David Shepard

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David Shepard

Post by SSO Admins »

So I'll kick this off. What is for you the most frustrating thing when trying to preserve films? Is it the lack of decent source material? Having rights tied up by people who aren't willing to contribute? Something totally different?

Also, what film are you the most proud of your work on?
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Post by moira finnie »

I'm also delighted to welcome Mr. Shepard here.

As someone who is in a position to know about such things, could you please tell us if you know anything about the restoration of the recently re-discovered silent film, Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), starring John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman in King Vidor's long-lost adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's story? Thank you!
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Post by MikeBSG »

From what era are most lost films from? Usually, people think of lost films as being early silent films, but I think I read that the late silent era (1927-30) has a surprisingly large number of lost films. Is that true? Are there eras from the talkie era that have a lot of lost films?

I also read that Don Siegel's "Baby Face Nelson" from the late Fifties is in danger of being lost. Is that true?
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Greetings and respose to first posts

Post by DShepFilm »

This is David S writing, and it is a pleasure to be with you this week. (I have a long contract to write today, but would much rather be writing this , so I'll begin now rather than wait for more posts to accumulate).

Jon asks about frustrations in my work. There are very few; so many films await attention that rather than gnash my teeth, I move on to another project. For a long time I really regretted being unable to restore THE STORY OF G.I. JOE because no one (not even Burgess Meredith, the star, nor Robert Aldrich, the assistant director) could persuade producer Lester Cowan to coooperate, but as we all heard in "News on the March," "death comes to all men" and after Mr. Cowan shuffled off, the job was beautifully done by someone else.

I once wrote an article about Shepard's basic principles of film restoration. The first is that one need only invest a huge amount of money and a tremendous number of hours piecing together a worthy film from bits and pieces in order to guarantee that a really first-rate source copy will soon appear. This proved true on several occasions, including THE EMPEROR JONES, THE LOST WORLD and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

The second stated "the better the print, the worse the picture." We could produce really shimmering editions of two dozen Rayart programmers of the 1920s. The "back room" of silent films no one actually wants to see is very well stocked.

Jon also asked which projects mean the most to me. Probably the top ones are NANOOK OF THE NORTH, which was really put together from hundreds of bits and pieces, and which was finished in time for Frances Flaherty to see it in 1972 (it's on a Criterion DVD); the Chaplin Essanays and Mutuals, because they are timeless films of such universal appeal that they deserved the best I could manage at the time; the wonderful CAPTAIN FRACASSE, which almost no one bought, but which the director Alberto Cavalcanti believed lost and which he always maintained was his best film. I collaborated with Cavalcanti on his autobiography, "One Man and the Cinema," which, unfortunately, has been published only in Portuguese.

BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT has been found (lacking reel 3) and my French partners at Lobster Films are working with me on it now. We had to obtain permission both from Warner Bros. (as current owner of the old MGM library) and Columbia (as current owner of the Sabatini story) to use the film, and both studios graciously gave their consent. The USC Department of Special Collections provided us with the original title list, tint log and cutting continuity; a friend is providing hi-res scans of about 200 stills from which we will be able to bridge the missing reel and a few other missing bits and pieces. The 35mm dupe neg came back from Haghefilm this morning. Stay tuned.

I don't know much about the state of preservation for a lot of recent films. Negatives do stray when labs close; color fades; magnetic tracks turn vinegar; expired rights put some films into limbo for a while; and as a result some films which I saw as an adult now need major restoration. When/whether this is done is usually a matter of economics, but the continuing value of old films has now been so thoroughly proved that I doubt anyone would just discard a feature film as worthless, which happened by the thousands with silent cinema.

On the other hand, a lot of non-theatrical films including industrial, news, educational, documentary, and avant-garde films have been orphaned and no one has financial incentive to preserve and restore them. Fortunately the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Library of Congress are taking on some of these, but compared to the vast amount of material at hand, it's like the flicker of a firefly in the blaze of the midday sun.

Shameless plug: 54 of our recovered and restored short films will be released January 22nd as a 7-hour, 3-DVD set through Flicker Alley under the album title SAVED FROM THE FLAMES. Lots of jaw-dropping stuff in there.
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Post by Gagman 66 »

Dear Mr. Shepard,

:shock: That is remarkable news about the Gilbert feature! I am so utterally thrilled to learn that this story turned out to be true, and that you are involved in the restoration project! Last Summer another rumor was circulating concering F W. Murna's FOUR DEVILS being located as well? Do you have any knowledge of this having happened?

