The Passion of Dr. Film

I published an update on the status of King of the Kongo recently that detailed how we’re out of money on the Kickstarter project.  Many of you wrote and suggested I start a GoFundMe to keep going.

I’m hesitant to do that because I know that GoFundMe campaigns are often perceived as “cash grabs,” and I don’t want to be seen that way.  But let me tell you how you can help.  I’ll do it by relating some long, boring stories, just the kind of stuff I’m famous for!

Like Napoleon, I am fighting battles on more than one front.  I hope that’s the only thing I have in common with Napoleon!  One of the fronts is a battle for a bit of respect in the marketplace.

A couple of times in the last year, I did restoration work on some films.  I didn’t do the entire restorations, only consulted, but they were films I thought were important.  I really am doing Kongo full time, but still, occasionally, things come my way that I can’t entirely ignore.  I was hoping to release at least one of those on video on the Dr. Film label to increase its visibility, but I got the same response from both folks, to wit:

“You’re not important enough to release this.  We want to go to a more important seller to sell this film.”

Well, that’s pretty insulting, but I get it.  They want to get the maximum exposure from the biggest audience.  However, both films are what I’d call “marginal” in the marketplace, things that wouldn’t sell a lot no matter who releases them.

One of the reasons I want to start a non-profit organization is to be able to release such “marginal” films without taking a bath on them.  Places like Kino or ClassicFlix have to be wary of the fact that many of their titles won’t clear a profit.  But that doesn’t make them less important to release.  They need to be seen!

The problem here is that a lot of these films aren’t popular because no one has seen them—and no one has seen them because they’re not popular.  It’s a circular conundrum, but it’s death for many lesser known titles.  They need someone to champion them in order to get the audience that they deserve—or indeed, any audience.

The popular legend is that I’m obsessed with King of the Kongo to the detriment of all else.  I’m not.  I’ve got several cards up my sleeve.  I’ve wanted to start my own independent DVD label for some years. It wasn’t enough to release Little Orphant AnnieAnnie suffers from a couple of problems: people incorrectly think it’s related to the comic strip and the musical, and there have been so many crappy transfers of it in the public domain that it’s got a bad reputation that it certainly doesn’t deserve.

I was hoping that Kongo would be the key to keep the label going.  When we started it, I had no idea the serial was in such bad shape.  I figured we’d be on it for six or eight months and then release it.  But that was impossible. 

See, I told you that I wanted to start a label that people took seriously.  If I had released Kongo on a just-good-enough-to-watch basis, it wouldn’t have helped that goal. When I got reviews in from some of my other work, two reviews really bugged me.  I don’t take a lot of criticism seriously, because I know they are only opinions, but sometimes a serious but wrong opinion will sink a film.  One of the reviews was Fritzi Kramer’s review of Little Orphant Annie, which is still the first review you see of Annie on IMDb.  Fritzi’s review is flippant and dismissive, and it hurts the film.

I have no problem with being flippant and dismissive, because I do that all the time.  But in the case of Fritzi’s review, it has made a lot of people leery of buying the film or giving it a chance.  I hear it all the time when people talk about it.  “Movies Silently said this was an awful movie!”  And she never even bothered to watch my restoration! Rather, she saw only some of the awful out-of-sequence prints that were already out there.  It’s hurt my chances of starting a label.  Suffice to say, I will not be sending her a review copy of King of the Kongo.

The other review that bothered me was David Pearson, who likes to follow me on to various sites and complain that I don’t know what I’m doing about restoration, and that if they’d only hired him to restore the color scene from Seven Chances, then it would have been perfect.

It’s true the color scene was in rough shape—even after I’d finished it—but he complained that it looked awful.  A couple of other people told me that same thing.  One of them even claimed he almost shut off the disc because the color scene looked so bad.  This was a project I was proud to work on, but it annoyed some people. The problem was (as I have said many times) that there was not enough time to make the color scene look perfect, and I did the best possible in the extremely short time allotted–or it wouldn’t be color at all.  That doesn’t matter.  Perfection is the only goal.

