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. 

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…. 

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.

Dracula sojourn

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…

Possible project…

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!

As it is, I\’ve turned up a good deal of new information and I\’m getting a structure in place. I think perhaps the best thing is to start putting it down, and if I do find anything else then great. 
Its all tied into the great money pit problem. With finances in dire straits, and feeling the pinch with more fees to come and no sponsor, I need to get through this as quickly as possible. I can barely afford to spend three years on this never mind four, at least not without some sort of financial return.
Which brings me to the other development this week (well there might be a third, but I\’m holding it off for a week or two). After much deliberation I finally formalised a proposal for a related book project, and it looks like there\’s an initial green light. Now, we have the nightmare of trying to secure a publisher and a suitable deal (an advance would be nice…). I reckon I could have it compiled in six months from contract signing date which is good, but depends on them. If we could get it ready and published quickly it might at least offer me some revenue to help with fees for the next year or so. Once its contracted and work has begun I\’ll let you know, but not before.
I gather we\’ve got a couple of meetings planned already with publishers, and I should know more by the end of the month. I can wait those few weeks.
Of course, I could also do with some prudent tax advice. I don\’t know if I\’m entitled to any special discounts or claim backs or anything else. 
Help, anyone?!

The Money Pit

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.

I got a letter today asking for more money as my last chunk of fees didn\’t make it in by the due date. They were about two or three days late because the bank couldn\’t process the international transaction any quicker, and I don\’t have an Irish bank account.
Taking head and impacting it against a hard brick-based surface.
So unless something miraculous happens that\’s my Easter research trip out now. Just can\’t afford to do it and pay penalties. And I need to find another £2k for the end of September. Am starting to wonder how quickly I could write up the material I\’ve dug up already and how far off finishing I would be.
On the plus side, I\’ve located another archival collection of material from Exclusive in the early 50s which I\’m thinking might be useful for a chapter looking specifically at the day to day business model of the company with individual cinemas. A case study within what is essentially one great big case study.
Over the weekend I also caught Sliding Doors for the first time on Film4. According to the new Exclusive website, it is one of the archival properties acquired by the new version of the company. Well, at least its British and fairly low-budget, which is much more in keeping with the old Hammer/Exclusive model than some of the things I\’ve heard recently.

New acquisitions

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. 

Trying to get the balance between posting material for the online database now, and properly collating it before making any of it live. A proper CMS and datatbase would probably be the best way to present it. Any thoughts or requests on what I should include and what you want to see?
I\’ve also been chasing up a lead on some more research material through a couple of library collections. Trying to weigh up whether it would be more cost effective to travel around England and make my notes and photocopies myself or to pay for them to dupe it and send it to me. Just as I start to plan a research trip I find its been moved to another location in another county. Like looking for a needle in a haystack!

Interviews pt1

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.

The paucity of recollection is fine, I\’m interested in memories and instant thoughts rather than lengthy considered responses in the first instance. We are talking 50 or 60 years ago after all! I do think that stimulating memories with written or visual material from the time is a great help and should be employed wherever possible.
Some subjects aren\’t that interested, and I\’ve spoken to a few who have said no to wanting to see their work again. Others are delighted when the opportunity arises. I\’m having to employ both strategies with this research at the moment. I\’d still rather sit down with my interviewees too. You nearly always get more out of them face to face than over a phone line where both of you can be easily distracted. 
The usual rant about needing funds to support the research trips should be inserted here! 
I need to spend a couple of weeks in England this summer interviewing and visiting places if I want to do this properly, never mind more time in the archives of various places. Sometimes it would be easier living somewhere other than Belfast, but it suits me to come back here and write. 
Going to see about heading over to London next month for a couple of days to do some more interviews in person. Its crucial to support the extant paper material.

Connecting with the past…

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.

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.