The Re-Premiere Of John Ford’s UPSTREAM & The New Zealand Project
On Tuesday morning, WAMG was invited to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ special press preview of John Ford’s UPSTREAM (1927), one of 75 films recently found in the New Zealand Film Archive and repatriated to the U.S. with the cooperation of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The 1927 silent film, that was thought lost for decades, had it’s re-premiere Wednesday night, September 1, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Many of the VIP’s on hand included Silent Film Historians and those involved with the restoration, as well as the general public.
Having seen the film on Tuesday, I must say the transfer is absolutely beautiful. I was so impressed by the special care taken with the film’s clarity and how vibrant the tinting is on the multiple color frames throughout. The smoky special effects combined with the subtle transitions made me forget I was watching a movie from 1927. With its restoration from its master nitrate print, audiences are sure to be delighted, as I was, to see UPSTREAM in its original form.
Many who were a part of the finding and restoration of UPSTREAM were at the Academy on Tuesday morning. With the international, cultural, and financial impact of the story, all concerned were extremely giddy to finally see the finished film. “The studios are paying to preserve history,” said Michael Pogorzelski, Director of the Academy Film Archive, one of the five U.S. archives that will be restoring and making available the “lost” films over the next three years.
Some of the speakers on hand were Frank Stark, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Film Archive, and Annette Melville, Director of the National Film Preservation Foundation. Ms. Melville said of UPSTREAM, “People knew 75 films were in New Zealand and were held by private collectors, but it was only recently that these movies came to the studios and the Academy’s attention.”
Schawn Belston, Senior Vice President, Library and Technical Services at Fox Filmed Entertainment, jubiliantly said that UPSTREAM, “was the missing piece to THE JOHN FORD FILM COLLECTION.” When I asked him what’s next for this rare find, Belston said, “in October, Fox is taking Ford’s film to the 29th Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy and it may be shown at some film festivals throughout the U.S.” I hope I didn’t give Fox any ideas when I jokingly posed the question about a 3-D version of the film. After a pause to consider that, he grinned and retorted with, “Even with AVATAR, Fox is still concerned with silent films.” Belston added that a transfer of UPSTREAM to dvd and/or blu-ray will happen down the road.
Understandably, the one most empassioned about the project was Brian Meacham, Academy Film Archivist whose visit to New Zealand initiated the re-discovery. “It all began by looking for these types of ‘gems’ and then the funding.” After its showing at the Italian Silent Film Festival, Meacham said that UPSTREAM will be added to the National Film Archives in Washington, D.C. on October 28th. Meacham hopes many will be able to see the film in theaters and accompanied by live music.
Wednesday evening’s showing included a live trio with music composed by long time AMPAS collaborator Michael Mortilla. When I spoke with Mortilla about his lively score, he said he was still tinkering with the music and that he actually wrote it recently. “I only composed the music six weeks ago.” When I asked him what motivated him to compose the score in such little time, he said, “I was inspired by the film – the story, the characters, what they were feeling.” Mortilla delightfully utilized the music of the 3-piece orchestra (violin/percussion, woodwinds, and piano) as another character in UPSTREAM and not just mere accompainment. Right down to the sound effects, he used “songs of the day” as well as own “classical repertoire” so that the audience truly experiences the event as a whole.
As well as the re-premiere, audiences were also treated to the advertising trailer which contains the only known surviving footage of the John Ford sound film STRONG BOY (1929).
As to the backstory, UPSTREAM is one of 75 American films recently found at the New Zealand Film Archive and repatriated to the United States. The films were rediscovered when Brian Meacham, an archivist for the Academy, dropped in on his New Zealand counterparts while on vacation. During Meacham’s tour of the archive, he asked if there were any American films represented in the collection. A thorough search revealed numerous titles including three feature films that were thought to be lost. UPSTREAM is the first of the features to be preserved and screened for the public. The preservation work was carried out by Park Road Post Production in Wellington, New Zealand, under the direction of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy Film Archive.
Over the next few years, all of the repatriated films will be preserved and made available at the Academy Film Archive and four other major American film archives, in collaboration with the National Film Preservation Foundation.
The comedic melodrama Upstream (1927) came at a point of transition for director John Ford. Filmed at the beginning of what would become a 13-year break from the Western genre that had defined many of his earlier works “from the 1910s Universal shorts featuring Harry Carey to Three Bad Men (1926)“ and that would resurface later in his career starting with Stagecoach (1939), it is also one of the last completely silent films Ford made. Starting later that year with the then-unreleased Mother Machree (filmed in 1926, released in 1928) his films began including recorded sound effects and music not a particularly surprising addition at the sound-pioneering Fox Studios.