:D As a Boy, I grew up on Blackhawk films prints in the Late 70's, and early 80's, so you are without question a true personal hero! Thank you so much for all the countless hours of hard-work and dedication that you have expanded in your efforts to help preserve and promote our motion picture heritage! Like you, I am extremely passionate about the Art of the Silent Film, and the importance of getting these works out to the public where they to can discover for themselves the power and beauty of a truly great lost medium, the likes of which we will never see again.

:) Some of the first Blackhawk prints that we had in the family as a boy were old Tom Mix, and Bill Hart Western's that all but seemed to have disappeared? Later it was Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd Two-reelers, and features, and my love of Silent films just escalated from there.

:lol: So many wonderful discoveries, such as Mary Pickford's movies, and more recently the work of Colleen Moore, have come my way. Oh, how I long to see her few remaining features, lovingly restored! I am still discovering, and it has been a wonderful adventure! I have successfully hooked allot of other folks on the magic of Silent film during the course of the journey, and continue to do so!

:wink: Over the years I have collected some 600 Silent features in various mediums, but it all started with those Standard 8, and Super 8 Millimeter Blackhawk prints that my late father had when I was a pre-teenager!

:cry: It deeply saddens me the neglect that Major Studios, such as Paramount, and up until very recently Fox have shown the relatively few remaining Silent's that have been callously withheld from public view for so long. I fail to understand why such masterpieces as Frank Borzage's SEVENTH HEAVEN, and STREET ANGEL, have yet to find theire way to official DVD? I hope that that they will soon, and with their original Movie-tone scores restored and in-tact! Even though a DVD version of the restored SEVENTH HEAVEN was actually produced some three years ago. Frustratingly, for what what ever reason Fox seems to have made no effort to release it, from what I can see?

:x I was stunned that a magnificent picture with a fabulous vintage scoring track like John Ford's FOUR SONS (1928), was given an entirely new score, and that the vintage track that is clearly superior in everyway, and an integral part of the film was not even offered as an Alternative! I had dreamed of this film coming to official DVD, for a long time, but was completely let down that this true Masterwork was altered in such a fashion.

:roll: I was so hoping that FOUR SONS would be gloriously re-discovered! I consider it to be among the Top 10 finest films ever made. Though as a Silent hy-brid, it loses something with out the brillant original Erno-Rapee, Lew Pollack score without question.

:? Likewise, I am quite dismayed by the apparent, and completely unexpected demise of the TCM Young Film Composers Competition. I have enjoyed the work of the past 3 years winners Michal Picton, Michael Sjowell, and Darral Raby immensely. In-fact Picton's recent score to Marion Davies THE RED MILL (1927), and Sjowell's, superb effort on William Haines THE SMART SET (1928), had made me very enthusiastic about possibly forth-coming new scores by these up-coming new talent's for long unseen Silent's such as King Vidor's WINE OF YOUTH (1924), SALLY, IRENE AND MARY (1925), with it's Star-studded cast, Clarence Brown's THE COSSACKS (1928), with John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, and Nils Asther, and the delightful Marion Davies comedy THE FAIR CO-ED (1927) with Johnny Mack Brown, just to name a few! All titles that I have been waiting to see rescued from the vaults for several years.

:roll: I sincerely do hope that the Competition might yet return, if not this year, than next, but I am rather inclined to doubt that this will happen? Do you know anything about the decision? Was it strictly that TCM lacked the necessary sponsorship to continue at this time? I am really wondering if they are going to continue to dust off about 5 or 6 old titles, and debut them, as has been the case in recent years, even without the YFCC? I sure hope that they will?

:( I am still waiting patiently and have been for some 3 years now to see the Brand-new restoration of THE BIG PARADE, that was completed back in 2004? Did you have anything to do with this one? If so is there anything that you might be willing to share with us about it?

:o Finally, I am sorry to be getting long winded here, but I am hoping with all my might, to see a brand-new restoration of William Wellman's WINGS when TCM airs this movie for the first time ever next month! Perhaps you were even part of such a project? I know that there was a Thames version several years ago, and that Carl Davis even composed a score for this great movie, unfortunately, I have never seen that version, only the Gaylord Carter scored print from Laser-disc, and I have been looking for a copy of the Davis version for years and years. It may be just wishful thinking on my part, but I fully expect to see the film for the first time hopefully in a newly mastered print, and with the Davis score intact? Do you have any idea what version TCM may air?
Last edited by Gagman 66 on January 15th, 2008, 1:19 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by moira finnie »

Holy smoke, Mr. Shepard!

I had no idea that you were associated with the wondrous Alberto Cavalcanti's work. His international career was so phenomenal. I cherish his films Dead of Night (1945) and They Made Me a Fugitive(1947), with one of Trevor Howard's better performances.

