Saturday, October 15, 2005

Horrors of the National Film Museum

Last night on Turner Classic Movies, the 1933 horror classic THE VAMPIRE BAT was shown. This broadcast had attracted high interest among some fans because TCM's website listed a 76 minute running time -- significantly longer than the 67 minute film was known to run.

Today on the Classic Horror Film Boards, VW contributor Gary L. Prange filed a surprising report on TCM's THE VAMPIRE BAT: "I became suspicious when I noticed that some of the costuming evident in these shots were from the wrong century. Indeed, a new shot inserted before one showing Lionel Atwill entering his manse and removing his cloak and hat depicted a man approaching a large mansion wearing a cloak and hat -- a bicorn or tricorn hat. During the search for Herman in the cave, another cutaway depicts a man in a similar hat searching with a torch. Other shots depict characters that don't belong in VB. The scene of Fay Wray reading in the garden were preceded by shots of another woman reading in the garden next to a fountain, including cuts to another woman. Neither are characters in THE VAMPIRE BAT."

Gary's full report and responses to it can be found here.

I forgot about the broadcast until it was almost over, so I didn't see the inserts Gary describes. Where did they come from? Certainly from some other public domain title... DR. SYN or JAMAICA INN, perhaps? What I did observe was that TCM's print had been given a handsome sepia tone, and that the noise reduction brought to bear on the soundtrack had not only buried the hiss-and-crackle but the clear edges of the dialogue as well, which sounded mushy -- and not because Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray were pitching woo.

Unfortunately, the company responsible for this travesty -- The National Film Museum -- appears to be gaining a stronger foothold at TCM, a channel which has long prided itself in matters of film history and film preservation. The National Film Museum presents itself as a company dedicated to preserving our motion picture history, but their product indicates that their real concern is to sufficiently alter the audio/visual content of public domain titles that they may be re-copyrighted by the National Film Museum for fun and profit. You may remember the National Film Museum logo from those pixilation pageants known as Elite Entertainment's DRIVE-IN DISCS (e.g., ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER), or perhaps you caught their presentation of THE MANSTER (1959) when it recently aired on TCM. In appalling contrast to the pristine, from-the-original-negative master of this title which MGM owns, has issued on laserdisc, and has licensed to TCM in the past, the National Film Museum master was comparable to a fairly ragged 16mm print and obscured the mood-setting opening scene with several credits for NFM personnel!

The essence of film preservation is respecting a film's original integrity. If Turner Classic Movies is sincere in the stance they have taken about film preservation, they need to take a closer look at the bill of goods being sold to them by The National Film Museum.

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