Saturday, 30 May 2009

Recovering lost films

Just before I started work on this PhD project I was told by several experts in the field that there simply wasn't any material left to be uncovered on Exclusive. Hammer researchers (remember of course that Hammer Films is the sister company and the two go hand in hand) felt that the well had been drained dry.

That said, under a year into my research and I'm delighted to say I've uncovered more than enough material to keep me going for the next 12 months. I'm having to look really hard, but archives and chance connections have brought all sorts of surprises to the surface, supporting some of my early arguments, and changing the way that Exclusive should be viewed. Am I overselling the project? I don't know... but I'm still on a voyage of discovery, pulling sources together like any good historian would. I hope that my spin will be different and people will want to read it. Certainly I hope that people will learn something from my research - and I'm constantly indebted to those who paved the way and who have provided the basic groundwork.

Of course, any researcher lives under the pressure of having to be original, and for an historian that can depend on unseen source material. I'm trying to find material which has been missed, but what if someone else manages to turn up the same material and bring it to publication before my thesis is submitted? My work would then be redundant. And it is always a possibility.

That's why the website database isn't online yet, I want to complete the first stage of my work before I start posting material there. In fact I'll probably just issue teasers for now, with the actual main content going live once I've submitted. That way I can be accurate, thorough, and comprehensive. That's also the reason I'm rather oblique when I post here - this is too much of a work in progress to publish great detail for the moment.

The last week has been perhaps the single most productive and exciting on the project so far (and the last month itself has been enthralling). I stumbled upon a reference which forced me to re-examine some notes I made before the project began, and to revisit an archive. In the process I'm rethinking my stance on a couple of films - going back to the 'Is this a Hammer Film' question I outlined at the conference in Trinity in September.

We're reclaiming these orphaned titles, or lost films. Recovering films which have been neglected or forgotten.

Ah... film recovery. I first really got into that idea during the 1990s when I became aware of all the Doctor Who episodes that had gone missing. There's a very public hunt for lost episodes, which has turned up one or two prints in the last decade. More overlooked are the sheer number of films - shorts especially - from studios which no longer seem to exist in the archives. Hammer and Exclusive suffered along with everyone else. There are so many of the short films which seem to be missing, but which I've found myself increasingly drawn to. A huge number of the films still exist, although getting access is always tricky. 

Eventually the project will include details of prints which still exist and where they can be found, so that future researchers can take advantage of the knowledge for their own access. I'm not a believer in hoarding information. 

Take for example the still which accompanies today's entry - its a section from Chase Me Charlie, a Charlie Chaplin film which was re-edited and re-released by Exclusive in the late 1940s. Effectively its a 'lost' film. Forgotten and neglected by nearly everyone, other than as an entry in a filmography. A curio. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Publish publish publish

I've heard it said so many times, as I'm sure any of you working on PhDs or similar first steps to academia, that it becomes something of a mantra and a frightening reminder that you always need to be working with a wider audience in mind.

I'm about eight months into my formal work on the project now, and gathering together my plans for the summer for research. More archival work beckons, and I'm sure by the end of it I'll regret having ever started. Trying to put everything into some sort of order let alone the criticism needed, takes some work.

For most of us, adapting our work for conference papers, and journal publications is a way of structuring our research and aiding the writing of huge chunks of the thesis - at least I think I'm right in that. Publications early on and during the thesis work probably do more favours than anything else when it comes to the dreaded job applications. I'm acutely aware of all of this right now - my girlfriend is in the final stages of her PhD and so the talk of job prospects is a regular topic at home.

So far I've not anything published since the start of the PhD, bar a couple of (largely) unrelated magazine pieces, and one article on Exclusive for the official Hammer site. I've been asked to put in papers to a couple of conferences and trying to come up with a couple of ideas now, which is easier said than done (I don't want to shoehorn my project so it fits with the brief of one).

On a possibly slightly more positive note I've been planning a reference book to go alongside the research, which I'll pitch once I've a bit more done. Some of you will be aware I'm also still finishing off my book on Hammer Films which was contracted long before I started my PhD. I've also been approached about editing another book, which if it happens should be quite interesting. I've got the time set aside in my schedule to do it, and am discussing another book with publishers at the moment. Early days and none might happen, but I think its important to think of these things this early on in the project. None are directly related to the Exclusive project, but there is a connection to be found in each.

How does everyone else cope with article submissions etc.? I'm very cautious about putting my work out there at the moment. I've been burnt before with a publication project, which has kept me away from certain areas in the interim.... 

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Marketing materials

Just a quick post - I've been gathering marketing materials as part of the research for the Exclusive Project, some of which you won't have seen before. I'll be uploading scans and photos of items from my own (modest) collection in the hope that others who have material will also be willing to share. I'm talking with a number of private collectors at the moment in the hope of sharing images on the eventual database.

As a teaser, I've been cleaning up an image of a quad for Rocketship XM, an American science fiction film produced by Lippert and distributed in the UK by Exclusive. A very stylish and attractive image - and now free of wrinkles and other flaws!

Is there much interest in this line of research? Well, poster collecting can be big business, and film is a visual media, and I believe in looking at the way a film was visually represented in advertising. What damage does it do for original posters to show repros? Nothing - the real value is still in the original items, like having the original Mona Lisa rather than a well produced reproduction.

Anyway, hope you enjoy. A larger version will eventually appear on the main site.