Based on Wallace Smith’s short story “The Snake’s Wife” (1926), Upstream trades the dark, introspective elements of Smith’s tale of love and betrayal for the cinematically appealing spectacle of vaudeville performances, the grand setting of the London stage, and sweet romantic melodrama. The central focus is a love triangle between a knife-thrower (Grant Withers), his “target girl” Gertie (Nancy Nash), and the egotistical Brashingham (Earle Foxe), a hammy Shakespearean actor; a variety of vignettes depicting the hectic atmosphere in their vaudeville boarding-house flesh out the storyline. With the action confined mainly to the boarding-house’s narrow rooms, Ford’s skill at effectively defining and depicting characters finds space to flourish, featuring among others a pair of dancers, a squabbling sister-act, a long suffering landlady, and a juggler (played by Ford’s brother Francis, himself a former vaudevillian). While not one of Ford’s typical films, there are many “Fordian” themes throughout.
Pictured: 35mm film frames from the only known surviving print of John Ford’s UPSTREAM (1927). Preservation work was done at Park Road Post in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Academy’s screening of John Ford’s UPSTREAM, celebrates the first fruits of a groundbreaking multi-year collaboration of the New Zealand Film Archive/Nga Kaitiaki O NgaTaonga Whitiahua, the American archival community, and the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve and make available American silent films from the NZFA’s vaults. Of the 75 titles identified for preservation and listed here, more than 90 percent are thought to survive nowhere else. The remainder represents the best surviving source material.
The five major American silent film archives – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive – are supervising the preservation work and will take custody of the nitrate originals, as well as the new preservation masters and prints. The NFPF, which is coordinating and raising funds for the undertaking, plans to post digital files for many titles on its Web site, www.filmpreservation.org. The NZFA, whose good stewardship made the project possible, will receive new prints and the ongoing thanks of film enthusiasts everywhere as these long-unseen treasures are screened and made available on the Internet.
- The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies-Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison, 1914), episode of the famous serial in which ace reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues a kidnapped girl and gets the scoop (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Albert Spalding Playing Cavatina by Raft (Vitaphone, 1929), early sound film featuring American violinist and composer Albert Spalding (Library of Congress).
- American Co-Op Weekly (producer unknown, 1917?), newsreel featuring stories related to World War I (George Eastman House).
- Andy’s Stump Speech (Universal, 1924), two-reel comedy in which Andy Gump, played by former Keystone Cop Joe Murphy, runs for office (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- An Animated Grouch Chaser (Edison, 1915), comic short combining live-action with cartoon sequences animated by Raoul Barr© (Museum of Modern Art).
- A Bashful Bigamist (Vanity Comedies, ca. 1922), one-reel farce, starring Billy Bletcher, in which a wife plots to keep her husband at home (Museum of Modern Art).
- The Better Man (Vitagraph, 1912), Western in which a Mexican American outlaw proves himself the better man. This film was preserved by George Eastman House through funds raised by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon.
- The Big Show (Miller Brothers Productions, 1926), only surviving fiction film made by the Oklahoma-based Wild West Show managed by the Miller Brothers (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Billy and His Pal (Melies Manufacturing Co./American Wild West Film Co., 1911), Western filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and one of the earliest surviving films featuring Francis Ford. Released in New Zealand as Bobby and His Pal (Museum of Modern Art).
- Birth of a Hat (Stetson Company, 1920), industrial short illustrating how Stetson makes its hats (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- Brillantino the Bullfighter (Monty Banks Productions, 1922), two-reel comedy starring Monty Banks as a weakling who transforms himself into a celebrated matador to win his fickle sweetheart (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- A Broken Doll (Allan Dwan Productions, 1921), Allan Dwan Western, starring Monte Blue as a cowboy devoted to the ranch owner’s disabled daughter. The reels from the New Zealand Film Archive are expected to complete the source material already at the Library of Congress.
- By Right of His Might (Vitagraph, 1915), Sidney Drew comedy in which an overtaxed host hatches a plot to rid his household of an obnoxious guest (George Eastman House).
- Captain Jinks, The Cobbler (Vitagraph, 1916), comedy in which the put-upon Jinks pretends to enlist in order to avoid his wife (Library of Congress).
- China (Educational Films Corporation of America, ca. 1917), 1,000 feet from an educational documentary showing everyday life in China (Museum of Modern Art).
- Col. Heeza Liar’s “Forbidden Fruit” (Bray Studios, 1923), animated tall tale in which the colonel recounts how he single-handedly ended the â€œGreat Banana Famine of 1923â€ (Museum of Modern Art).
