Welcome to my new blog. I'm going to write mostly about what films I'm working with, but may stray into more personal stuff occasionally. I'd like to start with THE LINK AND THE CHAIN (LE MAILLON ET LA CHAINE), a 1963 Oscar nominated documentary.
Until recently, the Film Archive had no holdings on this title, and all I knew about it was from the synopsis I located on a some press material for the film located in the "Doc Awards Book," - the "Bible" of collected materials for each year of the documentary Academy Awards, held at the Margaret Herrick Library. I found this while I was researching the "Oscar's Docs" retrospective several years ago. Also some years ago, I had asked my then-colleague Alice Moscoso to use her contacts in France to see if we could acquire a print of this film for our collection. She did track down the owners of the elements, and they supplied an estimate to make a new print from their elements. At the time, we didn't have the funds to follow up, and the film slipped off my radar screen. A couple months ago, Alice emailed me out of the blue and said she had run into her friend and ex-colleague, Brigitte Berg, head of the Les Documents Cinématographiques in Paris, (http://www.lesdocs.com) who said that she had acquired the original negative of LE MAILLON. Brigitte soon emailed me and asked if we would be interested in storing these materials, and of course I said yes. (A side note: Brigitte asked me if we had a copy of the film THE HOME WE LOVE, directed by Alain Pol. I said we did, as part of our Marshall Plan film collection. She had acquired the Pol's films, and had done a short interview with him. (More on the Marshall Plan films here: http://www.sellingdemocracy.org/ and the Academy Collection here: http://www.oscars.org/filmarchive/collections/marshallplan.html)
The materials were shipped to the Film Archive, and I began to inspect and inventory them. Included were a 35mm negative, 35mm optical track negative, 16mm track negative, and several small cans of title and trailer elements. The first item on the agenda was to determine what the negative was. The cans were of course labeled in French, but the element terms were just abbreviations (BIM, NIM, etc.) , so I couldn't even begin to translate them (my college French is pretty thin). Even the original vault manifest Brigitte sent me used only the abbreviated code designations. Brigitte did tell me that this was the original negative, but anyone who's ever worked in an archive knows, that you can't know for sure until you actually look at the element yourself (and sometimes not even then!).
I first wound through reel 6, which was color negative, with splices at every shot, and timing notches at every splice. The Kodak edge codes indicated the stock dated from 1972. What? Certainly the splices indicated this was probably an original negative, but what's up with the stock year? After consulting with colleagues, we figured that this code was probably just incorrect. (For you stock code geeks: Kodak stock codes did vary from country to country in which they were manufactured prior to 1951, but the codes were standardized worldwide after that.)
The idea that the stock code was wrong was confirmed by the fact that other reels had codes from 1965, 1970, 1971, and 1973. That's truly unusual.
The next unusual aspect to appear: reel 1 was black and white. Of course it's not that unusual to mix color and b/w these days, and the combination goes back to WIZARD OF OZ. But for this to occur in a documentary from 1963 - pretty interesting. All the other 9 reels were color. The film describes the journey of Henri, who tired of modern urban life in Paris, and like Gaughin before him, takes off for the South Seas in search of a simpler life. It made sense that reel 1 consisted of dreary black and white footage of Paris, and the film turned to color when our friend Henri arrives in Paradise.
Reel 1 had another surprise: the main title card read LE DERNIERE ILE, a title which had appeared on the French vault manifest, but was otherwise unfamiliar to me. I later discovered this alternate title on some websites. There was also a small extra reel inside the Reel 1 can, which turned out to be the main title section, this time with the familiar LE MAILLON title.
Alas, there was no English track included in this collection, and it was likely that the version shown for the Awards process back in 1963 was dubbed rather than subtitled. Brigitte is looking for an English track in Paris. It's possible we may have to do our own translation and create new subtitles. I've also asked Brigitte to find a reference copy, even of the French version, so that we can at least look at the film! I have made a few frame scans, which you can see here. The color looks pretty good and not at all faded. The negative is in very good shape, with some light base scratches that you can't actually see in the scans.
But what is LE MAILLON ET LA CHAINE, and who made it?
You'd think that an Oscar nominated documentary would be more widely known, if not necessarily available. Sadly, my research on the history of Oscar nominated (and winning) docs is that many of them often vanished, both physically and culturally, after their brief moment of glory. I've been trying to do what I can about the physical part (with some success, but there are over 500 nominated doc shorts and features, and a large percentage of them may not survive with good quality film material, and unbelievably, some may not exist at all). About the cultural part - who will tackle that one?