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Film Burning: A Tragic Blunder


Kid Dabb
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*Film Burning: A Tragic Blunder*

Joe from Florida @ ClassicMovies

 

I started collecting films in the 1960s, although my interest in them dates back to my childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. My neighborhood was called the Bushwick/Ridgewood section. It was a fairly poor section of Brooklyn, dominated by American-Italians and American-Germans. In fact we had one theater called the Willoughby, which showed only Italian films, and the Wagner, which showed only German films. I think it was these two theaters that tweaked my interest in foreign films. In later years it's pretty much where I learned to try and understand most of the two languages, since my mother and father never taught me Italian.

 

After I had been collecting 16mm film for a few years, my mother's older brother Jimmy and his wife came to visit my wife and I in Long Island, and of course to see my two daughters also, since he lived in New Jersey and we did not see each other too often. I had changed one room in my house to a projection room, with a custom-made screen. My Uncle Jim was very impressed.

 

He then told me about his days with General Patton in WW II. Although he never spoke of the battles, what he did tell that day would have an impact on my film collecting. It seems that after the invasion of Sicily, when the towns and villages were secure, my uncle was chosen to remain behind, because he spoke Italian with a Sicilian dialect. He was with other officers of Patton's army group who also spoke Italian. While they were appointing civilians to village posts as mayors, magistrates, etc., an order came from the higher-ups to gather any Italian or German motion pictures. If the films looked like newsreels, they were to be saved, to be used in possible war trials. All other motion picture films, both 35mm and 16mm, were to be destroyed, burned!

 

My uncle was part of this detail. They would go into theaters and film warehouses, strip the film from the metal reels, put the film in huge mounds and burn it all. It seems the Allies, namely the Americans, did not want any Fascist films to linger around where they could be shown again. It did not make any difference whether the title was a comedy, a drama, or a historical film. They were all burned. My uncle said many were also silent. He estimated that thousand upon thousands of feet of film were destroyed, and they burned quickly. That was just in Sicily. My uncle and many of his men adored General Patton. As a Sgt. my uncle requested that he re-join General Patton. Since the war was heading into the winter of 1944, his request was approved, and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, getting frostbite on both legs in the process. When Patton entered Germany, my uncle was given light duty. Among his duties was what he did in Sicily: Gather up German film, save the newsreels, and burn everything else. The Russians and British were to do the same thing in their areas. The reels were stripped of all the film and thrown onto a big truck for scrap metal, and huge fires were set to destroy German films, the same as in Sicily. To me this was as bad as the Nazi book burning, because I felt that films were a form of history and art!

 

Today, many of the films from Italy and Germany that remain from the 1920s through 1945 were obtained from neutral countries and mostly from private collectors like you and me. While our film industry races against time to save our films from turning to dust, an entire culture of films was destroyed because of war... films by Blasseti, Gallone, Allesandrini, DeSica, Murnau, Lang, Von Sternberg, Pabst, Sirk, and Trenker... destroyed in one minute by a fire on purpose. Thank goodness that films like Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Emperor of California and the original 1943 version of Titanic survived in neutral countries and our own film libraries.

 

Through private collectors in Italy, Scipione L'Africano (1937) was found in a private collection and restored to digital quality. This film boasts a cast of over 40,000 extras and has never been seen on American television. Hopefully some day it will. Other landmark films are now being found in private collections, such as Roberto Rossellini's first direction, La Nave Bianca (aka The White Ship) (1942), and his second, Una Pilota Ritorno (aka A Pilot Returns) (1942). If anything, these films were anti-war films, especially Mussolini's supposed masterpiece of pro-war propaganda, Scipione L'Africano, which showed the degradation of war. This film is now available in DVD and digital video from International Historic Films. A warning, though: It is cut by one-half hour and dubbed in English; you have to go to Europe to get the uncut version as I did.

