Thursday, October 05, 2017

Russell Merritt: “David Shepard – Shadowing Silent Film for Fifty Years”. The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture (Pordenone 2017)

Image: Silent Cinema Society.

Russell Merritt. Photo: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
Teatro Verdi, 5 Oct 2017.

In 2002 the Giornate del Cinema Muto inaugurated this annual lecture in commemoration of Jonathan Dennis (1953–2002), founding director of the New Zealand Film Archive. Jonathan Dennis was an exemplary archivist, a champion of his country’s culture – particularly of Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand – and above all a person of outstanding human qualities.

The lecturers are selected as people who are pre-eminent in some field of work associated with the conservation or appreciation of silent cinema

2017 Lecture: Russell Merritt: “David Shepard – Shadowing Silent Film for Fifty Years”

“For more than half a century, David was at the forefront: discovering, restoring, and giving new life to the great works of classic silent cinema. His achievement was colossal. His friendship was enriching. His bequest is immense and enduring.”
– David Robinson

David Shepard’s story can be told in several ways. He touched many lives and his career intersected with many aspects of silent film culture. The purpose of this talk is to bring his extraordinary career to light, from his earliest days as a film collector to his long heyday as a pre-eminent force in film preservation. In the course of a career that lasted almost 50 years, he was an important part of the American Film Institute, Blackhawk Films, the Directors Guild of America, and the University of Southern California’s film department, while masterminding his own company, Film Preservation Associates.

He was no less prolific in creating and supporting silent film societies and festivals around the world. He was an avid supporter of the Giornate; he was just as passionate in his support of his local library’s film group.

The talk will be lavishly illustrated with film clips that are an important part of David’s legacy. Even if you think you know what silent films David rescued and brought back to life, prepare to be amazed
. – Russell Merritt

AA: A profoundly moving memorial lecture by Russell Merritt dedicated to David Shepard, the great homme du cinéma. I was just listening and did not take any notes except of the titles of the films screened (listed below). (I am not sure about the title Le Compositeur toqué and do not remember what the Shepard connection might have been). Liberally displayed was also a video tribute to David Shepard by Natasha Hoskins, complete with an amazing listing of film classics which Shepard helped discover, restore, and re-release in various formats: 35 mm, 16 mm, video, dvd, blu-ray.

I had not seen footage in a while of Chuck Workman's Precious Images (1986) in which Shepard was DGA Advisor. The excerpt brought to mind fond memories of our Centenary of the Cinema screenings in Helsinki in which that title was in such demand that the 35 mm print had to be shelved. It may seem mad to cover 470 films in 8 minutes, but Workman with his colleagues managed it, and it still works.

Fantasmagorie (FR 1908), Émile Cohl. Preserved by David Shepard. It was on Aug. 17, 1908, that Gaumont released Cohl’s two-minute animated short. Though physical objects (J. Stuart Blackton’s “The Haunted Hotel,” 1907), chalk drawings (Blackton’s “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” 1906) and various “trickfilms” using animation for special effects predate Cohl’s film, “Fantasmagorie” was the first to feature drawn cartoons on paper shot sequentially frame by frame on a makeshift animation camera stand. Cohl also had to invent a lightbox in order to sketch and register the drawings. Annecy artistic director Serge Bromberg scoured the world to find the best print to show at this year’s fest, where the short will screen as part of a retrospective on early animation. To his surprise, he found a vintage 16 mm print, thought to be the only surviving full-frame original copy, at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles. Years earlier, film preservationist David Shepard had obtained the footage through a high school classmate, himself the grandson of one of the original Lumiere Cinematographe operators sent to the U.S. It is this 16 mm print, which Gaumont recently scanned in 2K, digitally cleaned and recorded back to 35 mm, that will screen at Annecy. (A digital copy from the same source also appears on the DVD set “Saved From the Flames” from Flicker Alley.) May 30, 2008 Jerry Beck.

The Painted Lady (US 1912), D. W. Griffith, with Madge Kirby and Blanche Sweet. Distributed by David Shepard. "A friendless country girl meets a stranger at an ice cream social and falls in love. But the stranger has taken up with her only to learn the whereabouts of her father's money. After a series of clandestine rendezvous in an isolated bower, the stranger breaks into the young woman's parlor to crack the safe. She investigates the disturbance, and not recognizing the masked burglar, shoots him dead. The effect is traumatic. When she discovers she has killed her sweetheart, the young woman's mind disintegrates. As her father watches helplessly, she retreats into an imaginary world, re-enacting her assignations at the bower, and finally suffers a fatal collapse." - Russell Merritt [DWG Project # 433]. The Griffith Project 6: Films Produced in 1912 (GCM 2002).

Le Compositeur toqué (FR 1905), Georges Méliès. "M. Tape Dur essaye de composer un morceau au piano. Il n’y arrive pas et s’endort. La Muse de la musique apparaît alors et l’emmène dans le paradis de la musique. À son réveil, M. Tape Dur est tellement déprimé qu’il se suicide en fonçant contre son piano."

Precious Images (US 1986), Chuck Workman. David Shepard as DGA Advisor. IMdB: "Chuck Workman's theatrical short, "Precious Images," made for the Directors Guild of America, won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short and has become the most widely shown short in film history. It was recently selected as a landmark film for preservation by the Library of Congress National Film Registry." Wikipedia: "Precious Images is a 1986 short film directed by Chuck Workman. It features approximately 470 half-second-long splices of movie moments through the history of American film. Some of the clips are organized by genre and set to appropriate music; musicals, for example, are accompanied by the title song from Singin' in the Rain. Films featured range chronologically from The Great Train Robbery (1903) to Rocky IV (1985), and range in subject from light comedies to dramas and horror films. Precious Images was commissioned by the Directors Guild for its 50th anniversary. Workman had previously produced two documentaries, The Director and the Image (1984) and The Director and the Actor (1984), for the Guild. Editing took two or three months to complete. Precious Images features half-second-long splices from approximately 470 American films. Chuck Workman described the film's editing structure as "a sprint. You take a breath and you go." “Of course, I had so many movies I wanted to include that the time constraint forced me to compress the film more and more. The cutting got faster and faster, but I realized that the film was still working. And I was moving things around, and it was still working. I started finding these wonderful little combinations of shots, the kind of edits that I’d been doing for years in other things, but suddenly in this film I wasn’t selling anything. It was a wonderful moment for me." Precious Images won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film during the 1987 ceremony, where it was featured in its entirety. In 1996, the film was reissued with new scenes from more contemporary films up to that point. It was also shown every 15 minutes within London's Museum of the Moving Image (opened 1988) but this very popular attraction was closed in 1999. The film was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival". (Wikipedia)

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