- Defying Destiny (Rellimeo Film Syndicate, 1923), melodrama in which a wronged man, played by Monte Blue, changes his appearance through plastic surgery and returns home to reclaim his good name and win his girl (George Eastman House).
- The Diver (Kalem, 1916), documentary showing how to set underwater explosives (Museum of Modern Art).
- Dodge Motor Cars (Dodge Brothers, ca. 1917), two parts of an epic industrial film chronicling the manufacture of automobiles (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- An Easter “Lily” (Vitagraph, 1914), fragment from a drama about the friendship between a white boy and the daughter of his family’s African American servant (Library of Congress).
- Fordson Tractors (Ford Motor Co., 1918), promotional film for the all-purpose tractor introduced by Henry Ford & Son in 1917 (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- From Rough Log to Finished Car (producer/date unknown), industrial film detailing the making of train cars (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- The Girl in the Pullman (De Mille Pictures Corp., 1927), marital comedy about the tangled love life of a neurologist awaiting his final divorce decree. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
- The Girl Stage Driver (Eclair-Universal, 1914), long section from a Western filmed in Tucson, Arizona (Museum of Modern Art).
- The Greater Call (Essanay, 1910), melodrama about an actress who must choose between career and family (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- Happy-Go-Luckies (Fables Pictures, 1923), animated adventures of two mutts who crash a dog show (George Eastman House).
- Henry’s Busted Romance (Fables Pictures, 1922), animated tale, inspired by Aesop, in which a tomcat falls for Mademoiselle Kittie (Library of Congress).
- Her First Kiss (Sunshine/Fox, 1919), long fragment in which comedienne Ethel Teare performs wild stunts. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- The Hidden Way (Associated Exhibitors, 1926), drama, written by Ida May Park, in which convicts befriend a poor family and struggle to go straight (Museum of Modern Art).
- His Mother’s Thanksgiving (Edison, 1910), family melodrama showing what happens when a successful son tries to celebrate the holidays without his mother (Museum of Modern Art).
- His Neglected Wife (U.S. Motion Pictures Corp., ca. 1919), comedy about a writer’s neglected wife who devises her own story to make her point (George Eastman House).
- His Taking Ways (Samuel Bischoff Productions, 1926), slapstick comedy about a hearing-impaired burglar and a coveted suit of clothes (Library of Congress).
- Hold ‘Em Yale (De Mille Pictures Corp., 1928), college romance, based on the play by Owen Davis, about an Argentinean football player at Yale. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- Hollywood Snapshots (producer unknown, ca. 1925), tour of Filmdom with glimpses of celebrities Ramon Novarro, Jack Warner, Max Linder, and Vola Vale (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Hunting Wild Geese for Market (Salisbury Wildlife Pictures, ca. 1915), documentary about hunting in the Sacramento Delta, which ends with a plea for greater government regulation (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Hypnotic Nell (Kalem, 1912), fragment from a comedy in which Nell, played by Ruth Roland, tries to land her cowboy using pointers from a mail-order hypnotism course (Museum of Modern Art).
- Idle Wives (Universal, 1916), first reel of a Lois Weber feature in which a film inspires three sets of moviegoers to remake their lives. More of the film exists at the Library of Congress.
- International Newsreel (International Newsreel Corp., ca. 1926), newsreel including five stories from the United States and abroad (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- The Jam-Makers (Paramount, 1919), cartoon in which Buddy, Susie, and a cat scheme for a taste of homemade jam. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Paramount Pictures and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
- Jean the Matchmaker (Vitagraph, 1910), charming one-reeler in which the family dog steps in to serve as matchmaker for two shy brothers (Library of Congress).
- Kick Me Again (Bluebird/Universal, 1925), short comedy with Hungarian star Charles Puffy (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- The Lady from Hell (Stuart Paton Productions, 1926), Western in which the ranch foreman, a Scottish nobleman in America, is wrongfully accused of murder. The New Zealand nitrate reels are expected to complete the Library of Congress copy.
- Little Brother (Thanhouser, 1913), one-reeler in which a man hires his girlfriendâ€™s younger brother to help him win her back (Library of Congress).
- Lyman H. Howe’s Famous Ride on a Runaway Train (Lyman H. Howe Films, 1921), thrill-packed short that was accompanied by sound discs which survive at the Library of Congress.
- Mary of the Movies (Columbia, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom. This earliest surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy and will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
- Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), feature with Clara Bow in an early role. This film will be preserved by the Library of Congress through the support of David Stenn.
- Midnight Madness (De Mille Pictures Corp., 1928), comedy starring Clive Brook as a millionaire who decides to teach his gold-digging fiancee a lesson (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- A Modern Cinderella (Vitagraph, 1910), update of the classic fairy tale, set in a boarding house and featuring Mary Fuller (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Moonlight Nights (Sherwood MacDonald Productions, 1925), farce in which a young man, told by his rich father to get a job, goes to work in a nightclub (Library of Congress).
