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|Volume 13 Number 3!
2016: AN EXCITING RESTORATION YEAR!
As the new year begins, we already know that it promises a number of exciting restorations, screenings and early talkie projects, along with the usual unpredicted discoveries. Here are a few of the “knowns" as we go to press...
- NBC Universal's newly expanded restoration team has made great progress on KING OF JAZZ ('30), utilizing drastically better Technicolor material that is light years beyond what has circulated. It is expected that work will be completed by mid-2016, with any screenings or DVD following that.
- DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR authors James Layton and David Pierce will be publishing a new luxurious and comprehensive book mid-2016. Details will be provided at the Project's Facebook page and then in our next issue.
- The picture portion of SHOW GIRL (FN/'28) has been restored by Warner Bros and at press time the hot jazz Vitaphone track was being synched. Expect 2016 screenings.
- While we cannot yet report details, we do know that the restored Laurel & Hardy 1927 short BATTLE OF THE CENTURY will get a first class screening with outstanding accompaniment in 2016. This is the ultimate pie fight film which had been missing almost half of its footage until it was rediscovered overseas last year by Serge Bromberg and John Mirsalis.
- Restoration work on 53 1926-30 Vitaphone shorts will continue by the partnership of Warner Bros / UCLA / Library of Congress and The Vitaphone Project. Some of the shorts in this massive pipeline are now completed and will be screened once a sufficient number for a full program are available.
HOME TALKIE EQUIPMENT SHOWN AT '15 AMIA CONFERENCE
In 1993, shortly after The Vitaphone Project began, Gary Lacher of Portland, OR contacted us. He had gone to the local library's book sale and was surprised to find an entire 1929 “home talkie" projector along with disks and film for about 30 Pathe, Universal and Columbia shorts and features. The film was 16mm safety as required for home safety reasons. The projector had one motor running both the 16mm projector and a 16 inch turntable whose sound head played the synchronized soundtrack. Essentially it was a home Vitaphone system. The films included Pathe 1929-30 one and two reel shorts, Aesops Fables cartoons, and one Pathe feature, PARIS BOUND ('29). One of the films was the long lost TWO PLUS FOURS (Pathe/'30) which starred Bing Crosby and The Rhythm Boys. Because the film was safety, it survived while its 35mm nitrate counterparts did not. The short was subsequently restored at UCLA with funding by Crosby fan Hugh Hefner.
Gary exhibited his home talkie equipment and films at the 2015 Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference. A number of his home talkie shorts are now being sold by Grapevine Video. He is also now working with UCLA by arranging for them to borrow original soundtrack disks for Laurel & Hardy's 1930 short BRATS.
THE EVOLUTION OF FILM SOUND TECHNOLOGY
Vitaphone disc from 1926.
A great article on The Evolution of Film Sound Technology features a Q&A with Film Preservationist and 'A Century of Sound' Co-Creator Robert Gitt. Read the article here! http://www.altfg.com/film/film-sound-technology-evolution/
Early soundtrack disks found since our last issue:
- IRVING AARONSON AND HIS COMMANDERS, a 1928 MGM Metro Movietone band short by this popular band. They made two shorts, and while the picture portions of both are lost, this and the other disk survive. Both will be included on the upcoming Rivermont Records CD “Irving Aaronson Volume 2" due out in early 2016
- From another source, disks for other Metro Movietone shorts turned up: BOB NELSON ('28), GUS EDWARDS HIMSELF ('29)
- Other shorts disks for I CAME FIRST (Par/'29) starring vaudevillian German Timberg, reel 2 for the 1928 Chic Sale Fox Movietone short MARCHING ON, and disks for both reels of the otherwise lost Clark & McCullough Fox Movietone short THE BATH BETWEEN ('28)
- From a collection in California were found disks for all 8 reels of PARIS (WB/29), 8 reels of SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (FN/'30), 10 reels of HOLD EVERYTHING (WB/'30), and the Overture disk for DON JUAN (WB/'26)
- Disks for all 8 reels of the 1929 Tiffany feature NEW ORLEANS
- Twelve inch disks (signifying the switch to finer grooving in 1930 to allow use of a smaller diameter) for MAMMY (WB/'30), THE WIDOW FROM CHICAGO (FN/'30) and BIG BOY (WB/'30) also were reported
- As reported elsewhere in this issue, UCLA has located 10 inch Home Talkie disks for shorts by singer ISABELLA PATRICOLA and comedian PHIL BAKER. Film survives for both, which were sold to individuals who owned the home “Vitaphone" system utilizing a 16mm silent projector synchronized with a 16 inch turntable for the soundtrack disk
- All 8 disks for the largely lost 1930 Pathe feature LEATHERNECKING we found as we went to press.