I learned a couple of things from this:

  1. People will sink your work for reasons that are ridiculous and unfair.
  2. People expect visual perfection from restored films even if perfection is difficult or impossible.

So imagine me sitting with a disk full of Kongo material late in 2019.  I’d paid nearly half my grant money just to access it.  And it looked AWFUL.  We didn’t know that when we inspected it–it was impossible to discern on a rewind stand.

If I had released it with the same level of restoration that we gave Annie, which is what I’d budgeted for, it would have been terrible, and the David Pearsons of the world would have been all over me like Sydney Greenstreet on Elisha Cook.

I can’t give the grant money back.  I spent it.  I’ve got to trudge forward or else I have nothing to release.  And I know that I need it to keep my label going.  That’s why I have continued with this seemingly endless project.  That’s why I’ve had to invent new ways of fixing damage in order to accomplish anything.  It’s why I’ve needed to buy computers for massive processing power. Now, you know some of this if you’ve been following my work (and listening to me “whine” as some people call it).  

But Kongo isn’t coming out for a while yet and I’m out of cash again.  Yes, I got screwed over big time by the professional lip readers and a few other things, too, but we were in there trying.  I’ve been busting my butt on this for years now.  Frankly, I’m wearing out helpers and annoying consultants, but believe me, I really want to get this done!

So how can you help?

Let’s not do a GoFundMe.  Instead, buy some copies of Little Orphant Annie.  Buy some copies of the Milan films.  Buy some copies of Cinema Gems.  Heck, if you’re adventurous, buy a copy or two of my novel, A Fearful Thing to Love. 

That’s not me just being greedy for cash.  It does help me keep going, but it also sends a signal to people that I’m serious about this work and we’re a force to be reckoned with, not just some crank to be ignored.  It honestly helps me more than a GoFundMe would. (And frankly, I don’t say no to donations, but they are not, as yet, tax deductible.)

Also, if you’re in that delightful group that already has copies of all this stuff, then do me another favor that also helps me: tell a friend or two about this.

And that goes to the second battle I’m fighting.  Remember I said I’m fighting a battle on two fronts?  The first is for respect.  The second is for an audience.

I went to hire an artist to help illustrate some of my work a few weeks ago.  I already had a short DVD opening movie that I created.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s here:  

I showed it to the artist, a film fan.  He watched it blankly.  I told him that it was a spoof of 2001.  He told me that he never watched movies that old.  They were boring.

(I’ve since been told that my DVD intro is too long and boring anyway.  Everyone’s a critic.)

The point here is that the audience for old films is dropping off at a frightening rate.  Author James Neibaur subscribes to the theory that these films are just so old that they are no longer of interest to most people, and that when we started loving them, they were much newer than they are now, hence more relevant.

On a related note, people have told me that it’s a miracle that grown-ups will even watch movies 100 years old and something of an indulgence that others even let us do it at all.

The other theory, which is the one that I subscribe to, is that we covet what we see, to paraphrase Hannibal Lecter.  For example, Laurel and Hardy are irrelevant today not because they are old, not because they are black and white, not because they aren’t funny, but because we don’t see them anymore.

The same goes for all of these other films I want to share.

My goal has always be to save AND SHARE films.  I want to win both battles: I’d like to get Kongo done so we can move on to other projects, and I’d like to start the non-profit with part of our goal to educate audiences and share more films.  I want to educate that artist that old does not equate to boring!

Frankly, I look at the local offerings in RedBox and note that they are hawking DVDs that no one has heard of.  Sure, we know a half dozen new releases, but I keep wondering why there aren’t classics in there instead of 35 movies that feature Bruce Willis for 5 minutes.  

That’s my passion: to save and share.  Kongo is only part of it.  If you want to help, go to and click on SHOP!