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. 

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