 

That's the story that very few people have ever heard about our destruction of Italian and German films. I'm sure the same thing took place in Japan. However, I'm also sure that the Nazis and the Fascists did the same thing to when they marched into conquered territory. What a waste war is... lives lost and cultures destroyed. Let's hope it never happens again.

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No question, this was a tragedy, and I'm not defending it, but that was war and tragedies happen during war often caused by somebody who makes a hasty, poorly thought out, decision.

 

What I find equally as tragic is how, in the late 1940's some of the major Hollywood studios cleaned out warehouses full of prints of silent films and destroyed them because the studio heads thought they no longer had any commercial value and no longer wanted to pay to store them. That's one of the big reasons that over 80% of all silent films no longer exist.

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What was the date of that article? I knew Joe from the IMDb Message Boards, we hooked up because we came from the same neighborhood.

 

But he left the boards after getting into a feud with someone in a dispute that I avoided as I knew the two involved and didn't wish to take sides since it was more of a clash of ego than of ideals.

 

Joe was quite ill even then, this was a decade ago. He found a new home on another web site, but disappeared from there. It was presumed that he passed away, hence my curiosity about the date.

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I erred in typing ClassicImages.. should be ClassicMovies.org. However, that site has no publication date. I found an e-diary dated April 30, 2010 with the full story from which this was clipped - here: http://www.my-diary.org/read/?read=467969 and clicking filme online under the date will flip the page - there's contact info at the bottom.

 

None of the sites I traced this to had much information

other than that e-diary. I hope this helps.

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> No question, this was a tragedy, and I'm not defending it, but that was war and tragedies happen during war often caused by somebody who makes a hasty, poorly thought out, decision. What I find equally as tragic is how, in the late 1940's some of the major Hollywood studios cleaned out warehouses full of prints of silent films and destroyed them because the studio heads thought they no longer had any commercial value and no longer wanted to pay to store them. That's one of the big reasons that over 80% of all silent films no longer exist.

 

80% of silents went up in smoke? :)

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Although I realize this information SEEMS tragic in a forum that's dedicated to classic film, I feel it was more tragic that innocent people were burned as witches in the 17th century, or that MILLIONS of people were destroyed during that same war.

 

But it DOES seem senseless to have put all those films to the flame. I don't see how a comedy, or even a drama would be "dangerous" to perserve.

 

Sepiatone

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> I don't see how a comedy, or even a drama would be "dangerous" to perserve.

 

The book refers to films on nitrate stock which can be quite flammable in the right conditions.

 

Because of its reputation as being highly flammable, over the years a number of nitrate films were destroyed because people didn't want to take the chance on storing them.

 

It does require a climate controlled storage vault and knowledge of what to do in case of a fire, but it can be stored safely.

 

The book, by the way, is a terrific read.

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The board seems to be experiencing some kind of time travel. I hope we all get back to the present day ok.

 

Maybe this happens to people who watch too many old movies!

 

Down at the bottom of my current index page is this thread title:

 

*1 dead in Atlanta CNN complex shooting*

 

The last post on that thread was in 2007.

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Yes Fred, since you wrote you're glad I see it too, I'm responding to YOUR post to me. Maybe it was all that talk about Spritualism LOL

someone decided to resurrect past monikers and haunt us. It seems to me that you and I especially would recognize those monikers since we've been here for years and those are posts by posters no longer here. (or maybe they've come back as someone else)

 

I think that whoever is the crazy spammer here everyday has figured out how to mess with the bds.

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Yeah, it did.

 

One time I was sleeping and I had a weird dream. I was in high school in 1959, asleep and dreaming I was sleeping on the floor of some jungle village dwelling in a remote village in Latin America. I suddenly woke up, and I was asleep on the floor of a village dwelling in a remote village in Latin America. I never got back to 1959.

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That sounds like the making of a good movie !

 

Honestly, I have never heard of a 'dream within a dream', this is the first time I have heard of such a thing.

 

I would think you would have had to do more than just walk around a bit, more like a good run ! You must have been Very disoriented !

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