- Mules and Gob Talk (Chester Films Screenics, 1920), travelogue highlighting the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- Oh Boy! (Bray Studios, 1927), two-reel comedy with the “McDougall Alley Kids” about a rich boy who gets his comeuppance (George Eastman House).
- Oils Well! (Ben Wilson Productions, 1923), comedy set in the American oil fields in which Monty Banks strives to impress the boss’s daughter (Museum of Modern Art).
- Reckless Youth (Select Pictures, 1922), drama about a restless convent girl whose fling in high society teaches her a lesson (George Eastman House).
- Rips and Rushes (Vitagraph, 1917), comedy set in a dance studio in which three rivals vie for the girl (Library of Congress).
- Robson Trail (Selznick News, ca. 1922), travelogue shot in British Columbia (George Eastman House).
- Run ‘Em Ragged (Rolin Films, 1920), slapstick short featuring Snub Pollard (Library of Congress).
- The Scheme That Failed (Juvenile Film Corp., 1916), tale involving childhood affections and rivalries. The New Zealand nitrate reels complement source material already at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- The Sergeant (Selig Polyscope, 1910), probably the first surviving narrative filmed in Yosemite Valley. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences preserved the film with funds raised by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon.
- Selznick News (Selznick News, ca. 1922), newsreel with stories about burglar-proof mail containers, golfing moms, a prototype car phone, the Princeton crew team, and the latest fashions (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- Smithy (Hal Roach, 1924), two-reel comedy in which a hapless ex-military man, played by Stan Laurel, discovers that civilian life is tougher than it looks (Library of Congress).
- Stand and Deliver (De Mille Pictures Corp., 1928), adventure set during the Greco-Turkish War, in which a former British officer fights bandits and wins a beautiful Greek woman. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
- Strong Boy Trailer (Fox, 1929), preview for a “lost” feature directed by John Ford and starring Victor McLaglen. This film was preserved through a collaboration of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- Sunset Limited (Edison, 1898), promotional film from Southern Pacific, the earliest work returned to the United States through this project. This film was previously available only as a paper print deposited for copyright at the Library of Congress.
- The Tares of the Wheat (Universal, 1912), family melodrama involving a gambling debt (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
- The Tell-Tale Scar (Thanhouser, 1914), one-reeler in which an Italian immigrant captures a criminal to earn the reward and win his sweetheart (Library of Congress).
- A Trip Through China (Supreme Feature Films Co., 1917), 970-foot fragment, from Benjamin Brodsky’s ten-reel documentary, showing Peking in the 1910s (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- Tropical Nights (Educational Films Corporation of America, ca. 1924), travelogue capturing the romantic landscapes of the tropics (George Eastman House).
- Under the Daisies, or As a Tale That Is Told (Vitagraph, 1913), two-reeler featuring an early performance by Norma Talmadge. The New Zealand footage is expected to complete the copy held at the Library of Congress.
- Unseen Forces (Mayf ower Photoplay, 1920), feature directed by Sidney Franklin in which a clairvoyant, who uses her psychic powers to help others, eventually wins back her man (Library of Congress).
- Upstream (Fox, 1927), a backstage romance directed by John Ford and starring Nancy Nash and Earle Foxe. This film was preserved through a collaboration of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- Walk-You Walk! (Kalem, 1912), short in which a woman turns the tables on an overly amorous date by stealing his car (Library of Congress).
- Why Husbands Flirt (Christie Comedies, 1918), wry marital comedy with a title that says it all (George East-man House).
- A Window on Washington Park (Vitagraph, 1913), touching melodrama in which a generations-old family rift is finally healed (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
- The Woman Hater (Powers Picture Plays, 1910), early Pearl White vehicle in which a disgruntled suitor, claiming to hate all women, changes his tune after his girlfriend saves him from Indians (George Eastman House).
- Won in a Closet (Keystone, 1914), first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as “Won in a Cupboard” (Library of Congress).
Wednesday night’s screening of UPSTREAM was presented under the Academy’s “Lost and Found” series banner. LOST AND FOUND is a periodic screening series designed to showcase archival prints of films that have been recently discovered, or restored from new materials that improve the presentational quality of their previously available versions. In some instances the films may be incomplete or damaged, making access unlikely through more traditional venues. The series serves not only as an opportunity for rare access to a “lost” film, but also will call attention to some of film preservation’s more notable success stories.
All Photos and Images: Courtesy of AMPAS, the New Zealand Film Archive, and the National Film Preservation Foundation.