Thursday, August 4, 2011
Bay Collector's Haul Hides Hitchcock Film
Another slice of rare, but not quite forgotten, silver has been uncovered from a collection of nitrate films which had been gathered through the years by the late Jack Murtagh of Hastings. It is three reels of the first film made by Alfred Hitchcock in 1923 called THE WHITE SHADOW and they are the only reels of the film thought to exist.
The discovery, by American film archivist Leslie Lewis, may have been something of a fluke as Mr Murtagh's grandson Tony Osborne ( who donated the collection to the New Zealand Film Archive nearly 20 years ago ) said many of the containers had different description tags on them. "Some of this stuff is labelled and some not", Mr Osborne said today, adding his grandfather would have been bemused at the fuss his old collection was causing.
The latest discovery has echoed the excitement which rippled through the US National Film Preservation Archive this year when a treasure trove of old nitrate films, many rare and unseen for decades, were uncovered at the New Zealand Film Archive. Nineteen of those 75 Kiwi collected and donated films were from the collection of Mr Murtagh, who had worked as a projectionist in Hastings for 25 years, and who died in 1989 aged 76.
Among the earlier finds was a copy of UPSTREAM a silent film made by the director John Ford in 1927 and the only known copy to exist. It too had been collected by Mr Murtagh. The recently uncovered three reels were all that had been found of the original six-reel film, along with several comedies, shorts and newsreels made in the US but no longer available there.
"This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock's extraordinary body of work," chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, David Steritt, said. "At just 24 years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the film's scenario, designed the sets, edited the footage, and served as assistant director to Graham Cutts, whose professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging."
Mr Sterrit said Hitchcock's own directorial debut came only two years later, and discovering the first three reels of THE WHITE SHADOW more than half the film offered a "priceless" opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape. Mr Osborne said there were so much old nitrate film stored, labelled and otherwise, that it would be surprising if more important finds were made.
I remember in the early 1990's the NZ Film Archive held a campaign urging the public to hand in any old nitrate films they had. Peter Jackson ( of course ) led the way becoming the Archives front man. I re-call quite literally hundreds of old tins flooded in from all corners of NZ, so in many respects this discovery isn't so amazing after all. But the strange thing was the campaign was to find NZ films etc for historical purposes, and the Hitchcock and Ford discoveries are just an added bonus. Maybe the Americans should do the same sort of thing and see what turns up. It is incredible what people have hidden away thinking it is just junk.