I've only recently come across an obscure dvd source for Dead of Night's thematic companion pieces, The Halfway House (1944) and the uncredited film that he is said to have directed, The Ghost Train (1941). This is so thrilling that you have helped to restore Le Captain Fracasse (1929) which features a very early appearance by an underappreciated French import to America, Charles Boyer. What were his impressions of working for Paramount in France? What did he have to say about the film that he made in 1927 Berlin: Symphony of a Great City ( Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt)?

Is there any chance that Cavalcanti's biography might be translated into English (or perhaps French)? Was that playful yet wistful interest in the world of the spirit a part of his personality or did he just recognize a cracking good story when he found one?

Did he like working in Britain? Was he bitter about his experiences at Ealing studio?

Pardon my Cavalcanti enthusiasm, and I apologize for asking about so much, but thank you very much for any answers.
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Second chorus, from David Shepard

Post by DShepFilm »

Thanks for your enthusiastic posts. To try and respond to most of what you've raised:

I believe it is only a hoax/rumour that FOUR DEVILS has been found. Mary Duncan's daughter, who was a good friend, told me the story about her mother borrowing the studio file copy and throwing it away after she had seen it again, and I'd have no reason to doubt her word. Fox was vigilant about not letting prints escape, and hardly ever has one of their silents turned up in a vintage original outside of their control -- the only one I ever found in all my years working with old film was REGENERATION (1915).

On the other hand, I think it is quite likely that STREET ANGEL, LUCKY STAR and 7th HEAVEN will make it to DVD before we're too much older. I was commissioned to prepare the three for laserdisc after the release of SUNRISE, but that was cancelled after the laserdisc market collapsed with the arrival of DVD. BFI licensed the rights for the three films in the UK, although they were rather discouraged by the quality of the material presented to them, and as the Institute is more or less imploding anyway, I don't know whether they will proceed. But 7th HEAVEN is already prepared (with audio commentaries by Bob Birchard and Tony Slide) and I believe that, depending upon the results with the Ford set, Fox may issue its Borzage films also including, I hope, the wonderful BAD GIRL.

As to the music on FOUR SONS, I believe there were two problems. First, the restoration is based upon a full aperture print from Europe which does not conform editorially to the surviving American version, in which the picture was cropped for the Movietone track, so there would have been many sync issues. Also, I believe there were some music rights issues -- but Fox might have confronted those had the track worked with the picture.

THE BIG PARADE restoration has been on Warner Bros.' DVD release schedule but it keeps getting pushed back. Last week I was told late 2008 or early 2009 is likely. The score has not yet been recorded (neither the 1931 track nor the present recording of the Carl Davis will work -- same as with FOUR SONS).

As to Cavalcanti, my memories are rather faded but I recall he hated doing those French, Spanish and Portuguese versions of Paramount films at the studio in Joinville, which is why he went to work for the GPO (later Crown) film unit in England for much less money and much more creative satisfaction. Of course he did not direct BERLIN -- that was Walther Ruttmann -- but he did make RIEN QUE LES HEURES, a "city symphony" of Paris, in 1926. From time to time, I think about tracking it down and doing a DVD with it; I did once approach the owner, a nice woman to whom Cav had bequeathed the rights, but not a film person; she wanted to micromanage the venture, so I moved on.

However, Cav never mentioned THE GHOST TRAIN to me. It's out on a very nice DVD from England; I have it, and like the film. However, it's a Gainsborough Picture credited to Walter Forde, who was quite capable with long experience, whereas Cav left the Crown Film Unit after YELLOW CAESAR to work at Ealing; and there's nothing about THE GHOST TRAIN that looks like Cav to me. Also, I believe that in 1941 Cavalcanti was busy running the Crown Film Unit, Grierson having left for Canada to start the National Film Board.

Cav was such a gypsy, with films in France, England, Brazil, Israel and East Germany, that he never developed a reputation as a major film figure in any of those countries, which means I think it unlikely that his autobiography is likely to appear in English. And he was bitter, which came through in his book which, however, is nothing if not honest.

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Post by Ann Harding »

Thanks Mr Shepard for all these great news! :D

I am particularly thrilled to hear about the Borzage silents on DVD. I am an avid fan of this director. So far, Seventh Heaven has only been released on DVD in Spain. But, I can't wait for an even better edition.

Regarding Bardelys, I heard about the discovery. I am really pleased the film is being restored as we speak. I can't wait to see it. :)

What about the Paramount silents: do you think Universal would be ready to licence them for release? After all, a lot of Paramount 30s pictures are now coming out in various European countries under various labels. What about Beau Geste for a start?