- Vitaphone soundtrack disks were initially 16 inch in diameter, inside-out start and turning at 33 1/3 rpm.
- Around 1930, finer grooving allowed the disks to be reduced to 12 inches in diameter, but many 16 inchers continued to be pressed.
- Labels on soundtrack disks usually had boxes to be checked off after each playing. Generally, 20 plays was thought to be the maximum before sound quality slipped.
- Normally, two disks for each reel of film were shipped to theaters, to cover potential breakage or additionally needed plays.
- While even Warner Brothers shifted to sound-on-film in early 1930, disks continued to be sent to theatres that could only screen talkies in the disk format. We have seen disks for ROBERTA (RKO/'35) and a 1936 Monogram western.
The Project can strongly recommend several recently published film-related books as well as two that will be released in 2016.
- THE GAG MAN by Matthew Dessem is the biography of prolific and troubled film comedy writer Clyde Bruckman. He worked with Lloyd, Keaton, The Three Stooges and W.C. Fields, and his story is also that of silent and early sound comedy itself.
- LARRY SEMON: DAREDEVIL COMEDIAN OF THE SILENT SCREEN by Claudia Sassen is the first comprehensive look at the career and films of silent film comic Larry Semon. He made some of the wildest and most expensive slapstick shorts of the era for Vitagraph, directed others, failed in his attempts to transition to feature comedies, and died young after a part in Von Sterberg's UNDERWORLD (Par/'28). Author Sassen provides incredible detail into the tumultuous and short life of Semon, and his vision in using both Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy (separately) as foils.
- UNSUNG HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS OF THE GOLDEN ERA by Edwin M. Bradley covers such forgotten 1929-39 musicals as HAROLD TEEN, LUCKY BOY. QUEEN HIGH, and SHOOT THE WORKS. Each film gets a detailed treatment and even references to songs on 78 rpm. The author, a long time friend of The Vitaphone Project, also wrote THE FIRST HOLLYWOOD SOUND MUSICALS 1926-31.
- LAUREL & HARDY: THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MOVIES Ultimate Edition by Randy Skretvedt is the massively expanded and large format update of the author's minutely detailed study of the comedy team's films. Now with 1000 rare photographs, over 50% more test, interviews with more than 60 Roach employees, the most detailed L&H filmography ever, this is a must-have book for every one of our readers. More than $40,000 in pre-sales were already completed. But you can order it through www.bonaventurepress.com
- Also keep an eye out for David Lightner's definitive biography of early talkie star Winnie Lightner. No press date yet. The Project is proud to have supplied many stills for both Ed Bradley's and David Lightner's books.
- The Vitaphone Project is also excited to be involved in David Pierce and James Layton's next book project. We're keeping quiet about the subject for now, but needless to say it will be of immense interest to our readers. You can expect the same high quality as their previous book, "The Dawn of Technicolor," with hundreds of beautiful illustrations. The new book will be released later in the year and more details will be announced in the near future. We will post any updates on our Vitaphone Project Facebook page.
- Watch the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival page for news on an exciting Vitaphone-related program. Cannot say more at press time!
- Ron Hutchinson will be presenting a program of Vitaphone shorts, combined with the recently restored ME AND THE BOYS 1929 Ben Pollack musicians band short and the rarely screened 1934 Columbia Musical Novelty LOVE DETECTIVES at Film Forum in NYC in March 2016. The show will be partnered with screenings of the 1930 Paramount Technicolor musical FOLLOW THRU.
