Wednesday, 4 March 2009

When research pays off....

As most of my research at the moment is historical, I'm hugely dependent on original source material, of which there is really very little in Belfast.

I know others have gone through the history of Hammer and Exclusive before in great detail, but I remain convinced that information remains out there which has so far been missed. So I'm flitting between libraries and archives in Dublin and London primarily, though unable to spend long periods in either city owing to my current funding issues. Which is doubly frustrating as my trips have not been without merit.

For me, I simply have to re-read every paper again myself, particularly as the Hammer group's make-up is so complex. It was more than just Hammer and Exclusive, and any number of other companies from within the group are relevant. Unweaving the story is another challenge again.

Yesterday I took the first train down to Dublin and split my time between the Irish Film Institute library and that of Trinity College. I've been using the material in the IFI for a few years, but only started making use of Trinity within the last month (despite having been a student there since October). So, already I'm looking at books telling the story of British cinema which ignore completely both Hammer and Exclusive. A book I picked up last week on Black cinema was more useful as it had lengthy sections on Paul Robeson and his film Song of Freedom ( incidentally, does anyone have a copy of Proud Valley on dvd as it seems to be the only title omitted from Network's Robeson collection dvd set).

Spent the whole day between Trinity and IFI, with only a brief respite when walking alone Dame Street between them. Had to skip lunch just to get enough done in my time, and ended up eating wretched cheeseburgers from McDonalds on the way to the train going home (feeling cheap and dirty as a result). Not even time for my preferred break in Porterhouse for a lunchtime read and a pint. And uggh, the atmosphere in those libraries is stifling. Musty old books and dust heavy in the air... I'm sure this isn't doing my health any good. That, and I should have gloves to handle the stuff from Trinity - very dirty papers indeed.

At the start of my project I stated a couple of aims and theories, something which I cemented with my conference paper from September. I think understaning the history and development of Exclusive is key to understanding the development of Hammer and its later success. Secondly, that there exist films which are technically Hammer but which are currently orphaned or forgotten. Films that the company had an involvement in either as Hammer or Exclusive or a subsiduary, but which have been neglected. I've stated an expectation that there are a dozen or more such titles (including shorts). As a side of my research I'm hoping to reappropriate some of them.

I think I've pinpointed three titles which need to be looked at and which may be "Hammer Group" properties. One of the hardest things at the moment is locating existing paperwork to support my theory. Much of the original paperwork no longer seems to exist, and this is a problem where the orphaned titles are concerned. Unless I can get into other corporate archives, or private papers I may never know.

However, I'm now confident that I've locked off the first of the orphaned titles. A Hammer film which has been forgotten about for fifty years. Part of the problem is now locating a print of the film in question, which seems to have vanished. It isn't in the BFI, or with Hammer (not surprisingly) or any other collection I've so far looked at. If I can locate more of the paperwork surrounding it, more publicity material and an actual physical print then I'll be very happy and will make a hoo-ha about it. Potentially I might even have an investor willing to stump up the money to have a new master print prepared and preserved. For now, I'm simply adding it to a list of other interesting films I'm hunting which have no Hammer/Exclusive connection at all.

Yesterday simply cemented the theory and confirmed what I already knew. So the painful page by page research helps. In time I'll publish most of the source material or information re. source material on the site.

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