Do you think there is any chance of the following silents to be released on DVD? :
The Lady-1925- Frank Borzage with Norma Talmadge
Kiki-1926-Clarence Brown with Norma Talmadge & Ronald Colman (it's just been restored to its full length and is touring in silent festivals)
Her Sister From Paris-1925-Sidney Franklin with Constance Talmadge
Her Night of Romance-1925-Sidney Franklin with Constance Talmadge
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Post by movieman1957 »

Please forgive how mundane this may sound but, is there a criteria you use to choose what to work on? Do you just get hold of what you can and can get a clearance to and use that?

Thanks so much for coming to visit.
Chris

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Post by MissGoddess »

Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Shepard! The work you are doing is so wonderful and you are to be congratulated---we're all in debt to those who rescue these precious films.

I have a question about a reportedly "lost" Gary Cooper film which you may or may not be able to answer. The film is Wolf Song, from 1929, directed by Victor Fleming and made at Paramount. A clip from this movie recently popped up on YouTube, giving rise to some hope that a print somewhere may be in existence. Have you ever heard of print surviving anywhere? One of Coop's fans from the TCM forum is trying to contact the person who posted the clip but so far there has been no response.

Thank you very much.

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Post by pilgrimsoul »

Good Afternoon, Mr. Shepard and welcome. I have two questions:

1.) How did you begin being interested in film, and silent film in particular?

2.) What training would you recommend to those who are interested in a career as a film preservationist?

Thank you.
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Silent stars speak...

Post by benwhowell »

Thank you so much for spending time in our community, David...if I may be so bold as to call you by your first name.
"Saved From The Flames" sounds great. Looking forward to that. Any chance of seeing you on TCM promoting it?
I'm very curious about a Robert Florey movie from '36-"Hollywood Boulevard" with an amazing supporting cast of silent movie stars (some speaking for the first and last time-so I've read.)
Is it "lost?" What can you tell me about this movie?
Thank you,
Ben
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Post by DShepFilm »

Hello! Let me respond to the queries that came up today.

"Ann Harding" asked about the Paramount silents. They are still owned by Paramount -- Universal did not buy them. Paramount has entertained approaches from several people interested in exploiting them, but so far they have refused all offers because they don't come with promise of enough income to be interesting. Paramount has provided some films as charity -- "Redskin" on ˆTreasures 3" is a recent example -- and they were very nice about letting us use a clip of "Beggar on Horseback" in "Unseen Cinema." But in their opinion there's not enough money in offers to date for silents to justify the legal work it would take to research all the rights, draw up the contracts etc when viewed as a business proposition. And when they tried a small group of films themselves on VHS, the results were such that they only brought two to laserdisc, and none so far to DVD.

Meanwhile, of course, the value of Paramount's silent library has been greatly compromised by pirates like Grapevine, which have recognized that Paramount doesn't seem to care about protecting their films any more than they care about licensing them, so many of the best ones are widely circulated in bootleg copies.

I wouldn't be surprised, however, if Paramount accomodates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by releasing a DVD of WINGS one of these days. The Academy would like to see all the Best Picture award winners available.

I have not double checked old memories but I believe there is 35mm material on WOLF SONG in the Paramount Collection at the Library of Congress.

Benwhowell (any relation to Bell & Howell?) asked about HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. Universal allowed us to use an excerpt in the touring show of "Unseen Cinema" and they have a nice print which can be booked by festivals, museums and speciality theaters. But leaving aside the obvious Sturges, Dietrich, Marx Bros., Cooper, Lubitsch, Hitchcock, horror and other such high-visibility items, they have done little with either the old Paramount or the vintage Universal titles.

The Talmadge silent films which were Schenck productions are owned by Douris Corporation, successor in interest to the Rohauer Collection. Kino handles most of Douris' home video releases, and Kino could undoubtedly have the Talmadge films if they thought them worth while. If Kino passed, anyone else who came to Douris with a decent offer would certainly be entertained. However, I believe most of the surviving films are incomplete. KIKI made it because Mary Pickford bought it for her remake and also kept material on the silent version. I have a 35mm negative of THE PRIMITIVE LOVER which I provided (in 16mm) to Unknown Video --maybe some day there will be an occasion for a higher quality edition.

