a quick budget run on it made me realize that it was going to cost more than I could raise on Kickstarter. We needed to pay the donor at Library of Congress a large access fee and that was a bugaboo. She named a fee and then I had to scramble to find ways to raise that money.

Q4: Did you find some?

Yes, the Efroymson Fund very kindly awarded me a grant last year, but then I had trouble raising the donor and then I’ve had trouble with some of the intricacies at the Library of Congress. They’re great, but it’s a process. There’s been lot of red tape I’ve had to get through in order even to start this. I was considering starting another Kickstarter to raise even MORE money.

Q5: Are you going to?

Not right now. It’s not just super easy to do this work. You have to get a lot of people on board, you have to get grant agencies on board, etc. There’s no way that I could recover the production costs of King of the Kongo without getting grant money or Kickstarter money to do it. It just doesn’t make sense. If some of the arrangements I’ve made fall through, then yes, I will do another Kickstarter, but we’ll see.

Q6: Well, there’s another organization that’s wanting to release it, and they’ve been putting out flyers…

Yes, I know about that. It’s one of those things that bugs me. I would have liked to work with these guys, but they seem to think I’m the bad guy for some reason, and that I want lots of money. I can’t imagine why anyone would think I want lots of money for a project like this, but they seem to. It’s sad, really.

Q7: Well, why not pool resources and work with them, just swallow hard and do it for the good of film preservation?

I’d like to, and I did try, but the response I got was being trashed personally and professionally in letters and public forums. I cut people a wide swath, and I don’t care if you trash me personally to my face, but when you take it public, and you damage my reputation in ways that cost me money, I draw the line. I actually get criticism for being TOO WILLING to work with some people, but these guys, no. I can’t. I honestly wish things were different.

Q8: So when it Kongo coming out?

I have no idea. It will come out when it comes out. I’m right now waiting for some scans to start trickling in. This has become a really epic project that seems to have a life of its own. The good news is that, unless we find more sound, this will be probably close to the end of it, because we found a lot of original negative.

Q9: What other projects are you working on?

Well, I was trying to get a disc out with some of my really rare animation films on it. I’ve been working on that since the first of the year. The project seems to have stalled and I’m not sure when it will come out, if at all.

Q10: Kickstarter?

Maybe. But I can’t do a Kickstarter until I know that I can actually do this project. Otherwise, I risk raising funds for a project I’m not sure I can deliver.

Q11: Anything else?

Yes, I’m working on getting some Lupino Lane films ready to release. I’ve been working on some scans I got from Library of Congress. Thad Komorowski has been doing some work for me even this week on it. I’ve got to get some technical hurdles fixed on this one before it comes out, too. Otherwise, it won’t be good enough.

Q12: Why not just release what you’ve got?

I may have to, but I really try to make these things look as nice as possible. One of the problems I have is that I’m willing to take on projects that are a little less commercial and where mint condition materials do not survive. (I’m attracted to these projects, because I know if I don’t do them, then no one else will.) This opens me up for criticism about doing sub-par work. The Lupino Lane films, by and large, survive in choppy 16mm 1920s Kodascopes and copies of choppy 1920s Kodascopes. They will never look fantastic, but they should look a lot better than they do.

Q13: Why do you care about the criticism? Just do the work!

I have to care about it somewhat, because people jump in and trash you and then you have the reputation for turning in 3rd-rate work, which hurts your sales. In a lot of cases that I work on, perfection isn’t an option, and it’s not even close to an option. Little Orphant Annie has sections in it that look kinda soft. They always will. There are a couple of shots where I have to cut to inferior material right in the middle of a scene, because footage was missing in every other print. But it’s complete and in order, and I’m proud that we were able to get that accomplished. It’s as good as that film can look now. I still have 400 copies of Annie sitting in my living room and I can use the space, so I need to worry about the criticism a little bit.

Q14: Why do you do a long blog occasionally instead of what Seth Godin says, doing a short blog often?

Seth Godin would faint at my marketing practices. I write blogs when I can (right now I’m inspecting a print of The Front Page as I write this), and it’s in chunks. I also have a visceral reaction against the flippant, now, now, now, short, short, short mentality we’ve developed as a culture. I like to take my time and develop things. That’s why I love the folks who’ve read this far. Thank you. (BTW, you can listen to the podcast and hear us spoof ourselves and Seth Godin a little bit.)

Q15: Speaking of Annie, why haven’t you sold it to TCM? Wouldn’t that help you?

I don’t think it’s going to happen, guys. It was in the hopper a bit over a year ago, but it dropped off the radar when Filmstruck died. I’d talked to them about a number of other projects, too. It was just the wrong time. And I’m not sure the right time is going to happen again. I’d like to be wrong on this.

Q16: Why haven’t you tried getting funding for King of the Kongo through TCM or releasing it through Kino?

Who says I haven’t? Kino was very positive about this project and wanted to help, but the numbers just didn’t make sense. TCM was just plain not interested. I suspect that if I can get it out there, then TCM may perk up, but right now I’m a super-niche releasing guy and I have only one major title in my hopper. I’m beneath their notice, and, frankly, I probably should be. I’ve got to get more product out there in general, and I just haven’t. (I’m not averse to going through places like Kino in general, and they released my prints of two major titles last year for their Outer Limits sets. They’ve been winning awards, too, including the Rondo and Saturn awards. However, unlike me, Kino is not just plain nuts, and they can’t go releasing projects willy-nilly that no one will buy!)

Q17: Didn’t you say something about a blu-ray of Ella Cinders and some restored footage?

Yes, it’s in the hopper. I’ve located multiple prints of the Kodascope and we should be able to create stunning material on it, and there will be no cut footage, but maybe stills. If I had a staff of 5-6 people and a budget for scanning, I’d be on that right now. There’s script for the complete film and an original score that survives. But I can’t get to it just now.

Q18: Well, we support you! We know that it would be easier to get more films out of you if you had more cash coming in. Why don’t you do a Patreon so we can support that?

I’ve been considering this, but the bugaboo I have is that I need to provide something monthly or quarterly to Patreon subscribers, and I have no idea what that would be. These things are like earthquakes. You may not have any action for years, and then suddenly everything breaks loose. If any of you have ideas on how to do a Patreon successfully and keep subscribers happy, I’d love to hear it!

I honestly love you guys for the support I’ve had. We’re in a best of times, worst of times Dickensian conundrum these days. In terms of the access and technology to present these films, it’s the best of times. In terms of the marketability of the films, it’s pretty awful. Markets are drying up faster than we can fill the void. That’s why I love you guys so much. You’ve supported my work through a failed TV pilot, into a blog and now into a weird podcast and restoration work. It’s been a wild ride!