the screening of The Two Orphans (1911, Selig Polyscope) at the first
"Orphans of the Storm" symposium, Don Crafton (chair of the Dept. of
Film, Television, Theatre at Notre Dame) offered the following remarks.
I had not seen this work print of The Two Orphans before, which is ironic and illustrative of the restoration process.
A copy of this film sat on my desk for a year, but it wasn't projectable. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater research applied for an American Film Institute grant to restore the film, which comes from the collection of a collector in Milwaukee. We received $8,500 and what you get for $8,500 is not a restoration in the archival sense of the word, just preservation. We sent the 35mm material to UCLA where they did their restoration magic. It was badly shrunken; they had to hydrate it in a bathing solution for a few weeks, then they went over it with Q-tips, and fixed the splices and ran it through the printer on a one-light pass - that effort is a preservation, not a restoration.
I think the relevant thing about the film for our conference is, in part, where it comes from. The collector's name is Alois Detlaff and he lives in a suburb of Milwaukee. He has amassed a collection of 538 films from the silent era. It is all stored in a two-story house. Going into the house is quite extraordinary because there are halls and canyons of nitrate films. Dettlaff doesn't care that the film is flammable. In fact he is very happy to take his lighted pipe, which he has always burning, open up a can, tear off a piece of film, stuff into his pipe and say "See? That doesn't burn." ... He has an amazing collection and Ben Brewster (of the Wisconsin Center) inventoried it and did a lot of research. There are 64 unique prints, 64 films that don't exist in any other archive. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has one reel of the three-reel Two Orphans but what we've seen here today is a complete print, except for some of the obvious small things that are missing. As you can see it's a very good film from 1911, and a very good film representing the Selig studio - a very important early company. Very few films from that studio still exist.
Al Detlaff has said that his films are worth about $45 million. His most famous holding is a unique print of the 1910 Frankenstein made by the Edison Company. He keeps it locked away in a secret safety deposit box, in a bank not in Wisconsin. He's very proud of it. It's tinted and toned and it's in superb condition. I have a videotape of it that he gave to me. The video was produced so that it has a black bar running vertically down the picture all through the entire length of the film to ruin any commercial value that it might have if you were to dub it.
As for his print of The Two Orphans: Having seen it for the first time, I can say that it is really an extraordinary film, an adaptation of the European Pathé style of photography and staging. I think it's an attempt to make an American Film d'Art, an adaptation of a famous play. You can tell that there is an assumption that the people in the audience would know the story of the film before they came into it. It was a pre-sold commodity. There is a rather extraordinary use of deep-staging in the final reel where the characters are running back and forth for the camera, quite unusual for American cinema. Definitely worth preserving - another $15-20,000 is probably all it would take.