August 03, 2004

Updates & Qutbdate & Odds & Ends

Some minor housekeeping first -- I've added a link to riting on the wall, and a deleted a few long inactive sites, from the favorites page. I've also begun closing comments on earlier posts; in the near future, comments will be open for about a month on ideofact posts. Last night I get hit by another spammer, and yes, I know I could install MT blacklist, but I don't really feel like fooling around with that right now, and this seemed like an easier solution.

I'll get back to Qutb tomorrow, with the last post in the Milestones series. I was going to write it tonight, but I think I need to think about it a little more. I haven't made any decision on whether to blog In the Shade of the Qur'an, but I'm sort of leaning against it for the time being. I'll have to read it first and figure out whether there's anything of worth I can say.

I'm still reading William Fox, Sol M. Wurtzel and the Early Fox Film Corporation: Letters, 1917-1923. Today I came across this passage, from a telegram sent by William Fox in March 1920:

Fox Film Corp. feels reasonably sure that [Clyde] Cook will ultimately take Chaplin's place.

The breathless telegram goes on to instruct preparations be made with due haste to arrange for a director, crew and -- oh yes, a scenario -- to be made ready at once for Cook. I'd never heard of him before -- but you can view some quicktime samples of his work here. He had quite a long film career (although not of Chaplinesque significance, obviously).

A while back, I wrote something about the reconstructed version of London After Midnight, the 1927 Lon Chaney film. So I quite enjoyed reading this hoax, which includes numerous clues of its bogusness throughout. One problem with the hoax though -- at then end, the author writes,

The most persistent rumor about [London After Midnight] is that some collector has the film and has been waiting for the copyright to expire in 2002. The legend probably dates back to the early 70's, when a New England rental source named Cecil Miller listed LAM among his upcoming titles, presumably as a gag. (Later versions of the same gag have included reviews of the film on the Internet Movie Database and April Fool's discussions of showings on Turner Classic Movies in alt.movies.silent.) This mythical collector is in for a longer wait now -- copyright law has been changed, making the date LAM would become public domain 2022. For that reason, it is likely that any such collector who wanted to cash in during his own lifetime would have already come forward to make a deal with the current copyright holders (Time Warner).

While the collector is most likely mythical, if he existed, copyright laws would provide a powerful incentive for not releasing the film, as it would for a host of perhaps not-lost-after-all silent films in the possession of collectors. Consider the case of the owner of the sole surviving print of Edison's Frankenstein:

Since the Edison film company had disbanded, "Frankenstein" had fallen into the public domain. Although he was solely responsible for the film's preservation, Mr. Detlaff could not claim the copyright on the film. In fact, the snippets which appeared in the BBC production later wound up in several video compilations of silent cinema, without providing credit or payment to Mr. Detlaff. Although he provided two public theatrical screenings of the film in Milwaukee, the film has not been screened in its entirety.

A poor compromise later arose in a special video version designed to be shown at horror film conventions. The video, which was actually a film of the projected film, was disfigured with a distracting and annoying copyright protection scroll that crawled through the middle of the picture. This video version has earned unanimous condemnation for being nearly unwatchable, yet to date it was the only chance to actually see the entire 15-minute film.

Requests by museums and archives for the donation of the print have been refused by Mr. Detlaff, who has requested (but has yet to receive) a financial agreement to his satisfaction, and inquiries by film distributors to show the film have not been successful. In 1997, Mr. Detlaff announced plans to release "Frankenstein" along with an original 35mm nitrate print of "Nosferatu" on a single home video, thus providing a double-feature line-up of the first Frankenstein and Dracula films together. Unfortunately, plans for this release stalled due to problems with the production of the video and Mr. Detlaff's poor health. This video, which was to have been distributed via LRS Marketing, has yet to be made available.

For what it's worth, Detlaff eventually released the Edison's Frankenstein/Nosferatu package on DVD -- the "copyright protection" was put in the corner and was relatively unobtrusive. Still, if you had, say, a copy of Theda Bara's Cleopatra sitting around in your basement, and wanted to make a little money off the sale of the video, you'd be high and dry -- like the 1910 Edison's Frankenstein, Cleopatra is in the public domain, and anyone could produce a knock off version without paying you a dime.

Posted by Ideofact at August 3, 2004 11:22 PM
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