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.
One of the reasons for doing the Exclusive project was that it allowed me to continue working with Hammer\’s output, but take me away from the horror films which seem to interest everyone else, and which I\’m not sure I have that much left to say about (well, I might…, but didn\’t want to study it academically for three years).
And yet, this month I\’ve taken a little side step and a week out of research fully to concentrate on one of Hammer\’s horror films, the rather brilliant 1958 version of Dracula.
I was approached a couple of months ago (via my supervisor) by someone from the Irish Film Institute as they were putting together a weekend of films on Dracula to tie in with Dublin City Council\’s One City One Book festival this year, which was all about Stoker\’s vampire novel. I\’ve been working with Hammer for a decade now in one form or another, so we soon got talking about plans.
Ultimately, rights costs and print sourcing problems prevented some of the proposed screenings, but Hammer\’s Dracula was screened from the new digital print, and the rather dull (and unrelated) Countess Dracula aired as well, alongside Nosferatu, the Lugosi Dracula, Blacula and more. I introduced the screening of Hammer\’s Dracula at the IFI, Saturday week ago. And it was woeful. I completely dried after being distracted by latecomers, shuffling, mobile phone noises, and a member of the audience who opted to wave his arms around at the wrong moment.
Frankly embarassing, and anyone who saw me there must wonder why I was asked at all.
Sunday morning was by contrast much better. There had been talk about doing some sort of talk or educational element, and I was keen to preserve this as the original organiser left for a new job. So, I put them in touch with the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies at Trinity, who in turn roped in Kim Newman for the proceedings. Alongside Kim, were vampiroligist Sorcha Ni Fhlainn, Stoker biographer Paul Murray, and chairing the whole thing was author and vampire expert Brian J Showers.
We sat down on a long table in the screen 2 at the IFI, and talked between ourselves for 90 minutes on Stoker\’s classic novel and the various film incarnations and vampire mythology. The session continued after the talk over lunch, and could easily have gone on longer. A rich, and stimulating discussion, which is far beyond my remit for the PhD but allowed a new slant to my existing research. Thankfully I was more coherant, more alert and considered in my responses than during my intro. Face saved… I hope!
I\’ve recorded the session, and a transcription will be made available in due course. If I can get the audio tweaked (as you can see from the photo, I\’m on the left, not quite on mic), we\’ll podcast it too.
I\’d happily do more of these, but we\’ll see…
I need to get down to writing, regardless of the state of my research now. I\’d been holding off putting too much into prose form until I\’d exhausted research in various areas, archives and so on. Potentially there\’s nothing worse than writing several thousand words crucial to your thesis and then go and discover you were completely wrong!
Ever since the economy started taking its nose dive the prospect of me supporting myself through the PhD has been harder and harder. It doesn\’t help that Trinity have some very rigid policies regarding the implementation of fines.
A slight distraction from actual writing, but I acquired a few new bits of visual material related to the project this week. Rather unexpectedly I got offered a set of stills from Perils of the Jungle which was an American b-movie from 1953 that Exclusive distributed in the UK. I\’ve not seen it yet myself, but a little thrill to see the Exclusive name on each of them. I\’ll add the images onto the website in due course along with the first batch of material for it.
A short interview this morning via phone with an actor from several Exclusive projects, with a follow up planned for a few weeks time after I\’ve sent some additional material their way.
One of the biggest challenges with my particular project is its particular historical basis. Essentially I\’m looking at the Hammer group pre-1956 when they moved into horror projects with the commencement of The Curse of Frankenstein. From there on, the scholars that have gone before me have largely covered the entire period in great detail, perusing every available document (well… maybe, I\’ll come to that again in a latter blog), and speaking to just about anyone who worked on the films.
Before that, the concensus appears to be a) there simply isn\’t enough material in existence to justify the research and b) there\’s no-one left alive who can tell us anything anyway.
As I\’m not interested in getting into a great theoretical discussion about the films under the Exclusive banner (you could arguable about some of them, but as a whole, that would be much too complex) then I need to find as much as I can in hard records and memories. It can be a painful process, wading through hundreds of pages just for a couple of relevant sentences. I guess no worse than doing a theoretical-based project.
This week I start conducting interviews for the project, something I\’m looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. In each case I know I\’ll want to follow them up again with more questions, and hopefully most of my subjects will be willing to do that. That and we\’re talking about films made 60 years ago or more – B features that surely aren\’t that significant? Well I guess I\’ll be able to tell you more in a few days.
I\’ve lined up two absolutes, and 1 probable so far. Trying to talk to people from both sides of the camera. It strikes me a little more like journalism than research, but oral research is an important aspect of an historical project. If we don\’t record the memories, then in the absence of paper records, everything is speculative or forgotten.
I challenge anyone to argue against the scholarly nature of Wayne Kinsey\’s books on Hammer – his histories of the Bray and Elstree periods centre themselves fully on oral history and are a crucial research tool. I certainly use both in my researches.
There\’s also something rather humbling about talking with the people who worked on the films that I\’m looking at – and so enabling me to properly connect with the distant past. I spent a week in the summer of 2007 driving around the English countryside with a friend following on from the Hammer at Bray III event, visiting the various sites of the Exclusive/Hammer studios and locations. Walking the roads that the filmmakers and executives had before me, getting a feel for the space and indeed the spatial relationships between the sites. I know the approach doesn\’t suit everyone, but for me it did allow an understanding of sorts.
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 ExclusiveFilms.co.uk site.