- Here's a shot from last fall taken following the screening of the long lost, recently restored 1927 Clara Bow feature GET YOUR MAN. Those in this picture also work together on many of the talkie restorations you enjoy. L to R: Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project, Curator of Film at MOMA Dave Kehr, Bow author David Stenn, silent comedy expert Steve Massa, Mike Mashon – head of The Library of Congress's Motion Picture Division
- Project co-founder and bandleader Vince Giordano deserves congratulations on the film CAROL's receipt of an incredible 123 award nominations and 23 wins (so far) , including five Golden Globes. Vince and The Nighthawks provided the music for the Todd Haynes feature
- long time vintage theatre equipment and film collector Lou DiCrescenzo recently told us about some Technicolor 35mm nitrate film he had, in which a number of early musical numbers were spliced together on a reel. In looking at some of the frames, included were scenes from KING OF JAZZ, WHOOPEE!, and LORD BYRON OF BROADWAY. But the big discovery was a number from the otherwise lost 1933 MGM Colortone short HOLLYWOOD PREMIERE!
KING OF JAZZ UPDATE
Work began on restoration of the 1930 all-Technicolor musical KING OF JAZZ in the spring of 2015. NBC Universal is doing the work, and drawing from recently rediscovered 35mm Technicolor material with vivid color. Universal has significantly expanded its restoration efforts over past 18 months, and is also working on their owned Paramount Marx Brothers features and a number of silents. Like Warner Bros, the team is also reaching out to collectors to assist in tracking down needed materials.
The KOJ restoration is not only visual, but also involves improving the soundtrack through the use of better available optical and disk elements. Universal has drawn on support from Professor Richard Koszarski, who has made a 30 year study of the making of the film, along with DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR authors James Layton and David Pierce and our Project.
Work is expected to be completed on the KING OF JAZZ restoration by mid-year 2016. We will of course post any announcements regarding screenings and any DVD release on our Facebook page as well as in our next issue.
RESTORED HOME TALKIES ON DVD
As our article on home talkies and Gary Lacher describes, studios like Pathe, Universal, and Columbia issued some of their shorts and cartoons (even a few features) to the home market during 1929-31. Gary has restored some of these films that he acquired, and they are now available through Grapevine Video at this link:
Volume 1 of “Pathe Talkie Shorts" features sound two reelers by James Gleason, Buck and Bubbles, Evalyn Knapp and director George LeMaire. More to come! Also for sale through Grapevine are the home talkie restorations of Pathe features PARIS BOUND ('29) with Frederic March and Ann Harding and SAILOR'S HOLIDAY with Alan Hale and Sally Eilers.
UCLA TO RESTORE TWO “HOME TALKIES"
In 1929, several companies, including DeVry, QRS and Bell & Howell, began marketing “home talkie" equipment and films which were essentially Vitaphone systems for the home. A single silent 16mm projector was interlocked with a 16 inch turntable and sound head. As with Vitaphone in theatres, the home operator placed a designated “start' frame in the projector's film gate and the needle at the precise starting spot on the disk. Film was safety stock rather than nitrate. In most cases, shorts and cartoons sold on the home talkie market were issued concurrently with their theatrical release. Disks were identical to those used in theatres.
The company which took the name of “Home Talkie" filmed their own shorts, made exclusively for the home system. These starred vaudevillians, small time performers and bands. UCLA is planning to restore two of these productions using disks and film they have acquired. One stars comedian and radio comic Phil Baker and the other s by vaudeville star and recording artist Isabella Patricola. The Project is now working with UCLA to raise the $7000 needed for their restoration.
PREMIERE OF NOAH'S ARK & THE JAZZ SINGER
They just don't do advertising like they used to. This signage must have cost a lot of money!
VITAPHONE FAQ's ANSWERED
- Current cost to restore a sound-on-disk 10 minute one reel short at UCLA is $12 – 14,000 (deductible)
- Donors receive their own personal copy of the restoration on DVD and on-screen credit.
- The Project's soundtrack disk database currently contains over 6,000 disks, primarily held by private collectors.
- There are over 250 Vitaphone shorts (plus over 75 MGM shorts) currently available on DVD through Warner Archive.
- Between 1926 and 1930, there were approximately 1500 sound-on-disk Vitaphone shorts and features produced by Warner Bros and First National.
- There are about 320 1926-30 Vitaphone shorts for which picture (film) survive but for which accompanying soundtrack disks are still missing.
- Warner Bros abandoned direct-to-disk sound recordings around March, 1930 and moved to the industry standard of optical sound recording and editing.
- To date, the Project has not found soundtrack disks issued by Warner Bros after late 1932.
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