How did I get interested? At the end of World War II, an uncle brought back to me from Europe a Pathe 9.5mm projector and a box of films -- Melies, Hal Roach comedies, Pathe actualities, and abridgements of wonderful features of the 1920s including FAUST, METROPOLIS, SPIES, THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU, LA ROUE, NAPOLEON etc. Looking at these over and over again triggered my interest and made me want to see more. When TV began to take hold, the many local camera stores with 16mm rental libraries began selling off their used prints at $1.00 per reel and I built up quite a nice collection fueled by income from my paper route. Incidentally, Kevin Brownlow's story is almost identical to mine. I began making little films when I was about 14, since our school needed someone to shoot football game films from a rickety wooden tower (that was me) and in return, allowed me to use their equipment the rest of the year.

When I began professional work with old films as an apprentice editor at the age of 16, there was no formal path of training. One simply needed to acquire reasonable technical skills (way easier before the digital age), a command of film history (in the 1950s one could read everything published in English in about six months), and, of course, the flame of enthusiasm. Now, of course, training for this work has been institutionalized and without some sort of certification, I probably couldn't get an entry level job today. There are graduate programs in archiving and preservation at George Eastman House, NYU, UCLA, and in Bologna, Italy, at least; I've been pretty impressed with the graduates from these programs I have happened to meet.

How do I choose projects? Mostly from films that are available to me, that I like enough to invest in without serious expectation of quick money, and that I think will mean something to people who discover their wonders.

Well, that'll do it for tonight.[/i]
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Post by Gagman 66 »

Dear Mr. Shepard,

:) Thank you so much for all your informative answers, and insight. Very much appreciated. Can't thank you enough for your taking the time to visit here!

:) I am encouraged by the prospect of the Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, feature's likely appearing on DVD soon! This is wonderful news. I recently saw LUCKY STAR for the first time, and was curious if the missing portion of the film had since been located? Another Fox feature that I pray we will see releases some time in the very near future is Murna's CITY GIRL. I consider this feature to be as good, or better than SUNRISE. I'm holding out hope for FAZIL (1928) as well.

:? Regarding Paramount, with respect, it has been over 20 years since they released those few titles on VHS. The results may have been disappointing, but that also my have been just a matter of timing? I firmly believe that it was. So I would hope that after that length of time, they would be willing to try again?

:roll: The lone Paramount Silent to see a DVD release so far is De Mille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923). While I thought this film looked great, it still had the same Gaylord Carter score from 20 years earlier. Carl Davis did score a Thames presentation of WINGS several years ago, why has this version completely vanished? I would be ecstatic to see that restored WINGS turn up on DVD, or even on TCM with Mr. Davis score!

:o I would dearly love to see other Paramount titles like James Cruze THE COVERED WAGON (1923), and OLD IRONSIDES (1926), as well as Gloria Swanson's STAGE STRUCK (recently restored by Eastman House), CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927), BARBED WIRE (1927), THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928), BEGGARS OF LIFE (recently restored by Eastman House), THE LAST COMMAND (1928), and THE FOUR FEATHERS (1929), just to name a few on DVD. It's my considered opinion that if Paramount isn't going to do anything with any of these movies than they should give them up, and turn them over to someone, or some organization that will. In-fact this should have been done a long time ago!

:shock: Incidentally, concerning THE BIG PARADE, I understand that the new master is a dramatic improvement pictorially to the previous Brownlow-Gill restoration. However, I definitely do not want to see the Carl Davis score replaced? Although, I happen to have a friend who has seen the film twice at live screenings with the Original score compiled by William Axt, and Glenn Mendoza in 1925 twice. I 'm not referring to the 1931 re-issue track, but rather the one that was distributed to large theaters with Orchestra and Wurlitzer Organ upon the films initial release. He actually witnessed Robert Israel perform the score on two separate occasions in 2005! Once conducting live Orchestra, and the other at the Kimball Organ.

:roll: My friend claimed that the Axt-Mendoza score is Superior to the Carl Davis one, which I find rather hard to believe, although I know that Davis adapted a number of the same themes into his own score for the Thames presentation. So what I am saying is, should Warner's commission a new score for THE BIG PARADE, I hope with all my might that it will be a re-scoring of the vintage Axt-Mendoza arrangement by Robert Israel and his Orchestra, not something entirely different!

:x In my view the same thing should have been done by Fox with FOUR SONS, they could have made a Modern recording of the Erno-Rapee, Lew Pollock score, like Carl Davis did with Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS back in the late 80's. In all honesty, all gripes aside the new score on FOUR SONS but Christopher Caliendo is quite good, but it just does not compare to the Original Movie-Tone track!

:( If nothing else, I hope that Warner's might consider possibly including both the New restoration, and the Thames version of THE BIG PARADE in a two disc set? A Classic of such scope and magnitude deserves every possible consideration!
Last edited by Gagman 66 on January 16th, 2008, 3:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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